Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

The Week in Review: Gardening, Growing and Gratitude

This Week’s Posts

I hope you have been following along with my back-to-school endeavors to maintain balance so I can do right for myself, my family and my students. If you’re just joining us, fear not! Here’s what we did last week…

Launching a Workshop Model in High School

For the past two weeks, I’ve worked on my new workshop schedule, trying it out with the kids after dabbling during summer school. I really think it will be a good way to keep kids engaged, no matter where they are. They like independence, with just enough support – and not too much talking! We’re going to a reduced day (5.5 hrs) instead of our early dismissal schedule at noon from the last two weeks. In the afternoon, I’ll add more hands-on tasks: digital journaling, garden work, science experiments… Stay tuned.

Getting in that Garden…

We had a few thundershowers this week, so I had to spend less time watering the new hydrangeas that my youngest son brought home from work for me. In the garden, I thought a lot about the things that nurture my soul:  teaching troubled teens, spending time in prayer and study, and time in the garden. Taking time to care for yourself is important in unpredictable times such as these. I hope you remembered to schedule it in your day.

I don’t garden because I’m the world best gardener – I’m not. I don’t have a good track record with houseplants, for example. They REALLY must have a sense of humor – and not mind being grazed on by cats. Here’s a shot of my new palm that sits behind me in my office. It just screams, “Please, chew on me!”

I DO love gardening, but not because I raise enough food on a quarter acre to feed my family through the zombie apocalypse. This year, between spring slugs, unbearable heat and weeks with little rain, I have managed to grow salad greens, arugula, a few cherry tomato plants and some herbs. Last weekend, I stuck some ornamental cabbage and kale in the ground, and planted one last round of beans, radishes and lettuce – fall gardening, to the rescue!

Gardening gives me (and my students) peace. Something about digging in the soil, the smell of the basil in the morning, the feeling of the sunshine on my back, the music of the warblers, cicadas and spring peepers. It’s the way a catbird eyes me and follows me as I weed, snagging grubs or beetles that I toss to the side. Kids and adults benefit greatly from getting outside in the garden. 

Peace and Gratitude

In the garden, I feel God’s presence. I see evidence of His qualities in what he created: beauty, and mathematics, and patterns, and music, and warmth, and freshness, and renewal. I can talk to Him, and He answers me with a breeze, in a slowly circling  buzzard, or a butterfly on a bit of clover.

A friend loaned me her son’s UCONN pompom to cheer on my colleagues on the first day of school. I’m waving it for YOU now! You’ve got this! Even Chiquita thinks so… {Image credits: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett

“Life-fulfilling work is never about the money – when you feel true passion for something, you instinctively find ways to nurture it.” ~ Eileen Fisher, Fashion Designer

School and Life Shopping for the Week

Admit it, teacher-friends: between back-to-school and COVID stay-at-home orders and quarantines, we have all developed a heavy-duty Amazon addiction. Sorry not sorry. I put some items in my overstuffed Amazon cart this week:

I’ve also been shopping for my new journaling love: washi tape. If you haven’t starting using it, I will warn you: once you do, you’ll want to put washi tape on anything you write. One of my girls saw me using it, and I just had to give her a roll. She is currently using it to bedazzle her Chrome Book.

Check Out These New Features:

  • This Week, in Five Photos: This week, you’ll see a recap of my adventures in the garden;
  • Planner Pointers: Pop over to read how I focused on starting my day with a statement of gratitude.

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, reflection, social-emotional, special education, spirit

This Week, in Five Photos: In the Garden

Gratitude, Growth and Gardening

This week, I headed outside into the garden, both at home and at school with my students. The garden was a source of peace and connection with the world for me, and some much needed break from screens and keyboards for my students.

School Garden Curriculum

At this writing, my fall radishes, lettuce and beans are already up, and the raised bed at school is awaiting cleaning and planting. I purchased The School Garden Curriculum for lesson ideas. The compost bins at school will be set up and ready to go for the fall, and the kids are using their new Google Docs skills to research and share ideas for planting their fall garden. Stay tuned!

On a personal note, my husband had his 8-month check up post heart transplant (January 21, 2020). He (and the new heart!) got a big gold star for doing great. I AM grateful…

Looking Ahead to Next Week…

My students have always enjoyed journaling. I have been turning my journal pages into art therapy of a sort. I think I’m going to start electronic journals with the students next week, and refer to the components in my journal as we go, starting with morning gratitude statements.

Our essential question for our first month is “What Influences the Way You Act?” Last week, we talked about culture, and family, and personal choices based on character. We even connected the concept to the early European explorers, discussing reasons why someone would want to be an explorer (desire for adventure, skills at navigating, quest for fame and power, need to be the leader over something…). To connect art with this study, I made a note in my “post-it note brain” to start vision boards with the kids next week. Gotta gather up those old magazines…

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come. It will not tarry” ~ Habakkuk 2:2

My Wish for You

I hope the week was a smooth, happy one for all of you. Enjoy your weekend, and remember: you are important in the lives of your students. You matter. You are working hard. I see you, and I love you.

Be well,

~ Kim

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

Planner Pointers: Start Your Day With Gratitude

A Grateful Perspective

I once had an acquaintance who would say, “I’m grateful that I have an electric bill, because that means I have lights. I’m grateful to pay my rent, because that means I have a warm, dry place to sleep at night. I’m grateful for my bunions because it means I have feet. Some people don’t have any of those things.”

Gratitude does not mean ignoring the bad in life or pretending that your life is perfect. It means accepting it – no, being thankful for it – including the parts that are sad, unpleasant or disappointing, When you begin to approach each day on a positive note, and you do it over, and over, and over again, you begin to see a change in your whole outlook on life.

Be thankful for what you have. You will end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

A Little Note of Gratitude

My planner has a place to write a morning message of gratitude. But you don’t have to have a printed space in order to write a gratitude statement. Find an unused square in your school-issued plan book, or jot a note at the top of the day’s page. Even a fancy post-it note at the top of the page works. The added bonus for the post-it is that, if you have to move it throughout the day to write in your plan book, you read the gratitude statement all over again, as a reminder!

Starting your day with a written note of gratitude can help shape the rest of your day in a positive way. {Image Credit: (c) 2020 Kim M. Bennett}

Be Honest… Be Grateful…

The friend I mentioned above didn’t try to get fancy with his gratitude. When you write statements, don’t feel the need to “dress them up.” Here are the things I was grateful for in August, as an example. You can kind of see the things we went through during August of 2020:

  1. The sound of crickets chirping in the early morning ~ reminds me of childhood.
  2. A new day.
  3. The freedom to get up early in the morning.
  4. Hot coffee.
  5. A tree fell on the house we USED to live in ~ and NOT the one we live in currently.
  6. Even when things have seemed hopeless, God has provided for all of our needs, “according to His riches in glory.” {Phil 4:19}
  7. Vacation.
  8. Extra sleep on Saturdays.
  9. A job that I love.
  10. The sounds of early morning: frogs, crickets, faraway traffic, a wren singing, “Teakettle! Teakettle! Teakettle!”
  11. New day – new ideas – new possibilities.
  12. Each day can be a “do over.”
  13. Living a life of gratitude.
  14. A restart after a not-so-good day before.
  15. Time to relax.
  16. Extra sleep.
  17. An extra early start (even though I didn’t choose it) – thanks to our dog.
  18. Quiet spaces to work and think.
  19. One more day of life.
  20. A family who loves me and takes care of me when I don’t feel well.
  21. A family who can manage things while I’m under the weather.
  22. Negative COVID test!
  23. A great night’s sleep.
  24. The excitement of getting up and writing every morning.
  25. Sunshine ~ because everything seems better when the sun is shining.
  26. Fresh autumn air in the morning.
  27. Being able to return to work.
  28. My son is feeling better and can go back to work soon.
  29. A day to rest when I don’t feel well.
  30. One more weekend day.
  31. The return of the students to the building ~ I’ve missed them!

I’m laughing about all the references to extra sleep. My normal day is 4:00 am to 9:00 pm. It’s a luxury for me to sleep until 6:00 am. I don’t often do it, even on no-work days.

Living a life of gratitude starts with one simple statement ~ “Today, I’m grateful for…” {Image credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Your Challenge ~ 30 Days of Gratitude

Self Journal

Don’t wait for the 1st of a month – start tomorrow. At the top of your planner, before you even begin the day, jot down one thing that you’re grateful for. Do this every day for 30 days. At the end of the month, see how much better you feel.


Posted in body, general education, health, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Gardening with Children

The Importance of Outdoor Time

Earlier this week, we focused on some of the benefits of having a fall garden at your school or in your yard (for those of you who are homeschoolers or remote learning families). We also reviewed the social emotional skills that children practice when they are active participants in gardening.

Whether you are tending a planter with a few annuals, cleaning trash from school plantings, or creating an organic garden that feeds the students, just 15 minutes a day outside has been proven to enhance the well-being of children and adults of all ages.

Need more information or resources? See the sections below for information on gardening with children, with the focus age level noted: P = infants, toddlers and preschool; EC = early childhood (grades K-2) years; E = elementary grades (grades 3-5); A = all ages

Whether your garden is a small planter or a 1/4 acre organic plot, gardening with kids brings benefits to children of all ages. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

10 Resources on Gardening with Kids

I recently purchased The School Garden Curriculum, by Kaci Rae Christopher. It has 280 pages of weekly lesson plans and links to online printables, for Grades K-8 (although I plan to adapt the lessons for my older students, too). If you’re not looking into purchasing something, check out these resources, below. Don’t let the homeschool sites distract you – sometimes we “credentialed” educators make teaching and learning unnecessarily complicated. Less really is more when it comes to good learning.

Some sprouted potatoes in an old trash can full of leaves = a no fuss garden for any backyard. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Ready… Set… Garden!

I love testimonials. Share your wins, your lessons learned, other resources other people MUST have.

Now go outside. It’s time to garden.

Posted in body, general education, health, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Cultivating Social Emotional Skills Through Gardening

The Need for Social Emotional Learning TODAY

Many people bemoan all the changes that have occurred since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019. It’s been especially hard for teachers, who have suddenly become essential, not just to our students, but to society, offering wrap-around support to families, providing a safe place for kids to go while parents try to navigate no jobs / different jobs / changed hours / changed childcare / working from home. Schools feel pressure to open because kids need stability, parents need to work and society needs to find SOME sense of normalcy. We all crave a sense of normalcy.

Children are resilient – at least on the outside. But many of us who have spent our lives working closely with children know that stress often shows up wearing different clothes in kids, than it does in adults. Kids might sleep more – or not sleep. They might be noisy and provocative, or exceptionally quiet and compliant. Previously learned self-care routines (toileting, turn-taking, rules-following) may regress. Some kids might vanish from our rosters. We have been instructed, therefore, to pay especially close attention to social emotional learning and the mental health needs of our charges, as they return to the classroom this fall.

A garden is a perfect place for students to practice social emotional skills. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

The Five Elements of Social Emotional Learning

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) promotes the incorporation of social emotional skills into students’ daily curriculum, not just to support their social emotional needs, specifically. Boosting students’ skills through social-emotional learning (SEL) has also been shown to increase their academic performance (Durlak et. al., 2011).

CASEL identifies five proficiencies in SEL: self-awareness, self- management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. As a special educator, I find that addressing social skills – or any skills, in fact – through real-life situations gives them relevance and leads to better mastery. Such real-world situations might include service learning projects, special school events, classroom management tasks and similar activities.

Gardening to Support SEL

Working in a classroom garden can be an excellent opportunity to practice five strategies that will give students a chance to work on these five proficiency areas. Each strategy is coded to show what area it supports: self-awareness (A); self-management (M); social awareness (S); relationship skills (R); responsible decision-making (D). In child-friendly terms, Kaci Rae Christopher, author of The School Garden Curriculum, refers to three principles, which reflect these nicely: Care for Self, Care for Others and Care for the Land.

Show Responsibility for Something (A, D, M)

Elementary teachers know the power of “job charts.” I once knew a veteran teacher who used a colorful, cardboard wheel with student names and classroom jobs. She had about nine wheels in her closet, to pull from depending on how many kids she had in a given year. Teachers are resourceful!

Teens like responsibility, too. Knowing that a living things depends on them increases that sense of responsibility. Having the living thing be a plant instead of a class pet makes it a little more risk-free. Having a set time for gardening each day or week, and a job chart that rotates tasks among kids, gives kids a chance to get outside in a purposeful way, gives them a creative outlet, and gives them parameters to work within.

Use Collaboration and Cooperation to Accomplish a Task (M, R, S)

Anyone who has ever been involved in hiring or sports teams knows the importance of having an individual who can work with others. In basketball, you don’t need five people fighting to shoot the ball. Being able to contribute by fulfilling a role that is in harmony with the roles of others is a “soft skill” that is important for adult living.

Having a variety of jobs for students to do individually (planting an area, watering, weeding, sign creation) or with a peer (moving bags of soil/mulch. making a plan) gives kids a chance to work in harmony with others, either directly or through parallel, yet connected, tasks.

Demonstrate kindness toward people and other living things (A, M, S, R)

I work with teens with social-emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. Being kind is something that sometimes is difficult for them, as is relating to others in a healthy way. We often ask our students to reflect on whether they prefer to work with people, technology or other living things. People is often their last choice, because working with other people is hard. For ALL of us!

Working with plants provides students a chance to practice kindness toward other living things in a more risk-free scenario. It might seem silly, but students DO develop an affection for the plants they plant, tend and observe. These skills can then be transferred to other living things, as they develop.

In addition, caring for something else often enables students to look outside themselves for a moment, and be relieved of their inner stressors.

Make decisions based on evidence (D)

I was once gifted a chrysanthemum as a plant for my classroom, for my birthday. One of my students took on the responsibility of watering it daily. He was terribly dismayed when the blossoms turned brown and dried up, scolded me about watering the plant with cold coffee (something I confess to – and which doesn’t hurt plants), and proceeded to overwater the plant because “it’s DYING, Miss!” I had to explain to him that blossoms don’t last forever. The plant blooms, the flowers do what they do, then they fade. I showed him that the leaves and stem still looked green and healthy. We hunted until we found a withered flower with seeds forming, so I could show him the natural order of things.

Getting students to observe, ask questions, do research then make good decisions is one of those overarching skills that can be used in all aspects of daily living.

Reflect, set goals and work toward them (A, M, D)

As fall turns to winter, as plants give up their harvest and die for the season, students have the opportunity to contemplate what went well, what the possibilities are for continued gardening, and what they want to and need to do as next steps. This organized, strategic thinking extends into all aspects of life, and helps kids begin to practice some forward thinking, choosing their actions now in anticipation of the goal they are working toward.

Getting that Garden Going…

In the previous post, I shared some ideas for fall gardening. If vegetables aren’t your think, you can scatter wildflower seed, plant a fall flower garden, or decorate with a harvest theme, using decorative gourds, mums and a scarecrow. There really are so many possibilities – and all of them a good way to foster social emotional learning in your students, get them outside and active, and give them a break from screen time during a distance learning day.

Share your photos! As for me, I’m heading to Home Depot right now…

gardening and social emotional skills
Gardening helps kids learn how to regulate their behavior, make decisions based on evidence, and work collaboratively. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett
Posted in body, general education, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Fall Gardening ~ For Kids and Their Teachers!

Fresh Air, Sunshine and Soil

If you’re like me, you get out of school in June, throw yourself into your garden after a long winter and longer school year, retreat inside when it’s too hot to fool around outside. Then – BOOM! – it’s September and we’re back at school.

This year, I want to get in that garden, even if it’s September. Luckily, there are many things you can grow now that, unlike in the summer, the students will be around to eat. Here are some of the fall veggies that you can stick in the ground with your students, getting them outside in the sunshine (sunshine DOES kill germs!), and teaching them about healthy eating choices – something I desperately need after 6 months of being shut in, in front of a computer monitor.

A handful of fruits and veggies you grow yourself can be the healthy reward for a fall garden with students. {Image Credit (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Fall Crops for New England

  • Cole Crops: Cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, radishes, bok choy, broccoli and broccoli rabe all enjoy cooler weather, as do their greens cousins, kale and mustard. In the fall, they also avoid the cabbage loopers which are unwelcome guests in the spring. Buy transplants to jump start your garden – and no worries about an unexpected cold snap: these fellas can often be left in the garden into the cold months.
  • Fancy Mustard Greens: There are some fancy varieties of mustard greens to look for and try out from seed. The good thing about greens is that you can eat them whenever you want – if it looks like the weather is going to turn foul, just harvest them as baby greens. Try mizuna, tatsoi, and other varieties.
  • Beans: Here in Connecticut, the shoreline moderates the temperature enough where you just might be able to get some string beans in before frost, if you put them in now. Fava beans can be left in the ground longer, if your climate is a little warmer, as well.
  • Peas: Peas, like cole crops, like cooler weather. Snow peas don’t need to develop seeds, so, like the greens, you can harvest them a little early if the weather starts to turn on you in October.
  • Cilantro: Unlike many of the other herbs in the dill family, cilantro prefers a little cooler climate. Sprinkle some in the bed for some fresh herbs before frost, and make some pesto or salsa with the kids.
  • Fall Chrysanthemums: Add some color to your veggie patch at home or school with some fall mums that are ready to plant – no growing necessary.
Many crops you would plant in early spring do well in fall weather – and can be harvested before frost. {Image Credit (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Get Outside and Plant this Fall!

Gardening and being outside offer many health benefits to adults and children, especially in these times when outside opportunities over the summer were greatly reduced due to infection control. Make an effort to incorporate outdoor time and gardening into your home or school routines this year.

And post a photo of your fall victory garden in the comments! I love gardens…

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, special education

Nurturing Your Own Soul

Teacher-Friends: We Live in a Strange, Scary Time

Teacher-friends, I wanted to check in on you. How are you? Are you well? If you are struggling, I hear you.

Between the end of summer school and the beginning of the school year, my whole family came down with something horrible.

It started with a bad headache and sore throat. Then moved on to a fever. My 16-year-old had a fever for 11 days straight. With the fever came body aches, a runny nose, diarrhea, stomachaches, brain fog and extraordinary fatigue – the kind that had us sleeping for days and wondering if we were ever going to feel well. And that cough. The everywhere, anytime kind of cough that wears you out.

Two of us got COVID tested. The results were negative, but our caregivers and employers were suspicious, and required us to quarantine, anyway. I missed the first day of school, sitting at home, doing my lesson plans and worrying about my husband, who had a heart transplant in January, and had the highest fever of all of us. I moved an air mattress into our home office. My son holed up in his room (not a huge disadvantage for a teen – it’s their natural habitat). My husband would occasionally stand outside my door and look forlornly in, or bring me a cup of coffee to set on the corner of my desk before he retreated.

At this writing, I am back at work, documenting my daily symptoms. My son is still quarantining until he feels better (24 hours without a fever, so far). The one we worried about the most seemed to bounce back the quickest – thank God! I know that many people had it far worse than us, health wise. Many of you have, no doubt, had to change your work schedules to accommodate your own children’s return to school. Some people are still wondering if they will ever go back to work. Some of you may have lost loved ones, and are grieving as you get ready to return to work. There are so many things uncertain, and we teachers crave having the right answer!

The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

This COVID-19 / not COVID-19 thingy that we all had in my home has given me pause to consider how well (or not) I fill my own cup, being a natural cup-filler. For those of us who are also in a helping profession, filling others’ cups is part of our day-to-day existence, so much so, that we will come to school sick rather than disrupt the kids’ learning with a sub, or stay up all night to create something wonderful or catch up with household tasks after spending all the daylight hours on work-related things. Add small children, being a chauffeur for sports, or caring for an ill family member, and we have a recipe for physical and mental collapse.

Self-care is probably not something that comes naturally for many of us. I know I have developed the habit, since we closed our physical school last March, of putting a 3-hr block in my planner that says “SELF-CARE.” In that block, I put things that fill my cup, restore my energy (mental and physical) and nurture my soul and spirit.

Is your cup filled? What’s emptying it? What do you use to re-fill it?

What do you do for self-care? Click to visit my Pinterest board on Nurturing Your Soul. {Image Credit: “2015-03-25a Learning about taking care of myself — index card #self-care” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0}

You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup – So Fill It

Start today. Block your planner into 3-hr segments with a “theme” for each. Put one major task in each block – don’t pack the block full – that’s not realistic. Make sure one of the blocks says, “Self-Care.” Guard it selfishly. Fill it with things that refresh you and bring you back to your peaceful center.

During August, I focused on the following cup-filling activities:

  • Spending time with my family. We binge-watched six seasons of Vikings. Now I feel the desperate need to cover my body with Norse tattoos. Or fight with swords and giant hammers. And drink mead. Skål.
  • Doing lesson “planny” things. Those are lesson planning tasks without the pressure of HAVING to do them. I love lesson planning. I’m playing around with Google Classroom, Google Slides (I found this AWESOME filing cabinet for organizing my digital lesson plans!), and the Conferring Notebook from the Daily CAFE.
  • Cooking. I put Pandora on shuffle, and get to getting. I’m into soup and cooking with herbs from my garden these days.
  • Puttering in the garden. I don’t have a big garden. It’s more like a kitchen garden. I had salad greens, cherry tomatoes, lots of fresh herbs, and the best radishes. It was just too hot to be out there this summer. But there’s something soul-satisfying about grabbing a handful of something I grew and throwing it in what I’m cooking. It’s like kitchen magick.
  • Reading. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about ancient ways, especially in the British Isles. I’m of Italian-Irish descent, so I love going WAY back and finding my cultural and spiritual roots. For example, did you know that we just passed out of the Coll Moon? In Gaelic, coll means “the spirit/power within.” A fitting theme for a post on self-care. I’m also…
  • Buying books. Just window shopping and making wish lists is peaceful. One book on my short list is Soul Nourishment, by Deborah Haddix.
  • Praying and meditating. I created a prayer and meditation corner in my office. I start and end my day there every day. I also have discovered the joys of washi tape and journal embellishment. For me, there’s nothing more centering than using art materials along with my writing tools, when I journal daily during meditation.
  • Writing. I write. And write. And write. I try to aim for 2000 words at a time, and do this many times a day. A full post is intimidating, but I can bang it out in small chunks.

Set a Goal for Daily Self-Care

What will you do to keep yourself in that peaceful center in September? Share your best self-care tips – sharing IS caring! And check out the link, above, to see my Pinterest board on “Finding the Peaceful Center.”

Be well,


Posted in general education, literacy, math, mind, more seeds, special education

Using the Daily 5 and Daily 3 in High School

A New Normal

I’m having flashbacks of teaching my self-contained high school last spring.

Kids on Zoom, coming to school anywhere between 7:45 am and 6:00 pm. Kids leaving to go to the store, go to the bathroom, go on the trampoline, go to sleep. Sometimes, they didn’t “leave us” to do those things (another flashback to reminding a student that he was taking the whole class with him to the bathroom – yikes).

I had great lessons prepared, and had worked out the technology kinks ahead of time. But I was exhausted by the sheer MOVEMENT of students into and out of this little window of space in front of me. At any given time, I could have two black screens, one student twirling a toilet brush like a baton (I’m not even making that up), one student with her head thrown back and mouth gaping open in a snore, two students saying, “Miss, what do I do…” or “Miss, I need help,” all while I’m trying to coax another student to NOT go to the grocery store with his mom and stay in class at least until 11:00. Oh, and don’t forget texting/emailing/calling students who have “ghosted” for the day. 

Because I work with students who have a multitude of behavioral health and academic needs, I also need to build in time to explicitly teach rules, routines and procedures that would help them build the skills they needed to be advocates for themselves and lifelong learners. Students need to learn how to wait, how to use their time wisely, how to find and submit work, how to use on-screen etiquette ~ all skills that will benefit them in post-secondary or workplace settings.

One reason I love teaching summer school is that I have a small group of students that I can experiment with for the next school year. They love being the experts in the fall, and I look like I’m an expert, too, because I had a chance to fail, refine and reimplement for 6 weeks.

Over the past summer, anticipating some form of online learning would take place, I practiced my old, elementary workshop model. The workshop model allowed students to still get individualized attention (even if that attention was a phone conversation on the importance of coming to school), while allowing kids to take a break from looking at the entire class for a period of time and practice the skill of coming and going ON A SCHEDULE. Kids appreciated the customization, fewer students fell behind on work, and the movement on the screen was more predictable.
hybrid learning workshop
Managing student needs in a hybrid learning model can be challenging. Use a workshop model to help organize student needs ~ and create structure! {Image credit: (c) 2020, Kim Bennett. All rights reserved}

Workshop: The Daily 5 and the Daily 3

The Daily 5 is part of a learning model (the Daily CAFE) developed by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, two sisters who also happen to be elementary educators and literacy experts. Their model uses kid-friendly language to explicitly teach students all the skills in a comprehensive literacy program, as well as the self-regulation skills that they need in all subject areas. The original model was designed for K-5 students: however, more and more secondary educators (and not just SPECIAL educators) are finding that it presents an elegant way to manage a classroom of diverse learners, give them time to work with individuals and small groups, and manage the classroom at the same time.

The Daily 3 is a similar learning model, focusing on math instruction in a workshop model.

Two paragraphs in a blog post do not do these learning models justice. I encourage you to check out their website, or even become a member (as I did this summer). Fear not if you are a high school teacher – there is a large community of secondary teachers who are members of the Daily CAFE.

What is the CAFE? How do I use the idea in a secondary setting? {Image Credit: 2013, Duncan C via Creative Commons}

Adapting the Daily CAFE Model for a Secondary Setting

First, I took the liberty of creating high school-sounding equivalents for the “5” and the “3,” leaning toward terms that my students would already recognize.

Element in the Daily 5… Becomes This in My Classroom
Read to SelfIndependent Reading
Read to Someone{Part of Conference with the Teacher OR Assessment}
Listen to ReadingChallenge Reading (with audio support)
Work on WritingWriting
Work with WordsWord Work or Vocabulary
The elements of the Daily 5 and what they look like in my classroom

The elements of the Daily 3 model, and what they become in my classroom.

Element in the Daily 3… Becomes This in My Classroom
Math by MyselfIndependent Math OR Skill Practice
Math with Someone{Part of Conference with the Teacher OR Assessment}
Writing About MathMath Applications
The elements of the Daily 3 and what they look like in my classroom

I also added Math Games, using Greg Tang Math and other resources, as a fourth element for math instruction.

In person, I’ve used partners and small research groups for literacy and numeracy work ~ I’m working on using the Zoom break-out rooms for this work. Stay tuned for updates!

Creating Instructional Groups for Workshop and Conferring

I did not change my procedures for creating instructional groups. To start the year, I will group the students using any convenient means, and assess their starting point during my first round of conferences. Because I’ve had my kids multiple years, I used roughly leveled groups, using their overall levels in reading and math, and will change my groups in a couple of weeks, based on conference data.

Planning for the Daily 5 and Daily 3 in High School

There is really no difference between planning for the Daily 5 in high school and in elementary school. The only difference might be the time you have available to use the model each day.

I am fortunate to have a self-contained classroom, and, because we have a school-wide focus on social-emotional learning, I have greater flexibility with my schedule (out of necessity). I DO, however, teach all the subject areas. I put together a schedule which divides my day into literacy/social studies (a.m.) and numeracy/science (p.m.), and thought about each class period (48 minutes) as 3, 15-minute segments: a mini-lesson, and two student tasks. Instead of letting students choose their tasks, I rotated the daily 5 and daily 3 elements through their schedule for the week, as well as my times to confer with students individually and in groups.

Here is a sample schedule of my school day:

But I Don’t Have a “Workshop-friendly” Schedule

No worries. 

If you have a set schedule by subject: Mini-lessons and groups address learning needs. Some are subject-specific (e.g., finding differentials); others cross all content areas (e.g., setting up a notebook entry). Think of your instruction as a week-long process: if you teach 5 classes a day, you have 5 mini-lessons and 10 student tasks = 15, 15-minutes blocks to fill. Plug in your conferences into the 10 student tasks, and sprinkle your mini-lessons and skills in accordingly – don’t worry if they cross into other content areas. This is where thematic teaching works well – kids (and administrators!) don’t say, “Why is this writing task in their math block?”

If you teach traditional sections: Again, think of your classes (now, they’re sections – maybe 4 sections of freshman biology and one of AP biology, or 5 sections of pre-algebra and 1 section of geometry). It might take you longer to “rotate” your students through the different elements, or you might assign one element to each day of the week. You might use the same framework for 3 sections of algebra, but a different framework for a 4th, because of the student needs. The point is, flex it however you need to – just think about your class period as 3 blocks of time: time to directly instruct, time for students to practice and apply skills, and time for you to work with specific groups of students based on need.

How do I Begin with Workshop and Groups?

Right now, on a piece of paper, I want you to think about your last group or section of students, and write the students who:

  1. Needed help reading the text
  2. Had difficulty following the directions
  3. Needed more time to copy notes from the board
  4. Were absent frequently
  5. Had para or Special Educator push-in support
  6. Were English learners
  7. Didn’t pay attention the first time you gave directions
  8. Frequently finished before the others
  9. Had more than one place to be during your class (e.g., speech services, band rehearsal)
  10. Needed a movement break

We’ve already come up with 10 “groups” for you to think about – and you don’t need all of them! My advice is to think about what you already do to support these kids, and PLAN for it, instead of reacting to it when it comes. Start small – one student, one need, one group, one section, one class period. Add more as you feel comfortable (because the kids adjust faster than we do!). Be okay with regrouping and trying something new. Invite the kids’ feedback. 

empty desks
Starting groups for workshop can be as simple as forming a “catch up” group for students who missed school earlier in the week. Start with what you already have! {Image Credit: naosuke ii, 2004 via Creative Commons}

A Workshop Planning Tool… for You!

I created a thinking tool for you! It represents a self-contained day with four subject areas, but you can modify it to make each “rotation” a separate section or day – whatever works for you. Feel free to modify it, change the names of the elements – whatever makes it easier for you to start. 

Secondary Workshop Planner FREE
Download a planning template for your secondary workshop classroom. Click on the image, make a copy and edit it to suit your own needs! {Image Credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2020}

I’d love to hear how it turned out for you!


Posted in general education, homeschool, how-to, mind, social studies, special education

What’s the Big Idea? Using Big Ideas and Essential Questions in Instruction

Big ideas and essential questions
Use big ideas and essential questions in your high school history class to encourage deep thinking. {Image credit: “British Empire Map in 1886,” Forgemind Archemedia via Creative Commons}

Using Big Ideas and Essential Questions in Instruction

What’s a Big Idea? How Do Big Ideas Connect to Essential Questions?

A big idea, sometimes referred to as an enduring understanding, is an important concept or idea that students can construct as the result of a unit of study. Unlike isolated facts, big ideas can’t be merely transmitted to the learner, but must be “earned” by connecting individual pieces of learning over time. Because they reflect meaning-making on the part of the learner, big ideas are constantly being revisited and revised by the learner as they gain deeper understanding. They are often transferable from one content area to another.

For example, consider the following big idea:

Different choices can lead to different outcomes.

This big idea can be used in a US History class during a study of Congress’s decision to go to war, during a Psychology class while discussing personal responsibilities, and even in a Statistics class while learning about probability. The beauty of a big idea is that, when it is presented in multiple content areas, the understanding of the learner actually deepens.

How do teachers get learners to understand big ideas? In order to get students to think deeply and make meaning as they do, teachers guide their learning through the use of essential questions. Simply stated, a big idea is the answer to an essential question. One essential question can have many big ideas as the answer. Conversely, one big idea can answer a number of different essential questions.

Big ideas span topics and subject matter, and recur throughout our lives. {Image credit: “Jack’s War Pictures 7,” Jack Trimble, 2005 via Creative Commons 2.0}

Big Ideas vs Lesson Objectives

Lesson Objectives

“My text book includes lesson objectives – are those big ideas?”

In short, no, they are not. Here is an example of a set of learning objectives from a chapter of a US History book in my classroom:

  • Identify the European nations that sent the earliest settlers to America.
  • Describe 3 differences among European colonies.
  • Name 3 reasons settlers came to the New World.
  • Explain what the Mayflower Compact was.

Because I encourage students to think beyond Eurocentric views of history, I added the following learning objective:

  • Describe the impact of European exploration on the indigenous people of the Americas and on the rest of the world.

In a nutshell, the unit describes how the Spanish, French and English were the first European settlers of North America. They had various reasons for coming here – some similar, some different. Once here, their colonies had some similarities and some differences, one being that the English created a set of rules for their new society here, called the Mayflower Compact. The arrival of Columbus to the Americas had an effect on the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, as well as on the people of Europe and Africa, which lasts until this day (called the Columbian Exchange).

Big ideas can’t be merely transmitted by the teacher, but must be “earned” by the learner.

Consider the difference between these lesson objectives, and the following essential questions and big ideas:

  1. What is imperialism? Imperialism is the act of one country establishing colonies in far-away lands to increase the power and wealth of that country.
  2. What is human migration? Migration happens when large groups of people move from one area to another.
  3. Why do people migrate? People migrate for many different reasons – some similar, some different.
  4. Why do people make rules? People create rules to govern their society and their behavior.
  5. How does human migration affect the world? The movement of large groups of people has an effect on the group that migrates, the people who choose not to migrate, the people who are already in the new land, and, sometimes, the rest of the world.

Which lead to deeper understanding? Which can be used over and over again? Which give the teacher more “bang for the buck?”

Lesson objectives lead to convergent thinking, while essential questions are open-ended and lead to divergent thinking. {Image credit: “Mayflower II, Plymouth, MA,” by SJ Dunphy, 2006 via Creative Commons 2.0}

Why Focus on Big Ideas and Essential Questions?

Essential questions:

  • Are open-ended, having no “right answer;”
  • Are meant to be discussed, argued, and analyzed from multiple perspectives;
  • Encourage active meaning-making by learners;
  • Lead to higher-order thinking;
  • Raise additional important questions;
  • Have multiple entry points, so all learners can participate;
  • Naturally arise during study of a subject;
  • Can be considered multiple times, adding important new information each time.

Big ideas:

  • Represent the “essence” of the content;
  • Connect content from one lesson/unit to another and from one subject to another;
  • Increase opportunities to practice and master concepts, skills and strategies;
  • Allow the teacher to keep content grade-appropriate while allowing for learner differences.
Using big ideas and essential questions leads learners to construct their own meaning about important content. {Image Credit: “Inquiry Learning Word Cloud,” by Christopher Lister, 2015 via Creative Commons 2.0}

Using Big Ideas and Essential Questions in Instruction

Big ideas and essential questions can be used in many ways in the classroom.

  1. Use an essential question as a lesson activator. Have students write a question (“What is time? Why do we measure it?”) in their notebooks and take 5 minutes to answer the question before you begin a new unit. Alternatively, post the question on the board, give one minute for private consideration then discuss. Record student responses; compare to big ideas later.
  2. Use an essential question as a writing prompt. After we have considered an essential question (“What problems are common to everyone? What problems are not?”) a number of times in History class, I will use the question as a writing prompt, reminding students to use specific examples from their lives and class to support their answers.
  3. Post essential questions in the room as they are studied. As an “exit ticket,” ask students which essential questions they addressed in the preceding lesson.
  4. Use essential questions as assessments. I always try to include at least one essential question on each quiz. Even if the majority of the quiz is fact-based content, including an essential question lets me see the deeper understanding that students have learned from their studies, especially if the same question is at different times during the year. For example, last year, we focused on “Why do people do what they do?” throughout the school year, and the students saw it on a variety of assessments in life skills, group, social studies and English, throughout the year.
  5. Review using essential questions. Put essential questions in a box. Have students take turns pulling a question from the box and answering it aloud.
  6. Sort big ideas by essential question. Pass out big ideas learned, to date. As a review, have students match big ideas to one or more essential question.
Asking questions is an innate human characteristic. Utilize it to promote student meaning-making. {Image Credit: “Why Do Humans Q,” by Meadow Saffron, 2006, via Creative Commons 2.0}

For More Information

For more information on big ideas, essential question, and Understanding by Design, see “UbD in a Nutshell,” by Jay McTighe.

Need a jumpstart? Download “Essential Questions (and Big Ideas!) to Encourage Historical Thinking” (based on the Historical Thinking Standards of the National Center for History in Schools).