By the midpoint of first quarter, teachers are in tune with their new group of learners. They note tendencies and behaviors. They design instruction around interests. Teachers’ precise radars sense something off when a student acts out of character. Special relationships with an unspoken language develop throughout the school year. Teachers notice because they care.
Despite the established rapport, not all learners enjoy the same experience. What students project on the surface is often misleading—a protective camouflage for school survival. How well do we really know each learner? There are pages missing from the entire story. While respecting the personal background of every student, how can we make better use of what we know? Continue reading
The month of May on the school calendar represents grueling tests of will, perseverance, and endurance… and I’m just speaking for educators. If it is this great a struggle for adults, imagine what wanders through the young, developing minds of our students?
In my ninth grade Visions in Literature and Composition courses, May presents the final stage of freshman training. In attempt to maintain the attention of students (and the teacher), I save the popular dystopian literature unit for the end of the year. And traditionally, it delivers.
Last year’s freshmen were treated to a different approach to close the school year. I gamified the entire dystopian literature unit and presented the ultimate challenge: Escape from Durstopia! They were hooked from the outset, but when they began discovering new missions with links to next steps for success, they were locked in. I communicated from the InfoTech Hub (Google Classroom) and added slides to a shared Google presentation.
Teams formed when necessary and individuals raced to conquer challenges. Students were slipping side quests to me before anyone else recognized the opportunities to learn or create. A group comprised of students from both classes even joined forces and stayed for hours after school to stump their peers with a coded scavenger hunt. Impressive. My students were doing more work and producing greater outcomes than I would ever consider assigning. Learners were not merely invested; they were immersed in our gamified literary universe.
So why would I save this level of engagement for the final month when I have an entire school year to plan? Why not start the year in game mode and see where it leads?
With a final pep talk from Michael Matera (I urge you to read Explore Like a Pirate and follow the action of #XPLAP on Twitter), Tisha Richmond, Adam Bold, Nick Davis, and Carrie Baughcam in June, I left University School’s Summer Spark with the vision and motivation necessary to construct my story for freshman English. Thus, Durstopia expanded from a single unit concept to a year-long experience. Plans are currently underway in my imagination and on dry erase boards in my office.
The transition in planning is an invigorating challenge after years of teaching the freshman curriculum. I am restructuring the order of our department units (with common standards, learning targets, and assessments)—units I have helped create throughout the last two decades—to tell a learning story within the theme. Here’s what it looks like at this point in midsummer form (questions, suggestions, and brilliant insights are always welcome!).
Back to School
Stores taunt shoppers with Back-to-School savings in early July. By mid-August, denial transforms into anticipation. Hallways are waxed. New classroom designs are configured. Bulletin boards become thematic works of art. Pencils are sharpened. School is ready for students.
Educators focus their vision on the master plan for student learning. What worked last year? What adjustments need to be made? And why? Always know the WHY to move forward with purpose. After addressing the WHY, it is time to figure out HOW to set the plan into action. Every day, students should ask and be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? and How will I know I have learned it?
We know from the research of experts and from personal experience—in its simplest form—learning must be visible to maximize educational effectiveness. John Hattie reminds us, “Know thy impact.” So, we proceed thoughtfully…
Course curricular units. Planned.
Department standards. Identified.
Visible learning targets. Posted.
Student-friendly language? Yep.
If we can get to this point, we are in great shape; but a new conflict emerges. How do we know students are learning according to expectations? Is there a transparent means of assessing and organizing evidence of learning? This becomes a gap in what well-intended educators want to do versus what takes place in the classroom. Here is a simple plan to align standards, learning targets, and assessment. Continue reading
Ahhh…the weekend has arrived. Time for Saturday morning cartoons and eating breakfast with my kids. Then, I typically check my messages, catch #satchatwc on Twitter, and prepare to go out for a run before college basketball or football brings our living room to life. Weekends are family time–a time for play.
Therefore, I give little homework over the weekend. If anything, I set direction for the following week, possibly providing a teaser to build anticipation and a reason to return to class. Students may use the time to read for pleasure or increase their understanding of what we covered throughout the week.
I do not use weekends to recover from a long week; I use them to plan for the next week. Although that mentality does not sound very fun, I ease my active mind by taking time in advance to get organized. We can all agree: there’s simply not enough time during the week to accomplish everything we want. So, I do as much front-loading as possible. I try to catch up on providing feedback to students, plan differentiated lessons as necessary, and monitor student progress. By Monday morning, I want to see the big picture for the week. That being said, it is impossible to plan every day in advance without student contact–an inflexible trap many teachers fall into.
Holidays are a little different. Extended vacations are a time to catch up on things I want to do, like reading and writing and taking family adventures. These are additional opportunities to learn and expand our life experiences, which enriches our education. We can travel, shop, explore, laugh, and grow. This is what life is all about.
*Day 27 of the TeachThought #reflectiveteacher 30-day blogging challenge
If I need guidance in planning a potentially award-winning lesson, I could seek the Oracle at Delphi… or I could visit my go-to sites for teacher resources.
Twitter is a throbbing brain of idea sharing–a waterfall of endless information. Where many abuse the power of social media, it is no surprise that educators are tapping into Twitter’s potential as a professional development tool. If Twitter is the brain, Tweetdeck is the lifeline. It organizes information into categories and lists according to hashtags, people, and topics of interest. Twitter + Tweetdeck = professional transformation.
2. Education Information Networks
Educator’s PLN-Thomas Whitby’s Ning Network includes resources, discussions, videos, and links to top educational blog sites (including TeachThought, ACSD Edge, Edutopia, Teaching Channel). This is where the cool kids hang out.
English Companion Ning-“Where English teachers go to help each other.” This Ning Network is Jim Burke’s answer to Educator’s PLN but focused on teaching literature, reading, speaking, and writing. An intellectual playground for those passionate about symbolism, thematic units, and verbs.
A place to ask questions and get help. A community dedicated to helping you enjoy your work. A cafe without walls or coffee: just friends.
3. Instructional Lesson Supplements
For audio, visual, and mental stimulation, I frequent YouTube, Ted-Ed, Film English, and John Green’s Crash Course vlog. Creative, entertaining, and addictive resources for the short attention spans (myself included). How did I teach before YouTube?
*Day 26: TeachThought #reflectiveteacher 30 day blogging challenge