Save Your Sanity with a Things to Revamp for Next Year List

Some teachers will probably hate me for even mentioning next year when we still have a month of school left, so my apologies for those of you who don’t have the bandwidth to think about it yet. However, I find myself feeling the same way every year around this time. I experience a mix of guilt, frustration, and exhaustion. I feel guilty about all of the things I didn’t get to or all of the aspects of my teaching that could have been better. I feel frustrated by the routines that did take and my students’ unwillingness to buckle down in the last month of school to finish strong. And, I feel exhausted by all of the mental, emotional, and physical energy that has gone into my work this year.

I’ve developed a strategy for managing my mixed emotions as we head into the final few weeks of the school year. I create a “Things to Revamp for Next Year” Google Document to reflect on the year and brainstorm new strategies, routines, lesson ideas, project concepts, and skill labs that I want to build into my classroom and curriculum next year.

I find this strategy helpful on two fronts.

First, it helps me feel like I’m in control of my teaching reality when I actually feel like things are a little crazy and out of control. The end of the year feels like a tidal wave. There is so much to do and not enough time to do it all. Adding items to my revamp list allows me to identify the aspects of my current teaching reality that aren’t working well and gives me a place to articulate how I can make them better next year.

Second, I know that when I leave my classroom for summer the pain points I’m experiencing right now won’t be as poignant. I want to capture my thoughts about how to improve my teaching practice for next year while I’m feeling the pain. When I am stressed out or feeling frustrated, I tend to organically think of a multitude of different ways to improve my current situation, so I want to capture those great ideas for next year.

This is a simple sanity-saving strategy that I’ve come to lean on in my moments of desperation at the end of the school year, so I wanted to share it with other teachers who might also be feeling down or being too hard on themselves. We have to remember that we do the best we can every day. There is always room to improve, but we have to appreciate all that we are currently doing for our students.

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Students Email Their Parents About Missing Work

In my last blog post titled, “Stop Taking Grading Home,” I explained how I use the Station Rotation Model to provide students with real-time feedback as they work instead of taking grading home. I had one teacher ask me what I do when a student arrives at my teacher-led station and has not done the work required. That’s a great question, so I wanted to share my very simple strategy with my readers.

If students have fallen behind on a formal essay, large scale assignment, or project, I require that they begin their session with me at the teacher-led real-time feedback station by writing their parents an email to explain why they have not completed the work they were assigned. They must CC me on the email, use the formal business letter format, and propose a specific action plan to catch up on their work.

This strategy is so simple but so effective! Students are rarely asked to take ownership of and responsibility for their work. Typically, a parent does not realize there is a problem until a zero is entered into a gradebook or report cards are mailed home. Requiring students to contact their parents and take responsibility for their work at various check-points along the process creates an incentive for students to prioritize their school work. This strategy also takes the responsibility off of the teacher, who is typically the person tasked with reaching out to the parents when there is an issue.

The most rewarding part of this strategy are the conversations that take place between parents and their children. Because I am CCed on the initial email, parents typically “reply all” and keep me in the loop as they dialogue with their child. I love the questions parents ask in their follow-up emails, like “Why weren’t you able to complete this part of the assignment when it was due? How are you using your class time? What can I do at home to support you in getting your work done?” I see so much value in encouraging students to have these conversations with their parents.

As soon as I adopted this strategy, more students completed their work on time and several parents thanked me for keeping them in the loop about their child’s progress, or lack thereof.

At the start of this school year, I posted a blog titled “Who is doing the work in your classroom?” where I said I planned to try to flip my thought process to make sure students were the ones working because the people doing the work are the ones learning. Each time I was tempted to say, “I could…” I challenged myself and my co-teacher to flip the statement and instead make it a question like “How can students…?” This shift in is what led, in part, to having students email their parents. I remember saying to my co-teacher, “We should email the parents of students who’ve fallen behind on their essays.” Her response was, “Why not make them do it?” Thank goodness for her reminders!

So, whenever you feel daunted by all you have to do as an educator, ask yourself how you can make your students do more of the work in your classroom. From that work will come real learning.

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Stop Taking Grading Home

In January I wrote a blog post titled “New Year’s Resolution: I’m Moving ALL Assessment into the Classroom.” I’m here to update everyone. Since January, I have not brought a single stack of digital papers home to grade! It’s been amazing!

It’s not that my students aren’t writing. In fact, they just completed a detailed six paragraph research paper on an environmental problem of their choice. This paper took them about 3 weeks to write from the time they started their research to when they finished their final draft and works cited page. We spent a significant amount of class time working on these papers. Students honed their research skills, organized their information, watched flipped videos on how to complete various aspects of the paper, like citing properly, and they received detailed feedback from me the entire way through!

I used the station rotation model every day during the writing process to build in time for me to provide real-time feedback on their work. I used my teacher-led station for synchronous editing. As my students wrote, I jumped into their Google Documents in suggesting mode and made edits. I also added static comments with questions, suggestions, and links to additional resources that might be useful.

Groups of 8 students rotated through my teacher-led station in 20-minute intervals. During that window of time, I was able to give every student written feedback on the section of his/her essay they were currently working on. One day I edited thesis statements and another day I was editing topic sentences. I tried to keep the scope of what I  was editing narrow enough to provide every student with detailed feedback.

When students were in the other stations, they worked on a variety of tasks, like reading and annotating a text on StudySync, conducting additional research for their papers, practicing a grammar concept on NoRedInk, drawing sketches of possible solutions that would address their environment problem, etc. I prepared directions for those stations ahead of time, so students could complete those tasks without needing me to provide instructions.

Here’s why I think it’s so crucial for teachers to stop taking grading home:

First, I knew where almost every student was in terms of his/her progress at any given moment. There were no surprises when the papers were due because I had been in and out of their documents several times over the course of three weeks we worked on it. I was able to support students throughout the entire process. If they had questions as they worked or needed additional scaffolds, I was right there to support them.

Second, I feel more energized and creative! I have more time and energy to invest in the aspects of teaching that I really love, like lesson design. Instead of spending hours at home wading through a neverending stack of digital papers, I am planning fun lessons, activities, projects, and guest speakers.

I realize that moving assessment into the classroom requires a shift in mindset and the strategic use of blended learning models, but it is hands down the BEST decision I’ve made this year.

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