My classroom is all about routines. This is not always common in the high school classroom. “Structure and procedures are for lower school,” I’ve heard some teachers say, but the only way I survive my freshmen boys–creatures that have much more in common with puppies (cute, smelly, and can’t sit or stay) than their adult counterparts–and anxiety-driven, perfectionist girls. Instructional time is precious, and I don’t have time to be lackadaisical. Here is how I survive a year of freshmen:
- Keep a make-up work binder. My cooperating teacher introduced me to this idea over five years ago. I’ve used it in my classroom ever since. Students check their binder after any absence. They can find the SmartBoard information (I just print off the notebook pages), notes, and handouts, and assignments they missed. Not only is it the first place my students visit on their return to school, but it is also a year-long record of what we’ve done. I can flip through years past and find the journal prompts I used before. It keeps all my brilliant ideas in one place. I also send students to the binder when they are missing assignments or lost important notes or a handout. No more overflowing filing cabinets!
- Create a class website that includes assignments, files, and links. The class website has destroyed almost every excuse students can come up with for not doing homework. In addition to making them copy their homework in their notebooks and planners, I also post it online. If they leave their notebooks at school, they can visit the website to see what the homework is. I also keep scanned copies of handouts/assignments under “Files and Links” so that if students misplaced the reading, they have access to an online copy. My website also includes audio links to all of our readings to help my auditory learners complete assignments. It’s also useful to help students at home.
- Create an interactive notebook AND keep a sample notebook in your room. I plan on posting more on this as I tweak my interactive notebook assignments. I have used interactive notebooks for the last two years, but I spent quite a bit of time this summer tweaking the presentation of the book. I’m loving how it’s working this year. This year I’ve added daily reflections on what the students have learned. I can see them taking more ownership of their learning. The sample/model notebook provides a place for students to check and see if they are meeting all the requirements. It’s also a great tool for review. When we get ready for a summative assessment, I pass out the study guide. We then go through the notebook together and highlight or flag what they need to know for the test. This demonstrates study skills that most of my freshmen enter my classroom without knowing.
- Use Google Docs for writing assignments. I am not a fanatic user of technology in the classroom, but using Google Docs improves student writing like no other tool I have found. Students share their drafts with me, and when I have some time, I read them. I add comments and advice BEFORE they turn in their final copies. This is a lot of work upfront, but with each written assignment, their writing improves exponentially. Because they have to fix the problem, they learn from it. I spend much less time marking mistakes at the end of the year, and they become stronger, more confident writers. Win-Win!
- Create a weekly “Filing Cabinet.” My weekly filing cabinet holds all my handouts for the week. I make them Friday during 2nd period. Having this system forces me to make my handouts a week ahead of time. I started doing this last year when our single upper school copy machine would go down in the middle of the day and would stay down for hours–sometimes days–at a time. I had to plan ahead. Even though we now have two copy machines in the upper school, I like knowing that I will spend my Friday planning period making copies for the next week. There’s no rushing on Monday morning to get what I need.
- Use table caddies. Go ahead. Make fun. Yes, there are aspects of my classroom that resemble an elementary classroom, and the table caddy is one of them. I fill it with Post-It notes, index cards, pens, pencils, markers, glue, crayons, erasers, etc. My students no longer waste my time looking for supplies or going to their lockers because they forgot their note cards. This saves me from writing ten detention slips in a day.
- Make your students attach a late slip. I got tired of trying to figure out who was absent and when. It’s too much work. Instead, my students must attach a late slip to any assignment turned in after the original due date. I then copy the information from the slip to my “comments” section of my electronic grade book. This communicates with parents what the students are telling me. It makes Parent-Teacher Conferences go a little more smoothly.
- Take a moment or more to regroup. I try hard to keep my classes “on the same page.” I try to teach them to be organized and clearly communicate where they need to keep materials, but inevitably my words will fall on a few deaf ears. Sometimes the bell rings in the middle of passing some important information, and papers get shoved in spirals, books, or pockets. Some of the best feeling days are the days where we take a moment and reorganize ourselves. We’ll go through our binder to see what pages we need. We’ll go through our journal to make sure we’re not missing any notes. These days can seem chaotic, but in the end, everyone leaves the classroom feeling refreshed and ready to start again. It’s the same feeling I get when I reorganize my closet or even just clean the kitchen. I feel happier and a bit lighter. Taking time to do this in the classroom allows all my students to experience that feeling.
- Use grading codes. I discovered using grading codes just a few years ago. Before that I would spend time writing lengthy comments on my student’s papers. Even though I would feel like I was providing valuable feedback, many times the student’s wouldn’t even read or study the feedback. Often I would end up writing the same comments over and over again on essay after essay. The students weren’t changing or growing. Now I use a system of codes for content and grammatical errors. I write the code on the student paper. Then, when I pass back the essays, I require them to do corrections. For every correction they make, I give them 1/2 point back. For students who make the same error more than ten times, they become tired of correcting their mistake, so they improve. They don’t want to have to correct that mistake again. I’ve seen so much growth using this system that I cannot believe how much time I wasted writing numerous comments without any results.