Thursday, August 21, 2014

Technology Thursday: QR Code Basics

QR codes are starting to pop up everywhere... they are even being added to classroom resources as a way to make learning a bit more engaging.
  They might seem a bit intimidating at first but they really are simple to use and create!


STEP 1:  Download a QR reader onto your device.  The one I currently have is 

STEP 2: Scan the code. 

Tip: You need a steady hand while holding the item with a QR code on it.
 It might be easier to lay it on a flat surface.

I really like this app because it keeps track of all the QR codes you've scanned. 
Simply click on the history button (the clock type button next to the star).

You can also bookmark your favorite links!


It is SO simple. Seriously. If you can copy a link and press enter then you can create a QR code. I'm not kidding. (A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that it's really that easy!)

Before we start, get yourself onto a good 'QR code generating' website.  

STEP 1:  Decide what you want your QR code to link to. 
There are lots of options to choose from.

STEP 2: If you are linking to a website, just copy and paste the link.  
If you want the QR code to link to a page of text, simply copy and past the text. 
Whichever option you choose, this site will let you know what you need to provide (link, text, etc.)

STEP 3: Click 'Download QR code"

You could add a step in between and change the foreground color, but you really don't need to do this.

So there you have it. QR codes. Easy!

Now that you know how to scan and create QR codes, you might be wondering how this relates to the classroom... 
Check back for my next Tech Thursday post when I'll delve deeper into this.

Until next time, happy scanning!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Technology Thursday: Speech App

I am thrilled to be linking up with Teaching Trio for Technology Thursday!

I am addicted to iPad apps and just love incorporating them into my lessons.

However, since I'm still on summer holidays and not really in "school mode" yet, I am going to focus on an app that I've been using with my son this summer. (By the way, I have a TON of great app/tech recommendations for teachers, so check back each Thursday for new ideas!)

At first glance, it might seem like the app I'm about to introduce is an unusual choice.  
Let's see... some reasons would include:

1. It is intended for patients with aphasia (a disorder that affects one's ability to process and use language). The most common cause of aphasia is stroke and it often occurs in older folks
2. It's not a game. You don't earn points. You would think that this app would be the last thing a child would want to "play" on their iPad.

It's a good thing that I have an open mind and an eye for effective teaching strategies (if I do say so myself!) otherwise I would have skipped right past this awesome app!

So let me begin by saying my son is 4... he does not have aphasia nor does he have any issues processing or using language.  BUT, I figured if this app is good enough for the elderly suffering from a pretty serious speech disorder... it would be perfect for teaching anyone with a speech issue (serious or not)!

Now, my son has an outstanding vocabulary and he enjoys telling stories!  All in all his language skills are advanced for his age. [You can check out this {previous post} to see what I mean].  But he is having some issues pronouncing certain blends.  Hubby has an Australian accent, so for the longest time, we couldn't figure out if this had something to do with our son dropping random consonants. For example, our boy will say mirra instead of mirror, which is fine (and pretty darn adorable), but I've noticed that there are other sounds he seems to have issues with... like his "s" blends. These blends can't be attributed to the accent... so I figured it was time to nip things in the bud.

I downloaded the app because the title made me think it would be a perfect fit for my son (it's called "Consonant Blends") AND it was free (yay for free apps!).  I was expecting a fun kids app that would teach blends using games with bright, engaging colors.

When the app started, I thought, oh dear...he's not going to want to do this.  

But I was wrong.  

My son happily flipped through the screens to practise new blends. It was a lot more engaging than having his mother repeat: "Look at my mouth. Look where I'm putting my tongue. Look carefully. Are you looking? Stop looking at the cat outside the window! LOOK at my MOUTH!!!". 

But, you put a random person's enlarged mouth on an app, and that's it, the kid blocks out the world and is focused on how she is modeling the sound. Fine, don't listen to your mother! Listen to this random lady instead! :'( (Hem hem... "rejected mother rant" over.)

I think, for my little man, being in control of how long he wants to spend on each blend is what makes this app so attractive. He can tap the screen if he wants to see and hear the sound being modeled again. He can choose to practice blends he's good at when he's tired of practicing the trickier ones.  He can interact with the app by swiping, tapping, listening, watching.  All of this is much more exciting than listening to his mother (*sniff*).  But hey, I am just relieved that he's so engaged when using this app... that it's working...and that he is happy to spend 5-7 minutes a day practising his blends. I am truly shocked at how well this app has worked out!

The lessons here: 

1. Try using apps that are intended for other purposes/audiences.  You might just discover an innovative approach to teaching an everyday concept. I think you'll be surprised!
2. Sometimes it's not all about games and high scores. I think kids are motivated by being in control. Having the freedom to choose what they learn and when, is very empowering. Being able to choose when to move on to trickier skills (ie. when the child feels ready) or being able to review skills that have already been mastered, allows a child to set his/her own pace. 
3. Although I was doing the exact same thing as the model in the app when trying to teach my son how to say certain blends, my son would never have been able to study the nuances of where to place his tongue or how to shape his mouth as clearly as the app demonstrates.  The third lesson then: Don't underestimate just how effective some of these seemingly 'simple' apps can be.  

If you have a student who is struggling with pronouncing blends correctly, try this app.  I noticed a huge improvement in my son and I highly recommend it! Within a week he was calling Pider Man, Spider Man and now we're moving on to changing 'fruck' (which can sometimes sound like something else) to truck!


Check out {this link} to learn about other speech and language apps!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Classroom Management Tips

Using Positive Reinforcement to Manage your Class 

I have been teaching for ten years now, and I have to say, it took me a while to realize that it couldn’t be sheer luck that year after year I keep getting blessed with a “good class”... I would even dare to say, the “best class ever... in the history of classes!”.  

Seriously, each and every year teachers will comment on how lucky I am to have such a well behaved group. Each year, substitute teachers come by my room to let me know just how much they love covering my class because my students are always so respectful and responsible. 

After years of being "lucky", I realized that there was something that I was doing that just seemed to work like magic! It had nothing to do with luck at all.

It’s my raffle system! 

WHO doesn't love being entered into a raffle? The anticipation of winning something...anything... gets folks of ANY age excited! That's why this strategy works so well..with any grade!

I have shared this strategy with many of my teacher friends but noticed that some were having more success than others.  I came to the conclusion that knowing how to implement the system is a crucial element... because as B.F Skinner said:

For those of you who are new to this idea, here's an explanation of the raffle system in a nutshell: Every time you catch your students following expectations and behaving appropriately, you give them a raffle. The raffle is put into a raffle box and at the end of the day, there is a draw.  The selected students win a prize! You will be surprised that the prize actually doesn't have to be that big - it's all about pairing the prize with praise and words of affirmation. 

The best part? Setting up the raffles can be as low prep as you want it to be.  Simply cut or tear paper into strips that are long enough for students to write their name on and use any old container as a raffle box. That's it. Done!

But, I like taking it one step further by integrating character educationbuilding positive self talk, as well as vocabulary building into my raffles. 

Ok so now for the HOW:

1. Do not give any attention to negative behaviors.
2. Instead, focus your attention on the kids who are doing the right thing and praise the heck out of them.
3. Be generous with raffles when your goal is to change a specific behavior
4. Be unpredictable.
5. Pair the prize with praise.  This is MORE important than the actual prize itself.

The main purpose of a raffle system is to change disruptive behaviors into behaviors you want to see more of. 


Don’t even acknowledge these behaviors for a second. By giving these kids attention for misbehaving, guess what's going to happen? More misbehaving! In my class, I want to teach my students that they will ONLY get my attention for positive behaviors (such as being respectful, responsible, inclusive, caring, etc.).  As soon as I see someone behaving in a way that I’m not pleased with I immediately find someone who IS behaving the way I expect...and I reinforce that child right away.  I do not make mention of the misbehaving child. It seems counter intuitive but it works! 


It’s so important to pair the idea of each raffle with lots of positive words. Your students need to build an association between this raffle and your praise.  By doing this you are also helping them expand their vocabulary (ie. if you are mindful to use a variety of adjectives to describe how fantastic they are!).
Instantly, you will see everyone wanting to change their behavior so that they can win a raffle too.  It causes a ripple effect. Students quickly realize that the only way to get the attention they desire is to demonstrate positive behaviors.

But this can ONLY work if you keep focusing on the positive behaviors. This is, at times, easier said then done, hence my reason for stressing this point so much.


In the beginning of the school year I have my work cut out for me.  Kids will test what they can get away with so it is important to implement this system right away.  (But don’t stress if it’s the middle of the year and you’re reading this - better late than never I say!)

Last school year, I remember my chatty lil monkeys would take for. ev. er. to trickle into the classroom after recess.  I get it, recess is exciting, there’s so much fun to be had, and every kid wants it to linger for as long as possible.  But I don't have time for time wasters and this is a behavior I like to nip in the bud right away.

This is how ‘being generous’ works:
(Let’s take the classic “taking forever to come into class after recess scenario”)

First, I let my students know what my expectation is and that I will be handing out raffles to the first 5 kids who come into class as soon as the bell rings.

On day one, I’ll give out a bunch (ie. 3 or more) of raffles to the first 5 students to come in from recess promptly. Now the 6th kid in might feel a bit bummed - but guess what - tomorrow, he’s going to be even quicker. The seventh or eighth kid to enter the class is also thinking ‘hey I was pretty close too... that darn chatterbox beside me... tomorrow I’m going to ignore her so I can get a bunch of raffles too”. For the first little while I will give out 3,4 or 5 raffles to the first several kids. Gradually, I'll reduce it.

Before you know it, the whole class is trickling in around the same time.  At this point I don’t need to hand out so many raffles anymore. Heck, I might not even give out raffles at all for this behavior once it has been changed.  

On occassion, I will hand out raffles here and there, just to keep the positive behaviors continuing.


Usually, I give my kiddos a heads up as to how many raffles I will be giving out and for what behavior... but sometimes I will make it completely spontaneous. This just keeps them on their toes. For instance, let's say homework was assigned over the weekend and only two students handed it in. Even though I didn’t announce that students would receive raffles for completing homework, I will give these two superstars a bunch of raffles (3 or more) just to make a point! It rewards the kids who are responsible and shows the rest of the class that they just never know when they might get rewarded!  

It might seem like homework has nothing to do with classroom management, but it does. If I don't have to waste precious class time chasing up notes, homework, trip money etc. this results in a smooth flowing morning (the time when I get students to hand this stuff in)! A smooth flowing morning sets the tone for the rest of the day!


It’s really not necessary to go out and buy a whole bunch of goodies from the store. In fact I think the smaller the prize the better. This is because the prize shouldn’t be the focus. It’s your constant praise, attention and encouragement that your students value (and need) the most!


When I hand out the raffles I try to remember to be very specific about the behavior I am reinforcing.  
Up until last year, I used to get kids to write their names on regular old paper that I had cut into rectangles. This worked fine to a degree, but I found that when I asked the raffle winners to recall what they won the raffle for, sometimes they would forget, or it would take them a while to remember. I needed to tweak my system...and so I did!  

My new system can be used for: character education, story writing, building self esteembuilding a positive classroom climate, and developing positive self-talk in children...all while building vocabulary too

This is just a sneak peak at what's inside my prize pack. (Update: this giveaway is now over). Click HERE if you would like to learn more about it. 

If you want a chance at winning My Raffle System, enter the contest below!!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for hopping through! Make sure to visit the next blog in the hop :)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Using Raffles to Teach Character Education

In my district, Character Education has become as important as teaching literacy.  Each month we have a Character Education assembly to recognize students who have demonstrated specific character traits in an exemplary way.  We focus on one of the following character traits:  1. Caring 2. Cooperative 3. Honest 4. Inclusive 5. Respectful and 6. Responsible 

Although there are definitely many more character traits one could add to this list, these six attributes were selected through consultation with students, staff, community members and faith groups in order to form a manageable number of traits that everyone felt were most important.

In my class, I use raffles as a way to positively reinforce my students - doing this really helps with my classroom management. You can read more about how I use raffles to manage my class {here}, but for now, I'll be focusing on how I integrate character education and vocabulary building into my raffle system.

Last year, it occurred to me that I should start handing out raffles that were geared towards the 6 character traits our school focuses on.

I spiced up my system even further by adding synonyms for each character trait onto character education/raffle posters!

I love using these posters because it reminds me to be very specific when handing out raffles. The synonyms for each character trait are also a great visual for my students and exposes them to a wide range of vocabulary. What a great gift to give our students - these words of positive affirmation! This is SO powerful because when we use these words to describe our students... THEY start to use these words to describe themselves. This in turn shapes and molds their thoughts and opinions about themselves.. which then inspires and develops into positive self-talk and increased self-esteem! When faced with a challenge, a child might think to himself: "Yes, I can do this! I am a determined person".  They start to use this vocabulary to deal with challenging moments that rely on CHARACTER!

So many WINS here! Can you see why I'm so excited about this!

An added bonus: Students can also refer to these posters during story writing when they might want to think of adjectives to describe the characters in their story.  Boy do I have a ton of ideas on how to use these posters for writing - another blog post, another day - promise.

My raffle system used to be very low key. I'd cut (sometimes even just tear) sheets of scrap paper, put them in a basket and my students would grab one of these wonky shaped rectangles to put their names on.

The old way:

This worked fine. I mean it did the trick in terms of being an amazing classroom management strategy!  BUT, I found that when I did my draw and asked my raffle winners what they won the raffle for, (I wanted them to reflect and recall what they did to deserve it), it would take them a while to recall why the raffle was given to them. I would then remind them by saying something like, "You were so cooperative during group work today...remember?"... to which they would reply, "Oh yeah!".  NOW, I don't have to worry about reminding them. The character trait on the raffle is that reminder!

PLUS, they can take the raffles home and show parents/guardians how awesome they were in school that day.  What a great way to keep on-going communication with parents!

Students can also keep track of the number of raffles they win by using this graph. 

Although "Perseverance" is not on our school's list, I created this as my 7th set because this one is an important one to me. I really want my students to know that it's not about being the best reader or strongest mathematician. Perseverance is way more important.  I try to reinforce this character trait as often as possible!

The 8th set I created is blank because sometimes there are other traits I'd like to recognize when I see it! Having a blank one gives me the freedom to still reward students for demonstrating these other traits.

My Awards:

Note: I realize that some of these pictures could be better. Looks like I'll need to schedule a picture re-take day! 

As I mentioned at the start of this post, our school has an awards assembly where students are recognized for demonstrating character.  I just thought it would be so cute to hand out awards in the shape of a raffle as well. Plus, during the awards assembly, we usually select 1 or 2 award winners, but often times I just want to give it to each and every kid in my class... and now I can!! Once you start reinforcing positive behaviors, you start seeing MORE of it ... to the point that it becomes very difficult to select just one or two winners!

I can't stress how much I love my system. It is so much more than just a classroom management tool. It's a tool for: character education, writing storiesbuilding self esteembuilding a positive classroom climate, and developing positive self-talk in children... all while building vocabulary too! That's pretty darn spectacular!

To purchase this Classroom Management Raffle System, click {here}

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