Saturday, October 31, 2015

Catch Them at the Core

A Glimpse of Differentiation in a Core Lesson
from Teachers in the Trenches

I’ve learned the best way to differentiate, in order to reach all learners, is to do it right at the core of every lesson. I’d love to individualize instruction for every student, but with twenty-five to thirty children in the classroom it’s next to impossible. Catching as many learners as I can at the core of each lesson is my solution. The Merriam Webster definition of core is: a central and often foundational part usually distinct from the enveloping part by a difference in nature. 

The core of your lesson is the foundation upon which everything else is built. It makes sense to deliver each lesson with a conscious awareness of the different learning modalities. I keep the following learning modalities in mind when teaching my lessons…auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic.

When teaching new concepts, I begin with direct teaching of the concept. This method tailors to the auditory and visual learners, however I need to begin with a hook to grab the attention of everyone before I move onto direct teaching. I also have to be aware of the time span before boredom sets in. Attention span can be calculated by subtracting two from the age of the children. My kiddos are eight turning nine during the school year. Nine minus two equals seven. I have six to seven minutes to introduce the new concept directly before I need to change it up. 

Let’s look at a math lesson on subtracting two digit numbers with regrouping. 

Hook: I review the concept of regrouping from our previous lesson using base ten models by calling students to the front to help me.(visual, auditory) 

Direct Teaching: I demonstrate subtraction directly with a problem on chart paper that will later become an anchor chart in the classroom for reference. I color code the ones and tens places. The students use the same colors to write the example in their Math Notebooks.(visual, auditory, kinesthetic)After a couple more demonstrations, my attention span time limit is up. So I have the students use wipe off boards with color markers for practice.  They use the different colors for tens and ones places just like the examples in their notebooks. I give a couple of problems orally to the class.  Students  write the problems down.  Next, I tell them to turn and talk through the process with “elbow partners”. (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)

Assess on the Spot: I circulate around the classroom to get an idea of who is grasping the concept and who is struggling and then I call the group’s attention back to me. At this point, I assign some problems from the math book for the students doing okay with the concept. I call the students that were struggling to the table with their wipe off boards to practice with me, using base ten models as necessary.(visual, auditory, tactile)

Further Differentiation: Something I need to mention is that I scrounge old math workbooks from the grade ahead of me to use for my students that need challenged, I assign problems from the corresponding lesson in the workbook from the grade ahead for those students in place of the problems assigned to the rest of the class. 

Did you see all of the ways I differentiated in one lesson? It doesn’t take tremendous amounts of time to pre-plan. I’ve already made sure my classroom is stocked with the supplies needed. I didn’t plan an extravagant lesson. It was pretty simple and easy to implement and met the needs of all of my learners.

Read Teachers in the Trenches free on Kindle November 2-7

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Time Travel Storm

*Updated Post for Week of October 18

My children's story, The Time Travel Storm, will be .99 on Kindle this week. There are resources available for this story that is set in the 1800s on My Books page. Grab the story and resources free while you can.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Teacher in the Thick of It-My Story

My Story

"To those whom much is given, much is expected." Luke 12:48


My passions drive me; teaching children and writing stories. God blessed me with gifts and avenues to do both things. Twenty-three years in education has allowed me to contribute to the shaping of precious children. Nothing makes me smile like looking inside the mind of a child. So innocent, honest, and each one unique. I love it!

 God recently opened doors for me to pursue my passion of writing. Writing stories was always my means of an escape. When being creative, I haven’t room in my mind for the stresses of my career in which I have no control…state mandates, home environments of my students, The Third Grade Guarantee, push of new ideas to implement into an already overflowing schedule, and so on.  

  Although writing fiction, specifically teen & young adult is my preference, I’ve felt a push over the last year to write nonfiction in my field. Why? Teaching in the thick of it all forced me to take a step back and look at teaching with a new perspective. If I didn’t do this, I would’ve drowned. In all my years of experience, I can honestly say I’ve never seen things so out of our control. By “our” I mean us, the teachers in the thick of it. The teachers in the trenches.

  As a means to survive, yet maintain my effectiveness in the classroom, I had to approach everything new with three questions.

  • What form of this new concept am I currently implementing in my classroom?
  • What from this can I add to my toolbox? Not overflow it so that I’m overwhelmed.
  • How does this idea or concept fit into my teaching style? I refuse to change who I am as a teacher. I’m more effective when I’m her.


I have great respect for experts in their fields or methods of teaching, such as differentiation, RTI, guided reading, guided math, close reading, etc. The reality is, I am responsible for teaching common core standards and administering a high stakes state mandated test. At the end of the day, it’s my name at the top of the list of scores, whether I agree with it or not.

 I can’t possibly implement every concept or method in the truest form. I need to take a common sense approach to analyzing it all by asking myself the three questions above. I’ve found if I do that, I’m more effective because I’ve added to my box another tool to help children without feeling like I’m a failure because I can’t do it all.


If anything I’ve learned helps even one teacher, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. We are in this together. We are in the thick of it. We need to lean on each other now more than ever.  It’s my hope to ease the mind of every teacher of feeling that we are failures if we can’t juggle everything and implement all thrown at us the way it’s presented to us.


As I’m finishing up the final edits of my first book of The Teachers in the Trenches Series, I invite you to sign up through email to receive a free copy. Book one will focus on my common sense approach to Differentiated Instruction.


The start of the school year is just around the corner. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of you summer. Relax. You deserve it.


A Teacher in the Trenches





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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Value of Experience

Advice from a Teacher in the Trenches

    In the last twenty-three years of my teaching career I’ve witnessed the cycling of ideas and philosophies. I’ve seen teaching methods tweaked and renamed as the latest and greatest. Old thrown out ideas wheel their way back around with a different name. Do I dare say that the majority of the latest buzz words in education are just names for methods or ideas that experienced teachers have used for years? Yes, I said it.

   This brings up the topic that disturbs me…the devaluing of experience in the classroom. Education today is being driven by people who have spent little or no time at all in the classroom. The philosophies under which decisions are made are based on studies or politically motivated. Don’t get me wrong, studies in the field of education are important when used in the correct context. That’s all I will say about that.

    Over my teaching career I’ve gotten my master’s degree in education, attended many professional trainings, taken extra courses, and so on. All of which I’ve learned things to add to my toolbox. None of which were the “fix all” in any area of education. The most valuable element in shaping me into the teacher I am today is my experience. As were the veteran teachers that mentored me at the start of my career. Nothing can replace the knowledge gained by teachers in the trenches.

The definition of the phrase in the trenches is “working in the most active and difficult parts of a job or business”. Did you catch that? Teachers in the thick of it all, not floating above dictating how to do the job.

    The discounting of this experience should not be taken lightly. It’s with this idea in mind that I’m motivated to write this book. Not because I’m a know it all. A teacher knows that he will never stop learning and I’m no different. I want to share my experience in order to arm other teachers with knowledge that I’ve gained in the last twenty years. My hope is that my ideas will ease the burden of having to dive into the latest trend in education head first. My advice to every teacher is to stand back and look at the new concept with your classroom in mind.

   Ask yourself these questions:

   What from this method or idea am I currently doing in my classroom?

   What can I take from this that will add to my toolbox? (not overflow it so that I feel overwhelmed)

   How does this fit into my teaching style?

   These are the questions I have learned to ask myself when new methods are thrown at me. In book one of my Teachers in the Trenches series I will share with you my experience with Differentiated Learning. I approached this topic with the three questions above when asked to take workshops on the subject. My goal in this book is to share with you the ideas of differentiation that I naturally built into my classroom and tips and tricks I picked up along the way. Differentiation doesn’t have to be a time consuming separate part of the curriculum. Join me in the next eight chapters to learn how you can do this simply and discover ways that you already differentiate that you probably didn’t even realize.

  I invite you to subscribed to my Email list to receive a free copy of the book when it's released.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Use Your Words

The Teacher Ninja Part 4

Control with Words and Actions

    A ninja knows how to use words and non-violent actions to gain the trust of people and build their confidence. The ninja then is in a position to control the individual.

   The teacher ninja uses words and actions not to control students, but to build relationships with them. Once the teacher ninja has established a rapport with a student, the student trusts the teacher. The teacher ninja must show the student with words and actions that she genuinely cares for the student.

    Students need to feel loved and have a sense of self-worth. A student that I will call Kaleb transferred in from another school district one year and was being placed in my room. A meeting was held ahead of time with administration concerning the student’s behavior. Kaleb arrived with a reputation and a chip on his shoulder. It took much effort and time on my part to chisel away at the tough exterior of Kaleb. I caught glimpses of what was underneath-a smart boy that needed an adult to believe in him. He was a natural at math, but was never told. His behavior blinded others of his potential. I used my words daily to build his self-worth. I frequently told him that he was smart and gave specific reasons why I thought that. When he did get into trouble, I told him that he was better than that. I trusted him with errands and small jobs in the classroom such as the greeter on Grandparent’s Day, running notes to teachers on my team, or peer tutoring other students in math. '

    This boy who fought almost daily on the playground at his previous school was seen in the office one time for fighting at our school…the first week he enrolled. He ended the school year with all A’s and B’s. He wrote a message to me the last day of school telling me that I was the best teacher he ever had and that he’d miss me. He hugged me on the last day of school and broke down in tears. My face was wet from my own tears. He left a imprint on my heart, and I hope I left one on his because I never want him to forget the potential he has to do great things.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Last Day of School Poem

 I wrote a poem for my class this year instead of a story like I'd done in the past.  This class loves to learn! The boys are obsessed with learning about WWII. They even wanted to start  a WWII book club. The class also likes to be challenged. That pushed me to think higher and be more creative. They are a pretty special group of kiddos. Today was our last day of school, so I read the poem to them and attached a copy in their memory books.

Here is the poem I wrote for them:

To My Third Grade Class
Mrs. Booth

It’s been a year full of fun

I can hardly believe the year is done

You’ve taught me as much as I’ve taught you

Through all of the things you like to do

Brainteasers, writing, World War II

You’ve challenged me to challenge you

Each one of you is so unique

I enjoyed being with you week after week

There’s one thing I don’t want you to forget
Here it is get ready, get set

Your third grade teacher believes in you

To make all of your hopes and dreams come true
And when you do, I’ll shout it loud

That’s my student, I’m so proud

So my 2014-2015 third grade class

Remember the good times we’ve had

Smile and laugh; don’t be sad

You’ve grown all year and the time is here

For you to move onto your fourth grade year

 ©Tammi Booth

Friday, May 22, 2015

Five Ideas for the End of the School Year


1. Have the children fill out book recommendations for the students coming into your class next year. Display the recommendations near your classroom library at the beginning of the year. I use my Reading Workshop Exit Tickets for this. Click to download them here.

2. Plan a Hobby Day where students may show and tell about something they like to do. The children use a guide sheet to talk about their hobby and bring something to show. We display the hobbies on our desks and walk around the room to look at the different displays. I've had children bring in videos of themselves riding four wheelers, participating in dance competitions, doing gymnastics, and so on. Children have brought in doll collections, sports equipment, art work, card collections, trophies, ribbons, etc.  This is one of my favorite days of the year.

3. Eat lunch together in the classroom the last day. The children think it's special to eat in the room. I bring in an ice cream treat for them also.

4. Open time capsules from the first day of school. The children are amazed at the changes, especially how they've grown when they hold up the string I measured them with on day one. Click here to download my time capsule activity.

5. Have a game day. Allow children to bring in their favorite games from home to play.  I also let the kids eat snacks while they play.

These are fun ways to wind down the last couple of days of the year. Please comment below to share your ideas.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Choose Your Battles

Welcome back for Teacher Ninja Way # 3: Choose Your Battles
A true ninja avoids combat, only engaging when absolutely necessary. A ninja learns combat techniques to fall back on when the need arises.
A teacher ninja should follow the same philosophy. As we discussed in the previous post, the teacher ninja moves with precision, learning the drive of each student and how they tick. This information serves valuable for when to battle or not.
Everyday Benjamin comes to class without a pencil. You’ve given him a pencil everyday for the last ten days. Is it time to battle? Let’s look at what you’ve learned about Benjamin. He has moved three different times since school started three months ago. His mom lost her job and apartment. Benjamin and his mom along with three younger siblings moved in with friends temporarily. They move once again. This time with family until his mom can get back on her feet.
The teacher ninja decides the best course of action should be to keep a sharpened supply of pencils ready for Benjamin. Eventually, the ninja teacher will assess Benjamin’s situation to decide when the best time is to push the responsibility issue. Right now is not the time to engage.
Let’s take a look at Austin. He’s been identified with high functioning autism and receives limited special education services. The majority of his instruction is through inclusion in the classroom of peers his age. Austin is bright. He is capable in the intellectual sense to complete the same amount of work as his peers, however other distractions make it difficult for him. Should the teacher require him to complete the same amount of math problems as his peers knowing it will lead to frustration and shut down?
The ninja teacher carefully chooses a smaller amount of problems to complete that will assess his level of each skill presented. Having observed this student with precision, the ninja teacher knows what drives him. Once the required number of problems is completed, Austin may get out his private container of Lego's while the rest of the class finishes.The ninja teacher slowly increases the number of problems for Austin to complete as the year progresses.

See you next time for the teacher ninja technique #4 of using your words.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Teacher Ninja Way #2;Move with Precision

Way # 2: Move with Precision

   Welcome back great Teacher Ninja Warriors. Last week I introduce my version of what it takes to be a teacher ninja, like a real ninja, teachers are experts in their field. Like real ninjas, we have a sense of values and beliefs that we operate under to make us great warriors in the field of education.
 This week I want to connect ninja way #2, Move with Precision. I'll keep it brief and to the point. Here it goes:
 Every move of a ninja serves a purpose. A ninja learns to study people. Figure them out, see what makes them tick. This information is valuable for leverage.
The teacher ninja must move with the same precision being a purposeful observant at all times. Pay attention to conversations among the students to understand their interests. A ninja teacher takes surveys in order to learn interests and learning styles. In my opinion the most useful information to learn what makes a student tick is frequent monitoring and note-taking on behaviors.
A had a bright student in my class one year that didn’t work to his potential. I’ll call this student Jerry. Jerry often appeared bored and drifted into “la-la land” during instruction. While meeting with his guided reading group I took notes. A book we read one day sparked conversation from him. He connected with a character who went on fishing trip with his father. Jerry was like a sleeping volcano that stirred to life. He spurted out stories of trips to the lake with his family. You better believe I used this new bit of information for all it was worth. Jerry wrote a personal narrative about one of his trips, made a map of his favorite place to fish, and researched the wild life in the area. From then on, Jerry seemed to pay attention more and noticed other things in class that he could connect with.
This is just one example of many that shows how making each move with precision and purpose can lead you to be a ninja teacher,a skilled teacher that is an expert on his/her students.

Next week......Way # 3: Choose Your Battles

*Reference: 5 Ways to Be a Ninja-wikiHow*

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What is a Teacher Ninja?


 Ninjas are specialized warriors trained to be masters of combat. A ninja works extremely hard driven by beliefs and principals of the ninja way.

A teacher ninja is a specialized warrior in the field of education. A teacher ninja works extremely hard, driven by beliefs and ideals of….well, that part is a bit muddled. At one time all teacher ninjas were driven by the belief of making a difference in the lives of young people. Excited to shape and mold minds. Using creativity to motivate and engage our students to learn.

Today the teacher ninja is expected to operate under the ideals and philosophies of law and policy makers who haven’t spent a day teaching in the classroom. It’s easy to forget what motivated us in the beginning to become teachers. We’re drowning in state mandates. We tread to keep our heads above all of the paper work and other requirements.
 Fear not great teacher ninja warriors. We’ll examine the ninja way and connect it back to our lives as educators.

Way #1
Adopt a Sense of Teaching Beliefs
Imagine you woke up tomorrow and all the mandates and tests were lifted. What would a day in your classroom look like? For me, the children would have a say in what interests them. We could spend days on a topic, read books and talk about them. Stop and research questions that arise.
My belief has and will always be that children need to be invested in their own learning. This year my teacher ninja surfaced. The standards and testing has not gone away. In fact, this is the year the new testing is to implemented. I refuse to let it control me. I made the decision to fall back on my beliefs.
My children write stories of their choice. They write every day and request publishing days frequently. They go through the writing process, publish their stories, create covers, and read their masterpieces to the class. Their stories are part of our classroom library to be checked out by other students to read.
This is just a glimpse into my day. My point? My children are excited about writing. This is not to say I don’t teach the mechanics of writing and types of writing. I do. This particular class is motivated by story writing, so that drives my planning. I carve time out of my schedule for it. Should I be doing more test practice? Maybe. The teacher ninja in me doesn’t believe so. I can live with that.
What is your teacher ninja saying to you? Listen to the ninja. After all a ninja is a specialized trained expert in the field.
Next week.....Way #2 Move with Precision
*Reference: 5 Ways to Be a Ninja-wikiHow*

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Great Race


 A day at school often feels like a race in which I never reach the finish line. I rush before school to make sure I have all I need, papers copied, lunch choices ready, today’s schedule displayed on the board, etc. On mornings that I start the day with a meeting before the kids come, forget it. I never catch my breath.
Factor in what I have to accomplish long term and I want to throw my hands up—wave the white flag of surrender. Nine months of curriculum needs to be taught in five months so that the children are prepared to take “the test”. Sigh.

I took a deep breath this year and made myself take a step back. I realized in order to finish the race, that I needed to set my own pace. After evaluating what was most important, I decided on things that should take priority each day. Here is my list:

-My children need to read a book of their choice every day.

-My children need to write every day.

-My children need to hear me read every day. (Read Aloud time)

-Spiral Review of math skills and grammar-each take about fifteen minutes.

My reasons for the list? I want the children to develop a love of reading. I want them to stretch their imaginations while writing and gain knowledge of the writing format at the same time.

In math we review skills previously taught and always apply them with problem solving. We go over every answer together and the thinking process behind it. I want them to learn how to think through the problems in order to solve them.

These are my priorities each day. Beyond that, I plan my lessons according to the curriculum map. However, I don’t sweat it if I’m not exactly where I should be. I know my priorities and I set my own pace. I refuse to be driven by a test. Once I made this decision, I felt more relaxed and better able to focus on my children. After all, they are the reason I’m there.

Note: “The Teacher Ninja” goes into greater detail on these topics. It’s still a work in progress. I hope to finish it soon.


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