Moving Through Some Changes

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Sep
  • 12
  • 2008

I hate doing the same thing every year. It’s boring and implies, “Yup, that was perfect; no need to change that one!” I’m still looking for those lesson plans. There are a few I have that are pretty close to “good,” but “perfect” is a long way off.

Some of these are small but exciting changes for me. I think I already see that excitement transferring to the students and the positive feedback loop makes for a great day.

  • Word Count: On just about everything, I’ll assign a minimum word count. It’s arbitrary, but I’ve made my peace with that fact… to some extent. I’ve tried the “it needs to be as long as it needs to be” stance for about the last 4 years now. That ain’t working.
  • Direct Instruction: More handouts with examples and less assuming they know what I mean. My MLA format handout (PDF) is a perfect example of this, something I created years ago and haven’t handed out since. Don’t ask me why.
  • Grade Scale: For a long time now, my Ds have bottomed out at 64%; a 63% or lower earned an F here. I’ve changed my scale to be in line with the traditional grade scale, even adding A+ to the grades for the first time ever. Adopting a scale everyone is familiar with is more of my quest for total transparency in grading. I’m also thinking we should have a grade scale agreed upon within the department, if not the whole school.
  • In-class Writing: Anytime there is a writing assignment pending, I give five minutes to write each day in class, convenient or not. This time is in addition to the roughly five-minute Do First.
  • Creativity: We’ve already started with more creative writing (PDF) than in years past. I hope to work that creativity into all styles of writing. I also hope to teach more than my usual genres. Literary analysis and narrative, most prompts are really just shades of those styles. This year, radical change in the styles required, read, and taught.
  • Limited Choice: Going back to what I did about three years ago, student choice is moderated, yet still encouraged. With just about any writing assignment, there are at least two pieces of information in the prompt: the genre and the topic. Though I will provide a writing assignment sheet with both of those detailed, I’ll tell students which of the two they can change if they want. If they don’t want to or don’t have any better ideas, stick to the assignment sheet provided. As we get closer to the due date, if you haven’t chosen yet, write about what I gave you.
  • Democratic Dates: We set due dates for drafts together. I provide the deadline and number of drafts I want them to create. After a day to vote, I release the due dates. Ownership is important, but within reason.
  • Opening Writing: Dailies have changed to Do Firsts. These come in three flavors right now: Quotation, Question, and Writing Challenge. I’m thinking of a fourth flavor (Graphic Challenge) working with one of Dan’s many ideas that gnaw at the back of my head. Students write about images, sometimes rationalizing why they think something is fake or legit ($1400.00 for a Swiss Army knife), other times it’ll be something to describe (I’ve been in love with morgueFile for years), still other times it’ll be something else (Um… I’ll just show the image). I’m excited about how this redefines the opening writing time.
  • No Freewrites: I’ve done away with Friday Freewrites. Some of my students wish I would have done this years ago.
  • Portfolio Revisions: Portfolios will return this year. I haven’t started them yet, but I plan to get the Portfolio Goals Statement (PDF) ready for next week.
  • Reading Models: Just about everything we read will be because it’s a model of the kind of writing we will produce. The Great Gatsby will be read as a way model not only character sketches, but writing a comparison, both of which we will also do. I hope to apply this all year long.
  • Reading POV: Failing reading something as a model for what we’ll write, we’ll read to add ideas to an essay on the same topic. The Scarlet Letter becomes a discussion of how society treats outsiders. We write about our ideas on the topic before reading, then add to the essay as we read the novel. At the least, catalog the author’s ideas about the topic; at the most, use those ideas to expand your understanding.
  • Blogs: How do I treat reading blogs differently this year so they don’t kill the joy of reading for students who are already readers?
  • Late Work: I’m still thinking that late work completed in class after school, from inception to finished product, will be accepted for full credit. This will likely apply more to writing than anything else. Thoughts on this would be much appreciated.
  • Record Keeping: I’m keeping better track of my lessons than ever before. I email copies of everything used in my English 1 Support class to someone at the DO. The idea there is that if all teachers did that, we’d have a great resource for next year’s teachers of this course (of which I hope not to be one). I record all the Do Firsts in School Loop. I jot notes in my planner just about every day, quite often in between periods to remind me of what went wrong/right and timing. And though it’s not flashy, that’s the best planner in the entire world, by the way.

Unfortunately, much of this means I’m putting in sixty hours each week, minimum. I left yesterday near 4:15, but that’s the earliest I’ve left school since two weeks before school started.

I’ll discuss my juniors and zombies in the next post. It’s been a cool way to start the year. The first part is due on Wednesday. Let’s see how it goes.

1 comment

1. Ben says:

[9/16/2008 - 9:59 am]

I’m with you Todd! None of my lessons every reach “perfect”, and very few of them ever reach “great” as I’m always finding new pieces of technology to help enhance what I’m trying to do. At time it’s very frustrating, and I experience a lot of “lows” than the average teacher when I scrutinize how effective my teaching has been.