Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spinning and Nesting

at Two Writing Teachers!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my constant quest to improve my teaching. Since then, my brain has continued to tumble new ideas around like a washing machine, spinning and turning them over and over until they are ready.  Now, a week before school starts, some are ready, but some need a few extra cycles.

I've spent the past two days flitting around my classroom like a nesting mother bird, weaving the strands that will hold our community together and tucking in special soft fluff to make it comfortable.  After sharing two rooms with my colleague last year, I'm so excited to truly have my own space this year!

There's still so much work to do before the kids come next Wednesday, but I'm feeling encouraged, inspired, and confident that I'll be ready for them.  To make our year together more special, meaningful, and purposeful, I have some big (and little changes) in mind, including:

  • sending a postcard to each student before school starts (almost done with this!)
  • setting up the room with a cozy meeting space for whole-group discussions and open work spaces (no assigned seats) for independent & group work time
  • using random & purposeful group & partner selection methods more often since there won't be assigned seats
  • organizing periodic lunch bunches with students
  • digitizing routines by putting up QR codes near the door for classroom sign-out (a simple Google form with name & destination, since the form will put in a timestamp!) and book sign-out (Booksource Classroom Organizer)
  • not having a classroom management "system" beyond my classroom expectations, but having conversations with individual students and working with them to develop personalized interventions as needed 
  • having an ELL parent night (an idea from last year, but I let it get lost!)
  • being more purposeful with goal-setting early in the year, and incorporating English skills goals as well as academic / life skills goals
  • implementing growth portfolios early in the year and having the students maintain them throughout the year
  • digitizing our reading goal sheets (based on Penny Kittle's from Book Love, but my students each have their own) as Google spreadsheets (thanks for the idea, LeeAnn!)
  • using Goodreads and blogging with my Intermediate students (instead of just my Advanced students, as I did last year)
  • starting the year with a mini-unit about effective learning and being a community of learners, using the awesome lesson ideas in Larry Ferlazzo's new book, Self-Driven Learning
  • doing a "slice of life" unit early in the year, with excerpts from The House on Mango Street and real slices as mentor texts, so students can be more purposeful when slicing independently for the rest of the year 
  • revamping my grading to focus on mastery: 5% independent reading, 5% vocabulary development, 5% academic skills, 85% summative assessments in all areas (I will still post progress on practice work, but it will be weighted 0%!)
  • implementing Genius Time with at least my Advanced class, and maybe Intermediates too
  • using Evernote for my reading & writing conference records (I started this in the spring, and it was wonderful!), while simplifying the student writing conference record into a goal sheet and incorporating a column for skill goals into their reading goal spreadsheets
  • encouraging reading & curiosity while connecting with authors & other classes through our new class Twitter account!
Of course, there are also innumerable tiny changes and adjustments spinning in my head, but those are some of the big ones.  If you have experience with any of those topics, please share your ideas and feedback!  Also, I'd love to hear what new ideas are tumbling through your brain this year!


  1. Wow, Jennifer, have you got some GREAT ideas! My head is spinning with excitement for you and your students. May you keep your momentum throughout the year and may your excitement for learning (in such cool, digital ways) be contagious!

  2. Love it. Love it! I hear your energy and can't we to see what amazing things you do this year. Maybe we can connect our kids around some GoodReads.

    1. Ooh, I would love to connect our kids, Lee Ann! :-) Thank you.

  3. All sounds so good, Jennifer. My big thing I really want to do in my job is to use Evernote more with my own conferences with teachers so I can pass it on to them to use with students. Otherwise, each time I meet there's more goals to make, materials to gather, etc. It's different all the time. Thanks always for your enthusiasm-makes me feel good!

  4. I remember your days of packing a cart, now here you finally have a room to yourself! I love the way you have thought through changes and why you want this change. You are ready for a great year!

  5. Jennifer, this will become my go to list! Question, do you use the free Evernote or the premium? I am trying to learn a few new things this year ( smartphone coming in a little over a month:) Feel like I am arriving on this century. I checked Genius Hour as well. Thinking about how I could incorporate that with my ELLs. Can't wait to hear more about your year.

    1. I use free Evernote and it's wonderful. If you're learning new things, that's a great one to pick! I just gave a presentation about it last week and got a bunch of teachers really excited about how amazing it is! :-)

  6. Jennifer, I love the reflection, thought, and preparation in which you have engaged for this coming year. I would have been so excited to get a post card from my new teacher. So many wonderful ideas that put kids, their learning, and their needs first. Your students are so blessed to have you as their teacher.

    1. Thanks, Robin! I really wanted to continue the connections that I built with students last year (because I have some of them again) and reach out to those new students, many of whom are nervous freshmen. I know some elementary teachers who send postcards, but so much of that joy in school gets lost by high school. Since I have fewer students than regular HS teachers, I figured I could pull it off. Besides, I want my ELLs to feel that my classroom, in particular, is their safe and happy place!


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