Secondary English Teachers CAN have a Life Outside the Classroom!

Strategies that reduce your work load and increase student learning.

How many times have you had to hold your tongue when someone comments that it must be nice to work from nine to three and get summers off?  It's a hard comment to take when you're spending hours and hours grading and planning, often ignoring time with family, friends and yourself.

It takes a lot of work to teach English well, but I don't think we should have to sacrifice our own well being and happiness for our students. I also don't think it's selfish to say so. Yes, we want what's best for all those kids in our class, but we can give them more and take care of ourselves - all it takes is a shift in mindset and in the way we run our classrooms. Stay with me as I give you some strategies that just might give you more free time, strategies that have made a real difference for me -- and my students. 

We are all painfully aware of how much of our time we give to assessment. It's such an important part of the learning process, and we want to tell our students what they need to do to improve. But does it all have to be done after hours?

Make your students responsible for the feedback you give them.
My answer is no, not only because it takes so much time, but because it's not the most effective way to move students forward. Kids don't always take the time to read your feedback, plus it comes after the assignment is done. If you shift things around and give them more feedback during the process, they are more likely to use it. And I'm not suggesting that you take in drafts and read them at home -- this post is about alleviating that! Instead, sit with your kids and give them feedback as they are working on assignments. This way they get direction exactly when they need it and can use it right away. You can make your students take responsibility for their role in this process by using these free feedback forms. Students will use them to come to the conference prepared, ready to discuss their work. And, as you conference with them, ask them to write down any feedback you give them. When they pass in a finished copy of their work, they will highlight places where they attempted to use the feedback. 

If you've been conferencing with students as they write, their final pieces should be more polished. Your job at this point is to assign a grade, not to give feedback, so there's no need to spend hours writing all over their papers. I have also successfully graded assignments with students as they sat in front of me -- rather than do it at home -- and every one of them agreed afterward that it was far more effective than getting graded assignments back a week or more later.

Strategies that reduce your work load and increase student learning.

Conferencing with your students does require a little shifting of the traditional lesson plan,  but I can tell you, based on my experience, that this is a real game changer, because you will take less home, and your students will learn more. Sound like a good idea?

Sure, you're thinking. But how do I make the time to do that? It's the exact same thought I used to have before I started doing these things successfully in my classroom. Since then, I've learned three very effective ways you can free yourself up to spend more time with individual students:

Strategies that reduce your work load and increase student learning.
One of the easiest ways to free up time for you to give one-on-one feedback is to use workshops and /or learning stations. With the workshop approach, teachers begin their classes with a short mini-lesson that introduces or reinforces a skill. Then, during workshop, students have time to work independently on that skill and apply it to whatever they are working on. Stations provide areas for them to complete tasks, work on certain skills, and conference with each other. While your students are working independently, you have time to work with small groups or individuals, giving them feedback and instruction where necessary. It's a very different approach for secondary classrooms, but it's one that works, mostly because it puts the responsibility right where it needs to be: in the students' hands. Try it by creating your own feedback stations using these task cards.

Even if you don't use a full workshop approach, you can still find ways to have more time during class. You've heard the saying before: teachers should not be the hardest working people in the room. Most of us have moved away from the stand-and-deliver lecture method of teaching, but often we're still the ones putting all the work into the prep before class and the action during it. If you turn this around, not only do you get more time, but your kids will think and learn more. So how do you do it?

Design lessons that put the responsibility for thinking and learning in the students' hands, not yours.
Most of my lesson plans when we do a full class text are very brief. Most contain a variation on the following questions: What's most important? Why do you think so? How can you prove it? What questions do you have? We begin with a quick-write reflection, then I move students into groups to discuss what they've written or the notes they've taken on the text.  Today, we did an activity that I blogged about last year, and while my students did the exercises, I got the rest of the week planned out. So, by planning activities that are student-directed, I can get more work done in class. Grab this freebie so you can try it too.

Now you can't just start this on the first day of class and expect success; you do have to do a bit of work upfront to get them trained. However, once they know what they are doing, you can stand back and watch them learn. To get there, you need to:

  • Teach students to close read/take notes
  • Model how you interpret & analyze text
  • Establish routines/expectations for small and large group discussion

You can learn more about how I do this on my blog posts: Getting kids to do their reading and Scaffolding literary analysis.

Strategies that reduce your work load and increase student learning.
We don't have to be the only one giving feedback. When we give students clear goals, instructions and exemplars, they are usually quite able to help their peers. In fact, they are usually better at revising others' work than their own. However, I know that teenagers can't always be relied upon to do a great job, so sometimes I give them a little more incentive, and have them to fill in one of these forms that require them to be explicit in their feedback. You can get more information about how I use them in my classroom on this blog post.

So as you enjoy your summer break this year, spend some time thinking about how you could make some changes in your classroom that will allow you to bring fewer piles of paper home. It means you may have to totally change the way you run things, but it might also mean that your students learn more and you have more time on your hands. It's worth thinking about, isn't it?

Do you have questions or comments that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them, so leave them in the comments! 

Happy teaching.

You might also like these time-savers:
Student-Teacher Conferences by The SuperHERO Teacher

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