Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Break,Twitter, and Teaching Changes

Spring Break has been wonderfully relaxing.  After finishing the All School Production on the Thursday and Friday before break, I spent the beginning of break collapsed.  (Actually, I rallied in time to celebrate my husband's 60th birthday and spend time with my daughters, their husbands, and my adorable grandkids.)

Of course, school is never far from my mind. Twitter has become my "go to" place for ideas and for answers to questions. Edutopia, Edudemic, WeAreTeachers, and Achievethecore are just a few of my favorites. I am beginning to connect with some other Secondary ELA teachers, and their ideas inspire.

This next nine weeks of school will fly by with State Testing and the end of the year hubbub.  (You can add in the fact that my oldest daughter/boss is expecting their 2nd child at the end of April. I am ready for that little bundle to arrive!) It will go especially fast this year, as on top of everything else, I am changing rooms and subjects next year.

Our administration has decided to do some rearranging of our English staff.  By splitting classes, we will work with another teacher and be able to compare class results to improve our teaching skills.  I will be teaching Sophomore English for three hours and speech and drama for the other three hours. I think all of us have concerns, but I also think there is the potential to really strengthen our department, too.

The concerns:
*For the first time in 33 years, I won't have every sophomore that goes through our school.  It will be strange not knowing the majority of the students in our high school.

*Leaving behind my beautiful classroom with carpet and lots of light from big windows will be difficult.

*The physical part of moving a whole classroom is a bit overwhelming.  It will involve a lot of work and hours of time packing, organizing, and decorating a new classroom.

*Planning for Speech, Drama, and Forensic classes will require quite a bit of work prior to the start of the year.

These concerns are outweighed by some of the perks:

*Less paper grading.  With half the number of English students, I will have half the number of papers.  It is hard to be sad about that!

*I am moving into an awesome room with a stage. It is has always been one of my favorite rooms in our high school.  (But there are no windows and no carpet, which will remind me of pre-tornado days in our old school.)

*While the new classes will require different planning, it is the creative kind of planning that I enjoy.  I will begin working on new curriculum after break. (I have spent part of break searching for resources.)

So this spring break has been filled with Twitter, researching new curriculum, and trying to cram in all the things I love: hiking, a manicure and pedicure, time with my daughters and grandkids, shopping, movies, and relaxing meals out with my husband.  I've caught up on sleep, and I think I am ready for the end of this school year. I actually feel pretty refreshed and ready to go!

PS. This blog is about to become an English/Speech and Drama blog. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Desk Arrangements

I have come to believe that mixing up desks and seating arrangements is beneficial to learning.  Desks in small groups, in pairs, in a big circle, or even two straight lines can be useful to different lessons.

I use groups of four desks the most often.  This arrangement is great for group projects or small discussions. Everyone can see the teacher and the front board. It also makes my room look much larger.

To begin the year, I like to put the students in pairs.  Frequently, they work with someone they might not know that well and if I mix up the pairs often enough, my classes become acquainted quickly. (There are two ways to do pairs, either side by side or face to face. I've used both at different times.)

A circle of desks works well for Socratic Circles, but the students love one big circle for reading plays aloud, too.  I've tried it with writing days, but have quickly found the importance of being able to see everyone's computer screen at all times. (Don't ask!)
This is a small circle for Socratic Circles.

Two straight lines facing each other work well for face-off discussions, and also for passing writings or other projects up and down the rows from student to student. This way they have a chance to see their peer's work. Leaving the project, writing, or computer on the desk and having the students move also works well.

Finally, I use traditional rows of desks for final exam days and for writing days.  My desk is in the back of the room so while students are facing away from me, I can see everyone's screen. This works great on writing days.  On exam days, I work from the front of the room or walk around.

In order for these arrangements to work, I have created cardboard barriers for testing/quiz days. They can test in almost every room arrangement by putting up the cardboard barriers, if they are needed. (Mine are tri-fold displays cut in two, though I've heard pizza boxes work well, too.)

I project new seating arrangements on my document reader for everyone to see.  Students know where to sit when they enter the room. (I can't imagine the chaos if they waited for me to seat them.) If you make your seating chart with sticky notes, it is easy to change your seating arrangements. I am forever grateful to the cute, young colleague who taught me this trick!  I also like to use the computer seating chart that comes with our grade book program and has photos of students.  (I'm pretty sure subs love this one, too.)

Oh, almost forgot one.  We don't watch videos very often.  In fact, I rarely show a full movie, but the Friday before break I was showing them bits and pieces (mainly the stabbing and the battle scenes) of Julius Caesar. This was a popular arrangement, though we could have used some popcorn. (There were four rows like this.)

Does it take work to switch it up?  Yes, a little.  Is it worth it? Definitely.

My favorite quote of the year? Upon seeing yet another arrangement of desks one student said,  "Mrs. E, you gotta get a new hobby."

But the most surprising??  My custodian loves cleaning my room.  I guess they need a change once in awhile, too.

Want more seating arrangements or seating chart ideas? Click on the seating arrangement label in the sidebar.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My First Nine Weeks with SBG and Grades So Far

I am almost to the end of the first nine weeks with Standards Based Grading.

Comparing the old way of grading to SBG:

2nd Nine Weeks I had 14 A's.  3rd Nine Weeks 12 of those students still had A's, along with 8 others who have raised their grade to an A. (A couple had slipped to a B.)

2nd Nine Weeks I had 14 D's and F's.  3rd Nine weeks I have no D's or F's.

What have I noticed?

1. It is harder to get an A+.  There is no extra credit.  They must make 100% on almost every standard to make an A+.  They have to consistently show mastery on the skill on every assignment.

2. Students are less likely to fail, as they are proficient on many of the standards.  There are just a few that cause them issues. Their grades reflect their successes.

3. Organizing my grade book is a challenge.  I'm still trying to figure out a system that I love and that works for me.  I'm hoping someone in blog land has an easy way to do this and is willing to share it with me.

4. Keeping track of feedback on each standard, requires more than just a number or a letter grade.  I have documentation and notes in an expandable file.  That file serves as my memory and reminds me of the strengths and weaknesses of each student.

5. I used to give a test and the results were the results. Period. The end.  Now, I give a test, re-teach, give another test, and sometimes re-teach again before the final test.  Coming up with multiple assessments and multiple re-teaching opportunities is challenging; however, it makes sense to practice several times before the final assessment. And the benefit to the students is obvious.

6. A parent asked me at parent teacher conferences about "big" tests or unit tests.  They wanted to know if the students still take those.  They don't take my old traditional unit tests, but one test now can address several different standards. In fact, on the first Act of Julius Caesar, five different reading standards and one writing standard were addressed.  I'd say that is a "big" test.  All tests just look different now.

7. There is less memory work and more analyzing, reading, and figuring it out on their own.

8. I am not "providing" all the information.  They have to research, study, and teach each other before I ever step into the picture.

Do I have questions?  You betcha!

1. How does late work affect the grade?  Is there a way to do that when they can still show excellence on the standards?

2. Are some standards so important that they should be addressed every time?  Ex.  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

3. How do I handle final exams?  (I need to work that one out before the end of the year.)

I would say that Standards Based Grading is here to stay in my classroom.  There are too many benefits to the students. I know that I will figure out the record keeping, if only through trial and error.

Am I glad I made this switch? Absolutely.  I see not only areas that students need to improve upon, but it also becomes evident exactly where my teaching weaknesses are.  I guess that means that we're all learning.