What To Do With Wonky Wednesday

Most of the schools where I coach have a wonky Wednesday schedule that I have to navigate with teachers when we co-lesson plan together. Typically, Wednesday is a short day for students because teachers are attending an all-staff meeting in the morning before students arrive or in the afternoon after students have gone home. The class periods on Wednesday are markedly shorter than classes on a regular day. This leaves a lot of teachers wondering what to do with this day.

In a recent comment to one of my blogs, Andi Jackson shared a strategy for maximizing the short Wednesday schedule called “Power Hour.” As I was responding to Andi’s comment, I realized that I had to write this blog post and share some of the myriad ways that teachers can use a wonky Wednesday. These short periods provide an opportunity to think outside of the box, break routine, and provide students with opportunities to engage in activities that are neglected in the hustle and bustle of the school week.

#1 Passion Projects

Whether teachers model their passion projects after Google’s 20% time or Genius Hour, the goal of a passion project should be to dedicate class time to encourage students to pursue topics and inquiry that fascinates them.

For some teachers, a passion project may be free form and simply culminate in some product that is shared or published at the end of each semester. Other teachers may want to impose a loose structure on the process with brainstorming, articulating guiding questions, submitting a project pitch, setting goals associated with the project, meeting periodically with the teacher to check-in, and journaling about the process.

Kevin Brookhouser’s book, The 20Time Project: How Educators can Launch Google’s Formula for Future-ready Innovation, is a great resource for teachers curious about 20% time.

#2 Flex Your Metacognitive Muscles

Metacognitive skills must be taught. If students are going to be our true partners in the learning process they must learn how to think about their learning. They need to set academic goals, monitor and track their progress and reflect regularly on the work they are doing and what it reveals about their skill set.

However, teaching these skills and helping students to develop their metacognitive muscles takes time and practice. There are simple routines a teacher can put into place to help students develop these skills. I describe four strategies designed to help students develop metacognitive skills in this blog post. I also dedicate a chapter in my new book Balance with Blended Learning to metacognition.

#3 Update Digital Notebooks or Portfolios

Moving from paper to digital notebooks and online portfolios of work was a game-changer for me and my students. It made organizing, reflecting on, and sharing student work easier and more manageable. Yet, all of these things take time. I started dedicating at least one online station each week to updating digital notebooks and posting favorite work samples to a digital portfolio. These are activities that would work well as a regular routine on a short day.

Teachers who are curious about shifting from paper notebooks to digital ones should check out my blog on this topic. I share my resources for setting up a digital notebook using either Blogger or Google Sites. I also created a Google Site Scavenger Hunt designed to help students create a Google Site for either a digital notebook or portfolio. Teachers working with younger students may want to check out the blog I wrote about using Google Slides instead of Google Sites to set up digital notebooks.

#4 Communicating about Progress

Teachers feel immense pressure to communicate with parents about student progress. Yet, I believe it is unrealistic for a single teacher to keep parents and guardians updated on their students’ progress. Instead, this is a conversation I think students should own.

I encourage teachers to shift the responsibility of communicating with parents to students. I believe students should provide their parents with regular updates about their progress, upcoming events, important due dates, and work toward academic goals.

At the high school level, I had students email their parents and CC me. I provided templates to guide their communication to parents. When I coach elementary teachers, we use audio recording tools in apps like Remind or Class Dojo to record audio updates about student progress.

Ideally, students check their grades, review their work for the week, and draft a version of their correspondence with parents before they send an email or record an audio update. As a result, this routine takes time, but it creates a level of accountability that is absent in a lot of classrooms. Often, parents do not know there is a problem or that their child is not completing the required work until it is too late. This routine creates time in class for the student to check their grades, reflect on their progress, and talk with the teacher if they are concerned about a particular assignment or grade.

#5 Playlists & Conferencing

Teachers using playlists or hyperdocs can dedicate class time on a short period day to making progress on a self-paced playlist or hyperdoc. As students work, teachers can conference with students to discuss their progress, provide feedback on their work, or conduct side-by-side assessments.

The beauty of dedicating a day each week to conferencing is that it helps teachers to develop a personal connection with each student, which makes it easier to meet their specific needs as a learner. It also creates space in class to do some of the tasks that we have traditionally taken home, like providing students with feedback or grading their work. In addition to lessening the amount of work that teachers take home, I argue that it is much more powerful to do these tasks with students sitting right next to you. If you are curious about the mechanics of moving feedback and assessment into the classroom, check out my new book Balance with Blended Learning!

Instead of feeling like your short period day is wasted, I encourage you to get creative with it. Use one of these strategies, or a combination of them, to make Wednesdays worthwhile! Students will welcome the break from routine and you can make time for tasks that you have traditionally taken home.

If you have a routine you use on your short period days that you love, please take a moment to post a comment and share it! I am also looking for “teacher tips” about how you find and maintain balance in your teaching practice and in your life beyond the classroom to share on my new podcast titled The Balance. I would love to shine a light on the strategies teachers are using that work, so post a comment and share!

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The Balance with Catlin Tucker: Featuring Adam Welcome

In this episode of The Balance, I talk with Adam Welcome, a father, educator, speaker, and writer. Adam has written three books–Kids Deserve It!: Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking, Run Like a PIRATE: Push Yourself to Get More Out of Life and Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More.

In this episode, we discuss the changing roles of teachers and students in a time when students have unlimited access to information and resources online. We lament the pressure that many teachers feel about teaching inside a metaphorical box because of pacing guides, curriculum demands, and standardized exams. We explore the difference between entertaining students and engaging them. We talk about empowering girls, making tough choices about where we invest our time and living an active, healthy lifestyle.

If you are part of a professional learning community, the questions below are designed to facilitate a conversation–in person or online–about the issues discussed in this episode of The Balance. If you do not have a PLC at your school but you want to engage in an online conversation with other educators, check out the Facebook page I created to encourage conversations about achieving and maintaining balance! I will post a question a week to encourage an ongoing discussion about issues related to balance.

  1. How would you describe student engagement? What does it look like and sound like? How do you know when your students are engaged in a lesson or activity? Do you make an effort to notice engagement and document those moments? Do you agree with the statement that “the best discipline program is an engaged classroom”? Why or why not?
  2. What tasks do you currently do for students that they could potentially do for themselves? Identify one task that you currently do for students that you think they could do. What support, scaffolds or practice would students need to assume responsibility for this particular task? What might the value be of shifting this responsibility to your students? How would this shift impact your teaching reality?
  3. Do you feel like you can be creative in the design and facilitation of your lessons? If so, what form does your creativity take (e.g., projects)? If not, what limits your ability to be creative? Is there anything you can do to mitigate or eliminate those limitations?
  4. Do you connect students with experts and experiences beyond the classroom? How might pursuing real-world projects and experiences impact your students’ engagement and better prepare them for life beyond school? How might partnering with people in the community affect the way you design learning experiences?
  5. Are the girls in your school given the same opportunities as their male counterparts? Are efforts made to expose girls to female role models? Are the girls in your school encouraged to pursue classically male-dominated subjects? 
  6. Do you carve out time to be physically active? If so, when do you make time for this in your busy schedule?

I would LOVE to feature “teacher tips” related to finding balance both in the classroom and in our lives.

  • Describe the strategy, tip, or routine.
  • What imbalance did it help you to address in your professional or personal life?
  • How has making this small change helped you to feel more balanced?

If you have something you do to create balance in your life, please post a comment and share it! I would love to give you a shout out in an upcoming episode of the balance.

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Student-Designed Review Games with Quizizz

As the fall semester comes to a close, many teachers are thinking about final exams or end of the semester summative assessments. Often those semester exams cover a lot of information. The prospect of preparing students for those exams can be daunting. I work with a lot of teachers who spend hours creating review activities for their students to help them review information in the weeks leading up to those exams. As anyone who reads this blog regularly will already know, I don’t think teachers should invest hours creating review activities that students are perfectly capable of generating.

Instead of asking, “How can I help students to review for the exam?” I encourage teachers to ask themselves, “How can students help each other prepare for the exam?” The answer to this second question puts the onus on students to do the work.

Quizizz is a fun, free quiz maker that students love because it makes review feel like a game. Teachers can sign up for a free account and identify the subjects and grade levels they teach. Quizizz will show you content that has already been created by other educators. You can use any game with your students that has been shared publically. Are you teaching students about Latin roots, orders of operation, or cell division? There are already games created and ready to use! There is also a private mode if you prefer not to share the games you and your students create.

When teachers ask students to generate review questions for a Quizizz game, it requires that they review the content you’ve covered to identify important information, promotes critical thinking, and encourages conversation and collaboration. I would suggest working this activity into a station rotation lesson where students work collaboratively online to generate their review questions. Ideally, each team would make a Quizizz game for a category of information (e.g., chapter in the textbook, unit of study, collection of vocabulary words). That way, there are multiple games generated on different topics that can be used to foster review leading up to the exam.

Teachers can use a couple of different strategies to capture student-generated questions and answers. First, they can provide students with a formated Google Document, like the one pictured below, and let each team fill in their questions and answers. That way, the teacher can easily review and edit questions before copying and pasting them into a Quizizz game.

Another option is to collect answers via a Google Form. Joe Marquez recorded a video demonstrating how he formats a Google Form to collect student-created questions/answers and import them directly into Quizizz. To check out his video and the Google Form template he created, click here.

Once you have a series of fun review games, you can decide if you want to run them as a:

  • Team mode: Students work together in teams to answer the questions correctly.
  • Classic mode: Students work individually at their own pace through a fun review experience.
  • Test mode: Students log in to complete an assessment without the fun, informal game-style features.

If the goal of using Quizizz is to prepare students for a summative assessment, I recommend using the team mode to encourage students to engage in conversation and social negotiation as they attempt to answer questions correctly. The conversations they have about the questions will encourage them to think more deeply about the content.

This strategy shifts students from consumers to producers. If they have a hand in designing the review activities for the test, students will be more likely to engage when it comes time to play each other’s games!

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