A book review: Raising the Curve

Raising-the-Curve-by-Ron-Berler-300x300How do you improve education? A simple question that receives attention galore, but has no definitive answers.


Ron Berler’s book, Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000 Failing Public Schools, takes a year long, in-depth look at a single school, Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut. It introduces us to teachers, administrators, specialists, and students as they make a school wide effort to raise standardized test scores. After school programs, teacher camaraderie, intense teaching to the test, peer leadership, classroom distractions, and more are all explored.


What works best? Frustratingly, the answer appears to be D: None of the Above, since the Brookside test scores barely improved after this year long effort. However, Raising the Curve hints at a possible key: Home. Yes, that place where a child spends even more time than at school. Reading together. Homework support. Quality time. Good nutrition. Mealtime discussions. Would a year of these activities raise the test scores? Maybe a subject for a Raising the Curve, Home Edition?

My summer is starting off great!

1044079_613446328675308_876948652_n-300x300What is an RSP teacher? Three hints: Resource. Specialist. Program. They work with learning disabilities. And one of them MMD. Made. My. Day. As the school year ended, she shared these 123TokenMe gems: “Can’t imagine work without it.” “Share the data with parents all the time.” “My gosh, easiest thing in the world to use.” And maybe most meaningful? “My kids request it!” Happy Summer, from Me.

A 123TokenMe frown

123TokenMe is not sad very often,
but today was an exception. Meggan has been a substitute aide in Miss Summer’s special ed class for several months, and today was her last day. Summer was bummed, and there was certainly no hiding my frowns. Why? Because Meggan brings these very appreciated gifts into the classroom- an infectious smile, a we can do this attitude, wonderful with kids, and a personal desire to make a difference.


You’ll be missed, but those frowns will turn upside down in your next lucky classroom. Thanks for everything, Meggan, and give yourself a token!



Tapping and touching turns sweets into toys

Screen-Shot-2012-09-08-at-3.01.27-PM-300x300An unexpected result from using 123TokenMe Pro involved “Sage”, a pre-schooler on my caseload last year. Sage was one of my children severely impacted by autism. She would work for sweet edibles- candy and cookies- and nothing else. On her old fashioned token board her tokens were smiley faces- extremely non-meaningful to her.


Using 123TokenMe Pro, I let Sage choose the token that she wanted to work with- she chose cookies. As her reinforcers, she wanted strictly candy and cookies. Not surprising, right? What happened over the next week, however, was unexpected. I let Sage award herself a token each time that she displayed her target behavior.


She was extremely engaged with her taps turning chocolate chips into cookies. In fact, this touching seemed to gradually lead Sage into becoming satiated with sweets. Slowly, but surely she picked new token types. Even more exciting, she started to choose non-edible reinforcers as rewards- toys and activities.


Expanding the reinforcement choices that a child makes is very important. To expand it seamlessly at the same time that a behavior is being targeted and improved is a real bonus. Thank you Sage, for this unexpected insight.

Teachers- This idea is for you!

IMG_2003-300x300Summer here, with a 123TokenMe Pro idea for teachers. Like many of our ideas, this one comes to you straight from my classroom. This idea starts with using my iPad to take a group photo of my kiddos. Together they decide on a token type and what their reinforcement will be as a group. Maybe a popcorn party or group play with a classroom favorite. I snap a quick photo of their choice and add it to the reward chest.


Next, we decide on how the tokens will be earned. As you can guess, the “buy-in” for students increases greatly when they have been part of the process to choose the behavior that is being targeted.


For the group to earn a token EVERYONE must be joining in and participating. I also give an extra token whenever one student helps another. Guess what? Students start to reinforce each other for doing a good job! They also get after their friends for not being “cool.” They learn how to work as a group and become more socially aware of their peers. The 123TokenMe Pro app is powerful, and even more so when you creatively allow your students to help.


Summer saves Pisa tourists

Summer-leaning-tower-of-Pisa-300x300Summer left her work at 123apps4Me for a few weeks while she visits Italy with her grandmother. Thank goodness, because look how many Pisa tourists owe their lives to her strong arms and fast thinking.


We hope that the rest of her vacation is as rewarding, but look forward to her return later this week. She should make it back just in time for the big photo/video shoot for 123TokenMe this Friday. Summer will have to refocus quickly from saving tourists to teaching pre-schoolers.


The Friendship Book

The friendship bookSeveral years ago my SLP introduced a great way for my class of kiddo’s to learn classmate names and other special information. We ask each student, or their parents, for their favorite food, toy and place. Each student has a dedicated page in a Friendship Book.” Their page consists of their photo and photos of their favorites. Each student is given their own Friendship Book to take home to read. Several copies are also put in the classroom library. The kids love reading about their friends and learning their likes. They especially enjoy finding when their favorites match a friend’s. 

When the students know everyone’s name, we cover up the photo. The kids guess who it is, based on the likes. We also use it to practice asking and answering questions. For example, based on a picture of the friend’s likes, the student has to think of a question to ask. If his friend likes Disneyland he might ask, “What is your favorite ride?” It is a great tool for students to learn about each other and to engage the class in a variety of learning activities.

Summer Snack Strikes Again!

Summer Snack strikes againSnack time has become a fun, interactive learning experience in our classroom. Each week we create a fun snack based on our theme of the month. For example, this week we are making monster faces using sliced bread, bananas, raisins, apples, pretzels, carrots and grapes. (Note: Food choices that would get the SFMandy stamp of approval!) My students learn to follow multiple step directions as well as the ingredients and the use of different cooking utensils.


Another bonus? They love the end product! It’s fun and creates a wonderful social atmosphere. By the end of the week most of the students are able to independently make the snack on their own. Another discovery is that they often end up trying and liking new foods. With their sometimes very limited food repertoire this is another great snack time bonus.

Oprah Would Approve

PuppyAs Oprah would say, I had an moment that changed me as a teacher. I recently bought a puppy. Easy enough, but one day puppy day care loomed. I did not anticipate how hard it would be to hand her over to a stranger. A very qualified stranger, but still a stranger. At that moment I realized how emotional this must be for my students parents. Here I am, almost in tears wondering if my pup is going to have fun and be watched. And this is just a puppy!


When I returned, I was given a real gifts¦ a report card with a picture. How important for parents to not only hear about their child’s day, but also to see it. This year I gave my parents the same gift on the first day of school. Because of their enthusiastic feedback, Its going to do it monthly.

Be a School Volunteer!

Yesterday was “Welcome Back to School Night” for my families. It is great to meet all the families…there are new families, and returning families. Events like this really remind me how important it is to encourage parent involvement and support. Parents that offer support in the class often build a strong relationship with the staff and other students. I realized tonight that our interactions often didn’t center on only their child. We had lots more to talk, think and laugh about: planning class parties, accompanying us on field trips, assisting with class pictures, gathering up supplies for special projects, or helping weekly in learning centers.


Want to build a great relationship with your child’s classroom teacher? Donate your time, support, and energy to your child’s class. These parents are not only very dearly appreciated by me, but also by the other families in the community outside the classroom. They are a great blessing to a teacher.