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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 4, Issue 15

July 2008

StarTeaching Store Advertise with us Previous Articles Submit an Article FREE Reports Feature Writers New Teacher's Niche Tech Center  

Our Back-To-Back, Back-To-School Issues
Packed with excellent articles on getting yourself and your students back into school mode! 

Look for August Issue 16 and September Issue 17,
coming soon

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SQ3R Sheet
Check out our NEW FREE online resources, including the SQ3R sheet for reading 
and the Paragraph Graphic Organizer for writing.  These are forms you can fill in online and print, or have your students fill them in and print them for class!

Paragraph Organizer


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Student Writing Success:
Winning One Child at a Time

By Ann Carolan, Writing Consultant

This summer, I experienced the highlight of my 22-year teaching career in one of the many writing camps sponsored by the NWP (National Writing Project). Hopefully, this story will rev up everyone's engines to face the challenges of the new school year.  The story is both a beginning and ending: the end of a public school career and the beginning of my life as a writer and writing consultant.

The Prologue............

Prompted by an invitation from Toby Kahn-Loftus, director of the Northern Michigan satellite of the Red Cedar Writing Project (RCWP), I embarked on a maiden voyage this summer as a teacher/consultant in a writing camp for 4th-6th graders. This is one of the many camps held throughout the country by NWP centers.

My 2008 school year had ended with earth-shaking, major life-challenges: retirement, knee replacement surgery, and a cancer diagnosis that shattered my sense of well-being. Reeling from these harsh realities, I hesitated in my commitment, not knowing what the future held, but the "still small voice" inside urged me to explore this new uncharted sea as a writing consultant.

I left the safety net of public school endowments for more reasons than health and age. A new paradigm lured me to this place, erupting from last summer's RCWP experience.  I had a passion to pursue RCWP "best practices" and catch a few stray fish who had slipped through the public school nets in their journey towards becoming writers and readers. I wanted to engage students in real world, authentic learning. I felt compelled to expose students to excellent mentor texts, to share their writing with one another, to publish, and to experience the pure joy of polished, inspired writing.

Like many teachers I longed for an ideal, supported teaching environment - an environment which had escaped me in over-crowded classrooms of 30-plus adolescents, using out-dated, didactic, pedagogical tools and methods of a century gone by. The Spartan Writing Camp was everything I had longed for as a teacher and the experience left me with renewed hope for the future.  I couldn't stop now; I had come too far, and wanted to leave the teaching life on a positive note, so I summoned up all the energy I had and went to camp.

Highlights: Winning One Child at a time.

The kids arrived slowly, one by one, accompanied by their parents in the lobby of the beautiful new North Central Michigan University’s Student Services building. After attending to permission slips and housekeeping details, 18 students and 2 team teachers walked across campus to a classroom in a nearby building. We passed out writer's notebooks and soon began filling our empty "canvas" with responses to wonderful mentor texts.

Unlike traditional school rooms, the 4 classroom walls soon became a mere launching pad to explore the rest of NCMC campus, its neighborhood, and our world. Even downtown Petoskey morphed into a classroom as students embarked on a tour d'force marathon writing experience as our young protégés interviewed local store personnel. In accordance with authentic learning experience, we later published and distributed our newsletters to downtown businesses. Digital photography (based on the picture book mentor text, Zoom, by Istvan Banyai) was also incorporated into our publishing efforts as well. ...But I digress......(The "One child at a time" story really begins here...)

One of our first writing experiences was to consider images from Chris Van Allsburg's inspirational book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and write a story telling what might possibly happen before and after the corresponding image. The first child to finish the prompt eagerly raised her hand and requested to read aloud. She read with little hesitation, straightforward, and with unadorned clarity. Tall and confident, she appeared mature beyond her 10 years and, I assumed, she was a highly successful 5th or even 6th grade student. I applauded her accomplishment incorporating all the basic elements of story: a clear narrator's voice ... character development ... plot ... setting ... description ... an engaging beginning ... a suspenseful middle and a thematic ending. In short, "She has it all", I told the class.

On the 2nd day of the camp, her mother warned me that her daughter, this very same girl who had written and read with such complete assurance and confidence, was a "non-writer and a non-reader". She further informed me, matter of factly, "She hates reading and writing." Mother explained that she had tried every means to motivate her daughter including enrolling her in the Michigan Dyslexia Center ("she didn't like the teacher"), the Sylvan Institute, and had even asked the girl's 4th grade teacher to have her tested for a learning disability. She also said that her teacher tried unsuccessfully to get grant money to help her. I couldn't believe that we were talking about the same child, so I asked her twice to tell me her name. It was indeed the same child who had stood before the class with such confidence. As tactfully as I could, I described how well her daughter had done the day before and assured her I would do everything I could to help.

Finally, Friday arrived, the day of celebration. All the student’s work lay on the desks ready for parents to arrive and celebrate their children's success. We had put together a small book of the students' writing and pictures and her daughter's original story was included. Following the presentations of awards, certificates, etc., I noticed the girl's mother nervously scanning the room. I approached her and invited her to look at her daughter's work. She was reluctant to focus on it and repeated the scripted assertion that “____ hates writing and reading." Picking up the book, I opened to her daughter's story and began reading several lines.  "This story could not have been written by a non-reader!" I implored, begging her to look and see for herself. "Your daughter is an excellent writer. I believe this is not a case of inability but lack of will."

The girl's mother turned to her daughter and asked, "I thought you hated reading and writing?"

She feebly responded, "Well, sometimes, I don't like to read."

I inserted, "It is more about whether you want to; not whether you can or cannot, isn't it?"

"Now that you mention it, her teacher said something like that, too," responded her mother.

This mom was so pleased with this revelation that she asked if it was possible to bring this program to her daughter's school and train all the teachers.

I hope to expand my experience in doing just that - as a writing consultant in her school and others next year. I am excited and grateful to be a part of this new paradigm in the art of of teaching writing through the NWP. When teachers are given ideal writing environments with workable small class sizes; when they are provided with excellent mentor texts, supported by technology; trained in research-based proven methodology; encouraged by positive parent and administrative involvement; and when they are given opportunities to grow as writers themselves - they learn to succeed in and love the art of teaching and writing. That love for writing is what I hope to impart to my students - one student at a time.

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Mastering Basic Skills software:


There are six modules designed to test the basic ability of an individual in terms of Memory & Concentration. Needless to say this is the most important basic skill for not just to survive but also to thrive in this competitive environment. Each of the six modules tests the six variants of Memory & Concentration in an individual, namely: 1. Picture recognition
2. Paired Associate Learning
3. Immediate Recall
4. Serial processing
5. Parallel processing
6. Recognition and Recall
Each of these modules runs at three different levels, from easy to difficult.

At each level, the individual's performance is depicted as Scores Obtained.

A feedback has been built into the software for all these 18 levels depending on the marks one scores during the test. 

Each individual can assess his/her performance any time by clicking on "history", which gives complete details of date and time of taking the tests, marks scored each time and even time taken to do the test. This builds the confidence level and encourages more participation to eventually culminate in improvement and enhancement of memory and concentration.

Essentially, this software is a SELF AWARENESS tool that surely motivates the individual to realize one's capability and seek or be receptive for improvement. Also, if repeatedly done over a period of time works as Training tool to enhance their capability.
This software package is specifically designed to help young children to learn basic skills that will help them in school.  Continued follow-up will give these young learners success as they mature.  

Three versions of the software exist: Individual Software on either CD or Online,   Family Version Software, and an Institutional Software package.

StarTeaching wholeheartedly supports and endorses this software.  It will make a difference with your child or student.

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isteNETS Project-What Is It?

By Mark Benn
Middle School Teacher

Iste stands for the International Society for Technology in Education. Nets is a project that began back in 1998 and stands for The National Educational Technology Standards. What is the goal of this project you might ask?

Quoting from their web site The primary goal of the ISTE NETS Project is to enable stakeholders in PreK-12 education to develop national standards for educational uses of technology that facilitate school improvement in the United States. The NETS Project will work to define standards for students, integrating curriculum technology, technology support, and standards for student assessment and evaluation of technology use.

The NETS project has developed national technology standards for education in three areas students, teachers, and administrators. Counting the District of Columbia as a state, 49 out of 51 states have either adopted, adapted, aligned, or referenced some or all of these standards into their own state standards.

The  technology foundation standards for students are divided into six broad categories. They are

1.    Basic operations and concepts

2.    Social, ethical, and human issues

3.    Technology productivity tools

4.    Technology communications tools

5.    Technology research tools

6.    Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

Under each category are several standards for students to achieve. All of this is broken down by grade level to make it easier for teachers to develop and use within their classrooms.

These standards have served us well as we transitioned from the 20th to the 21st century. But things are changing quickly in the workforce and new skills are being demanded by employers including problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and decision-making. None of these skills can be mastered in the 20th century teaching style classrooms where students sit in rows and listen to the teacher.

Technology integration provides the way to change, but we, as teachers, need to change with it. With this need the isteNETs project has responded with a draft of new standards to meet the needs of teachers in the 21st century. Like the old standards, they are divided into six broad categories with multiple standards for each. They are as follows:      

       1. Creativity and Innovation

       2. Communication and Collaboration

       3. Research and Information Retrieval

       4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making

       5. Digital Citizenship

       6. Technology Operations and Concepts

These standards certainly answer the call of skills being demanded in the workforce of the 21st century. The final standards will be published in June at the National Convention  in Atlanta, Georgia. We, as teachers, need to begin to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves the question Am I preparing my students for the 20th or the 21st century?

For more information go to www.cnets.iste.org

Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 20 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.  He is currently working on Masters of Integration of Technology from Walden University. 

Prior to teaching, Mark spent 11 years as Department Manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. dealing with emerging technologies.  He has been married to his wife Bonnietta for 32 years with one daughter and two sons.  In the summers, Mark works for Mackinac State Historic Parks in the as a historical interpreter.

StarTeaching Featured Writer

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at mbenn@inlandlakes.org or at his blogsite:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/ 


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Grade Retention (part 1)

Courtesy of K12Academics.com

Grade retention is the practice of having a student (usually a general education student, rather than a special education student) repeat a grade level of schooling. A retained student is sometimes referred to as having been "held back." In Canada and the United States, this practice is only used in the elementary, middle and high school level. 

Advocates of grade retention argue that this is done so as to help the student learn and sharpen skills such as organization, management, study skills, literacy and academic which are very important before entering middle school, high school, college and the workforce. However, extensive research has found short term gains but little to no long-term improvement from grade retention, and significant harmful effects. 

The alternative to grade retention is a policy of social promotion, where students are promoted to the next grade despite their poor grades in order to keep them with social peers. The aim of promotion is not to harm the students' self-esteem, to keep students together by age (together with their age cohort), and to allow teachers to get rid of problem students.

The following are common arguments regarding this practice.

Arguments against grade retention

Opponents of "no social promotion" policies do not defend social promotion so much as say that retention is even worse. They argue that retention is not a cost-effective response to poor performance when compared to cheaper or more effective interventions, such as additional tutoring and summer school. They point to a wide range of research findings that show no advantage to, or even harm from, retention, and the tendency for gains from retention to wash out.

Harm from retention cited by these critics include:

Increased drop-out rates of retained students over time

No evidence of long-term academic benefit for retained students

Increased rates of dangerous behaviors such as drinking, drug-use, crime, and teenage pregnancy among retained students as compared with similarly performing promoted students.

Critics of retention also note that retention has hard dollar costs for school systems: requiring a student to repeat a grade is essentially to add one student for a year to the school system, assuming that the student does in fact stay in the system until graduating from high school.

Arguments for grade retention

Opponents of social promotion argue that it cheats the child of an education. As a result, when the child gets to high school they will probably be forced to be retained or attend summer school. Studies have shown that the high school student that is being retained would be inexcusably painful for a student emotionally because high school students are more vulnerable to change; they are experiencing a lot of pressure because of the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Opponents of social promotion argue that it has the following negative impacts:

Students who are promoted cannot do the work

Students will have many failures in the high school years which will most likely lead to dropping out

It sends the message to all students that they can get by without working hard

It forces teachers to deal with under-prepared students while trying to teach the prepared

It gives parents a false sense of their children's progress

Some hold that most students at the elementary school level don't take their education seriously and therefore retention is most likely not to be effective. Since most middle school students value their education more, retention should be used if they are judged not to have adequate skills before entering high school.

Part 2 of this series will detail the history of retention as well as potential outcomes.


Article courtesy of K12Academics.com




MythMichigan Books
Novels by Frank Holes, Jr.

Now Available!
Now Available!
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Part mystery, part science fiction, Year of the Dogman is an imaginative, compelling, and adrenaline-pumping adventure. Author Frank Holes, Jr. takes no prisoners in creating a diabolical creature that leaves the forest to prey on the hapless hamlet of Twin Lakes in Northern Michigan . When night falls, the nocturnal beast, Dogman, scares the living daylights out of anyone he happens upon as he searches for a timeless treasure stolen from a Native American tribe. In the midst of the chaos, a young teacher is forced to put two and two together no matter how high the cost to rid the village of the treacherous man-beast who thrives on destruction and terror.  

In The Haunting of Sigma, Frank Holes, Jr. returns fans of the legendary Dogman to the wild world of cryptozoology in Northern Michigan .  This darker, far more sinister prequel to Holes’s first novel fully establishes his hold upon the imaginations of readers all over the Midwest .  June 1987 ushers in the hot, dry summer season, but something else far more horrifying has taken up residence in the deep wilderness in Kalkaska County .  The Dogman, a supernatural combination of canine and man, has returned to wreck havoc upon the tiny, sleepy community of Sigma.


Based upon the epic Greek tale of The Odyssey, yet set in the American Wild West, The Longquist Adventures: Western Odyssey chronicles the journey of a young boy and his guide through a perilous world of dangerous encounters and fantastic creatures.  It is a world of gun fights at high noon, stampedes on the great plains, stagecoach robbery, and an ultimate showdown with a ruthless, powerful gangster aboard a turn-of-the-century paddlewheel in the San Francisco Bay.  Can the time-traveling boy and the law-abiding Marshal restore order to the chaos of the American West gone truly wild?
Click Here For The
Year of the Dogman Website
Click Here For The
Haunting of Sigma Website
Click Here For The
Western Odyssey Website


The Dogman, a creature of MythMichigan, is an excellent example of modern-day folklore to study in your classes.   


The Longquist Adventures, written for elementary students, is excellent for teaching mythology and classic stories to young children.  

Western Odyssey, the first novel in the series, is now available!

We now have special offers on Classroom Sets of our Novel.  Click here for more information:


New Teachers' Niche: 
A Place for New Teachers, Student Teachers, and Interns

Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Setting up small learning groups, or communities, in your class requires planning, not just in your instruction, but also in the physical space of your room.

When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered, lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.

I knew I wanted to set up student 'pods' of four to five students.  Four makes a great sized group, but five is starting to push it. These sizes also fit with the number of computers I had available. Each pod needed one computer for the group to use, as well as workspace, achieved by placing desks next to each other forming a table.

I placed the pods at the outside walls for a few important reasons.  First was to get some elbow space between students and groups. I wanted to eliminate interaction between groups so students could concentrate on their own group's activities. Secondly, this arrangement allowed me to monitor the computers at all times. Third, this setup created better traffic flow through the room, since students would often need to move back and forth to the central resource center.

I've set up the resource and presentation center in the center of the classroom. This is where I keep student file cabinets (the short types), dictionaries & thesauri, school supplies, and art-type supplies. I've combined this storage area with my podium, overhead projector, and the other tech equipment like vcr or dvd players, digital projectors, and the like. This allows for easy student access to all resources, and I can effectively use all of my wall space when I need to present material.

The 'traditional' classroom and the 'student-centered' classroom are very different both in philosophy and in the application. The basics of setting up your classroom to reflect the learning environment you've envisioned must be thought through carefully before jumping right into the pods.

Having previously taught in the traditional manner, I've found the pod setup, or student-centered class, to be both a challenge and a benefit to student learning. Now that I've had a chance to compare them, my students and I prefer the pods.

Interested in FREE writing activities you can print out and use immediately in your classroom? Simply click the following link to our writing page: http://www.starteaching.com/writing.htm

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"Making Sand Castles"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

The Changing of Perspective Between Child and Adult...

Hot sun. Salty air. Rhythmic waves.

A little boy is on his knees scooping and packing the sand with plastic shovels into a bright blue bucket. Then he upends the bucket on the surface and lifts it. And, to the delight of the little architect, a castle tower is created.

All afternoon he will work. Spooning out the moat. Packing the walls. Bottle tops will be sentries. Popsicle sticks will be bridges. A sandcastle will be built.

Big city. Busy streets. Rumbling traffic.

A man is in his office. At his desk he shuffles papers into stacks and delegates assignments. He cradles the phone on his shoulder and punches the keyboard with his fingers. Numbers are juggled and contracts are signed and much to the delight of the man, a profit is made.

All his life he will work. Formulating the plans. Forecasting the future. Annuities will be sentries. Capital gains will be bridges. An empire will be built.

Two builders of two castles. They have much in common. They shape granules into grandeurs. They see nothing and make something. They are diligent and determined. And for both the tide will rise and the end will come.

Yet that is where the similarities cease. For the boy sees the end while the man ignores it. Watch the boy as the dusk approaches.

As the waves near, the wise child jumps to his feet and begins to clap. There is no sorrow. No fear. No regret. He knew this would happen. He is not surprised. And when the great breaker crashes into his castle and his masterpiece is sucked into the sea, he smiles. He smiles, picks up his tools, takes his father's hand, and goes home.

The grownup, however, is not so wise. As the wave of years collapses on his castle he is terrified. He hovers over the sandy monument to protect it. He blocks the waves from the walls he has made. Salt-water soaked and shivering he snarls at the incoming tide.

"It's my castle," he defies.

The ocean need not respond. Both know to whom the sand belongs...

I don't know much about sandcastles. But children do. Watch them and learn. Go ahead and build, but build with a child's heart. When the sun sets and the tides take - applaud. Salute the process of life and go home.


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In This Week's Issue 
(Click the Quick Links below):

Student Writing Success:
Winning One Child At A Time

Tech Corner: 
isteNETS Project: What Is It?

New Teacher's Niche:
Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Themes on Life:  
"Making Sand Castles"

Grade Retention (part 1)

10 Days of Writing Prompts

10 Days of Math Problems

Summer Book Sale for Teachers

Book of the Month Club


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All articles will be proofread, and may be edited for content and/or length.


10 Days Of


What are your favorite kind of books to read and why?


What does it mean to be a good reader? 


Create a list of 10 books you'd like to read this year.


Describe what you can do to improve your reading skills.


Describe how we used reading skills this week in class to learn important information.


Why is it important to read a variety of different works?


Describe your favorite place to read.  Give the physical details of the setting as well as how you feel when you're there.


Describe some other types of materials that make worthy reading. 


List 10 jobs that use reading on a daily basis.


 What are THREE aspects of class that could have been improved this week?


10 days of writing prompts


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Year of the Dogman

A New Novel by Frank Holes, Jr.
Now Available!
click here for more info

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The Multiple Intelligences
of Reading and Writing

By Thomas Armstrong



Coming Soon:

Preparing for Student Teaching

Technology & Teaching: Seamless Integration into Curriculum

Getting Ready for Next Year

Setting Up Your Classroom


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10 Days of 
Math Problems
by Mary Ann Graziani

Day 1

1.      Tim is saving to buy a skateboard. He can buy a used

one from a friend for $10.00. He has $5.50 now and

can save $0.75 a week. How long will it take him to save enough for the skateboard?

Day 2

1.      Perimeter and Area

Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 18 centimeters. Use only whole

numbers for the length and width. Find the area.

Draw a different rectangle that has a perimeter of 18 centimeters.

Use only whole numbers for the length and width. Find the area.

Day 3

Name two times on the clock when the hands form a right angle.

Name one time on the clock that forms an acute angle.

Name one time on the clock that forms an obtuse angle.
Day 4

4.      Use a clock face to answer the following questions.

1) How many degrees does the minute hand turn: from 2:45 to 3:00?

2) How many degrees does the minute hand turn: from 2:45 to 3:15?

3) Estimate the number of degrees the minute hand turns: from 2:45-2:55

4) Estimate the number of degrees the minute hand turns: from 2:45 to 2:50

Day 5

Frank measured his hand length. He forgot to include the unit in his measurement.

He just wrote “15.” Do you think he measured in centimeters or inches?

Which is longer, 15 cm or 15 inches?

Find an object that is about 15 centimeters long. What is it?

Find an object that is about 15 inches long. What is it?
Day 6

Every bike slot in a bicycle rack was filled.

Ellen’s bike was in the middle.

There were seven bikes to the left of Ellen’s.

How many bicycles were in the bicycle rack?

Day 7

Make a bar graph of the given information below:


    January – 38 Degrees

    February - 38

    March – 45 Degrees

    April – 55 Degrees

    May - 66 Degrees

    June – 70 Degrees

    July - 77 Degrees

     August – 78 Degrees

     September – 69 Degrees

October - 59 Degrees

November - 48 Degrees

December – 37 Degrees
Day 8

Make a Bar Graph of the Information below:


1990 - $4 million

1991 - $5 million

1992 - $3 million

1993 - $7 million

1994 - $6 million

1995 - $5 million

Day 9

Select the most appropriate unit to measure these items: Standard  or  Metric

1. Volume of a milk jug

2. Area of a coin

3. Length of a classroom wall

4. Capacity of a water glass

5. Height of an adult

6. Volume of a gift box

7. Length of a binder

8. Volume of a television

9. Weight of a cat

10. Area of a placemat

11. Weight of an orange
Day 10 The school day begins at 7:55 a.m. and ends at 2:40 p.m. How long are you in school?
Pick up a copy of MaryAnn Graziani's book, Fat Pigs Fly!

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