Todd Talks are short professional development tutorials, usually around the ten minute mark. They are designed for teachers to gain an understanding of the topic as well as practical ways it can be used in the classroom.

This week’s talk

How do you teach empathy in your classroom? That is the question for this week's Todd Talk. Strategies as complex as community service projects and reading books about sympathy, to more simple ones such as having students work in groups or modeling kind behavior yourself, can be used to help students understand what empathy is and to practice using it.
Which classroom do you think has the most learning going on; the one where students are compliantly sitting in rows, being talked to by the teacher, or the one where they are involved in the learning process but are loud and it seems like chaos?

Social and Emotional Needs

Overexcitabilities are when someone becomes overwhelmed with their social and emotional needs. This may present itself in psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. This can lead to all sorts of difficulties when it comes to learning.
Sure, schools do a pretty decent job of addressing the academic needs of their students, but how much attention is paid to helping these children meet their social and emotional needs? We need to be more intentional and transparent when it comes to showing students how to manage their emotions and social issues, otherwise they will not be able to work up to their potential.

21st Century Skills

With many 21st century skills, we provide students with engaging lessons and hope for the best. We need to be more purposeful about the teaching of 21st century skills. Take leadership for example. How do we put students in situations where they are able to develop leadership skills?
A valuable 21st century skill for any student to possess. How do you teach public speaking though? 1) You provide exemplar speeches to learn from as well as poor ones. 2) You provide students with the space to practice and refine their public speaking ability. 3) You give them chances to present to authentic audiences.
We ask students to be creative all of the time but are we explicitly teaching our students how to be creative by giving them assignments that lets them access their creative thinking? This Todd Talk will provide 5 practical strategies that can be used in the classroom that allows students to tap into their creativity.
The ability to problem solve is a skill that is greatly valued in the real-world because that is what life is, a series of problems that must be solved.


The best way to combat student underachievement is to have a good understanding of what goal valuation is. Goal valuation is the value a student puts on three goals to determine whether they are going to achieve at the level they are capable of. The three goals are interesting, important, and attainable.
In this Todd Talk I talk about one of the most important things teachers can do to make an impact on their students and that is to show you care. I call this the caring factor and it displays itself not only in academics, but in social/emotional needs as well.
Once you identify the cause of a student's underachievement, what can you do to help with it? This Todd Talk discusses several strategies that can be used in the classroom to allow students to reach their potential.
Underachievement is when a student is not working to their potential. This affects 10 to 50% of our gifted students, the ones with the highest potential, and can have long-term affects on their lives. There is no test for underachievement so it is up to the teachers to notice the signs and determine whether a student is underachieving or not.

Academic Extra-Curricular Competitions

Athletics are not the only group of students who can compete using their skills. There are academic extra-curricular competitions where students use their academic skills, their creativity, their problem solving ability, and in many cases, their ability to collaborate with others. This Todd Talk discusses three examples of these competitions.
A great academic extra curricular activity, Model United Nations involves taking part in a simulation where you represent a country and discuss and debate global issues. It teaches many important 21st century skills such as problem solving, collaboration, and probably the one it teaches the most, public speaking.
In continuing the month long theme of academic extra-curricular activities, this Todd Talk discusses Invention League (also known as Invention Convention). In this, a student takes a problem and tries to invent something that will help with it.
Academic extra curriculars allows students to not only display their cognitive abilities, but their creativity as well. One such program is Destination Imagination. This is a program for pre-school to grade 12 where a group of students must creativity solve a problem in a skit. There are certain elements that are required.

Collaboration/Successful Group Work

When working in groups, students can create wonderful things, things they would not have been able to produce on their own. But working in groups can also be a pain. How do you get students to successfully collaborate while working in groups? The key is finding their strengths and what they bring to the group.
It is essential that everyone is one the same page and has the same expectations while working together in a group. One way to ensure this is to have the class or group form norms. Norms are the expected behavior of people in the groups.
When students are tasked to work in groups and accomplish a task, we often worry more about equity rather than fairness. Equity would be that everyone in the group does the same type of work and the same amount of work.
How can you get a better idea of a student's contributions to his group when collaborating? Ask those who are working with him to tell you. The use of self and peer evaluations gives you many other sets of eyes looking at whether the students are living up to the norms they set and producing high quality work as a result of the group effort.

Ways of Grouping Gifted Students

Another method of grouping gifted students is the use of a gifted pullout or resource room. This is when you take a group of students identified as gifted in a certain area and pull them from the regular classroom in order to work with a gifted specialist.
Cluster grouping is a method for gifted services where you cluster all of the gifted students in a particular subject area into one classroom. You then fill the rest of the classroom with above average and average students.
Another strategy for the grouping of gifted students is the use of the gifted specialist as a co-teaching where they push into the regular education classroom, providing specialized services for gifted students. In order for this to work, it has to be a true co-teaching set up where the regular education and the gifted specialist are not only teaching together, but planning together and learning from one another.
There are lots of different ways to group gifted students. One of these is through a magnet program where students are pulled from all over to one location. There are several advantages to this including making it easier for the teacher to meet the needs of similar ability children, putting your professional development and collaboration in one spot, and gathering like-minded children together.

Keeping Students Focused

Often on long term projects it can be a challenge to keep students focused on what it is they are supposed to be learning. One tool to help with this is the use of a well written syllabus. This can be used with students when going over the project as well as being used throughout as a reference for students.
Students contracts can be useful for a few reasons. It keeps students organized, it makes them part of the learning process, and it helps them to maintain focus, especially on long-term projects. Contracts can break down a big picture project to make it more palatable to handle and easier to manage time.
Rubrics are a valuable way for teachers to assess students in non-traditional, performance-based assessments, many of which require students to employ 21st century skills. The argument some people make against them though is that rubrics are often subjective because they are based on the teacher's opinion rather than an objective multiple-choice question where there is a single correct answer.
It can be difficult for students to maintain focus, especially on long-term projects. One of the tools you can use to help keep students on-task is the use of a calendar. This Todd Talk will show you how you can use backwards building to create a calendar as well as how these can be used to teach students valuable time-management skills.

Authentic Learning Strategies

Concluding the theme of inquiry learning, this Todd Talk looks at case-based learning, a method used widely in the medical and law professions but not used very commonly in US primary schools. Learn about the benefits of case-based learning which are having a relevant subject matter to engage students and being able to apply what you learn to a real world situation.
One of the strategies under the inquiry-based learning umbrella, problem-based learning seeks to make the learning authentic for students and to help them see the context of what it is they are learning. The students are the ones driving the learning and the teacher acts as a facilitator, helping them find resources and asking questions meant to get them thinking.
Projects put students in a real-world setting and ask them to complete a task meeting the requirements as laid out by the project. Projects teach students how to learn for themselves. It also has other advantages such as collaboration, public speaking, and organization, all 21st century skills that would benefit any student.
What if we let the students be responsible for most of the learning in class? That is the basic premise behind inquiry-based learning where the content is not given to the kids by the teacher but rather generated and discovered on their own.

How Intelligence Works

The brain is just like a muscle that needs exercised regularly if it is going to develop and get stronger. How you can exercise the brain is by cognitively challenging it using puzzles. Puzzles such as SuDoku, brainteasers, logic puzzles, cryptograms, and riddles can cause one to think and thus exercise the brain.
Benjamin Bloom created a taxonomy for the various levels of questioning and thinking back in 1953. Now, 70 years later his taxonomy still very much resonates in the classrooms of the 21st century. Learn how to use the various levels of Bloom's and the advantage to doing so.
We have two sides to our brain and although everyone uses both sides, most tend to lean to one side or another. If you are left brained dominant you typically are a logical learner and prefer math and science. If you are right brained, you are a visual learner who likes to your imagination.
In this edition of Todd Talk I talk about Kolb's 7 different learning styles and how knowing which ones are your students' strengths is very important to teaching them effectively. For every learning style there are suggestions for how to practice this in the classroom.

Creating a Suitable Learning Environment

Are you being purposeful about the way you physically set up your classroom? Is this setup conducive to your students being able to best learn? This Todd Talk will look at ways to set up your classroom and the reasonings for doing so.
Some of life's biggest lessons comes from the mistakes we make. We do something, it does not work, and we learn what to do differently the next time.

Misconception of gifted children

This Todd Talk walks parents through what it means now that their child has been identified as gifted and how to have a conversation with them about what it means to be gifted.
There are myths about gifted children that prevent us from addressing their needs and helping them to reach their potential. Myths such as they love school and get straight A's or that they are good at everything, cause some to believe gifted students will be OK without any specialized services.
There are students who are bright and high achievers, there are students who are gifted, and there are students that are both. But we need to keep in mind not all gifted students are high achievers and not all bright students are gifted.

When Students Go On Breaks

The 1st day of school is the one day of the year where all students are excited to be there. We should be taking advantage of this by doing activities with them that are engaging, fun, and help them to foster their love of learning.
That last day before the holiday break is usually a throwaway day where no teaching or learning takes place. Typically students are shown movies and sit passively for the day. What if instead we used this last day as an opportunity to learn since for the next coming weeks, students will not be exposed to learning from school.
Unlike the day before winter or summer break, the final day before spring break is usually a typical day. Are there things you could be suggesting to students though to make their experience of spring break more meaningful? It is definitely a time to take a brain break but it is also a time rife with opportunity to learn.
Schools are places where learning is supposed to happen, and yet often times with a week left to go before summer break, many classrooms choose not to teach any more. We should be taking advantage of this captive audience to try and get some learning in before they aren't doing it for three months.

Introduction to Todd Talks

In this tutorial designed for classroom teachers, I talk about how a teacher should not have to stand in front of the class for more than 10 minutes at a time. By doing this you ensure your students are listening to what you are saying because the normal human attention span can last only ten minutes, and you give your students more time to become learners themselves.