Posted in Advice for rookies, Cross-curricular instruction, Differentiated instruction, Instructional design

Chapter 60: A Word of Caution

Good grief. Has it really been two years since I last updated? Sorry about that; I plead grad school and licensure dossier.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring younger teachers, coordinating cross-curricular projects, and working with prefabbed materials to try to save time, streamline my planning, optimize lessons for remote delivery, etc., etc., etc. Here is a thing I know:

You cannot trust prefabbed materials.

Every prepackaged curriculum has gaps. Even a comprehensive package will lose pieces over time. If your district has been using a particular curriculum for more than a year or two, it is probably safe to assume that you are missing at least one significant tool. Maybe your teacher’s manual never found its way to you and is instead on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.” Maybe the district decided to save money by skimping on consumables, so you don’t have a full class set of whichever workbook you’re supposed to have. Maybe the program itself ignores the importance of differentiation, so it won’t work for the kid who is reading three years below grade level or can’t remember his multiplication tables or transferred in from another state in the middle of a semester or [insert obstacle here].

Most of us are aware of this problem, so we supplement. If we have time, we sit down, comb through the next unit, figure out what’s missing, and create materials to fill the gaps. If we don’t have time, we grab whatever we can find at Lakeshore Learning or Teachers Pay Teachers or wherever we like to buy stuff for our classrooms, and we poke it into the holes in hopes that it will keep the wind from howling in through the cracks.

It’s OK to do that. You are under zero obligation to create every single assignment from scratch. But if you’re going to use prefabbed materials, you owe it to your students to curate those materials carefully and make sure that A.) they actually do what you need them to do, and B.) they don’t give conflicting directions or information.

This time of year is crazy, and we’re all in survival mode. I get it. I do. I’m writing this post because I started a cross-curricular project with three colleagues and completely failed to vet their materials before tossing them on Google Classroom. My students and I are now living with the ensuing chaos, and I have no one to blame but myself. Reading all the materials and talking to colleagues about how to reconcile the conflicts would have completely eliminated this problem and spared my kids a lot of stress. They deserve better from me, and you can bet they’ll get it next time.

Learn from my mistakes. Vet your materials, and make modifications as needed. Investing a few minutes now can save you and your kids a lot of time and heartache later.

Posted in Cross-curricular instruction, ELA, Hands-on activities, Journalism, Lesson plans, Newspaper, Project-based learning, Teachable moments

Chapter 54: A Three-Week-Long Teachable Moment

One of the best things about being a journalism teacher is that virtually anything that happens can be a teachable moment.

Case in point: Here in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced yesterday evening that all public schools in the state would close for three weeks, beginning Monday, to contain the potential spread of coronavirus. That means some of my kids will lose some instructional time. But for the kids in my journalism class, this is an opportunity to practice what they’ve been learning in class in the most real-world setting imaginable. History is unfolding around them, and they’re covering it.

Last night, within 30 minutes of the governor’s announcement, several of my student journalists and I were on our phones, holding a meeting via text message to start planning our coverage of the school closure and its effects on our district. Several kids started doing online research to learn more about the virus and why the governor would close school for it. Others started brainstorming story ideas and coming up with lists of questions and sources they could chase down via phone or email to get information. My husband, who works for the local weekly newspaper, gave us a press release from the governor’s office that contained a link to the press conference she’d scheduled for this morning; several kids made the effort to get online and try to watch it this morning. (I’m not sure how many succeeded, because we all encountered some tech issues, but that’s OK — glitches are part of life in a newsroom, too.) Continue reading “Chapter 54: A Three-Week-Long Teachable Moment”