Lesson Flops and Successes

Letting Students Give Me Writing Feedback

I would have to say my ‘writing roots’ didn’t really get started until college. I got the writing bug in college, alongside some inspiring teachers-turned-professors who were passionate about helping their students inspire their students. In that environment, writing was democratic—anyone could do it, anyone could teach it, and everyone is a writer. Not all educators have that mentality. I’ve spoken to quite a few who would not call themselves writers, even though they have things to say and stories to tell.

As I bounce along the road of teaching, one concept that stays with me is to repetitively tell my students, “You are writers. You’re writing. That makes you a writer.” It is important for them to see themselves in that way, because the mindset that what they have to say isn’t worth the simple act of writing it down is ridiculous. Recently, I’ve decided that instead of me giving them the feedback, that I would let them give me the feedback. I should have developed a pretty thick skin by now, right?  I thought that I was going to hear, “It’s good. I wouldn’t change it.” That is not what I heard (well, from most of them).



Using Podcasts to Spur-on Argumentative Writing

I have a podcast addiction. I’ve spoken before about my love for narrative non-fiction, and when my husband introduced me to Radiolab on our first 18 hour drive to Colorado, then Freakonomics, I discovered a whole new world of interesting stories. Radiolab in particular crafts its episodes to be suspenseful and intriguing in a way anyone can get into—even high school students. Often, the topics are complex and prompt the audience to question all aspects of the question/issue/topic. Isn’t that what critical thinking is?

The same-old persuasive essay topics are killing my engagement lately. If you’re wondering how to use podcasts in the classroom, wonder no more! I’ve done the work for you.

Here are some specific podcasts that could work in the classroom and intrigue students: 


The Road to National Board Certification Part 4: “Am I really that bad at assessment?”

As the struggle to make it until Thanksgiving continues, I have a good problem—I’m satisfyingly tired and excitedly hungry to see what happens in my classroom this year. I can’t say I’ve felt like that (ever).

With the push of National Board, I’m being forced to think and do things I’ve never done before. A lot of this hinges on how I incorporate assessment in my classroom. The questions I had to ask myself were difficult because I knew the answer already: Do I know where every student is academically in my class? Nope. Am I more aware of where they are now? Kind of. It’s a work in progress. Do they always know how they will be assessed? Nope. Am I differentiating? Giving accurate feedback? Getting students to self-direct their learning? No, no, and no. These past couple of weeks have allowed me to dig in and figure out how well I’m meeting the architecture of teaching model (see below) the NB requires all teachers to follow. I have fine-tuned rubrics, instructions, and differentiation resources. I’ve been really analyzing how to give students feedback (thanks Mark Barnes and Starr Sackstein) and seen improvement because of it. They are owning their learning, and that’s good too. Now, I have to see the outcomes in student work for it all to be legitimate. I can’t wait to stick some good stuff on here for you all to see.


Socratic Seminars: How to Prepare

I posted last year about Socratic Seminars and how I was planning on using them in my classroom. Needless to say, I was apprehensive in doing this because of its somewhat complicated structure and my always-denied but apparent perfectionism and my struggle to avoid it. However, I attended an in-house Avid training by one of our district’s teachers about what the seminar is and how to use it, and I felt pretty comfortable trying it out.

This post is going to be a how-to on how to prepare yourself and your students for a Socratic Seminar! Woo!

Prepare yourself:

1. Decide your end-goal for the S.S. Is it a reflection? Project? In my case, the summative assessment was the actual Socratic Seminar due to time constraints. Students had to demonstrate their learning via participation, the notes they took, and the reflections they wrote. This came out of the graphic organizer that I modified from the Teaching Channel link below.


February slump

I am sitting on a spinning bike anticipating a very rough class. Today was rough in the classroom too: long periods, not a whole lot of inspiration, whiny students, whiny teacher. I am about to start a poetry unit focused on hip hop, which could either fall flat or be successful, depending on quite a few factors. Any tips or inspiration, teachers and language arts enthusiasts? For poetry and/or for beating the tail-end winter blues?


The day my students squealed in delight as they published a blog post

Sometimes I don’t believe I can be as entertaining as a cell phone, but today I did it. 

As my creative writing class published its first blog post, the uproar of joy was pretty ridiculous. I certainly don’t jump off tables when I post. Maybe I should? Eh, I’m just going to guess it’s because they haven’t had school for two days. 


snow days = cooped up kids


My classroom: contained chaos and wonky laboratory

Something you do all the time in student teaching is reflect. It is a daily requirement that you you sit down with your cooperating teacher and formally/informally discuss what went well, and (in my case) what went terribly wrong.

Like that one time I was teaching some Romantic fireside poetry and had no freakin’ idea what was going on. I think I literally said “I have no clue” during the lesson. I still don’t think I know (or care, really).

But anyway. In student teaching you’re a baby. A baby that has to ‘goo’ and ‘gaahh’ and babble through whatever your curriculum might be—-but at least you have an adult there with you, verbally processing it all. Not to mention your supervisor AND your mentor professors. Reflect, reflect, reflect. It helps you not repeat whatever gawd-awful act you put on the teacher stage.

Something difficult (on most days) during these first years of teaching is to methodically reflect. To specifically replay it all, saying “What didn’t work? What did? How can I change that?” Most of the time I’m like, “Dear lord I don’t even want to think about what just happened.” So I don’t. Bad move.


Fail of the day: Playing an NPR story

I am writing this right now because I have little to do because my students are asleep. Well, one has her headphones in, refusing to do anything, but she’s awake.

I played this NPR radio story just ten minutes ago, after I had them do a journal write answering the questions:

“When you speak, do you use “ax” for “ask”? Do you know others who do?

Explain a time you remember saying it or hearing it. What happened?”

I thought this would engage my students and they would have many personal connections! Nope. Not at all. They vaguely knew of the switch. Kudos to me for being presumptuous. I guess I get too excited about linguistics.

Then I played the article ( a 3 MINUTE LONG RADIO STORY) and it was like Ambien. Sadly, I tried to wake them up but defeatedly set the grammar practice we were going to do on their desks. I guess when they wake up, I’m going to have to tell them to get more sleep at night and have fun trying to do the practice on their own as homework. I hate walking the fine line between no nonsense teacher and caring teacher. It’s a nuanced one for sure.