Ah, summer -- those lovely eight weeks or so of freedom from a bell schedule, from assessing student work, from an alarm that goes off way too early some days. I sleep late, throw my hair into a messy bun, wear flip flops, and soak in the lack of structure. Sounds like a teacher taking the summer off, right?
Except I don't. Here's why:
1) Summer = Premium Professional Learning Time
I'm not saying I don't learn during the school year. I do. Only during the summer, I don't have other classroom duties. I can select a handful of great PD books to work through. I can read articles from my Twitter PLN every day. Think about it -- if I'm reading one article a day, six days a week, for eight weeks, that's forty-eight new ideas or perspectives to take back to the classroom in the fall (okay, in August . . . you know, when it will still be a hundred degrees here). I read all sorts of professional literature during the school year, but somehow, my summer professional learning sticks a little better. Might have something to do with not looking at over a hundred pieces of student work every day.
2) Summer = Optimum Planning for Improvement
I realize my plans will change during the school year as I meet my students, start assessing their needs, and make alterations accordingly. At the same time, I also realize that without a plan, I'm not as focused as I can be in the classroom. It's like the house my husband and I are building. We have made changes along the way, but we are adhering to the original plan, which maintains structural integrity.
My plans work the same way. I have a year-long plan and unit plans, and in May, I have a year's worth of reflection on what worked and what didn't. So I spend an hour or so every day during the summer tweaking lesson plans and creating new materials. It's all about maintaining the structural integrity of my instruction.
3) Summer = Modeling the Way
I want my students to keep learning each summer, yes? Well, if I ask them to read or listen or write, I need to be doing the same thing. I didn't assign summer homework this year, but I did ask kids to read. I'm a big believer in doing what I ask my students to do. So if they're reading, I'm reading. If they're listening, I'm listening. And if they're writing, I'm writing.
What about you? Taking the summer off or still working at teaching? What are your reasons?
The last day of Thanksgiving break is here . . . and there are only fifteen school days until Winter Break. The first semester is almost gone, teachers are tired, students are holiday-hyped, and falling into the between-holidays slump can be all too easy. It's only fifteen days, right? So what if we show the film version of The Christmas Carol?
Because we know every single day counts. We know there will be factors we can't control (you know, like the fire alarm going off multiple times a day, three or four days in a row. No, I"m not kidding. I now know all three of my groups of 8th graders can evacuate the building in less than two minutes -- and that they can work through the alarm if we are told to shelter in place!). With those factors in mind, we know we can't give up any instructional days. So how does one avoid the temptation to fall into the "hey, it's one day" slump?
1) Plan, plan, plan.
I am notorious for planning way ahead, but I can be flexible when need be. That two-day plan is going to take three? I can roll with that. But not having a plan is a recipe for non-maximized instructional time. I have an overall plan of what I want to accomplish with my kids over the next three weeks. Will we get everything done? Probably not -- but I have my priority standards, my strategies aligned to those standards, and my acceleration and differentiation planned. I can adjust as kids need me to, but because I know where we're going, we won't fall into what-am-I-going-to-do-today fluff.
2) Make sure the kids know the game plan.
I don't know about yours, but my middle school students need structure. They need to know what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what they will get out of it. I post a calendar on the door, we review what we're doing, and we connect all the dots. Do they want to do all the work? No, they're middle schoolers. I have found, though, that if the kids know the plan, they are less likely to try to pull me into that holiday slump with them. Besides, they want to learn and do well, even when they say they don't want to.
Those are my two big tips. What works for you to keep you and your students out of the slump?
Like many teachers, I use informal formative assessment daily to gauge student learning. These mini-checks may take the form of exit slips, quick mini-conferences with students, or observations. With an increased emphasis on individual growth, though, one of my goals for this year was to make my use of formative assessments more intentional.
Cue the formative assessment plan.
I’m a huge believer in backward design (my Understanding Backward Design workbook is very dog-eared at this point). My method – start with standards and understandings, plan assessments and end goals, design instruction. As I crafted units with daily plans for this year, I simply incorporated a new step: designating which activities and products would serve as formative assignments and how those pieces would inform the learning activities that took place next.
Here’s an example of how this would work:
One of the standards my eighth graders will return to this nine weeks is ELACC8RL5, which asks them analyze how the structure of two or more pieces of literature contributes to meaning and style. I have two formative pieces planned with two different Civil War poems. In the first, students are guided by a graphic organizer through analyzing the structure, meaning and style of one poem. I can spot check that organizer and know what kids need to practice with the second poem (hello, flexible grouping!). For the second poem, students again analyze structure, meaning and style. Some may have a graphic organizer. Others may be more independent. Some may be a small group with my support. All of those instructional decisions are guided by the first formative activity. After this activity, students receive a new set of poems and are asked to work through the analysis independently (no small groups this time). Again, I can provide the scaffold of a graphic organizer or guided questions as indicated by the second activity. The entire process is intentional and embedded in the daily plan breakdown of my overall unit.
So far, I’ve been very pleased with how this works. My students are growing, and my instruction is very targeted.
How do you plan for formative assessment?