2 Small Things Completely Changed How I View My Students

I just had THE BEST first day of school of my entire career, and it had nothing to do with my circumstances. And I don’t just mean that the quality of my first day of school notched up slightly above other starts. I mean this was off the charts amazing! Like Takeru Kobayashi smashing the world record for eating 50 hot dogs in 10 minutes, when the previous record was 25, kind of amazing!

Okay, I’ll get on with it.

But before I jump in, I need to make something clear upfront: not much has changed about my circumstances from last year to this year. Last year, I was teaching . . .

  • 3 sections of English IV ERWC (with a per class student count of 36, 37, 36) and
  • 2 sections English II Honors (with a per class student count of 27, 27)

This year I am teaching . . .

  • 4 sections of English IV ERWC (with a per class student count of 36, 36, 36, 36) and
  • 1 section of English II Honors (with a per class student count of 36)

Never mind the high numbers in my classes, I want you to notice the similarities. Same courses, with just a few more students. The caliber of students under my care isn’t significantly different. So what made this start so much better? Continue reading “2 Small Things Completely Changed How I View My Students”

Get Your Students to Write OVER 20,000 Words This Year!

This year, I’m going to get my students to write over 20,000 words! And I’m not even counting the essays they are going to type.

At the start of the year, my students will begin building a Writer’s Notebook. This is a place the will house low-stakes, pressure-free writing, lessons on sentence craft, and a place where they will practice thinking through revision.

Here’s the English teacher math that came up with 20,000+ words:

  • 150 words per page
  • 5 pages of writing a week
  • 15 weeks of writing per semester

Continue reading “Get Your Students to Write OVER 20,000 Words This Year!”

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!”

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!”

3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook

The centerpiece of writing instruction in my classroom is the Writer’s Notebook. And that begins with the students getting a composition book at the store at the start of the school year.

More specifically, I make them get a 100 page composition book. Not 70, not 80. 100. Since I have the students do a lot of writing, and a fairly decent amount of writing about writing, they need quite a bit of space for their words. I also want them to feel comfortable with all of the composing they will be doing, so I make sure to tell them to get wide-ruled–college-ruled is too tight, and doesn’t allow room for students to take notes in planning their revisions.

I also make sure that the Writer’s Notebook stays simple. One of the key features of the the notebook is that the writing is low-stakes. I will never put pressure on my students to write according to a rubric or scoring guide. They just need to write. Thus, I only give them 3 rules and guidelines. Continue reading “3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook”