Category Archives: Teaching

Flexible Seating: A Trial Run

19th October 2017

Happy October!

Well gang, I made the transition over fall break to a flexible seating arrangement for my Honors Sophomore and Freshmen English classes. I am unsure if it will be successful or I will even like it but with all the research, hype, and beautiful pictures on Pinterest and Instagram, I wanted to give it a go and shake up my teaching practices at this point in my educational career.

What is flexible seating?

A classroom with flexible seating looks different from a traditional classroom that only uses desks and chairs. Items such as pillows, stools, standing tables, lowered tables, etc. are used to allow students to have options for where their teams sits that class period in order for their team to have the best working environment for learning. The goal of flexible eating is to give students choice and create a more collaborative culture for the 21st century learner.

How will flexible seating be introduced?

At the beginning of second quarter, I reviewed the expectations for the students and the different seating options. I spent time teaching them what the learning should look like when they are using the seats correctly and how to best take care of them. I rotated the teams through each working spot (for about a week) to give them an opportunity to experience the different options in our classroom before they begin to choose their own spots for their team.

What makes it flexible?

There are many different options for seating, but you will notice that all options still allow for a work space for students. Almost all of the seating choices are still placed at tables and individual desks are still available for any student that shows me they need a bit more structure (or less choice).

I have researched the benefits: it empowers students, increases student engagement, and prepares them for real-world working environments. If all goes well this year, I may look at balance ball chair options or even bean bag chairs! CRAZY!

How will it work with the Bingold Cup Teams?

It took some thought into how I would keep my classroom teams (click link above for information on my team challenges) into the equation of this new seating.

I decided that the students will have choice but fairness.

Each day a team member will pick up their team’s number by the door (from the stand pictured below) and will “claim their working spot” for that class period. However, once that team chooses that spot, they must choose a different spot the rest of the week.

Therefore they can only use the “couch spot” once a week, the “floor spot” once a week, etc. The students seemed to think this was a fair way to do it and that their team could be in a totally different working spot each day of the week which they liked but also they are still working all quarter as a team on group work and team challenges and there is comfort and familiarity there. 

So far the students love it, but it has only been a few days and we haven’t gotten into the “meat” of the curriculum for quarter two yet. I love it in theory, but I am so nervous about how it will go in actual practice and if it will truly help my kids be more collaborative and successful or if it will be just a pretty classroom arrangement.

I will keep the blog updated on how this shift is going in my classroom. 

Wish me luck!

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Back to School Shenanigans

15th August 2017

Welcome back teacher friends. I hope that your summer was restful and fun. I know mine was. I can’t believe how fast it went and that my daughter is in KINDERGARTEN and my baby boy is off to DAYCARE. It has been a rocky transition into our new routines (I am teaching 5 classes straight, talk about rocky…) but I think we are finally in the groove now. I will miss hanging all day with these two cuties though…

Well, I am in week three of back to school and there are three things that I am loving so far this school year that I wanted to share: a tool, an idea, and a strategy:

  1. Letsrecap.com

  2. Worst Essay Ever Baseline Essays

  3. My Favorite “No”

1. NEW TOOL – Letsrecap.com

This is going to be a game changer guys, I can just feel it. This website allows you to post a question to a class “Queue” and have the students respond in 15, 30, or 60 second video clips! It also allows them to post a written response, comment on each other’s responses and videos, and allows the videos or written responses to be private as well just to the teacher. Can you tell I am pumped? Last week I rolled this out on a whim after finding it on Pinterest the night before.

My Honors Sophomore students and I had close read the poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts” by Theresa Acosta together as a class under the document camera. But then we had a Chromebook roll out, Link Crew Assembly, and Student Policy contracts all run through ENGLISH CLASSES the rest of the week so it was three days between when I first taught the poem and the class period I wanted to build an analysis lesson off of it. So, I decided to have the students go on a “Walk and Talk” and review the strategies, tone, and theme of the poem with a partner or small group as they walked around the campus. At the end of their walk and talk, I told them they had to post a 30 second video to letsrecap.com (it gives you a login pin when you create the queue) with what they thought was the author’s most effective strategy she used to develop her overall message and why they chose that strategy. They FREAKED OUT. They didn’t want to film themselves but they reluctantly agreed! I told them they had 10 minutes to walk, talk, and post and they needed to be back in class.

When they returned, I told them that based on the strategy they chose for the video they needed to write an analytical statement that connected the strategy to the audience and theme. They got to work right away following the formula I taught them when they returned. They then posted their analysis attempt right under their videos!!! When I went to grade them, I was able to listen to the videos to see where their heads were at and to see if that translated into a written analytical statement. It was fascinating to compare their verbal responses to their written and it was a fun way to break up the normal warm-up routine.

I am also thinking of using this as a way to record a recap of their literature circle warm-ups on their independent novels. Easy to only grade 8 tables videos instead of 34 individual student videos. I highly recommend looking into this – the “how to” video tutorials are also amazing and there are more features that I haven’t even attempted yet!

  1. NEW IDEA – Worst Essay Ever Baseline Essays

Normally I always give a baseline essay prompt to all my classes to see what I am working with this year as far as my student’s skill levels. I think a lot of us do this and I think it is a good teaching practice. However, my colleague ran across this article and it made me stop in my tracks. I thought I would give it a shot with my Honors Sophomore students and boy, was IT A HIT. I gave the students eight sources the night before to read and annotate and told them they would have a timed synthesis baselines essay tomorrow in which they would receive the prompt at the beginning of the hour and would have an hour to finish. They panicked a little but I told them to trust me.

When they entered class the next day and grabbed the prompt that said: “using at least three sources, answer the prompt by writing the worst essay you have ever written”, they just busted up laughing. I told them they needed to think of five major writing mistakes and incorporate them strategically into their essay of at least four paragraphs. They were energized, smiling, and ready to write —- who knew?

However, halfway through writing it they were struggling. I was hearing, “this is harder than I thought” and “my brain is fighting itself.” Which is exactly what I wanted. The next day, they presented their essays to their teams and then completed the reflection included in the blog post article link above. They had to really think through what good writing is in order to be able to break the rules in a horrible essay. I then gave them the real prompt and told them they had two days to type it and submit it to turnitin.com. They were much more ready to write after reviewing what NOT TO DO and the typed essays still needed work but weren’t the result of summer brain.

  1. OLD STRATEGY, NEW USE – My Favorite No

I have used this strategy before but never consistently and so far I have used it twice with my classes this school year and I think I am going to continue it, I am seeing a lot of “light bulbs” go on and improvement in their writing already. Even though this video is a math example, I use it for English when practicing a new type of writing or working through thesis statements, hooks, topic sentences, closures, whatever they are struggling with really.

In this case, I took the analytical statement posts from the letsrecap.com lesson and found my “favorite” – the one that was the closest to what I wanted from them. I then found four or five that were my “favorite no’s” – the ones that made the mistakes that most of the partner pairs made and that I wanted to review so that they could correct them. I copied them into a Google Doc and then commented on what I would change or fix. I posted this to Google Classroom and also went over it in class and talked them through them (especially some of my more snarky comments since they don’t really know that they are from a loving place yet).

They were laughing at their mistakes and nodding their heads in my responses and comments. I also allowed them to rewrite their original analytical statements and post their improved statements based on my feedback to the comments under their original post on letsrecap.com. It was awesome for them to see their video (where the train started), their original post (where the train got off the tracks a bit), and their improved post (where the train arrived at its destination).

These three have really made my missing-my-kiddos-back-to-school-blues vanish. I hope if you need them that they do the same for you!

Tending to Your “Plant”

9th May 2017

I taught A Raisin in the Sun to my Junior English class to wrap up their The Shape of America year long theme with the central idea of this quarter being: The Pursuit of Happiness and the essential question being: what happens when our dreams are deferred?

I had never taught Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun before this quarter and I have to say that it has become my favorite play to teach. Here are my two reasons: 1) It actually has a happy ending, unlike most of the American Literature I taught this year (The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible) and 2) It lends itself to activities that get the students thinking about their goals, dreams, and their own pursuit of happiness.

One of the activities I did with the students was to create their own plant that represented their goals and dreams for a happy life. Just like Mama in the play, they were to “tend” to this plant throughout the duration of Act I and II of the play. When I introduced the assignment, we talked about how is human nature to dream about the future, and research shows that people who set goals for their future are far more successful than those who don’t.

I discussed with them how I felt goal setting is not about setting hard deadlines or writing your future in stone; instead, goal setting is about identifying what needs to be accomplished in your life in order to achieve your dreams, with the flexibility to adjust yourself along the way. Goals are lights at the end of a tunnel; sometimes the lights go out and reappear in a different direction, other times they lead you out and into a new life. No matter what, goals keep you facing forward, they keep your chin up in hard times, and ultimately, they move you forward into your life as an active participant.

With this in mind, my students created their plant. I had them bring in an empty tissue box filled with dry rice or beans, two sheets of tissue paper, and an empty paper-towel roll. I purchased enough pipe cleaners to make the tissue paper flowers and used card-stock that I have in my classroom already.

Here are the directions given to the students:

Task #1:Using card-stock or construction paper, cut out squares/rectangles to fit all four sides of your tissue box neatly; then, write on the top 4th of each square a corresponding goal for the criteria listed below:

  • Side 1:  Goal for your senior year
  • Side 2: Goal for the next five years
  • Side 3: Goal for your career/family
  • Side 4: Goal for your own pursuit of happiness (American Dream)

Task #2: Coming into class periodically throughout the reading of Act I and II of A Raisin in the Sun, you will draw a ‘chance’ card. That card will either be a benefit or a disadvantage to one of your goals. You will document your success/tragedy AND your response on the corresponding goal side of the tissue box. Highlight your response in a color of your choice.

Task #3: At the end of Raisin in the Sun, and after your goals have weathered their ‘storms,’ you are going to look for patterns in the way you responded to your different chance cards and create your own personal credo using the handout given to you. You will then construct your plant in your tissue box.

The paper towel will be your stem, your leaves will be made out of construction paper and will have your personal credos on them, and your flower is something appealing to you reminding you of the beauty of life, made out of tissue paper at the top.

Every few days my students would come into class have draw a ‘chance’ card that would affect their goals on their plant. They would have to “tend” to their plant and determine how they would respond when their “dreams were deferred.” My awesome PLC helped to create several ‘chance’ cards for the students to pick up. They included many topics that truly could happen to their goals in the future. Here are a same of a few:

Senior Year

You are having troubles at home as you begin to exert more independence. 

Next 5 years

You have begun training for the career you have always dreamed of, but as you start taking the courses you realize you are not interested in this career at all. 

Career/Family

You are laid off from your job and other people depend on your salary. 

Pursuit of Happiness

You travel to a different country and decide you want to move there. 

The students enjoyed seeing what life might throw at them as they picked these cards at random.

Once we were through Act III of the play, I read an excerpt from Robert Fulghum entitled “All I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” After we read this piece, we discussed the different between a precept that has driven our behaviors from a small child and a personal credo that must drive how we want to live as an adult – something to keep in mind as we weather our storms.  I even gave them my personal credos as a sample (see below). The students put their credos on green leaves a taped them to the stem of their plant.

  1. Work first, play second, and play hard
  2. Early is on time and on time is late
  3. Be kind to everyone, even if they suck
  4. Be kind to yourself, you are enough
  5. Get yourself together
  6. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
  7. Less is more – simplify
  8. Surround yourself with people who get it
  9. Sometimes you must be quiet and just listen
  10. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate
  11. Worrying does nothing, love does everything
  12. Drink the coffee, do the things
  13. Have impromptu dance parties in the living room
  14. Be better than yesterday

The end result of this plant project was amazing and the tie back to Mama taking her plant with her at the end of the play and my students taking their plants home was a great way to wrap up the school year…and my classroom was certainty in “full bloom” for Spring.

A Satire Notes Scavenger Hunt

27th March 2017

I hate lecturing the entire hour. I mean it, I HATE IT, and I bore myself; I can actually hear myself droning in the Peanut’s voice and as I see my student’s eyes glazing over; it is an out of body experience for sure. I just feel like I am not doing my job well.

Let me set this up, my AP Language and Composition students are going to be reading The Great Gatsby this last quarter and because we have yet to go over satire and satirical elements this year (since I was out on maternity leave), I have decided to attempt to have them read the novel as a satire…a blog post for another day.

So, to start off fourth quarter I needed to introduce them to 22 satirical elements, in a PowerPoint, the first week back, blah, blah, bleck. Instead, I decided to opt for them to do the work which benefits both parties, I think. I asked each table to split into pairs with each pair being assigned a satirical element. I have two classes so this covered all the elements well.

Here are the poster requirements:

TASK: With a partner at your table, please design a small poster that represents your assigned satirical element.

Your poster must include:

  1. Name of satirical element

  2. Definition of satirical element

  3. A visual that uses said element (satirical cartoon or political cartoon; drawn or printed from internet)

  4. A WWWH (my version of a rhetorical precis) statement that analyzes how the device used in the visual impacts that argument/goal of the visual

2nd Hour topics:

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 6 Table 7
Caricature Deflation Euphemism Hyperbole Irony Non-sequitur
Colloquialism Disparagement Incongruity Malapropism Litotes Sarcasm


6th Hour topics:

Table 1 Table 3 Table 4 Table 6 Table 7
Knaves and Fools Paradox Pun Stereotyping Wit
Oxymoron Parody Invective Understatement Lampoon

I then gave them one day in class to create their poster together. I provided them with half a poster paper and some markers, etc. It HAD to be done by the end of the hour so it put the pressure on them a bit to learn their element quickly and use it to analyze the visual I had them find and bring into class for homework the night before (also this is much needed practice for the synthesis prompt question 1). They finished it in the 55 minutes fine and I collected them.  ***As they were working on the posters, I was coming up with riddles for 8 locations around my campus – some where to the front office, some were to other teachers classrooms, others to random hallways, etc.

After school, I went around and put 1 to 4 of their posters at each location with the riddle to the next location. It was easy enough. I texted them that night using REMIND.com to wear tennis shoes and that I would highly recommend not wearing a skirt or dress. This I think peaked the curiosity for class which is always fun.

When they came into class, I provided them with a note sheet chart with the satirical element name, a place to write the definition of the element off the poster, and a place to describe the visual (political cartoons that uses said element).

Here were the instructions on my front screen:

1.Send one team member at a time to retrieve ALL the Satire Notes at the station and get the clue to the next location.

2.When the team member returns with notes, tell another team member the next location clue and that person leaves to go get notes.

3.The person that just came in then teaches the remaining members the satire elements they found at their location and the team tries to find them in the piece. The piece I gave them to read and annotate was “Road Warrior” by Dave Barry.

4. The first team to show me completed notes by all team members WINS TWO CLOTHESPINS, the second team will WIN ONE! (For information on my motivational clothespins click here). 

It took the entire hour but by the end I had a winning team and everyone had their notes that we can now use to analyze several short satirical pieces, including A Modest Proposal, and they had a blast, although I wouldn’t recommend it in hot weather!

I think I will do this at least once a year with all my classes on something that was a note-taking or vocabulary type lesson and turn it into something active, competitive, and engaging. What a great way to kick off Quarter 4, and on Friday no less.

 

 

Using Blackout Poetry to Discover Thematic Subjects

10th March 2017

My juniors are going to be reading the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry next quarter. In order to introduce the theme of fourth quarter, The Pursuit of Unending Happiness, I decided to show them this TED TALK by Dan Gilbert.

In this TED TALK, Gilbert describes why synthetic happiness, the happiness that comes about from “being stuck” with what you have and “watering your own grass” so-to-speak, is actually better than the natural happiness we think we get from the freedom to choose our own happiness. It is a more scientific approach to something abstract and with it being only 20 minutes, it was a great lead-in to the unit as the characters in the play move from what they think will bring them natural happiness to what they ultimately receive in the end, synthetic happiness. As students watched the talk, I asked them to take notes using this note-sheet.

To bring my students into this synthetic happiness experiment, I gave them all different excerpts of the play photocopied onto printer paper (I did not, however, give them any pages from Act 3 as to not give away the ending of the play before we even read it.) If you really want to know I gave them pages 510, 521,498, 503, and 530 from this PDF. They were “stuck” with their page. They were not allowed to change pages with other students or get another one from the stack by the door. They were not too happy about this.

I then used Laura Randazzo’s Blackout Poetry Prezi to introduce them to Blackout Poetry. I told them they were to create their own Blackout Poem using their excerpt from the play and in the end we will see if they are happy with their end result (spoiler alert: they totally were). The TED Talk and Prezi took an entire 55 minute class period.

The next class period, they worked feverishly on their poems; some students “got it” right away and others were agonizing over making their’s perfect. When they felt they messed up, I gave them a new page of their same excerpt to start over. They blacked out, boxed words, designed images, and frankly were so engaged I had to do it myself along with them!

Here are some samples:

When they were finished, we presented them in class and they were SO amazing and they really cheered for each other’s poems and commented on how awesome they all were. It was the perfect way to end the week before Spring Break and a much needed break from essay writing and test prep.

What they don’t realize is that without even knowing it, most of them pulled out words from the passages that are thematic subjects in the play: alcohol, money, religion, freedom, inner demons, mistakes, and happiness. When we get back from break, I will discuss these concepts with them before we read the play.

I am hoping that as we read the play together they will recognize their page from this activity and feel a connection to the piece outside of the story because they made it a piece of themselves.

Fear Tactics Presentation

12th December 2016

While I was away on maternity leave, my long-term sub taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Johnathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to my on-level junior classes. She did a great job and the students had working knowledge of both pieces when I returned and questioned them.

However, since the theme of the quarter is “The Manipulation of Man,” I wanted to round out the quarter and confirm what they learned while I was away.

Could they apply their knowledge of past “crucibles” and the use of fear tactics in that society to modern “crucibles” and use of fear tactics today?

We began the class period with this article and discussed how social media has become a place where fear tactics are used from politicians to friends at your school. The students read and annotated the piece and then looked at several tweets from Donald Trump as well as tweets from Hillary Clinton (as this election is such a hot topic and great example of both sides using fear tactics). I then had the class brainstorm some modern day “crucibles” as a table and post them to a class Padlet, the most prominent being Islamophobia, but overall this served to be a huge challenge for them.

I provided the students with their partner presentation assignment and sent them off to research fear tactics in modern day speeches, advertisements, campaigns, etc. They also went hunting online for other “witch hunts” in modern day crucibles and what they found was amazing, but it took some research which I liked. I was happy they didn’t just type in “modern day crucible” into Google and immediately get examples, this assignment made them think first and find second instead of the other way around.

Overall, I liked how the assignment synthesized for them the pieces they read in class and also forced them to use their researching skills and connect to the real world. It was a nice way to lead into their explanatory synthesis writing final on tools of manipulation in society.

I hope you all have a fantastic Winter Break and a very Merry Christmas!