Redesigning My Class

I chose “Subject Area Strategies” as one of my PD paths for this semester, and I plan on really delving into designing my class for the benefit of my students.

I’ve played with the idea of centers and student choice for a while now, and this is the year that change is really going to occur.

My students and I have started the year answering the question, “What should English class look like?” Answers at first were all about the aesthetics: bean bags to sit on, no more tables, make it look like a living room. All of the ideas were wonderful, but I wanted my students to go deeper. What will we do during class? Outside of class? What will we read? How will we decide? How will we make sure all learning styles are being met? How will we track our learning?

My students are currently putting together their ideas to present to their peers, and together we will decide how this class will work. I have my ideas, but I’m more curious to hear theirs.


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Google Forms for Bell Work

Last year we went paperless in my classroom for everything except Bell Work. I tried a few different programs to put my Bell Work online, but to really make it work, the Bell Work was going to have to be multiple choice. Ick.

After attending the Google Summit in Texas this summer, I got the idea to put my Bell Work on a Google Form. It has been amazing.

Each day my students come in, grab a computer or iPad, sit down, and get to work. My students love the Google Forms and feel that they are more user-friendly.

Bell Work

I’ve found since moving my Bell Work to Google Forms, my students are taking more time to properly answer the questions, are giving more thought out answers, and are more excited to go over the Bell Work when everyone is finished. Plus, each student has a computer so we are spending much less class time transitioning from one activity to another.

Bell Work used to be a bit of a fight, something I constantly had to remind my students to do. However, since moving the Bell Work to Google Forms the beginning of my class is calm, enjoyable, and engaging.

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PD On Demand

At my school we have profession development EVERY SINGLE MONDAY. Seriously. It is built into our schedule.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s crazy! How can you stand it? I would never work there!” I usually get a reaction of disgust, panic, and shear horror when I mention weekly PD, and doesn’t that show that there is a fundamental flaw in the way PD is conducted? It also terrifies me that educators cannot find more engaging ways to present information to one another.  We dread learning new things in the professional development setting, but readily seek new ideas outside of our building.


Thanks to some innovative thinking on my principal’s part (and some borrowing of fantastic ideas), this year my high school will be attempting a new PD format called PD On Demand. We will choose different areas that WE want to work on, we will attend training, seek information on our own, implement what we’ve learned, and write reflections. I’m very excited to try this, and my blog will be serving as my portfolio for this new endeavor.

This semester I will focus on strategies for my English class, ELL, and leadership. I’m hoping this will be the answer we need to professional development.

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Standards Base Grading at SFS

My freshman honors students were asked to research SBG and put together a presentation about whether we should make the switch or not. This is what one group came up with.

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SBG Has Opened My Eyes

Due to snow days, cold weather days, and a class full of students bursting with creativity, my class still has not presented on standards based grading. I think every group is going to present a proposal in favor of SBG, but I think some are just doing it because the argument is easier. I still have a few who are completely unsure about this whole thing. I should be able to share their proposals with you next week.

While I’ve had my freshmen honors class completely immersed in SBG, I made the switch to SBG with my seniors without really even telling them about it. I’d really just like to see what comments come up about it and if they even notice a change.

With that said, I had my seniors answer a few questions that required research one day. I’ve gone completely paperless, so all of their work is submitted through Google Drive. When I started reading through the submitted answers, I was very disappointed in the quality of work I had received. In the past, I would have probably pouted about it, told my students I was not impressed, slapped a grade on it (all passing because they did it), and we would have moved on.  How sad is that?  My students would never have learned what they had done wrong. Clearly, by assigning a passing grade, I was letting them know that their work was good enough. My words would have said one thing and my actions another.

Instead I made comments on every single document. I made a screencast video to show the students how to set up the paper, answer the questions, cite their sources, etc. That way they could look back on it any time they needed. I explained what needed to be fixed, and I allowed my students the time to make the corrections. I spent over a week working collaboratively with my students in Google Drive to really show each one of them what is expected with their work. By the end of the week I was absolutely exhausted, tired of talking students through the same mistakes, but I also know each one of them understands so much more than they would have if I had just done it the old way.

I can absolutely understand why there is a fear to make the switch to SBG. Slapping a grade on an assignment really is so much easier, but how does that help our kids? I think my students have been allowed to turn in mediocre work for so long that we began to believe that’s all they had in them. It’s not, and it’s time they know that.

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SBG, Something to Fear?

I had my class discussion on standards based grading with my freshmen honors students, and I can tell you, there was complete panic in the room.  I suppose I should have anticipated it, but SBG just sounds like such a great idea in my own head, I thought they’d be right on board with me.

First, they kind of laughed when we talked about losing points for leaving a name off a paper or for having sloppy handwriting.  They’d all been in that situation before.  They did agree that having points taken off an assignment for trivial things like that doesn’t really allow the grade to show if they know the material or not.

I then asked them what they are supposed to learn in each class.

We learn whatever the name of the class is, obviously.  In geometry we learn geometry.  In English, we learn English, history is history.

They didn’t really know how to answer what English is supposed to be taught in English, and how it is different from 8th grade to 9th.  They couldn’t tell me how their geometry teacher determines what skill they should learn each day.  They assumed teachers just made it up.

That’s when I introduced the standards and the ideas behind standards based grading.

Why are they going to change the system on us?  It’s been working just fine for years! And I know how to work this system!

Why are you even telling us this?  Why didn’t you just change and not let us know about it?  Now I’m freaking out!

I forgot something big when I had this discussion.  Change is scary.  And I had my students scared.  I tried to calm their fears, but I can tell it will be a process.

By the end of the period, most agreed that SBG sounds like a better idea than traditional grading systems, but they are concerned with making the change.

Tomorrow they will begin researching SBG and will create a proposal of how it should work in our class.  I look forward to seeing if their perspectives change as they learn more about SBG or if the fear of change will continue it’s hold.

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They’re Growing Up

It has really hit me tonight that my students are growing up and will soon leave the comfort and safety of high school to do great things. I selfishly want to keep them forever.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be with the same group of students for their entire high school career in a class called Teams. During our time together we have become more than a team, we are a family.

They went from annoying freshmen that I felt I just had to endure to get through the day, to some of my very favorite people. As a whole, they are ambitious and kind, driven and just plain goofy. We spend our time together playing games, talking about the OKC Thunder and Dragon Ball Z, and how much we are all going to miss each other next year.

They have found a special and permanent place in my heart, and I am in a bit of a panic mode that we only have 92 days left!

I never realized how much my students would mean to me when I went into this profession, but each year my family just gets bigger. I am blessed to do what I do everyday, and I plan on making each day with my kids a great day.




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