Planning Tools

My preplanning work station.

My preplanning work station.

A few weeks ago, I started organizing myself in order to tackle my curriculum planning for the 2015-16 school year.  I addressed developing a Classroom Bootcamp for the first quarter, and relied heavily on the difference between a bootcamp and a simple review.  There are a lot of ways to organize yourself, but sometimes, especially when you’re a new teacher, it can be overwhelming.  Whether you’re working on an entire curriculum, unit plan, or just a weekly/daily lesson plan, you can become distracted by all the options and resources that are available.  So here are a few tools that I use in order to relieve some of the frazzle-osity of planning.

Online Organizing

There are two types of  websites that I use to help keep myself organized.  The first is what I call the “Catch-All” and the other is “Application and Reflection.”

Catch-All

unnamedEvernote – I’ve blogged in the past about how much I love this website/app/program.  Evernote is a multi-platformed resource that allows users to accumulate notes, websites, media, and other information that they would like to save for later.  The organizational capacity is fantastic!  Categories are designated into Notebooks and within each notebook, notes are created that can be customized by adding your own text, checklists, bullet points, lists, etc.  Additionally, users can attach pictures or other documents that coincide with that particular content.

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Sample list of notebooks from my Evernote account.

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One example of a note created in my English IV Curriculum notebook.

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Sample checklist in my English IV Curriculum notebook.

Picture-7-2-2015Pinterest – I don’t think there is a soul out there who uses the internet that doesn’t know about Pinterest.  It’s more than just a way to waste a couple of hours planning weddings and dream homes; Pinterest has been one of the most helpful resources for developing everything from classroom management plans to creating posters/anchor charts for my walls to interesting articles about texts we are reading in class.  By being able to create specialized boards to organize each of these “pins,” I am able to efficiently incorporate their contents into my classroom.

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Obviously, “I am a runner” and “Workouts” don’t make too many appearances in my curriculum, but they do give me the endorphins to make it through my lessons. =)

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Application and Reflection

suite_transparent_largeGoogle Docs – I have found myself becoming more reliant on Google Docs over the last year, and I admit that I have A LOT to learn.  I have uploaded all of my curriculum documents and lesson plans here, but I also complete reflections on my lessons.  This is something I am setting up for the first time this school year, so I will keep you updated as to my progress.

End of the Year Thoughts

There are less than three weeks remaining in our school year; less than two weeks of instruction before final exams begin.  Of the six class period that I teach, three of them have been vacated by this year’s graduating class.  It hasn’t left a void in my day because those three periods have been filled with planning meetings for next year and work on the Senior Gift from the Class of 2015.  Today should be a a more peaceful day, but I do want to take advantage of this downtime and reflect on my successes for the year and ideas for improvement for the next.

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What I have learned in 2014-2015

  • Content knowledge serves only a small portion of the recipe for running a successful class.  The strategies that are utilized during instruction and guided/independent practice are far more important.  I spent a lot of my time taking courses and researching online for better practices that would support student learning.  It has paid off tremendously.
  • The number one classroom management tool that I can offer is building relationships with students.  I was lucky enough to have four of six classes with students I have taught in the past.  I felt that I was able to reach more students more effectively during instruction and guided practice activities this year versus last year.  I realize that I focused on individual students more this year than last, which ultimately resulted in more student buy-in.
  • I am not an island.  I served as English Department Chair for a second year at my current school, but have been in this position for a total of six years.  While I was able to work more effectively with students by building relationships, I was able to transfer this concept with my department team members.
  • I spent a lot of time working with/shadowing my principal this year, especially the second semester.  I sat in on observations and evaluations, reviewing resumes and interviews, and while it did take me out of my classroom, I learned so many valuable lessons about management, decision making, looking at situations from multiple points of view instead of just one, and how to respond to people in a more amiable way.  I’ve never shied away from my introvert personality traits and awkwardness when speaking to people, so this time spent with my administrator has been invaluable.
  • As much as I would like a situation to drive in one direction, if the people involved are showing clear signs that they’re not on board with me, I need to accept that disappointment and regroup before changing my plans.  This is very vague, but I’ve experienced several situations this year that made me realize that no matter how much I want one thing to happen, no matter how qualified and deserving I may feel, it ultimately doesn’t equate to results.  When I realize that my initial impressions are wrong, I need to acknowledge and accept it.  It’s not personal, it’s business.
  • Good people still exist in this world.  No matter how jaded society can appear to be, it’s important to realize that there really are good people out there who have compassion in their hearts.  When you find these people, you need to appreciate them and gravitate towards them.
  • Try something new.  You’ll find out something about yourself.  If you fail, at least you tried.  If you succeed, you’ve accomplished something. Either way, you know that you’re capable of stepping out of your comfort zone.
  • It’s ok to say no.  I found myself in a position where I had taken on so much that I was stressing out to a point of inability to function as my normal self.  I was quiet, moody, reserved, and frankly edgier than I would have found to be acceptable in other people.  I finally had to turn down a task.  It was a small one, one that was very low on the priority scale, but man did it feel good to say, “I’m not going to be able to take care of that for you.  I will be glad to help find someone who can.”  It saved my sanity.
  • Even when life gives me lemons, it gave me something.  This somewhat goes back to a former lesson I mentioned, but the BIGGEST lesson that I have learned this year, through an experience that I’m still reconciling, is that even when I am disappointed, I am truly blessed.  When Option A doesn’t work out, it’s not time to take my ball and go home.  It’s not time to be pissed off at the world. And it’s not a testimony to my value.

My Favorite Anticipatory Activity for Literature

Happy Tuesday!

I was going to post this yesterday, but Monday marked the first day back to work after Spring Break, and I was more than exhausted.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately; my usual sleep schedule is one of “The Early Bird Gets the Worm,” but lately I haven’t been able to calm my brain down enough to allow for slumber to take over.  Hopefully tonight will be better.

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Despite being sleep-deprived, Monday also marked the day in which I introduced George Orwell’s 1984 and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” to English IV and Pre AP English, respectively.  With a double-lit-introduction, it allowed me to utilize my favorite anticipatory activity with two classes.  I love this activity for many reasons:

1.  It allows students to voice their opinions in a non-threatening/aggressive format.

2.  It involves both interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, and bodily-kinesthetic learning styles.

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3.  It’s a controlled activity that allows students to get up and be out of their seats.

4.  They get to consider topics from several different points of view.

5.  They feel safe changing their mind and consider the factors that lead them to their decisions.

6.  It’s student-centric.

Steps to Lesson:

Teacher Prep:

1.  Before the lesson begins, the teacher will identify the key themes that they will have the class focus on for the unit.  If you’re a novice teacher, there are TONS of websites that provide the themes for you.  My favorites are SparkNotes and Shmoop.

In addition to themes, other key topics can be identified, such as expected behavior based on sex or age, choices characters make, philosophies held by characters, etc.

2.  Once themes and topics have been identified, an opinion-based statement that students will be able to respond to.  For example:

Theme: the dangers of totalitarianism

Opinion-based statement: The national government always acts on behalf of its citizens’ best interests.

Theme: Technology

Opinion-based statement: Without technology, the world would be a better place to live.

Ideally, 6-10 statements are ideal for this activity.

3.  Designate two opposing sections of the classroom, one for AGREE and one for DISAGREE.  It is up to the teacher’s discretion if they want a third, neutral location.  I tend to avoid this because it allows for some students to become disengaged, not truly acknowledging both sides of the argument, or physically becoming stagnant.

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In-Class:

1.  Introduce the idea of the activity by informing the students of the purpose: to both identify the themes within the upcoming text, but to also discuss the various views of the themes within a safe environment.  It’s vital that the expectations are clearly identified to allow for an active discussion: respect for others’ opinions, not speaking over one another, and allowing for the opportunity to change your mind.

2.  Clearly identify and explain the steps of the process:  for each revealed statement, students will consider their initial opinions and then move to the “AGREE” or “DISAGREE” side of the room.  Opportunities to share opinions will be allowed for each, as well as the freedom and acceptance to change your opinion once you have “case your vote.”

3.  Reveal the first statement and once students have settled, allow for students to share their views.

4.  Continue until all statements have been revealed and discussed.

Post Activity:

There are multiple ways in which students can respond to this activity.  You can use this as an exit slip as well as a closing activity.  Students will respond to a question/questions in written form.  I highly recommend a written response so that the room is quiet, focused, and conducive for reflection.  Some suggested questions can be:

1.  Which topic did you feel the strongest response to and why?

2.  Which topic did you feel the most ambiguity and why?

3.   Which topic did you change your opinion about after you voted?  What influenced your decision?

4.  Which topic did you find to be the most divisive? Were you surprised, why or why not?

5.  Which topic were you surprised that most people agreed with and why?

6.  Which topic were you surprised that most peopled disagreed with and why?

Let me know if you utilize this style of anticipatory activity in your classroom and any alternatives you use!