1 Week, 170 Conversations: What Students Really Say about Learning, Letter Grades, and Anxiety

A coupe of weeks ago, I did something that I have never done before in my classroom: I sacrificed invested a week of instruction to hold a one-on-one conversation with each one of my students. I had always made the excuse that it took up too many instructional minutes, and that I couldn’t sacrifice the time. And after that long-winded week the only regret that I have is that I did not start doing this much, much earlier in my career. That week, was an absolute revelation!

Before I share everything I learned, I need to inform you why I met with all of my students. This year, for many reasons, when it comes to assessing learning, I have decided that I will no longer use points. Instead, I am asking my students to apply the standards through purposeful effort on their assignments, on submitted work I am giving them feedback only (no mark), and I am holding a conference with them at the end of each grading period. They bring a showcase of their learning to the conversation, and together we determine the letter grade we will send home. Continue reading “1 Week, 170 Conversations: What Students Really Say about Learning, Letter Grades, and Anxiety”

Accelerating the Belonging Belief with Transfer Students

Let me run a scenario past you and see what you think. Imagine you have been teaching for six years. For reasons that you can’t control, you have to leave your teaching position and relocate to another city. You’re fortunate enough to find another job, but you’re teaching a different grade-level and you don’t know anyone on staff, nor do you know any of the students you will be teaching.

How do you think you would feel?

Now, how do you think students feel when they transfer schools? Continue reading “Accelerating the Belonging Belief with Transfer Students”

Want Better Student Presentations in Your Classroom? Take Away PowerPoint.

When I first started assigning presentations in my classroom, that was all I did: Assign presentations. The students were given guidelines, but they were essentially left on their own to figure out how to plan and perform their presentations. And for most of my students that meant creating a PowerPoint that had every word they were going to say scripted on each slide because their plan was to read it to the class while facing the screen.

I welcomed the break from having to be the one up front, but those presentations were so painful. And I wasn’t the only one suffering. The students were too. The speakers and the audience.

Since those days, I have learned how to actually teach public speaking–as opposed to just assigning it. But even when I started teaching public speaking, I wasn’t seeing growth in all my students right away. When I was puzzling over this, one day I had an epiphany! Take Away PowerPoint. My students were relying on their visuals too much. They were hiding behind their slide deck. What they needed was to learn how to be the most interesting thing in the room. Continue reading “Want Better Student Presentations in Your Classroom? Take Away PowerPoint.”

Teacher Hack: Copy in Smaller Batches

As a secondary teacher, you know the routine. You head to the copy room to make a class set of handouts for the courses you teach–three sections of this, two sections of that. On your way, you wonder how long the line will be, how many copiers will be jammed, and whether or not you’ll have enough time to visit the bathroom before you can head back to your classroom.

The copy room is a big stressor for me. And when I get there, the part that I used to dread was the counting. My Struggle? Doing simple math under duress. I over count, making too many copies. Or worse, I under count, and don’t copy enough, which can bring my lesson to a halt. There were a few occasions when I tallied up my count correctly, but in a rush, I failed to notice that the copier had run out of paper with 85-90 percent of my copy job finished, then me sauntering off thinking I had everything I needed.

Maybe this isn’t your struggle, but for this English Language Arts teacher, getting the right count is a problem. But this one trick has solved that for me. Continue reading “Teacher Hack: Copy in Smaller Batches”

Lost in the Push for Literacy? 6 Reasons to Read THESE 6 THINGS

I recently finished reading an incredible book by Michigan teacher, Dave Stuart Jr. It was one of those reads that felt like a mixture between a vacation and conference. There were refreshing and affirming words of encouragement, but there were also mighty challenges put forth.

The title of the book is These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most. I have read books that boast they have the most important ideas for teaching, and usually they meant that the reader would have to buy into some sort of system that would be a complete overhaul and redesign of his or her classroom. No thanks, and this is not what These 6 Things is about. At. All.

Come along and I will show you six reasons why every secondary teacher, regardless of what content area he or she teaches, should read this book.
Continue reading “Lost in the Push for Literacy? 6 Reasons to Read THESE 6 THINGS”

Presentations: How 2 Sources Transformed Public Speaking in My Classroom

How has your experience been with assigning presentations in your classroom? Inspiring? Fun? Or does it sound more like how mine use to? Before I made significant changes, my students would make PowerPointⓇ presentations with busy slide decks. They would stand up in front of the class, face the projected image, and talk to the board instead of the class. When it was all over, we would all clap.

If your classroom presentations look like that, then it’s time for you to say “Enough!” I am still in the middle of learning how to teach my students to be better oral communicators, so you won’t see anything magical in my classroom, but you will see confident students, facing the class, note cards in hand, transitioning from topic to topic, with relevant visuals (and almost no text) on their slides. They have impressed me in ways I never thought possible with me as their teacher. I used to think that it was the job of another more competent teacher to get students ready for public speaking. But I have found that anyone can do it.  Continue reading “Presentations: How 2 Sources Transformed Public Speaking in My Classroom”

Teacher Blogger Tips: Create Content through Blending Your Development, Practice, and Reflection

Teachers are busy. They are always planning, always tinkering with their instruction, and there are the ever-growing stacks of assignments to grade. Just like one of those romantic comedy movies where the main character tries go one a date with two people at once, this is how a teacher deals with planning, instruction, and grading. As the main character switches identities to share time with one partner, this is like the teacher choosing to do one of those activities, like grading. Eventually, the pressure builds to switch to one of the other activities! And it goes on and on like this.

Not only do teacher bloggers participate in this same dance with planning, instruction and grading, they also spend several hours a week cranking out a couple of posts. Throw in the teacher podcast they are listening to on their drive home from work, the three twitter chats they participated in last week, and the teacher book that is their constant walking companion, and you’ll think that teacher bloggers have gone mad.

Well, we have! And we love it! But it doesn’t have to consume our lives. With a few simple tips, we can make it all blend together, while leading fulfilling lives and deepening our connections with our loved ones outside of work. Continue reading “Teacher Blogger Tips: Create Content through Blending Your Development, Practice, and Reflection”