I like this – it’s good to revisit your teaching, planning, etc periodically.

Granted, and...

How teachers plan – This is one of the more interesting ‘black boxes’ in education. There are few studies of it, yet it is clearly one of the most vital elements of the enterprise.

Winging it is sometimes fun, but it’s a bad way to run a family, a business, or a classroom.

Marzano reports that a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” is the key factor in academic achievement in schools, regardless of how flexible plans have to be. As General Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

How do you plan? I invite readers to respond to this question with as much detail as they can provide. i also encourage school leaders to ask staff to participate in a survey of the question since it would make for helpful information and a lively staff meeting discussion. Here are some…

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Hands-On Learning

I had the opportunity recently to watch some of my students learn all about government and the passage of laws.  They were involved in a program through the YMCA called Youth in Government.  As delegates to a mock legislature, they were able to submit bills, debate other delegates’ bills and vote on potential laws.

It was truly fascinating.  There were over 700 middle school students involved – a two night stay in a hotel, sessions held at the state capitol and general assemblies.  As I watched the committees and full legislatures debate the pros and cons of bills that were opened, I was amazed.  The students worked through this process for 2 hours at a time and rarely got off task.  They all had their bill book open to the correct page and waited patiently for the committee chair to call on them.

The legislature actually held session in the chambers.

Watching this process, I realized how important hands-on learning is.  My students came home from this program with a clear understanding of the lawmaking process.  They also had much more self confidence and were determined to try for a leadership position next year.  These are students who are often quiet in class.  As a teacher, I might have thought them shy.  This program demonstrated that they are anything but shy.  They simply hadn’t had a reason to speak up before.

I plan to use my whiteboards to record student comments

I’m excited to get back to school next week and look for ways to make my teaching more hands-on.  Engaging my students throughout class will help them learn more.  Recognizing students’ ideas is one way to engage them.  In the future, when a student has a particularly good comment (which happens pretty often!) they will be asked to write their comment on the board.  My hope is that not only will the student who made the comment feel good, but other students will try harder to make a comment that is worthy of writing on the board, as well.

Knowing how engaged the middle school students were during the Youth in Government session, I am reminded, once again, how important student engagement is.

Let’s Treat Our Students As If They Are Smart

I’ve been bothered lately by the number of people (teachers included) who seem to be convinced that our children are stupid.  I hear, repeatedly, that we shouldn’t hold our students accountable for their behavior, their homework, their ability, because it’s just too hard.  For instance, I have seen many articles claiming we shouldn’t assign homework simply because students don’t do it.  While I’m happy to listen to reasons not to assign homework (although, personally, I think it’s a valuable tool for many reasons), that should NOT be one of them.  Does a basketball coach say “well, you don’t dribble, so just carry the ball down the court”?  Of course not.  If a player doesn’t possess a skill, or is unwilling to use it, the coach works harder on that very skill.

We should be holding our students to high standards.  They are very capable of coming up to the level we set.  I think it’s very insulting to our children when we lower the standards.  They should be outraged.  We have smart children and they should be treated as if they are smart.  No more giving them a good grade because we don’t want them to feel bad about themselves.  Instead, let’s hold them accountable so that when they do get that good grade, they feel pride in knowing they earned the grade.

Above my classroom door, I have this sign:

The sign above my classroom door.

I saw a version of this on Pinterest.com and thought it expressed my sentiments exactly.  It’s not just a nice sign above the door, I truly believe it.  I fully expect that my students will learn and achieve and I plan to challenge them all year long.  Too many teachers claim to have the students’ best interests at heart, but are holding them back by expecting too little.  I took a class for my master’s degree that involved large amounts of reading and several papers each week.  That professor held us to a very high standard.  My first few papers received very low (for me) grades.  The challenge of writing to his expectations was tough, but I was never prouder of a good grade than I was of that one.  He could have given me good grades along the way, but, instead, he challenged me to think deeper, write better and learn more.

We should all challenge our children to be more, do more and learn more.  I plan to in my classroom.  Who’s with me?

Thankful for Blogs

During this time of giving thanks, it occurs to me that the internet, social media, and blogs have really improved my teaching.  We often joke at meetings “How did we teach before the internet came along?”  I have found many teaching blogs have given me good ideas, issues to ponder and reasons to feel good about my chosen profession.

One blog that I came across in my travels through the internet is www. teach-a-roo.blogspot.com.  This teacher has such creative ideas!  I tried the Pickles and Ketchup idea she had on her site for my classes and it was a HUGE success.  The purpose is to get work turned in from the kids.  On Fridays, any of my students who have missing work are given the last 20 minutes to “catchup” on it, and the ones who have everything turned in are allowed to “pick” an activity.  The big difference between this and the All Done Club that I used to do is that when students have all of their work turned in, they can go ahead and be a “pickle”.


This works well for me this year, since I don’t have a team to work with.  In the past, my teammate and I took turns supervising the All Done or Undone Club.  This allowed us to separate the students into two rooms.  The Catchup and Pickle idea allows me to do this in one room.  I tried it last week and was thrilled with the results.

What blogs do you follow?  What ideas have you found that have helped in your classroom!

Love it! Real information about middle school!

School Counseling by Heart

Transitioning to Middle SchoolIf you were moving from elementary to middle school, what would you most want to know? Probably things like: Will I get to see my friends? How will I know where my classes are? Do kids get shoved in lockers?  If you were a sixth grader, what information would you think was most important to share with the fifth graders? If you guessed Here’s how the automatic urinals work, you’re right in tune with some (very serious) boys from our town’s middle school who met with our fifth graders last week. Yes, there were others who presented about homework, teachers, dances, and field trips, but the technologically impressive presentation opened with the variety of automatic functions that can be experienced in the middle school bathrooms, and included a close-up video of a urinal doing it’s thing.

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Helping Students Organize Their Writing

After teaching writing for a number of years, I’ve finally discovered a method that seems to help them put coherent paragraphs and passages together.  The special education teacher I co-teach with created guides for his students.  Each week, as we progress through a new piece of writing, he gave his students a paper with specific ideas for each paragraph (and, at times, each sentence).  I tried it one week, when we were working on a problem-solution essay, which always gives my students problems.  What a difference!

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

The students felt more confident in writing their rough drafts and were much more pleased with their final result.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wade through essays which are more first grade than sixth grade quality.  These guides have made all the difference.  As we progress through the year, my plan is to pull back and offer less support.  By that time, however, they should be able to organize their writing on their own.

Reading their mysteries, I’m encouraged by the success.  In the past, when my students had to write a mystery, they had a hard time getting started and then their stories tended to ramble.  The final drafts I scored this weekend rarely were hard to follow (unfortunately, no strategy is foolproof!)  A few needed some help rearranging their paragraphs, but otherwise, they had a good beginning, middle and end.  Next, we’ll need to work on their climax.

I have attached a couple of the guides I have used to help them in their writing.  We’ll see, as we continue through the year, whether they need the support all year, or if I can pull it back and let them write on their own.

Guide to Writing a Mystery

Writing a Movie Review