Posted in Exit tickets, Student engagement

Chapter 40: Vandalism

A few years ago, “exit tickets” were all the rage. Not a workshop, conference, or mandatory professional development session went by without a consultant breaking out forms, sticky notes, or giant Post-It pads and demanding that attendees write down something they’d learned before they were allowed to leave.

These well-intentioned assignments were largely useless, because the consultants invariably waited until the last minute to announce that they would be required. If I’m attending a mandatory activity that is scheduled to end at noon, there’s likely to be a long line for lunch, and you wait until 11:59 a.m. to tell me I have to fill out an exit ticket before I can leave, I’m probably not going to give your last-minute assignment a whole lot of thought.

Unfortunately, exit tickets were so popular at conferences and training sessions that administrators picked up on them and began demanding that teachers use them.

The first time I did this, it worked exactly as well as you’d expect. Kids, as it turns out, have even less patience with last-minute busywork than professional educators do, and they were even less inclined to make any real effort to complete the assignment, so I added exit tickets to the list of party tricks I’d ignore most of the time but break out on days when the brass was visiting and I needed to put on a good dog-and-pony show.

Still, when the brass did visit, I needed the kids to give the illusion that they were all in for exit tickets. One of the fastest ways to get students on board with an activity is to let them think they’re being terribly subversive by doing it — so instead of handing out sticky notes or preprinted forms, I handed out dry-erase markers and told the kids to write their exit tickets directly on their smooth-topped desks.

We were doing an assignment over connotation and denotation, so five minutes before the end of class, I asked the kids to clear their desks and write a definition for the word “connotation” in their own words.

They were all in. Why?

First, I was asking them to do the assignment on my time, not theirs.  Second, and more importantly: Writing on paper is work. Writing on a desk is vandalism. How often do you get carte blanche to vandalize school property?

Bonus: If you teach multiple sections of the same subject, this hour’s exit ticket can serve as next hour’s anticipatory set.


Posted in Classroom management, Discipline, Getting over myself

Chapter 39: It’s Not About You

No matter how carefully they’re constructed, teacher-ed programs cannot fully prepare you for your first year in the classroom. You just have to experience it, eat a few mistakes, and make adjustments until you figure it out. That said, life is easier when you understand one very important fact:

Kids’ behavior is not about you.

You have to address disrespectful behavior, but how you address it is up to you. When one of my students does something out of character, I find out what’s going on before I respond. Continue reading “Chapter 39: It’s Not About You”

Posted in Collaborative learning, ELA, English, Literature, Writing assignments

Chapter 37: Texting with Antigone

About 11 years ago, I worked with a young teacher at an interest-based digital-media magnet school who was struggling to get her sophomores to write. At the time, I oversaw part of the magnet program, and I nudged her to think in terms of our school’s theme.

To that end, I asked her one question: “Do the kids text?”

Of course they did, she said. All the time. It was driving her nuts; we were supposed to confiscate their phones if they used them in class, and for a while, that seemed to be all we did all day.
Continue reading “Chapter 37: Texting with Antigone”

Posted in Kinesthetic, Learning styles, Math, STEM, Tactile

Chapter 36: Positive or negative?

When I taught math in Tulsa, one concept my freshmen really struggled to understand was the difference between positive and negative integers. They simply could not get their heads around the idea that -5 was not the same thing as 5, and I despaired of ever making them understand it.

We added and subtracted. We graphed inequalities on number lines made from yardsticks and chalkboard paint. I constructed a walkable number line and had them wander back and forth to solve problems. We wrangled with those integers every day, in every way I could dream up, to no avail: Some kids caught on, but some still would get to the end of a lesson and say, “Isn’t minus three the same thing as three?” until I was ready to pull my hair out.

I decided the lesson would be more memorable if they were emotionally invested in it, so I brought in a bag of Starbursts and started handing them out, a few at a time, with instructions to wait until the end of class to eat them.

Continue reading “Chapter 36: Positive or negative?”

Posted in Evaluations, Getting over myself, Growth, Professionalism

Chapter 34: Weighed in the Balance

Last week, I spent an entire blog entry singing the praises of my boss and telling y’all how much I trust her.

I wasn’t lying. I do trust her. I enjoy her visits to my classroom. I have a good time with her. But there are moments when I really don’t want to see her, and Thursday morning was one of them.

Thursday morning was my semiannual observation.

Intellectually, I know my boss isn’t going to torch me on an evaluation. That’s not how she operates. She sees me doing cool stuff with the kids several times a week and consistently praises my lessons. But I had a bad experience with an evaluation my first year teaching, and 22 years later, it still bothers me.
Continue reading “Chapter 34: Weighed in the Balance”