Monday, April 1, 2013

30 Sec Teaching Tip: Teach Reading Comprehension & Prevent Bullying Simultaneously!

This post is a 30-second summary of a full-article. To read the full article, click here.

Bullying is a complex problem with 
Over 13 million kids will be bullied this year. is an amazing website that stands out as a resource with research-based suggestions for kids, parents, and teachers.

The site also has short, engaging cartoons with comprehension questions about bullying. They offer real suggestions focusing on empathy.

Watch them with elementary students, click mute and the CC button to turn on the captions (pausing as needed) so that kids are reading, not passively watching. Watch again with the captions and audio on and work on the comprehension questions.This is a great way to level the playing field and make a reading activity meaningful and engaging.

Kumar R. Sathy is the author of the award-winning Chicken Nugget Man Series of Educational Children's Fiction books and blogger for, a nonprofit resource with tips, strategies, and resources for making learning fun. Full-length versions of these articles are available at Follow us on twitter for more unconventional educational strategies @BeyondTestPrep.

Friday, February 22, 2013

30 Sec Teaching Tip: Unconventional Reading Comprehension Tips for Parents of Young Children

This post is a 30-second summary of a full-article. To read the full article, click here.

Don’t worry about teaching reading. Just read.

Just read with your child. No questions, interruptions, or lessons. Here are some tips to help:

1. Admit that reading is an extremely challenging task and accept that it will take time for your child to do it well.

2. Implement a hands-off plan of action for dealing with challenging words. Interruptions interfere with comprehension. Don't stop and sound out every tricky word. Tell your child to say "blank" and you'll deal with the word at the end of the section.

Let your child know that it impresses you when he or she voluntarily rereads a particular section. This will reinforce to your child that rereading isn't a sign of failure; it is just something that good readers do.

The laid-back, hands-off, empathetic approach in the full version of this article will ensure that your child starts to feel some success with reading, a fundamental step in boosting comprehension and nurturing great readers.

Kumar Sathy is an educator and award-winning author of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure. See

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pressing the Reset Button on an Angry Student

See how easily you can bring a frustrated, upset, or even raging student back to the table, and back to instruction.

We've all been there with a student who has just checked out. All of us: teachers, parents, tutors, administrators...all of us.  And we all tend to try the same inherently flawed strategies. I've had my share of students with temper tantrums, frequent shutdowns, paralyzing frustrations, and emotional struggles to the point of not wanting to participate, communicate, or cooperate.

Go ahead, picture it.  You are teaching a lesson to a group of students, when one student acts out, perhaps shouting at a student who took his pencil (I'm pretty sure like 90% of elementary student scuffles are pencil-related).  You firmly redirect the student, mostly because you just want to get on with instruction. That's when things go awry. The student is upset that you called him out in front of his peers. He feels as if you didn't take his side, and ignored the original culprit (the pencil thief), and that you have elevated his crime (crying foul in a public forum) over the original crime (grand theft pencil). You're ready to move on, but this pencil-less student starts to remember all of the times people did this to him in the past, and even how it happened to him at breakfast this morning on the way to school when his sister knocked his high-calorie, apple-flavored water manufactured with 8 teaspoons of sugar (aka fruit juice) on the floor and he got yelled at for it. All of this built up and the student officially decides to check out. You can't teach fractions with an angry, fuming, grumbling student in the back of the room because you (and all of the other students) can't help but focus on his actions and statements as you try to proceed with the lesson.

Do you see yourself in any of these reactions:

-Asking the student to go to timeout (where he again feels like he is alone and nobody listens to him)
-Publicly reminding the student that he is again making a mistake (thus reinforcing the secondary cause of his checking out)
-Removing a point, flipping his behavior card, writing it on his behavior tracking sheet, etc (fueling him to say, "I don't care," or "So!" or anything to remain tough and firm in the eyes of others
-Telling the student to just stop (denying the reality that the student is acting this way because he doesn't feel heard)

Let's think outside the box here. If you play by the books and are a seasoned, veteran teacher who is not interested in changing your approach with students because your methods are tried and true and you've been at this for x number of years, just skip this post and find an answer from some other site. This isn't for you. For everyone else, I want you to try something radically different. But first, you need to face the reality of the situation:

A. You will lose instructional time no matter how you react to this student, even if it is just a few seconds
B. The student's anger is not going to just evaporate; it ultimately needs to be resolved or reframed
C. Calling him out publicly will only make the problem worse
D. You don't really have the time to pull him aside each time this happens, stop instructional time, and deal with pencil-related issues. Pencil-related classroom crimes have increased 47% this year and the school just doesn't have the funding to increase security and install security cameras.

That said, try a radical new approach that's not so new at all. It's just new in this context. A good old-fashioned ball toss. You've already been teaching a lesson anyway, so why not stop, have the students stand up, and toss a ball to unsuspecting students after posing a lesson-related question. 4 times 4? Pass it to Susie. Eight times three? Pass it to the pencil-less student. Throw in a smile or two, and a fake throw to a few students, and the whole class will be smiling and bouncing, including the student who can't quite remember why he was mad in the first place. Then have students sit back down. As they are doing so, quietly whisper to the star of our show (or hand him a tiny note) saying that you know something frustrated him and you want to help, but you'll talk about it after lunch, or in a few minutes, or at the end of the day). End with a smile or a smiley face.

Crazy, right? Go ahead, fire away with your angry, disapproving comments. But seriously, does this kid really deserve public punishment? Is immediately punishing him more important that continuing with your lesson? Do we have to immediately negatively reinforce every bad behavior in our classrooms all the time? Classrooms like that turn into a proverbial game of Whack-a-Mole, where you are just punishing one student, but then another acts out so you reach to deal with that when another acts out. By the end of the day, you feel tired, drained, and despite all your sweat and tears, all you have to show for yourself is enough tickets to buy a pencil at the ticket redemption stand. Hmm, maybe you can donate it to a pencil-less student.

Anyway, think about it. If at the end of the day or after lunch when you talk to the student in private, you discover that he truly did something wrong and needs to be punished, do it then. Your focus needs to be on instruction, not immediately punishing every child in the act.

And never, ever underestimate the power of a good ball toss. Whether you use a fluffy ball, stuffed animal (SpongeBob is my personal fave) or a tray of piping hot lasagna (not recommended), students will be moving, learning, laughing, and you'll have effectively hit the reset button without draining your energy in the process.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Top 3 Reading Comprehension Questions that Will Force Students to Think

(and no, you will never see these on a standardized test)

The need to prepare for the big test doesn't permit educators to solely ask dull questions that are formatted for the test.  Yes, those questions are important, but we must keep things in perspective. The ultimate goal is to educate students and prepare them for college and career. As educators, we know this, but sometimes we need a reminder and a few tips to break us out of our test-prep mode. Educators, these days, on top of basically serving as nurses, social workers, therapists, teachers, and so much for students, are also superheros. They can move mountains with students and troubleshoot their way into helping struggling students succeed, but test prep season takes a toll, even on superheros. I've watched as, during this stressful, high-stakes testing season, even the best superhero educators seem to stumble into a proverbial phone booth and become, well, just like everybody else. 

Classrooms become a place where fun goes to die, reading becomes mind-numbing exercises in boredom as students wallow in basal readers, engaging fiction is all but a fleeting memory, and questions get polished, tumbled, and refined into a concentrated, easy-to-fill-in choice of four options.  

Here's a few one-size-fits-all comprehension questions that can help nudge us all out of our test prep stage and focus on what really matters (and yes, parents can use these at home, too): 

1. Let's pull that character out of the book and put them in your (pick one) school/home/car/class/sandwich (well, maybe not the last one). How would that go? How would your life be different? How would your (pick one) parents/friends/teachers/sandwich toppings treat that character?  

2. Design a machine that would somehow solve the problem that you've been reading about in the last few pages of the story.  It doesn't have to be a popular machine like a time machine or a robot. It can be something creative that you make up and that nobody else has ever heard of.  What would it do? You can draw it if you want.

3. If the author removed one secondary (non-protagonist and non-antagonist) character from the book that would just ruin the entire story for you, who would that character be? Why is that character so important? Describe the domino effect that would occur if that character was missing.  

Obviously, you'll have to adjust the language according the grade level, but even first graders can (and have, in my classroom) used these questions.  We all need to push ourselves to create questions that focus more on craft, not just comprehension. You can't answer any of these questions without truly understanding the story. And forgetting a minor detail here and there doesn't prevent a good reader from answering any of these questions.  So often, we ask students a random comprehension question based on a minor fact that even we, as adults, would probably have forgotten as we were reading. Cut the kids some slack. But more importantly, ask them questions that matter. Start with the ones in this post.  You'll get some great discourse out of it. And you'll secretly be preparing them for the big test in the process.