Posted in Uncategorized

Chapter 58: Teaching with brain fog, Part I

If you’re among the thousands (millions?) of people struggling to function through brain fog in the wake of a COVID infection, I have a few strategies to share that have really helped me over the past 10 months as I’ve adjusted to a new normal.

One of my weirdest post-COVID experiences started right after my fever broke: For several months, my brain seemed to have been taken over by my iPhone’s predictive-text algorithm — the one that thinks if you start typing “obstinate,” you must mean “objectivity,” or if you’re typing “introvert,” you must mean “intramural.” It was exactly as annoying as you think it was. I thought I’d finally gotten past it a few months ago, but this weekend, I was texting with my little brother and typed “under” when I meant “unto,” so apparently this is still a thing when I’m tired or under stress.

Anyway, the main coping strategies I have for this weird dysphasia — the fancy term for when your brain refuses to use words right — are to copy edit the snot out of everything I write and to offer the kids bonus points for finding any mistakes I miss.

When I taught in Oklahoma, I would deliberately plant an error in the objectives and instructions I posted on the board each day, then offer five bonus points to the first kid who caught it. This accomplished five things:

  1. It taught the kids that it’s OK to make mistakes. If the teacher makes at least one mistake every single day, then she obviously doesn’t expect everybody else to be flawless.
  2. It encouraged the kids to get to class on time. If you’re the first one in, you’re the first one to see the board, which means you have a better chance of being the first one to catch the error.
  3. It encouraged the kids to look at the board. There’s no point in posting objectives or instructions if nobody reads them. I never had to worry about kids asking what they were supposed to do, because they came in and read the instructions as soon as they hit the door.
  4. It gave the kids practice proofreading — always a plus in an ELA class, but not a bad exercise for other classes, either. Attention to detail is valuable in every discipline.
  5. It increased the chances of somebody catching it if I made an inadvertent error. Usually, the mistake I planted was the only mistake on the board, but some days, I’d go too fast or get distracted while I was writing and end up making an accidental error somewhere. The kids always caught it for me.

If you aren’t bribing your kids with bonus points to get them to proofread for you, it’s worth trying. I think you’ll find it increases engagement and improves your relationship with your students, who tend to feel safer when they know that A.) you make mistakes, too, and B.) you are willing to admit it.

Emily

Posted in Differentiated instruction, Special ed, Student engagement, Success, Teachable moments, Winning

Chapter 53: Community Policing

A few weeks ago, a pair of sheriff’s deputies paid a visit to our campus. Visits from LEOs aren’t unheard of, but they’re not super common, either, and the sight of two uniformed officers walking into my classroom startled a student who is still learning some social skills and isn’t comfortable with surprises.

I told him the deputies were just there because they were hoping he’d read them a story. (He’s been working on his fluency a lot lately, so I hoped he’d take the bait.) I asked the deputies to sit down and give him a little space while he processed the situation, which they kindly did. Right about then, his mom arrived to pick him up from school, but the deputies stuck around for a bit, and before they left, I got their names and a mailing address for the sheriff’s office.

The next day, my student wrote a letter inviting them back to hear him read, and when I saw one of the deputies at a school event a few days later, I asked him to give me a heads-up before their next visit so I could be sure my student wasn’t caught off-guard.

I got a text from him yesterday morning, saying they were going to be on campus later. I was out sick but immediately notified my boss, who ensured my student was prepared.

This morning, when I returned to school, my student greeted me with the news that he’d read to his new friends, and they had promised to return with patches for him and his classmates one day soon. He even got out his iPod and proudly showed me a video someone had taken of him reading and joking with them.

I’ve worked for newspapers in three states. I’ve spent a lot of time at crime scenes. I’ve met some pretty great cops. And I think I speak with authority when I say: This is EXACTLY how community policing is supposed to work.

Thanks to the patience of two friendly deputies, my student’s perception of law enforcement has changed from one of fear (which could lead to potentially dangerous misunderstandings when he is older) to one of camaraderie. Bonus: He got to practice reading and socializing a little bit in the process. And he is hella excited about that patch.

I hope he made their day as much as they made his.

Emily

Posted in Common Core, Student engagement, Tools, Whimsy

Chapter 44: A New Hope

starwars

OMG, you guys. I just found THEEEEEEEE most ridiculous way to display my Common Core objectives on the Promethean board next fall: the Star Wars Crawl Creator.

It won’t let me save text I enter, so I’ll have to put the daily objectives in a Word file and just copy and paste them in on the fly, but I am HOWLING as I imagine my hilarious incoming sophomores sitting down, looking up at the board, and seeing their objectives scroll up the screen in George Lucas style while John Williams’ famous theme song plays dramatically in the background.

Three days into summer, and I’m already nerding it up. I don’t even know what to say for myself.

Emily

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.

Emily