Stephen F. Austin Elementary School

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Staff Campus Blog

“Developing the Love of Writing”

For some of us, the act of writing a story or essay can almost make you cringe. Developing the love of writing doesn’t come easy for everyone. Starting in preschool, some kids just gravitate towards writing in their own little language. Writing is such an important facet in developing the understanding of literacy, and needs to be developed from an early age. Yes of course, there is a sense of urgency in developing writers as they approach the fourth grade when they take the STAAR writing test, but more importantly building a confident writer sets up the learner for a lifetime of success. What are some ways you can help at home?


Start by giving your child simple tasks that involve writing. For instance, have them write your grocery list or jot down to-do lists that make writing less intimidating. Pick opportunities for your child to maybe keep a personal journal about daily events in their lives. This is my favorite way to incorporate writing, especially in the summer months. Even writing simple “thank you” letters to their family can be a quick way to get some writing in. Sometimes a quick trip to the dollar store for fun pens, pencils, notebooks, and blank note cards can spice up the act of writing at home. Pick a little area in your child’s room or somewhere in the house, so that they have a place to go to for their writing supplies. The most important part is that you are finding little “sneaky” ways to get that writing in without it seeming so academic. Remember, the more you practice something the better you get at it. Writing is no exception. Happy writing!

-Mrs. Bloching, Third Grade Teacher


Math with Mrs. Thornhill

“I’m not good at Math,” is a phrase that makes Math teachers cringe! My goal is to provide students with a variety of Math experiences and help them grow as Mathematicians. In our class we have the following opportunities:


  • Small group-which provides more individualized support and feedback to students
  • Technology-where students can practice fluency, skills, and strategies in an engaging way
  • Independent Practice- allows the teacher and students to see what they are capable on their own
  • Critical Write- brings students thoughts to paper and is an opportunity to write and speak using academic language
  • Hands On- uses interactive learning games, manipulatives, and strategies to reinforce math skills


My hope is that with this variety of experiences, students will find a passion and strength in Math!

-Mrs. Thornhill, Third Grade Teacher

Making Connections with Mr. Collett
I’ve always believed that children come to school with two jobs.
First, have as much fun as you can. And second, don’t get in trouble doing it!
I remember as a child being terrified to do something that would draw attention to myself. It bothered me completely to be recognized for doing something well, or worse, not so well. As a teacher, I strive to get to know my students on a personal level, trying to get to know those things that make them successful, drives their fears, and hopefully what their dreams are.
-John Collett, Third Grade Teacher


10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed…

Brought to you by the Austin 4th Grade Team


  1. Get involved in your child’s education- teacher conferences, family nights, volunteering, etc.
  2. Use life experiences as quick teaching opportunities- label reading, money at the grocery store, reading mail
  3. Car Games- Use driving time to quiz your child
  4. Read and Write with your child nightly
  5. Make learning fun- games, write in shaving cream, etc.
  6. Be a positive influence and support your child’s learning
  7. Spend time talking to your child about their day and what they are learning
  8. Visit the school or local libraries
  9. Connect with your child’s teacher-Class Dojo, Remind, Seesaw, or any other social media
  10. Use educational technology: Epic, Imagine Math, Prodigy,, xtramath


How Handwriting Trains the Brain

Researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development. Technology often gets blamed for handwriting’s demise. But in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

Pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory-the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

One study demonstrated that in grades two, four, and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus the keyboard. In the essay section of SAT college-entrance exams, scorers unable to read a student’s writing can assign that portion an “illegible” score of 0. Everyone needs to be able to write, and someone needs to be able to read it.

Bounds, Gwendolyn, The Wall Street Journal. Oct 5, 2010

-Rogena Rice, Dyslexia Teacher

A Message from our Former Principal, Mrs. Morris


This picture sums up Austin Elementary.  Yes, we learn, but we should also have fun as we do it!  The Austin Elementary staff teach, challenge, and inspire every student.  We create a safe place for learning and reach for the stars.  We smile and enjoy every moment as we create a learning experience for our students.  We aspire to be world-class!  

Remember, Austin Roos Rock!

Love, Mrs. Morris


Building a Student Profile for Individualized Instruction

As teachers we are expected to be experts on the students who pass through our classrooms year by year.  We are to differentiate our way of teaching to meet their needs and their individual styles of learning.  We are to assess their knowledge level and design our instruction in ways that provide for them the best possible opportunity to access the content in an effective and meaningful manner.  This is not a “one size fits all” educational system.  We have moved back to the “one room school house” structure, in a society that requires we accept all students into our classrooms, meet them where they are socially and academically, and commit to challenge them and grow them as learners in a rapidly changing information and technology era.

Can you say, “WHEW! That’s a LOT!” ?  And it is.  But those of us who are truly committed to the craft of our career take joy in unlocking the potential of ALL students who enter our classrooms.  We celebrate and lavish praise based on INDIVIDUAL student progress, and do not cling to a grade driven ideology, rooted in an antiquated pass/fail system.  We know our students.  We teach to their strengths and watch them flourish. As a special educator, we gain tools to reach struggling learners by building an individual learner profile.

Individual learning styles and needs are able to be best understood after diagnostic testing has occurred.  We often say we wish ALL students were able to be tested in the same way that we assess our students for special education and dyslexia. The testing that is done when learners are struggling gives us a wealth of information.  We are able to understand the best ways to teach to students and utilize those strategies to foster academic and social success.

The areas we are able to assess are called the “ G’s”.  The seven  “G’s” are long term retrieval (memory), short term memory, fluid reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, processing speed, and crystallized intelligence. Once testing is completed, student areas of strength and weakness are able to be recognized.  Teachers in both special education and general education settings are then provided with a copy of the G’s for the student. This is a vital piece of the learner profile. On the copy provided, the individual student learning strengths and challenges are indicated.  This piece of paper shares appropriate strategies for teaching, using the child’s best learning style, and helps us to steer clear of areas we know will not be the most effective in helping the student learn and retain information.  In addition, it makes teachers aware of specific learning challenges that will need to be overcome for progress to continue on an upward trend.

If being able to reach all students where they are is the goal, the ‘G’s” certainly help make that possible for special learners. We are blessed to have fantastic testing tools and well trained diagnosticians to help us find the best means to educate children who may not learn in the traditional way. The days of “educating every student in the same way” are gone.  Differentiation is the key. Differentiated instruction has become best practice across the board in classrooms.  That is just another way that the once rigid line between special education and general education has started to blur. We are looking at all learners, gifted, average and special, as individuals who have unique learning modalities that must be addressed in the current educational classroom culture of public education.


-Kendra Shirley, Instructional Support Staff

Nepris with Mrs. Carpenter
I plan to connect my students with a variety of experts this year in a variety of fields! What better way to make learning relevant than to show students how their learning applies in the real world! 
Check out more on Nepris here!
 or at
-Mrs. Carpenter, Kindergarten Teacher
Class Dojo with Mrs. Johnson
I use Class Dojo on a daily basis in my classroom. My favorite thing about Class Dojo is that it has many different pieces that not only I can utilize in my classroom but my parents and students can also connect with. I use Class Dojo as a positive reinforcement tool with a point club to earn rewards and incentives. I also use it to share and connect with parents. Students use their own personal page to share data with parents and work they are proud of. We use their personal page that only parents, students, and the teacher can access to use as their personal data portfolio. We also use a whole class page on Class Dojo that parents can view pictures and announcements on. Pictures and video can be added to both the personal portfolio and whole class page. This year Class Dojo has new tools such as transition music, voice level reminders, and partner pairing. I think that if used to better a classroom in a positive way, Class Dojo can be a very user friendly and useful tool!
-Sadie Johnson, Second Grade Teacher 


Art in Kindergarten



I think art is an essential part of elementary education and I love that the word ‘art’ is in the word kindergARTen.  I use art in my classroom to help students build fine motor muscle skills.  My students are so focused on each step that they don’t even realize they are building muscles.  “Art Hub for Kids” is a great YouTube channel where kids can draw pictures along with the host and his children.   Step by Step drawing books and coloring books are also great resources.  
I try to use art in every subject that I teach. In Science we might draw plants and animals during Living/Nonliving Unit, in Math we use pattern blocks to create objects during the Shape Unit, Social Studies we build with legos, blocks or sticks or we may draw and illustrate for activities. ELA is great for drawing characters, favorite part, setting and more.  Art is also good for building confidence in children.  They are often surprised that they are such good artists!  If they tell me they "messed up" I tell them that there are no “mess ups” in art, just make it into something else. This year, I want to introduce real pieces of art and the artists to my students to instill a real appreciation for it.  They can duplicate Sunflowers by Van Gogh during the plant unit in Science.  Art is exciting, fun and educational in my classroom! 
-Mrs. Norris, Kindergarten Teacher



Morning Journals with Mr. Stapleton



Morning journal writing can reveal what’s going on with students that morning, last evening, at school or anything on their minds. My part of journal writing is to support and listen to any student that wants to share what they have written.  Students know up front that I don’t look for spelling, punctuation or a grade.  These journal entries completely belong to them.  They are quick and a great way to begin the day. As the year progresses so do their journals.


-Mr. Stapleton, 2nd Grade Teacher



Mrs. Kline & Differentiating



In our class we work really hard at supporting our learners by differentiating lessons to fit the level the student is currently on and then build from there. We use a lot of hands on activities, visuals and songs/movements to help our students gain knowledge.



Our students learn in different ways, so it is important to build connections with them to find out how they learn best.  We have to make sure we are constantly changing and making things exciting and interactive to keep our students engaged. In our room we have many areas the students can choose their learning from, including a Lego wall, sensory stations and building stations. This year we will also have a motor/sensory room we utilize to fit the needs of our students. I'm so excited!




-Mrs. Kline, K-2nd Grade Teacher


Looping with Mrs. Goff


This idea has been around for quite some time, when a teacher continues to the next grade level with mostly the same students.  In the past, I’ve only experienced looping as a parent, when my oldest looped with the amazing Mrs. Jones from 2nd grade to 3rd grade.  There were so many benefits for him, especially the many hurdles that each new year typically brings: new teacher, new classmates, new routines, new systems. But for him, he was able to jump right into learning without being anxious about the new year!  


Now it’s my turn to experience looping as a teacher! I’m excited, happy, nervous all at once! So much new stuff for not only students to learn as 2nd graders, but for me to learn as a 2nd grade teacher! I’m excited that my class and I get to do this together!  It’s fun and challenging to learn new things, and I also get to watch my kids continue to grow. Great students and wonderful parents will help make this year another successful one!


-Mrs. Goff, 2nd Grade Teacher




Mrs. Bingham and Reading


“Everyone is a reader...some just haven’t found their favorite book yet.” -Unknown


Students Reading


This quote speaks to me as a teacher, especially when you hear kids say, “I don’t like to read.” I don’t think that is the case at all, maybe they haven’t found a topic they are interested in. As adults we have an impact on whether or not kids “like to read”, all you have to do is set the example.  How do you do that? It’s easy...just read! Talk to your kids about books you have read or liked when you were their age, go to the library with your kids, get a library card for you and let your kids have their own.  If you feel like you don’t have time to actually sit down and read a book, download a podcast or an audio book to listen to while driving your kids to school or on your way to work. These small things empower reading and make it important.


Mrs. Bingham, Kindergarten Teacher

Mrs. Bingham with students







Mrs. Sefcik's thoughts: Staying Healthy at Home and School


Mrs. Sefcik's Class




Students need good nutrition throughout their day in order to focus and maintain energy. Making sure that your child has proper rest and nutrition will help their day be the best that it can be. During back to school, children will need to start approximately a week ahead of the date, and get into the routine of getting into bed at a time that is good for their age. Most of us require 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Breakfast should have a sufficient amount of protein for the time following up until their next meal. High-sugar meals in the morning will give energy at first and then the “sugar high” will wear off, leaving them tired and sometimes even cranky. Also, make sure your child is getting proper exercise, whether it be walking the dog, going for a ride on their bike, playing in the park, or whatever activity they might enjoy that will increase their heart rate. Here is a great website to visit for more info:  Milk Life Article

Debbie Sefcik, 5th Grade Teacher
Classroom Environment with Mrs. Rials
Mrs. Rials with students.

Have you ever walked into a classroom and worried about the students who had to spend their school year there? Students, as well as teachers, spend almost as much time in the classroom than they do at home. Who wants to spend countless hours in a cold and uninviting environment? Classrooms should be warm, appealing spaces that foster creativity, engagement, and student choice. It should be obvious upon entry that a teacher has given just as much thought to the spaces where students will work and where they will share their work as they do to lesson plans and homework. Teachers should also reflect on how they themselves are perceived by their students. Would students say that their teacher is fair, welcoming, and supportive or unapproachable, judgmental, and quick to criticize? Children are observant and know when a teacher truly puts forth effort to provide a wonderful work space and create positive relationships. The environment we provide and the relationships we create should prove to our students daily that they are special and important to us.


-Mrs. Rials, 5th Grade Teacher

Meet Mrs. Holcomb



In our classroom we have an awesome "Wish Well Board" that is part of our daily routine! Everyone (even Mrs. Holcomb!) has a heart magnet with their name on it that they have personalized. When they get to class in the morning, they can choose to move the heart magnet from the edges of the Wish Well Board to the inside of the heart on the board. They can move their heart for any reason, good or bad. Whether it’s that they’re feeling sad, having family issues, lost a pet, anticipating a big move or wanting their sister to do well in her volleyball game, no reason is too small or too large! The students have time in the morning to share why they need well wishes, but they can also choose not to specify their need. It serves as a visual cue to all of us that someone in our classroom family needs well wishes and gives us an opportunity to share in their joy or hurt. In turn, the board enables everyone in the room to offer support and empathy to each other.  

-Mrs. Holcomb, 5th Grade Teacher
Wish Well Board
Mrs. Walker's thoughts on 
Building Strong Family Connections

(Mrs. Walker with her son and daughter.)


Today’s kids are always on the go. Practice, friends, activities, lessons, cell phones -  all of our kids are in a hurry to get to the next place. Often, it is the family connection that gets lost in the shuffle and yet it is the greatest thing kids need the most. While you are out and about, trying to get to the next event or practice, use the time to build a stronger family connection by listening to your kids. Turn down the radio and talk about the day. Encourage them to be open about what’s going on in their lives and with their feelings. Give them a safe place to share. In turn, you are showing your kids they are special and you need to connect with them just as much as they need to connect with you.

-Casie Walker, 5th Grade Teacher
Mrs. Looney's thoughts on Flexible Seating

I absolutely love giving my students the power to choose the seat that best meets their learning style. YES, my second graders have the power to choose where they sit and who they sit by! It gets a little crazy the first few weeks as students are learning how to manage this new freedom, but after a few weeks, they inevitably start making “smart” seating choices. They sit by people they know will provide a little help when they need it, and they also sit by kids who will help keep them on task rather than distract them from their learning.

The power of choice really helps my students take control of their learning!

-Bethany Looney, 2nd Grade Teacher