The countdown began when we returned from Spring Break two weeks ago; now those not-so-subtle signs are appearing in the corners of more and more classroom white boards. Sometimes it’s the students’ handiwork, other times the teacher is the one keeping score. Regardless, we all know in the back of our minds that we have 28 days to go.
We’ve been at this for 150 days so far; it’s getting old—to them, and to us. So, I propose we take a cue from the fresh start of spring all around us and turn over a new leaf within our classrooms. This is a great time to plant some seeds that will bear fruit next year. I’m not sure if it’s my short attention-span or my desire for improvement, but I’ve been doing this for years—and it always pays off.
One year, I taught Their Eyes Were Watching God (an AP book at my school) to a class of 11th grade remedial reading students. They loved it and I learned so much about teaching it, I was able to include it in my lit-circle choices for the next year. Another year, with the students’ help, I completely restructured my bellwork routine—replacing the cumbersome composition books I hated to grade with a simple weekly worksheet. We were still journaling, exploring vocabulary, and practicing sentence structure, but it looked and felt different. As we honed in on the best format and routines, the students enjoyed their role in “making things difficult” for next year’s students.
You probably have a list of things you would like to revise/improve/implement, but I’m going to offer a resource, an activity, and a procedure for your consideration:
Newsela. I just learned about this FREE website a few weeks ago. The site offers current news articles, each one written at a variety of grade levels, most with accompanying quizzes for your students. It’s free from ads and a contains a searchable archive of over 500 articles. You can print the material and use it in class or assign the articles/quizzes to your students to complete online. The site is a perfect option for any content-area teacher seeking to incorporate more nonfiction/real-world reading into his/her class. Teachers do have to register and if you want your students to do the work online, you’ll have to give them a code to sign up for your class. See how it works this year so you can incorporate it seamlessly at the start of next year. Perhaps you can find some articles that relate to content you will cover on your final exam!
Word Part Jeopardy. It’s rigorous, it’s relevant, and it’s fun—a perfect end-of-year activity—and, even more perfect for Fun Fridays or brain breaks throughout the year. I just finished revising all seven versions of Word Part Jeopardy that I offer on TeachersPayTeachers, and I added an eighth one. As I was going through the 40 word parts and the accompanying 200 words (5 parts, 25 words per game), I was struck by how many words span the curriculum, so students will also be reinforcing the foundation of their academic vocabularies. The updated game plays smoothly in any version of PowerPoint, but it does take playing a round or two for teachers to get comfortable with the logistics of “buzzing in” and scoring.
The first game in the series is free, so you can download it and see how it works. I offer all of the other games individually, but the best deal is to purchase the bundle. It’s a zipped file of all the individual games and each time I add a new game (two more in the works now!), I’ll add it to the bundle, so you’ll be able to go back and download all the new games for free. The price will go up a little with each new game, but once you have purchased it, it’s yours!
Revise Your Grading System. This was a tough year at my school; budget cuts last year forced layoffs and the teachers lost a planning period and gained another class. We realized very quickly this change amounted to a lot more than 25 extra students and 48 extra minutes of instruction. Teachers are still overwhelmed by the grading. Click on the picture below to see a list from Edutopia of ideas to consider as you think about revising your current system. As an English teacher who was frustrated every time my students ignored my comments written all over the page and scanned only for the final grade, I am especially intrigued by number nine on the list.
This year I worked with a teacher to devise a system that held the students accountable, but relieved her from some of the burden of grading. Her students kept all the work for the week in their binders; on Fridays, she listed the week’s assignments on slips of paper and then had a student in each class draw a slip from a bucket. The students in that class then turned in that assignment for a grade. This kept the students on their toes to complete classwork and lessened the burden on the teacher. She found that there were times, of course, that she did have to collect and grade other assignments, but this method worked great for vocabulary worksheets, reading responses, and textbook activities.
While it’s easy to sit back and turn on the auto-pilot at this time of year, I encourage you to take a little time and reflect on the last year and improvements that you can make. Use this time to try it out and see what you’ll need to do to integrate it smoothly into your routine next year. Your students (this year and next year) will be grateful that you did!