8 Days a Week
Let’s pretend we live in a world where no students are ever tardy, there are no altered schedules (no joke: last year there were no fewer* than eight to ten different schedules depending on whether or not it was a morning assembly, afternoon, late start, etc.) The class period is 50 minutes long, after a four-minute passing period, where all students have hydrated, taken care of bathroom necessities, and enter the classroom, crossing the threshold to a new adventure. That’s the dream. The reality is students, and teachers, are…humans. The school day feels less like a nurtured, creative maze and more like a gauntlet. The big question on the Notice & Note site is a pragmatic and all-too-real scenario: just how do we teachers use our time with students to maximize learning, growth, and engagement? Perhaps this is the only pedagogical question worth asking.
Last year I had the pleasure of having block classes: I taught Humanities, and at that my 75 minutes was squeezed. Whereas a science or a math teacher has the science and math standards, which are abundant and demanding, ELA/SS has a complex web of standards, so ‘two content areas in one.’ I loved it, though, and knew when I let go of that teaching assignment to return to 8th grade, that was a teaching luxury that proves to be difficult to relinquish. But I did it for years, and can figure out how to refine it and make it work again.
If a student’s day is their personal journey of the hero, then the first step is to get them to cross that threshold. I try to create and embed routines, as well as design and decorate my classroom so it feels ‘other worldly.’ And like the flight attendant speech we’ve all learned to ignore after years of travel, I don’t hesitate to remind and refresh students about those routines.
When planning the scope/sequence of the year, I go big picture/thematic to monthly, to weekly, to daily. For years, I tried this:
Write It Right Wednesdays: focus on a writing skill, genre, concepts –mini lessons. I try to write every single class period.
Thematic Thursdays: this one is less constrained — perhaps a concept discussion, literary elements, big question/burning question concepts, read aloud, connect with film for Film Friday, other texts that connect, media pairings, etc.
Film Fridays (Friday Fives are also due on Friday –five vocabulary words) Film Fridays are not guaranteed, but usually a short film from Vimeo, StoryCorp, TedTalk, etc. I have a list of tens of short films and am shark-like in my never sleeping hunt for great little shorts. For these films, often I’ll use a Levels of Questions graphic organizer or What It Says graphic organizer; sometimes, *shrug* I just let us enjoy the film.
One big change for this year is instead of a standard entry task, which isn’t time-cost beneficial, I’m switching to ten minutes of reading. How we as a class will manage and use that ten minutes for The Book Whisperer’s challenge is to be determined.
A caution: one year, someone from the district needed me to change my and my students’ routine based on her scheduling needs, and I realize I must have seemed inflexible. The thing is, though, especially for a high-impact, high-poverty school, is that many students have too much chaos in their lives, and the routines of school are safe and necessary. Never apologize if your classroom timeframe is what’s best for students. Ever. I just saw a student who’s just graduated from college, and I asked him what he remembers, and he was clear: how I made them feel supported. I was honest and supported them emotionally.
I guess the point is — and the only wobbly advice — it’s your job/life — how do you want to construct your day? How do you want to feel after every class? And before the next one? I’ve adjusted my time talking, and when I do need to impart information, make it very clear on how long I’ll talk, and keep my word. (No pun intended.) Like backwards design, consider what are the essential elements you want your students to keep and sustain their learning? The answers on how to schedule your, and their time, will become clearer. I have to pack a lot into those 50 minutes: I don’t assign homework but try to do flipped lessons that don’t depend on internet service, as many of my students don’t have access. I’m going to have to get real creative and resourceful this next year, and I’ll share this challenge with my students. The more they see that I’m thinking about them, respecting their time, and honoring their commitment to learning, the more it fosters engagement.
Like ‘backward design,’ consider what are the essential elements you want your students to keep and sustain their learning? The answers on how to schedule your, and their time, will become clearer. I have to pack a lot into those 50 minutes: I don’t assign homework but try to do flipped lessons that don’t depend on internet service, as many of my students don’t have access. I’m going to have to get real creative and resourceful this next year, and I’ll share this challenge with my students. The more they see that I’m thinking about them, respecting their time, and honoring their commitment to learning, the more it fosters engagement.
Someone also posted Kelly Gallagher’s suggestion on how to use time: (click to enlarge)
*Always trying to brush up on my grammar. And I have a nerd crush on Grammar Girl.