January 2016 - Room 213

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I have many things to celebrate right now, one of which is the close of a successful semester with my students. It's always sad to see them move on, but it's also fun to start again. One of the great things about teaching high school is that we get a fresh start in the middle of the winter, with a whole new group of students. It keeps us energized and it helps the winter fly by.

However, this new start isn't quite as easy as the one we get in September.  We aren't going into it rested after days of reading and relaxing on the beach; instead, we're worn out after getting our kids ready for exams, marking all of those papers, AND planning for the new semester. It's a crazy busy time of year for high school teachers, so I want to show my appreciation for all that you do by offering you a chance to win a $75 gift certificate to my store--it might help take some of the busy away.

I'd also like to take this time to thank all of you who follow me here on the blog and on TpT.  I appreciate all of the feedback, comments and encouragement.  Thanks for that and good luck with the rest of your school year!

Please fill in the form for a chance to win the shopping spree in my store. Winner will be announced Sunday, February 7th.

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Formative Feedback...After the Essay

My eleventh grade IB students just wrote their final assessment for first semester, a 1500 word essay based on a prompt that required them to find a link between two of the texts we read this semester. We've been hammering away at the skills they need to do well in the final IB assessments next year, and this was the first "practice" exam they did with me. There was some success...and there was some not-so-great work.  Luckily, we get to continue together next semester, while the regular academic classes start anew, and these essays give me a good look at the work that still needs to be done - and an opportunity to give them some descriptive formative feedback.
Students need a chance to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses-not just a mark on the top of the paper

I make a lot of notes to myself when I mark these essays, notes that help guide me for the rest of the year. They let me know what we can move on from and what skills need more work. It was very clear that my students had the structure of the essay down, but their discussion of literary features and their effect (a big component of IB English) was pretty weak.

Students need a chance to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses-not just a mark on the top of the paperWhen I gave back their papers, I projected a "notes to self" image on the overhead screen.  I asked them to read over my comments and record what they did well, as well as what they need to work on. Then, I had them choose a paragraph from their essays to redo.  They filled out the organizer on the left with their thesis and topic sentence, as well as point form notes from the paragraph they wanted to rewrite.  Most importantly, they copied my feedback.  I asked them to do a rewrite using this sheet, not the original paragraph, because when students have the original, they are much more likely to try to just change a few words here and there. I wanted them to start from scratch, using the feedback I gave them, in the hopes that they can do a better job.

Usually, when we give back essays with a summative mark, that's the end of the learning.  We'd love to think that all of our students hang on our every word of advice, internalizing all the feedback so as to improve for next time. Not quite.  Most look at the mark only, and shove the paper into the bowels of their lockers or binders, never to be seen again. When we ask them to do something immediate with the feedback, as I'm doing this time, there's a much greater chance they will use it to improve their writing. I'm certainly hoping so anyway!

Second semester starts next Wednesday, and I'm already making plans for focusing on the skills the IB's are lacking.  Week one is going to be a "Lit Feature Blitz" so we can begin the work we need to do in that area.  What a party that will be. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Follow Room 213's board Formative Assessment Ideas on Pinterest.

Revision Reminders

My students are busy finishing their final assessments as the semester closes.  All my classes end with a written assignment and a presentation, rather than a traditional exam, so students have a chance to put their everything (I hope) into revising and editing their final products.

We've done a lot of work on writing over the semester, and I'm hoping they will remember all that I've taught them as they create their final essays.  I made these visuals to project on the overhead as they work on their assignments in class tomorrow. I will project the first one as they read over their essays, looking at the content.  Then, I will change to the second slide and have them look at their language choices.

I thought I'd share. You can grab the Powerpoint HERE. Enjoy!

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Helping Teens Manage Stress

It's a stressful time of year for high school students. The semester is ending and exams are quickly approaching. Those who did little all year are in full blown panic mode (or should be) and the over-achievers are little balls of stress, worried that they won't be able to reach their goals.  And, of course, there are those who could use just a little stress...but that's another story.

For my IB class, exams came early.  Because they have more courses than our other students, they can't fit all of their exams in during the exam week.  We always have one or two of their exams outside of the block, and this year, it was mine.  Now this particular IB class does stress better than any group I've had before. They wallow in it. They obsess about it.  They get themselves curled into little balls of I can't do this I suck I'm gonna fail. You get the picture.

So, I decided to take five minutes before we started to do a little meditation with them, to see if I could get them a little more relaxed before they began. I had my youtube video all cued up and my speech planned about the importance of relaxation. Then, they began to arrive.  Every one walked through the door with a statement like: I'm so stressed.  I think I'm going to be sick.  I can't do this.  It was worse than I thought!

I got them settled and we did some guided meditation for five minutes.  After the first uncomfortable giggles, they seemed to buy into it, and I could literally see some faces relax. Not all, but enough to see that it was a worthwhile exercise.

I also talked to them about the all importance of breathing.  It's an involuntary process, but many of us don't do it very well.  I get myself in trouble all the time because I'm taking shallow breaths and getting all clenched inside.  When I remind myself to take slow, even breathes, the stress literally falls away... most of some of it anyway.

After the exam was over, many of them shared that the pep talk and meditation beforehand really helped. So, I've decided to make mindfulness a part of my classroom routine.  Here are some ways I hope to lessen the stress level in my teens:

1. Stop and breathe: it's the simplest and easiest way to go.  If we're doing an assignment or assessment that I know is causing a bit of anxiety, I'll remind them to breath. I'll remind them to slow it down and take deep breaths from their abdomens.

2. Stand and stretch: Stretching helps relax tense muscles.  Getting students to do so takes so little time but will reap great benefits.

3. Two minute stress-out: Sometimes we just need to vent. If you know stress levels are high, give students two minutes to get it all out with a partner. Once the two minutes are over, have them breathe or stretch and then get back to work.

4. Play relaxing music: It's a well known fact that music can be used for stress relief. But what's the best kind to play?  Experiment with your class and find out what works best for them.  Work together to create a playlist of relaxing music you can listen to as a class--or let them use their earbuds to listen to their own.

5. Share your own stress and strategies for dealing with it: Teach your students that stress is normal and that there are ways to deal with it.  As with everything else, be a good role model for your students.

Have a relaxing new semester!

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Planning to be sick? It's actually a great idea. Get plans ready for a substitute so when that day happens, you are ready to go!It seems like an odd thing to do: plan to be sick.  In fact, those of us who work in germ factories hope to avoid it at all costs.  But it happens, precisely because we do work in germ factories.  Twenty-thirty bodies jammed in one hot room, using the same door knob, pencil sharpener and desks often means that we are sharing more than our knowledge.  So we need to go on hoping, but we also have to plan for that inevitable day when we wake up sick, with no lesson plan.

PLANNING AHEAD Planning to be sick? It's actually a great idea. Get plans ready for a substitute so when that day happens, you are ready to go!What can you do to plan ahead, when you really don't know what you will be doing in class at that point?  Well, the first thing you can do is create a binder that has your class list, seating plans, class procedures, etc. Keep it easily accessible near your desk, so on those days when you have no energy (or coherent thoughts), you don't have to spend anytime relaying that information.  I have all of mine in a binder right at my desk (it wasn't there yet when I took this picture!) You can grab the cover and spine I made for my binder: HERE

Ok, so your sub knows everyone's name and where they sit, but roll call will only fill a few minutes. What then?  Well, you can have a few one period lessons copied in the binder, ones that you don't need to do, but would keep the kids occupied and learning while you are gone.   You could include:

1. Grammar exercises

2. Writing activities that could be done at any time.

3. Interesting magazine or newspaper articles that they could read, discuss and respond to. (Here are some links you might want to check out:  New York TimesTime Magazine,  Kelly Gallagher's article of the week)

4. If technology allows, there are many amazing TED talks that students could watch and discuss.

For both the articles and the videos, include a sheet of instructions that the sub could use.  Students might be asked to summarize important points, write a detailed response or rebuttal, or they could do some creative writing based on the topic you have chosen.  It would take you a bit of time to create these, but it would be time well spent.  On the days when you need to stay in bed, they will be in your sub binder, ready to be copied, and you can rest, knowing your class will have something meaningful to do.

Planning to be sick? It's actually a great idea. Get plans ready for a substitute so when that day happens, you are ready to go!But what if you are at a place in your semester when you just can't give the kids a "filler" exercise?  What if you need to keep moving and keep them working on the text they have been studying?  What do you do to keep the ball rolling while you get your must needed rest?  Leave one of your great ideas in the comments --or a tip for staying healthy--and you will get a chance to win my Emergency Sub Plans, a product that has adaptable lesson ideas that focus on the texts that students are actually studying.

Stay healthy and check the linky below to get more great ideas:


Getting Ready to Debate

My students are beginning preparations for debates, and are busy bouncing around ideas and doing some initial research. In the meantime, I'm planning mini-lessons to help them build the skills they need to be successful.

One area that tends to be the weakest for them is the rebuttal process.  They anticipate arguments and prepare to refute them, but the skill of thinking on the fly is one that takes some time to build.  How many of us, for example, have thought of the best response to someone's argument, well after the fact?

In order to prep them a little for the process, I come up with light topics and spend five-ten minutes at the first of each class working on building arguments and rebuttals.

Get your students ready for debating, with a series of quick debates.

First, I project a statement on the screen and ask them to quickly decide if they agree or disagree.  Then, they need to jot down two reasons to support their stance.
Get your students ready for debating, with a series of quick debates.
Next, I ask for a volunteer who agreed with the statement to explain two reasons why s/he supports it. Before they do so, I tell students to listen to the volunteer's reasoning, and to try to write at least one rebuttal for the argument.
Get your students ready for debating, with a series of quick debates.
Once the volunteer has presented an argument, students offer counter-arguments.  At that point, I just let them go, trading points and rebuttals.  Because the topics are light and ones most can relate to, they are usually able to offer a response and we end up with a rapid-fire mini-debate.  
Get your students ready for debating, with a series of quick debates.
My hope is that after doing this a few times, they will feel more confident with thinking up rebuttals during our debates, when the topics are much more in-depth.  I'll just have to wait and see.

You can find more ideas for debate here.


Get Your Students Focused After The Break

Starting back to class after Christmas break can be an exercise in frustration. Finals are looming and you're looking out at the blank faces of students who have been used to sleeping in and doing what they want for the past few weeks. And there you are, faced with the tasks of finishing your curriculum and preparing them for final assessments.

I don't have a magic wand to make that all go away, but I do have two activities that you can use on the first day back. Both attempt to get the students focused on their upcoming assessments and do so in a way that will get them talking and moving around --and hopefully awake.

You can grab it HERE.  I hope it helps! All the best as you go back to class in 2016.


Learning Stations: One of my Favourites from 2015

Learning stations are perfect for engaging middle and high school students in real learning
One of the biggest changes I made to my routine in 2015 was to use learning stations in my high school classroom.  The first one was created out of necessity.  I had been sick for a number of days in September and felt like I hadn't given my students enough direction for using their reader's notebooks.  I decided to make some stations to get them focused, and we all liked the activity so much that I went station crazy, and made a whole lot more.

Every time I create a new learning station, I think about a skill or concepts that I want my students to work on or understand. Then, I break the skills or ideas down into chunks to create the task cards.  For example, after we finished Macbeth, I wanted my students to organize all of their notes in terms of character development and theme.  Each station had them focus on either a major character or the themes of the play.  When they were revising essays, we had stations that broke down the revision process, so at one station they looked at their essays to see if they had variety in their writing, while at another, they looked at their word choice, etc. This worked really well, because it slowed down the process, one that they often rush through.

Using learning stations takes a little organization: I group my desks so we have one group per station and divide my class number by the number of stations. So, if I have six stations and twenty-four students, six groups of four will move through the stations. When I design the tasks, I do so in a way that order doesn't matter. so the groups just start at one station and then after about ten minutes or so, they move clockwise to the next one. I always reserve time at the end of the class (or during the next one) for students to go back to stations that they did not finish.

I LOVE them for a variety of reasons:  
1. Each station focuses students' attention on a specific task, and because they have limited time at each one, they know they have to get the job done before they move on.  I have a chatty class, which is good when I want them to discuss things, but isn't so great when I want them to settle in to do some written work. They can still chat at the stations, but they do so to help each other with the task. I am always pleased to see how well they work when we do stations, and I really believe it's the fact that the work is divided into small, timed chunks that does the trick.

Learning stations for discovering theme

2. Learning stations give students an opportunity to get up and move around during class.  Left on their own, many will just meld to their chair and zone out, but when they have to move every ten minutes or so, they lose that option. Plus, movement helps the learning process and stations are another strategy I can use to get more action in my classes.

3. It's a great way to add variety to your lessons and procedures.  Routine can be good, but so is variety. Even if you are asking the students to do the same work they would be doing in their seats, just by changing things up with stations you will get more engagement from your students.

4. My students love them, probably for all of the same reasons, and that's a good thing.

As much as I love stations, we don't do them every day.  I like to mix things up, so this is just one of the tools in my toolbox.  It's one I go to when I know it's time to buckle down and focus on certain skills or ideas, or to review and organize notes, as we did with Macbeth.

I now have quite a variety of learning stations available in my TpT store.  You can check them out by clicking the links below:


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