Friday, May 30, 2014

Five for Fraturday: Random Teaching Tips I've Discovered

Let's look at some random things I've discovered that I plan to implement in my curriculum.
I'm obsessed with using technology in the classroom to create social awareness.  I do a collaborative research project each semester.  During summer school this year, I plan to beta test a Facebook Awareness Page assignment where group members will post annotated sources, surveys, pictures, videos, etc. about the given topic!
In class I like to have my students display their research in unique ways. What's better than to have them create an infographic?!  Easelly is a *FREE* website that provides templates and graphics.  Students just have to plug in their information.  How cool?
Frequently we make students write LOOOOOONG research papers.  In the real world, though, management likes to see the Cliffs Notes.  While employees still need to know how to do long, time-consuming, in-depth research, they also need to be able to summarize their own work.  I'm planning on having them write 1 paragraph long summaries for each of their essays to practice this skill.
Each time I plan to have a class discussion, I am going to have a 5-minute prep session.  These 5 minutes will be devoted to looking over notes, skimming readings, and preparing thoughts.  No one likes to feel under prepared or unorganized.  This prep session will put students at ease before the discussion begins.
So I'm reading a book called BRIEF, more to come on that later, and I read a tip that I CAN'T WAIT to employ in the classroom.  The book talked about business meeting huddles.  So, why not have a quick teaching tip huddle where, for 5-7 minutes, we review information as a class and I give them reminders/tips/instructions?  I'll work out the kinks but I think the physical change will be nice!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday...err Thursday

Today I'm linking up with Miss Decarbo from Sugar and Spice for 

Most of us are out of school for summer but for those of you who aren't, make sure to get some R&R this afternoon and this upcoming weekend.  Spend some time outside!  After all, it is BEAUUUUUUTIFUL!

I used to live right by the water and now I have withdrawals!  I was able to get my water time in this Memorial Day!  And better yet, feed the ducks!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reaping What You Sow

Everyday I make sure to spend some time with God and I usually like to change things up.  I don't want it to feel like homework or going to class but a time to grow in worship and learn more about my savior Jesus Christ.  So today I decided to listen to James MacDonald's Walk in the Word.  I listened to Part 1 of a two part podcast entitled "Laws of the Harvest".  I highly suggest you go check it out!  He offers insight into warnings from the Bible and how to apply these principles to our daily lives.

As you would expect given the title, the podcast was about the truth of reaping and sowing.  It focused on a passage from Galatians 6.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. 
A man reaps what he sows. 
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, 
from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 
Let us not become weary in doing good, 
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, 
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

This passage and podcast really hit home to me.  What are we sowing into our lives?  More importantly, what are we sowing into the lives of our students?

I know there have been times where I've been caught up in my own selfish circumstances or instances where I've been frustrated or even angered by students.  And my reactions and interactions with them show it.  But it's so important for us to always remember that we are sowing into their lives every day.  
We see them for at least 40 minutes 5 days every week.

It is our responsibility as both Christians and teachers to sow into them the traits that we wish them to exhibit on their own.  The text says that "whatever" we sow, we shall reap. So what is it that you should sow? MacDonald suggests awareness of choices in forgiveness, love, time, attitude and acceptance of Christ.  While the last of those choices is one that has blurry lines for the public classroom, the rest are choices that we can and should model for our students.
  • Forgiveness.  Forgive them for making mistakes.   Don't hold it against them.  Whether they're younger or in college, they're still children.
  • Love.  Be loving and kind toward them.  We have no idea their home situation.  There's a sad chance that we are the only ones that interact with them in a positive way.  If this is the case, shouldn't we take every opportunity to love them, be kind to them, and be gracious to them? 
  • Time.  We want them to make wise choices with their time.  If that's the case, we must effectively use our own time in the classroom. Show them what it means to use time efficiently.  Then, give them tools to learn how to manage their time.  They might not know!
  • Attitude.  Don't be apathetic.  Be caring.  Be interactive.  Be communicative and cooperative.  These are all traits we wish that others around us would exhibit.  We must sow these into their lives as well as our own.  For more ways to show positive attitudes, see my post on Showing Grace to Students
  • Acceptance of Christ.  As mentioned above, this one is more murky. Remember, though, that if a student brings up questions about faith, religion, or spirituality, we are more than welcome to discuss those questions.  Be open to having those conversations in class and encourage those conversations.  As always, we need to be mindful of those with various views.  Including these different view points makes for a more complex conversation too!  If we want to encourage civic and cultural awareness, how better than these conversations?  In being open to talk about it in class, students will be more apt to come to us in private if they have more personal questions.
With all of this in mind, we have to remember that reaping and sowing don't happen all together.  Sowing happens seasons before the reaping... so if we are truly modeling all of these characteristics, it might take some time before we see the reaping in our students.  Keep at it though!  Just as Paul writes in Galatians, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Thanks for stopping by Brownbag Academics!  If you liked this post or found it helpful, please click an icon below to like or share it!  Follow this feed for more posts on how to teach effectively in more ways than one!

Monday, May 26, 2014

How should we talk about lit terms???

Literary terms can be rough territory for teachers.  We usually fall into the trap of the always-asked question, "Why does this matter?".  

It's a good question really.

Why do we need to talk about literary devices?  Shouldn't the writing speak for itself?  What if the author didn't really mean to make it metaphorical, ironic, etc.?

Good questions of course but probably moot.  In class, weren't not wondering whether or not the author meant to use those specific rhetorical devices. We're investigating...

if they did, what does it mean?

That's the real bread and butter of teaching literary device analysis.  Why and how do authors say something the way they say it... does that make sense? It does in my head.  If it doesn't, just say it out loud.  *trust me*  That's the fun in analyzing literature!

So here are some tips for teaching literary device/rhetorical device analysis to your high school and college students:
  1. First read.  Should be obvious but we all know students don't read from time-to-time.  I suggest doing a reading activity in class (all together, partners, individual reading, etc.), but just make sure they've read the material.  It'll be way easier to have the lit terms discush once they have read.
  2. Look for patterns.  Review that a literary device is used to help an author get his/her point across in a unique way - that's about as specific you can get when talking in general about literary terms.  Then, examine the patterns in the piece.  Do they use the same phrase a lot? BAM Repetition!  Maybe even parallelism if you're lucky.  Do they use the words "like" or "as"?  Not always a simile but it's a place that students feel comfortable starting.  Can you picture a scene vividly in your mind? Imagery!  These are VERY basic literary terms.  The more specific you go with lit devices, the more specific you will need to be in your discussions.
  3. Focus on the WHY & HOW.  The big question to look at when talking about literary terms is why or how did the author say what s/he said?  Remind students to stay away from what did the author say. This gets into the summary zone which is cool if that's what you're going for. Discussing the why and how questions will lend students to break down information at the document-level, paragraph-level, sentence-level, and word-level. That's the key in analysis!
Rhetorical Analysis Essay Unit
These should get you started!  If you don't know where to start with your analysis, check out my LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY UNIT PLAN.  The unit is designed for teachers who need everything and they need it now!

  • Instructor Guide - how to use the unit plan
  • Suggested Unit Plan - what to do each day, step-by-step
  • Literary Analysis Essay Prompt - simplified & organized
  • Suggested Readings - with links, summaries, & suggested rhetorical devices to discuss
  • Rhetorical Devices Bookmark - for student use
  • Guided Reading Activity (with answers) - to practice analyzing rhetorical devices
  • Individual Student Notesheet - for students to break down examples & analyze rhetorical devices
  • Outlining Instructions - how to outline for this specific essay step-by-step
  • Essay Scoring Guide & Teacher Instructions - fast & efficient scoring guide/rubric for teachers with instructions to help save time!

What have your experiences been with teaching literary terms?  What have you found that works?

·       Graphics for unit plan by Ashley Hughes… visit…

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Freshen Your Commitment

As the end of the year approaches, many of us already have our minds on the upcoming school year!  Even though we have our mind in the game with finalizing grades, calling parents, conferencing with students, and tidying up our classrooms, our hearts are in the new year.  

~We think about everything we did this year, what worked, and what didn't.

~We think about the assignments and activities that our students loved, and   the ones they didn't love so much.

~We think about the new units we wish we would have covered but may not     have had time to prepare.

~We even think about how we can spice up our classroom decor for next year.

With all of this in mind, let's think more deeply about our commitment to teaching.  Let's create mission statements that describe us as teachers. Having a mission statement will refocus our teaching and clarify who we are with course development, unit creation, and daily plans.  While we often times create statements of purpose for the courses that we develop, frequently we forget to create these for ourselves.  These mission statements should incorporate our philosophy of teaching & pedagogy, typical daily activities, and what is most important to us in our content area (links are to my examples).  For example, my mission statement is:

I will facilitate learning, encourage creativity, 
and develop student-questioning through oral and written medium.

After you have that mission statement, create your own contract for teaching success!  Just a brief statement that describes why are you are recommitting yourself to your teaching.  It could look a little something like this:

I am writing this mission statement because I know how important it is to continually focus on developing myself as a teacher.  I believe that I am an effective teacher, but I also know that there are many distractions in teaching that can redirect my efforts.  I will commit myself to actively practicing my mission to _________(mission statement)___________.

It might be a little bit cheesy...okay a lot bit cheesy... but I think that actually taking the time to think about who we are as a teacher, or who we want to be, can really calibrate our teaching compasses.  Even better, post this somewhere that you will see it every day.  Maybe as a sticky note on your computer, on your desk, or even on the front of your lesson planning notebook.  Where ever you place it, make sure you read it daily and make sure you take measurable steps to making that mission statement a reality.  For more on writing your own contracts for personal success, see the post on Spark People!

So what are your mission statements?  Please comment below and you might win my SPARK Teacher Mentorship Program for free!  The program includes a Guided Booklet & 5 Podcasts focusing on Intention, Presentation, Communication, Engagement, & Collaboration!

In order to qualify for the free program, you must:
  1. Follow my blog/Subscribe to my posts using the icon on the right 
  2. Follow me on Twitter @mac_ker1
  3. Comment below with your own mission statement - make sure to leave your Twitter handle in the comment so I can contact the winner!

Good luck and thanks for reading!  If you like this post or found it helpful, please use one of the icons below to like or share!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

End of Year Procedures

Not too long ago I posted about activities to continue building community in our classrooms through the end of the year.  It's important to keep that as a key goal for our classes so that our students can forge relationships with their peers that surpass just our class.

That being said, there are plenty of tedious checklists that we as teachers must go through at the end of the semester.  Lots of paper work is involved when finalizing grades.  

For me personally, I like to make sure that grades are finalized a day or two before the semester ends.  This way, my students are well aware of their grades and they do not have any surprises when grades are posted. The following are tips for keeping yourself organized and covering your toosh at the end of the year:

  1. Print out individual grade sheets.  I like to print out 2 grade sheets for each individual student.  Typically, I just include all of the major assignments on this grade sheet (not smaller homework assignments).  This way I have a copy of the grade sheet and so does the student.
  2. Conference with each student.  A day or two before the end of the semester, I meet with each student individually.  I usually do this while students are working on a community building assignment like those mentioned in the post "End of Year Ideas".  In this meeting, I go over each of the major assignment grades.  After discussing the grades, I have each student sign his/her grade sheet agreeing to the final grade. Make sure to notify students about this process about a week ahead of time.  That way they can check grades online, check hard copies, and make sure everything is matching up correctly.  Then they can come prepared with any questions, comments, and concerns.
  3. Send home a letter.  Writing a letter informing parents of the grade finalization process in your classroom gives them information.  Parents like to be informed.  Often times the most complaints or phone calls come from parents who aren't aware of class procedures like grading.  In your letter, discuss how the grades are weighted (syllabus policy), your end-of-the-year conferences with students, and how/when they should get in touch with you if they have any questions.
  4. Make your phone calls.  If you have students who are failing or who will have to retake the course, call their parents!  Parents want to know that you care. They don't like to be surprised especially if there is a chance that they didn't know their child was failing.  If you don't feel comfortable calling, send out parent emails notifying them of their child's grade and directing them to summer school information.  The more info you give them, the easier and less surprising it will be for them.  Also, call students' parents who did a great job!  We shouldn't always call parents with bad information.  Some of the best parent phone calls I've had were the ones when parents got to hear something exciting about their child. For more tips on making parent phone calls, check out The Educator's Room's article "Scripting a Parent Phone Call - A Skill All Teachers Need."
No matter what you do, make sure that you have a procedure.  It's important to plan it out before this time comes.  If you have a procedure in place, you'll have fewer mistakes and be more effective... and, let's be honest, you'll cover yourself by having documentation.

Good luck with the end of the year!  If you know anyone who is having difficulties with planning the end of the year or who is thinking of ways to make the end of the year process run more smoothly, please share this link with them!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Back to Basics

Recently, I've become obsessed with Alaska.  I mean, I watch Living Alaska and Alaska the Last Frontier.  I've even been looking to see if there are teaching opportunities in Alaska.  There's something about it that I find fascinating.  I love the outdoors so I'm sure that has something to do with it: the mountains, the ocean, the forests, the prairies.  It seems like a place of such exploration.

At the same time, there is something about Alaska that seems so foreign to me.  Even though it is a part of The United States, it seems like it's a different world.  Some of these shows (yes I know that they are extreme and perhaps distorted representations of reality) show Alaskans hunting and growing all of their own food and stock piling for the entire year.  A lot of homes have outhouses and no running water.  There was even one episode where a man laughed out loud thinking about why people would even consider having a bathroom indoors.  It's such a different way of living.  

Rustic and wholesome.

In thinking about it, it made me reflect on my teaching.  Teaching these days has become all about the bells and whistles.  What "new thing" can we do in order to show that our students are learning.  We try online classrooms, Twitter, small groups, large groups, partner work, bodily-kinesthetic learning, writing across the curriculum, reading across the curriculum, right-brained activities, left-brained activities, experiential learning, Cornell notes, etc. This list of new fads goes on and on.

These new fads are good!  That means that we are constantly using reflective teaching practices and trying to learn how to teach better.

At the same time, though, I wonder why I'm so drawn to things and places like Alaska which offer rustic and wholesome lifestyles.  Our entire lifestyle here in The States is so fast-paced and data driven.  We're constantly trying to get better and better.  But what's wrong with the tried-and-true?

I think about the teaching practices that have been long-standing in my content area - reading, writing, and discussion.  There is an authenticity there that we, including our students, crave.  They don't want or need us to be Tweeting them their homework assignments or discussion questions.  They need communication, relationship, and community.  These are things that are only developed on a deep-level with in-person, consistent interaction.

So what am I really getting at?  I suggest that, in order to become more authentic and effective teachers, we all ask ourselves these questions:

  1. What are the tried-and-true practices in my content area?
  2. How can I utilize those to teach my students?
  3. How can I evolve these practices to better match my teaching philosophy?

Our students crave authenticity, not the next big thing.  Let's get back to the basics and teach them what it means to be real.  Let's set an example and show them what is truly important: communication, relationship, and community

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

What It's Really About

A few weeks ago I was at church and listening to the Pastor talk about being a servant.  It was the weekend following Easter, so it was not a surprise to hear about extending your faith from passive to active.

The Pastor talked quite a lot about how people in The Church can often times miss the point.  He said, "You can ruin a church by making it activity-oriented instead of Jesus-oriented" and it reminded me of the most profound thing that I learned during my time teaching at the high school level.

I remember sitting in a meeting with my Department Chair, my student teacher, and my student teacher's advisers.  You see, my Department Chair and myself were co-cooperating teachers.  As we sat in this meeting we were discussing the use of activities in the classroom.  He said:

When you wake up in the morning and are thinking about your day,
 are you thinking about the activities you will be doing in class?  
If so, you're missing the point.

Of course what he meant was, we need to be thinking about what our students will be learning.  That needs to be our focus.  The exciting activities we use or cool technology we have implemented means absolutely nothing if we have not really focused on our learning outcomes for the day.

So my question to you is: 

what do you think about when you wake up in the morning?  

It's important to remind ourselves of the purpose of education and why we are teaching who and what we are teaching.  Let's remember to focus on what it's really about in the classroom... our students, their development, and their learning.

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End of the Year Ideas

As the end of the year approaches, many of use are reconsidering what we do to wrap up the entire semester/year.  Some of us have weird end-of-the-year schedules.  Ya know, the ones where final exams are a week before the end of the actual year?  Or grades are due on a Wednesday but you still have class on Thursday and Friday?

DON'T FRET!  We, here at Brownbag Academics, have some great suggestions to get you designing your End-of-Year Curriculum!

Remember please that all of education is simply a reformulation of ideas.  These are ideas that we have used in our classrooms and have found to work very well!  We've collected these ideas over the years: some were developed by ourselves, some were inspired by lessons found online, and some were collected from colleagues.  Feel free to use and abuse these suggestions!  No sense in recreating the wheel.

1.  Create groups and reflect on the year.
    • One of our favorite activities involves separating the class into groups to have them reflect on the course's objectives.  Have each group reflect on one of the following: 
      • syllabus & course outcomes - did the outcomes match what happened in class?
      • readings - favorites?  least favorites?
      • assignments - which did they learn the most from?  least?
      • activities - did they prefer group work?  partners? individuals?
      • advice - what advice can you offer to next year's group of students?
    • Then, have the groups present their findings and have a whole class discussion!
2.  End of the year slide show.
    • Have students create a slide show welcoming next year's group of students.  Have them work together to include the following:
      • welcome notes
      • course introduction
      • syllabus review
      • what to learn
      • what to be prepared for
      • what they liked best about class
3.  Reflection essay.
    • Having students write a reflection essay is a great way to see how each individual student has grown.  Start with having the students review the syllabus and course outcomes.  From there, have students look back at their work - for English teachers, this may mean looking at old essays; for Math teachers, old tests and assignments; etc.  Then have students write about the growth that they have experienced.  What are their strengths?  What are they still struggling with?  How do they plan to continue improving?  This should be a reflection of them and their work, not you and your teaching.
These ideas should get you started!  We like to think that the end of the year is a time for a reflection - a time for students to begin thinking about what they have learned.  With reflection comes growth and that is what we hope for and expect of our students.  Have a wonderful end of the year!

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