I'm only two weeks in to my summer vacation, and already, my brain is full of ideas for next year. However, before I start changing and improving, it's important for me to reflect on the things that worked last year, whether they made the class run smoothly or they created a lightbulb moment for the students.

Here are my highlights from the 2016-2017 school year {spoiler alert: there may be a few freebies!}:

Group work kits are one  of my favourite tools in my high school English class.
 If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love my group work kits. Last August, I bought some plastic containers at the dollar store, labeled them as you see above, and filled them with the things my students might need when they work in collaborative groups (which they do a lot). 

Group work kits are one  of my favourite tools in my high school English class.
Each one contains post-it notes, highlighters, markers, a glue stick and paper clips. Now, instead of wasting time passing these things out individually, my kids know that they need to send someone to my back cupboard to grab a kit. I can start circulating or conferencing right away, since the kids can form their groups and get ready to work without my assistance. If you'd like to try this with your kiddos, you can grab the labels (as well as a colourful classroom poster) here.
Highlighting text is an effective strategy for instruction and assessment
I've used this technique before, but I really embraced it last year, and it made a definite difference. Whenever I gave students a model of writing, I colour-coded the individual elements so students could have a clear visual of what I wanted. Topic sentences were in one colour; transitions were in another. Summary for context was different than analysis.

I extended this activity by enlarging and cutting up a sample paragraph, so students could get even more practice. You can read about how this activity worked here

Highlighting text is an effective strategy for instruction and assessment

My highlighters also became an effective tool for faster grading -- and greater learning for the students. Whenever I took in their note-books, instead of giving them written feedback, I would highlight areas that were well done in one colour, and areas that needed work in another. Then, they had to write out the "needs work" sentences and improve them. They passed those in for a mark. It was so much easier for me, and they were forced to use my feedback -- and learn. 
I've always put a lot of focus on the revision process, but this year I decided to spend more time on pre-writing, and I saw big improvements in my students' first drafts. I added essay planning stations to my collection, and students were required to actually put in time thinking about their focus, playing around with ways to organize, and ensuring that they had enough detail and information to develop their points. It took more time but, boy, was it worth it!

Teaching essay writing? Spend more time in the pre-writing stage to ensure better essays.

After a particularly frustrating round of assignments from my twelfth graders, ones that were full of basic grammatical errors, I decided that something had to change and that something was me. I was continuing to accept work that was clearly done without care and attention to things the kids know, like the fact that you capitalize "I". The result was that they continued to do it. They just didn't seem to care that they were losing marks.

I made up this handout and told them that I would stop grading anything that contained any of the errors on the sheet, and I would give it back to them to redo. It's something I should have done years ago, but I was always afraid of making more work for myself. However, after I instituted this policy, a funny thing happened. Everyone did a better job of editing --except Chris. We had to do a few rounds of me giving him back an assignment to redo, but by the end of the semester, he'd stopped making his careless mistakes. If you'd like this handout to give your students, you can grab it here.

These strategies and activities definitely made a difference for me and my students, so they will be go-to's for next year as well. Stay tuned for part two!

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  1. In regards to giving students back careless work, is that assignment considered late until the student turns in a better copy? I know my school has us take off points on assignments that are late, so not grading something until it is done right would be affected by that policy as well. Just curious!

    1. That's a good question. We are no longer allowed to take late marks off, and have to give them a "not handed in" if they don't pass it in on time (it's semantics, really). I just give them back the assignment and tell them I want it back the next day. I've never had an issue with getting it back. I suppose you could record the mark somewhere and not show the kid -- or make it official -- until it gets edited