Keys to Helping 2e Kids Develop Lifelong Skills

Raising Twice-Exceptional Children: A Handbook for Parents of Neurodivergent Gifted Kids
By Emily Kircher-Morris
(Routledge/Prufrock Press, 2022- Learn more)

Reviewed by Amy Estersohn

I can imagine a parent or teacher innocently asking, “What is twice-exceptional, and how do I know if I am working with a twice-exceptional child?” without realizing that identifying a twice (or multiple) exceptional student is as much a challenge as working with that exceptional student.

In short, a twice-exceptional student is gifted and has one (or more) learning differences. Some examples of a twice-exceptional student could include

● A child with a high IQ and ADHD
● A quick-thinking student with exceptional verbal skills who struggles with printed reading material due to dyslexia
● A passionate and curious learner who also has autism
● A deeply creative person whose slow processing interferes with test performance

Some twice-exceptional children earn high grades in accelerated classes while others may pose significant academic and behavioral challenges in the classroom. Some may be identified quickly while others may have developed significant masking and compensation strategies to “hide” their exceptionalities from teachers, adults, and others.

A diagnosis can be a sigh of relief to a student or parent asking, “Why me?” Finding a psychologist who is familiar with twice-exceptional children and how different exceptionalities can skew testing one way or another is key towards receiving a comprehensive diagnosis.

Emily Kircher-Morris writes this parent handbook through her role as a mental health counselor, the host of The Neurodiversity Podcast, and a self-identified neurodivergent person.

Lifelong skills beyond a diagnosis

The emphasis of this handbook is on lifelong skills for twice and multiply exceptional students. It is based on the premise that all children deserve to be treated as whole, and that their unique qualities should be affirmed and celebrated. Rather than provide an external, rewards-based system for desired behaviors, Kircher-Morris identifies key skills that twice-exceptional children often work to develop and devotes a chapter to each one.

Those skills are:

Self-Advocacy. Kircher-Morris writes, “Those around the twice-exceptional child assume that something as ‘simple’ as asking for help should be no problem for a child who can expound on the nature of the space-time continuum” (105). She uses Deb Douglas’s work to discuss how academically advanced students ask for help.

Emotional Regulation. The chapter focuses on understanding emotions and learning what a proportional reaction to the challenge or setback may be. This chapter is inspired by Dr. Michelle Borba’s writings.

Executive Functioning. Kircher-Morris advocates for a scientific method-like approach where students study their habits and begin to form hypotheses, collect data, and analyze results, like, “Will setting an alarm on my phone help me remember to bring my trumpet home from school?”

Effective Social Communication. Many twice-exceptional students find peer relationships challenging. Kircher-Morris presents pros and cons of different kinds of social experiences (e.g. online friends) and creatively brainstorms ways that twice-exceptional students can have meaningful and constructive social experiences.

Self-Directed Motivation. A values inquiry model is provided to help students identify and align their reasoning and inspiration for their behaviors.

Each of these skills is addressed through the lens of self-acceptance. Kircher encourages, “When you start working on the skills that your child needs for success, recognize each success as a step closer to your child’s goals… It is possible they may never completely ‘catch up,’ but remember that catching up isn’t necessarily the goal. The goal is to help them learn to work with their strengths and through their struggles. And every little bit of progress is worth celebrating” (89).

A parenting handbook: not a manual, textbook, or research guide

This clear, quick, and easy-to-browse volume has a parent audience in mind. (Hey, it even says so on the cover.) Graduate students, researchers, or parents who are interested in the science behind these diagnoses and interventions will find that the references to other articles and research are thin and there are no recommendations for further reading in the book.

I don’t think the busy, frantic parent is going to mind, but I can see the graduate student or independent researcher finding this book less than what they need in the way of robust scientific inquiry.

For more on twice exceptional learners, read Emily Kircher-Morris’s MiddleWeb article Help Twice-Exceptional (2e) Learners Flourish along with this review of her book Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom.

Amy Estersohn is a teacher and college admissions consultant who has worked with twice-exceptional students. She runs a College Spotlight newsletter and can be reached at


A Fresh Way to Engage Students in Research

A Teacher’s Guide to the Multigenre Research Project: Everything You Need to Get Started
By Melinda Putz
(Heinemann Press, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith

Until recently, the Multigenre Research Project (MGRP) was practically unheard of. While similar to Project Based Learning (PBL), the MGRP goes much deeper into activating student interest and encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning.

By encouraging students to seek out learning they are most interested in, engagement is increased, and learning becomes more meaningful.

Melinda Putz’s book A Teacher’s Guide to the Multigenre Research Project: Everything You Need to Get Started is an effective tool to help navigate the world of the MGRP.

Though often used in the Social Studies or Science classrooms, MGRP lends itself to activating student interest in almost any classroom setting and with almost any subject.

A new approach to an old concept

Most disciplines have standards that involve research of some kind. The MGRP offers an alternative to the traditional research essay or poster-board project. It’s a fresh way to excite students to get them to take ownership of what they want to research, while also hitting those all-important research standards.

The very nature of the MGRP requires students to synthesize their learning through artifacts from multiple genres, i.e., poetry, essay, cartoons, etc., and this synthesis gets students to that all-important Depth of Knowledge Level 4 many schools and districts aspire to.

For any teacher interested in offering an MGRP for student choice, but who is afraid of administrative kickback, there is an entire chapter (10) dedicated solely to the research and standards behind the MGRP.

The MGRP is something to offer for older grades – at least grade 6, with some modifications. By the time students have reached high school, they should already possess the basic skills for researching topics, so implementing the MGRP will be a relatively painless transition. (See these ideas for middle school from Jeremy Hyler.)

Though not a simple task, implementing the MGRP allows students to follow their own interests, so they are more determined to complete the projects they have chosen. This is not a stuffy essay! Rather, it is a chance for students to truly show their learning and mastery on any topic they choose. In the words of Putz:

Nearly all of the ideas I have included in this book have been created, tried, and revised over a period of about ten years. Although I’ve included lots of handouts and step-by-step instructions, I believe the teaching of this project should be in no way formulaic. The multigenre project should be all about exploration, innovation, and individuality (p. 14).

Resource packed chapters

The book is deceptively thin, but it packs a wallop in information! Each chapter has been well organized to get to the point, and reach it quickly, so that the teacher can get students started as soon as they are ready. The text also includes access to online materials, provided through the Heinemann website, for download and immediate implementation. The samples include handouts, lesson plan ideas, and exemplars for students to see.

Each step of the process is well thought out and well implemented to make the most use of classroom time. Essentially, the book is the layout for the project and each chapter builds upon the one before it.

New to MGRP? Start with Chapter 11

For anyone new to the MGRP idea, Chapter 11 is where you would want to begin. This chapter lays out the proposed schedule, troubleshooting ideas, and even a process for using the MGRP as a group project. After reviewing the information in Chapter 11, return to Chapter 1 for a run-down of what, exactly, an MGRP is, and a chart on how it differs from a traditional research project.

For those teachers who are tired of fighting an uphill battle to get students to complete a research essay or presentation, this is a viable option that offers a chance for students’ buy in while also challenging them to dig deeper and find true meaning in what interests them most.

Erin Corrigan-Smith is a secondary ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. She has recently returned to school to earn an Ed.D. in Reading and Literacy. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and dog to read, complete her never-ending piles of homework, and relax.


Get Ready to SOAR into the New School Year!

By Kathleen Palmieri

Where did the summer go? Here we are preparing for, or maybe already beginning, another school year. Whether you are a new or returning teacher, a new school year is exciting, but it can also be stressful.

Why not SOAR into the new school year as you plan out your structure and organization, assess your classroom, review and reset? Here are a few ideas from my fifth grade classroom to get you started.


How will each day flow? First, consider the “Master Schedule” for your classes, which includes fixed specials such as music, physical education, art, and hopefully library. Block out these times in your planner.

Then include any service areas that some students may need to attend such as academic intervention, speech, or English as a new language classes. Next, create times to teach subject areas such as math, language arts, reading, social studies, and science.

Finally, consider working a “Class Meeting” into your daily schedule. This needs to be a time when all students are in the classroom. Class meetings are a great way to touch base on a social emotional level, revisit classroom behavior and expectations, and allow students time to express their thoughts and ideas. When students feel they have a voice, it is truly a game changer in the overall classroom environment.


Before jumping into the decorating aspect of your classroom set up, take the time to consider what is currently in your classroom. Set aside a day or two to weed out old files, manipulatives, classroom library books, or any type of basket/shelving that has seen better days. To give the classroom a fresh start, get rid of the “clutter” that can many times sabotage your best efforts to organize.

Once you’ve gotten rid of the old, make a list of what you will need to help stay organized during the school year. Along with purchasing new baskets, bins, books, or shelving, consider what labels you may need to buy or create.

Finally, brainstorm by mapping out how you will arrange the students’ desks and any tables you have. Consider your teaching style and the flow of the room. Will you use stations? Group work? Labs? Taking the time now to think through how you will organize all aspects of your learning space will be very beneficial moving forward.


From the doorway of your classroom, take a look around and analyze what you see. Start by scanning all the walls and consider your bulletin boards. What message do they give? What purpose will they serve? Is there a flow in design, or is there too much displayed – making the room too busy?

Is there a bulletin board that seems to scream, “I’ve been hanging here for years and I look tired?” Well, if so, it’s time for a change. (By the way, it is okay to leave a blank bulletin board (or two) and allow the students to help create that space.)

Finally, look at the desk arrangement, placement of the classroom library, pencil sharpener, etc. Does the classroom feel inviting and organized, or does it feel cramped and overwhelming? I like to use the old adage, “Less is more.” If you’re feeling a bit smothered, take something out. Experiment until it feels comfy but not crowded.

Review and Reset

What icebreaker activities might you use for the first few days? How will you introduce classroom rules and expectations?

Did you use a Google Classroom? Consider how you’ve set it up and if it needs to be revamped. Will you create topics that go by the dates of each week? Will you create topics by subject area within one classroom or create multiple Google Classrooms?

Consider whether you want to create digital student portfolios for writing or to keep track of reading. Using Google Sheets to keep track of student data is a great time saver and easily accessed for meetings and conferences. If you would like to learn more about this, click on my article Use Google Sheets to Track Student Data.

It’s helpful to review your subject area curriculum maps and revisit the structure of the lessons. Look at what is expected in the first semester/quarter. Think about what went well last year or what you want to change. Consider what the objectives are for each lesson and unit, and work backward.

I also like to find some time for professional reading to help me reset and jump-start with fresh planning ideas. A few books I would highly recommend (and have reviewed) are Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: Raising and Teaching Self Motivated Learners by Debbie Silver; Questioning for Formative Feedback by Jackie Acree Walsh; The Essential 25: Teaching the Vocabulary That Makes or Breaks Student Understanding by Marilee Sprenger, and The Gift of Story by John Schu.

The First Few Weeks

Now that you’ve organized your classroom, it will be helpful as you pull together anything you will need for the first few weeks of subject area lessons. For example, in math and science you may need manipulatives or materials to set up a station/lab. For language arts, reading or social studies, review the readings, the writing genre, or activities and prepare for each. To help engage students, think about how you use digital resources such as Jamboard or Flippity and possibly incorporate an interactive notebook.

After you’ve prepared to soar into the new school year, it is really important to add another “R” to my acronym. Relax! Find time to enjoy with family and friends, and to do whatever makes you happy.

Feature image by Scott from Pixabay 

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher and NBCT Professional Learning facilitator. She is a fifth grade educator in upstate New York who reviews and writes regularly for MiddleWeb. With a passion for literacy and learning in the classroom, she participates in various writing workshops, curriculum writing endeavors, and math presentations. As a lifelong learner, she is an avid reader and researcher of educational practices and techniques. Collaborating with colleagues and globally on Twitter @Kathie_Palmieri and expanding her education adventures at are ongoing practices for her.

New to STEM Teaching? Five Things to Do Now.

A MiddleWeb Blog

I started my journey into middle school teaching during a teacher shortage crisis. I had a BS in biology, zero courses in education, and an emergency teaching certificate. However, my only real qualification at that time was that I had a pulse.

Today schools are dealing with post-pandemic teacher shortages and need more qualified STEM teachers than ever before.

You may be a recent graduate with a teacher education degree. Or perhaps you’re one of those emergency certified teachers assigned to teach STEM. Or you may be an experienced teacher who has suddenly learned that you will be teaching STEM this year for the first time.

In any of these cases, you may lack education in STEM content and teaching methods. Will this put you at a disadvantage as a STEM teacher? Not necessarily!

A quick note about STEM: The term STEM isn’t used consistently in schools across the United States. Some school systems may use it synonymously with “Science.” When I talk about STEM here, I refer to the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics taught using the engineering design process. (These short “teaching tool” PDFs at my book site background the difference.)

Remember that STEM is a relatively recent area of study that engages students in non-traditional ways of learning. Few teachers have specific training in teaching STEM, so you’re part of a cutting-edge effort being piloted by teachers of all experience levels. You have this entire year to learn and try out best ways of leading STEM projects. However, you obviously want to get off on the right foot, so I’ll offer 5 ideas to help during the first week.

1. Find out about your students

The first week of school, before you begin leading STEM projects, start building a positive classroom community and get to know your students. Middle schoolers are the most intriguing and amazing group of students you’ll ever teach. Your attitude and interest in them sets the climate for their learning. Take time to find out about traits they liked in their favorite teachers, their favorite way of learning, and behaviors they value in you and one another.

Let your students know that you like them and look forward to teaching them (even at times when you’re not so sure you do!). Remember – middle schoolers may totally change personality from one day to the next. At this age, they don’t actually know who they are anymore – and you won’t know either – so just go with it.

2. Get a handle on Project Based Learning (PBL)

Even experienced teachers find STEM to be a new challenge. If you aren’t familiar with the PBL teaching method find out all you can about it. PBL is hands-down the most successful method of involving your students in STEM challenges.

3. Start stuffing your STEM toolkit

When leading STEM challenges, you’re preparing kids for their future occupations whether or not they choose a designated STEM field. For example, STEM content includes a heavy emphasis on “soft skills.” Today this area of learning is called social-emotional learning (SEL).

Business identifies SEL skills as being critically important to workforce success. They lament that workers are noticeably lacking in these, and this affects their quality of work. Start now to plan how to work SEL skills into your classes for all students.

Don’t panic! Remember that you can think this through and incorporate various skills into your projects throughout the year. For the first week, pick one skill to begin building in students – perhaps something familiar, like respect. Online help is out there to help you figure out how to help kids learn SEL skills.

As far as explaining the actual STEM principles and skills – I don’t have space to go into STEM particulars in this post, so please start your study by checking out What is STEM, 8 Criteria for STEM, and STEM lessons. This will give you a beginning foundation in basic STEM principles and the all-important Engineering Design Process.

4. Begin with a simple STEM challenge

Decide on a simple, interesting STEM challenge to introduce (or reintroduce) kids to the STEM process and the way they will be approaching challenges. You might give them this handout to read over as homework after you introduce STEM. (Be sure you have the materials and equipment kids will need for this project.) You can find a few project ideas here.

Be sure to make these points with the kids upfront.

In STEM work, failing to solve a challenge is not a bad thing. It’s just a normal part of engineering work and is the way they will get information to rethink their solutions and try again.

You won’t be giving kids instructions on how to solve their challenge – they will come up with their own solutions and experiment to see if they work.

Different teams may come up with different solutions. That’s okay – there are usually several correct answers.

5. Set kids up for successful team experiences

To solve problems kids will work in teams. Your students may have worked in teams before and probably acquired some unproductive (useless) teaming habits. During the first week, start them working on at least one successful teaming strategy. Gradually build this skill set throughout the school year. Download a free booklet from this site for procedures for setting up successful student teams.

A couple of additional first-week tips

► Post a chart in the room showing the engineering design process (EDP) so kids can see it as they work on challenges. Remind them that they can go back and forth between the steps.

► Introduce students to digital technology they will be using in their first challenge and make sure they feel comfortable with it.

► Begin helping them think like problem-solvers. As one of your first classroom activities, toss out a problem and ask them to get in small teams and suggest solutions. Point out that they should consider many possible solutions when solving STEM problems, and different teams may come up with different correct ways of solving the problem. Explain that out-of-the-box ideas are welcome.

It takes time. Be kind to yourself.

Please note that it can take a full year for STEM projects to become ingrained as a way of doing business in your class. When this happens, the culture of your classroom shifts, and students will begin to support one another as fellow learners. In fact, team members begin to take responsibility for the success of one another.

Also note that there is no “one size fits all” in establishing a successful STEM process. Mechanically following these procedures I suggest will not bring about magical results. Intentionally continue to study, implement, assess, and adjust STEM projects. Tailor this process for your students as you learn. Be flexible, resilient and positive, and enjoy the journey!

SEL Picture Books for Middle School Advisory

By Kasey Short

Students are never too old to enjoy hearing books read aloud and to benefit from the impact of their content. Middle school students need consistent opportunities to learn about, practice and discuss social emotional skills. These skills aid students in their behavioral and academic growth.

Throughout the years I have found picture books to be an effective way to encourage students to think about and discuss these topics. Starting out by discussing the characters in these accessible, illustrated stories allows middle grades students to offer their ideas about children’s literature without having to share personal information until they are ready.

Using picture books also allows me to address various topics in advisory over a short period of time because most picture books are quick to read and easy for students to understand.

In the list below, I offer an overview and suggested list of questions. The questions ask students to share personal information and thoughts. Many will need time to develop trust before they feel comfortable sharing, while others may choose to share from the beginning of the year. Some may never feel comfortable. This should always be their choice..

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Overview: Jabari begins the day looking forward to jumping off the diving board for the first time but realizes he might feel a little scared and uncertain about jumping. His dad lets him know that it is okay to feel scared and that sometimes when dad feels scared, he takes a deep breath, and it feels less scary and more like a surprise. Jabari climbs back to the top of the diving board, thinks about how he likes surprises, and jumps.

Suggested Questions:
1. How did Jabari overcome his fear of jumping off the diving board?
2. How did Jabari’s feelings about jumping off the diving board change throughout the book?
3. Have you ever tried something that scared you? What did it feel like before and after the experience?
4. What helps you when you are scared?
5. Do you like surprises? How do you think new experiences are like surprises?
6. How did reframing the experience as a surprise help Jabari?
7. If you could overcome one fear, what would it be?

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

Overview: This book reads like a lyrical poem and shows a young girl giving herself affirmations. Throughout the book the reader is given concrete and abstract examples of affirmations that encourage loving who you are and being kind to others. The book ends with the empowering quote, “I am enough.”

1. How did the book make you feel?
2. What do you think the main character in the book thinks about herself?
3.What does the following quote mean to you? “I’m not meant to be like you; you’re not meant to be like me. Sometimes we will get along, and sometimes we will disagree.”4.The last page of the book simply says, “I am Enough.” What does it mean to be enough? What causes someone to feel like they are enough and other people to feel like they are not?
5. Think about who you are and write an affirmation sentence about yourself.

Activity Suggestions:
Create an advisory “We are ENOUGH” poem. Start and end the poem with the line “We are enough” and have each member of the advisory write one sentence about themselves in the same style as the book to contribute to the group poem. (Students can also create their own personal poems.)

My Thoughts Are Clouds: Poems for Mindfulness by Georgia Heard

Overview: This book starts with an introduction about mindfulness and why it is important. The book then has a collection of poems written about mindfulness in a variety of styles. Some of the poems read like breathing exercises. While the poems can be read out of order, they seem to follow from one poem to the next, and if possible, it would be beneficial to read them in order from cover to cover.

1. Which is your favorite poem from the book? Why?
2. What did you learn about mindfulness from the poems?
3. The poem “In and Out Breath” on page 22 gives examples of what the author hopes to breathe in and out. What do you hope to breathe in and out?
4. The poem “My Thoughts are Clouds” on page 28 gives examples of thoughts someone may think when they are nervous and/or anxious. What are some thoughts that pop into your mind?
5. Read about kindfulness on page 50. How can you practice kindfulness? How might practicing kindfulness impact others?

Activity Suggestions:
1. Choose any of the breathing techniques in the book and try them.
2. Read the poem “Selfie Moment” on page 26. Capture the present moment in your mind. Sketch a picture of a moment you hope to hold in your memory forever.
3. Read “Consider a Raisin” on page 36. Then give students a few different types of food to try and ask them to eat slowly and consider each morsel of food and how it tastes – like the author of the poem does.
4. Read the poem “Nature Walk” on page 40 and then go on a mindful walk with your advisory.
5. Complete the Butterfly Body Scan activity on page 44.
6. Read the poem “Empowerment Mantra” on page 48 and then have each student write their own empowerment mantra on a sticky note and put it somewhere they will see it.
7. Read the poem “Kindfulness” on page 54 that includes a poem by Christina Rossetti and a similar poem the author wrote. Use these as examples to write you own poem about being kindful.

Find Your Calm by Gabi Garcia

1. The main character in the book describes anxiety in many different ways such as: “a jumble of thoughts racing through my head,” “my body feels like it’s moving in every direction,” “I freeze,” etc. What does anxiety feel like to you?
2. The character lists various strategies to help her feel calm such as the ones below. Have you ever tried any of these strategies? Which one do you think might help you the most?
• looking around for reminders of safety
• focusing on something familiar
• paying attention to her 5 senses
• paying attention to her breath
3. How does using specific strategies and having others she can trust impact her day-to-day life?

Activity Suggestions:
The last 4 pages of the book provide specific grounding activities and information about anxiety. Share these activities with students and take time to practice them together.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Overview: Brian isn’t noticed by his teacher or his peers. He goes through most school days unnoticed. He loves to draw and spends his free time at school drawing creative scenes. When a new student, Justin, joins their class, the students laugh at him because he is different. Then Brian and Justin become friends.

The author’s website has links to activities and questions connected to the book.

Thao by Thao Lam

Overview: Thao shares her own experiences of growing up with a name that most people mispronounced and misspelled. She shares how it felt to temporarily change her name to something easier to pronounce. Her experience shows the importance of taking the time to learn to pronounce names correctly along with the power of loving your name, and encourages the reader to think about the significance of a name.

Topics: Identity

1. How do Thao’s feelings about her name change throughout the book?
2. Why does she decide to ask people to call her Jennifer? How do you think she feels after making that decision?
3. What do you know about your name? Does your name have a story, significance, etc.?
4. Has anyone ever mispronounced or misspelled your name? How did it make you feel?
5. Why is it important to take time to learn how to correctly say people’s names?
6. If you don’t know how to say someone’s name, what can you do to help you learn?

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña

Overview: It is Carmela’s birthday and her wish of being old enough to go to town with her brother has come true. She picks a dandelion, and she starts to think about the perfect wish. As they travel, she notices different aspects of her town and imagines different things that she dreams for her and her family. Then she falls on her scooter and drops the flower. She begins to cry because she has lost her wish. Her brother then surprises her and takes her to a place where “the sky was full of wishes.”

Find a teacher guide from the publisher here.

The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Overview: The images and words come together to tell the story of how one little mistake on a painting inspires good ideas and more mistakes lead to a masterpiece. It shows readers the value of making mistakes and how it can lead to new ideas and discoveries.

The publisher’s teacher guide includes specific SEL questions and activities.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Overview: The book tells the story of Chloe who ignores Maya, a new student in her class, even when Maya reaches out and tries to have conversations and play with her. Chloe laughs with her friends about Maya’s clothes and what she brings for lunch. But she begins to realize the value of kindness after her teacher demonstrates how kindness has a ripple effect with a bowl of water and pebbles. Then one day Maya moves to a new school, and Chloe realizes she’s lost her opportunity to ever be kind to Maya.

1. Why do you think Chloe decided to treat Maya the way she did?
2. How do you think Maya felt when she was rejected by the students at her new school?
3. What could Chloe have done to show Maya kindness?
4. What does the quote “Each kindness makes the whole world a little bit better” mean to you? How could you apply it to how you treat others?
5. How do you think Chloe felt at the end of the story? How do you think her experience with Maya will impact how she treats others from then on?
6. How have other people shown you kindness? How have you shown others kindness?
7. What can you do this week to be kind to others?

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

Overview: This book highlights all the amazing things about a young boy. Some are concrete examples, and others are more abstract and encourage the reader to interpret the meaning. It leaves the reader with positive feelings and many examples of how someone might be “good.”

The publisher’s teacher guide with activities and questions is here.

Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving by John Frank

Overview: This book is filled with poems about giving that are accompanied by beautiful illustrations. It includes poems about sharing your lunch with someone who doesn’t have one, donating hair, cleaning up a river, planting trees, and much more. Each of the poems can be read alone and in any order, but there is power in a collective reading about the many ways we can give and help others.

1. Which poem did you like the best? Why?
2. What is an example of someone who has given you something important or helped you in a time of need? How did that make you feel?
3. What are examples of giving in poems or in your life that don’t include material possessions? What are different ways you can give to others?
4. Why is it important to give to others?
5. What do you have (think both material possessions and nonmaterial things) that you could give to others?
6. What was given in the poem “Home Run”? How did that gift impact the recipient?
7. What inspired the boy to “give” in the poem “No Change”?
8. How does the illustration beside the poem “Puppy” help you to better understand the poem?

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Overview: This thoughtful picture book tells the story of a crayon that is labeled as red but, no matter how hard it tries, always colors blue. The crayon is sad and frustrated as everyone pressures it to be red. Finally, the crayon realizes and accepts that it is a blue crayon; it is then happy, relieved, and excited to be who it was meant to be. This story shows the value of being who you are and accepting others for who they are.

1. How did Berry’s friendship help, and what did Berry help others understand about Red?
2. How did other’s expectations of Red impact him?
3. What helped Red to fulfill his potential?
4. What real life examples can you think of where someone is judged based on their appearance?
5. What is the danger of judging others based on their appearance?
6. What makes you, you?
7. Have you ever surprised yourself or others at being good at something you didn’t know you could do until you tried?

Activity Suggestions:
Double Self Portrait – Divide a piece of paper in half. On one side write and/or draw how you see yourself, including strengths, weaknesses, and physical attributes. On the other side draw and/or write how you think others see you including strengths and weaknesses, and physical attributes.

What is the same on both sides? What is different? Why do you think those differences exist?

What Do You Do With a Problem by Kobi Yamada

Overview: This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a child who is struggling with one problem that is causing him great anxiety. Ignoring the problem does not help; in fact, it is not until he finally faces the problem that he finds a solution. This book encourages readers to examine problems closely rather than running away from them – because with problems come opportunities for growth.

1. The child has a problem that they want to go away. What things did they try that didn’t work? Why do you think they didn’t work?
2. What impact did the problem have on the child at first? How did that change over time?
3. Have you ever had a problem that you couldn’t stop worrying about? How did it feel? What helped you deal with the problem?
4. How did avoiding the problem impact the child?
5. What happened when the child tackled the problem? What did they learn from the problem?
6. Have you ever learned a valuable lesson from a problem?
7. How could you apply the lesson the child learned to your own life?

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat

Overview: This engagingly illustrated book tells the story of what happens after Humpty Dumpty’s fall from the wall. Readers learn that he has developed a fear of heights that causes him to miss out on things he loves to do. The ending shows young readers the benefits of getting back up after a literal or figurative fall.

1. How did fear impact Humpty?
2. What motivated Humpty to finally climb the wall again?
3. Did the ending surprise you?
4. How does the author use color in the illustrations to show emotion? Consider the colors used to show the bottom of the wall vs the top of the wall.
5. What scares you?
6. What does it feel like when you are afraid?
7. If you could overcome one fear, what would it be?

More Book Suggestions

Mindfulness for Kids in 10 Minutes a Day by Maura Bradley
Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise and falls of a Rock Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi
The Year I Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
Our Class Is a Family by Shannon Olsen
What Do You Do With a Chance by Kobi Yamada
The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi
The Water Princess by Susan Verde, Georgie Badiel, and Peter H. Reynolds
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
The Tree in Me and My Heart by Corinna Luyken

Teacher Guides

Bring SEL into your class or library with Corinna Luyken! provides ideas for using The Book of Mistakes, My Heart, Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, and The Tree in Me.

Activity Guide: Find Inspiration and Make a Difference with the Books of Peter H. Reynolds includes Our Table, Happy Dreamer, The World Collector, Be You, and Say Something.

Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) loves to share ideas from her classroom and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. Kasey is the Middle School Director of Studies and an 8th Grade English Teacher and Advisor at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School.

Explore Story’s Power to Bring Us Together

The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life
By John Schu
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2022 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Sarah Valter

For the past two years and more, life has been anything but “normal” as educators have fluctuated from virtual learning to masks to a society that has, at best, been ever-changing and unstable.

Throughout everything this time has thrown at teachers, one thing has been constant and true: our need for truth and connection.

How do we find truth and connection? In our stories, both those we create ourselves and the ones we find inside the covers of a book.

This is exactly what John Schu brings to light in his new book for educators, The Gift of Story.

For anyone who has not had the good fortune to find yourself in a workshop led by “Mr. Schu,” he is a force for good in the world of books and literacy. He speaks of books and authors in a way that spreads joy, builds connections, and leaves you filled with excitement to share a love of reading with your students.

The Gift of Story captures this same enthusiasm and brings it to educators everywhere. He states his mission in the very first pages: “Matching children with books is one of the most important roles we have as educators. It’s a sacred task” (p. 5).

Story’s Essential Roles

The Gift of Story is structured in a way that’s easy to read and highly accessible for always busy educators. It’s framed around five roles of story: Clarifier, Healer, Inspiration, Compassion, and Connector.

Each chapter unpacks one of these roles, provides insight “From the Teacher’s Desk” with a brief essay from a practicing educator, and offers an extensive annotated bibliography of books – both picture books and middle grade novels – that support the focus.

Schu leaves space for us to create and track our own list of relevant titles, and includes bite-size quotes throughout the book from professional authors defining their perspective on story, using the hashtag #StoryIs.

Story as Healer

As much as everyone has their own story, we also have an innate human need to see pieces of our stories in the lives of others. In this first role of story, Schu reveals ways that stories can be vicarious, healing experiences for readers, bringing stories out into the world that might otherwise stay hidden.

Story as Inspiration

Stories have the power to make us better versions of ourselves. As Schu examines the role of stories as inspiration, he emphasizes how book talks, book trailers, and visits from authors and illustrators can connect kids with books in ways that spark new ideas and new identities both as humans and as readers. (Bonus: This chapter is full of resources for book trailers, a book talk format, and recommendations for virtual author visits!)

Story as Clarifier

We all know the world can be a messy place sometimes, crammed with ideas and questions and even misconceptions. In thinking about the role of story as clarifier, Schu discusses how stories hold the power to inspire us all to ask and answer questions. Through practices like Makerspaces, Genius Hour, and other activities that cultivate curiosity in our classrooms, all teachers can harness the power of a good book to ignite new ideas and foster wonder as students gain new perspectives about the world.

Story as Compassion

One of the greatest powers stories hold is to help students and school communities build compassion. Whether it is growing a deeper understanding and empathy for others or experiencing the trials of a character who develops deep compassion, books enable readers to better understand the feelings, motivations, and desires of others.

Story as Connector

Mr. Schu closes the book with perhaps the most essential role of story: serving as a connector. Teachers know the important role books can play in building our classroom communities. The Gift of Story highlights how stories can build this community not only in the classroom, but throughout the school, the district, and the larger community.

Schu shares tips for teachers and leaders, including ways to share books from one staff member to another and tips for bringing parents in by incorporating book sharing into PTO meetings and school events.

This chapter also outlines several literacy celebrations you can bring into your classroom or school, including Poem in Your Pocket Day and World Read Aloud Day. This chapter will leave you feeling both connected as a teacher and craving the opportunity to deepen the connections in your own school and community through books.

Reaffirming the power of story

As we head into a new school year this fall, there are many reasons to approach the weeks and months ahead with joy and hope. Though there are many social and political challenges facing our world right now, there are also many reasons to look at our students and see a bright future.

This is the excitement and positivity that Mr. Schu has captured in The Gift of Story – the desire to use the stories that bring us all closer together in ways that make the world a better place.

Sarah Valter is the district Literacy Coordinator for Lindbergh Schools in St. Louis, MO. In her two decades in education, Sarah has taught in the primary and intermediate grades, mentored new teachers, coached at the building and district levels, and led professional development in literacy.

Sarah is also an adjunct instructor at St. Louis University and has recently been added as a co-author for the Two Writing Teachers. Sarah believes strongly that all children and adults should not only have the skills to read and write, but also the motivation to live as lifelong readers and writers.

The Bumps and Scrapes of First Year Teaching

A MiddleWeb Blog

In a new blog series, teacher educator Curtis Chandler offers the same advice he shares with beginning teachers graduating from his own program.

I stopped driving to work about 4 months ago. The spike in fuel prices made traveling in a run-down, gas-guzzling truck cost prohibitive. Lucky for me, my house isn’t terribly far from where I teach. Once out of my neighborhood, it’s a straight shot down a 2-mile hill to campus.

Instead of walking, I decided to start riding my son’s longboard to work. Longboards, if you’re not familiar with them, are longer and wider than normal skateboards and used to cruise and carve, particularly when riding downhill at high speeds.

There are just two problems with my new mode of transportation. First, though I spent some time on a regular skateboard back in the 90’s, I’ve never longboarded before. Second, the road and sidewalk that take me to work are rough, bumpy, and littered with gaps and potholes that are difficult to navigate once I get going downhill.

So far, there have been some scrapes, bruises, a couple of embarrassing falls, and a few close calls. But…I’ve survived and even grown to enjoy the challenging daily commute.

For new teachers, the first year in the profession can feel just as precarious. We find ourselves clinging to the edge of chaos and struggling to navigate various instructional, organizational, and personal challenges along the way. Thankfully, education research and the wisdom of veteran practitioners provide several helpful suggestions to help teachers survive – and even thrive – in their rookie year.

Seek out Supportive, Effective Mentors

Effective coaching and mentoring can make all the difference in your first year of teaching. Even when you’ve been assigned a mentor teacher, it’s imperative that new educators seek out a couple of expert practitioners to learn and grow with.

As educators, few things are more helpful than surrounding ourselves with individuals who are positive (not cynical) about the profession. Creating a small, trusted circle of energetic colleagues gives us an avenue to ask for constructive, timely, specific feedback about our instruction, classroom interactions, and performance.

Working with others to figure out the puzzles also helps ensure we develop key instructional practices and effective behavior management skills during our first crucial years in the classroom.

Ask to watch. Identify one or two specific teaching elements you’re struggling with, then carve out time to observe other teachers in action (particularly those who excel in the areas you wish to improve in). Despite the many demands on your time, be intentional about creating opportunities to “marinate” in the effective practices of others to ensure as much improvement as possible during your first year.

Create a Positive, Well-Managed Classroom Environment

Most teachers will agree that few aspects of teaching are more crucial to student (and teacher) success than effective classroom management. Creating a classroom culture that promotes social–emotional, academic, and behavioral learning needs to be a top priority.

It takes consistent, conscious effort, however, for beginning teachers to move beyond mere “crowd control” towards promoting positive self-discipline in our students. A well managed classroom environment is most  likely to result when we make these things our goals:

  • Activities designed to interest and challenge learners.
  • A teacher’s sincere desire to help each student (even the most “prickly” and challenging ones) experience success.
  • Clear and consistent behavioral expectations and classroom procedures.
  • Constant monitoring of student performance and behavior.
  • Behavioral and instructional strategies that increase on-task performance across the classroom and address student misbehavior with consistency and kindness.

Despite our best efforts, we will still encounter a significant amount of off-task and/or disruptive behavior. Keep in mind that a positive, well-managed classroom environment is NOT something we either achieve or fail to achieve. It’s a continual effort we make to propagate a culture of high expectations and support that enfolds every learner in our classroom.

Once again, I’d urge you to ask to watch. Observing teachers who are masterful at building a well-managed, engaged and self-regulating classroom will be a revelation to you. And it’s most helpful once you’ve made some less than successful attempts in your own classroom. The a-ha moments you’ll experience are worth the time and effort those observations require.

Monitor and Manage Stress

It’s no secret that teaching has evolved into one of the most challenging, stressful professions in existence.  While stress is an inevitable part of life in the classroom, it’s far too easy to let things get out of balance when we get too busy and overwhelmed.

To keep stress at a healthy level, here’s what I (and the experts) recommend:

  • Establish and maintain healthy habits that include sufficient rest, a balanced diet, and consistent exercise. You’re going to need your strength to weather a world of new responsibilities (and exotic new germs!) amid the daily turmoil of first-year teaching.
  • Avoid the temptation to spend all your time planning, teaching, grading, and fretting. Each of us needs to regularly carve out time to do other things that bring us joy and fulfillment. Learn something new, keep up with your hobby, find a binge-worthy show on TV. Get some perspective.
  • Dedicate a small slice of time each day to recenter, breath, and improve you own emotional well-being. Mindfulness isn’t just for students. Seek out mindfulness strategies through articles, YouTube videos, and phone apps that work for you. Doing these things will make us more effective at managing and reducing conflict and experiencing greater satisfaction in the classroom.

For other helpful hints on stress management for teachers, see my earlier post here at MiddleWeb.

It’s a Rough (But Rewarding) Road

When I started longboarding earlier this year, I wasn’t fully prepared for the steep learning curve that it would pose. I thought…Why would longboarding be any more challenging than snowboarding, surfing or other board sports I’ve done in the past?

It didn’t take me long to realize that concrete and asphalt are far less forgiving than water or snow! During the first week, I took a nasty spill when my front wheels clipped a raised edge of pavement. The enthusiasm and confidence I had felt minutes before was reduced to rubble. In the days that followed, I spent most of my time cautiously and obsessively scanning the terrain ahead of me, then slowing down at the slightest hint of trouble. (I expect you can see the teaching analogy here.)

After a few miserable days, I spoke with a much more seasoned rider who chuckled and said… “Longboarding is tough. You’re gonna’ hit some bumps and get some scrapes. Just embrace it.”

He ended up being right on multiple counts. The less I worried about falling…the less I fell. When I did wobble, careen, and wipe out, I dusted myself off and jumped back on the board. I focused on making small adjustments, rather than nursing my battered flesh and wounded ego.

The same lessons apply to a teacher’s first trial-by-fire year in the profession. Despite our best efforts, each one of us will consistently experience trials, disappointments, and struggles in the classroom. These inevitable challenges will work either as stumbling blocks…or stepping stones to personal and professional growth and success.

As someone who’s been where you will be this year, I really urge you to embrace the challenging reality of our profession, work with trusted colleagues (who have been there too) and become a bit better each and every day.


Developing the “Why” for Middle Grades Math

By Christian Polizzi

As they transition from elementary school into the middle grades, students start asking those hard questions, like why is Joe buying 5 crates of watermelon each holding 8 watermelons? Young adolescents want you to be real with them and they want the truth: Why should math matter to me?

Many standards are abstract and do not divulge the importance of the skill or why this is relevant to them as students. As a math teacher or an educational leader, you should remedy this, not just move on. Taking time to incorporate real life examples, asking students for examples in their lives, and having students create their own math problems will not only impart the “why” but will help them grow their math knowledge.

Adding Real Life Examples

Sometimes adding real life examples is easier said than done. Taking an abstract standard, such as Common Core standard 7.G.A.1 (Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale) and framing this standard to make sense to students can seem difficult.

Reflecting on your personal life and how you would use this standard in the real world and sharing your reflection with your students should be your first approach.

For standard 7.G.A.1, this might include pulling up a map showing two cities on the smartboard or projector and zooming out, revealing that the cities might have moved closer, but their distance apart has not changed.

Or show the students a blueprint for a house. Is the house going to be the size of the piece of paper? No, it is drawn to scale. Not only will the students see the concept in a new light, but they will also understand why this is relevant to them.

Examples in Student’s Lives

Culturally relevant pedagogy is not talked about in math enough – in part because teachers sometimes struggle to find examples that make sense to adults, let alone students. This step is usually the hardest as it requires you to know your students, the community, and how to make connections with their worlds.

When you reference places in the community your students shop or eat at, sports or games they play, or their personal interests and tie it to a mathematical “why,” students will better understand the relevance. Sometimes, asking kids the simple question about where they see this skill or standard in their lives elicits a student generated “why.” Other times you will need to dig deeper into “why” the topic is relevant.

Teaching a math lesson to students in an international community where the game of (team) handball is valued, I taught ratios in the amount of steps you could take between each dribble (3:1) or by looking at pictures and finding ratios of the red team members versus the blue team members.

By Kuebi – CC BY-SA 3.0

This can spur the group to look at more complicated ratios such as shots taken by each team, or saves by the goalie, or passes made. Students’ prior knowledge of the sport came in handy as they were able to better frame their understanding of the math concept. Given this example, students were able to make deeper connections with the concept and standard. Teachers in various countries can duplicate this idea using popular national sports.

Student Developed Problems

Creating is at the pinnacle of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and an excellent example of what a math classroom should strive to be. Not only should your students create examples at this step, but in addition they should create their own personal “why.”

What “why” would they incorporate into one-variable equations? What lens should they view linear equations through? Creating problems and delineating a connection to their life show mastery of the skill.

Likewise, in the process of creating these types of problems, students who are struggling can learn from peers who successfully navigated the problem and have found their personal “why.” Students teaching students is an approach that can benefit students at both higher and lower levels of mastery as they continue to master the skill. Similarly, students will be excited to share their “why” because it will be personal, giving them an opportunity to learn to love the content.

Establishing the “Why” Takes Time

Taking time out of math instruction to explain a “why” that is relevant to your students and providing time for students to develop their own problems with their own “why” can seem overwhelming.

Start small and grow the “why” for each unit, then standard, and eventually each of your lessons will provide access to the content your students didn’t previously have. Finally, pushing your students to advocate for their own personal “why” will open the door for mastery for all students.

But before any of this can happen, you need to take your time and find your “why.” Take time to understand “why” math is important, and “why” you teach middle grades math.

Christian Polizzi is Academic Coordinator and Curriculum Lead at Washington Global Public Charter, a middle school in Washington DC. He has experience teaching social studies, ELA and math, and working as a special education teacher, at both public schools and private international schools abroad. He is continuously seeking ways to provide support and equitable access to education for all students across the globe, and is continuing to grow by pursuing his Educational Doctorate.

5 Civic Education Steps to Preserve Democracy

By Shawn McCusker and Tom Driscoll

Shawn McClusker

Regardless of politics, one thing that is universally agreed upon is that if we do not invest more of our time and resources in creating well educated citizens who are prepared to participate in democratic society, there will be consequences.

According to a recent NPR/IPSOS poll, 60% of Americans believe democracy is at risk. And of those Americans, 70% believe that as a result, the country is at risk of failing.

Tom Driscoll

In his paper “Democracy Devouring Itself: The Rise of the Incompetent Citizen and the Appeal of Populism,” Canadian psychologist Shawn Rosenberg (2019) predicts that democracy won’t survive. The chief reason behind his belief is that democracies, specifically America, have failed to prepare citizens to properly participate in a democratic society.

Many point to today’s political quagmire as an excuse for not diving into civic education reform. That is a mistake. Today’s political landscape makes having the conversation even more important, not less.

For educators who want to take steps to improve civic education and prepare students to take the reins of our democracy, we offer these 5 steps to make civic education more meaningful and help contribute to a healthy democracy.

ONE: Civic Education should happen early and often.

Historically, preparing citizens happened just in time, prior to a student gaining the right to vote when they turn 18. That was when they were able to “officially” participate in democracy. Today’s students actively engage in political dialogue as soon as they have a phone and gain access to social media.

Waiting until they are voters is no longer viable as a strategy. Students need to understand democracy to engage in these social media dialogues in a meaningful way. The modern version of “just in time” is as soon as possible. Civic education programs should be intentional, ubiquitous and formally constituted rather than incidental, isolated and ad hoc.

TWO: Citizenship is active. Civics class should be too.

Listening about how to do something is not learning how to do something. Civics should be an experiential learning experience and should consist of experiences in citizenship. There are limitless ways to provide these opportunities both in and out of the classroom.

The most prevalent teaching practice in Civics classrooms continues to be the lecture/discussion model. However, we should

• Organize Civic Action Projects that allow students to take on a challenging issue.
• Have students not just attend but take part in local democratic processes.
• Have students participate in authentic simulations or games of the democratic process. (An excellent example is “Citizen” the Game. It’s an incredibly detailed model of how decision making happens.

THREE: Define a citizen’s role as more than voting.

Often when controversy arises in our society, we are urged to “get out and vote.” However, a healthy democracy requires more than just voting. Democracy is based upon staying up to date on current events, societal problems and the challenges others in society face.

An educated electorate is important. But so are things like making your opinions known to lawmakers, paying taxes and serving on juries. It’s also important for citizens to be able to access democratic processes. While voting gets a lot of press, there are myriad other responsibilities of citizenship that should share the spotlight. We can begin by engaging students in identifying those responsibilities.

FOUR: Incorporate civics across the curriculum

Traditionally, the responsibility for creating citizens has belonged to the social studies department and is usually achieved through a single course or unit. Citizenship is a set of skills more like reading, writing and mathematics. There are many important opportunities to include Citizenship education within other classes as well.

Weights and measures, copyright laws, and nutrition standards are just a few of the ways that the functions of government can be relevant in other subject areas. If we thoughtfully address these intersections in an organized way, students will have a better understanding of how they as citizens might be interacting with government, without really knowing it.

Ask yourself: What important Civic concepts and dispositions does the Language Arts department take ownership of? How can the applied arts program contribute to a better understanding of how government interacts with people? What about Science? Health? Business?

FIVE: Engage students in Civil Discourse regularly.

One of the most common strategies used when teaching Civics classes is classroom debates. This can be a very effective strategy for framing civil discourse, but it should not be the only one. Debates have at their core a desire to win by changing people’s minds. Debates put students in a position of listening not to understand but to counter what their opponent says.

“Poster, George Floyd protest, Minneapolis, MN, June, 2020” by iamrenny. Public domain.

Classroom Dialogues avoid creating a binary argument based upon disagreements and differences. Instead, dialogues favor broadening our perspective, looking for shared meaning, and identifying ambiguity and paradox.

Dialogues don’t force participants into a hardened position before they have had a chance to explore and understand a topic.

One program that demonstrates a simple method for creating healthy dialogues is Teach Different. Their method starts with a historical quote or concept and has students create a claim and then a counterclaim before they explore the space in between the two. It is an eloquent model that creates room for discussion without forcing students to immediately assume a position on a topic that is brand new to them.

Democracy Is in Crisis. Educators Need to Act.

We are currently facing a crisis in civic education across the country. While many fear civic education as a topic because of its proximity to politics, we cannot afford to ignore the need to reform how we are preparing kids to be future leaders.

If we give students meaningful experiences that paint a more realistic picture of what a strong and healthy democratic process requires, make those experiences ubiquitous throughout their classes, and teach them the skills to respectfully share their beliefs and hear those of other citizens, our students will be better prepared for the realities of life in a democracy.

Tom Driscoll and Shawn McCusker are authors of the new book Becoming Active Citizens: Practices to Engage Students in Civic Education Across the Curriculum.

Shawn W. McCusker (@shawnmccusker) is Director of Professional Learning at Digital Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital learning gap and supporting teachers in schools across the United States. Shawn has 25 years of experience as a teacher and leader in public, private, and alternative schools. He is passionate in his belief in student-centered, experiential learning and the power of student storytelling.

Shawn was an early innovator in the creation and organization of online learning communities via Twitter, such as #sschat and #1to1techat. He works with schools across the U.S. to develop teacher capacity in technology use, blended learning, creativity, and engaging civic education strategies. Visit his website to learn more.

Tom Driscoll (@tomdricolledu) is an author, speaker, and CEO for EdTechTeacher, working with over two hundred client schools in the United States and internationally. He is a former digital learning director for the Bristol Warren Regional School District in Rhode Island, where he led numerous projects and initiatives related to the district’s digital learning transformation. Tom began his career as a high school social studies teacher in two public school districts in Connecticut.

Tom was the recipient of the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Digital Learning Champion for Leadership Award in 2016. He also is a Google for Education Certified Trainer, Newsela Certified Trainer, and Microsoft Innovative Educator. He holds a master’s degree in computing in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

A Deep Dive into How Learning Works

How Learning Works: A Playbook
By John Almarode, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
(Corwin Press, 2022 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Anne Anderson

How Learning Works: A Playbook takes readers on a deep dive into research and learning theory. For me, the purpose of this book is on page 3 of the Introduction: “Knowing how learning works can help us design experiences that amplify our students’ learning outcomes.”

Be prepared to do some heavy duty thinking, reflecting, and responding with this text. You will also want your personal “write-on” copy of How Learning Works. Throughout the spiral-bound book, you will respond, reflect, describe, explain, and show evidence of your own learning.

The authors may be familiar to educators who have followed the work of John Hattie and his colleagues, including Almarode, Fisher and Frey. Corwin’s collection of playbooks devoted to various aspects of this work would fill a bookshelf!

On page 5 you will find this overview of the How Learning Works playbook.

Within these modules readers find tools, prompts, and activities to utilize a variety of instructional practices in their classrooms. Throughout the book the authors have included QR codes for video clips, templates, and additional resources. The playbook, along with its accompanying resources, is an excellent choice for administrators and instructional coaches to use in PLCs.

On page 4 the authors stated that “…the modules that follow this introduction are not necessarily intended to be completed in sequential order or all at once.” However, there are frequent suggestions to “revisit” (p.58) or “flip back” (p.128) to an earlier module. Personally, I think you would want to read it in order. Whatever you do, be prepared to spend a great deal of time on each module.

The modules in Part II focus on these promising principles: motivation, attention, elaborate encoding, retrieval and practice, cognitive load, productive struggle, and feedback. Each chapter begins with an explanation of the promising principle and concludes with a check for understanding.

My key takeaways from Part II

Module 6, Promising Principle 2: Attention

“Attention is our capacity for identifying, selecting, and focusing our cognitive resources on specific stimuli.” (p.56) In this module, readers are invited to list specific influences that affect their students’ attention. Most teachers will find there is not enough space for this list!

Following that is a discussion of three factors that influence attention:

  1. Prior Knowledge and Learning
  2. Deep Motivation
  3. Awareness/Attention/Engagement

The authors discuss how this principle or practice might look in a classroom. Then they suggest four practices from the research on attention to help address the challenges in today’s classrooms. The reader is challenged to focus on improving attentiveness in their classroom.

Module 11, Promising Principle 7: Feedback

“Feedback is the glue that holds the acquisition, consolidation, and storage of learning together.” (p.110)

The giving and receiving of feedback has the potential to propel learning forward for all students. The authors reference John Hattie’s 2012 research suggesting that teachers address these three questions:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. How are we going?
  3. Where do we go next?

The authors share examples of learning intentions and success criteria from mathematics, science, English language arts, and social studies. After completing the accompanying chart describing the focus of this feedback, readers have insight into what is needed to move learning forward. The authors remind readers that feedback “needs to come at the right time, personalized for the specific learner and their learning, and focus on moving learning forward.” (p.114)

What you’ll find in Part III

The modules in Part III address these explicit strategies: goal setting, integrating prior knowledge, summarizing, mapping, self-testing, and elaborate interrogation.

Learning Strategy 5: Self-Testing

“Self-testing occurs when learners respond to low-stakes practice questions about previously learned material.” (p.180) Readers are invited to complete a chart describing how self-testing benefits motivation, attention, elaborate encoding, retrieval and practice, cognitive load, productive struggle, and feedback. As the authors continue to lay the foundation for self-testing, a graphic (summarized here) shows the process.

➡︎ Learners must acquire a tool kit and collect resources to support their self-testing.

➡︎ Learners must align the tools and resources they select with the specific learning outcomes communicated through the learning intention and success criteria.

➡︎ Learners must know where to go to give and receive feedback.

What then follows is an explanation of how this learning strategy might be presented in the classroom.

The final module, Generating and Gathering Evidence, guides readers in evaluating the impact of the science of learning and these strategies in their classrooms. This evidence “guides us in making decisions about what happens next in our teaching and their learning.” (p.215)

Gaining insights into your students’ learning

How Learning Works: A Playbook provides educators with learning strategies our students need to become independent learners. Yes, you will have to make adaptations to these practices. Yes, you have to study the evidence to check that learning has occurred. Some days – some weeks – it may be slow going, but keep on keeping on. “When we gather evidence through seeing and listening, we gain insight into learners’ understanding, dispositions, and motivations.” (p.215)

Anne Anderson always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from East Texas Baptist University with an English major and History minor and did graduate work at Louisiana State University and Louisiana Tech University. After teaching 8th graders for 24 years, Anne served as a content coach. Since retiring in 2011, Anne has worked as an educational consultant, presenting at national conferences and onsite trainings for public and private schools.  

Calendar Celebrations: September, October, November is part of Anne Anderson’s trilogy on resources for months of the school year. (For MiddleWeb she wrote about selected fall celebrations here, about spring here and about winter here.) Anne has also published articles in IDEAS Plus and Voices from the Middle, publications of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is a frequent reviewer of professional books for