You're Going to Want These

I spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest and sometimes it even pays off in actual work-related ways. While looking at classroom ideas or maybe it was workshop ideas, I stumbled upon these:

Talk Point Recorders

And here is what the teacher that pinned them said,

Now when I set out a station, I simply review the task with the kids. We decide on what the simple instructions for the task should be. I quickly flip these little babies over and record the directions. Then if students get to the station, but forget the task, they can press the button and hear them again. LoVe it!”

I could see myself using these for lab stations or an activity where I had students rotating tasks. Could really cut down on the, “What are we supposed to do again?” And, those of you that like color coding things….imagine the possibilities!

What else could we do with these? Do share!

For $34.99 you too can have you’re very own classroom set.

Student Teacher Assistants

High school girl studentLooking back at my days in the classroom, I wasted a valuable resource: Student Teacher Assistants. I wasn't really fair to them either. They would show up for class each day and I would be making up a list of things for them to do on the spot. I'd be teaching another class at the same time, so I couldn't have them do much of real value to me or for their own learning and experience. I'm now older and little bit wiser. We're lucky enough to have some college student interns in working with us. The lesson I've learned is the time invested in training and preparing for them each week (or even just daily) has a huge payoff. I might spend an hour a week planning for and detailing what I'd like them to accomplish each week. (I know you're first thought was that you don't have an hour, but our interns work 20-40 hours a week and your TAs are only around for, at most 5 hours per week. So, scale the hour down to 10-20 minutes and you're good to go.) Below are some of the payoffs I've seen.

  • When expectations are clear and detailed, I get the product I'm hoping for without extra work in the end
  • I can feel comfortable handing off more complicated tasks
  • Maintaining a similar routine creates a safe and appropriately challenging space to work and learn
  • When my expectations go up, so does the level of work I get in return

Here are some of the things I do to prepare on a daily (or close to) basis:

  • Learn their future goals and career choices and seek to choose tasks that are a win for both of us (They learn something valuable for the future and I scratch another item of my plate)
  • Type or write a prioritized to-do list
  • Detail out any new or more complicated tasks (This is especially helpful if the task is recurring because you can save your instructions and the student can refer back to them the next time the task comes up)
  • I try to let the student know ahead of time what's on their agenda for the next day (might be mentioning some of the big things in person before they leave for the day, or an email with their list or even a quick text)
  • I consistently evaluate what tasks they seem to enjoy and excel at and make a point to assign those types of tasks
  • It's not always possible, but I try to balance busy-work or simple tasks with more challenging tasks

So, what could your TA be doing for you that would really be of assistance? What do they enjoy? How do they best learn and take instruction? Invest the time into creating a routine and style that works for both of you and reap the rewards!

Ask Better Questions

Questions help us clarify expectations, discover new information, and learn from those around us. Whether we are asking students what questions they have after a lecture, or expecting our students to generate questions for a guest speaker, questions are a huge part of our learning environment, yet we rarely address them.

Check out “How to Ask Better Questions”, a Harvard Business Review blog posted by Judith Ross. Scroll down to “Ask the right kind of questions” and check out the 7 strategies for creating value with purposeful questions. Remember that questioning is a strategy that must be taught, and by teaching this strategy, we are empowering life long learners!

Here are some ways you could use this list:

  • Post in your room. Following a mini-lecture, have students ask follow-up questions by building off one of the sentence stems.
  • Prior to a guest speaker, have students write questions to ask of the speaker using these question prompts.
  • Print on a bookmark and have students pick one question to ask as a pre-reading exercise. Prime students for learning as they read with a specific question in mind.



Matt Mineau from Appleton Area School District (East High School) tipped us off to a great resource filled with multi-faceted gems – Edutopia. Edutopia was created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation to provide the educational community with innovation. As they say, “we spread the word about ideal, interactive learning environments and enable others to adapt these successes locally.”


Edutopia exists in three realms –, Edutopia magazine and Edutopia video.

You may see several pieces of Edutopia pop up in the future on here; today my favorite resource is the video library ( “Through an extensive offering of documentaries, Edutopia video is a catalyst for innovation by helping educators and parents, as well as business and community leaders, see and understand pioneering best practices.”

Professional Development Tip for February 6, 2009