Benefits of Journaling

The benefits of journaling have been well known for some time now.  The Huffington Post mentions ten benefits for journaling backed up by research:

  1. Journaling seems to be positively correlated with intelligence according to the University of Victoria.

  2. Journaling brings one into a state of mindfulness

  3. Journaling increases the likelihood that you will achieve a goal.

  4. Journaling increases emotional intelligence; being able to understand the emotions of yourself and others.

  5. Journaling boosts memory and comprehension

  6. Journaling increases self-discipline as journaling itself consistently requires discipline!

  7. Journaling improves verbal communication skills

  8. Journaling can help to heal traumas by making an overwhelming experience more understandable

  9. Journaling can help increase creativity

  10. Journaling can increase self-confidence

Modifying an intervention designed by Philip Kendall PH.D and Kristina Hedtke M.A. called Coping Cat I have found that journaling can be surprisingly profound for children.  Amazingly this happens even if they cannot write a word since in that case pictures can be substituted in to tell a story or memory.  I bolded example four above to emphasize what results I’m seeing with children who get really into journaling.  

Basic Method

In an attempt to increase emotional intelligence in children the essential method of journaling can be broken into three basics fundamentals:

  1. Describing an event or experience

  2. Identifying the somatic (in the body) sensations experienced during the event

  3. Relaxation training

I typically ask the children I work with to describe one time in the past week they felt positive and one time they felt negative.  After journaling each description I then ask them to put into words how their body felt during that experience; this can be quite a challenge at first.  To describe our emotions in words and specifically in terms of what actual sensations occur in our body (hot, cold, tingling) is a new process and takes some time to get used to.  This knowledge, however, proves invaluable as the person continues on in life as it is the essential key to emotional intelligence.   The more difficult this step is for someone the more this skill needs to be developed.  The third step, relaxation training, is built on the ability of being able to notice the bodily sensations that a person associates with a negative state as they begin to arise!   It’s of paramount importance for a child to notice right at the beginning of getting upset because it’s really only at this mild level of anxiety that a coping strategy (journaling, mindfulness, taking a break, breathing etc.) can help the person self-regulate back to a positive state.

I hope that you’ll try this method with your own children or any children you may work with. This practice can really reap huge rewards and not just for children that may be having difficulties with behavior or anxiety.  In fact, I hope you start journaling so that you can verify the benefits for yourself!  

Chess Club // Finding Compassion in Competition


Over the past two months I’ve been tracking and encouraging the use of compassion in DAA’s chess club.  Compassion is one of our school’s “Habits of Character;” meaning that these are traits or habits that we want our entire community to embody.  As a social worker and chess coach I started to wonder, “How could I encourage compassion in the realm of competition, in the realm of chess?”  Long story short: I just had to look a little closer and then ask the students themselves…

The typical attitude of competitive chess can be summed up with this quote from current chess world champion Magnus Carlsen, “Some people think that if their opponent plays a beautiful game, it’s OK to lose. I don’t.  You have to be merciless.”  It seems almost obvious that if you are playing a game against another person then the most important part is trying to win, to be merciless as a route to becoming victorious.  The real issue, in my opinion, is not winning or losing but how you win or lose.  This ability, to win well or lose well, is a teachable skill and is a big part of being able to improve in chess or any competitive arena.   Also, it’s not an easy skill to learn or teach!  Shaking hands and saying good game are already things we do in chess but what would happen if we started looking for compassion in chess club?

As the students got settled on a Tuesday afternoon I told them, “Today I want to try something new; we are going to have a compassion prize!  In addition to tracking who does well on your daily tactics worksheet and who can stay quiet during challenge time (The last 10 minutes of chess club is silent) I want you to pay attention to anyone who shows you compassion and then vote for them at the end of class.”  The kids were definitely interested but I didn’t really know how this was going to work in a competitive environment—I was certainly never encouraged by my coaches to show compassion or to watch for it in others that I may be competing against!

The end of class came and we all came to the rug to debrief.  Students scoring 7 or more correct tactics puzzles were named and then I asked the question that is now a standard part of our chess club debrief, “Ok, time to vote for compassion leaders, raise your hand if someone was compassionate to you today and tell us what that person did.”  I wasn’t sure what would happen but immediately a bunch of hands shot up and what I found out is that our students had found compassion all around them.  Here are some common ways students found compassion in competition with each other:

  • ‘VP helped me with my worksheet tactic I couldn’t figure out.’ (this is a common one as I let students work together with the sometimes very tricky worksheets and one gifted student in particular is the go-to for help)
  • ‘KT helped me log into my computer.’

  • ‘CE let me take back a move when we were playing.’

  • ‘EM helped me find a good move when I was playing online.’

  • ‘I’ve noticed how IM has been improving so much lately.’

  • ‘Even though JG beat me he still helped me find good moves.’

  • ‘JH and I teamed up to battle someone online together.’

We had discovered something kind of ironic; that compassion can be found in a competitive environment by turning being compassionate and noticing compassion in others into a competition itself!  Now being voted for being a compassion leader at the end of chess club is just as desirable as making it onto the chess worksheet Hall Of Fame or for moving up the chess ladder by winning games or for being silent during challenge time.  The lesson I learned as a teacher is that if I look closer at interactions between children wonderful, amazing, and sometimes very subtle character traits are being exhibited in each exchange.  I also learned that by simply asking students to become aware of something, through the slight excitement of a competition, they can become gifted at noticing, naming, and praising traits in others that typically get overlooked in the competitive world that typically values merciless winning above other traits.

2nd Grade Crew // Guided Reading

One important aspect of any literacy program is guided reading!  Students are put into small groups based on skills and levels to help differentiate and individualize instruction.  These groups meet with a teacher during centers.   Students love the hands on learning, feel connected with the members of their group, and enjoy being able to learn so closely with their teacher.

Groups are often given color, shape or animal names.  This helps identify groups with giving stigmas or labels that might discourage below grade level groups.   In our second grade crew we have a red, green, blue and yellow group!

Groups typically have 3-5 students.  Small sizes ensure that students receive highly individualized instruction and work with books that are exactly at the appropriate challenging level.     Typically there are several structures set in place.

First, all the students read quietly to themselves.  Studies have shown that round robin reading, where one student reads at a time while others listen, is one of the least effective ways to teach reading.  Choral reading is something that is sometimes beneficial, but doesn’t allow students to create and understand their own reading rhythm.  Rather than reading one page and listening to three other students, all the students read as many pages as they can, at their own pace and speed. In our crew, all students read quietly to themselves for three to five minutes.  While they are reading, the teacher focuses in on one student in particular each day, taking anecdotal notes and a running record to find specific strengths and weaknesses.   This helps identify future teaching points to ensure every student is growing and receiving differentiated instruction, no matter their level!

Depending on the level, we then discuss the text and finish it together, discussing important genre elements.  We then go over a specific reading strategy, like monitoring comprehension, and the students model and practice with each other.

Higher level groups may focus on vocabulary words, while younger groups focus on spelling patterns, sorting, and phonetics.   In our second grade crew, all students love using our whiteboard table!  It’s fun and educational for our crew members to be able to draw on a table.    

One of the last structures is to play a game!  Lower level groups may play sight word games, while higher level groups may play games with character traits and academic vocabulary.  Students absolutely adore playing these games and being in these groups!  Incorporating fun into reading is a must.    In the game below, students are playing the sight word game “Go to the Movies”.   They pick up and identify sight words.  If they get it right, they get to keep it!   If they get a soda pop, they lose their turn, and if they get a movie night, they get an extra turn.    Simple games can turn routine learning into energizing and motivating experiences.

Having a variety of experiences in these highly individualized groups helps students to be appropriately challenged at their own level, while becoming stronger readers and find the joy of reading.

1st Grade Crew // Authentic & High-Quality Work

EL education determines high-quality work through the lens of authenticity, craftsmanship, and complexity. When planning the final product for our expedition for kindergarten and first grade, we kept these three attributes in mind. We hoped to ensure our final product allowed students create a beautifully detailed and accurate piece of work that included higher-order thinking, while also being authentic for students. In an EL environment, “Authenticity gives a purpose for working--work matters to the students and ideally contributes to a larger community.”

Once our first case study about soil had ended, kindergartners and first graders were excited and energized about what they would be learning next. As students gained an understanding of the importance of soil for the growing process of a plant, they were motivated to learn more. We spent the next couple of weeks learning about plants—plant parts, plant part jobs, plant needs, and the life cycle of a plant. Students learned the scientific terms and content through songs, drawings, videos, and observations!

Students realized we had 5 beautiful garden beds outside of our school built to raise crops. They proposed planting seeds in the gardens to watch their seeds grow into seedlings, sprouts, and mature crops (terms they have learned throughout our expedition). We determined it would be really neat to observe and document crops’ growth over time. The only problem: we didn’t know the first thing about gardening.  

We enlisted a local gardening expert, Ms. Billie Hickey, to teach us the ins and outs of gardening and how to take care of our crops, so we could become successful gardeners our own. Students took a trip to Billie’s garden in nearby Brightmoor, where she showed us the many different crops she grows and explained how she cares for them. Watching and listening to Ms. Billie encouraged students to think about how they could become expert gardeners at our school!

When we came back to school that afternoon, we realized it was hard for us and other visitors to know which crops were growing where in Billie’s garden. We also had a difficult time knowing whether if we were walking on crops that hadn’t started growing yet! Because we had read several books about gardening, students realized Ms. Billie didn’t have any crop markers in her garden! We decided we were going to help Ms. Billie improve her garden for future visitors. We would create plant crop markers so Ms. Billie and visitors would know which crops are in the garden. We decided we would also make these markers for our DAA garden! The authenticity piece of for our high quality final product couldn’t have been more apparent!

Students are now in the process of creating a two-sided plant marker: one side included a scientific drawing of a crop (for which they are becoming experts) with its care instructions on the other. Students will share their plant markers with their families at our Celebration of Learning in our DAA garden, before giving them to Ms. Billie for her garden. Students’ drive to complete their writing and revise their scientific drawings is really strong. Knowing their finished product will help a leader and expert in our community keeps the students motivated and energized!


1st Grade Crew // Author’s Chair Share

Writing time in first grade is serious business. Not only are we learning basic grammar, practicing spelling patterns, writing in different styles, expanding our expedition mastery, we become published authors! There are many steps along the way to publish our work, like editing, revising, conferencing, giving and receiving feedback, but one of the most important parts is the continual opportunity to share our work.

In most of our writing, each week represents one of the stages of writing: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing! During each stage, students are given the opportunity to share their work with the crew. Not only does this give students incentive to do their best work throughout the entire process, but it also provides opportunities for the students to authentically learn from each other. One of the most important aspects of teaching writing is having high-quality examples to show the crew.

We as teachers could spend hours making lots of examples to show students, but why do that when there is usually a goldmine of high-quality examples right in the four walls of the classroom? When students share their work with the crew (which is oftentimes a confidence booster for our writers), the sharer receives feedback on their writing, and they all learn what good writing is by pulling out criteria of what makes the writing high-quality as they move forward through the writing process!

Autism Awareness Month

Autism has grown to become incredibly more relevant today than it was 20 years ago. Because of this, autism is seen widely in schools across the country. The month of April was Autism Awareness month because autism has generally built a stigma of meaning "less" rather than "different," and this month was created to advocate against this stigma and to celebrate the amazing, incomparable strengths that come hand in hand with an autism diagnosis.

In my time at DAA (and within my career), I have come to see the need for a push for students with disabilities to advocate for themselves and their needs so that peers and adults alike can witness that disabilities do not define a person. This is whether they are a child or an adult, and whether they are in the school or in the community.

Just because a student may need a different manner of viewing material, does not take away from the fact that they are equally capable of obtaining the same output. Because of this, I realized that we needed more books and supplies to educate our students regarding differences & disabilities, not just for my students but for the school as a whole. With this mindset, I created a Donors Choose project and it was funded within 4 hours of my posting! I was so excited! These past few weeks, several of my students have taken their time (and eagerness! seriously!) to present about their disabilities to their crews. Additionally, multiple students who I do not work with have asked to borrow some of the books from my library about disabilities to learn even more about differences & disabilities within their very own community. There are multitudes of experiences that I have available with these supplies now and I couldn't be more thankful! I look forward to implementing and empowering even more of my students throughout the future. 

Step Team!


There's a new team on the scene at Detroit Achievement Academy. The Legacy Elite Steppers of DAA are ready to show the world their talent as well as bring the community to DAA. 

Schools in the community have always served as the connection point for churches, local businesses, and other public entities. After all, the school in which a child attends is a representation of their community and their reality. The Legacy Elite Steppers look to work with community service groups and other companies in the Detroit area, in efforts to bring different experiences to the community Detroit Achievement Academy serves. 

Our first collaborative performance will be with Enjoy Detroit, a non-profit organization whose mission is to get the youth of Detroit active and serve the community in the process. The Legacy Elite Steppers will be a part of the Enjoy Detroit parade on April 29th, 2017 to help with their showcase of the many different dance groups Detroit has to offer. Our first local performance will be at DAA's first African, African American, and Caribbean History Dance. Everyone is invited! This is a time for our steppers showcase many different music and dance genres created by African, African American, and Caribbean people. 

We are so excited for this new experience at DAA. We cannot wait to give you our next update! 

Hip Hop Club!!

The lack of music and art programs in Detroit makes it difficult for students to have access or gain exposure to the arts. As an educator, I understand the importance and urgency needed to provide young men with an outlet. The young men of 3rd and 4th grade expressed their interests in instruments, genres of music, and performance. The first step in responding to their request is creating a hip-hop club that will challenge students to self-regulate their learning, set their academic goals, develop strategies to address their aims, and reflect on their performance. 

Creating a hip-hop club will not only allow scholars to experience, explore, and create diverse music of their own, but it will also give them the motivation to meet academic requirements set by the club and the school. Thus, further highlighting the interdependence between community and culture, and its effect on family involvement and student achievement.

Detroit is no stranger to world changing phenomenon. Detroit is home to the first concrete highway, the first four-way traffic light, Ford Motor Company, and the list goes on. Most people know Michigan as the automotive capital of the world, but very few realize the significance of Michigan's musical heritage. This is particularly the case for today's youth within the state of Michigan. At DAA our scholars are extremely advanced. However, even our students have yet to understand the magnitude of where they are from. Detroit is many things to many people and is undoubtedly a cultural epicenter. Through the club, students will explore the transformational power of music through education and the cultural connection between Detroit and all genres of music. 

1st Grade Crew // Goal Setting


One of the cornerstones of EL Education is authentic reflection and student-driven goal setting. Though this is extremely important work (and has lead to some of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had with my students), it is no easy task -- especially in the primary grades.

Encouraging students to be fully aware of where they’re at, reflect on their work, and then set goals for where they want to be, and discuss how they’re going to get there is the goal. One way that we do this in primary grades is have some sort of ongoing reflection and discussion surrounding where we are supposed to be a certain points of the year, compared to where each student is at. A specific way that we have done this in 1st grade this year in reading is making graphs! The student-made graph allows the students to visually grasp the data that we are talking about, which we then use to set goals for different points of the year, and share how we are going to get there. We also have a reading growth tracker in the classroom that tracks how much students have grown in reading. As the students move up in reading level, they get to move their flower up and watch it grow. Once again, being able to visually see the growth the students are making helps these first graders understand the data in a meaningful way.

Additionally, we want this work to be exciting, and when we reach our goals that we’ve set, we want to celebrate! In our crew, we have various modes of celebrating. We give each other cheers, we share compassionate words, or, my personal favorite, we throw dance parties (: This not only is a joyful perk of goal-setting, but it instills in students the crew mentality: we are all here to support each other, to challenge each other to do our best, and to celebrate with each other every step of the way.

2nd Grade Crew // Creating Passionate, Lifelong Readers

In second grade, students build upon the basic foundations of literacy.  As they master basic phonics and move on to literature, they begin to create their identity as a reader.  Studies of best practice indicate that allowing students to select their own reading books highly increases their interest and motivation.

To make sure we encourage our students’ interests and motivations, our literacy block is set up to enable and encourage this best practice!

Students get to go “shopping” weekly.  They absolutely LOVE going to the classroom library to look for new books.  Each student is allowed to have 7 books in their book bin.  

The library is set up with a wide range of genres to ensure students have access and exposure to a variety of literature.

The first requirement for book selection is finding a just right book.   Students use the anchor chart posted in our room as a guide, but then take ownership of their own levels and learning by determining what book they think is just right for them.

Being cognizant of their own level helps them reflect on what they know and where they need to get.  Also finding “uphill” books encourages students to work even harder at reading so that they can read those books.

2-3 books match the spiral/genre that we are learning about, so after students have time in independent reading, they use books of the correct genre to work on their own strategies.

The amazing part of this is that all students are utilizing essential strategies that help them become strong, functional readers - but doing it with books that they are interested in and that match their reading level.  This differentiation allows each student to feel confident while independently applying reading strategies, rather than providing a single text that doesn’t meet the needs of every single student.

For example, one second grade standard is about making text to text, text to self, and text to world connections.  Students learned about the process through interactive read alouds, modeling and mini-lessons.  They then applied the learning to books they had self selected for their book bin.

The most amazing part of this literacy experience is the joy, motivation and love that students begin to find in reading.  They learn that reading is not just for school, work, but for pleasure.  They learn that reading can take you all over the world, that it can make you cry and laugh.  They learn that reading is not a task, but a way of life.