The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook

Over the course of this past academic year, I tasked my students with writing 150 entries–at least 150 words per entry–in their Writer’s Notebooks. I assigned specific topics, theme-weeks, story starters, and a lot of free writing over the span of those entries. I collected their work every three weeks (calling these due dates “checkpoints”), checked up on their writing, and gave it right back so they could keep going.

For the final checkpoint, I was burnt out and recently spent almost all my energy grading big inquiry-based argumentative essays and co-creating a live action role playing game inspired by Fahrenheit 451 (This will definitely be a post later on). I didn’t plan anything special for their final submission, so it was unassigned free-writing. But I received quite a gift from a few of my students! On their final entries, many of my students decided to treat it like a yearbook and leave me notes of appreciation, some thanking me for making them do all that writing.

Don’t take it from me, let’s hear from Robert:
Continue reading “The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook”

Think-Pair-Share Is Overrated!

I teach at the high school level. I have only been teaching for 13 years. But when I entered the profession, pretty much every classroom had students sitting in rows while a teacher stood up front and lectured, gave direct instruction, read from PowerPoint slides, whatever you want to call it.

The picture is unmistakable: an active teacher up front talking while students passively sit and listen in their desks. Almost all classrooms looked like this, and mine was no exception. To get students more engaged, in the 1990s and 2000s, teachers were trained in different strategies, but Think-Pair-Share (TPS) was ubiquitous.

Now, if a teacher only uses direct instruction, and then learns how to use TPS, then that teacher should absolutely use it. But if a teacher has several strategies and some skill for engagement, then it’s time to evolve past TPS. Continue reading “Think-Pair-Share Is Overrated!”

Feeling Vulnerable and Optimistic, and I Need Your Help!

How do you spend your vacation? Is it reading up on how to be a better teacher? Discovering the glorious opportunities for professional development on Twitter? Oh, wait, it has to be shop-talking the cover art, title, and tag line of your half-baked podcast, right? Just me? Probably.

My mind has been a flurry of teaching and platform-building ideas, even though I know I am supposed to be unplugging, like one of the new members of my PLN (@MrPStrunk) posted about just the other day. Hey, I did river rafting with the family, a carnival, The Discovery Museum a couple of times, walks, board games, and more. I just had too much to look forward to, too many things on my mind, about the upcoming school year to completely unplug.

Okay. I’m going to take a BIG risk (for me) here. I’m going to be vulnerable and share with you something that has been on me teacher-heart for more than a few years. But I’m nervous. I don’t want to be rejected, yet I need good feedback from great people. So, please read on! This could potentially be a help to you, your colleagues, and other teachers out there!

Continue reading “Feeling Vulnerable and Optimistic, and I Need Your Help!”

5 Ways to Nudge Students to Engage with Outside Reading

My previous post gave 4 factors to persuade teachers to start giving outside reading assignments. I am sure, however, that you still have concerns about your students’ motivation to complete an assignment like this while avoiding the temptation to cut corners and cheat. I share in those concerns.

Over the years, though, I have come up with ways to steer students to complete their outside reading assignment faithfully. I still have to guard against apathy and students who insist on cutting corners instead of doing the work, but I have drastically reduced the amount of energy I spend on keeping watch over this behavior. And I would like to share these tips with you! Continue reading “5 Ways to Nudge Students to Engage with Outside Reading”

Does Your Rubric Punish Students?

I’m going to make a prediction that you might not like. After reading this post, you’re going to see that you are doing rubrics all wrong.

But that’s okay. I had bad rubrics for years too. In spite of their poor quality, my students were still learning. Yours are too. But maybe our students at that time did not really feel like learners. There was a time when the rubrics I used to score my students’ assignments made them feel like losers. Continue reading “Does Your Rubric Punish Students?”

4 Signs Your Development as a Teacher May Be Delayed

Yep. That’s me. Coming from behind. The Professional Development (PD) that I have been offered over the course of my career has been marked by a few hits and many misses. I would like to blame the principal, the site, the district, lawmakers, or anyone but me. In fact, I used to blame them. A lot.

Overtime I began to see that the my lack of development wasn’t my school’s or district’s problem, it was something that I needed to take ownership for. I was an adult who knew how to do learning on his own. But there’s good news! Things are better, and I’m getting caught up. And there has never been a better time for a teacher like me to get answers to the burning questions they have.

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Kelly Gallagher’s Books Aren’t as User-Friendly as Teachers Think They Are

Has this ever happened to you when reading one of Kelly Gallagher’s books (or a book by another inspiring teacher-writer)? You read about a practice in his classroom, stare off into the distance, the look of epiphany on your face, and with a raised pointer finger you declare “I must start doing this today,” slam the book shut, and start typing up lesson plans. Now, let’s say you finish those lesson plans, does everything go smoothly in the classroom?

For me, it’s hit and miss. Sometimes the lessons are clear, and I can start using them right away. But some, for me, are complete bombs. The failures usually go like this: I hit an obstacle I did not anticipate, I furiously flip the book to the spot where I had the epiphany in a desperate search for answers that aren’t there. Next, I panic, admit defeat, let the lesson die a quiet death, sulk, and then move on. Continue reading “Kelly Gallagher’s Books Aren’t as User-Friendly as Teachers Think They Are”