Archive for the ‘English’ Category

One sure fire way for a teacher to burn out is to spend hours and hours pouring over student papers. Grading has to be one of the biggest culprits of killing teachers. Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom as an instructor has done it, and anyone who has lasted long in the classroom has figured out a means of enduring it. But a teacher does not need to put up with all of this tedious grading for hours on end.

Some seem to think that this is the lot of a teacher. I have worked with many teachers in the past, some having worked for decades, who feel this is just the life a teacher has chosen to lead. Somehow, they have figured out how to manage the hours of work.

I’ll be honest, I am still not now what I consider to be seasoned teacher. I still do not have my first ten years down. However, I do know this; if I had to spend several hours a night grading papers, I would not still be teaching at this point. I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first few years.

The Problem

Being an English teacher, there is plenty of grading to do. Papers are the big time eaters. There is nothing more depressing to a first year teacher than a pile of 100 student essay, all written to the lofty 5 page length requirement, laying on a desk next to an extensive rubric that grades for everything from style and voice down to the last poorly place comma. Of course, reading the papers isn’t all that bad. The hard part is making comments and marking the rubric and then rereading the paper to check for grammar errors. This takes time. I have worked with teachers in the past who take up to a 1/2 hour per paper graded. With a 100 papers, this is some serious time, most of which has to be done outside of normal school hours.

I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But now I have seen the light (I’m trying to see how many cliche’s I can use!).

Read these next few words knowing that I will explain what I mean in the next few paragraphs. Grading papers, especially student writing, is overrated.

Just ask any student: “How many of the comments did you read that I spent hours writing knowing they were words of great wisdom that would make you a better writer?”

The answer for 99 percent of the students I have worked with is, “None. Well I did look at the grade at the top, but after that, none.” Teachers are killing themselves by hours of grading and commenting when the students are not even paying attention.

The Solution

Don’t grade so much. This means something different for every teacher. This is what it means for me.

When grading anything that resembles a test, I use multiple choice bubble sheets. My school does not have a scanner to grade these, so I have improvised by using the Catpin Bubble Sheet Generator. I just make a bubble sheet for the test. Then for the answer key, I use a hole punch and make a master. I then use this to grade the test. I can do a whole class in less than five minutes. No more looking back and forth at a master test or answer page. Just overlay the master, mark those that are wrong with a marker, and count up how many the students missed.

This,  of course doesn’t help with writing projects. Here is how I handle the grading of papers.

To start, I plan class activities in such a manner that I will have some time to grade papers while students are working independently and quietly in the classroom. My plan, in most cases, is to have the papers graded, within one class period (we are on the block) before the students leave the room.

The biggest change I had to make in my grading style was to get over making comments on the papers. Anymore, I don’t even write a word on most papers I grade. I read the paper one time through and then go to the rubric. On a sticky note, I record the grades according the rubric. I then tuck these grades into a separate pile, mark the paper as graded with a check, and move on to the next paper. Except for the check, there are no other marks on the paper! Remember, the students are not going to read them.

I can feel the cringing and screaming from all you seasoned teachers. Students need feedback! Well, we’re not done with the papers yet. Let me restate that. The students are not done with their papers yet.

Usually, in one of the next few class periods, I give the students back their papers with a rubric. They grade their own papers by analyzing what they have written in comparison to the rubric. I have many different means of doing this. Sometimes, I also give them some exemplar papers to read before they read theirs, so they know what a top notch paper looks like. When they are finished looking over their own paper, I show them the grade that I gave them. They then compare what I observed when I graded their paper to what they found.

The students give themselves their own feedback. I do not have to tell them a thing. This is students being critical of their own work and becoming better writers. In my experience, students like this means of grading. Students often comment that they like getting a paper grade within a week instead of waiting for a month, which is going to be the case if a teacher spends a 1/2 hour on each paper.

Cutting down on grading does not mean that a teacher is slacking off on the job or that a teacher doesn’t care about student learning. It just makes sense. On top of that, it keeps me sane!





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I don’t usually think the best place to go for great teaching resources is on a school website. Often, they are clunky, and the link pages they usually list are disorganized and cumbersome. There is one school website, however, that I have used over and over again over the years: the Greece K12 website.

Today, I was looking for rubrics for a speech unit. I wanted one that was simple but that would still cover the standards. I looked around and then thought I should google “speech rubric greece k12.” Sure enough, the first hit was a whole list of rubrics, and one of them was a speech rubric. It was exactly what I was looking for. To make my day even even better, the rubric was created in a Word document, which means I was able to download it to my computer and edit it to fit what I wanted for my class. This rarely happens with rubrics.

The page I have used the most on this site is their excellent, organized list of graphic organizers. This is a resource that every teacher, no matter the subject, should have in the toolbox.

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I am working on a plan for summer school. It’s coming up quickly, and since these students are those who have already failed English once, I want to try something with them that is a little different. I want them to blog.

In the past, I have used blogs extensively as a tool in the classroom but not blogs that were directly written by the students. One of the reasons that I have not had all students in a classroom write their own blogs is the time commitment involved on my part. Reading through 100 blogs on a regular basis seems like a daunting task.Granted, I would not have to read every single blog every day, but even just setting up that many blogs is some serious work.

Summer school will be the perfect place to try this out because the student numbers are limited. I work with the same group of students for 4 hours a day, and there will not be more than twenty students. This should make managing the blogs easier. I can work out the kinks before trying this with a larger number of students.

My hope is that each student will start a blog on a topic that really interests them. To find material for their blogs, students will also have an RSS reader set up where they can read daily about their topics and then post links and information that they find interesting and pertinent. Hopefully, this will get them excited about reading and writing. Okay, excited may be a strong word for students who are spending their summer in my classroom, but at least maybe they will be engaged in their work.

That is the hope 🙂



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One of the challenges in doing video projects with students is having enough cameras for every group. Often, there is one or two cameras for an entire class meaning there are a bunch of students standing around waiting to use the camera which is frustrating for both the students and the teacher.

If students are allowed to use the technology they already own, the sharing of school cameras will not be a problem. This week, two of my classes are making videos to demonstrate satire. I have 9 groups filming and not a single one of these groups is using a school camera. The majority of them are using either an iPod or an iPhone to do their recording.

I’ll admit, I was a little bit skeptical at first. I expected a bunch of shaky film work with barely audible soundtracks, but the result of the videos was outstanding. The pictures were clear and crisp and surprisingly stable, at least as stable as most student made videos even when they are using a tripod. On top of this, the audio was loud and clear, even better than a few of the actual video cameras that we used.

Teachers and administrators often look at the technology that students bring to school as a distraction, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it can be.  However, not using the technology that students have at their disposal is asinine! The students have it. They have paid (or their parents have paid) a lot of money for it. Why not show them how to use it productively? Why not put it to good use? I do know this from personal experience: when students get the opportunity to use their own technology as a tool for learning, they become totally engaged in whatever they are being taught. Actually, when this happens, they take great ownership in their own education.

First, teachers need to be educated in how to use the technology that students use. Those iPods in the student pockets are not just a fancy Walkman (I bet you haven’t thought about one of these for a while!). They are tech powerhouses, almost as powerful as the desktop computer or laptop you are reading this on right now. Though this video is a few years old now, it gives a great overview of what can be done with an iPod in the classroom:


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Examples are the best way to show students how to make a Fakebook page. The problem is that making one takes time, something that is a premium for most teachers. Here are a few sample pages that will help get the creative juices flowing for students. From the looks of them, most of these were created by students, so there are some grammatical errors, as well as errors in some of the content. However, these should give students a pretty good idea of what is expected.


History / Social Studies



P.E. / Health


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This past week, I have had a classroom full of Barbie dolls, toy trolls, Transformers, and Bratz dolls. At first look, a passerby might think that I was teaching a pre-school class. You might be thinking that this sounds like something that would happen in a second or third grade class, or maybe even in a classroom full of giddy middle schoolers, but that is not the case. These are my Seniors, and for a while there, the classroom truly looked like someone had tipped over the toy box at a preschool. It was so awesome!

The assignment was for students to read several stories from the Decameron until they found one that they liked. Then they made storyboards and created the movies using stop animation. The whole purpose of the project was to take a work of art (the Decameron) and transfer it into their own work of art. One plus side of this project was that the students read several stories from the Decameron to find stories that would work well for a movie project. They actually read some literature from the late Middle Ages without acting like I was torturing them.

I have never done this with older students before. In the last two years, all of the stop motion projects I have been a part of have been with students in elementary classes. I wasn’t quite sure how these older students would do with it. I thought there was a chance that they would think it was childish or “beneath” their level of intelligence. After all, I am working with Seniors who often feel that they have school over and done with before the year gets started.

I was amazed at how well the students responded to the project. Like I said earlier, on the day for filming, we literally had a classroom full toys and props with students busily working to create their own piece of art. The students worked in groups to do the filming, and then worked individually to create their own version of the movie in Movie Maker.

The students are not done quite yet, but I am interested to see what they come have come up with. From what I have seen, we are going to have a great film festival party next week.

Now for the big question. How much time did this take out of your regular instruction in the classroom? It really didn’t take that long. By the end of the project, we will have spent 4 1/2 hours of class time making the actual video. Some might say that this is too much time, but I would argue that I have seen more hard thinking coming from this activity than most of what we have done in class this year. I am interested to see how this transfers to other work done in the classroom.

Actually, that sounds like a great topic for some research.


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Earlier this week, I wrote about using Prezi Meeting with a middle school class. One of the challenges we faced was figuring out how to post the links, which were insanely long to try and type in, so that other students could access the links. Here’s what we did.

1. Create a pirate pad (or equivalent). Go to piratepad.net

2. Click on the big frog

3. Once the pad is created, copy the URL for the pad

4. Paste the URL for the Pirate Pad to a blog or web page where all student will have access

5. Now, have one student in each group set up an active Prezi presentation and make sure you are in edit mode

6. Click on the “Meeting” tab at the top of the page

7. On the drop down menu, click “invite to edit”

8. A box will come up with a special URL for that Prezi. Copy the URL

9. Now, go to the Pirate Pad page and paste this URL along with a group name. This is important if several different groups are going to use the same Pirate Pad.

10. The rest of the group can now go to the Pirate Pad, copy the URL for their group Prezi, and past it in the address bar. The students will then be taken to the appropriate Prezi to work collaboratively as a group.

I think this will do it! My middle school students did this several times this week, and it worked great. The best thing about it was that they all got to participate in the construction of the project, which gave them much more buy in when it came time to present as a group.

If you try this and think of another step I may have missed, please let me know, and I will do some editing. Thanks!


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