Supporting Creativity Through Interactive Notebooks

The Stanford Creativity: Music to my Ears online class has me thinking a lot about creativity. One big take-away is that creativity is something that takes practice. When someone says, “I’m just not creative” it means that they have not practiced being creative enough to feel confident about it.

When this describes whole organization it’s truly a problem. In an article titled Working Creativity, by Mark Batey a case is made for creativity at the heart of the skill sets needed for the future.

As a teacher creativity is a skill that I try to bring out in my students. One strategy that has really made a difference for me is the use of interactive notebooks. Right now students are using them to write research papers and I am really excited about how well they keep everyone focused and moving along. I’ve designated each page of the notebook to be one baby step in the process and tried to encourage students to both be creative and to follow directions.

I’ll be posting photos from our unit, but first I thought I would share a few resources that I’ve been stalking for inspiration…

Dawn Miller at IBTEACHINU Language Arts

Randy Seldomridge at The Middle School Mouth

Katie at Following my Heart to First Grade

 at New Teacher Resources

If you have others website to suggest or ideas for how to develop creativity through interactive notebooks I’d love to hear about them –  please pass them on!





Music to the Rescue! Assignment 3 of Creativity: Music to My Ears


I’ve been participating in an online Creativity course hosted by Tina Seelig at Stanford University. Seelig is the author of inGenius, a book I am also reading. Rather than do the assignments online, i’ve decided to do them with my students. However, this week we are on Easter break, so I drafted my four children ages 7- 13 to help brain storm.

Here is the assignment:

Clearly define – a problem that you want to solve. It can be a personal problem or a social problem. Be careful to frame the problem thoughtfully so that it isn’t too narrow or too broad. Make sure to read the paragraph above about picking a brainstorming topic, and watch the Reframing video for guidance on this.

Once your team has framed a problem, together you should brainstorm to generate at least 100 ideas for ways that MUSIC can help solve that problem.

We decided to think about how music can be used at school to develop literacy – especially in middle school students and this is what we came up with…

  1. Listen to Pandora study music when reading.
  2. Compare reading music to reading text.
  3. Have students make book trailers with music in the background.
  4. Study famous song lyrics as poetry.
  5. Get an MP3 song for every book read in a school year.
  6. Read about music history.
  7. Read and watch a musical.
  8. Create a classroom musical based on a book.
  9. Teach students to “read” music.
  10. Create music typewriter game – Maybe a iPad App.
  11. Play book based move themes during reading time (Harry Potter is a favorite).
  12. Create multi-sensory phonics games for struggling readers.
  13. Read about events sited within songs (We Didn’t Start the Fire would be an example).
  14. Teach students how to write their own songs.
  15. Make games where note letters spell words.
  16. Make a song to learn the steps of the writing process.
  17. Use songs to learn vocabulary words.
  18. Make a jingle for a book read.
  19. Create word puzzle using notes to write a paragraph.
  20. Attach a CVC code to classroom books where students find similar theme in books and songs.
  21. Writing prompt – Choose a song and write about what it means.
  22. Choose a book and brainstorm songs that could make it a musical (Mary Poppins is an example)
  23. Write a sentence using only the letters A-G – then play the sentence on the piano.
  24. Read about famous composers.
  25. Learn to play an instrument.
  26. Use rhythm to teach fluency.
  27. Use percussion instruments when reading poetry.
  28. Use percussion instrument to learn phonics – sounding out word parts.
  29. Play author musical chairs.
  30. Keep a journal for music practice.
  31. Learn about music during different eras.
  32. Study musical styles and compare them to parts of the book.
  33. Compare music eras to art and literature written at the same time.
  34. Write a jingle to learn the parts of speech.
  35. Match note names to notes on the staff.
  36. Let students sign for oral assessments.
  37. Make a scavenger hunt based on solving musical riddles.
  38. Make up rhyming songs
  39. Make up alliteration songs
  40. Find vocabulary words in songs.
  41. Songs often have a pattern – like A B A C – Write a story using a music pattern.
  42. Put memoires to music.
  43. Write the refrain to your research paper – Put your thesis statement to music.
  44. Give speeches about composers.
  45. Find songs about the topic you are learning about in a class.
  46. Write lyrics / poetry using new vocabulary.
  47. Play classical music during free writes.
  48. Sing along with recordings of literacy-based songs
  49. Write a poem or reflection about how a piece of music makes you feel.
  50. Study with music to help with recall.
  51. Let students play games on websites like San Francisco Symphony Kids, Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids, or New York Philharmonic Kids
  52. Compare and contract the emotions of a character to popular songs.
  53. Study the brain science behind how music literacy helps reading.
  54. Study how music affects emotions (scary music in a movie for example).
  55. Use music vocabulary and dynamics to improve reading fluency.
  56. Let students listen to music without words when studying or working independently.
  57. Mix music literacy stations in with classroom language arts stations.
  58. Learn about storytellers and how they use music.
  59. Invite a composer as a guest speaker to compare music and literature revision strategies.
  60. Mark a speech with dynamics symbols for how the speaker is to present.
  61. Read and listen to storybooks based on song lyrics (Puff the Magic Dragon).
  62. Research the history behind holiday songs.
  63. Perform music in public as a way to feel confident giving presentations.
  64. Learn about different cultures though global music styles.
  65. Draw to music.
  66. Teach preschool students nursery rhythms
  67. Reflect on visualization from music compared to imagining a character or setting.
  68. Compare book genres to music genres.
  69. Study religion and history through music.
  70. Discuss the influence that a song can have on a culture.
  71. Conduct and report on a survey that studies music preferences.
  72. Analyze the author / composer purpose (To persuade, inform, entertain, explain).
  73. Analyze how a song is organized – Comparison / contrast, chronological, argument / support.
  74. Analyze word choice in songs.
  75. Compare dynamics to punctuation and conventions.
  76. Talk to composers and songwriter about where they get their ideas.
  77. Work on music pitch to build phonological awareness (in first and second languages).
  78. Study historic events through song re-makes (The Too Late to Apologize uTube video with the Founding Fathers)
  79. Compare the 6 traits of writing to the traits of music.
  80. Compare effective repetition in music and literature.
  81. Analyze how variety keeps interest.
  82. Compare and contract two musician’s voices
  83. How to musician improvise? What does this teach us about writing or speaking?
  84. Analyze chord tones compared to word choice.
  85. Why did the composer choose a certain note / chord? (Saving Mr. Banks movie – Spoon Full of Sugar – the unexpected – note goes up).
  86. Compare sentence fluency to melody – how do rhythm and flow add to a text?
  87. Consider transitions between themes and sections of music – compare them to transition words in writing.
  88. Create a KWL chart for a popular song
  89. Give student examples of fluent reading and with expression.
  90. Listen to Disney songs and look for clues about character traits.
  91. Practice unison reading to improve listening and pacing.
  92. Create classroom chants for hard to remember concepts.
  93. Play music between classes that is fun and inspirational.
  94. Compare sight-reading strategies to reading aloud.
  95. Compare song titles and book titles to anticipate what it’s about.
  96. Create a web or mind-map of a song.
  97. Write new words to a well known song (Think Weird Al)
  98. Compare perseverance in learning to play an instrument to learning to read – both take practice!
  99. Teach inference using a new piece of music.
  100. Practice active listening to build listening skills and an ear for pitch and fluency.
  101. Encourage passion for learning using music to make literacy fun!


It’s been a quiet morning here. As I work on grad school and lesson plans, my 13-year-old son is reading nearby.

Cole reading

A few weeks ago S.A. Bodeen spoke at the English Festival in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The students attending had read her book The Raft, but she spoke about quite a bit about one of her first books, The Compound at the event. She emphasized to the students how many times she had to write and re-write to get the book ready for publication. It was a huge challenge that she gave up on multiple times, but eventually successfully published.

I am go grateful for Bodeen’s powerful message. As a parent and teacher I am around 11-14 year-olds who are constantly struggling to preserver. It’s an age when they are discovering who they are as well as how others see them. Far too often coaches, administrators, teachers, music directors, and parents give up on them – emphasizing natural ability over hard work. When piano lessons get hard – it’s time to quit and try something new. This seems to be the mentality rather than, “head back to the piano bench and try it another 53 times – I bet you’ll get it right with a little hard work.”

My son has had his share of these negative messages sent him and after hearing the author, asked me to buy him a copy of The Compound to have signed. He is a chapter away from finishing up the book – then off to practice violin and later this week his English teacher / mother will have him writing a research paper. It’s part of a busy productive life that will challenge him to preserver if he is to be successful.

Thank you S.A. Bodeen for your wonderful books that help him to be a strong reader, but more important, your message that lets him know working hard a normal, expected part of accomplishing something great. It’s truly a message worth sharing.

Can I teach it?

Typically when I write, it’s because, for a moment at least, I’ve got it all figured out. An epiphany that would make Sean Hennessy impressed – a light bulb moment – whatever has been rolling around in my mind has worked itself out – I’ve got it.

That’s not the case today. Instead, today I’m full of questions.

To sort it all out, I thought I’d seek out some help. Let’s start with an anecdote about my own kids…

Anna is an over achiever. She has a ton of natural ability, and is super coachable. You can show her something one time and that’s it – she’s got it or she is going to figure it out. I don’t want to say things come easy for her because that would deny the hours of hard work and practice she puts into all the things she does – violin, sports, school. She really does work at it with discipline and focus. A good friend of ours love to say she sure has the, “can do attitude.” I’ve also been told she is “super coachable.”

The boys, on the other hand struggle. All the same things are not super easy for them.  They work… they work harder than Anna actually. However, “a natural” is not a word I’d use to describe either of them. They can frustrate the heck out of  coaches and teachers who inevitably compare them to their sister.

As a teacher, I know this situation is not unique. Within families and classrooms there are kids who are easy to teach or coach and then there are the ones that, despite a positive-growth mind don’t “get it” right away.

The danger I see, is that it’s easy to  give up on these kids. It’s easy to see their efforts as mediocrity and stop working with them. They are not failing – a B or C is acceptable – they kind-of get it, the slow and steady progress is good enough. Eventually, however, because they are not easy to teach or coach the message comes that they should think about quitting – soccer, piano lessons, school. Maybe not altogether quite, but certainly a request from the instructor for permission to officially lower the expectation.

I had a tennis coach speak with me just yesterday. “I’d like to set up a private lesson with you daughter.”

“Okay, that would be great. I’d love to set one up for my son as well.”

“We could do that,  but I really think your daughter is the one with the natural talent.”

What I wanted to say was, “Well then, she does not really need the private lesson does she? She’s easy to teach. She’s coachable. She gets it. I know – I’ve heard. How about taking a chance? How about growing as a coach and figuring it out with someone who takes a bit more effort?”

I didn’t say that. Instead I smiled.

I’ve been reading a lot about re-framing and looking at problems from different angles in order to uncover solutions that may not have been apparent upon first analysis. I’ve been reading about passion and teaching and how important it is to get kids jazzed up about what they are learning. I’ve also been letting this all roll around in my brain and I am left with questions…

Can I teach “drive?”

Can I teach  kids how to be more teachable? More coachable?

Can I challenge coaches to take what looks like an average kid and help him becomes an extraordinary kid?

Can the “B” kids become “A” kids? What would  it take? Could those same strategies help the “D” kids become “A” kids?

Where do I start? Who has an idea? I’m ready to figure it out…

5 Ways Parents Inspire Passionate Learning

A few weeks ago, my son had to complete the 3rd grade Habitat Project. He was assigned the desert and did a great job working within a small group to present the life cycle and plant growth in the desert. He was interested in the desert plants and I suggested creating a terrarium. We took advantage of a quiet spring break morning to make it happen.


The experience inspired my top five ways parents inspire their passionate learners:

  1. Build on their interests or current projects – Ask questions and find out what’s going on in school, on the video game, or in that book they can’t put down. My oldest son asked to play the violin after  learning about Mozart in preschool. I still remember him telling me, “His music is really powerful stuff!” Seven years later, he is still playing and so are my other children.
  2. Find an expert – The world if filled with people passionate people who are willing to share their interests. We found that the local EAA club gives mini classes on aviation on Saturday mornings. After studying gliders at school, the boys loved taking a ride in a small aircraft. Even better, I found two volunteers to visit my classroom!
  3. Indulge their curiosity – My 4th grade daughter wanted to know about Shakespeare when her teacher made a joke about his poetry in class. I could not believe she sat through Romeo and Juliet on Netfix, but decided it was interest enough to plan a trip to Spring Green, WI to see a show at the
  4. Learn together – When my school developed a 1:1 iPad program, my own kids were the best teachers available to show me the potential. As I write now, there is a motion picture being produced in the backyard with my iPad and the neighbor kids. It’s amazing to see what they can do and even more exciting to find out what new things they are going to teach me.
  5. Have fun – My 3rd grader has struggled to become a fluent reader. Some of the best tools we found are things like shaving cream and marshmallows. That kinesthetic activity helps build and strengthen what he is learning.  Yes, it’s a little messy, but it’s worth it to see him focus and enjoy things like spelling words and multiplication facts.

I really like the following infographic from The Michigan Department Of Education because it shows how important parents are to the educational process. If you want to read more check out, “What Research Says About Parent Involvement in Children’s Education In Relation To Academic Achievement.”


Using Student Surveys for Professional Development and Goal Setting

The question of student evaluations came up recently at a school leadership meeting. They have been used before, but not embraced at all by the teachers. The goals, expressed by administration, would be to give teachers another tool or resource for curriculum development.

I was reminded of an assignment that I did for a graduate leadership class I am finishing at Cardinal Stritch University. We had to create 360 degree survey that was given to peers as a way of identifying  how we are viewed within the organization. I distributed and collected the surveys, tabulated the data, identified goals based on what I learned, and then created a plan to respond and improve based on what I learned. It was incredibly useful and inspired reflective, meaningful goals.

There is quite a bit of scholarly writing about the use of surveys at the college level. Some of the most interesting is written by Dr. Clayson including; Student Evaluations of Teaching: Are They Related to What Students Learn?: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature, and Student Evaluations in Marketing, What is Actually Being Measured?  The gist of both articles is that students are often less than honest when filling out the evaluations. Also, it seems that the rigor of the class was negatively related to the evaluation. A reader might draw the conclusion that, based on this, there may actually be temptation to dumb down or simplify curriculum in order to keep the student reviewers happy.

Today we met again to discuss how student feedback could be gathered in a way that was useful to teachers. Reflecting on the discussion, I think we came up with three key points to consider moving forward:

  •  Teacher created questions could connect personal, professional development goals delivering useful information for each individual teacher
  • Teachers would be accountable for goal setting and progress towards improvement based on data gathered in the survey – not the survey results
  • The practice would need to start with a professional development meeting where the intent and process would be communicated and modeled

I think, based on this approach, that the surveys could be useful. I like the push to become more reflective and to use feedback in a meaningful way. I also think this process avoids the “Witch Hunt” that the old method implied to both the students and the faculty. I still wonder if the surveys should or should not be anonymous. Also, interested to see if this method improves “buy-in” from the faculty in relation to the value of the surveys in general.


Growing Leaders – Time Well Spent

We started the year differently than we have in the past. The focus of the first two weeks of school was on growing leaders and setting up the culture for the rest of the school year. Reflecting now, I think it was time well spent.

Our middle school program is housed within a high school that is almost one hundred and fifty years old. Three years ago, after looking at the needs of the community, it was determined that the school would have classes 6th – twelfth grade. The first year we had one 6th and one 7th. Last year we added 8th grade. This year we have two 6th, one 7th, and one 8th grade classroom. As we grow in numbers, we want to develop the supports needed to help our students transition into the high school grades.

Last year we developed an advisory program where the students met in small groups with teachers to talk about habits, goal setting, and personal development. I worked with 7th graders who started the year rolling their eyes and asking to go for a walk outside. By the end of the year they had mission statements and personal calendars. I learned how to be just cool enough for them to trust me and just stubborn enough that they would at least try.

This summer we consider the additional students and decided that we wanted to get things going the right way – the first time. We identified leadership as a goal to address.

We divided the students into “8-day” groups. There were representatives from each grade level in each group. This created a situation where the 7th and 8th graders could model behaviors and habits. They could also work on redefining themselves as leaders in the middle school. Everyone had a chance to get used to their new role for the new school year.

For example, 8th graders were asked to hang back and make sure the cafeteria was restored to order after our morning assembly. This was an opportunity to model leadership through service. For some this came naturally. They heard the direction and did what was asked. For others, this was not their habit. They required additional directions and explanation for why and what they were expected to do.

Another request made of those students was to help the 6th graders set up their iPads. We have a 1:1 program that takes time and energy to launch each year. The older students were able to use their skills and knowledge while pairing up with a younger student who needed to learn how to log into programs, send email, and format documents. This area was instantly embraced as the students enjoyed the opportunity to “show off.”

We also created opportunities for collaboration within the “First 8 days” program. Our art teacher asked students to illustrate one of the habits we addressed on a canvas. The canvases would be divided between the classrooms as reminders throughout the school year. It was exciting to see the small groups work through the steps of brainstorming, creating, and clean-up all taught by the students themselves. These skills will prove to be helpful in the art room as well as with our group projects as we start the year.

As we came to the end of the 8days, we teachers were tired and ready to move on to our core subjects. I wondered if we would be able to reflect and see the value in what we were doing. Late in the day on Friday, I got my answer.

A high school student walked down the hallway outside my room slamming his fist into the lockers as he went. Bang! Bang! Bang! I stepped out to see what was going on. When I returned to my students after making sure the situation was addressed they asked what was going on. I explained he was angry and needed to calm down. They asked nothing else, but someone said, “So he’s acting like a soda bottle rather than a water bottle – he needs to work on that.”

It’s still not utopia around here. Leadership through service might not resonate with some for a while. Habits are hard to develop. Sometimes we have to fail and forget to really learn. But at the end of two weeks there is a spark. Seeds have been planted and with a little attention I think good things are going to grow.

Innovative Learning for Youth..Check out 4-H at the Fair

Distant from the office, the cafeteria, and the gym, back in the far north-west corner of my high school, there was a room. I was in this room once. I remember a bulletin board with some information that had to do with 4-H and county fairs. I thought, probably to myself, “How there could possibly be something going on in this building that I know nothing about? Did the farm kids really get their own room? I can’t believe my mother never signed me up for any of this stuff – she signed me up for everything.”

That was it. Pretty much all I knew about 4-H in a nutshell – a quiet room in the back of the high school that provided a mystery to my imagination. Oh, I also figured the booths at the county fair, filled with all kinds of projects, had something to do with that room. The 4-H clover thing was a big clue.

I was no city girl in small town Wisconsin, but I grew up on the east side of town near the lake. While we did have cows, a horse, and a cornfield all within walking distance, somehow the 4-H experience missed my circle of experiences.

Years later, with an inherited passion for “signing my kids up,” I finally figured out what 4-H is all about. Their mission is to engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The name and the clover represent four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning and a positive youth development.

At the start of the fall season, my kids sign up for projects that they will work on under the guidance of trained volunteer leaders. They have done leather-crafting, book clubs, arts and crafts, air rifles, Lego building, horseback riding, bee keeping and I don’t even think we have scratched the surface of what’s available. They also attend a monthly meeting run by youth leaders. They are learning how to run a meeting, how to organize volunteer projects, and how to speak in public. The season peeks with the county fair where they show their work and have it evaluated by a certified judge. Finally, they are required to reflect on the experience with a record book that tracks their years of participation in the organization.

Along with being a mother, I am a classroom teacher who is excited to find an organization that brings together the skills and experiences that the most innovative education leaders are writing and preaching about daily. 4-H provides an opportunity for hands on learning, goal making, creating, presentation, leadership, and reflection – 21st century learning at its best.

If you’re at a county or state fair this summer – I encourage you to check it out. That dusty, hidden room in the back of the high school might be the most exciting place to be.


Anna Mae and Truman at the fair this week.


A Template for Responding to Non-Fiction Articles

I’m preparing to teach a mini class on study skills this year. There’s lots of great things to cover. I’m having a blast reading and learning and being the student so that I can model great things in the fall. I know this makes me especially nerdy – but that’s okay.

As I define the topics I want to cover, I realize that many of the articles I’ve been reading would be perfectly appropriate for my middle school students to read. Doing so would provide an opportunity:

  • to respond to non-fiction in their journals and blogs,
  • do their own investigating, and
  • provide an authentic opportunity to teach web site evaluation.

This all seems so obvious, but I am enjoying my “ahhh moment” so much that I thought I’d share the template I just created:

Reading Response Journals – Responding to Non-fiction Articles

After reading the article, use the following template to respond in your journal:

  • URL: _________________________________________________________________
  • Is the author’s contact information included? YES_____ NO_____
  • Author’s Name ____________________________________________
  • Are the author’s credentials given?  (education, position) YES_____ NO_____
  • Is there a known organization or institution associated with or sponsoring the site?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Name of organization or institution:________________________________
  • Is the Web site designed to teach you something?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Is the website an .edu, .org, .gov, or .com? _________
  • What is the purpose of the Web site? (Is it to entertain, persuade, educate, or sell?)
  • Does the author try to persuade you in any way? How?
  • Quickly try to identify the facts from the opinions. Make a list.
  • What new information did you learn?
  • Were there any photographs, charts, graphs, or diagrams that were important?
  • After reading, what unanswered questions do you have? What are you curious about?
  • What connections did you make with the information provided?
  • What is your opinion of the author’s (or interviewee’s thesis)? Do agree or disagree with the point of the article?

Okay – feedback, ideas, advise?

Traits of an ideal student – can you make a list of seven?

I’ve been thinking about what traits are important for people (students) to develop.

I wanted to keep it to seven to see if there was one for each day of the week.

I’m sharing my list  in hopes that you will share one as well.
Did I miss something? What would you add, combine, take away? (They are not in any order… just a brain storm).
  1. Creative
  2. Trustworthy / Trusting (Responsible, Obedient)
  3. Curious
  4. Reflective (Prayerful, thoughtful)
  5. Driven
  6. Positive
  7. Cooperative