Best Teaching Practice

Best teaching practice has evolved over time. Things that were once in date are now out of date. This category holds all things best teaching practice. Posts here contain small tips and pieces of advice to phase out old practice and focus on the best practice of today. It can be hard to stay on top of best teaching practice so let’s work and learn together!

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

So many times we have this idea that a published piece of writing is a completely perfect and finished piece. Or for that matter, a math test is the finished piece of learning or a running record, whatever it may be.

Over the weekend I read a quote from Leonardo da Vinci,

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” 

I just love this quote so much and I believe that we need to start shifting to this mindset in the classroom. We understand that learning can be placed on a continuum where there is always room for improvement and always more to learn no matter where you fall. Why should any work that students finish be considered complete? Its ok if they spelled a word wrong or missed punctuation in their final draft. Now you know what to focus on next. It is ok if while they’re reading they are reading choppily or so fast you can’t keep up. That should inform your next teaching moves. It is ok if in math class they add 7+8 to be 14. Now you know what they are missing.

There is value in mistakes. There is value in not having everything tied up perfectly with a bow. 

Too often in education, we want to package learning or growth or finished pieces up into a perfect little package but that just isn’t the way learning works. Learning is never finished… and hopefully not abandoned either.

Happy Sunday! What do you have planned for the week ahead? How will you try to value all the imperfect little pieces of your learning environment? 

There’s No Such Thing as a Baby Book

There’s No Such Thing as a Baby Book

*Please read the title in Uncle Vernon’s voice if you didn’t the first time. Just imagine how he’s feeling as he screams to Harry that there is NO SUCH THING as magic!*

The Unfortunate Event

Let me paint this picture for you. It was the day of the elementary book fair. Our kids had their zloty ready to go. Their parents had sent them with money that was burning holes in their pockets all day long. It was finally time! We walked down to our library and we listened to directions. If you didn’t have money you could get a sheet of paper and create a wishlist. If you did have money the cost was listed in pounds on the back of the book and you had to come and look at the sign to see what it would be in zloty. You know, a real easy task for first grade. When you were ready to check out you could find the lady and she would check you out. Any questions? Nope! My kids take off with such excitement to peruse some new books.

All around I hear calls of joy. “Oh my gosh look at this!” “Woah! Come here!” “Ms. Natasha! Ms. Natasha!” Suddenly the whole class is summoning me over to a little corner with shouts of, “look what we found!” I walk as fast as I can over to where the kids are standing to see that they have stumbled upon a book series we know and love. One of my favorite animals is an otter and we have a little, stuffed otter named Ruby. When I was in London I went into a bookstore (if you live in a non-English speaking country and visit an English speaking country you must stop in a bookstore) saw this story about otters and bought it immediately.

The kids were so excited when I shared it with them and because a lot of my kids started the year far below grade level they could read the words of this book! It was so amazing to share this story together- no matter how simple the text was. So, here we are at the book fair and they see this!

They were all so excited! They knew we had to tell the other first-grade teacher about the squirrel one because she had a squirrel named Pearl. The kids who had wishlists hustled over and started writing them down. The excitement of the book fair was at an all-time high! I walked away to allow the kids more room in that area. The librarian asked me a question when suddenly I heard, “GET AWAY FROM THE BABY BOOKS! You’re in grade 1! Look at the real books.” The book fair lady had stacked up this entire series and banned my kids from going back to that table. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!!!

Their little spirits were crushed. They felt insulted and betrayed. Hurt little ones came walking over. I reminded them that they brought their money and they could look at any book they wanted. Something that seemed like a fair rule to me but not to the lady selling the books. (Later when kids tried to buy books she denied it to several and told them to pick new books or picked new books for them because she didn’t deem them appropriate. We went head to head but I wasn’t the one selling books and my class had to play by her rules.)


You know what? Every time I pick up a book to read I don’t choose one that is my instructional level. For example, I love reading Buzzfeed articles. Do you think those are written at my reading level? Are the fashion blogs I read at my reading level? Are the young adult literature books I love so much at my level? NO! They are far below it. That doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter what I read it should matter that I read and I love reading. I love reading so much that I am always sharing what I read, no matter what it is, with my friends.

We need to stop trying to tell kids what to read and start encouraging all forms of reading! Stop it! So what a kid wants to read a book that is deemed too easy for them. So what that this kid only wants to read Elephant and Piggie but you have decided they are too easy for them. Don’t extinguish a burning love of reading by shaming what a child is reading. If a kid wants to read a graphic novel but you decide graphic novels aren’t books it sounds like you’re the one with the problem, not the kid!

There is no such thing as a baby book. It just doesn’t exist. If you are a reader you can read any book. ANY BOOK!

Truths About Reading

Different books in different cultures

I know that part of this is cultural. Children’s books in Polish aren’t written as children’s books in English are. Right now my kids are reading heavy chapter books with no pictures in Polish. It isn’t because they don’t need the picture support when they read it is because in those books pictures are an “extra” They weren’t added to help the reader gain an understanding of the text. When we talk about picture support that entire skill doesn’t exist in their native language texts. So, yeah it can be tricky to understand why the books they’re reading in English look more childish the books are just designed differently in each language.

Our school has a lot of work to do to explain this to teachers and parents and guests and administrators and children but this struggle doesn’t just happen at my school. Our librarian frequently denies books to children because she thinks they shouldn’t read them. Assistant teachers frequently rip books out of kids hands and tell them not to read them. Parents tell their kids to stop looking at the pictures and “read the book.” I know this might be happening at your school too.

Tell me your stories in the comments below and let’s band together to shift a damaging mindset about reading to a more inclusive and positive one!

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Scaffolding! I just love this quote. Can you teach without scaffolding? Yeah, but I don’t think it would be the best teaching possible. Scaffolding truly is an art form that the finest educators have mastered. It sets them apart from the rest as they work to provide scaffolding for each student.

How do you scaffold in the classroom? What struggles do you have with scaffolding learning for students?

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Have you ever sat down and written your teaching philosophy? Do you know what your goals as an educator are in the classroom?

The most important skills we can give our students are the sort of skills that transfer outside the walls of our classrooms. Skills like knowing how to enter into a conversation. Noticing when someone isn’t having a great day and asking if you can do anything to help them. Knowing how to disagree with someone respectfully. Being able to work together with a wide variety of people. An understanding of making a compromise. Knowing how to listen to ideas and think critically about them. These are the skills that sometimes get left behind in the race to cover content. Kids won’t remember all the content you taught them but these sort of skills will stick with them for a lifetime.

My greatest goal in the first-grade classroom is independence. I don’t do things for students that they are capable of themselves. They need to problem solve situations before an adult will help them. Creating this independence sets them up for success when they are no longer in my classroom. When they are free to learn on their own time I know they can still achieve great things.

What are your thoughts on this quote? I’d love to hear them!

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

This quote particularly struck a chord with me. I think so often when new things come around in education (in everything, not just math) there are many teachers who ignore it, cast it aside, or claim they’ve been doing it that way all along.  When we cast aside new things as things we’ve always done we lose the opportunity to develop and grow as educators.

I’ve recently sat in many meetings (one a week to be exact) with a teacher whose first comment for everything is  “I’ve been teaching this way for years” or “This is nothing new to me” At first I was annoyed with his attitude and the need to put everyone down. Now I just feel bad that he doesn’t realize so many important truths about teaching. He is done growing as an educator and has accepted his way as best- losing the opportunity to entertain new ideas.

  • It’s ok to not have all the answers
  • Change isn’t bad
  • Just because we’re doing something new now doesn’t mean what you did before was wrong
  • Being vulnerable opens you up to many possibilities
  • Teachers are never done growing and learning new things

Please try not to be this person who can’t accept anything new. Please try to be the kind of teacher who entertains new ideas. Who compares them to what they know and what they currently do. Who sees the differences in how we teach now and how we’ve taught in the past.

What are your thoughts on this quote? How do you allow yourself to see things as new and to continually entertain new ideas about education? Have you ever encountered a teacher similar to my teacher friend?