Think-Pair-Share Is Overrated!

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

The picture is unmistakable: up front the teacher is active and 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, and Think-Pair-Share (TPS) was ubiquitous.

Before I go on, let me just say this: if a teacher only uses direct instruction, and the next instructional strategy he 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 to the next level. Continue reading “Think-Pair-Share Is Overrated!”

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?”

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”

3 Ways to Wrangle the PIG!

“I have to plan the next unit.”

“What am I going to teach tomorrow? And how am I going to teach it?”

“But I have to grade these papers!”

Planning, instruction, and grading–if you’re like me, these three elements of teaching huddle up and, like specters, follow you around all year long. Each takes its turn whispering in your ear, especially grading.

It seems that right when you get one settled, one of the others crops up, jolting you with guilt, anxiety, or both. It seems never-ending.

Continue reading “3 Ways to Wrangle the PIG!”

How 1 Substitute Teacher Can Make You a Better Instructor

In my experience, making a small shift in thinking can make a big difference. For example, I assign outside reading to my students. They choose a novel, they read it, then they do a brief write up. The goal of the assignment is to get students to try reading different new books and see that maybe they could enjoy this wonderful pastime.. Alas, many of my students are lazy and wait until the last minute, which means they cheat. I have found that if I take them to the school library every two weeks and make them publicly sign up for their book title four weeks in advance of the due date, they do a lot more reading on their own. There. Two small changes made a big difference.

As an English teacher, there are many practices I have in the classroom that are efficiency and productivity killers. I have caught myself committing a fair share of these over the years, but I know there are many more that I have missed. I wish there was a way to catch them, like a having a fellow teacher observe me. Not an administrator, not a site coach, but a peer whom I trust. The problem is that person would most likely be teaching at the same time I would be. Can this dilemma be solved?  Continue reading “How 1 Substitute Teacher Can Make You a Better Instructor”