Tag Archive | teacher

Can I PLEASE do my homework?

Recently, Ms. Proch and I took two huge steps: we flipped our Pre-AP ELA 9 classes and we also implemented Outcomes-Based Grading (Standards-Based Grading for my American readers). Needless to say, we’re really excited, but I’m also a little bit hesitant/nervous/anxious/terrified. I’ve done both before, but not in an English class. Math made some much more sense to me when it came to exactly what my class time versus homework was going to look like, but English is a whole new kettle of fish.

Today is the first day where I noticed a huge difference in what my class is like. I assigned some prep-work (the work my class will do the night before a class) last night for my students to do. (You can check out my class website for the resources mentioned.) Their job was to watch a short video on Shakespearean Insults and to do a little reading about how to paraphrase when reading Shakespeare. Today in class, we took our knowledge about how to read Shakespeare and applied it to how to write like Shakespeare. They were tasked to act as a “secret admirer” to another student in my class and write them a kind letter. In theme with Valentine’s Day this week, this letter could be romantic (not required) or platonic, whichever the students were comfortable writing, so that I can pass them out anonymously on Friday for a little Valentine’s pick-me-up (some of them were super sweet–I almost cried reading how kind-hearted my students are).

Here’s where my students were struggling with the flipped concept: they were working, but not very hard. I reminded them that the assignment was to be completed by the end of class. They had more than sufficient time to complete this work if they were working diligently, but many of them were not. As the deadline drew nearer–fifteen minutes left, ten minutes left, five minutes left–the students began to panic more. Several students put up their hand at the five minute marker, and asked if they could take this home for homework.

Normally, I would be OVER THE MOON if a student willingly volunteered to take work home so they could complete it and “do a better job,” but I’m in the process of retraining their thinking on how class works. I said no, and they were dismayed. I took time to have a “teachable moment” and explain that they need to be maximizing their class time or we aren’t going to accomplish anything all semester. I’m lucky to have a spectacularly motivated crew, so they were on board with actually being productive. I am also fortunate that I get to keep my class all afternoon, so we dipped into some of fifth period to get the letters done to their satisfaction.

All in all, this was a great learning experience for me: I need to be grateful for my very eager students, I need to be more diligent with managing class time, and I need to reinforce the difference between prep work and class work (and the absence of homework).

My question to you, as readers, is what strategies do you use to help your students to transition their learning habits from a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom? 


Marks or Learning?

Part of my teaching load this semester is Pre-AP English 9. This group of students is highly motivated, and I love teaching them. They are very good about completing their homework, they are outstanding when it comes to participating in class, and they are ultra respectful. They are also keenly interested in their grades. They are driven by attaining a numerical standard, for which I have no reference point. What constitutes an 83% versus an 81%?

Part of what got me thinking about this again was a few weeks ago when report cards were due. I have one student who has failed a few assignments and does homework about half the time. I was expecting a grade in the high 50s or low 60s. After I entered a few grades, I decided to check to see how everyone was “doing.” I was shocked to see a high 70. Based on the quality of work I’ve seen, this grade seems disproportionate to the skills the student has demonstrated. Another student, on the other hand, had about the same grade, yet has showed significantly more ability. Needless to say, I was puzzled and dismayed.

Another complexity that has me thinking about this is the issue of getting on the honour roll. For the most part, my English class students are pretty much all on the honour roll. They get their grades back, quickly do a an average and figure out if they attained the above 80% standard or not. I don’t know if I am completely able to justify what makes a student less than an 80%, especially when some of my students with lower grades work harder than the students with the highest grades.

To complicate the issue, I have been living in a strange vortex with my teaching load as well — I also teach Modified Science 9. My science crew are pleasantly happy when I return passing grades, but otherwise have no vested interest in the number that appears on their report card. They operate on a pass-fail mentality. As long as they have 50.0 or higher, they are doing great in their minds.

Both classes are leaving me with a bit of a dilemma. I am working to create valuable learning experiences, only to slap a number on it and shatter dreams if it isn’t the number they want. I have a few solutions for how to remedy this situation, because I’m feeling like a terrible teacher for not instilling a better sense of wonder and excitement about learning (rather than an obsession with numbers).

Firstly, I tried out outcome-based grading last year in math, and it worked fairly well for everyone involved. I was able to translate exactly what a number meant, and the students knew where they stood exactly. I am grappling with how to use this technique in English right now, since everything we do seems to be covering 302378039843238 different outcomes and indicators. Currently, I’m thinking that it might be best to design a series of general rubrics for each strand — reading, writing, representing, viewing, listening, and speaking. I am weary, however, because I don’t want to short-change my students by over-generalizing their work. I would be remiss to only score an essay based on one strand, writing.  Each writing piece also has so many intricacies. Would I, however, be able to score an essay on writing, representing, and reading, depending on the content of assignment? I haven’t worked out the fine details, but I’m considering this my Christmas project to iron out some key points of how to implement this assessment in an English classroom.

The second remedy I’ve been toying with is self-assessment. I had the blessing of taking two classes from Dean Shareski in university. For the second course I took with Dean, he implemented a self-assessment plan. He gave use lots of great assignments with a wide-variety of choice. I can honestly say that I worked my butt off for that class. I knew that I wanted to get a 90% in his class, so I worked hard to make sure I got it and deserved it. I know that self-assessment can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Some students will give themselves more than they deserve after slacking off and some students will give themselves less than they deserve after working really hard. I don’t know exactly what my self-assessment piece is going to look like, but I need to build one in to add a sense of ownership for my numbers-driven students.

I won’t ever be able to undo their love of numbers. I probably won’t ever be able to escape it, though I will try. What I can do, though, is tie a meaning to a number, rather than it being an arbitrary digit with no significant meaning beyond “I’m passing” or “I’m failing.”

Here’s where I’m at right now: once I get some outcome-based grading rubrics set up, my students could use them as a scale for formative and summative self-assesment. Their thoughts might sound like this: “I want to get a 5. Today, based on the rubric, I think I’m sitting at a 3. This is what I need to do to get from 3 to 5.” Of course, this won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen in a semester either, but I am going to try.

Of course, it would be unfair to my students to walk into class tomorrow with a brand new grading system. I want to get it right, so I will likely begin to develop different assessment resources for myself (and find a bunch too) to begin testing them on student work to help iron out the kinks. I can’t say what my teaching load will be next semester, but if I can figure out how to make the jump from math to ELA, I think I just might be able to make it work for any subject.

How have you implemented Outcome-Based grading in your classroom (or SBG if you’re from the states)? Any tricks of the trade? What do you do to alleviate the pressure students put on themselves for a grade?


Squirmy Yoga and Differentiation

I started taking a yoga class that one of our staff members has arranged for our school. I’m definitely not the “yoga-type” by any stretch–I like live a fast-paced, jam-packed life, and I can hardly sit still, let alone breathe with intention. I told my self at the start of the semester that I had to sign up and give it a solid try–that meant attending every week and trying REALLY hard to like it. It worked for olives, so it will hopefully work for yoga. I am now three months into the experiment and I can honestly say that I look forward to our practices. During practice, I do my best to be mindful and enjoy the session, which is kind of tricky when you are playing twister with yourself (right foot to left hip, right hand to right foot from around the back, left hand to the left foot, don’t fall over!). Each practice, our yoga instructor asks us to set an intention for the practice. I’m not entirely sure what I should be intending, but  without fail, I always set the intention of “I am going to relax and enjoy this.” Once it’s solidified with a wavering “ohm,” I do my darnedest to make that happen.

As I mentioned before, I’m not great at sitting still. I am a way bigger fan of the “moving and grooving”-type exercise, so the static nature of yoga is unfathomably difficult for me. I usually get into a pose, hold it for a bit, then start squirming. I don’t squirm because I’m not enjoying it; rather, I squirm because it’s tricky and I like to move.

I hadn’t really noticed just how squirmy I was until yesterday morning. I was especially tired from staying up too late working on report cards, so my concentration, balance, and ability to keep my eyes open were a little bit limited. About midway through the practice, I was flailing violently in a grand effort to not fall over whilst twisted up in the latest maze of a pose when I realized that everyone else either calmly put their foot down (how, I don’t know) or didn’t even waiver (again, how, I do not know). As I was about to wipe out, the instructor magically appeared by my side to steady me while the rest of class was statue-like.

This got me thinking about how much I appreciate my yoga class, especially the instructor. I go to class each week and I am greeted with a smile. I fumble my way through class, yet I always receive positive praise and little help when I need it. No one in my class gives me dirty looks for doing yoga “wrong.” I am in a wonderful learning space where I am exploring my own abilities. No one has ever told me to try something easier, to stop wiggling, or to try harder. Everyone accepts that I’m doing my best, and because of that I work to be better.

While we were in our last pose, my favourite “lay on the floor and relax so that you could almost fall asleep,” my brain got thinking about whether I was doing this in my own teaching practice. While I don’t teach P.E., I still want my students to be comfortable to explore their own abilities within each subject. As of late, I’ve been working hard to keep up with prepping and marking, so my differentiation for students who are not fitting into the mould has not been up to snuff. My students are learning, but are they learning their best? I am giving them lots of varied activities, but am I encompassing all the talents and hidden talents of my students? Am I asking my students to sit in their desks far longer than they should when many of them are kind of squirmy to begin with?

I’m certainly going to be asking myself these questions over the next few days while I’m planning my upcoming units. What tips or tricks do you have that help with building in movement into high school classrooms (without causing a huge raucous)? What sort of activities are your “go-to’s” for differentiation and exploring creativity when you are in a time crunch?


It’s Time to Recognize

Well, I’m pleased to say I’m back to the blogging world after a somewhat long hiatus. It’s not that I intended to be gone for so long, but, as you probably know well, the life of a teacher is busy!

I have spent the better part of the last month really focusing on what I’m grateful for: good health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and a welcoming school. I am happy to be back at the school where I completed my internship in Fall of 2011. My heart is so full of gratitude for the kindness the staff have extended to me so far this semester.

In particular, a number of staff members have volunteered to “take me under their wing” to informally and formally mentor me. To me, having a group of mentors is invaluable. Each person brings a different perspective, different advice, and a different skill set for me to draw on and hopefully emulate.

One person, in particular, has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel welcome and loved. Jodi, an enthusiastic technology expert, has an unparalleled pedagogy. She strives daily to connect personally with her students, all the while using multiple forms of technology and media to deliver a sound education to everyone who sets foot in her classroom.

What strikes me most profoundly about Jodi is her kind nature. She never seems rattled, she always looks for positive solutions, and she always has time to lend a hand. I can honestly say that no one has had a more powerful impact on my pedagogy, desire to further my knowledge formally and informally, and plain old love of teaching than Jodi has in just a few short months. She is truly inspiring. I can attribute 90% of my sanity in the last few weeks solely to Jodi and her caring advice. 

Because of this, I am in the process of nominating her for a provincial teaching award to recognize her for being so gosh-darn wonderful. What I didn’t know before I started doing my research on this incredible role model is just how involved Jodi really is. Her resume is jaw-dropping, and her technical abilities astound. She is digitally connected through social media and blogging, and she makes such strong connections in the physical world too. I could probably write a fifteen-page essay on just how remarkable she is, but I have marking to get to eventually.

Why I write today is partially to recognize Jodi, but more importantly to highlight the importance of recognition in general. Teaching is such a politically sensitive job. We are continually scrutinized by the government and the public. Our careers can quickly become so negative. One of the complaints I’m hearing most often from the teaching community is that they feel undervalued. Perhaps this value doesn’t need to have a dollar sign (although, I won’t complain if it does), but rather it needs to come in the form of praise and recognition. This praise doesn’t need to come in the form of an award, but rather in small, personal moments. It can be as simple as saying “I walked by your classroom today, and I was so impressed with the mature discussion your students were engaged in.” It could be a note in a mailbox thanking someone for their help with a particular lesson. It can be anything, but I think it is all too often forgotten about. We have a busy job, and things like this can quickly be put on the back burner. Let’s support our fellow colleagues and take a moment every now and then to recognize each other for the tremendous work we all do.

If you’re reading this and you’re a teacher, I bet you are thinking about a remarkable teacher you know too. Let them know it! If you are a parent, a student, or anyone else, you probably know a teacher who could use a pat on the back. Take the next three minutes to do it. Send them an email, write them a quick note, text them, tweet them, phone them, or find a funny comic that reminds you of them. Whatever you want. Glue macaroni onto some construction paper, even. Whatever you do, remember to be grateful for the work everyone does. It takes a minute of your time, but it will make that teacher feel wonderful for a lifetime.

Jodi, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU. You are a miracle worker every single day. I have a high-five waiting for you tomorrow morning!

“Miss Thibeault! I Have to Tell You Something!”

I hear that a lot lately. It is not limited to bad jokes, either.

I have been teaching Career Ed since September, and every term (half semester) I get a new class. I’m currently teaching my third Career class. I have to say, third time’s a charm!

I started my first class out with wordpress blogs, but my students found them confusing, and I had a hard time finding/orchastrating them. I was actually quite surprised at how difficult my students found it, as I was expecting them to have a better grasp of the technology than I did.

In my second go around, I moved over to Weebly (and completely overhauled my course). This solved a few problems for me. Firstly, it allowed me to create the usernames and passwords for my students, which solved the “Miss Thibeault! I don’t know my username or password” problem. Secondly, it had a better drag-and-drop-style interface that my students liked using. Once their sites were up and running, things went really smoothly. Lastly, it also let me move my class websites to one location. Previously, I’d been using wikispaces, but weebly seems to make more sense. I now have several pages that I use to keep track of daily work, as well as other classes. I’m still developing my site, but it is certainly user-friendly.

Now I’m on my third batch of Career 9 students. I reorganized my course even more than I did, and I also booked into the computer lab. I am trying to run this class without paper. I goofed and printed out a course outline on the first day, so I am on a mission to not printout another thing. We’ve even done tests without paper!

What is really inspiring about this though is the ownership this third class has over their sites. I give them their assignments, and they quite often do not have homework. However, a handful of students go home and post their own stuff on their sites. I now get a report from excited students the next class (it usually goes something like “Miss Thibeault! Did you read my blog last night??!?!?! I posted about this really cool thing! [Insert explanation almost word-for-word of what they posted]). I usually haven’t had a chance to check out their blogs the night before, but I always make a point of stopping what I’m doing to go see what they’ve been up to.

On of my students is into video games and animation. He asked me what my favourite animation program was. I really can’t say I’ve ever animated, so I told me all about his favourite sites. He and a partner used xtranormal for a presentation (they made it in under half an hour). He did a review on his site about the pros and cons. I have to say, it is pretty cool.

These conversations really drive how we are learning in the class. For instance, his xtranormal presentation got me thinking about how we can use that sort of technology in a productive, meaningful way. We are now going to be doing a mini-project recreating a video I have about resumes and interviews. I bought the video at Dollarama, but the quality is, well, AWFUL. What can you expect from a $2 movie? The information, however, is invaluable. I think I’ll split my class into small groups and get them to remake parts of the film (condensed), then splice them together to make one awesome video!

I am so grateful for my very engaged class. They are certainly making my job a ton of fun, easier, and more creative!

New Teachers Bring Chocolate

I’m on the home stretch. Only 14 instructional days left until finals begin. Looking back at the semester, I have to say it is a blur. Looking ahead, I’m pleased to say that I am ahead of schedule in two of my classes. The other two are on schedule. I have to attribute this to the acceptance and willingness at my school.

My students are fantastic. There are days where I know I’ll think back to writing this and wonder “What the heck was I thinking!?!”, but all in all, they’ve stuck with me. My students all know that I am a first year teacher, despite my best efforts to hide it. I think this is a good thing, because inexperience, aside young teachers bring a lot to the table.

Firstly, I think I bring a sense of exploration. This is the first time I’m fully teaching these classes. I’m exploring too. I know where I want to take my courses, but I have no problem stopping to smell the roses on the way. I found this especially in my psychology class. Going into it, I thought it was going to be lots of notes with me preaching daily. Yes, that happens, but I try to keep it down. Why? Because my students offhandedly ask phenomenal questions. These questions almost never arise after I ask if anyone has any questions. To be honest, they usually arise from a student challenging what they’re learning, which means that we are getting far more out of the course than we ever would with boring old notes. While I always feel like I’m in the hot seat, I know they are pushing me to be a better teacher too.

Secondly, my students see me make mistakes. More than I would like, I goof up. I do my best to be honest with my students, in order to model the behaviours I would like them to exhibit when they goof up too. I think this is a pinnacle part of a relationship I have with one of my students. He is on the bubble of passing one of my classes right now, because he got quite far behind. He is a very passive student normally, but when he feels wronged, he gets absolutely aggressive. The first time he had an outburst, it scared the bananas out of me. But, I learned to deal with it. A few days later, after he had calmed down, we had a long conversation about what he is doing in my class, and what he and I can do to make sure he is successful. The conversation was a two-way street — we negotiated with the behaviours that bothered us. There were somethings that I wouldn’t budge on (and he understood), such as him dropping the f-bomb, and others where I was really flexible on (we organized an assessment plan for him that he found manageable and not overwhelming; we talked about what I can do when he is feeling frustrated that will calm him down rather than agitate him, yet still let me get my point across). The conversation(s) — there were a few, since we didn’t get it quite right the first try — taught me a lot about what it means to be a good teacher. I have a great deal of respect for him, and he know shows a great deal of respect toward me as well.

I cannot believe how appreciative my students were when I brought chocolate toonies from my grandmother. She means the world to me. My students mean the world to me. Does life get better?

I cannot believe how appreciative my students were when I brought chocolate toonies from my grandmother. She means the world to me. My students mean the world to me. Does life get better?

Thirdly, new teachers bring chocolate. This one is a bit of a crapshoot, but I like things to come in threes. I’m the youngest in my family, and my Gramma is quite proud to have all her grandchildren through college and onto their careers. As the last one to convocate, I think I got a little bit of extra pride spillover. At Christmas time, she slipped me three little bags of chocolate toonies (for non-Canadians, they are our $2 coins, except made of chocolate) to handout to my students. She knows how much I love teaching and chocolate, so this is one of the most meaningful things anyone has ever done for me. I almost cried in class today when a student, who normally is a chatty-Charlie looked up from munching on his toonie and ever so sincerely said, “Miss Thibeault, please thank your grandmother for us.” Call me mushy, but I might be choked up right now.

Gosh. I cannot believe how much I’ve learned in the last four months, despite the blur they seemed to be. I have my students to thank.


Crappy Teacher

I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time. I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while now, but I just haven’t had the chance. I’m glad to be procrastinating doing my laundry and blogging instead.

I figured out why one my classes seemed to be getting progressively more poorly behaved. I’ll keep you in suspense while I explain.

One of my classes had a class list that made other teachers cringe. In my wonderful student profile survey, they all explained that they hate math. Joy. They also solely are taking math to get out of high school. Double joy.

As the days progressed, my classroom management got worse. I started out the year as the nice teacher with really strict rules. Then I morphed into the really strict teacher, who was grouchy all the time, and had so many tough rules that I couldn’t possibly enforce them all. I tried detention. Kids didn’t show up, so I doubled it. I had a student who racked up four hours. We had a “Bathroom Board” so that I knew how long my students were gone for washroom and/or drink breaks. Forty minutes is excessive, don’t you think? I don’t really want to go on, but let’s just say that there may or may not have been laser pointers.

I had an epiphany while I was at a conference. I’m not sure where it hit me, or why it did, but it occurred about 10:21 a.m. The more poorly my students behaved, the more worse of a teacher I became. I’d threatened my student with boring notes, and I’d followed through. My classes were getting progressively crappier, as was my students’ behaviour. No wonder. I didn’t enjoy teaching the class, and I’m CERTAIN they didn’t enjoy being there either.

So I decided to change things. I took about a week and sunk the majority of my time into revamping my entire upcoming unit plan. I created a “flip-flopped” classroom (for an overview, see my previous post).

I can honestly say I was terrified. I had admin support though, so I gave it a shot. And it kind of worked.

I won’t say my management problems are gone, but they are certainly much better and improving as we speak (or write/read as the case may be. Except that it is Saturday, so my students aren’t in my class, but you get my point).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I learned that teacher-student relationships go both ways. I need to be a good teacher to have good students. I can’t “crappy-teach” them to be good students.