Sick Days Solution

sickSo, it only took three weeks.  Monday morning I woke up with a terrible cold/flu and I ended up missing three days.  For three days I attempted to come up with meaningful things my students could do, something that can be hard at the best of times, but even more so at this time of year when I’m still working on establishing skills and habits I want them to use all semester.  I managed, except for one thing.  My international baccalaureate class had passed in a writing assignment that my sub sent home to me, because I wanted mark it.  I did want to mark it because it is a building block, something I need to give them feedback on before we move on.  But I just couldn’t do it.  My head was too full, and I was too achy, for me to concentrate on their work.  We all know it’s not fair to mark something when you’re in such a state.

I arrived at a solution that I first thought was just an easy way out of my dilemma.  On further thought, however, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to do some formative assessment that puts the responsibility squarely on their shoulders, not mine.  Here’s what I did:

I had an exemplar written for that paragraph, so I made up a sheet  that had the paragraph and a checklist for what I expected the paragraph to contain.  You can see it  here: Portia Paragraph Assessment.    I passed it out to the students, along with their pieces of writing.  I asked them to compare the two and then check off what they did correctly in their paragraphs.  After that, they had to write a short note on the bottom of their writing that told me what they need to do to improve.

The reason I think this was a good way to go was not just because of my still fuzzy head, but because I think I stumbled accidentally on a good practice.  My experience has been, sadly, that many students don’t read the feedback I give them; they are only interested if there is a mark.  This way, I gave them a model and had them do their own assessment of how their work matched up.  It forced them to reflect on their writing in a way that my scribbles in the margin may not.

When they had finished, I tested my theory by asking them which method they learned more from–my usual feedback or this new way.  They were unanimous in saying that they did more thinking and learning with the self-assessment.  Of course, they made it clear that they still want mine, and they will get it, but I will certainly use this method for more formative assessment in the future.

Being sick wasn’t such a waste of time after all…


Trick 0’Teach Giveaway!

I’m excited to announce  an amazing SECONDARY SPOOKY GIVEAWAY!  Danielle Knight (Study All Knight) and I have teamed up to bring you an exciting secondary giveaway just in time for the fall months.The winner will receive all of their common core, multiple intelligences, and bloom’s taxonomy needs right here in this diverse prize pack!  Secondary teachers really have a hard time fitting the holidays into their lessons and materials. We’ve created materials that can easily be implemented with very little prep. So be sure to enter today! Your students will think your class is SPOOK-TACULAR!

In the prize pack, you’ll find my new product: 

Halloween Activities for Secondary ELA

Plus $20 Winner’s Choice to my TpT Store


Danielle Knight is offering:

Edgar Allan Poe: Interactive Layered Flip Book


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Craftivity and Flip Book


Fall Short Stories Collection: Myths and Legends- Full Texts and Assessments

“Thriller,” Cause and Effect Activity Pack  

Try to complete all the entries.You can earn up to six chances! Winner announced on Sunday, October 5th. Good Luck!  

To enter, go to: Study All Knight  and use the raffle copter entry form.

A Peek at My Week

I’m linking up today with Mrs. Laffin for A Peek at My Week! PEEKWEEK

Last week was my first full week since back to school…it was a long one!  It’s so hard to go from the total relaxation of summer to the crazy of the school year–for both us and our students!

One way that we take a break from the crazy is through silent reading. This year I am doubly excited about independent reading because our department of education has provided every high school English teacher with an amazing number of new titles.  I have six copies of six new (and very current) novels for each of my classes, plus two of each title from each of the other grades…it’s so exciting to look at my bookcase!  The students are loving the new books and some are on their second one–and we only started last Wednesday.

However, as exciting as all of this is, I am left with wondering how to keep track of all of this reading, and how to assess the students. Ideally, we would just let them read for the love of reading, but some of our students need a little nudge of encouragement in the form of marks, in order to keep their noses in their books.  This can be difficult with independent reading, as some students will read ten books, while others will be victorious if they actually finish one.  This week I will be showing my students how they will be assessed for their independent reading, in a way that’s fair for each of them.

ind reading previewI’m a great admirer of Penny Kittle, author of Book Love.  She writes a lot about building reading stamina, so our students (who mostly read in short, skimming bursts on the Internet) need time to strengthen their reading muscles, so they will be better prepared to read the complex texts they need in subsequent grades, and in post secondary education–not to mention opportunities to get them hooked on reading!  So, I’ve designed my assessment around that idea, and give students forms they can use to set goals and track their progress.  I’ve also come up with a series of short, informal assignments that they can use for any novel at any time.  That way, regardless of where they are in their novel, all students can complete an assignment.  You can access these at my TPT store.

Today I added two new assignments to this product, and you can grab them here today for free!

Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4

Other than sinking deep into our books, my grade twelve classes will be continuing their non-fiction unit.  Their first blog posts are due tonight (they were blogging about their generation’s obsession with social media), and I will give them their first formative assessment on their responses to the material, and on their responses to their group mates.  Blog number two will be due by Wednesday.  After that we will start our critique of the school system–one of my favouite activities with my kids.  You can get more info about it here, in a previous blog post.

This week my IB students will be diving deep into The Merchant of Venice. Monday they will be working on a series of questions I gave them that have them examine Shakespeare’s purpose and technique. At the beginning of the semester, I give them a lot of guidance, but very quickly I will back off and they will work together to decide what is important to remember in each scene. Tuesday we will look closely at some important quotes from the act, and do a writing workshop where they will practice both their writing and analytical skills.  One area I will focus on is Shakespeare’s use of prose and verse, and how he uses it to develop character.  I can’t wait for the students to meet Shylock–he’s one of my favourite Shakespearean characters, and he will give them much to think about and analyze.

So that’s my week!  I hope you have a good one, and if you have any great ideas for dealing with independent reading, please comment below.

A Peek at my Week

PEEKWEEKI’m linking up today with Mrs. Laffin for A Peek at My Week!

Today begins the first full week I have with all of my students and my biggest hope is that it’s cooler–last week my room was like a sauna!  It lead to a spontaneous outdoor class and an assignment that’s due today.  They had to write a fully developed analogy that begins with “Having class outside is like…”  The exemplar I gave them started with “Taking a class outside is like taking a toddler to a toy store…”  You can grab the assignment here:

outdoor analogy

Today, with the temperature a little lower, we will get back on track with my “warm up” activities (ha! no intention to be ironic there…) At the beginning of every semester, in both my academic and general twelfth grade classes, I spend several days working on critical thinking and discussion skills. Today we will do my “Rights Balloon Exercise” to help them understand that not everyone sees the world the same way, and then we will start talking about how we make good judgments about things–how do we know when something is “good”?  I’ve done full blog posts on each of these lessons. Check them out here.

This week, in these two classes, we will also start using our class blog.  I give them articles to read and videos to watch on topics that usually elicit great discussion.  They work in groups and have an online discussion about the topic. The first one we will look at is the importance of failure–I want them to be risk takers, and the articles and videos I provide attempt to convince them that failure is not an f-word.  Here is one of the videos I use: 

If you want the full lesson, you can find it here.

My IB class has already done all of these lessons last year in Pre-IB, but we’re doing another “warm up” activity to get them ready for the analysis we will have to do all year.  The biggest focus in IB English is author purpose and technique.  In order to dust off the cobwebs that grew in their brains over the summer, I show them one of my favourite movies, Dead Poets Society (bitter sweet this year), and have them analyze the choices the director makes.  Once we have viewed the film, I divide them in groups and assign each one a youtube clip from the movie (You can access the clips here).  Then, they work on the class blog to discuss the purpose and technique in their assigned clips.  They do that for homework, then present their conclusions to the class the next day.  It’s lots of fun and they always do a wonderful job.  Later, it’s a great reference point when they are struggling with their texts.  I can say, remember when you looked at those clips from Dead Poets?  The visuals provided by the movie seem to be easier for them to access than verse from Shakespeare.  Go figure…

So that’s my week!  It’s always one of my favourites as the activities are designed to help us get to know each other as the students work on important critical thinking skills.  Let’s just hope it stays cool!

Want real learning? Make it more interactive!

Like many teachers across the country, I just spent the last two days in meetings.  After a summer of relaxation and moving to the beat of my own wishes, I was required to sit for hours in a hard plastic chair while my well-intentioned principal droned on about the same information that he had written on the text-heavy slide show he was projecting.  Every now and then we got a chance to question and discuss, but for the most part, we sat and listened. And squirmed, and doodled, and tuned out, and wished we were back on the beach.  Afterward, many of us wondered about the wisdom of having sixty people who have been off for two months sit still all day.

Ironically, many of us will do that very same thing to our students today as we pass out schedules and drone on about procedure and rules.  Like us, they will squirm, doodle and tune out as they try to get their minds and bodies ready to do it all every day of the semester.   Like us, some of them will still learn despite their wish to be somewhere else.  However, wouldn’t it be better if we could find ways to wake them up and to be active while they learn?

The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time; yet, that is exactly what it does in school.  In  Brain Rules (2008) brain researcher John Medina states that “physical activity is cognitive candy” and that “exercise boosts brain power”.   In fact, study after study points to the same conclusion: learners need to move.  But is this research  just about kinesthetic learners?  Definitely not, for we all benefit from moving and stretching.  It gets the blood flowing, it boosts creativity, and it breaks up the monotony of sitting in those hard old seats!

move pin

I’m lucky to teach with some creative and inspiring teachers who use lots of active learning in their classes.  One physics and math teacher has a trunk full of toys and games that get students moving as they learn about the principles of physics. If you walk by his class on the right day, you might even witness students in egg throwing contests.  His most popular game, though, is in his math class, where enthusiastic students play “Sig Fig Says” to learn about significant figures.  Another math teacher has a chin up bar hanging from the ceiling so students can take action breaks, and a biology teacher has exercise  balls for students to sit on so as to better engage their core.  Others have taken students paint-balling to re-enact battles in WWII or the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.   The students in these classes clearly have lots of opportunity to move to learn. But do you have to go to great lengths to get your students’ bodies and brains moving?  Do you have to spend hours thinking up crazy lesson plans and field trips?  No, because there are some very simple ideas that you can use every day.  The simplest is to just allow students to stand up and stretch half way through the class.  Or, when they do group work, tape a piece of chart paper on the wall so they have to do their work standing up.  If you’re comfortable letting them leave the room, send them for a walk ‘n talk as they discuss their ideas.  Send them in pairs or small groups for a walk around the school, or outside on the school grounds.  You can find many of these ideas in my free product, by clicking on the image to the left.

grammar gamesLast year, I also started developing a series of Grammar Games.  I was soooo tired of correcting the same, basic grammar errors that I thought I’d try a more kinesthetic approach.  I created cards containing parts of sentences that, when put together, form a grammatically correct sentence.  I hand out the cards and then students have to find matches to help them complete their sentences.  They have a great time running around the classroom, trying to be among the first to get a match.  It makes grammar a little more fun, and I can give them immediate feedback without having to correct a bunch and exercises. 

In a few weeks we will begin essay writing and I will use a very interactive approach to this, too, as students work together to develop ideas for an essay, and then create a “kinesthetic essay”.  They activate all of their learning styles and, hopefully, better understand how to write an essay.

So today, when I meet my new students, I do have to give them a lot of information as we start the new year, but I plan to get them out of their seats so they don’t drift off to zombie land.  And every day after that I will plan opportunities for my students to move and interact.  The last two days of staff meetings served as a great reminder of how important these things are for engagement and learning!

Have an awesome new semester with your students.  If you have any great ideas for active learning, please share them in the comments!

Decorating My Classroom

I decided to do a total overhaul of my room before we start up again with the students on Thursday. I’m still not done, but thought I’d share the process as I go.

I have always tried to make my room a comfy place to be, but have also had some decorating challenges. Here are my before pcs:


The biggest decorating challenge is the size and layout of this room. It’s one of the smallest in the building, but I have hung on to it because there are two student group rooms that open off my room (the doors are on the wall to the left of the window bank).  So, I have one wall of lovely, south-facing windows, two walls with chalk and Smart boards and another with a cupboard and two doors.  Because of this, it’s hard to arrange my desks.

The other challenge is the colour scheme.  The school was renovated in the early ’90’s, and the planners, in their wisdom, thought teal and pink was a choice that would stand the test of time.  Or maybe they didn’t think?  Hmmmm.  Anyway, my door is teal, the trim is pink, my chair is pink, my curtains are pink…you get the idea.  In the past, I have tried to embrace the whole teal and pink world and matched my own decorations to the school’s colour scheme.  This year I am rebelling and putting up colours that I like.


I went to Staples and Michael’s and bought a bunch of black paper and coloured duct tape that I used to cover my bulletin board. I also scored that red three drawer container on half price–perfect to store handouts for each of my three classes! You can also see the can labels I bought from Hope King.

Another score is this bulletin board from Winners. I was going to put my Exit Wall on the board, but decided to use this. Students can just insert their exit tickets in the appropriate slot. I can also move it when it’s not in use, a handy thing given my limited space.IMG_8608

So, that’s as far as I got yesterday–it was so hot in my room I could only stay so long! I’m off now to finish and will update with more photos when I do!

UPDATE:  I got a little further this morning.  It’s still not where I want it, but I’m getting closer!  I will pick at it over the semester when I have time.  I would love to get a bucket of paint and spruce up the walls, but we have too many regulations about colours, etc. Anyway, here are the latest pics:



I’ve arranged the desks in a kind of horse shoe. Right now there are twenty-eight of them, and I’m hoping I won’t need any more! I love my new boggle board. I plan to use it for class contests and for early finishers. There is a can in the bookcase with the other letters in it, as well as some sticky tack, so I can easily change them out.   The anchor chart and poster are ones I made to help my students with active reading strategies.  


I used duct tape to pretty up my filing cabinet, as well as the one to the right of my desk. They still aren’t that pretty, but it helped a little!

In two days those empty desks will be filled with my new students. I hope my efforts have made Room 213 a comfortable place to be.