Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Epic Fail

How often, as teachers, do we ask our students to try again?  How often, as teachers, do we apply this to lessons that might not have gone so smoothly?  

Often people blog about the amazing things that are accomplished in a classroom.  Today I am going to blog about a failed lesson.  A Train Wreck in Slow Motion.  An Epic Fail.

It started first hour.  First hour is always the guinea pig hour.  We all know it is true.  Rarely do I do something second hour that was exactly the same as first hour.  Today we were walking through a planning page for an argument essay.

Me:  Step 4 is where you will write your thesis statement.
Students (blank looks):  I don't know what that is.
Me:  Hmm.  You know, the thesis statement.  I know you know what one is as you all wrote essays in 5th grade.
Students (more confused looks):  We didn't do that.
Me:  Hmm.  Welllll, I am going to have to talk with your 5th grade teacher to find out what vocabulary she used.  I know as soon as I say that magic word, you will all know exactly what I mean.  In the meantime, let me give you a thesis statement.

At this moment several things went through my mind. 
  1. I know better than to assume.
  2. I should have made the time to visit with the 5th grade teacher about what she had taught last year.
  3. I should have modeled more of the writing.  I was rushing because I wanted the three-day weekend to grade the essays.
  4. I was going to have to change the rubric.
  5. I have to do this five more times today.  How can I fix this?
By the time second hour rolled around, I decided it would be okay that I was giving them the thesis statement.  There are many components to an essay, focus could easily be shifted to other areas.  

By the end of third hour, I was chalking this up to a learning experience.  I learned many things NOT to do/assume again.  To make peace with the time my students and I invested in this assignment, it was decided to use it as a pre-test.  Essays will be graded as more of a completion grade, and data will be used, in the form of their written words, to make instructional decisions.  Analysis started as I was helping students edit rough drafts on Friday.

Things They Know
Lesson Plans to Create
Basic sentence structure
Thesis statements  J 
Using transition words effectively
Indenting paragraphs
Subject-Verb agreement
Staying on topic
Counterpoints (argument writing)
Citing sources (more did than didn’t)

How to write a hook/attention grabber

 Both lists will have several additions once I sit down with their final drafts next week. 

Thinking about it later, there are ways the experience could have been the Epic Fail I first claimed it was.
  • Playing the blame game 
    • These students just don't care...
    • If those teachers in 5th grade would have...
    • The parents need to step it up and help their children more...
  • Scrapping the assignment after first hour 
  • Giving up on writing.  I mean, really, I'm not a tested subject after all.
Thankfully, those are not the thoughts that ran through my head.  I have always believed that self-reflection is a crucial step in improvement. There are many directions my Thursday-Friday could have taken.  I will admit, there was a brief pity-party until my teammates reminded me it wasn't really an Epic Fail.  Information was gathered and lessons were learned.  

This time it was the teacher that learned the most.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Informal vs Formal Language - Creating Anchor Lessons

Wow!  The beginning of the year is off to a fantastically furious start.  I wanted to post about my first days back in the classroom, but I was a little overwhelmed trying to figure everything out!

I would like to share a lesson I did on Tuesday.  Starting the year with memorable Anchor Lessons that are referred to all year is a successful tip from my Pre-AP Training.

Since my class is English, and I want the students to use formal language when writing and speaking, I created a lesson on informal vs formal language.

As I posted about earlier, my lessons always follow the Daily Elements of MAX Teaching.

The first question involved simply thinking about what the term Formal Language meant.

Students then completed a sentence sort.  Each pair received 20 sentences.  They were to each take 10 and sort them into Formal and Informal.  After the individual sort was complete, students were able to work together to put all 20 sentences into the correct categories.  

After students worked with examples of informal and formal sentences, they completed the next task.

They LoVeD writing on the board.  

I snapped a quick picture of each hour's information so I could combine the ideas on an Anchor Chart after school.   I think one of my favorites was "eating at a diner" for Informal and "eating at a fancy restaurant" for Formal.  And, just as an FYI, the Olive Garden is a fancy restaurant!

A discussion of Text-Message Language, Informal Language, and Formal Language was next.

Students chose a phrase and wrote it the three different ways.  After sharing with their small group, they choose one person's phrase to put on a sticky note and add to a class poster.  Again, I combined ideas from each hour to create an Anchor Chart.

The culminating activity consisted of students writing a text message, an informal private Facebook message, and a formal request to Amazon about receiving the wrong necklace for Grandma.

Students left class saying they had "fun"...which I think is a good day in the land of 6th grade!  I will use the anchor charts as reminders before we write over the next few weeks.  Later it the year I can again pull them out if informal language starts creeping its way into our classroom.

How do you teach the difference between the language registers?


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Setting Expectations, Part 2

Last week I wrote my plans for creating my "How Are We Learning?" anchor chart.  

Admittedly, as I was planning, a little part of me kept thinking that I should be the one setting the expectations.  I want students to know what I expect of them - how can I do that if they wrote the expectations?

Then this article showed up in my Facebook newsfeed - Why You Shouldn't Let Your Students Decide The Class Rules.  (Thanks to Teaching the Core for always posting great stuff!)
The unintended message students receive by taking part in creating the very boundaries of your classroom is that everything is negotiable, which then opens the floodgates to debate on matters that should only be decided by you.
With this in mind, I  made the decision to post my expectations prior to the students entering my classroom. 
By presenting your rules as non-negotiable boundaries that you put into place for the express purpose of protecting their right to learn and enjoy school, you establish yourself as a compassionate leader who puts their interests first.

My red arrow is laminated and has a piece of sticky wax on the back so that it can easily be moved as we progress through a class period.

A colleague is fond of saying "I'm never in the land of done."  These words ring so true with me.  As we continue to learn and grow as educators, we need to be willing to change our plans.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Successful Cooperative Learning - Setting Expectations

The countdown has begun!  Only 11 days until the teachers report to school, and only 13 days until the students start.  Personally, I have one child that can't wait and one child that is dreading it.

I will be using the elements of MAX Teaching in my classroom.

Because we will be learning in a variety of ways, I was excited to find this chart on Pinterest.  I would love to give credit to the teacher who created this, but the link doesn't lead to more than a picture.  

I have the poster ready for a classroom lesson.  I think it is important for students to help set expectations, so we will spend one of our first days together discussing what each of these entail.  I may even draw from my experiences working with my early elementary teacher friends and do a "Looks Like/Sounds Like" activity.

For this activity, I will use the Four Components of Successful Cooperative Learning.
  1. Each student will INDIVIDUALLY write down what each model Looks Like and Sounds Like.
  2. Students will share their ideas in SMALL GROUPS - approximately four students per group.  Students will work to determine which ideas are most important, coming to a small group consensus.
  3. The teacher will record thoughts as each small group will share one idea during a WHOLE CLASS DISCUSSION until all ideas are exhausted.  

Since I will have six sections, I will take ideas from each hour to add to the poster before laminating it.  We will refer to the completed poster often throughout the first months of school as we move through the different stages of group work.  Procedure, consistency, and having a real problem to be solved are key to making cooperative groups successful.

Monday, July 7, 2014


I've been wanting to start a blog for some time.  Quite honestly, I have been stuck on finding the perfect name.  Every time I thought of THE perfect name, I realized someone else had beat me to it.  I obviously should have started this whole blogging thing years ago.

The goal of this blog will be to share my experiences and the connections I make as I head back into the classroom.  I never intended to leave the classroom - teaching is all I have ever wanted to do.

The "When I Grow Up I Want To Be..." section of this book is the same year after year. As my friends were searching for their calling in college, frequently switching majors, I felt blessed to know exactly what I wanted to do.  

So what happened?

In December of 2010, I was provided the unique opportunity to become an Instructional Coach.  I didn't really know what an Instructional Coach would do, and I really didn't want to leave my classroom (and AWESOME group of students).  However, following the advice of a trusted mentor, I took a leap of faith.  

In June of 2012, I found myself in another opportunistic situation.  The Oklahoma State Department of Education was set to hire 60 Instructional Coaches to provide professional development to the teachers of Oklahoma.  I sent in my application, interviewed, and in July found myself among 59 amazing educators.  

(There will be more on each of these jobs later.  I don't want my first post to be too long!)

As much as I loved learning and sharing new ideas with teachers, there was something missing.  I grew jealous of the teachers walking into their buildings and into their classrooms.  I missed the connections - the relationships - that develop between a teacher and her students.  Inquiries were made about possible teaching positions, and there is no way to describe the joy in my heart when my new principal said, "I have an opening if you want to apply."

That brings me to this photo.

Just an ordinary classroom after it has been cleaned in June.  However, to me, it is like finding my way back home.  I can't wait to build connections with new students and colleagues!!!