March 28, 2017

Student Strategies for Less Stressful Testing

It is almost that time of the year when Mississippi students begin state testing. Classrooms can become very intense, because teachers have administrators on their backs... and administrators have central office staff on their backs. This pressure can cause tension between teachers and students. 

Students in high schools really have it tough because state testing solidifies graduation. Consider a four tips designed to improve assessment performance.

50 Tricks to Study Better, Faster and with Less Stress

Review information daily. Daily review periods minimize test anxiety. Many students get nervous on day of test, because they don't feel adequately prepared. If learners review learning material on a daily basis, they will not have the added pressure of getting it all in at the last minute. Students who feel prepared on test day generally experience less anxiety and are better equipped to demonstrate skills mastery.

Clarify gaps in learning. Many teachers review testing standards with students. Teachers connect preexisting skills as they introduce new concepts. But, students are encouraged not to let a teacher proceed with the lesson if the lesson is unclear, if questions remain. Test takers regret having not asked questions for clarity in class when they get to the test and run across a familiar topic that they do not fully understand. Avoid this stressor and improve performance by asking questions and following up with more questions.

 Why Students Don’t Participate In Discussions And What To Do About It

Change daily habits. Many times students want to continue to stay up late, hang out with friends, or  try to remember things without writing them down.  As students enter testing periods, transition in focus is mandatory. Their focus should be on mastering the test, on exceeding expectations. Accomplishing this goal may require a few changes in daily habits. I would always tell students that those same friends will be there after testing, if they are your true friend.

Build endurance. Often, students find themselves falling asleep during testing. Sometimes, sleepiness will over power the mind and body, and students begin marking any answer choice just to finish the test. Prepare the extended testing periods now by getting a good night's sleep. By resting the body, students build up more energy that can be leveraged to practice testing endurance over the next few weeks.

My final thoughts: I understand that testing can be stressful. Let's work on ourselves to facilitate less stressful testing.

A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Darein C. Spann, Ed.S.
Darein is a public school teacher and
board director for the National Education Association.

February 7, 2017

Algebraic Thinking: An Opportunity For Growth

Algebra is a common weak spot for test takers. From high school subject area testing and GED prep to ACT and Praxis Core planning, many students struggle to grasp concepts. Fortunately, algebraic thinking is introduced as early as kindergarten in settings where Common Core Math Standards guides learning. Other popular curricula that emphasize algebraic thinking early on include Saxon Math and K5 Learning.

Online, In-person, Small Group Tutoring

Whether enrolled in school, participating in a home school program, exploring the unschooling spectrum, or preparing for post-secondary testing, there are many study tools available. As with many difficult tasks - like me learning to cook - seeking independent practice opportunity positions learners for success. When educators and family members prompt students to complete homework and provide supplemental learning activities, such as games, worksheets, and books, we model success strategies.

First thoughts may sound something like this.... I hate math; I'm not good in math; Algebra is my worst subject; I just don't get it. These are normal and (it pains me to say) acceptable. Though I love math, algebraic reasoning has not been taught to some in a way that triggers excitement. Nonetheless, learners need to see you trying. They need to see you reading and practicing and failing and overcoming.

Jackson Education Support Resources

Tap into free resources. Even many of the fee-based tools offer free trials. I'm talking about truly, no-credit-card-needed free trials. One of my favorite websites for math worksheets is Math-Aids. I often use Math-Aids dynamic Algebra worksheets to help learners during tutoring as well as reinforce learning at home. I often find that educators are using Math-Aids worksheets for these same reasons.

Popular algebraic concepts covered by the Math-Aids worksheet generator include:

Worksheets guided this student-centered experience.

As I shared in last month's post on place value and operations in base ten, hands-on learning is the best learning. Whenever possible, playing games and using colorful manipulatives is ideal. Having tangible tools used to model math concepts and practice problems hooks learners in a way that immediately influences their mental state. Learning algebra becomes less gruesome when we add context and meaning to standards. Performance inevitably improves.

 Algebra Tiles for Your Classroom

An awesome tool from Assessment Services Inc. helped one high schooler transition his focus from resisting Algebra and misbehaving to having fun during tutoring sessions. Algebra Tiles for Your Classroom should be in every learning environment designed to meet the needs of math learners - not just in classrooms. Algebra Tiles comes with a booklet that introduces learners to integers and represents variables and equations using unforgettable visuals that are fun to compose and decompose. It is a tool for learners of all ages. This 9th grader began to have fun thinking, learning, talking about math. He learned to enjoy the  journey and embrace failures through play, a not-so-novel concept that we forget to include in math lessons. 

Jackson Education Support (JE) offers fun and engaging learning experiences to learners of a ages. Specialty subjects include literacy, math, and science. Each experience is personalized to meet individual and organizational need. Read feedback and learn more by visiting

January 3, 2017

Operations in Base Ten: Place Value Blocks

Much of the nation concurs Common Core Math Standards is a useful tool for educating young people. The goal is that students develop greater depth of knowledge in mathematics early on. Challenging students in earlier years often challenges parents and educators as well.

Place Value Song

Beginning in kindergarten, the math standards encourage exploration of operations in base ten. This means elementary students should be able to demonstrate understanding of place value. To name a few ways, learners who master place value standards can...
  • use objects or drawings to compose and decompose numbers based on place value.
  • use symbols to compare numbers based on place value.
  • read, write, and represent a number of objects using base ten numbers and expanded form.
  • fluently add and subtract using place value strategies. 

Hands-On Base Ten Blocks

In my experience, students are equally bored with reading about place value concepts as adults. Learners of all ages enjoy hands-on experiences. They want to touch and feel concepts of composition, decomposition, comparison, and so on. A free, two-dimensional solution involves printing Base Ten Tools offered by fellow Teachers Pay Teachers seller, Heather Ayers. The only types of resources having greater potential for student engagement are three-dimensional manipulatives like Assessment Services Hands-on Base Ten Blocks.

Hands-on Place Value Learning Activity

When the stage is set for hands-on activities, anticipation and excitement build as students enter the learning environment. Eyes widen. Smiles spread. Spirit fingers ripple. Math manipulatives hook learners in a way that changes their mental state immediately. Hands-on learning adds context and meaning to standards. Students interact with content as oppose to simply absorbing (and usually forgetting) humdrum theory and examples. This is especially true for young students with fleeting attention spans. For instance, identifying patterns and skip counting are challenging concepts for elementary students. With a little guidance and think time (or wait time), one client made new connections using place value blocks.

Jackson Education Support offers hands-on experiences to learners of all ages. Specialty subjects include literacy, math, and science. One-on-one and small group support options available. Visit to learn more.

September 6, 2016

Education Stakeholders as Lifelong Learners

This is likely not the first blog post you've read about educators as lifelong learners. The reason: there's value in viewing learning as a journey as oppose to a means to an end.

We're conditioned in some ways to study material for tests and research topics for papers. The end-goal in both instances involves achieving a passing score. Then, many move on to the next imposed challenge. The cycle lives on in those of us who go through the motions. We follow steps and engage in processes prescribed by outside entities without reflecting on meaning and value.

Learning for Life Quote

There are moments when educators fail to question understanding, to apply knowledge and skills in novel ways. Upon reflection, it's helpful when educators adopt the model of lifelong learning. Though we don't yet have the capacity to ameliorate our younger selves, it is possible that educators, parents, and students advance as lifelong learners.

What does this mean? The traits of a lifelong learner are numerous; providing a full list of these would take up more space and time than we have. Since education stakeholders tend to focus on identification of appropriate instructional approaches and learning strategies, let's truncate the definition of "lifelong learner". Here's my version...

A lifelong learner is one who pursues problem-based research and 
performs experimentation to assess the fitness of possible solutions 
on an ongoing basis

How does it look? In short, we develop processes to learn on our own. We intrinsically seek and solve problems. Four phases are encountered during this journey. Lifelong learners (in any field) tend to...

  1. pursue problem-based research
  2. identify possible solutions
  3. examine solutions via experimentation
  4. repeat this process to address a new (or old) problem

Why is it valuable? Many education stakeholders benefit when one person adopts this model of learning. Stakeholder behaviors evince curiosity. For instance, parents model curiosity when they inquire about strategies to address academic challenges and behavior setbacks during parent-teacher conferences. Also, as educators, we manifest curiosity by offering alternatives to struggling families and peers.

Our efforts are not in vain, because lasting growth ensues. Five minutes dedicated to responding to a parent or co-worker activates dormant knowledge and skills. Weeks dedicated to researching strategies for a learning disabled student lead to permanent personal and professional growth, plus undiagnosed and borderline students benefit from the new instructional outlook.

Improving confidence, easing family tensions, facilitating learning, increasing performance, and bridging the transition to more challenging environments are borne out of the intrinsic motivation to view one problem through different lenses. 

As lifelong learners, stakeholders understand that no education is ever complete. We value professional development opportunities and look beyond these to seek solutions to immediate threats to the development of more independent learners. This is the mission of my firm, Jackson Education Support.

Custom products and personalized services offered for educators, parents, and students. Specialty subjects are literacy, math, and science. Schedule a consult to discuss challenges and goals here.

August 30, 2016

Remember to Remember: Reflecting to Change

Imagine you are preparing to teach students a new skill. You do your due diligence by researching and planning a stellar lesson. You have a clear focus and engaging activities. You rehearse the lesson format and feel confident. You begin the lesson, but as time goes on students begin to lose interest and goof off. The lesson ends and students do not grasp the concepts. You are left feeling frustrated and confused. Sound familiar? 

This scenario is common across classrooms everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are a novice teacher or a veteran, it is  incredibly difficult when instructional plans go awry. As hard as it may feel, this is precisely the time when you have to remember to remember. Put differently, reflect on the instructional plan and delivery. Intentional reflection can be transformative if done on a regular basis. Consider the following during reflection exercises, especially when lessons are not well received.

Focus on the positive. It does not matter how much experience you have. There will be many times when things go wrong. Teaching is a courageous undertaking that requires bravery. Try not to be negative with yourself or your students. Avoid negative thoughts by embracing successful moments during a lesson. Find at least one aspect of the lesson that was successful. Did you plan a great introduction? Were students engaged during a particular part of the lesson?

Don’t take it personally. It is easy to take misbehavior personally, but this is usually a symptom of something deeper. Rather than focus on student behavior, reflect on aspects of the lesson that caused disengagement.  Also, think about ways to address similar situations in the future lessons. Was the activity explained properly? Was the amount of content too overwhelming? Really pinpoint where the breakdown happened, so that you can identify effective solutions.

Ask for help. Now that you have a positive outlook and you've pinpointed areas needing improvement, ask for help. Look for resources. Brainstorm with a colleague. Bounce ideas off of mentors. Seeking help from others yields a variety of strategies to improve engagement during lessons.

How will you practice intentional reflection?


A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Kandice Cole. 
Kandice is a writer, teacher, and education consultant. 
She resides in Chicago with her husband and infant daughter.