Overcoming the Butterfly Method

I recently shared an article on the expiration dates on certain strategies or concepts used in the classroom, and so many of you had such great comments on that article that I wanted to discuss it a bit further.

The strategy that brought the most feedback was on the Butterfly Method. While this method is very effective in raising standardized test scores, it does nothing to help the students when they move on. Today, I want to give you three tips on how to deal with it.

Tip #1 - Don’t criticize the teachers who used it.

If your students’ previous teacher used this method, don’t criticize them for what they did in their classroom. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • It undermines the students’ confidence in their teachers overall. You know that you have your students’ best interests at heart and you should also assume that about their previous teachers. They wanted their students to achieve their best, and they were trying to help them do that.
  • It undermines the student’s confidence in themselves. If you tell them that they are doing something the wrong way, they are going to be insecure and wonder what else they do that isn’t right. You don’t want your students to be nervous and insecure because then they aren’t as willing to try new things.

Tip #2 - Complement them on what they remember.

As I have said many times, always take the time to build your students up with what they already know before trying to teach them something new.

Use what they learned in the past to connect it to the new concept. For example, if you are comparing fractions, they likely learned to use the Butterfly method to find common denominators. How can you use that to move on to more complicated ways of doing the problems?

I like to use sticks of gum. I break them up into halves and thirds and divide them among the students with a few students getting whole sticks. They then have to combine their pieces with students who have the same size as theirs to get a whole.

Show them how this is the same as the butterfly method they learned previously but can be used with much more complicated problems. You aren’t asking them to forget what they learned, but rather you are teaching them how to build on it.

Tip #3 - Drive the Vocabulary

If you just listen to your students, most of the time they will use the exact vocabulary that their previous teachers used in teaching them these methods. Once you know the vocabulary they used, you can build on it and teach them the correct mathematical terms for what they are doing.

Again, don’t undermine the teachers. I like to tell my students that the teachers used those words because the students were little, but now that they are high-schoolers or middle-schoolers, it’s time to use the bigger, more technical, terms.

You can also show them why the Butterfly method no longer works by giving them examples of negatives. Ask them where the negative goes on the butterfly. Then let them try it with three fractions and see what happens. They quickly see that it doesn’t work for the higher level problems.

As always, I encourage you to talk to your students and help them to see how many things they’ve learned and how capable they are of learning newer, higher-level things. As you build them up, they will almost always give their best effort.

Please comment below and let me know if you struggle with this in your classroom and how you’ve overcome it.


Classroom Management vs. Leadership

If you’ve been teaching for any amount of time, you have likely encountered those students who tend to shut down. There are many reasons why a student will have difficulties, and it is important to understand how to create the best environment possible for them.

Too often, we see what we do in the classroom as management. What if we changed our strategy from management to leadership? How would that affect what happens in our classroom?

The Attitude of Leadership

What do you think of when you think of the word management? What pictures pop into your head?

For me, I see a factory worker and the boss watching that person, making sure that they get everything was done that needs to be done. The employee may not enjoy the work, but there is a paycheck waiting at the end, so they continue.

For our students, they may not understand or enjoy their classes, but there is a report card waiting for them at the end of the term, and good grades on that report card mean they won’t be punished for not completing their work.

Contrast this picture with one of a sports team or club. When I played sports, my coach certainly told me what to do, but I am the one who chose to be there. And to get better, I knew I needed to listen to my coach and follow his advice. His job was to make me a better runner, and if that were also my goal, I would follow his lead and know I would make progress toward that goal.

*Strategy tip - you have to make personal connections with your students to understand their goals and their unique situations. One way to do that is to stand at the classroom door before class begins and greet each student with a question unrelated to math. Some examples might be, “What are you good at?” “What are your plans for the weekend?”

Engagement and Accountability

The factory worker who hates his job may decide it’s not worth it. If he fails to do his job, he can be fired. With our students, we don’t have that option, so we need to find ways to engage our students and provide them with accountability.

When I share with my students' things that I’m working on, or if I ask them to give me a moment to think of a better explanation for something they don’t understand, I am building a bridge to them instead of making them feel alienated.

When your students see you trying to find better ways of teaching and looking for ways to help them, most students will want to reciprocate by giving you the attention you need. It also encourages them to try harder to learn the concepts and not to give up.

Giving Back

Teachers can take a real beating in this world sometimes. We can feel unappreciated and misunderstood by the media, by our administrators, and by the parents of our students.

It is important for us to find other ways of contributing to the world besides teaching. When you look for the special thing that you feel called to do, don’t always look at the biggest needs. We know that each of our students needs good food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but sometimes we need to consider the smaller pieces of life.

As you choose a place to serve, consider your gifts and what you feel passionate about. As teachers, we can affect our students in many ways, to reach out to them and let them know that we care. Building relationships with your students can give you a huge sense of gratitude, knowing that you are making a real difference in their lives.

I understand how frustrating it can be to try to do all the things that are required of us as teachers. The standards are ever changing; there are tests to prepare for and challenges to meet. But I would encourage you to take a minute and ask that student who you think may be struggling what you can do to help them.

Leadership brings with it personal rewards, as well as rewards for those you lead. You deserve those wonderful feelings associated with leading a group of people/students to meet their goals.

I hope this has been helpful today. Please comment below and let me know how you balance management and leadership in your classroom.


3 Ways to Ease Back Into School After a Long Break

As a full-time teacher, I know how difficult it can be to make the shift between break and going back to school, especially after a long winter break.

I get it. When I was single and teaching, I can well remember not wanting to leave “jammies on the couch” mode to switch back to “getting up and out the door” mode. Even now, as a mom of six kids, it is hard for me to leave the time we‘ve been enjoying at home together to go back to school.

Let's make that transition easier! These three approaches will help you and your students get back into the day-to-day school routine.

1. Welcome Your Students Back to Class

As much as I love my time at home and with my family, there are also -- at least for me -- students that I miss. Every teacher has that student that you make a special connection with or that’s just a really enjoyable person to have in class. Our students miss us, too! That is why I like to start our first day back by telling them that I missed them over the break.

Allow your students to participate as well:

  • What happened? Allow them to share something good that happened to them over break.
  • Inappropriate behavior? It isn't uncommon for kids to struggle with behavior following a long break. I try to combat that by giving them a blank piece of paper as our bell-ringer. Instead of a math problem, however, I ask them to write something they will remember about that specific break.
  • Greet each student at the door with a simple question or special greeting. Remind each student that they are special and worth your time!

Also keep in mind that breaks from school aren’t an amazing, family-filled, warm-and-cozy time for all students. Breaks can be tough for some kids. We need to be sensitive to that and be ready to reach out and try to create touch points with them.

2. Be the Teacher You Want to Be

We’ve all seen the memes showing a teacher who is so tired at the day’s end that she is face down on the stairs. I can laugh at those because I have definitely experienced my fair share of “teacher-tired” days.

But that’s not how I want to be known. I don’t want to be seen as dreading my job, I enjoy teaching! I want to be thought of as kind, disciplined, thorough, and caring.

I challenge you to come up with the three (3) words that describe you as a teacher.

  • Think through the lens of your students - if they had to describe you as a teacher, what do you hope they would say?
  • What connects you with your students?
  • What would parents say about you as a teacher?

Once you have come up with your words, choose one and take it with you as you start the first day back. Write it on a sticky note and put it where you will see it. Then commit to being that person on your first day back and beyond.

3. Connect with Your Students

Remember that not every student will have experienced kindness or patience over the break, so knowing their teacher will be kind to them can make such a difference in their life. Everyone feels a little out of sorts on the first few days back after a long break. You can be the one to make your students feel more comfortable and get back into the swing of things more quickly and with less stress.

I like to have an easier lesson on that first day so that each student feels successful and built up as we begin again. I try to be as positive as possible as we work through the day’s work.

I know that it may feel repetitive to go over things you have covered already, but if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in using a student’s past success to help them move forward. This is the perfect time to do just that.

I want to see you get off to a great start as you get back to a new year with your students, so I hope these tips will help you as you head back.

How to build engagement without song or dance

In this world of instant gratification, do your students struggle with waiting?

Wait time can be difficult to implement in your classroom for several reasons, but I would say one of the biggest reasons is that from the time children are babies, they are not taught to wait anymore. When is the last time you saw a crying baby in line at the grocery store? It’s rare nowadays to see that, because if the kid starts fussing, a grown-up hand them a device to make them stop.

What is Wait Time?

Picture yourself in front of your class. You ask a question. Then what?


That silence while the students think about your question is called wait time, or think time. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the average wait time was 1.5 seconds. Believe it or not, it’s been dropping ever since. Why? Because teachers feel rushed and so do their students.

What should you be shooting for? The optimal wait time is at least 3 seconds. You may have to work up to that, but it is worth it. But wait time isn’t only for when you ask the students a question. There should be another 3 seconds of wait time after the student answers.

Why Does Wait Time Matter?

Research* has proven that wait time not only improves the answer by the student who has been called upon, but it improves the answers of all the students. If you call on that student who raises his or her hand within a fraction of a second, nobody else has a chance to formulate an answer in their mind.

If you always call on the quickest of your students and the other students don’t have time to really think about the question, those quick students will be more likely to advance to the next concepts while the slower students struggle to stay engaged.

Not only does it benefit the students to have more wait time, but it also benefits you as the teacher. When you give every student the opportunity to think through the answer to a question, you get a better glimpse of what your students are capable of. It also improves your question asking skills.

Think time allows you as a teacher to ask better, more open-ended questions of your students and it allows your students to formulate better, more complete answers to your questions.

How to Implement Wait Time

I know you may be thinking, “Jeanette, that sounds so hard! Won’t it be awkward to implement this?”

It could certainly be awkward if you don’t tell them first what you are doing. I like to tell my students at the beginning of the year, when everything is fresh and new, what I am going to be doing. I like to use an example from outside the classroom when I explain it to them.

Have you ever been working on a puzzle and someone comes along and puts in the piece you were looking for? Do you ever feel that way in class, especially Math class? You’re thinking, and you’ve almost got the answer, but there goes that kid who always has the answer in .63 seconds. And you were so close…”

You just explain that you want every student to have a chance to be successful and to understand every concept before moving on. Not just the fastest ones, but everyone.

Wait Time After a Student Answers

Maybe you see the benefits of wait time before allowing a student to answer, but you fail to see how waiting after the answer can be helpful.

Do you remember sitting in class and someone else answering a question right before you came to what you thought was the correct answer, but it turns out your answer was wrong? This happens every day in classrooms and this is where those 3 seconds after s student answers come into play.

If their answer is different than your answer, you have a few seconds to go back over your answer in your head and figure out if you did it wrong. You aren’t just swept along with the rest of the class to the next thing if you didn’t quite grasp that one.

Now if the answer given is totally wrong, I do say something immediately in order to head off any confusion. But for correct answers, I want each student to process that answer and how we arrived at it before we move on.

Ask for Feedback

I think it is super important to ask for my students’ feedback on the systems I use in my classroom. So I highly recommend that you tell your students that you are going to ask for their feedback on the system in 2 weeks and again in 2 months.

I don’t just take their feedback though, I give some of my own. If they are having trouble waiting the 3 seconds to toss out answers, I may go to a system where I hold up my fingers and silently count to 3. This is just for students that continue to interrupt and I try to limit how much I use this technique.

You can give feedback multiple times a day during the first couple of introductory weeks and then do it less and less as the weeks go on.

I hope this has shown you the value of wait time to improve student engagement, their answers and communication skills, and their thinking skills. It will improve your teaching skills and your ability to assess who is getting the concept and who isn’t.

This week, try using wait time in your classroom. Tell your students what you are doing and get their feedback at the end of the week. And be sure to pop back in and leave a comment telling me how it went for you!


4 Things to Say When Students Get Frustrated

Today I want to share with you four things you can say when you see your students getting frustrated. We’ve all had those moments when we have one or more students that are simply too frustrated with a problem or concept to make any real progress with it. These are some practical ways I have found to deal with those times.

“It Will Make More Sense Tomorrow”

One of the most important things you can do for a frustrated student is to ask them a question that takes their mind off of the frustration at hand. You want the brain to “forget” what it was just thinking about and that was causing the frustration.

I like to ask my students, “What does your brain do while you sleep?” The answer is that it refreshes itself, ridding itself of anything not needed so that it is ready to solve problems the next day.

Almost every child has had the experience of feeling frustrated over a problem only to come back to class the next day and find it much simpler than the day before. That’s because the brain needed a rest from the frustration so that it could begin to think clearly about the problem again.

“Remember When…”

I know that as math teachers, your default may be to remind them of a math success and that is fine, but you don’t have to restrict your examples to math.

For my students, a math example does seem to be more powerful though.

For example, if they are struggling with solving systems of equations, remind them of a time when they had trouble solving another type of problem, and they learned it and did well with it. These past successes go a long way to encouraging them and giving them confidence that they can do just as well with these new concepts.

“I Believe in You”

When a student is frustrated, they need to receive affirmation from you, the teacher, that you believe in their ability to learn the math concept they are struggling with.

As a mother of 6, with 4 of those adopted, I have been through some tough times as a parent. I was too hard on myself and too hard on my kids at times. But my mother gave me so much confidence by encouraging me that I was doing a good job.

She reminded me that it was perfectly fine to be tough on my kids, as long as they knew they were loved.

I believe the same rule holds true in the classroom: I can be tough on my students; I can demand a lot from them, as long as they know that I believe in them. I must remind them that I believe in their success, I believe in who they are, I believe in them as humans.

Knowing that someone believes that they have something to contribute to the world goes a long way toward helping them believe that they can work through difficult problems and will encourage them to give you their very best work.

Use Keywords to Build Resilience

Let’s face it, those awesome elementary teachers that we all know have taught our students some important words; words like perseverance, integrity, grit, honesty, effort, and character.

When I take the time to use these words as I am helping my students through especially difficult concepts like geometry proofs, I give them the inner belief that they can do it.

If a student asks, “But when will I ever use this in real life?”, I can say, “There will be many times as an adult that you will have to persevere through difficult situations. There will be real-life problems that require you to break them down into manageable steps so that you can solve them.”

When a high-school teacher uses some of the same vocabularies that these students learned in elementary school, it evokes warm memories for them and gives them the belief that they can do hard things, that they do have the grit it takes to get through. They will continue to develop their character to be one of integrity and honesty as they see what they are capable of.

Stop. Reframe. Redirect.

Let’s be honest here; the kids aren’t the only ones who get frustrated. We as teachers get frustrated as well.

When anyone in the classroom is frustrated, whether it is student or teacher, you simply can’t go on as if there is no problem. You have to stop. You have to find a new way of teaching the concept or a new way of explaining what you want the students to do.

The first thing to do is stop, but secondly, when you do start speaking again, slow down. Slowing your speech helps you to maintain tight control over not only what you say, but how you say it. Remaining calm is crucial to teaching, whether you are at school or home with your children. Slowing your speech is a very effective way to remain calm while still instructing.

Now is a great time to come back to what you know and what your students know. Remember earlier when I said that you need to remind your students of a former success? Now is a great time to do that!

Focusing on what a student can do, instead of what they can’t or won’t do, will help the student believe that they can learn the new concept and give them the courage to try again. Telling a story about a time when you used this concept in your own life or an example of how they might use it would be helpful at this point.

Get the students re-engaged with you. Do whatever you have to do to reset the tone in your classroom and then try again.

Ticket for Success

The most important thing to remember is that every student must grow every day! I hope that these tips I have shared today will help you to find more ways to engage that student that doesn’t want to connect.

Now for your homework-

I want you to try one of these tips this week! When you find yourself or a student getting frustrated, try telling a story. Use those keywords like perseverance and grit to share how you used these same concepts to get through a difficult situation in your own life. Remind them of some of the things they already know.

Please be sure to stop back by and let me know how you worked these into your classroom time and how they worked for you! I love to hear how these tips are helping you to not only manage your classroom better but also reach your students and build those relationships.

4 Things to Say When Students Get Frustrated

3 Things to Teach Your Students About How Their Brain Works

Are you ready to enjoy having more engaged students? Teach them these three things about how their brain works and they will feel more relaxed and be more willing to learn!

[clickToTweet tweet="Helping students to understand how their brain works, will reduce their frustration and anxiety." quote="Helping students to understand how their brain works, will reduce their frustration and anxiety."]

Lesson 1: Relearning is Easier

We've all been there: frustrated because our students don't remember something we just taught them. But here's the deal: relearning something is easier than learning it for the first time.

Let's say you teach Algebra 1. You become frustrated when your students don't remember how to add or subtract fractions. If you teach Geometry, you don't understand why they can't remember how to solve a basic equation or find a supplementary angle. You know they've been doing this since middle school!

What you can tell yourself and your students is that relearning it is easier.

Have you ever heard a song you haven't thought of in years, but as soon as you hear the intro music, you can just sing along? That phenomenon occurs because the path in your brain has already been created. You might not remember it right away, but as soon as you get that trigger, you do!

Another way to think about it is to picture walking down a path in the woods for the first time. You're moving sticks and cutting deep brush to forge the path. You're working hard! When you go to walk that path again after some time has passed, you'll still have to remove items from your path, but it won't be nearly as difficult as it was the first time.

Lesson 2: Sleep on It

The second thing I love to teach my students about their brain is the power of "sleeping on it."

Have you ever had a class period where the fire bell rings in the middle or you had to go to an assembly? Those interruptions mean you can't bring your class to a conclusion. Kids are frustrated as they leave and come in the next day saying,  “I didn't get it." It's a negative experience!

Teach your students that they can sleep on it. If they sleep on it, their brain builds those connections. When they build those connections, they retain information. So when they come in the next day, it will be easier to learn. There will be more understanding and the content will seem so much easier.

So when that fire drill goes off, you're rushing them all outside, and you don't get to finish your lesson, tell your students, "I know you're feeling a little confused, but you have an advantage over all my other classes. You get to sleep on this information and come back. Tomorrow it will feel so much easier!"

They love hearing that!

Lesson 3: Multitasking Is A Myth

Students need to hear -- over and over -- that multitasking is a myth. In fact, it is not even effective.

That's hard to tell a bunch of teachers, isn't it? Because we have to multitask. We have to deal with 30-plus personalities in our classroom, the phone ringing and the door, and the fire drill. There are times I hide, close the door, and get to work in an uninterrupted space because I need that.

Well, our kids need it, too.

They need to know that they can focus on one thing at a time. In fact, it's going to help them to understand and to retain the information if they're not being interrupted. When we ask them to put the cell phone away that they are hiding in their laps, they will be more apt to listen if they understand how their brain works. Asking to put the phone away isn't simply a method of control, it's a way to help them learn.

When we are interrupted, it takes 10-15 minutes to fully refocus. Multitasking robs you of your time.

A Recap of Concepts

Helping students understand how their brain works will reduce frustration!

1. Tell them relearning is easier.

Instead of saying, "You know you learned this last year, I know you can do it again," we can choose not to talk down to them. Instead, teach them that relearning is easier. They will feel more hopeful about the class.

2. Tell them to "sleep on it."

Tell them they can sleep on it! That way, when they are frustrated, they know it's going to be easier the next day. This understanding is going to help them to come in with a more positive attitude.

3. Tell them to focus on one thing at a time.

This isn't just going to help them in math class, it will help them in life. How many people do we know that are wasting their life away because they are distracted? We want to set our kids up not just for success in our classrooms, but for success in life. If we help understand how their brain works, we will get a lot of success.

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