Tag Archives: secondary education

Flexible Seating: A Reflection in Practices

8th January 2018

I have decided to start my reflection on my trial run of flexible seating with an analogy.

I have never wanted a tattoo, not because I have anything against them necessarily, I mean I have plenty of friends and family that have adorable and meaningful tattoos. I personally never wanted one because I knew that it was an expensive FOREVER investment. I just like change too much. I change my hair style, color, and cut every two to three years, I change around rooms of my own home very often (thanks hubs for all the help), and in my classroom I rotate out student work on the walls, I put up and take down holiday decorations, and I change the seating arrangements on a VERY consistent basis.

So, for me, flexible seating has been difficult for me to come to terms with – it is an investment in something pretty permanent. That THIS is how my classroom looks all the time and I can’t rearrange the furniture as easily as I could with individual desks. Now, that being said, I still really like it, but I have a feeling that I will need to add to it or take away from it often to fulfill my own personal need for change.

Unlike the tattoo, however, I can make some slight changes and adjustments which is nice. Here is what I am changing going into second semester in terms of flexible seating: 

  • Instead of students choosing a working spot for their team on a first come, first serve basis, I am going to be rotating each team through each working spot so that each team gets the opportunity to work in a variety of spots. Even though I had the rule of only one spot per week, since there are 8 spots and only 5 days in the week, some teams were just never getting the “cool” spots. I am going to rotate the table numbers that I made using the IKEA standing frames at the end of each school day. 

  • Sit-on-the-floor-on-cute-pillows-working-spot?…she gone. You can see the table and pillows in the photo at the top of this post and in the below picture you will see it has been REPLACED. The younger students (eehhh, my Freshmen) couldn’t handle it. It became the try-and-lay-down-and-sleep-on-the-floor-table and I am just NOT okay with that. No matter how many times I reminded, scolded, or just plain yelled, “SIT UP PEOPLE!”, they couldn’t manage proper seating or posture in this working spot and so it had to go. It has been replaced with a round table with four chairs. 

  • The chairs at the back bar table used to have wheels and have been replaced with regular four legged chairs. I had many wheels falling off or breaking and it wasn’t worth the upkeep at this point for me. I am going to look for some of those bands that go around the chair legs as an alternative for slight rolling for some of my students who have the need to fidget and are missing the rolling chairs. 

  • I was lucky enough to stumble upon these amazing coffee house chairs on Offer Up that a local senior living center was selling (for $10 a chair!!! And if they would have had more I would have bought more). These chairs are amazing and if you find anything like this I highly recommend them for your classroom. This has become such a favorite spot in my classroom – I mean my own teacher-PLC works here! 

Some other considerations and observations that I am going to make over the next semester are: 1) which working spot do the students work best at? and 2) where do I see a need to improve a working spot or location of the spot in the classroom? and 3) what other spots could I create that aren’t too distracting for the students in order to keep it fresh?

Overall, flexible seating has been challenging for me, mainly because it is a pretty permanent fixture in my classroom space (so if you hate change and like to leave things alone, this may be a great way to go for you). Please comment with any questions or suggestions on flexible seating for high school students, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! Hope everyone is off to a great start for second semester and Happy New Year!

10 Reasons Why

18th February 2016

10 reasons why

I was at the park the other day watching Q play with some other preschooler-aged kids when another mom started talking to me. She asked me what I did for a living and I said proudly, “I teach high school English.” She gasped (like most do) and said, “Ugh, how do you teach them? They are so rude and annoying.” I always find this response rude and annoying because I love my students. Granted they can frustrate me at times, but most of the time they are just like adults: just trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world.

So here are 10 reasons I like teaching high school kids:

  1. When they have runny noses, they find a tissue, and figure it out.

  2. They challenge me to justify my lessons and units, every.single.day which makes me a better teacher.

  3. They like my stories about my three-year-old’s antics.

  4. They are freaking funny sometimes, almost to point where I am laughing so hard I am crying.

  5. If I plan a lesson right, I can physically see their brain’s working hard and them growing as a learner and critical thinker. It makes my heart happy when I can see the light-bulb turn on.

  6. They aren’t as jaded about life, unlike most adults I know (and even myself sometimes).

  7. They live in a world filled with technology, but when I show them how to share a document using Google Docs with their partner for an essay it is like I have shown them Snapchat for the first time.

  8. They teach me “cool” lingo and remind me what I should NOT be wearing anymore. There really should be a Forever 31 though…

  9. They take constructive criticism without making it a big deal.

  10. If I place the bar high and hold them accountable, they will rise up (sometimes kicking and screaming).

Students need teachers who want them to be better for their own sake and the sake of society. I love the TED Talk by Rita Pierson that conveys that every student needs a champion – someone in their corner who will push them and make sure they succeed. I try to remember this every day, and even though I don’t always succeed or have my off or bad days, I hope my students know that I truly want them rise up and surpass any bar I give them so when they meet challenges after high school they are ready.

So, to the nice mom at the playground: Everyone is rude and annoying at some point in the day, week, month, or year and high school kids are no different. Actually, they are creative and unique individuals and one day your preschooler will be one too!


Team Throw Downs

9th March 2015

2015-02-13 09.02.43

You know when you give an essay prompt to your students and you can just tell they are struggling to come with an original thesis statement or maybe a hook for their introduction? They are sitting there, staring at the paper and the paper is winning the contest. Or, when all of a sudden the lesson is flopping and you need a quick activity or competition to get them excited about the lesson or the content again?

I am sure I am not the only teacher who has these moments where they need to “wake up” their students and get their blood pumping. I want them to be successful but I don’t want to give them all the ideas either and sometimes it is a fine line with engagement as well. So, I modified this idea from Catlin Tucker who is just simply AMAZING and if you haven’t visited her site, you are REALLY missing out.

Basically, I anytime I need a quick small group competition, I call it “Time for a Throw down.” As soon as I start to play “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor through my classroom speakers the students know they are about to enter some type of throw down competition between groups.

Here is one example:

  1. I gave my students a handout with ideas for hooks to start their essays. I then assigned a hook type to each table. The students had 5 minutes (as a group) to come up the best hook (or attention getter) using their assignment hook type for their synthesis essay prompt.
  2. Then they typed it up using a padlet.com wall address that I set up and provided to them. Padlet walls are easily set up once you do it once or twice and can be created in less than one minute if you see your lesson failing and need to quickly save it.
  3. Once each table’s hook was posted on the Padlet Wall, I showed them on my projector screen and went through and discussed their overall effectiveness and tie in with the prompt. In front of the whole class, I critiqued their work and picked the best one and it was INTENSE in there.
  4. The winner got candy (2 pieces) and a clothespin to their team shield (see Motivation Clothespins) and the losers got a Dum Dum sucker (which could be a little mean spirited but they all thought it was funny – Air Heads would work too).
  5. It took about 15-20 minutes total and I was able to get some good results. I think the students felt more comfortable about using the new hook ideas in their essays as well. I also told them they were not allowed to use any of the hooks made in class so that also gave them another challenge.

***Below is how they turned out – the prompt was about using cell phones while driving.




XO. Brit

The Super Rad Socratic

3rd February 2015

Let’s just face it, Socratic seminars are either super rad or super sad. When the students stay focused and discuss using evidence from the text and their own lives, magic happens in the English classroom; but, when you get a class that is quiet, they just stare at each other and all you hear is “crickets”. However, the whole-class graded Socratic seminar is highly rigorous and will keep your students engaged for an entire 55 minute period whether they are extroverts or introverts – I promise!

First, I set my classroom up with three Socratic circles – from the center circle out, there should be a chair behind each student (as the students are going to rotate up and out).

2015-01-30 13.41.01

Second, as the students come into class, I tell them to pick a circle to sit in: inner, middle, or outer and I give them a one word descriptor for each so they can decide to sit based on what they think is their strength in argument writing (i.e. inner – thesis, middle – evidence, outer – TOES (which I use as a short way to say: types of evidence (literature, current event, history, pop culture, personal anecdote, social observations, etc.).

Third, once the students have chosen their seats and I then hand out a class set of directions, similar to the below, and verbally talk them through the directions.

Of Mice and Men Satire

Graded Socratic Seminar

Whole-Class Essay Outline


1. Inner circle will be creating the thesis statement with two “prongs” (i.e. two body paragraphs) that will answer the following prompt (when finished, they will move out of the circle to the back circle, pair up, and will create full circle hook/closure options while circle 2 and 3 go): – 10 min.


After reading “Girl Moved to Tears by Of Mice and Men Cliffs Notes” and examining the satirical cartoon, outline an essay defending or refuting whether satire is an effective way to deliver a message.

2. Center circle will be choosing the (four) 4 pieces textual evidence ((two) 2 for each body paragraph) from the article/cartoon that help support the thesis statement chosen in circle 1. 15 min.

3. Outer circle will be coming up with (two) 2 TOES (types of evidence  (literature, current event, history, pop culture, personal anecdote, social observations, etc.), USING YOUR PHONE if necessary, that will help support the thesis chosen and pair well with circle 2’s chosen evidence in the body paragraphs. 15 min.

  1. 2015-01-29 13.22.22

    Thus, at the end of the hour, the outline below (that I write for them on the front white board) should be completely filled.



Body 1: Reason

Evidence (article/cartoon)

Evidence (article/cartoon)


Body 2: Reason

Evidence (article/cartoon)

Evidence (article/cartoon)




2015-02-02 11.28.45 2015-02-02 11.28.50

Basically, I do not run Socratic seminar, the students do.

Here are some teacher pointers:

  • At the end of the hour, I review the white board with their whole-class determined outline and I talk them through their strengths and weaknesses and then I score it on an AP 1-9 scale right in front of them. The entire class gets the same score in the grade book.
  • Make sure each circle nominates a “scribe” to write their ideas down on the white board (they can still contribute to the discussion from the front of the room).
  • I tell each circle when their time is up (and I literally time them on my phone, when I have not done this they run out of time) and they rotate up and out.
  • I remind them that if they are not in the center circle at that moment then they must be silent and listening to their peers.

Post a comment with any questions,

XO. Brit

The Weirdo, Jerk, and Good Friend

15th January 2015

One of the main pushes with Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards is for students to be able to synthesize sources as evidence to back up their own argumentative claim. This concept is difficult for students to understand as they haven’t really had to use sources in this way before. In the past, my students would research their own source evidence about a topic they chose or I chose for them and would write an explanatory paper about it. Synthesis takes sources from a variety of perspectives on a certain topic and provides those to the students. The student must then “join the conversation” of the sources, come up with their own original stance on the topic (cannot be the same claim that the sources have already said), and the use the sources to back up or support their original claim. Synthesis is more argumentative than the research paper a sophomore in high school typically engages in (not to say research papers cannot be argumentative).

wierdo To make the process of synthesis make sense to my students, I use the analogy of a conversation happening at a lunch table. I tell my students to pretend they are at lunch with their friends and they are all talking about cheese. One friend likes Cheddar, the other Swiss, a third maybe Parmesan and all of a sudden their friend walks up and sits down at the table and decides to start recording them with their phone (doesn’t contribute just records the cheese conversation) and when asked what their opinion is, they just smile and play back the recording of their peer’s conversation. I ask the students how they feel about this, and they all say things like “awkward” or “weird” and I say EXACTLY! You don’t want to be “the weirdo.” In your synthesis essay, you don’t want to be the student who just restates what the sources have already said because then you are not original, you are just “the weirdo”.

images Then, I have them imagine the same scenario above but instead, replace the weirdo with a friend that sits down and interrupts the cheese conversation, is abrasive, and just switches the topic of conversation with something that is slightly related to cheese but really is about condiments on a sandwich. The students usually laugh at this, but when I ask them how they would feel about it they say “that kid is rude” and I said, YEP! You don’t want to be “the jerk.” In your synthesis essay, you don’t want to completely disregard or misuse the sources as they may lead you away from the prompt, your claim must be original but must be on topic, otherwise you are “the jerk.”

good friend Finally, I say to them now, what does a “good” friend look like in comparison to “the weirdo” or “the jerk?” I let them discuss at their tables for a moment and then solicit responses. Usually one table comes to the right conclusion: You want to be the “good friend” that sits down, listens to the conversation, and then adds in your own opinion taking the other opinions into consideration and using them to support why really, Gouda is the best. This is what you do with synthesis. If every source in your packet is a friend talking at the lunch table, what parts of that conversation best support your position on that same topic of conversation?

Once my students understand their role in the synthesis conversation, writing their paper gets a little easier. I hope that this helps you in explaining synthesis to your students.

XO. Brit