Why these goals in the classroom prevent student success

You are an awesome teacher. You care about your kids, and you work hard to help them grow.  But it’s possible that one of these habits is keeping your students from fully thriving in the classroom:

1. Goals in the classroom that focus on silence instead of collaboration

The common idea is “if children are talking, they can’t possibly be working.  They lose focus, and worse, cause their friends to lose focus.” In their book, Content Area and Conversations, Fisher, Frey, and Rothenburg assert that conversation is actually very valuable and it is important for children to converse about their thoughts in order to organize them.  This is especially true with auditory learners.  

Now you may be saying, “well I let my students talk in group discussions by calling on them.”  That is a great start.  You can enrich your classroom even further by encouraging students to talk to you and to one another freely about the subject matter.  

Here is an example of a conversation from Fisher, Frey, and Rothenburg’s book.  Focus on the italicized words:

Teacher: I was thinking about the life cycle of an insect. Do you remember the life cycle we studied? Malik?

Malik: Yes.

Teacher: What was the first stage in the life cycle? Jesse?

Jesse: They was born?

Teacher: Yes, things are born, but think about the life cycle of insects. Let’s try to be more specific in our thinking. What is the first stage in the insect life cycle? Miriam?

Miriam: Eggs.

Teacher: Yes, insects start as eggs. Then they change and develop. They become larva after eggs, right? And then what? What happens to them after they are larva? Adrian?

Adrian: They are adults.

Teacher: They do eventually become adults, but there is a step missing. What is the step between larva and adults? What is that stage of the life cycle called? Joe?

Joe: Mature larva?

Teacher: Yes, there are two kinds of larva in the life cycle of some insects. But what I was thinking about was what happened to them after the larva before they become adults. Mariah?

Mariah: Nymph?

Teacher: Now we’re talking about the three-stage cycle for some insects. Do the insects that change into nymphs come from larva? Let’s look at our two posters again. Remember these? There is a three-stage process and a four-stage process. Let’s study these again.

The italicized words are the children’s responses.  

  • How much academic language was used?  
  • What if you were to give the students a prompt with the same questions to answer in a group discussion? How much more academic language would they use?  

The freer the environment, the more the conversations will be allowed to develop.  You can monitor this by traveling around the room, listening, and interjecting where appropriate. 

If your students aren’t sure how to begin the conversation, give them a bank of vocabulary words to use with the topic.   

2. Focusing on lessons instead of strategies for independent learning

Oh no!  I have all these students and I have to cram all this information into their brains so they can pass the test.  The only way I can possibly do that is by talking at them endlessly until they pass out.  Obviously that is an exaggeration, but it’s understandable that you sometimes feel that kind of pressure.  I know I certainly have.

In his 2014 Sciencemag article, Lectures Aren’t Just Boring…, Aleszu Bajak cites a study from pnas.org that concluded: “students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.” Fail? Wow that really puts it in perspective for me!

Independent Learning strategies in the classroom


Almost everything can be turned into a game.  It may not be pretty, but it is effective. Many times we will take a collection of vocabulary and turn it into a memory game or Go Fish game.  Almost all of our resources either have or are games. This article on The Benefits of Games in the Classroom has some great insights on why games are a great tool and how to use them effectively. 

Take the FREE 5 Day Scoot Challenge! Inside this challenge, you get a FREE Scoot to try, along with 5 days worth of activities to do with one resource. Ready to check it out?

CLICK HERE for all the value you can possibly get out of a single resource!

Looking for more? Enjoy easy differentiation with our snowmen math games bundle!


Take 2 minutes and try to list all the jingles you know… Now imagine those jingles focus on important educational concepts.  Songs can make your job so much easier if you open yourself up to them.  Students learn the songs and they stick in the subconscious, waiting to be retrieved at test time.  We have songs in our resources in our store, as well as Jack Hartmann, Dr. Jean, and more. 

If you’re the creative type, make up your own! Use a cluster of related vocabulary words and work them into a song with a familiar tune. Try these from our January Vocabulary Literacy Bundle to get you started: WINTER, BEARS, HIBERNATE, POLAR, ARCTIC, INUITS, BLUBBER, FLIPPERS, GLACIERS.

3. Fearing failure instead of using strategies for social emotional learning

F.” There it is, bold and unyielding, in bright red pen at the top of the paper. This letter doesn’t provide positive feelings for the giver or the receiver.  It’s a letter so dreaded that it might as well be excluded from the alphabet.  That would be a hassle though as we would have so many words we could no longer understand.  Just as the alphabet needs the letter “F,” your students need failure.

Now, I am not advocating “allowing” your students to fail or creating an environment that facilitates failure.  I have known some teachers that purposefully make the first test nearly impossible so students can get that first “F” out of the way.  This just isn’t air (See what I did there?  Doesn’t have the same oomph as with the letter “F” does it?).  Along these lines though, students should not be afraid of failure.  Failure is a healthy, inevitable part of life that should be embraced and leveraged rather than avoided because:

1) Failure pushes students to work harder

2) Failure makes students braver and more confident 

3) Failure is always an opportunity to learn

All of these are true IF the student is given the tools to grow out of their failures. The moral of this story?  Redefine failure in your classroom.  You will not only have to redefine for your students, but parents as well.  As you fully know, parents are sometimes harder on their kids than you are.  Do what you do best and teach about how failure is a positive thing and it’s a wonderful learning opportunity.  I encourage you to try something totally outrageous and please, please share your findings: The next time a few of your students fail a test, encourage a brave volunteer to stand up and share his or her “F.”  Rather than feeling shame, encourage your student to celebrate. Explain that you are celebrating this “F” because it means your student has an opportunity to learn and grow.  Use this time to remind students that failure is a part of life and it’s what we do with it that’s important.  

4. Teacher classroom goals that begin and end with the curriculum

How often do we take one look at all the stuff we have to cram into the school year, hit the ground at a full sprint, and don’t look back until Summer? Have you ever stopped to think as yourself why? Or how? 

Research states that our students tend to remember concepts more easily when they are relevant.  Teaching concepts in an endless stream to your students will actually increase their chances of forgetting more, and if you present the concepts in a way that is meaningful or relevant, you will have more success with your students retaining information.  

My favorite example is math formulas.  I can’t tell you how many times throughout my life a teacher has given me a formula and just told me to remember it.  What those teachers did was put the pressure on me.  “You need to learn this formula to succeed in this class.”  Forget understanding the formula or being able to recreate it.  I was just supposed to memorize it.  

Memorizing facts…sound at all like every standardized test in existence?  The teachers that took the time to explain the origin of the formulas better ensured my success in the future.  If I ever forgot a formula, it was always possible to understand the problem in order to find the solution another way.  This doesn’t work with everything, but the more explanation you give something, the more relevant and meaningful it becomes to your students.  Thus, the easier it is to remember.

5. A static approach instead of strategies for active learning

You will see this as a trend throughout our blog posts. Active learning strategies that include music, movement, and games are such valuable tools in the classroom. Not only are they fantastic activities for social emotional learning, but they are efficient learning tools as well. 

Learning with songs for young students

In a study done by the Department of Music at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, it was determined that music has a more successful impact on the brain because of the numerous areas of the brain that are targeted when music is played.  Children’s motor, auditory, and limbic systems become engaged when they listen to music. This opens them up to a more meaningful learning experience. This article from the DANA foundation gives great insight regarding all the arts and how they inform cognitive development.

Learning with games for young students

We have found so much success with games as assessments as well as practice and lesson activities. The students are able to engage in these independent learning strategies, which encourages collaboration and builds confidence. 

This is what we are all about and dedicate ourselves tirelessly to achieving in our resources.  Here is the foundational stream of logic: when a child is having fun, it accesses the limbic system in their brain, making them more open to the learning that is taking place, further cementing the information in the mind of any learner.

There you have it, 5 easy shifts to make in your thought process that will create exponential growth for your students!

Have a fabulous week!

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