Monthly Archives: January 2015

Classroom Mid-Year Reflection

I’ve been meaning to do a mid-year reflection for a few weeks, but it has been kind of a daunting task. I reflect on my teaching and my classroom constantly, but not quite to this level. So here goes nothing!

All of the pictures in this post are of my students working on a social studies reading and answering questions. I let them choose their own ISS (International Space Station) work space (ISS is designated for small group work.) I also let them choose if they wanted to work by themselves, with a partner, or with a group. And I also let them choose with whom they wanted to work. The results were quite varied for this particular lesson. 

photo 3 (1)

Why did I go desk-less in the first place? (When I say deskless, I mean not having 25 desks. I still have a few.) Whenever I rearranged my desks in the past the thought at the forefront of my mind was to get the most floor space possible. So why not get rid of the desks all together?

photo 4photo 4 (1)Why did I want more floor space?  I wanted to create an open and flexible learning environment granting the students choices in how they learn and making them self-aware and accountable for their own learning. I also recognized that I would need to explicitly teach them to be accountable and self-aware. photo 2 (1)

Did I succeed? Well I definitely have more floor space in my classroom. That’s measurable. And my students and I have discussions daily about the choices we make and the accountability we have for our own learning. It is really hard to pinpoint one thing, like the lack of desks, and say “that is the reason my class is they way they are this year.” There are so many factors: my classroom, how I teach about my classroom, my consistency upholding my expectations, my teaching style in general, this particular mix of students, the support from this particular group of parents. I’m sure all of these things have played into how smoothly my classroom runs this year.

photo 2photo 1 (1)And the bigger questions is, What does success mean to me? How do I measure my success? If it means my students are well behaved, more so than in the past, then it has been a success. That’s only measurable by anecdotal assessment from me and other teachers in the school. If it means I  have relinquished some control of the classroom and am therefore less stressed and less running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to micromanage all my kids, then success. I am noticeably less busy and worried about school this year. (Again there are always other factors involved, like the fact that I’m now done with my masters degree.) If it means my students are learning the content better, that one is difficult to measure. Even if I compare my test scores with that of the other third grade teachers, there are more variables like teaching styles and different groups of students to take into account. I personally think they are learning well, I don’t necessarily know if it’s better though. If it means my students are more prepared for life and able to better interact with their peers, then I would say success, or at least success in progress. This is the most important one in my opinion. Because of the way my classroom is set up, we constantly discuss things like making good choices and how we are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of our choices, self-awareness and figuring out how we learn best, thinking about how our words and actions impact other people, and learning how to set goals.

photo 3

What could be better? Even though things are going well, they can always be better. That just comes with the job of teacher. We are never totally done. So upon reflection, the days where I get the most frustrated with my students for their behavior are the days on which I am the most lax on my expectations and I start letting things slide and giving too many warnings. This is something I have always struggled with as a teacher, so while it’s better this year, I’m still working on it. I also think my integration of technology could be better. I use a lot of technology in my instruction compared to most people. I work closely with our tech director, I have my masters in instructional technology, and I teach tech PD to the teachers at my school. But I think tech has taken a back burner this year. My focus has been on the classroom. Which is fine. We can’t do everything all at once: that’s how teachers burn out so quickly. Moving forward I want to go back to stretching my abilities and trying new technologies with my students.

photo 1Overall I think this experiment has been a success, and I don’t think I want to go back to having 25 desks next year. 🙂

Thanks for reading and being curious and keeping up with the goings on in third grade 🙂


I Love Teaching Teachers

One thing I have learned about myself over the past couple of years is that I really enjoy teaching teachers. I love getting to share what I’ve learned through my 5 years of experience teaching, as well as what I’ve learned throughout my masters degree in instructional technology.

And teaching teachers isn’t just telling them what I do and suggest that they do they same. It’s more about coaching them to help them figure things out for themselves and deduce what will work best for their teaching style, their classroom, and their students. April, my principal, gave me this great book to study up more on being a good coach called Leadership Coaching for Educators. 

Coaching concept in tag cloud

Our school is trying some new Professional Development styles this year that include teachers offering workshops on PD days over various topics. Before they can teach a workshop they have to go through the workshop-workshop to learn best practices in teaching adults. I have given several of these workshops this year, mostly about technology, including one about the SAMR model. You can access my presentation for that here. (Feel free to steal and tweak as you desire, knowing that I do not own the copyright for the images and infographics I used. I take copyright somewhat loosely when it comes to education. I’m making a mental note to blog about that later.)


My next workshop endeavor is teaching about my classroom. I have had so many staff members catch me in the hall and ask how things in my “crazy” classroom are going, and I have been dying to give them all a better answer than the “really great” I have time for in the hall between classes. I’ve also been tiptoeing around the subject so far this year because I knew I had to go about it the right way. I definitely couldn’t teach a workshop about getting rid of all your desks if April wasn’t okay with that. And anyway, that wouldn’t be what’s best for a lot of teachers.

So the focus of this workshop is more on how teachers can relinquish some of the control they hold in their classroom over to their students. I also incorporate a lot of research from The Third Teacher, which is a fabulous book. A lot of it deals with what to think about when designing/building a school or buying furniture for a school, but there are still a lot of things I can apply to my already constructed classroom. c27e7365d85861ad3256cff73788e0af

Here is the link to my Google Slides presentation I will use at my classroom workshop. (Again, feel free to steal or tweak.)


Say You’re Sorry



There are so many skills that we assume kids know how to do, but they are never actually taught. For example, apologizing and actually meaning it, talking about their feelings and conflict without interrupting each other, and admitting when they do something wrong. These are all among the life skills I attempt to impart on my students.

I saw this blog post by cuppacocoa about apologizing that I think was brilliant. When something at school goes awry and kids mumble a quiet “sorry” to the afflicted child they rarely do it with sincerity. Using these sentence stems will help with that:

I’m sorry for _____. This was wrong because _____. In the future, I will _____. Will you forgive me?

Giving students sentence stems to start their thinking and describe what they are feeling is really helpful. They have such a difficult time translating feelings and actions into words. so-so-sorry

I also use it with my refocus forms (low level) and write up forms (high level.) The students must use these sentence stems in their written reflection:

I was _____________. This does not follow the PRA Way because ___________. I can change my behavior by ___________.

The PRA Way is our school positive behavior system: prepared, respectful, accountable. The reflection is key. If the kids are just in trouble they often do not know the correct behavior and need to be taught it. So they write what they think and then we discuss it.

We do the same with our Peace Place. When students are having conflict with each other they go together to the designated Peace Place and use this sentence stem:

I feel ______ when you ______ because ______.


We need to be really explicit with our students to teach them to be successful adults. And some of the most important lessons are not anywhere in all our binders of math, language arts, and science curriculum.

What are some other things that we think kids should know how to do, but aren’t ever specifically taught? 

Math Projects

It is absolutely exhausting to try and make everything you teach into a real life applicable project, but I do make an effort to include projects as much as I can in my class. This is especially true in math since I teach the accelerated math kids. The students really enjoy it and I feel as though they get more out of it and actually remember the concepts.

In my curriculum I only get to teach data for about 4 lessons, which is so unfortunate because there are so many cool things I could do with it! So I usually move some things around to do data for about two weeks. Today I took my kids to the computer lab and taught them how to do graphing on Microsoft Word and using Google forms/ sheets. They got to see how adults use graphs every day in the real world. But we only got to use the computer after they learned how to graph the long/hard/by hand way.

Earlier this week we did our big graphing project. They broke up into groups that I let them choose (I find I have many less group arguments when the students get to work with their friends.) They came up with a question they wanted to ask and who they wanted to ask. They were doing double bar graphs so they either had to compare boys versus girls or two different grade levels. I sent the surveys out to other teachers and got the data back. They had to make a rough draft tally chart and bar graph, get it checked by me, then do a final copy on butcher paper. Then they had to write a conclusion paragraph. I am very impressed with their end results!

FullSizeRender (1) FullSizeRender (2) FullSizeRender (3) FullSizeRender (4) FullSizeRender (5) FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender

I love days like these…

We are doing a biography project and we asked the students to pick some people they view as a hero to them. One person they select will be the topic for their project. One of the girls in my math class told me today:

“Hey Ms. Cutshall, guess what! I have five heros and you are one of them!”


Awwww! So great.

That’s all.

Abbott and Costello in 3rd Grade

I feel that it is my duty to educate my students on culture and entertainment from the past. So I was super excited when my teammate Cathy suggested we show our math classes the Abbott and Costello routine 7 x 13 = 28. I require my math students to figure out multiple ways to solve math problems and this comedy skit was perfect to show them. I also like to give them problems solved incorrectly and have them figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. These kind of critical thinking skills are great for my kids.

Then for language arts we discuss language and pronouns by watching Abbott and Costello’s Who’s On First.

And this is entirely my opinion, but I really dislike cartoons nowadays and how they cater to short attention spans and have a serious lack of morals overall. So during indoor recess and anytime I can tie it to my curriculum I let my kids watch shows from my childhood like Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Reading Rainbow, Magic School Bus, and Wishbone. I have got to prove to my kids that there are better forms of entertainment out there than Spongebob Squarepants.







The Most Important Thing I Teach

I love being a fifth year teacher because that means there are four grade levels of students running around our school that used to be in my class. Former students are great! They come running up to me with hugs and exclamations that I’m still their favorite teacher. However, it was quite disappointing to talk to some of those kiddos and realize that they don’t remember a lot of the things I taught them. And then to talk to the 4th grade teachers who say the students don’t know how to multiply when we spent 4 months on multiplication in third grade was quite frustrating. So much blood, sweat, and tears went into those lessons, it made me feel like a failure!

And then my team and I had a realization. We came to terms with the fact that our students are not robots. They are not going to remember every fact we try to cram into their little rapidly developing brains. And that’s okay!

We’ve realized that the things we really need to focus on helping them remember are things like how to work together in groups, how to problem solve through conflicts, how to make friends and keep them, how to show good character, how to view iPads and technology devices as tools and not just toys, how to take notes, how to find reliable information online, how to get organized and stay organized, how to take what they learn and apply it, how to manage anxiety and stress, how to take chances, make mistakes and learn from them. These are life skills. 


They may not remember that Rome fought Carthage in the Punic Wars, or that meteors are called meteorites when they fall to Earth, or the difference between comparative and superlative adjectives, or that 6 x 7= 42. We are still going to do our best to teach them all those things, but if at the end of the year they have learned how to be a good friend and they feel more prepared for life, then I consider that a win.

What is on your list of life skills that you hope to teach your students?