Weekly Words in the Walkway

5th grade teachers are getting creative to help their students develop vocabulary focused on character traits. As students move through the 5th grade hallway, they walk under a “Word of the Week” display of vocabulary students should know and be able to use. Each week, the trail becomes one word longer. This walkway of words presents each word with its definition going one way,…

and each word used in the context of a sentence going the other way down the hall.

This simple strategy provides a daily reminder and reinforcement of important vocabulary linked to 5th grade ELA curriculum. I like that this technique demonstrates a way to engage students that is not time-consuming or grand, yet makes an impact on learning. It also highlights how our teachers work collaboratively in an effort to educate their collective group of 5th graders.

Prairieview Panthers Persevere and Prosper!

Mrs. Csorba, along with several 4th and 5th grade teachers working in collaboration with the instructional coach, have challenged our Panthers with Breakout EDU activities. What is a Breakout? It is a game that engages students in critical thinking, problem-solving, troubleshooting, and working collaboratively. Students have so much fun that they don’t even realize how much they are using their brains!Mrs. Csorba has done Breakouts both digitally and with actual locked boxes. Take a look at some 5th graders completing a Breakout during WIN time.

Digital Breakouts were created with the instructional coach incorporating Social Studies content for 4th grade and Science content for 5th grade. Here you see some of the students who were able to solve the Wacky Weather Breakout in 5th grade, and some of the 4th graders who solved the Midwest Map Mess-Up.


Thank you to the teachers who welcomed the opportunity to try something new in their classrooms. These types of activities provide so much more learning for our students beyond actual content. Congratulations to the students who persevered and prospered!


Flipping the Classroom

This teacher is modeling how students should work through and take notes when watching a video lesson at home.

Prairieview teacher, Kim Swaekauski, and Lakeview math teachers, Karin Snodgrass, Annie Diver, and Sarah Focken, recently attended a seminar that presented strategies to successfully “flip” their math instruction. “Flipping” instruction allows the students to take a more active role in their learning. Teachers can create video lessons for students to watch at home or independently in the classroom. This enables students to take in the information at their own pace, view the video or segments of it more than once if needed, and pause the instruction to record notes. An archive of videos can also be created so that students can access lessons when reteaching is needed or as an option for review before assessments.


There are other benefits of video lessons. Studies have shown that shorter or condensed video lessons are more engaging than live lecture. Video lessons allow the teacher to be with the students at home – this is very valuable to students who are absent from school. These pre-recorded lessons also allow the teacher to “duplicate” his/herself in the classroom. While playing a video lesson, a teacher can walk around the classroom to promote student focus and engagement, and answer individual questions. Finally, students will have time for more active learning DURING class – engaged in discussion, collaboration, and projects.

This is an example of a paper slide video lesson. The teacher is able to monitor students and keep them on task while the lesson is being viewed.


Another aspect of “flipping” is to have students create video lessons of their learning. Here you can see Kim Swaekauski recording student “paper slides” to demonstrate how they could solve various real-world problems using the different methods of multiplying fractions.

Students provide a verbal explanation and can point out steps in their work as the teacher records.

Kudos to our teachers who took the risk and tried out these techniques in their classrooms right away!

The Code Word Is…

Some of our 3rd grade teachers are finding ways to introduce computer coding into the classroom. Why would we want our students to learn the basics of programming? First, we recognize its significance in the digital age. Although our students use technology on a daily basis, it is important for them to understand the science and logic behind it. Coding allows kids to become actively engaged in the process of computing, not just passive users of technology. Also, knowing our reliance on technology will only increase over time, we want our students to be future-ready learners. Another reason coding in the elementary classroom is beneficial to our students is that the type of thinking involved influences the development of a child’s brain. Students gain a deeper understanding of cause and effect, and it sharpens their ability to troubleshoot and solve problems.Image result for quote by steve jobs about coding

Third graders in Mary Pellin’s and Heather Lopez’s classrooms were introduced to coding using activities found at code.org. This is a great resource for any teachers who would like to get their students started with the basics of computer programming. Students in Mary Pellin’s math class can be seen here completing a hands-on activity to learn about binary code.

It is wonderful to see our students expanding their knowledge of technology. They are quick to learn, and coding skills will help our kids thrive in a rapidly changing digital world.

Portfolios at Prairieview Going Digital

ClassDojo, Artsonia, and Seesaw, oh my! So many ways teachers and students can showcase the learning happening in the classroom. Digital portfolios allow students to track and demonstrate their growth over long periods of time, and they can follow students throughout their entire school careers. Creating digital portfolios has many other benefits as well. Parents don’t need to wait for a special invitation to “enter” their students school and view work. They can access it anywhere and any time! Also, portfolios foster sharing and collaboration. Students, teachers, and parents can all comment on posts. Although teachers must approve posts before they can be viewed by others, this feature allows for a discussion of digital citizenship on topics such as online etiquette and safety.

ClassDojo is actually a tool several Prairieview teachers started using as a way to promote positive behaviors like participation, working hard, and active listening. A few teachers have now started to utilize a recent addition to ClassDojo, called Student Stories. This is a way students can record and share their learning and accomplishments digitally. Students in Heather Lopez’s room are seen here using a QR-code to access and add to their digital portfolio. In the last two pictures, you can see students in Samantha Gari’s room adding their Science projects.

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Artsonia is a way students are archiving their learning in Art class. Miss Smeltzer has step-by-step directions displayed in her classroom so that students may post their work independently as they finish. Later, students add an “Artist Statement” to share about themselves, their artwork, and their perspectives as artists. Students writing about their inspiration for an art piece, listing the materials (media) used, and describing what they did to create their art help them (and others) gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their work.

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Seesaw is a digital portfolio option that several K-2 teachers in our district are using. You can learn more about Seesaw by reading an earlier post focused on instruction at Elizabeth Ide. No matter what the choice for capturing student learning, a digital portfolio is a powerful tool for students, teachers, and parents!

Formative Assessment to Drive Instruction in the Right Direction

Prairieview teachers are using a variety of formative assessments to drive their instruction. Whether it’s a Fist to Five3-2-1 Slip,  Exit Ticket, or other method; quick checks of student understanding are essential  for deciding where to go next with your teaching. Here is an example of Kim Swaekauski reviewing math exit tickets her students completed after a few lessons on a certain topic. She was able to determine which students needed enrichment, more practice, or reteaching of skills and concepts. Then she planned small group instruction within math stations in order to best meet the needs of her students.swaek-formative-assessment

Sammie Gari uses Plickers as a way to check and track student learning. Here she is scanning her students’ responses to a review question. Using Plickers, she was able to identify whether students knew and were able to do what they should at that part of the unit; which guided her future instruction.gari-plickers2


It’s exciting to see the variety of ways teachers gather data quickly, yet purposefully, to guide instruction. The information not only helps the teacher make instructional decisions, but can sometimes provide feedback so students can identify areas for improvement. Formative assessment – assessment that is quite literally for learning!

Small Group Instruction as a Differentiation Strategy

Research has found that small group instruction and cooperative learning have a positive impact on student achievement. We also know that within each classroom, there are a diverse group of learners. Several Prairieview teachers are working to incorporate small group instruction and stations during ELA to better meet the needs of their students. The work involved to manage stations and students within this model takes time and patience, but teachers have found that the results outweigh the efforts!

One way to keep organized is a chart that allows both teachers and students to view the different planned tasks along with the groups of students who will work together. Here’s an example from the classroom of Mrs. Sanchez and Mrs. Donar. (Note: Student names are blurred for anonymity)


Mrs. Spakausky uses a similar method as seen here.


Another technique these teachers use is a directions page attached to a file folder with all necessary materials for each of the stations. In this way, teachers are able to give differentiated tasks when appropriate. Notice in this example how different levels of support can be provided for different groups of students. Sometimes support is given by including teacher completed examples for students.


I am excited to see how small group instruction and cooperative learning is being implemented in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Hopefully these examples of how some teachers are using the small group structure to differentiate will ignite more use of this strategy for the benefit of our kids!






Two Prairieview teachers have captured the spirit of a growth mindset by requesting feedback from peers about their teaching practices. Tania Forsman has posted this sign outside her classroom…

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Fifth grade teacher Sammie Gari has also taken the risk of soliciting constructive feedback in order to improve her practice. She has posted this sign outside of her room…

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The definition of a true professional learning community is “a collective of educators who strive to perform at their ultimate potential, working together to learn, grow, and improve the professional practice of teaching in order to maximize student learning.” (Hall, Simeral) These teachers are truly exceptional in understanding that teaching skills continually develop over time, and that we are all in this together!