Saturday, January 18, 2020

Small Changes = Big Impacts

One of the huge advantages to a "Four Block" schedule and teaching an entire year's worth of material in a semester is the second semester. I get to start over and try new things, tackle those sticky-notes of changes I stuck all over my unit notebooks.

Over Christmas break I had a list full of big ideas.

And then I crumbled it up and tossed it into the trash.

Reality check. I spent more time at school the first semester than I had in 13 years. My first year teaching. Makes since, since I'm basically a first year teacher in her 14th year with new content and age level. BUT this time around I have so much more going on outside of school. That time at the school, while necessary and valuable to the classroom, was a sacrifice somewhere else.

So I need to slow down. Give myself grace. And time.

I have time to tackle those big ideas. Over the summer.

Now I can change my focus. To the little things. Little changes that, in turn, have made a big impact on the start of this semester. What are those little changes?

I'm glad you asked.

1. Bell Work
I always used bell work at the middle school level. It took about a week to get the 7th and 8th graders trained to come in and get started with the intro task. When I moved to high school, I figured I wouldn't need it. We'd have our "good things" talk and move right into the lesson of the day. Turns out, the structure of starting class with a simple expectation everyday is good for Sophomores and Juniors too.

2. Phones in the wall pockets. 
Ok...so I wrote a blog post before the first day of school about self-regulation and how it is important to allow kids to develop this skill. (read that post here) While I still believe that we need to teach kids the skills of self-regulation, I decided to use this semester as a little experiment. You see, for the most part my Juniors would put their phones away or upside down when I asked, but when it comes to self-regulation these kids THINK THEY'VE GOT IT. They think they are on task and working. They think the phones aren't a distraction. For the most part, they're wrong. They just don't realize how often and long they spend on the phone during a class period. Causing lessons and projects to take longer than necessary, and I don't have that kind of time. Plus...I didn't want to have to start class everyday with... "Ok, let's put your phones away or upside down and take your ear-buds out." And thanks to my bell work class starts with them beginning on their own (for the most part...some need a little nudge). For the record. I haven't given up on the idea of using phones to teach kids self-regulation. For now, starting the semester, this is working.

3. Note Prep
I don't lecture a ton, but I still do some. I make it a point to keep my lectures at 20 minutes or less. If it goes over that time, I want it to be due to a great conversation and awesome questions from the audience, not because I have to pause and wait for them to write things down. I got frustrated with my classes last semester. Even though we practiced note-taking skills and I repeatedly told them they didn't need to write everything down. They still did. Every word. Ugh! Made things take twice as long. So this semester I changed it up. On a day I have a lecture, I try to set the bell work as note prep time. I place my slide show in Google Classroom and let the kids have 10-15 minutes to prep. This allows for them to get a head start...or copy it all down if they feel like they need to. While I lecture and discuss the information they can either add to, highlight, or just close the notebook and listen. This allows me to get the material covered at a reasonable pace, they ask better questions, and if they miss anything, they always have the presentation available in Google Classroom.

4. Scaffolding and Expectations
High school kids are quicker and smarter than middle school. But they still need guidance. They need clear expectations and they need to know the process for thinking historically. It was pretty easy to just assume, last semester, that these kids can get it because they are older and wiser. This time around I'm taking the time early in the semester to teach HOW to analyze documents, how to recognize perspective, and how to place it all in the context of the time period. As we finish up our first unit this week, I feel like this group of kids are already more critical thinkers with primary and secondary sources.  Just because they are turning 17 this year, doesn't mean they're too old for "I do - we do - you do" type of activities. I will be writing a blog post on how I use scaffolding at the HS level to teach historical thinking skills. So be watching for that!

Sometimes you don't have to do big things to make a big difference. Try something small.

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