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K-12, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

10 Retrieval Activities + 1 Choice Board

You may recall my mention of retrieval practice in my post about the +1 Visible Thinking Routine. To briefly recap, scientific studies show that retrieval practice done in intervals can help learners to retain more information. These activities are like short pop-quizzes in that you are asking students to recall as much as they can without referring to notes or texts. But, while a pop quiz is used for the teacher to assess, the purpose of retrieval practice activities are to help students learn, so they should not be attached to grades. Ideally, they are woven into your teaching day and can take the form of games, classroom warmups, and even exit tickets. The +1 Visible Thinking Routine is one way to do retrieval practice, but I recently discovered some more ideas on Twitter.

It started when I noticed a Tweet from Brendan O’Sullivan (@ImtaBrendan) where he shared a choice board of “settler” activities. Now, I don’t know about you, but the word, “settler” makes me think of dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail or getting obliterated by my family when we play Catan. Once I found out from Brendan that these are a term for activities used “to get your class settled, to give them focus and moving towards learning,” the board made a lot more sense to me. (This is the fun thing about Twitter. Brendan is from Ireland, so I appreciate him helping us non-Europeans learn a new term!) Brendan’s choice board is a nice way to have students do some retrieval practice when class is getting started.

Settler Choice Board from Brendan O’Sullivan

I then noticed a Tweet from Liesl McConchie (@LieslMcConchie) where she shared a link to her mini-book of “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention.” Although it is math-focused, you can easily do the activities in any classroom. For example, I could see using the “Quiz, Quiz, Switch” activity in any grade level or subject (possibly using pictures for students who are pre-readers).

Retrieval Practice example from Liesl McConchie in her mini-book, “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention

You can download more free mini-books from Liesl on her website.

By guiding students with retrieval practice activities, we will not only help them to retain more important information, but we are teaching them a valuable skill they can continue to use as lifelong learners.

Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

Integrative Thinking

I first read about “Integrative Thinking” in this article by Katrina Schwartz on Mindshift.¬† The article outlines three thinking/problem-solving tools that are taught through the I-Think Initiative at¬†University of Toronto‚Äôs Rotman School of Management: Ladder of Inference, Pro/Pro, and Causal Models. ¬†Integrative Thinking involves using these tools and others to consider solutions for problems by thinking about other perspectives as well as¬†metacognition.

What fascinates me about the examples in Schwartz’ article is that these methods are being taught to students as young as first grade, and the¬†students are applying them in¬†productive ways that could be useful to many¬†adults. ¬†By becoming aware of how our own experiences can funnel our inferences and assumptions, and deliberately trying to reach outside of these, we are able to think more creatively. ¬†It seems like a monumental task, especially for students who are still learning how to read, but it can be done.

You can view an interesting Ted Ed video on the “Ladder of Inference,” embedded within Schwartz’s article, that gives a great example of how we often use the ladder to our detriment. ¬†Teachers who have been trained by through the I-Think Initiative give other examples of how the thinking tools have made dramatic differences in their classrooms.

As we continue to prepare our students for the future, I think that it’s imperative that we teach them metacognition and offer them critical thinking methods that will help them to be problem-solvers who can adapt to the fast-paced world in which they will eventually become the decision-makers.

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Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Motivation, Parenting, Teaching Tools

Start 2016 with a Growth Mindset

Modeling and teaching my students about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset has resulted in huge shifts in thinking in my classroom over the past few years.  I have witnessed amazing changes in some of my students who often avoided risks because they were fearful of appearing unintelligent.  Those who have been on the same journey with me for the last three years now embrace challenges, learning from mistakes, and perseverance.

Teachers don’t often¬†get to witness positive outcomes that result from their guidance, but it has been gratifying to see the effects of promoting a growth mindset in my classroom. ¬†If you have not introduced this to your students, I strongly urge you to make a commitment to do it in 2016.

I’ve shared a lot of growth mindset resources on this blog, which you can find here. ¬†Over the past couple of weeks I have run across some more:

  • Thanks to @shellterrell, I learned that Larry Ferlazzo shared this new RSA film that animates one of Carol Dweck’s fascinating speeches about the impact of having a growth mindset. ¬†It is a good film to show adults and older students (I plan to show it to my 4th and 5th grade GT students).
  • This article speaks about “What Growth Mindset Can Teach Us About Our Brains,” and reminds us of some of the pitfalls some of us succumb to when we try to simplify the effect of a growth mindset.
  • Research shows how detrimental it can be to praise our students by saying, “You are so smart!” ¬†Head on over to the Schoolhouse Divas blog to see a free downloadable poster of alternative phrases for giving students positive feedback.
  • Edudemic recently published an article by Sarah Muthler on, “Why a Growth Mindset is Crucial to Learning,” that gives a good summary about growth mindset for those¬†who may just be beginning to learn about growth and fixed mindsets.

After looking at these resources, I hope that you will make the resolution to model and teach a growth mindset to your students and/or your own children.


Behavior, Books, Education, K-12, Motivation, Parenting, Research, Teaching Tools, Videos

Set a Goal to Change Some Mindsets

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You can buy the poster here!

“You are so smart,” could be the most damaging 4 words that we ever say to children.

That sentence may seem innocuous, even encouraging, but repeated use might actually reinforce attributes that we don’t find very appealing: laziness, risk-aversion, the inability to problem-solve.

Researchers like Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) are showing that statements like, “You are smart,” help to instill a “Fixed Mindset.” ¬†Children who are told this on a regular basis believe that they have an innate ability which produces their achievements – not hard work. ¬†They become reluctant to put themselves in situations where they might not appear to be smart. ¬†If they can’t do something well the first time, they refuse to do it again. ¬†Mistakes are disastrous, and the only thing learned from them is to stop trying.

As a teacher of gifted children, I have been a witness to the detrimental effects of a Fixed Mindset. ¬†Students who are a victim of this show a gradual decline in curiosity and enthusiasm through the years, and their parents and classroom teachers will talk to me about how these children seem to be determined to do the “absolute minimum” in required tasks. ¬†Since I first learned about the concept of mindsets, I have been making a concentrated effort in my classroom to change the language. ¬†Instead of, “You are so smart,” I will say, “You must have worked really hard to figure that out.” ¬†When students say, “This is really hard!” I say, “Good, that means you are being challenged, and that’s good for your brain.” ¬†I praise the students who I can tell are really persevering on a difficult task, rather than the ones who complete it in record time. ¬†(“Gosh, it looks like we need to find something a bit harder for you,” I might say to the latter students, or “How could you have made that more of a challenge for yourself?”) ¬†I emphasize that the minimum is not acceptable. ¬†A few weeks ago, several of my first graders, when asked to write down what they thought the “Rules” for GT were, put, “Go above and beyond,” which warmed my heart.

As parents and teachers we also need to model the Growth Mindset. ¬†We need children to see us taking risks, doing things that are outside our comfort zone. ¬†They need to witness us deal with mistakes and setbacks in a healthy way – as opportunities to learn. ¬†And they need to know about the hard work we put into achieving our goals. ¬†We need to stop saying things like, “Well, I’ve never been good in math,” or “Science was never my thing.” ¬†If they don’t see their role models taking risks, trying new things, working to get better – then why should they?

Another thing that we can do is to teach our children about Mindsets.  This year, our director bought us a great book that I have been using with my 3rd grade students: Aim to Grow Your Brain by Joanne Billingsley.  It has completely changed the conversations in our classroom, making the students aware of their own mindsets and remind each other to learn from mistakes and take on new challenges.

Here are some other great resources about Mindsets:

Video: Carol Dweck on the Effect of Praise on Mindsets from Larry Ferlazzo (EYE-OPENING!!!)

Creating a Growth Mindset in Your Students from

5 Strategies for Creating a Genius Mindset in Students from

Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures from

Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick from

UPDATE:  More Mindset Resources

Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

Chart of Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono created the idea of ¬†“Six Thinking Hats”, developing a visual representation of the types of thinking that we do in various situations. ¬†You can read more about de Bono’s concept in his book of the same title. ¬†This simple chart briefly describes each Thinking Hat, and how it can be applied in a group problem-solving situation.

In our district’s gifted program, we begin teaching students who are in 2nd grade about the Thinking Hats. ¬†Metacognition is an important skill, and we reinforce it throughout our elementary curriculum.

The “Six Thinking Hats” chart is available on, which has several other charts that could be good classroom resources. ¬†My favorite chart is “Muppet Voices” – though I’m still trying to develop a way to connect it to something educational!

Behavior, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Motivation, Teaching Tools

Three Good Things

Larry Ferlazzo - Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day

I read this article on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, and experienced the same reaction he apparently did when he first realized he was missing a key piece to student’s reflections in the classroom. ¬†I have been trying to incorporate more self-reflection into the school day, and now I see that I’ve forgotten a vital part of this. ¬†Read Larry Ferlazzo’s article to find out what you may be omitting, too!