Mar 03

How to Improve Your Memory Instantly: Part Two

A crash course in doubling, tripling your memory—the sky is the limit! Part two of "How to Improve Your Memory, Instantly." Go ahead, impress yourself with your own giftedness.

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Feb 14

How to Improve Your Memory, Instantly

Do you recall a time when you studied for a test and recalled that the answer to a question lay in your notebook…it was on the right-hand page…in the upper right corner…. Do you recall precisely where you were when you heard of the attacks on 9/11? Consider how often your brain gives you mental pictures to help you recall information. Today, let's put it to the test!

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Nov 25

Are You From My Planet? Why the Gifted May Seem Goofy

What is a teacher (or parent, co-worker, peer, etc.) to do when a gifted individual asks a question that seems utterly, well,… nonsensical? A question that makes him look—not so much uninformed or even innocent, per se—but rather “scattered” instead of “gifted.”

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Nov 02

The Curious Case of the Gullible Gifted

Why would those who are intellectually advanced seem to be less than so at times? No so fast. What you perceive as a lack of critical thinking could be, in truth, quite the opposite.

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Aug 22

Starting Off On The Right Foot With Classroom Management

When Varina’s mentor coordinator, Jessica Meade, asked me to come up with a list of “What To Do First” for the new teachers, I compiled a list of Nine Suggestions. The top two are to create Rules and Consequences that could be taught, explained, checked, and practiced from day one. Simple rules include “Raise your hand to speak and wait to be called on”. This can be explained to students as “Do not talk when the teacher is talking.” Another is “Remain seated unless permission is given otherwise”. In other words, “Don’t walk around during instruction.” A third might be “Refrain from touching others or their belongings.” Everyone needs boundaries! You may also want to implement “Use only appropriate language.” That one also keeps bullying in check.

Consequences can be listed from least to most severe. The first one might be “Non-verbal cue.” Then comes “Student Conference”. After that, “Parent Contact”, “Detention”, and finally “Administrative Referral”. You may want to add “Other Possibilities” to your list, such as “Seat Change”, “Temporary removal from the classroom”, or “Parent Conference”. Posting these in your classroom from day one will let students know your expectations as well as set the tone for the year. Harry Wong said it well in his book, HOW TO BE AN EFFECTIVE TEACHER: THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, “What you do on the first days of school will determine your success or failure for the rest of the school year. You will either win or lose your class on the first days of school.” And according to Susan McNamee in her packet,Classroom_Management_for_Teachers, “It is NOT the severity of the consequences, but its consistency that causes behavioral change. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you said you would do.”

Aug 22

Varina New Hires 2013

New Hires 2013

First Row From the Left: Mike Dunavant (not a new hire, but our ITRT), Beth Firmin, Ex. Ed. English; Hillary Shelton, Ex. Ed. Science; Kathryn Allen, Ex. Ed. Functional; Nicole Williams, FACS; Second/Third Rows From the Left: Jessica Goodman, Art; Melissa Yeager, CAD; Christine Pederson, English; Renee Balch (not new, but the Instructional Coach for Varina); Jessica Meade (not a new hire, but our mentor coordinator and math teacher); Kaitlin Bookbinder, math; Kim Chadwick, Ex. Ed. English; Andrew Lacey, Business.

Jun 20

Appealing Your Child’s Gifted Placement Decision

You really have to remember only one truth here: It is your right to appeal this decision. It is not antagonistic of you to do so, and it is not a waste of anyone’s time to demand it.

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Jun 10

End-of-Year Reflections/Anticipation

phases 3

‘Tis the season…for new teachers, and hopefully all of us, to reflect on the year and dive into anticipation of 2013-2014. . Eight first-year teachers at Varina High School completed reflective sentence stems which are posted in, a crowd-sourcing collaborative tool. Varina’s ITRT, Mike Dunavant , set up a  for this purpose. I had talked with Mike about possibly having the teachers do this in a google doc because I wanted them to see each others’ and to be able to comment on one anothers’ reflections if they wanted. He suggested as it is more of a visual type of google doc. Teachers could also implement the tool in their classroom as “class-sourcing”, a way for students to share and build ideas, data, and/or content in one place. For this, I set up sticky notes under each teacher’s name for them to type in their reflections. They could right-click on each others’ sticky notes to comment. Copy and paste into CHROME the link below the picture to see for yourself. Once in, you can move the screen up or down by clicking on the background and dragging. Be sure to double-click on the comments, so that you can read them. All notes can be enlarged by adjusting the magnification slider on the right. with pic

 Copy and paste the link below into Chrome:!/#/dmdunavant/1369061772326?digest=true

Reflecting on our work helps us plan for the future. I gave each of the new teachers a google doc survey where they could not only reflect on their practice, but also give me valuable feedback regarding my work with them. I now have a clearer focus for next year. In my end-of-the-year meetings with each of these amazing teachers, one thing stood out: They all had self-reflected and had new and improved plans for next year. They now know what works and what does not work so well for them and their students. The old adage of experience being the best teacher is true; reflection helps us learn the lesson without having to repeat the experience.




May 13

ActivEngage: Mixing Review with Formative Assessment

Are you looking for a way to engage the unengaged student, the student who won’t talk to other students? By its very name, ActivEngage implies attracting and holding ones’ attention. ActivEngage is a part of Promethean’s ActivInspire software that provides users with a virtual responder that can be used to help drive and/or assess instruction.

In the case of Sam Hilterbrant’s self-contained World History I class, it was used both as review for the SOL and as formative assessment of students’ metacognition. Mr. Hilterbrant explains, “The reason I chose the ActivEngage lesson was two-fold. One, I needed a way to engage all my students in a lesson that was interactive while simultaneously preparing them for the WHI SOL with real SOL-released-test questions. And two, with the small class size, I wanted to be able to go around and listen to how groups came to the conclusions they did. I understand that students don’t take the SOL together, but given the individual learning needs of my students, I wanted to try and maximize their abilities (placing students together strategically at times), so everyone would get something out of the lesson.”

He adds even more motivation to the review by having his classes compete with another. In order to get a point for a question, 75% of the class has to get the answer correct. The class to get the most points gets donuts. Mr. Hilterbrant reads the question and anwer choices aloud to his students and tells them to discuss it. He then clicks the “Vote Now” button. Both he and the students can see how many have voted, and as soon as all have done so, a bar graph appears showing the percentage of the class that chose each answer.  Take a look at a couple of short segments of his lesson:

ActivEngageHistorySelfContained from Renee Balch on Vimeo.

 Mr. Hilterbrant commented to several that he liked the way they were thinking about this. One time he mentioned that he was glad they were all taking their time and thinking about the answers because they have all the time they need on the SOL. In his reflection of the lesson, he says, “For the most part, I would say it was very successful, and the class outdid even my own expectations for them. The most encouraging part was the students explaining their answers to each other. This helped my weaker students understand certain concepts, as they were hearing it from a different source (peer) which may have made it more relevant.”

ActivEngage can also be used as individual formative assessment because it allows the teacher to check individual answers. This data can be used to differentiate and drive instruction.

We face the challenge of more rigorous SOL’s where higher-level thinking and understanding the process are inherent.  Listening to student think-alouds and modeling our own think-alouds will provide understanding on a deeper level and help students more easily  transfer information into their long-term memory.  Pairing students and using ActivEngage might be a solution.

Apr 29

The Dilemma:The Young Gifted and (Lack of) Fine Motor Skills

For the parents of the very young and gifted, this is indeed a tricky time of childhood to navigate: his mind and brain is ready and eager to explore and express itself but often his physical abilities to do so are limited. But there are ways to help your child express his full potential. Let's get to it.

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