#54U: Unfinished Work

Managing all those pieces of work students didn’t complete, didn’t hand in, or that got lost in my classroom was one of my biggest stressors as a new teacher. With more than 30 students in my class, seven subjects, and five days of work a week, there is inevitably a lot of “stuff” to manage – both for teachers and for students. Over the years I developed a few easy systems that helped reduce stress for me, and my students. Here are my top five strategies for managing unfinished work.

1.Why Is Work Not Being Completed?

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Are your instructions and expectations clear. Do students understand the assignment and have clear deadlines? Provide your students with an age-appropriate written copy of the assignment and how you will assess their work. Go over it verbally, and check in personally with students you know will need extra help.

Reconsider the overall workload. Are there assignments you could be shortening, or removing all together? Are you giving students enough time both in class and at home to complete work? I always tried to make sure that students had both weeknight and weekend time to complete assignments. That way families can decide for themselves what works best for them.

Remember, you don’t need to collect or grade everything students do in your class! At the heart of differentiation is the idea that not all students need to do exactly the same assignments. An easy way to do this is to work with individual students to help them prioritize what work, and how much work, they need to complete in order to meet their learning needs.

How are you supporting individual students that struggle?

I tried my best to include strategies for differentiation in all my lesson plans – thinking about content, process, and product. One strategy I used was to have regular lessons about different kinds of graphic organizers, and explicitly teach how to choose the best one for a task and how to use them. Graphic organizers are great for everyone, not just students that are struggling! For students who struggled I would often focus on assessing content knowledge by only assessing the ideas in the graphic organizer.

2. Teach Time Management Skills

You can download these documents in PDF below.

A Three Part Agenda of Today, Work To Be Finished and Due Dates helps students see the big picture. I dedicated a large white board to the Three Part Agenda (I think I just dated myself there!), and students also had a copy they would update as they completed tasks. We would start every day by reviewing each part, and I would do an informal check-in to see how things were going and if I needed to adapt due dates.

As they year progressed I would introduce different systems for keeping track of assignments, including things like using a paper agenda, digital programs like google calendar, and homework apps. I encouraged students to try out different systems to see what worked for them, and then to share back with the class any new strategies they found worked for them.

A Planning Guide is great for any sort of longer assignment. At the start of the year I would provide a complete Planning Guide, and students just needed to check off as they finished the task, but as the year progressed I would give students more responsibility for making their own plans for how to break up a large assignment and setting their own goals (while making sure I supported those students who still needed it).

3. Set Up Systems

Washing bins were one of my favorite organizers!

TBF is short for To Be Finished. We started each morning with half an hour of TBF time to work on things we had already started, and also had other periods dedicated to TBF. Students had the choice of what they wanted to work on, and usually had free choice of where to work as well – including quietly in the hallway. I would use this time to check-in with students, and read Asking For Help Tickets, and meet with students as requested (more on that later).

Asking for Help Tickets serve multiple purposes. I primarily used them as a way to encourage students to feel comfortable and take responsibility for asking for help with anything from requesting a new place to sit in the classroom, understanding a science concept, or needing time to clean their desk. It was also an important tool for me to make sure I didn’t miss things. And finally, asking students to list what they have already tried was a positive encouragement for students to be independent.

I also used a Turn In Spot (a washing bin) with Student Numbers so students knew where to hand things in – and I would know where to look! Students could volunteer to help me sort through the Turn In Spot during TBF time by sorting different subjects into piles, and then putting each pile in numerical order, so I could easily see what was missing. Then they could quietly go to each student and ask them if they had assignment X to hand in.

4. Model Completing Your Work, and What To Do When You Can’t

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

This is a more complicated strategy. One of the things I did when we reviewed the Agenda was think out loud about my own planning. So sometimes I would say things like “I just realized that I have the Learning Letters due on Tuesday, but I am out Tuesday night so won’t be able to finish correcting them. Why don’t we make them due on Wednesday instead”. Or, and this is the important part, I would say “I’ve fallen behind on my planning so I think we will do a double period of science tomorrow to give me time to plan the next steps in our Inquiry, is that ok with everyone, or do you have another idea?”

As the year progressed students would often have ideas about what we could do instead. And they would start to use this kind of thinking in their own planning. For example, a student might hand in an Asking for Help ticket that said “I had hockey three nights this week, so I didn’t get my Learning Letter done, but I did finish my Math. I’ll work on the Learning Letter on the weekend and have it done by Tuesday.” And my answer would be “cool! Thanks for letting me know”.

5. Be Generous!

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Finally, and I can’t stress this one enough. Be generous. Both to yourself, and your students. Our world is busy and stressful. We often know very little about what is happening in our students’ home lives – maybe they are over scheduled, there is family illness, or there is no quiet place for them to work. Too many children live with food insecurity and family violence. Thinking about homework needs to be low on their priority list for these children. There are so many important reasons why students don’t complete work.

Once I decided to always take a generous approach in my own heart, it made all those pieces of missing work so much less stressful for me, and for my students. And usually we managed to work something out so that students did the work they needed to do to learn what they needed to learn, and I got what I needed to be able assess for learning and of learning.

I hope these strategies help you deal with missing work with your own students. If you decide to use any of them I’d appreciate it if you’d post it on social media and tag me at @kitesintheclassroom on Instagram and @classroomkites on Twitter.

#54U: Remembrance Day Activities for K to 12

This week’s #54U brings five resources educators can use to plan Remembrance Day Activities with their students K to 12. It includes reading, watching a video, an arts activity, a lesson on the aftermath of war, and a guide to planning a commemorative service.

Facts about Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a moment of silence to honour and remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict and peace. We remember the more than 2,300,000 Canadians who have served throughout our nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Find the whole list here.

A general caution about any of these activities – it is likely that you will have students in your class who have personally lived, or come from families that have lived, in places experiencing war or the aftermath of war. Think carefully as you chose activities and be sensitive to their responses.

1. Preschool Reading and Discussion: What is Peace?

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Beautiful, whimsical artwork is combined with reflective questions about peace: Is peace strong? Is peace gentle? Is it innocent? Is it wise? This engaging picture book provides a perfect foundation to discuss peace with children, exploring what it means to them, what it looks like in their everyday life, and what it means to those around the world.

2. Primary Students Video or Book with Discussion: A Bear in War

A Bear in War is is the true story of Lawrence Browning Rogers, who enlisted in the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles when he was 37 years old, leaving behind his wife, two children, and their farm in East Farnham, Quebec

This true story is more than one family’s testament to a brave soldier. It is a gentle introduction to war, to Remembrance Day, and to the honor of those who have served their countries. Lawrence carried his daughter’s bear with him through his time overseas. When he was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, soldiers retrieving the body found the bear and returned it to his family.

Teddy now lives in the Canadian War Museum, where he is a touching reminder of the cost of war.

3. Middle School Integrated Arts Activity: “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

Image via Canva

In this activity from Historica Canada, students create a persona for the Unknown Soldier, based on the poem “In Flanders Field” and a Heritage Minutes video about the author John McCrae. Then they write a letter home from the point of view of the Unknown Soldier, describing McCrae.

Working in groups of 3 to 6 students they then develop a performance that includes two art forms (music, poetry, dance, art, drama), and the poem in some way.

Find the whole lesson plan and resources here.

4. High School: “The Aftermath Project”

A photojournalistic exploration of how individuals and communities reckon with mass violence, its legacies and the challenges of rebuilding communities after conflict.

Prayer for the Dead by Sara Terry c2006

…I went to Bosnia to cover the aftermath of war – to try to capture the images that are the all too often forgotten companions of the vivid pictures of war itself. I came with the conviction that war is only half the story. I believed, and still believe, that what happens in the aftermath of war is as newsworthy, if not more so, than the destruction and horror of war. I went to Bosnia with a desire to document that incredibly difficult period when humans move out of war’s desperate struggle to survive, and begin another equally mighty struggle – that of learning to live again. In the four years I spent making the images that would ultimately become this book, I became convinced that we need post-conflict images to remind us of our humanity – to testify that war is not the final word on who we are as human beings, nor the final image of our spirit.

Sara Terry, Founder The Aftermath Project

The Aftermath Project has many powerful lessons to choose from. In Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace, about the aftermath of the Bosnian War, students follow a viewing structure of describe, analyze, and interpret, as they closely examine and discuss five images of life in post-war Bosnia. The questions that come with the image guide are thought provoking, and can lead to many important discussions and further research.

I think this activity in particular calls for sensitivity towards students who have experienced war and it’s aftermath.

5. All Ages Guide to Planning a Commemorative Service

Canadian War Memorial Image By Jcart1534 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7540462

This comprehensive Guide to planning a commemorative ceremony for Remembrance Day prepared by Veterans Affairs can be easily adapted for K to 12 children, in schools, afterschool programs and youth organizations.

I would like to express my profound gratitude to the women and men who have served their countries around the world to uphold values of freedom and peace.

How do you mark Remembrance Day with your students? Share in the comments.

#54U: On Classroom Celebrations

October has always been a time to start talking to my students about what kind of classroom celebration we want to have. Classroom celebrations have so many positive benefits for you and your students, but let’s just start with five.

Five Reasons to Hold Classroom Celebrations

Classroom celebrations – from semi formal celebrations that include food and drink, music, and even special guests – to impromptu opportunities to play outside – help build connections, target skills development, grow relationships, develop social etiquette, and (I put this one last on purpose) improve academic performance. How does this work?

1.Classroom celebrations help build connections.

Students need to feel connected to each other, and their teachers in order to feel safe enough for the risk taking needed for deep learning to take place.

Classroom celebrations can both create and reflect student’s connections to each other, while downplaying differences that might otherwise seem more important (Farr). In a previous post, I talked about how I start the year by celebrating Dot Day – a simple way to celebrate what each member of the community brings to the group. But Dot Day does come at you pretty fast in the school year so you may not have the chance to participate in that particular activity. A classroom celebration mid-October or later can be a great way to highlight to parents and guardians all the things you have been doing to create a safe and caring classroom for your students.

2. Classroom celebrations help develop social skills.

Students should always be included in every part of planning a classroom celebration. The simple act of planning together – regardless of the age – can provide a positive context for students to develop prosocial skills like conflict resolution, cooperation and compromise, as students make decisions about decorations and music, sign up for jobs, and see how well things work when everyone does (or doesn’t) contribute to the clean up at the end.

3. Classroom celebrations help build positive relationships with the community.

Classroom celebrations are opportunities to make the school an open and inviting place for families that may not have had that experience with schools in the past.

Classroom celebrations of student learning offers important opportunities to develop positive relationships between the school, students and their families. After all, schools and families are partners who both want the best for children. Keep in mind the importance of demonstrating culturally responsive practices. This means bilingual invitations, offering interpreters, and planning events at times when marginalized families will be able to participate. Classroom celebrations are a way of starting down the path towards strong student-family-community partnerships.

4. Classroom celebrations help children practice and develop social etiquette in a real life situation.

More formal celebrations will offer many students opportunities to develop skills like greeting a guest, shaking hands, making introductions, and ways to show consideration for each other that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn and practice. And children are never too young to start learning these skills. Just remember, it is important to be culturally respectful and don’t set standards that not all students will be able to meet (for example requiring certain formal clothes). I don’t agree with everything on this list, but it’s a good place to start thinking about skills you want to develop.

5. Classroom celebrations help support academic achievement.

According to Alison Smith, celebrating student success significantly impacts their memory, learning, motivation, and other cognitive functions. When students receive positive feedback for something that they have done, it is essentially a signal to their brain (from the brain chemical dopamine) saying ‘do it again’.

What kind of celebrations do you like to have with your students. Share in the comments.


Farr, V. (2003). The role of celebration in building classroom learning communities. East Tennessee State University, School of Graduate Studies.

Smith, A. (2021, August 28). 9 Creative Ways to Celebrate Student Success. Retrieved from https://www.teachstarter.com/us/blog/11-ways-to-celebrate-student-success-2/

#54U: How to Take Control of Your Professional Learning

This Week #54U offers Five Ways you can take control of your Professional Learning so that it engages you, meets your needs, and helps make you a better educator for the learners you work with.

1. Start by Building Your Own Professional Learning Community

  • It’s great when we can find our “people” in the buildings we work in, but that’s not often what happens. But the good news is that social media has made finding our teacher tribe so much easier.
  • Use Twitter to Build your PLN. Here is a great video made by Common Sense Media to help you get started.

2. Remember That You Must Embrace Discomfort

We often forget how uncomfortable it can be to take on new challenges and learning new challenges. Diving in will help remind us what our students experience every day.
  • Remember what it feels like to be incompetent and out of your depth. Your students feel like that all the time! This discomfort can come in the form of simply trying something new to us. This year I am going to try learning more about STEM education and Maker Spaces, and I have started this new blog, and I feel *very uncomfortable*.
  • Learn about subjects that are in themselves discomforting. The Black Lives Matter movement has made many teachers painfully aware that we are not appropriately educated about matters that are of central importance to the young people in our classrooms, and the world around us. We Are Teachers has a solid list of Professional Development Books about current issues in education we should all learn about. And, if you need to take a break while others do the learning they need to do, then do that too.

3. Try Reflective Journaling

Taking the time to reflect on your own practice is one of the most powerful professional development tools we have at our disposal. Barbara Bassot’s little book “The reflective journal” was transformational for me and my practice. I will be talking about her work a lot in future posts, so keep an eye out.

4. Continue to Grow By Joining or Starting Your Own Book Club

In person, or online book clubs remain important ways to maintain your connections with like minded people, broaden your perspective and think about new things in a safe environment.
  • Check out these suggestions for starting a PLC book club from Learning Sciences.
  • Use your Twitter PLC to help find books about whatever topic you are interested in. Use the search bar to find #’s and @ people you can ask. A few weeks ago this strategy worked out brilliantly for me, because in addition to finding great books to read, I found new people to follow on Twitter, and new Blogs to read!
  • But now it’s important that you not just quietly listen/follow or read along. You need to engage with your peers and broaden your thinking.

5. Take Ultimate Control of Your Own Learning by Sharing Your Own Ideas With Others

  • We all know the best way to learn something is to teach it, and this is especially true for our professional practice.
  • Share your ideas with other teachers. Start with teachers in your own building, part of your learning community, and then grow from there.
  • Start your own blog! Become active in Twitter and other social media platforms.

As educators we can and should be lifelong learners, and demonstrate the skills and perseverance it takes to find the learning we need, when we need it. I’d love to hear about your Professional Development experiences, and what you have done to take back control of your learning. Please share in the comments below.



Schwartz, S. (2020, November 23). What do teachers really want from professional development? respect. Education Week. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-do-teachers-really-want-from-professional-development-respect/2019/05.

#54U: On Motivation

Children naturally love to learn. And yet, as many teachers see in their own classroom, and studies reveal, student motivation to learn tend to decline over time. So what can educators do to help the children in our care succeed? As we all know, a great teacher can make learning fun and inspire students to reach their full potential. Here are five easy ways you can start motivating in your classroom.

1. Create a Safe Space

Get to know your students and let them know you. With the increasingly loaded curriculum, pressure from testing, and a sense of “lost time” from last year, it may seem like spending time getting you know your students is keeping you from getting to the “real work”, but, as every

Allow children a say in what their classroom or space looks like, where they choose to learn and play, and what the classroom routines will be. When I was teaching we took the time to reorganize our classroom on a regular basis. When I trusted them, students thought carefully about what kind of space we needed to support the kind of learning we were doing at that moment, who they wanted to work with, or if they preferred to work alone. And they trusted me to listen to them.

Another important part of building a space where everyone feels safe, is making the effort to make sure everyone understands and has a role to play in your community. This is a powerful way of cultivating a sense of competency and cooperation between students, and helps set the stage for powerful peer learning.  

2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Be yourself – someone who has strengths and areas to grow. Make mistakes a regular part of learning, and help your students understand how to move on from a mistake. Provide space for students’ strengths to shine and be recognized by the community.  I had students be my artist whenever I needed something drawn on the whiteboard, one was assigned to discretely let me know when I had marker on my face (a common occurrence), and another remembered my keys for me.

from https://fabulousinfirst.com/2014/09/linking-up-late.html

We always started the year by reading the book “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds. After reading it we would make a list of strengths, talents and personal attributes we had in the classroom – everyone was recognized for something that made a difference in our community. We would hang this on the wall, and add to it when new strengths and abilities became visible. This is a great resource similar to what I did. There is even an International Dot Day to help you plan!

3. Follow Your Students

They will tell you what they want to learn – even if it is only by telling you what they don’t want to learn. Offer choices in what to learn, how to learn and how to demonstrate their learning.  Better yet, develop the choices with your students. #GeniusHour and #PassionBasedLearning are two ways you can do this, but there are many approaches. These practices develop a sense of competency and give students a sense of control in their learning, which is sure to be motivating.

Don’t buy into the notion of a separation between playing and learning! 

Older students can benefit from play in the classroom, too. “Play is a strategy for learning at any age… while older students and their teachers might have more curricular demands than younger students, playful learning still has an important role to play — it might just look different.

Mara Krechvesky and Ben Mardell

Try to plan activities that inspire a sense of ownership, curiosity, and enjoyment in your students.

4. Provide Feedback That Helps the Learner Move Forward

Understand the difference between Assessment for Learning and Assessment of Learning, and use them appropriately. Use grades sparingly, and never as a carrot and hammer. John Hattie reminds us that “Feedback provides information about how and why students understand, and what the students need to do next to succeed”. Learn more about how to use assessment effectively in student-centered, project-based learning settings (look for a future post on this!)  Rubrics, conferencing, and Reflection will likely be your friend! Always ask yourself if the feedback you are about to give will motivate the student to try again, or make them feel defeated and incapable.

5. Incorporate Reflection

Teresa and Christ Hulleman suggest “instead of imposing reasons for valuing learning on students, educators can help them make their own connections between their lives and what they are learning”. Building in time for reflection is an important part of this. They have created a resource called “Build Connections” to help students learn how to reflect on the links between what they find of interest and importance in their lives, and what they are learning.

Self-reflection in learning means examining the way an individual learns. It implies that without thinking deeply about how we learn, we can never gain the insight necessary to correct poor habits and affirm good ones. This cognitive process of self-reflection therefore not only helps students improve learning outcomes, but fosters self-regulated learning, a cyclical process that involves planning to complete an academic task; using strategies to monitor progress; evaluating the outcome; and using that knowledge to guide future tasks.

Janet Mizrahi

Reflection should not only be part of your student’s daily learning, but also your own practice. I believe reflection is one of the most powerful learning tools we can use, and will be talking more about how to use Reflective Writing for both students and your own practice in future posts, so stay tuned.

As a start, think about the following questions regarding strategies you use to address student motivation:

  • Which of these strategies  to motivate your students do you already use very well in your practice? Why?
  • Which of these strategies would you like to start incorporating? Why?
  • Which of these strategies do you think would be difficult in your circumstances? Why?


Hattie, J & Clarke S. (2019). Visible Learning Feedback. London. Routledge: Taylor & Francis.

Gärdenfors, P. (2011, October 11). How to Motivate Students? . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/blWcbY5qA58

Hulleman, C. & Hulleman T. (2018, January 10). An important piece of the student motivation puzzle. FutureEd. Retrieved September 13, 2021 from https://www.future-ed.org/reversing-the-decline-in-student-motivation/

Mizrahi, J. (2020, May 14). The importance of self-reflection in learning . Today’s Learner. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://todayslearner.cengage.com/the-importance-of-self-reflection-in-learning/.

Reynolds, P.H. (2014). The Dot. Somerville: Candlewick Press.

Tatter, G. (2019, March 11). Playing to learn. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/19/03/playing-learn.

Yarborough, C. B., & Fedesco, H. N. (2020). Motivating students. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [September 12, 2021] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu//cft/guides-sub-pages/motivating-students/.


#54U:International Peace Day

International Peace Day is celebrated each year on September 21. First established by the UN in 1981 it is a special occasion to educate on issues of concern, and to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. There are so many ways to mark this special day. I’ve chosen Five unique ideas for you to do wherever you are, along with links with even more ideas for you to consider.

Five things to do to celebrate International Peace Day

  1. Read “A Bowl Full of Peace” by Caren Stelsen

2. Write a “Peace Pledge” 

3. Write “One positive change for the world I would make… “ on paper hearts. 

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

4. Leave a gift of gratitude to people who help you every day: teachers, bus drivers, recess supervisors, or a delivery driver.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

5. Learn about how to make a difference in the world at Roots & Shoots.

#worldpeace #peace #internationaldayofpeace #kindness #hope #September #abowlfullofoeace #rootsandshoots #kitesintheclassroom #whatwillyoudo @carenstelson @janegoodallinst @kidsforpeace @letsliveandlearn