Using Brackets for Student Engagement

In honor of March Madness, I thought I would share how I use brackets for student engagement! Using brackets is an easy way to engage students and encourage collaboration while also keeping the dialogue organized. Most importantly, brackets give me quick formative insights into student work. Here are my three suggestions for using brackets and my three favorite bracket activities.

Bracket Use Suggestions

Plan Ahead: As always, a lesson is always best when you plan ahead. First, know how and why you are going to use a bracket. Then, have the template you want ready to go. Next, make sure you know how you will facilitate the competition. Are you going to give a prize, or is winning itself the prize? I usually make this choice based on the group of students I have. Some are truly incentivized by a prize, but some classes cannot handle an additional incentive or are not interested.

Work Short And Sweet: Put a word/space and time limit on the responses you get. Give students a sticky note to write on. This will limit the amount of space they can use and will stick neatly to the bracket. Additionally, I usually put my students on a 2-5 minute “shot clock.” This keeps students focused, invested, and producing genuine work without resorting to Google. A shorter time frame also limits opportunities for trash talk. Overall, keeping this activity brief makes it a formative experience rather than the totality of a lesson.  

Collaborate: Because brackets have limited space and because I usually give students a short time in which to work, I almost always ask them to compete in partners. This encourages students to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another, refining their knowledge and skill along the way.

Bracket Activities

Collaborative Definitions: In my World Literature class, one of the first things the class needs to do is develop a definition of “world literature.” After doing a short reading (get the freebie here), students break in to partners and write their own definition of “world literature.” Then, we post the definitions on the board and compete head to head. As the class eliminates some options and advances others, they discuss which elements of a definition they valued, which seemed illogical, and which just needed some redefinition.

In the end, we usually have a definition that is parts of several different definitions. In particular, this activity gives the class a common language. Therefore, any time we’re discussing “world literature,” we’re using our classroom definition. This strategy could be adapted to any situation in which students need to build a classroom definition, including words like “discussion”, “democracy”, “rhetoric”, or “literature.”

Concise Summary: Part of the ELA CCSS 9-10/11-12 RL.1 standard is producing objective summary. In particular, my students struggle to create a concise summary. For this reason, after doing a reading, students will break into partners. Next, I’ll give each partnership a sticky note. Then, I will ask them to provide a summary of the reading as if it were a tweet.

Oftentimes, we started with new twitter rules and 240 characters. Then, I challenge them to go even more concise with 120 characters. Students LOVE this activity. Then, we bracket the summaries and put them head to head until with have one summary to rule them all. As we go through the summaries, we discuss what choices their peers made in terms of concision. Where could we be more concise? And where do we actually needed more information? To elaborate on this activity or bump it to the next level, I ask students to produce concise and objective summaries. This is a great tool for formative assessment!

Class Contests: In our Enlightenment Era unit, my juniors read about Benjamin Franklin’s use of aphorisms in anticipation of reading an excerpt from “The Crisis No. 1”, in which Thomas Paine uses aphorisms to argue in favor of the American Revolution. Over time, I’ve found that if students do not have some time to play around with their own aphorisms, they struggle to identify how Paine uses them. For this reason, I give students half of a sentence strip and ask them to compose their own aphorisms.

Once we bracket the aphorisms, students have a chance to discuss the strengths of each one and the weaknesses of others. This kind of contest strategy could be used for any skill or concept students need to practice. For younger students, a contest practicing writing similes or using imagery would work, too. As with the summary activity, this is a formative check for me.

Do you use brackets in your classroom? Let us know your best strategies and ideas in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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Using Brackets for Student Engagement #mooreenglish

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The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview

February is a tough month for teaching, but it is also a time of great excitement because February also marks the beginning of Interview Season. This is the time of the year when veteran teachers announce their retirements, districts offer incentives for teachers to give early notice, and the HR department begins to post job opportunities. As department chair, I’ve had the chance to participate in countless interviews. Each interview and applicant is different, but the great ones have some characteristics (or ingredients) in common. And because there are great teachers everywhere, I wanted to share a recipe for a great teacher interview.

Preparing to Cook

First, make sure your application (probably online) is through, accurate, and detailed. While your application does not tell the entire story, it gives interviewers a taste of who you are as a teacher and individual. In the English world, red flags include misspellings or individuals too lazy to capitalize their street address. However, I get really excited about applicants who have continually worked to grow themselves as teachers and life-long learners.

Then, bring your best face to your interview. Look professional and polished, and arrive on time. Sometimes teacher interviews happen at the end of the day, so factor dismissal and the bus line into your travel itinerary.

Interview Ingredients

During your interview, consider these key ingredients:

Enthusiasm: Cooking is scary, so it’s normal to be anxious. But try to show your interviewers that you are excited about the possibility of joining their school and working with their students. Don’t be afraid to share your passion for your content and your students!

Honesty: Perfection is a pernicious myth, so no one is expecting you to have a perfect track record. In fact, your interviewers are probably going to ask about times when you were not perfect because they are interested in how you respond to challenges and adversity. A teacher who admits her weaknesses and has a plan for building on those skills is far more powerful than a teacher who ignores or hides struggles.

The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview #mooreenglish

Willingness: As teachers, we all have an “ideal” school in mind, and my hope is that you do eventually find your forever school. However, there’s a good chance that you will interview at a school that has some unfamiliar policies or procedures. In these situations, a teacher willing to try out a new policy or willing to attempt a new teacher is compelling. Teachers must be life-long learners, so a teacher invested in growing herself and in growing her students is powerful! In other words, communicate your willingness to try new approaches.

Integrity: However, while teachers interested in trying new approaches are important, integrity is also a valuable interview ingredient. Don’t feel like you have to sacrifice any of your pedagogical or professional beliefs in order to earn a job. In fact, if a school expects you to change everything you believe as a teacher (your #teachertruth), then that school may not be the right fit for you. Sure, interviewers are looking for applicants who bring the right ingredients, but applicants also have to be looking for schools that provide the ideal environment for “cooking.”

Expertise: At one point or another, every teacher you admire walked into a job interview as a novice. So in terms of expertise, a new teacher may not have the experience of a veteran. Nevertheless, in an interview situation, show off your content and instructional knowledge. Even if you have limited teaching experience, you should stay up-to-date with the latest in best practices. In the “kitchen,” a mind at work is a valuable ingredient, so don’t be afraid to show off how carefully you think through professional and instructional decisions.

Curiosity: At the end of an interview, the interviewer will likely give you a chance to ask some questions. Ask something! For example, if you have experience with running a writing lab, ask about the possibility of such a project. If you want to coach volleyball, ask about the program and available opportunities. If you value classroom technology, ask some questions about the building’s technology initiative. This is an opportunity for you to make sure that this is the right building for you. In other words, make sure you and the building have matching or complementary recipes in mind.

Bonus Ingredients

Of course, when you are cooking, there are often opportunities to include bonus ingredients. These seasonings and spices can often elevate a dish. The same is also true during a teacher interview. Bonus ingredients are unique to each applicant, so it’s hard to predict what special item each applicant will offer. Sometimes teachers have a particularly noteworthy experience such as teaching abroad or serving in the armed forces. Other times teachers have achieved high honors such as winning grants or publishing their work. Still other teachers have an aptitude with technology or library science. Whatever special ingredients you carry, share them during your interview. These can be the details that separate you from another candidate!

What other ingredients would you bring for a great interview? Let us know in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview #mooreenglish

Images from Ivory Mix.

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English Classroom Controversies

Earlier this week, I read two posts that really got me thinking about ~controversies~ in the secondary English classroom. First, I read Room 213’s post about “Theme: is it one word or a statement?“. Then, I read Lauren Randazzo’s post about “Consistency in the English Department.” Each of these articles sparked an instant, visceral reaction from me. And I imagine other teachers had similarly strong reactions. I started to think about what other controversies we deal with in ELA.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish

Let me preface this by saying that some decisions are governed by department, building, or district policies (for more on that tension, see Lauren’s article). However, if these decisions belong to you and your team, here are some factors to consider:

Timeline: When it comes to retesting and extra credit, these are matters of procedure and policy, which most secondary teachers set out in their syllabus. For most teachers, this is a Day One document. This means that you have to make decisions about your retesting, extra credit, and homework policies before school begins.

Consistency and Sustainability: Regardless of what policy you choose, make sure your decision is something you can maintain. For example, my late work policy used to distinguish between low-point and high-point assignments, but that became too much for me to manage, so it was unsustainable. You should be able to explain your retest policy in one breath. And you should be able to explain that policy in terms students, parents, and other teachers or administrators can understand. Similarly, whatever policy you choose should be something you can maintain. In other words, you have to be able to live with your choices. What will work for both you and your students?

Supportive: As you decide, focus on how your policies will support student learning. For example, punitive homework policies can undermine student learning. For this reason, when you are developing your homework policy, consider your learners. What are your students’ strengths? What kind of resources (Internet access, time, etc.) do they have at home?

Similarly, when developing a retesting policy, consider how retesting can support student learning. A generous retesting policy can signal to students that you support them. But a retesting policy should not put all the work squarely on your shoulders. This article from ASCD suggests that students request to retest. In the English classroom, projects and process papers often better lend themselves to revision rather than a true retest. In these cases, requiring students to visit a writing lab, come in before/after school, or to do an additional round of peer editing can be positive ways to encourage students to grow without requiring you to regrade an entire essay. The same principles also apply to extra credit policies.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish

I have a confession: I use (or have used) Wikipedia and Sparknotes. I also use Crash Course, and I still have some of those good old yellow and black Cliff Notes pamphlets.

And sometimes I also encourage my students to use these resources.

But the key word here is “resource.” Each of these tools can be a starting place for inquiry, but none of them should be the final part of academic exploration. For example, when my students are researching, Wikipedia can provide a quick brief on a topic. This gives them the information they need to craft meaningful search terms. Sometimes the links at the bottom also can point students to credible, reliable sources. However, Wikipedia is not a credible source for research, and that’s something I emphasize with my students.

Similarly, Sparknotes and Cliff Notes can help students with plot and character details. But these sources often lack the depth students need to succeed in the classroom. For this reason, write high-level questions that push students beyond recall or comprehension. Better yet, have students write the questions themselves!

Finally, there’s EasyBib and Citation Machine. Sometimes these websites get the citations right, but sometimes, they get something wrong. In fact, even our library’s databases sometimes miss part of a citation. In this case, the important thing for teachers and students to remember is that citation is a skill that focuses on such small details that students have to practice regularly. For this reason, when my students write, the first thing they submit is a rough draft Works Cited or annotated bibliography. This means students don’t have much of a chance to dig into EasyBib. And it means that I can catch their citation errors early on. Like Wikipedia, these can be places to begin the process of citation, but they have to be double checked–either by the teacher or against a credible style guide.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish

In my department, one of our most-frequent controversies is the discussion about the value of a class novel study vs. the value of literature circles or individual student choice novels. As with most things, this issue comes down to knowing your students, your content, and how to balance the needs of each.

Knowing Your Students: When it comes to determining whether to read as a class or whether each student reads individually, knowing your students is essential. This allows you to make meaningful book recommendations and to differentiate for students. It also allows you to know when you have a class that can’t handle independent reading time.

As a new teacher, my classroom management was not stellar, so I could not get my students into a routine that allowed us to all read independently. You know what? Six years later, I have the classroom management in place to create an environment in which students can successfully read independently. Learning how to make curricular decisions that achieve your classroom’s desired results and standards while also allowing you to meet the needs of your students is a skill teachers work on for their entire careers. Determining how and what students will read is part of that process.

Knowing Your Content: In addition to knowing your students, you must also know your content. Some texts lend themselves to particular standards. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great text for point of view, characterization, historical context, and structure. For this reason, I teach this as a whole-class novel. Similarly, whole-class novels can be great opportunities for working on discussion skills and building classroom relationships. I know my content, so I know when and where to make the decision to use a whole-class novel vs. when to choose independent, choice reading. For example, when it comes time to work on formal presentation skills, doing a Book Talk about choice novels is a great way for students to show off their individual reading while also working on speaking skills.

Knowing Balance: This is a difficult thing to learn. But it’s essential that we balance the needs of our learners against the demands of our curriculum. That’s the nature of education. So as you dig through these ~controversial~ issues, keep that in mind. Your goal is to teach students and to help them grow. Make choices that support that goal. Sometimes those choices will be seen as “safe” and “quaint.” Other times they will be “bold” and “innovative.” And there is no shame in each set of choices. Trust that you know the needs of your learners, and trust that even if you try something and it doesn’t go off perfectly, then you still know that you made an attempt to create a better learning environment for your students. Like your students, you are continually growing and improving, and making pedagogical choices is part of that process.

What other controversies would you like Moore English to discuss? Let us know in the comments below.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish

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The Truth About Teaching in February

One of my past students has graduated from high school, completed her degree, and started teaching fourth grade in my district. Yes, I feel old.

Recently, she reached out to check in and, in the process, let me know that her first year has been *HARD* (her emphasis). She’s spent some long nights, weekends, and days off in her classroom. More than anything, I sympathize with her and want to help out because she has no idea what’s coming.

To my mind, there are few months in education more brutal than February (March is a close runner up). You feel like you’re past the halfway point, but the end is nowhere in sight. The weather is frigid, the testing buzz begins, and the only break is Presidents’ Day. In other words, winter has come, looked around, settled in, and shows no signs of offering a security deposit or regular rent check.

So what’s a teacher to do? How do you prepare for an unavoidable and almost cosmic alignment of rough days?

Acknowledge the Challenge

First, recognize that this stretch during the school year is an absolute bear. Don’t go in blind (ignorantly or willfully). Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to wander through the Yukon when it’s forty below. Pride will leave you cold, so give this month its due and at least acknowledge the challenge.

Prepare Accordingly

Acknowledging the challenge is one thing, but if you recognize but don’t prepare, you haven’t made any progress. Knowing that February can be challenging gives you time to prepare.

Plan ahead: Since February can be a dark time with long stretches without a break, plan ahead. In the past, I’ve spoken about the importance of running weeklies and dailies ahead of time. This advice is even more important now: instead of leaving copying until the morning of, make those copies in advance. If possible, recruit a copy parent to help out with these kinds of grinding, thankless tasks.

Similarly, if you know you’re going to be hosting a Valentine’s Party, don’t leave the planning until the 13th. That will only create more stress. If you don’t have a head room parent, now is the time to elect one. Figure out what expectations your school has for this kind of celebration and plan ahead. This may take some time now, but when it gets to February 13, you will be ready. This is also true for February Parent-Teacher Conferences. Don’t wait until the night before to begin collecting data. Start collecting and organizing student data, work samples, and course recommendations now so when parent-teacher conferences arrive, you are not scrambling.

Additionally, with winter in the air, there’s a good chance your building will be hit with the plague or other student-carried illness. Be proactive in planning for absences by generating some generic sub plans ahead of time. Get your sub tub ready. This free Sub Plan Cover Sheet is a life saver!

Be consistent: If there’s one advantage to February, it’s that the calendar is pretty stable. There’s few early releases or late starts, no prolonged breaks, and only one four-day week. This means that you have an opportunity to really focus on consistency in the classroom. February’s charms a probably hitting your students, too, so they will need consistent expectations more than ever. Really lean into those expectations, procedures, and consistent routines so you can fall back on them when times get tough.


What many new teachers (like my past student) don’t know is that February is unforgiving. However, if you are a seasoned teacher, you do know what’s coming, so you have acknowledged the challenge and prepared accordingly. Now, it’s time to make sure that when challenges arise, you respond in the best way possible. We use best practices in our classroom, and that has to be true here, too.

Stay Together: When February digs in, it can be easy to take out our frustrations in petty ways. We may begin infighting with other teachers, lashing out at loved ones, or beating up on ourselves. Some of those reactions are unavoidable, but other times, we can catch ourselves and readjust. Instead of taking out your February frustrations on your co-workers, find a way to stick together. As High School Musical taught us, “we’re all in this together.” So find your teacher tribe. Bring them your concerns and frustrations and let them help you. Chances are they will need your support, too. Hold each other accountable for positive behaviors and attitudes, but also create a safe space amongst yourselves for vulnerable moments. Yes, February will reveal countless vulnerabilities, but vulnerability is an opportunity for growth.

Stay Healthy: Germs are part of education. Keeping your classroom healthy is hard work. However, your classroom also belongs to your students, so they should be able to take on some responsibility for keeping the germs at bay. Invite students into this process by discussing good habits, including those habits that happen outside of the classroom like hand washing and getting enough sleep. Just as importantly, teachers also have to follow that advice, too. We also have to stay healthy by sleeping enough, practicing self care, and maintaining healthy habits even when February is at her most vicious. This means setting limits on work time, taking your sick days, and being reasonable with personal and professional goals.

Stay Grateful

February is a petty, vindictive, selfish monster, but don’t let her ruin you. Don’t let her take away your joy of teaching. My word for 2019 is grateful, so it’s important for me to find ways to stay grateful even when teaching is its most difficult. Model gratitude for your students. Even when you don’t feel particularly #blessed, using grateful language with students can help you begin to believe it yourself. Gratitude isn’t blind, remorseless positivity but the recognition that, as teachers, we are privileged. The classroom can be a Pandora’s Box of sorts, and gratitude recognizes the awesome power that comes from opening that box.

Share your best advice for surviving February in the comments section!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

The Truth About Teaching in February #mooreenglish

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5 Things That Scare Me In Education, and 5 That Give Me Hope

On my way to work yesterday, I heard a clip from NPR’s 10 Things That Scare Me. In this particular episode, Samin Nosrat, the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat shared her fears. As I was listening, I began to wonder what aspects of teaching frighten me.

Things That Scare Me

School Shootings: This was my first thought. Instantly. Immediately. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. I am also concerned about the systems and conditions (in politics, health care, economics, and society) that allow mass shootings to happen with such regularity continue to persist.

Single Stories: As an English teacher, I find value in stories and storytelling. However, reading and watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” helped me better understand the way narratives can also be insidious. Yes, stories can help use make sense of the world, but they can also bias or prejudice our understanding of the world and, therefore, how we interact with the world. In education, some narratives are deeply entrenched, especially those related to black, male students. The ways in which single stories could be (and are currently) shaping actions, policies, and the lives of our students is of great concern. If you don’t believe single stories exist and have tangible effects, check out these articles from the New York Times, Vox, US News and World Report, USA Today, and Education Week.

Standardized Testing: The stress caused by high-stakes testing is detrimental to the learning process and to our learners. A one-size fits all approach is not right for instruction, so it should not be the approach for assessment. While I am not a fan of such practices, I still feel pressured to prepare my students for our End-of-Course exam and for the ACT. Are such practices harmful to our students and their thinking?

Burnout: We have all felt the end-of-the-semester crunch, and every teacher needs occasional moments of perspective. Nevertheless, I am scared that I will burnout. I am scared that the stress of my fears (of standardized testing, the harms of educational trends, etc.) will cause me to burn out. Even more worrying is the continually high attrition rate of new teachers. For this reason, finding ways to stay inspired has become even more important! is a testament to the importance of continuing to stay engaged and excited about education!

The speed with which I developed this list! I heard NPR’s podcast yesterday morning on my way to work. By the time I was in the parking lot, I had so many things that scared me that I had to stop and jot some down. Needless to say, the frequency of the fear surprised me and, of course, scared me. It continues to scare me. The items I included here are only a fraction of the ones I jotted down: some I found too tender to confront, too personal for the Internet, or too difficult to articulate.

However, as I was listing, I also began to develop responses to my own fears. And these responses give me hope.

Things that Give Me Hope

First, I can confront many of my fears. I can make sure to act more from intention and joy in my classroom. And I can make sure that I do not let fear dictate my actions. I can resist the conditions that lead to fear. This reminds me of a graphic that’s been going around teacher social media: things I can control and things I cannot. For example, I cannot control school shooters, but I can control my reactions in the face of such conditions. The fear belongs to me, so I own it. If I own it, I can know it, and if I know the fear, then it loses its power. This gives me hope.

Second, I know that my commitment to professional growth is more powerful than any fear. I love learning. Inaction is one of fear’s greatest weapons, so continually engaging in professional development that makes me a more competent professional is a means of fighting fear. These opportunities to grow also give me hope.

Similarly, I am not afraid that teaching will cease to challenge me. I am afraid of complacency but not in my professional life. Each class and each student brings new challenges: new questions, ideas, and inspiration! The passion that these challenges ignites in me represents hope.

My students also give me hope. Our students face tremendous pressure, but they continually rise up. Their triumphs capture the imagination, and their struggles encourage me to try new approaches to education. The students have a willingness to learn and their curiosity about the world suggest that soon, very soon, they will be ready to step up as leaders. Their ability to use technology fluidly and fluently reveals that their leadership will cross boundaries and borders. More and more often, I find myself worrying less about them and more and more often worrying for them.

Lastly, you give me hope. Since starting Moore English, I have connected with countless motivated educators. I see the detail they put into building their classrooms, hear the dedication they voice, and know that their concerns are my concerns. Some of our fears are the same, but we keep teaching because we have the ability to improve this world. Thank you for everything you do for your students.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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5 Things in Education that Scare Me, and 5 That Give Me Hope #mooreenglish #teachertruth

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Getting the Most out of Google Classroom

With this week’s update to Google Classroom, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about how to get the most out of this great learning management system.

Managing Absent Work

Developing and consistently implementing a system for absent work is an essential classroom procedure. Google Classroom is a great place to post your daily agenda. As you can see in this image, I post an announcement in the Class Stream each month and update that announcement every day. Placing the most-recent work increases efficiency. As much as possible, I attach class materials to the monthly agendas so students are always looking in this one place.

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish

When students are absent, they know to check the Google Classroom agenda for the work they missed. Only after they check the Google Classroom should they come to me with questions. At the start of a new month, I create a new announcement and start again. I’ve been using this system for three years now, and it’s helped my students manage their homework and absent work. Making choices to empower students is an advantage of using Google Classroom.

Organizing Class Work

With the update to Google Classroom, teachers can now drag-and-drop to organize the Class Work tab. However, managing large projects or assignments that span the course of several class periods can still be a challenge to organize. For this reason, when I post a major project, I use one post and continually update that post. For example, when my students were writing the literary analysis over The Great Gatsby, I posted one assignment and students added to that assignment every day, writing their paper piece by piece. This is also where I uploaded exemplar papers, rubrics, and due dates. With this system, students are able to focus on the assignment rather than focusing on where to find materials.

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish

Emphasizing Revision

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish

In the English classroom, the writing process is a major and continual subject. In particular, we work on visualizing and revising throughout the year. In addition to using a single assignment throughout the course of a paper, I also have specific expectations for my students during revision.

As I read through and comment on rough drafts, I specifically tie each comment to an aspect of the rubric. Additionally, as students revise their papers, they respond the comments to justify their choices. This helps them think through their work. It also helps me know exactly where I should re-read and re-grade the final copy.

In the most-recent update to Google Classroom, Google has also made it easier to comment on student work. The comment bank has been around since the start of this school year, but now you can more easily access your saved comments. I’ve been using this trick for about a week now, and it is so efficient!

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish

What other tips and tricks should we know for getting the most out of Google Classroom? Let us know in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

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Classroom Ideas to Try in 2019

After spending winter break getting some perspective and distance from my classroom, I am feeling re-energized and ready to dive back in. While I have already set and revisited my goals for the semester, there are some strategies and activities I’m also interested in trying.

Grading and Assessment

Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog suggests scheduling time for grading at school. This seems like a straightforward idea, but it’s not one I’d ever thought of. Grading at school is something I do if I get around to it, but I’m really good at filing that time with other tasks. For this reason, I’d like to try intentionally scheduling time during the day for marking.

With that in mind, I’d also like to try Caitlin Tucker’s suggestion for grading with students rather than for students. While I don’t think I’m ready to leave all assessment in the classroom, grading with students seems to move the conversation toward growth and self reflection and away from assessment-for-a-grade. At the end of last semester, I had some opportunities to do this, and I found the process to be rewarding.

In order to help me grade with students, I would also like to try using conversation as assessment. This article from Edutopia gives three tips for making this process manageable. So often I find that grading can become a barrier in building student relationships, but conversation as assessment and conversations about assessment may be meaningful ways to build relationships. Sometimes students are prone to sharing when they are in the habit of talking, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this procedure produces.

Building Relationships 

While I think using conversation as assessment will help me continue to build relationships with students, I also think it is important for students to see each other as learners. Perfection is the enemy of progress (someone famous must have said that), so I want my students to recognize that we are all in the process of growing and developing as readers, writers, learners, and thinkers.

In order to help students make this recognition, I’d like to try Learning Walks, which I first read about on Gretchen Bridger’s blog Always a Lesson. In Gretchen’s post, Learning Walks are for professionals, providing opportunities for teachers to learn from one another like an #observeme. But I’d like to try something similar with my students, especially when we are far from final products. In particular, I think doing a learning walk as we brainstorm might be a good way for students to talk about their writing. This would also help students see each other as learners.

Another relationship builder I’d like to try this semester comes from this post on Edutopia. The post details a great strategy for gauging students’ emotional state and creates an avenue for students to share. Even if students choose not to share, this strategy opens a pathway that could be used in the future. As part of my school’s PD book study, I’m currently reading The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar. One of the concepts she focuses on is emotional intelligence. This is not an area I feel is a strength…yet. It’s something I want to work on, and this strategy seems like a place to start.

Try Celebrating Growth

This is actually something I have steadily worked on over the years. With a combination of goal setting and data-driven conversations, I have continually worked to help my students visualize their learning. Students set initial goals, revise those goals, talk about those goals, and grow from their goals.

However, most of those strategies focus inward: one student sets his or her own goals and celebrates his or her own learning. I’d like to move my students to a place where we can celebrate each other’s learning. I don’t think we will accomplish this in one year. There’s a lot of procedures, routines, and expectations that go into creating this kind of classroom culture. But I think one thing I’d like to try is turning learning into a celebration. In this article from Share My Lesson, Amber Chandler talks about turning presentations into a celebration. For me, at least, this seems like a manageable way to start developing a culture that celebrates the growth of every learner.

Classroom Ideas to Try in 2019 #moore-english

At the end of the day, I may not be able to try all of these ideas. But each one provides some inspiration for making my classroom a more meaningful place. What other ideas should I try in 2019? What ideas are you excited to bring into your classroom? Let us know in the comments.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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Classroom Ideas to Try in 2019 #moore-english

Images from Styled Stock Society

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Finding Perspective in Education

Earlier this month, my mom got a new glasses prescription. Together, we went to COSTCO to pick out new frames. For me, choosing new frames can be a challenge because in order to see what the new frames look like…I need my glasses. It’s a catch-22. As we were trying on new frames, I stood as close to the mirror as possible, but that caused its own problem because when I got too close, all I could see was my nose.

That’s how I felt at the end of last semester: I was so close to my classroom that all I could see was school. In the last few weeks of the semester (during crunch time), several things hit a crisis point, and that’s all I could see. While some of those things were within my control, many of them were not. Nevertheless, I was fixated.

As a result, when break started, my bucket was empty. Although there were school tasks I wanted to accomplish over break (ie-revising my Gatsby quizzes), I realized I needed to take a step back.

I needed some perspective.

Why Perspective Matters

As Psychology Today indicates, ”when our focus is too narrow, it can lead us to miss the big picture.” For me, my entire focus had become school, so I was neglecting other important parts of my life. Not only was I neglecting my family and my health, I was also not enjoying school. For the first time in my life, going to school had become a job, not a joy. And that’s how I knew it was time to take a step back.

Finding Perspective as a Teacher @moore-english #moore-english

Getting some perspective has helped me refocus my classroom goals and priorities. Over the course of the semester, our students grow and evolve, but so do we! The goals we set at the beginning of the school year may no longer be appropriate, so refocusing can help us revise those goals so they meet our reality. For this reason, getting some perspective has also let me recommit to my goals with a growth mindset: instead of feeling like I failed to meet my goals, I adjusted my goals to meet me where I am as a teacher.

Most importantly, getting some perspective has let me reconnect with my teacher truth. At the end of the day, I love teaching and learning. When my focus became too narrow, I lost sight of that joy. After a winter break with little curricular content, I feel excited and energized to meet my students on the first day back from break

Finding Perspective as a Teacher @moore-english #moore-english

How to Find Perspective

I cannot simply turn off the part of my mind that thinks about school, but over break, I made a concerted effort not to dwell in my classroom and not to visit my classroom.

Finish First: Before break, I made sure my grades were finished. At the time, this made me feel very crunched for time, but getting the grading done before the final bell really helped me take some time for myself this break.

Leave Prepared: Similarly, I stayed late on the day break began. This may seem counterintuitive, but I am almost completely ready for the first day back from break. Except for printing class rosters (which will continue to change up until the first bell), I am ready for students on Thursday. This has given me great peace of mind over the break.

Unplug: During break, I’ve also worked to stay out of my school email. I have glanced at it a couple times, but none of the subject lines have been emergent. So I’m letting them sit there. Letters of recommendation and supply orders can all wait. This has helped me create the distance that provides perspective.

Maintaining Perspective

Since my mom picked up her new glasses prescription, she’s been able to better see the world around her. As I return to school this week, I hope to maintain some of that perspective. While I am excited to dive back into the classroom and meet my new students, I also hope to keep the big picture in mind and not get sucked into minutiae. What are your other suggestions for maintaining perspective? Let me know in the comments.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english

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Finding Perspective as a Teacher @moore-english #moore-english

Eye test Photo by David Travis and Glasses photo by Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

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Classroom Goals: Revisited

This is an update of a post that originally appeared in August. 

At the beginning of each semester, I ask students to set goals related to reading and writing. Then, over the course of the next 18 weeks, we revisit those goals. Now that I’m at the end of first semester, I wanted to take a minute and reflect on my goals and on my beliefs about goal setting. 

Some things didn’t change…

While my students set academic goals, I also set classroom goals. Plenty of research suggests that writing down goals is important. Such research suggests that writing down goals is important for two main reasons:

1. ScienceNeuroscience suggests that “people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals.” Furthermore, writing down your goals is part of whole-brain thinking, so now every aspect of your conscious mind is working toward helping you achieve your goals.

2. Accountability. After a challenging lesson or class, we often think, “Well, next time I’ll…”. While these are important internal dialogues and an essential part of professional growth, these dialogues are also easy to dismiss or forget (if you’re not going to teach that lesson again until next semester, it is easy to forget!). However, writing down goals promotes accountability and follow through. Suddenly, your internal dialogue is made solid and significant. It has weight and shape. Your dreams have become goals, and that can be scary but critical for making meaningful growth. Writing down your goals forces you to own them. 

In addition to writing down professional goals, it is also important to share those goals. Being honest with yourself about your classroom strengths and struggles is important, but it is just as important to share and communicate with others. When you share your goals with co-workers, peers, or teacher friends, these benefits arise:

1. Strength. Sharing your goals is not a sign of weakness but a profession of strength. By letting your peers know that you are aware of your own professional struggles, you signal a willingness to learn and grow. Further, you are modeling the kind of cognitive vulnerability that focuses meaningful professional growth and development, signaling to your peers that they can share similar #teachertruths without fear of judgement. This kind of sharing is a foundation of leadership. 

2. Feedback. Now that you have shared your goals with your peers, they can help you achieve them. Instead of having one mind working toward your goals, you have multiple minds working toward a common goal. Your co-workers, peers, and teacher friends have valuable experiences and insights into teaching, learning, and growth, so drawing on their collective wisdom is key. They can provide creative solutions from an objective perspective you can’t access alone.

Here’s what did…

I mostly met my goals! My goals for the school year focused on making more positive parent contacts and teaching annotating text features. You can read the full goals here.

In terms of making more parent contact, I was great about making positive parent contacts during first quarter, and second quarter, I mostly fell off the wagon. In part, I think I should have revisited my goals at the end of the quarter. You can get my parent contact freebie here. From this experience, I feel like I learned as much about managing my goals as I did about parent contact. 

In terms of annotating text features, I feel very good! My school is actively participating in a close reading initiative, so I think that helped. However, it was also help for me to directly teach the term “text features.” My students and I made a list of text feature types, and I made sure to choose versions of texts that include text features. For example, during Things Fall Apart, I usually teach “The Second Coming.” With text features in mind, I chose a version of the text that includes some serious text features: footnotes, definitions, an image, and an about-the-author section. I also worked hard to add text features to our assessments and to my student’s summative projects. This was successful and not terribly difficult to do! 

Next steps…

Since I feel good about teaching annotating text features and since I also want to continue growing as an educator, going into second semester, I am going to focus on two goals. First, I will continue my practice with annotating text features. Since I wasn’t as successful with positive parent contacts, I will also continue to work in this area. 

Second, I would like to try using conversations as assessment. After reading this article from Edutopia, I think there’s a place for using conversation as assessment in my classroom. For my sophomores and juniors, we have some silent reading time during which students read a self-selected book. In the past, I have simply read with students, which has been a positive experience. However, I would also like to focus on some specific skills during silent reading, so I’m going to try to use conversation as assessment of those specific skills. 

What are your resolutions going to be for the new school year? Share them below! I’d love to hear what you’re going to focus on in the next school year!  Pick up my FREE student goal sheet HERE

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english
Classroom Goals 2018-19 Revisited #moore-english

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Entropy is Not Destiny

If I remember science class correctly, the second law of thermodynamics states that systems tend toward entropy or disorder. This also seems to be true of schools: we tend toward entropy. As the semester comes to a close, sometimes teachers begin to feel like they are making a last stand between their classroom and entropy. I know that is how I feel sometimes. 

My school is in a state of increasing entropy right now: we are under massive construction, we are preparing for a substantive change in how we schedule courses, and we may have altered start times next year. To say “change is in the air” would be a massive simplification. However, that certainly does not mean that my fellow teachers and I are throwing our hands up and handing ourselves and our students over to chaos. The second law of thermodynamics also says that some systems exist in an ideal state of equilibrium or are undergoing reversible processes. For the sake of our metaphor, that means schools and teachers do not have to accept chaos. In the classroom, entropy is not destiny. 

Entropy is not (classroom) destiny #moore-english

Internal Change Agents

In fact, every day teachers make choices aimed to reduce entropy. We develop and practice classroom routines, we establish predictable and reasonable expectations, and we set goals with our students. Teachers develop relationships with students, model ideal behavior, and develop engaging and meaningful lessons. Each one of these actions stymies entropy. 

When I see entropy arise in my classroom, I ask myself a few questions: 

  1. How did I prepare for this? What have I done to proactively meet this challenge? 
  2. In the moment (as chaos crests the horizon), how did I respond? Were my reactions effective?
  3. What do I wish I could do differently? 

My goal is that (eventually) I can stop at No. 1 because some procedure, management tool, goal, or relationship has stymied chaos. However, unpredictability and impulsivity are trademarks of entropy (and sometimes of teenagers), so I won’t always be able to stop at No. 1. Nevertheless, these are my markers for reflection. 

External Change Agents 

However, classroom management focuses on the activity within one system: your classroom. While the classroom is its own system, it is also part of the larger school system, and chaos can come from without as easily as it can come from within. While internal classroom interruptions can be irritating, at least they have a degree of predictability. External interruptions or changes are the real agents of entropy because they are not always predictable: assemblies, safety drills, and interim testing happen, sometimes without warning. 

When external interruptions cause entropy, I ask myself these questions: 

  1. How did I prepare my students for this? What have I done to proactively prepare them for this situation? 
  2. Did my reaction to an external force of entropy model for students the reaction I’d hope to see in them? In other words, am I proud of my reaction?
  3. Do I wish something had gone differently? Is that “something” in my power–if so, see No. 1 and 2 above. If not, how do I effectively and professionally communicate that something could have gone better? What avenues already exist for expressing this desire? 

At least for me, No. 3 is a battle. It’s much easier for me to grouse at lunch about how something was mishandled. However, when I do find and use an open avenue for expressing my concerns or desires, the result is almost always (at minimum) respect. Do I always get what I want in terms of stopping external interruptions? No, but expressing my concerns professionally at least puts them on someone else’s radar and makes it more likely that, in the future, my concerns will be addressed. 

Toward Equilibrium 

At its heart, the second law of thermodynamics (as applied by an ELA teacher) suggests that only ideal systems are perfect. And you and I know that “ideal” systems do not exist. Like many physics problems, they are theoretical or hypothetical. For this reason, avoid focusing on achieving perfection and, instead, focus on anticipating entropy. The enemy of entropy is not peace or serenity but equilibrium. The reflective questions above will not eliminate entropy, but they will provide us with the tools to promote equilibrium. 



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Entropy is not (classroom) destiny #moore-english
Background images from Mehmet Demiray

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