Archives for : Pedagogy

The Resurrection of “Why?”

Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have more ice cream? Why do birds fly? Why is red, red and not blue? Why, why, why?

If you have ever had the wonderfully amazing experience of interacting with a two or three year old, you have been bombarded with one particular question, “Why?” No matter the race, color, culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic factor, children are curious beings. They question everything. Questioning allows them to make sense of the world. Being inquisitive is a desirous trait; one that is valuable throughout life. Why then, would such a valuable and necessary characteristic be practically non-existent in the middle school classroom?

Last school year, I began to seek an answer to this question. My students were engaged, active learners. They performed well on common, benchmark, and state assessments. They were well behaved, participated in academic discussions, and were respectful of each other. Yet, there was something amiss. I rarely heard them ask me, their teacher, “why?” Despite many conversations where I quickly informed them I didn’t know everything and no adult does; despite many conversations where I encouraged them to “call me out”; despite me giving them the “ok” to question me, I rarely heard, “Why?”

What have we done to the children? I can vividly remember my response to my own children’s “Why?” When I’d worked eight hours, prepared dinner, assisted with homework, bathed, and read a bedtime story, my response was too often, “Because I said so,” or “I don’t have time to explain, just do it.” Those responses equated to “Don’t ask me questions, just do as I say.” Over the course of only a few years, “Why?” died, and it was me who caused its death.

Have we taken the concept of authority too far? Are we, unconsciously and unwittingly, raising a generation of young people who are accepting the hand they’ve been dealt. Who will be the challengers, the resistors, the ones who ask questions and demand answers? I taught my students to look me in the eye when speaking. At the same time, I taught them to make sure they DID NOT look a police officer in the eye, just in case. A middle school student once shared, “If I ask my mom why, I might get slapped.”

I wanted my students to challenge me. I wanted them to beg the question for skills I taught.  I longed for a “Why?” that rarely happened. It was during my reflective time that I began to ask myself a question, “How do I resurrect why?”


  • As you model procedures and expectation, require that students ask the reasoning behind the procedure.
  • Assure your students that it’s OK to question you.
  • Set an expectation that each student MUST ask a minimum of one “Why?” question per week, or ideally more frequently.
  • During instruction, ask more “Why?” questions.
  • Teach situational discernment on when to ask “Why?”
  • Teach the relationship between advocacy and “Why?”
  • Teach the difference between an insolent “Why?” and an inquisitive “Why?”
  • Encourage students to challenge each other by asking “Why?”

Having students ask “Why?” can seem daunting. I can hear the insolent tone of a misbehaving student even as I write. However, using a positive approach and good instruction, can only yield growth and development for students who need it most. I challenge you. Why?





Why I Didn’t Quit Teaching

There is a plethora of articles, posts, tweets, discussions, and comments regarding why teachers leave the profession. Facebook carries daily posts concerning what you can do with an education degree other than being an educator. Negative responses are rampant to “back-to-school” ads. Parents are becoming delighted while teachers are feeling dismayed. Standing outside, looking in, it would appear as if teaching is the worst profession in the world. Standing outside, looking in, it would appear as if teachers are actually miserable and despise their jobs. While this may be true for some (and if that’s you, PLEASE LEAVE THE TEACHING PROFESSION), it’s not true for all.

Teachers who love their job are busy, right now, mentally preparing for the start of the new year, walking the aisles at Walmart, or actually in their classrooms setting up for the new school year. Lovers of teaching have little time to express dismay. Instead, they are preparing for what’s ahead. Here are some of the reasons why these teachers do what they do:

  1. They are walking in their purpose – When you are aligned with purpose, everything falls into place. You are happy in your job, with your family, and with your income. Every need you have is taken care of. You may not have everything you want, but you do have everything you need. You could complain, but you don’t because you know how well you have it. For these teachers, teaching children is not a job, it’s a passion.

  2. They are life-giving and passionate – These teachers genuinely like kids. They enjoy the antics. anticipate the failures, and applaud the successes. They are energetic and enthusiastic. These are the teachers who spend time during summer break being perfectly content improving their skills – taking a class or reading a new resource/technique to improve instruction – BECAUSE THEY WANT TO.

  3.  They seek opportunities to try new approaches in their classroom – These are the teachers who enjoy professional development. They enjoy faculty meetings. They want to learn. They understand their students can only grow as far as their teacher is willing to grow. These teachers rarely use the previous years’ lesson plans verbatim. They may tweak previous lessons, but primarily create from scratch. These teachers are not lazy instructors.

  4. They recognize the importance of the work – These are the teachers who realize the students they teach today are the citizens of tomorrow. They teach each student as if he/she was their own. They establish boundaries for children, always act in the best interest of students, are unafraid of administrators, parents, coworkers. Because they walk in purpose, they recognize they are completely protected. These teachers maintain balance in their lives, recognizing the importance of the work they do for others as well as the necessity to work on themselves, holistically.

  5. They share – These are the teachers who want to see all children succeed, not just the ones in their classroom. That’s why they share instructional activities and resources. They open their doors to anyone who wants to observe, critique, or evaluate. They are not afraid of feedback and actually relish such. They are open to suggestions and will make suggestions to those wanting to receive. They share strategies that work; they share strategies that don’t. These are the teachers who are givers and give freely, expecting nothing in return. These are the teachers who advocate for students.

    While there is a lot of conversation right now about “back to school,” there’s also an EXCITEMENT

    in the air!!!  


Chunk Independent Practice????

We know the value in chunking text for our struggling and advanced readers, but what about chunking independent practice? Consider this:

I just read the article (below) by Dave Stuart (I shared in an earlier post how much I respect his work). What if we chunked independent practice into short spans of time? What if we broke the teaching objective into discrete steps of mastery along Bloom’s hierarchy?

This is what I mean: Let’s say we’re teaching subject/verb agreement. Well, we need to know if students can identify a subject and verb before we ask them to determine agreement. So, after we instruct and model identifying each, we would them say, “OK, class, for the next ten minutes I want you to deliberately focus on nothing else but identifying subjects and verbs in the following sentences. Go!” Once ten minutes are up, we could give a mental break – a quick Socrative quiz or maybe a discussion for clarity. Next, we would instruct and model agreement. “OK , class, now I want you to deliberately focus for the next ten minutes on nothing else but whether the subjects and verbs agree. Go!”

Our exit slip would consist of questions that check for identification as well as agreement and could be differentiated based on the different levels of student understanding.

These are my initial thoughts, and I’m sure they’ll be tweaked in the days to come. It never occurred to me to chunk independent practice.

Your thoughts????



As I reflect on my teaching career, there is one area I did not give adequate attention – WRITING. Only in the last three years, was I able to fully understand how to incorporate reading, writing, listening, and speaking into a 75 minute block effectively and efficiently. No matter your content, students MUST read, write, listen and speak daily.

Dave Stuart publishes a wonderful graphic to assist teachers in ensuring writing is happening daily. He also stresses quantity over quality, at the beginning of the year, to get our students accustomed to writing.

The graphic is below. For those of you interested in the entire article, I have added the link –

REMEMBER: No matter your content, students must read, write, listen, and speak on a daily basis.

Thank you!


Learning Strategy: Think Like A Runner

If you are a teacher who does not follow Dave Stuart, Jr., I strongly suggest you do. Dave shares amazing instructional strategies which I often used in my classroom. In the future, you will see reposted items from Dave’s blog.

Happy reading!

Speaking and Listening – A Non-Negotiable in Urban Schools

I follow Dave Stuart, Jr. Factually, it is because of Dave that I have this website. It is because of Dave that I wrote my goals and am actually pursuing them. I have implemented strategies Dave discusses in his blog, AND THEY WORK!!!  Dave Stuart, whether he knows it or not, is my self-appointed mentor.

Speaking and listening is an important skill in high poverty, urban schools. Our students don’t always come to us with practical understanding of how speaking and listening works outside the home. Instead, they bring to school what they know: cutting off the speaker, listening to respond instead of listening to understand; zoning out. If you doubt what I’m saying is true, scroll through Facebook. It is our teacher responsibility to teach this much-needed skill for our students’ future successes.

Take a moment to read the article in the link I’ve shared. Once you have recuperated from the school year and begin to prepare for the next, you won’t be disappointed.