Espresso Shot: Simple and Effective Strategies for Learning

Whether you're already settled nicely into summer vacation, or you're packing up your classroom during the last week of school, we know that the ideas for next year are already percolating.  To help you with your planning, we thought we would share some of our go-to strategies, ones that are simple to implement and designed for maximum student learning.

Nouvelle ELA: I love small-group presentations for a number of reasons, but one big one is that students are able to get more in-depth feedback. I have students present to each other in groups of 3-4, and then complete guided peer feedback to give the presenter. Students aren’t facing a burnt-out audience after three days of class presentations, and more responsibility is shifted to audience members since I’m not seeing every presentation. Also, since it doesn’t take as much time for all of the students to present, I can work in many more speaking opportunities! This is truly student-centered and win-win.

The Daring English Teacher: One of my favorite quick and easy strategies to get students thinking, discussion, and inquiring about a new topic is a poster project. I have my students work in small groups, and each group takes on a new vocabulary word, concept, or idea. From there my groups work together to define the concept or word, find famous quotes about it, explain it in their own words, and explain why it is important in today’s society. From there each group presents their posters to the class. This whole process takes just one 55-minute class period, and it is a great introductory student-centered activity.

Simple strategies for student learning from the Secondary English Coffeeshop

Addie Williams: My students love this quick and easy review activity for any topic. I have a pile of laminated plates from the dollar store in my room (the bigger, the better), a box of whiteboard pens and socks (to use as erasers - also from the dollar store). In groups we play quiz games and the students write / draw their answer on their plates (their mini-whiteboards) and then hold them up for me to check the answer. It's ridiculous how much they enjoy this game and it's a quick way for me to check for understanding.

The Classroom Sparrow: One of my go-to activities, which can be used with virtually any unit, is to place four posters around the room: agree, somewhat agree, disagree and somewhat disagree. I share some statements and have students go to the sign that represents their view on the topic. Students, especially ones with strong views on something, really get the discussion going! Even students, who may be a bit quieter, feel comfortable sharing their views, because they have other peers in their corner. So, whether it’s a few statements or themes found in an upcoming novel, a top news story, or just some fun topics you came up with to start the class, everyone will be engaged with movement!

Simple strategies for student learning from the Secondary English Coffeeshop
Room 213: My go-to strategy when I want my students to think about something, whether it's about an idea or analysis, is a quick-write followed by a turn-and-talk. I give students two to three minutes to write about a question I pose (What is the author's purpose in this chapter? What's your opinion about...?) Then I have them turn to share their ideas with a partner. I use this almost daily because it takes only a few minutes, and it means that all students have to engage and think. If I just pose a question to the whole class, a handful of students will dominate the discussion, letting the rest off the hook. 

Secondary Sara: Is the class tired (or lazy)? When in need of a quick review that has 100% student engagement, I have the entire class stand up and tell them that they can’t sit down again until they’ve given me an answer or statement. Then the verbal quizzing starts,and hands go flying in the air. (I know this may sound like cruel and unusual punishment, but in reality, the atmosphere is festive!) We’ve also done a variation of the game in which students are in teams. Once, we qualified that students couldn’t sit unless their answer included the word “because.”

Presto Plans: It doesn't matter how old your students are, if you bring an element of competition or game into the room, students will be far more engaged and ready to learn. Find a basic Powerpoint game template by searching online, input your own questions and content, split the class in two, and you are ready to have fun and “trick” them into learning. There are also many well-known game formats that lend themselves to reviewing content: Jeopardy, Memory, Scattergories. Charades, and the list goes on. One of my favorite projects to do with students is to work in groups to develop their own game based on what they are learning. They can model their creation after already well-known games or create their own rules and format. Once completed, have groups swap games for some in-class fun.

What's your favorite go-to strategy? Let us know in the comments!

Espresso Shot: Our Most Embarrassing Teaching Moments

Teacher mornings are hectic. Wake up, brush teeth, frantically run to the dryer to find clean pants, throw on a top, do some grading that you fell behind on, and head out the door to change lives. That’s exactly how my morning went a couple of years ago... until my first period block showed up. I was lecturing about some super fascinating transcendentalism stuff when suddenly I looked down only to find one of my black, lacy THONGS in the middle of the row. Apparently, static electricity from the dryer was not my friend that day. It had been attached to my pant leg the entire morning/first half of the block until finally it fell off. Did my students see it? OF COURSE THEY DID. I quickly picked it up and sprinted to my desk. We all had a good laugh. Although teachers are superheroes, they are not immune to static electricity and occasional humiliation!

The 2016/2017 school year began like any other. It was not until ‘Meet the Teacher’ night that things would change. That evening, I greeted students and parents. I mingled with new colleagues and administration, as our family had recently relocated for a business opportunity. I was feeling pretty confident about the whole night. When the evening was over and after I got out of the vehicle after arriving home, I walked towards my front door and took a quick look down. And this my friends, is how the remainder of my school year went!!

I was tasked with teaching the sexual education class to a group of grade 9s early on in my career. Students were permitted to submit questions anonymously that they didn’t feel comfortable asking in class, and on Fridays I would answer the questions. Unfortunately, the teaching assistant in my class, who was about 20 years my senior, also felt it a good time for me to answer her sex-ed questions. She raised her hand and asked, “What is manscaping? My friends tell me that their husbands are manscaping now, and I don’t know what that means. Is it something my husband should do too?” I almost died. I told her I would explain it later, but now the students wanted to know what it meant too, so I answered it very quickly and moved to the next question in the box. Needless to say, I explained to her that Friday question period was for students only and that she could ask me her questions privately.

I’ve had a number of embarrassing moments in front of my class, but the day my boobs exploded would have to top the list. We get up to a year's maternity leave in my province but, with my third child, I decided to go back to work in September when he was only three months old. My husband & I were tag-teaming parenting duties, with me working in the mornings and him in the afternoons, so I figured I'd go back to work a little early. I was still nursing my son, but I gave him a feeding every day before I left and then when I got home for lunch. Everything was working splendidly until one day I was in front of my twelfth grade class, in the middle of a heated discussion, and I got that familiar tingly feeling. Knowing what was about to happen, I turned toward the door, hoping I could somehow escape before I exploded. However, I didn't get to take a single step before there were two lovely streams of breast milk flowing down my shirt. I saw looks of horror and sympathy, but the funniest faces were from those who had no idea what was actually going on. I calmly explained what was happening and that I was going to have to slip out for a few minutes. Thank goodness there was a neighboring teacher who could cover me – she watched my class AND gave me her cardigan.

My most embarrassing moment happened the first month of my first year teaching, and it was mortifying. To save time in the morning, I used to eat a granola bar for breakfast every morning once I got to school. On this particular day, I wore my khaki pants to school. I taught my first-period class, and throughout the class, I noticed that my students were a bit more chatty and giggly than usual. Then I taught my second-period class, and I remember my second-period class being especially distracted and chatty. Then finally, after I had taught all first period and second period, one girl from my second-period class stayed after class to tell me something. I could tell she was a bit embarrassed and hesitant to tell me, but she leaned in and quietly whispered in my ear, “you have something on your, your bum.” I turned around, mortified, and discovered that I had sat in a chocolate chip from my breakfast granola bar. I taught two entire class periods with a brown chocolate chip visibly stuck to my rear end.

It had been a hectic day and I was already a bit frazzled. Knocking my large teacher bag off my desk and watching it tumble to the floor seemed like a perfect end to my day. However, I was horrified when I realized that a few feminine hygiene products were mixed into the jumble on the floor... and they had rolled some distance along the floor. I don't think I've ever moved so fast! I launched myself and managed to grab a few and luckily a few of the girls in my class realized what had happened and sprang into action. I wanted the floor to open and up and swallow me whole! One of my students said to me on the way out "Don't worry Ms. Williams, I don't think the boys had any idea what any of it was."

I’m not a person who gets easily embarrassed, but I recognize that certain situations are just SO FUNNY to middle schoolers. I’ve accidentally paired two mismatching black flats like The Classroom Sparrow and I’ve sat on my fair share of chocolate (seriously... how does it keep happening??). A situation that legit caused my cheeks to redden, however, was in my first year of teaching when a student wrote “chode” on the board. I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell from my students’ reactions that it shouldn’t be on the chalkboard. I erased it and went to The Oracle of Google. I *very stupidly* did not disconnect my screen from the projector, and so all of the students learned the meaning of the word at the same time I did. *facepalm*

5 Perspective-Taking Activities to Encourage Critical Thinking

Today, special guest Jenna Copper of Doc Cop Teaching talks about critical thinking and perspective-taking in the Secondary ELA Classroom.

Has anyone ever told you to “get some perspective”? Though it might seem like a biting comment, there actually might be wisdom behind it. When you “ get some perspective,” you learn to see things from a new point of view. While it certainly is challenging, learning perspective-taking skills can reap important social and cognitive rewards. First, this activity requires higher-order thinking skills, like the ability to create and imagine an alternative reality. Not only does this activity engage those higher-order thinking skills, but it also can result in important social skills, like the ability to empathize leading to a kinder, more tolerant population. I’ve been researching perspective-taking activities my entire career, and I’ve found that teaching it doesn’t have to be as challenging as it seems. Today, I’m sharing five tried and true perspective-taking activities that you can use in your ELA classroom to engage your students’ critical thinking skills and encourage empathetic understanding and feeling.

  1. Analyze With Literary Lenses

Literary lenses are an adaptation of literary theory that introduces students to multiple lenses for which to read, interpret, and analyze literature. A formal analysis is a traditional mode for analyzing literature by close reading a text focusing on the text itself to arrive at an understanding of the meaning, such as vocabulary and literary devices. While there is certainly a place for this type of formal analysis in an ELA classroom, literary lenses introduce new (and interesting) ways to interpret a text that might be more accessible and engaging to students versus the traditional mode. For example, in addition to a vocabulary study and formal literary analysis discussion questions, when we read Beowulf, we complete a psychological analysis of Grendel, and we deconstruct the good versus evil conflict by reading excerpts from John Gardner’s Grendel. My students love acting out the psychologist-Grendel conversation, which leads to some deep conversations about the nature of good versus evil. Some lenses you might consider are historical, social, gender, biographical, psychological, cultural, and reader lenses. Here are some of my favorite multiple-perspective activities:
  • Facilitate a Socratic Seminar on gender roles to explore the way the gender roles impact the story.
  • Role play as a psychologist and a character from the story to analyze the emotional conflict and turmoil for a character.
  • Assign a journal assignment for students to record their own thoughts and feelings as they read the text.
  • Ask students to research the historical period of the work and present about the ramifications of it.
  • Assign an invented interview between the author and another character.
If you want to learn more about using literary lenses in study literature, you can check out my guide to literary theory.

  1. Give Students Choice

I am a firm believer in choice reading, and so are my students! Since I added a choice reading unit to my curriculum, I have been blown away by my students enthusiasm and creativity. Giving students choice has so many benefits, and when paired with activities that encourage sharing, students learn about so many new perspectives. I created a project-based assessment to go along with my choice reading unit that encourages students to evaluate their choice book based on new perspectives. Each year, I think they won’t be able to top the last, and yet, they still do!

  1. Take a Virtual Trip

One of the best methods to learn about new perspectives is to travel to new places and meet new people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take our students all over the world to learn new perspectives? Obviously, there are so many barriers in our way that this dream isn’t a reality, but with technology, there are some pretty cool alternatives:
  • Use Skype for a virtual mystery meet up with a classroom from a different state or country. You can use social media to meet educators who are more than excited to do this. Your students can ask each other questions via a video chat to learn about their culture and guess where they are located.
  • Explore the world with Google Earth. Take students on a virtual field trip to gain new perspectives on the world.
  • Speaking of Google Earth, take a Google Lit Trip. Using Google Earth, your students will go on a journey through a book following the path of their favorite characters.

  1. Read Picture Books

Even though I teach upper-level English, I am an enthusiastic advocate for using picture books in high school to build perspective-taking skills. Plus, my students love when I pull out a picture book for a read aloud. Big kids like picture books too, and it’s an academically supported strategy. Picture books are short, accessible, visually stimulating, and engaging, so they give you a great opportunity to introduce new perspectives. This year, my AP Language and Composition class analyzed rhetorical strategies in Malala Youzanafi’s “I Am Malala” picture book; in AP Literature and Composition, I use “The Day the Crayons Quit” to teach tone. Check out my FREE guide to introducing picture books into your classroom to build perspective-taking skills.

  1. Write Creatively

Creative writing is an often neglected component in secondary ELA classes. At least, it was in mine until I started teaching a creative writing elective. After teaching this class, I realized just how valuable creative writing exercises can be for traditional reading and writing classes. You can check out my narrative writing unit as an example. Providing opportunities for creative writing as bellringers or as a supplemental assignment gives students a chance to put perspective-taking into practice. In fact, they have to invent a new perspective from a character’s point of view. This is a great opportunity to challenge them to see things from a new perspective. Here are some ideas:
  • Choose a controversial, school-appropriate topic. Then, write an invented dialogue between two characters arguing over this topic.
  • Imagine you are the main character in the story. Invent a daydream that this character might have. Write in first person from the character’s perspective.  Identify when this daydream would happen in the story.
  • Create a character outline for someone who has a very different personality than you. Explain his/her personality with detail. Invent two circumstances that highlight this person’s personality.
There are so many benefits to adding perspective-taking practices into your classroom, but as far as the teacher goes, one of the best parts about perspective-taking learning is that you are very likely to get some new perspectives on your students, classroom, and practice! Thank you to the Secondary English Coffee Shop for inviting me to share my ideas on their blog!

Jenna Copper (aka Doc Cop) is a full-time high school English teacher and a part-time college professor specializing in perspective-taking learning to build critical reading and writing skills. She earned her Ph.D. in Education in 2013. In addition, she is a curriculum writer and researcher, and she designs resources to inspire creative thinking. You can find her daily teaching tidbits on Instagram @doccopteaching and read more on perspective-taking research on her blog.

5 Teacher Wellness Tips

Teachers work hard.  We spend hours before and after school, on the weekends and on our breaks planning, thinking, grading, revising, collecting, brainstorming and worrying about our jobs and our students.   I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted.  I know how easy it  is to look at social media and think that everyone's classroom / students / lessons are more impressive/better than yours.  I know that many of you have busy lives like me and are being pulled in many different directions. I know that it's easy to put everyone else before you.  BUT I also know that taking time for yourself, makes you more available and more present for others. I know that being present for yourself and your own needs makes you a better teacher / partner / parent / friend / person.  Here are my top 5 tips for maintaining your own teacher wellness.

If I don't put time for myself into my schedule I know how quickly my time can be eaten up.  We all have a myriad of obligations to attend to and you need to make yourself your own obligation. Yup... you need to include YOURSELF on your list of things to do!

Download this blank planning calendar HERE to schedule time into your day for yourself.

Here are some suggestions for things you can do for YOURSELF:
  • go for a walk
  • watch a movie
  • book a manicure / pedicure / massage (or all 3!)
  • visit a used book store and pick out some new reads
  • spend time with a friend or relative you haven't seen in a while
  • meditate / do yoga
  • craft / sew / paint / color... engage your artsy side
  • read a book purely for pleasure
  • take a long hot bath

We're all different and we all have different ways of relaxing and unwinding.  It might be a walk after work, a yoga session, a cup of tea after the kids have gone to bed,  a nap on the couch or binge watching a series on tv.... but the important thing is to know what works for you.  As a dog-mom I have to go for a walk every day after work - regardless of the weather.  But even in the rain and cold I'm grateful for the time.  Not only is it a chance to unwind and reflect on my day... but it's a chance to be by myself and enjoy the great outdoors.  After a day of constant chatter and a thousand questions from students I crave and need the quiet of an afternoon walk.  What do you need to do to recharge and refresh?

If you're anything like me you're an enthusiastic teacher and member of your school community and you're often asked (or "voluntold") to be a part of an activity or event.  I used to nod and smile and eagerly take on all that was asked of me.  I would be overwhelmed and overworked all in the name of "helping"... but I wasn't doing myself or anyone else any favours.  I had to start prioritizing what I was able to do and I had to start saying "no".  And guess what?  Other people jumped in and filled the roles I'd previously had and everything was fine!  And I was less stressed and had more time to devote to the things I really wanted to focus on - my own students, my family and myself.
We all need to have a teacher wellness buddy - the person you can turn to and share your frustrations with and someone to pull you through the tough times.  BUT... you also need to hold each other accountable for your own wellness.  Don't be afraid to hold each other accountable for your wellness goals! Help each other out and cheer each other on!  Go for walks together after school, share book suggestions, meet for coffee once a week to talk about things other than school (this can be sooo hard, but sooo refreshing!), workout at the gym together, go to a movie, share recipes for easy after school meals...

I love the online community that has been developed over the last few years - the amazing ideas I see on Instagram, the thoughtful and engaging blog posts, the articles I see shared on Facebook and the incredible resources available on TeachersPayTeachers.  There are so many unique and creative ways to save time!  We know longer have to reinvent the wheel!

If your students are all working on different novels for a Lit Circle or doing a class Novel Study check out my resource - Novel Study for ANY Novel .  It is "print and go" ~ everything you need is included.  I have had success with this resource from grades 6-10 as all activities are easy to differentiate!

Here are some of my favourite time savers from some of my favourite people - the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop!  We've got your back when it comes to tips and tricks and resources to help you save time.

Editable Rubrics from Nouvelle ELA - such a great idea and an easy time-saver!
Presto Plans has an awesome Teacher Binder to keep you organized!
TheSuperHero Teacher has some incredible ideas in  Transform Your Classroom - A 20 Step Challenge for Teachers 
Stacey Lloyd has the most beautiful posters for quick and easy classroom decor.
The Classroom Sparrow's Mini-Books are print and go! Check out her punctuation book HERE.
Secondary Sara's Editing & Revising Kit is sure to be a time saver for you!

For more teacher time savers check out the following blog posts!
The Daring English Teacher - End of Year Teacher Timesavers for Secondary Teachers
Room 213 - Grade Student Responses Quickly

Happy Wellness!

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