Every Minute Matters!

Indeed, it does! Time not spent productively adds up in the end. Even losing one minute in nine weeks adds up to one entire class in the 9th Grade Academy. When the high schools in the DCSD were planning to make the switch to block scheduling, there was a Business teacher at Central who was totally against it. He did the math and it turned out teachers/students would actually lose a signifigant number of days in transitioning from traditional to block scheduling. Therefore, students in his Accounting I classes wouldn’t fully be ready for Accounting II because there wouldn’t be the same number of minutes/days in the block calendar. We lost several days in the change over from traditional to block.

So now when we go to block scheduling for the freshmen next year, I will have all the time in the world, right? Not really. It’s easy to think you don’t have to rush during a 90 minute block.  There’s a pitfall, though. Let’s say you plan three different activities. That’s at least two transitions. If you are not careful, the minutes will slip away. Smooth, quick transitions are necessary. Otherwise, you are back to losing minutes each day that can quickly turn into hours lost, and over the course of time, days! Oh no, I am scaring myself! I think establishing routines will help. It might take some time to train the students, but in the end it will be worth it not be be giving up precious time. Planning, planning, planning.

Learning to be flexible is also important.How many times have you planned the perfect lesson and it is interrupted by a fire drill? Or the day when you plan for student revisions only to learn five of your 25 students completed the written work and are ready to revise. It works the other way, too! How about when your students are really into a discussion and you hate to move on? Learn to be flexible is probably one of the moste important tips I give to student teachers. It doesn’t always go as planned!



I am a CHAMPION…most days!

By Alissa Hansen

As the end of the year is in sight, I am beginning to reflect on what has been a rewarding, albeit challenging, school year. We have officially completed our persuasive research unit and have now moved on to reading (The Pigman in English I and The Odyssey in Honors). I think this has restored some of that “joy factor” that Lemov discusses in chapter 12 too, so it has allowed us (both students and myself) to be reinvigorated once again. English I is also working on an independent reading project where students get to read a novel of their choosing and complete a creative project to share with the class. Honors is starting the Greek mythology unit by completing a mini-research project on a god/goddess in preparation for reading the epic poem. After working hard on an extensive research project in all classes, this is work that I notice seems to be “ punctuated regularly by moments of exultation and joy” (442). However, we are also inching our way closer to the end of the school year and it is getting nicer outside, so it is absolutely imperative to keep consistent with high academic and behavioral expectations. I know we all work hard to do this day in and day out, but here are a few things that I need to remind myself with as the year comes to a close.

Without Apology

With freshmen, this is an easy hole to fall down because they often like to lead the conversation down a path that tricks you into apologizing for content or work assigned. And sometimes I have caught myself falling into this trap. I need to daily emphasize the importance, urgency and scholarly work that needs to get accomplished more often. I need to remind students that what we are studying is “an important building block for things you do throughout your life as a student” and as a lifelong learner (123). I think it is easy at times to assume students don’t appreciate what we are teaching, especially when it requires work and time. I have one class in particular that is extremely negative and pretty consistent about complaining about everything that we do in class, reading or writing. Lemov says it beautifully when he states, “Our job is to find a way to make what we teach engaging and never to assume that students can’t appreciate what not instantly familiar or does not egregiously pander to them” (123). This is ALWAYS my goal, but it does get tough amidst negativity. Lemov gives some great alternatives to an apology–like reminding students that what we are doing will help them succeed, that the content is great because it is challenging, or that the scholarly work they are carrying out is what college students do and sometimes even struggle with and that’s what makes it cool.

Least Invasive Intervention

I do not have many behavioral issues in class for whatever reason, but I do find that I need to get freshmen on task and some students in particular, more often than not. I am a pretty blunt, straight-forward person, but I do know that the most effective way to manage a class is through interventions that are the least invasive. One area that I need to work on is the positive group correction (398). Using more “I need to see everyone writing” while redirecting individual students who need it at the same time. Sometimes I can find myself in a rut if I have three-five students who are off task and I will stop the entire class to address them. This wastes time, so remembering for those quick positive reminders that allow students to reflect and then getting back to teaching will be the best way to get the most accomplished, which also doesn’t allow for students to break down the lesson due to their behaviors.

Firm Calm Finesse

At this point, I have caught onto the behaviors that are the most problematic and from which students, as well as have come to know triggers for students and have made contacts home, with the counselor, and in some cases, with the principal. I think I have done a pretty good job of catching behaviors early (403). However, one thing that Lemov says that stands out to me is “if you’re mad, you’ve waited to long” (403). I have definitely found myself approaching a situation angrily and this has a tendency to affect the entire day and stir up emotions. So, some tactics that I need to refocus my attention and energy on are: valuing purpose over power (“I need you participating like a scholar” instead of “When I ask you to work, you need to work” or “I am watching you get nothing done”), saying thank you and please more often, and using universal language (team sport, “We need you with us”) (404).

The Art of Consequence

  • Knowing when to give a consequence or give a correction is another important item that I need to keep better track of. Sometimes I get so frustrated by a student’s consistent off-task or disruptive behavior that I will call them out in class. I know this is not the most effective method, but when I have done every possible  method to get them productive, it can be very aggravating. Depersonalizing is a goal that I am doing more often (conferences in the hall work wonders or after school or class). I have even thought about having a student write a reflection on their behavior if it is something habitual. Lemov states “emotions distract students from  reflecting on the behavior that resulted in the consequence” and this is something very important to remember if you want students to work hard for you (408).

When trying to determine whether it is a consequence or a correction that is needed, I plan to follow this:

  • If a student is “persistently” off task= consequence, unless the being off task is due to misunderstanding;
  • If a student’s behavior doesn’t disrupt others= correction, if it does= consequence;
  • If a student is testing your patience and your expectations consistently= consequence, as tolerance of this behavior will strip you of your authority;
  • Giving a correction first and then a consequence poses as a good solution as well.
  • Correcting first allows the student to reflect and remediate behavior and the consequence reminds them sharply not to do it again. As Lemov states, giving a consequence first could cause the student to react emotionally and therefore shutdown or even more resistant (411).

That’s all folks…


Reading Aloud

By Katie Choate


As I was flipping through the Teach Like a Champion text, the words “The Challenges of Reading Aloud” caught my attention.  How fitting for an English teacher, right?  The problem is we all have different views on reading aloud in the classroom.  Recently, I’ve heard from someone “up above” that teachers should never force a student to read aloud.  Personally, I find that to be crazy.  We’re talking about 14 year-olds or older!  These students have been reading aloud since at least first grade.  They’ve actually been assessed on their skills as far as reading aloud in their younger years in school.  So why would we allow them to opt out of this as they become older and better readers?  The answer they give is that it puts pressure on the student, makes them feel “put on the spot”, or demonstrates their reading flaws.  I don’t believe this.  I think these students have learned that “playing dumb” or announcing that they have self-diagnosed dyslexia will earn them a pass.  If you watch these students, the second they are allowed to be skipped in regards to reading aloud, they tune out completely.  They know they have won and that they will forever be able to do their own thing during this part of any lesson.


My personal philosophy: you will read aloud.  When I call your name, you will read at least the paragraph we are on at a minimum.  If you struggle, we will help you.  If you have a legitimate issue, it will be documented somewhere and we will discuss that.  I can honestly say I’ve never had a student officially diagnosed with dyslexia.  I’ve had numerous students with stuttering problems or other speech impediments, and these students often do not have issues reading aloud…they’ve been working on their speech all their life.  It’s something that stems from a self-conscious issue.  Once these students realize I will not give them a pass, they are magically healed.  I love that Lemov says, “The argument further assumes that struggling is a bad thing and that classroom cultures are incapable of making it safe to struggle and take risks “ (173).   Isn’t this our job?  To make them comfortable with things they are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with.  I think hearing others read and encouraging inflection and enthusiasm during reading is great.  You never know when you might be asked to read something aloud.  Wouldn’t these students rather be rehearsed in this skill rather than proving that they struggle with something?

Double Plan…Genius!

By Katie Choate


Reading about the double planning technique that Lemov suggests caused a very bright light bulb to go off in my head.  It’s not a totally new or innovative concept, it’s just that I had never heard it named or described before.  It makes complete sense.  It’s also something I already do, but need to start doing better.  Double planning is making sure specific details are worked out throughout my lessons on my side, but also planning just as intricately for the students.  It’s all about anticipation!  I need to be able to anticipate what the students will be able to handle, what kind of time frame they will need for something, how high expectations should be set, and how fast we can move through something.  I need to be prepared for what, as my mom would say, “monkey wrench” they will throw my way.  This concept does not in any way frighten me when it comes to 9th graders.  I am so familiar with this grade level that I almost believe I think like a 9th grader sometimes (as I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog!).  However, the idea that I may or may not have 9th graders in the near future has me looking closer at how this double planning actually is put in place.
Lemov breaks it down into 6 goals.  The goals are basically 1) everything students need, needs to be in one place 2) pacing is key 3) students need to be accountable 4) checking for understanding 5) anticipate success and 6) adaptability.  The example in the text discusses beginning this with a packet of work.  The idea is that the students move through the packet seamlessly and the teacher can quickly and easily check for understanding and either pick up the pace or slow down as necessary without missing a beat.  The students would really not even know the original plan had changed.  Like I said before, I think I could successfully plan something like this for 9th graders.  I’m glad to have read how to break it down now though, so I can successfully plan this for other grade levels or classes in the future.  I do think one thing successful teachers do is anticipate what students will say, do, or how they will react to something.  The lessons where it doesn’t work so well are the ones where the students behaved in a way not according to the original plan. I’ve never felt like my plan was what went south, it was always the way I anticipated the students reacting to my plan that didn’t go well. So being able to plan their reaction accurately will always make the class/lesson run smoother.

Brace Yourself before you Pace Yourself

By Alissa Hansen

As teachers, we have pacing guides that call attention to where we should be at timewise in our courses each term. These are helpful as they give teachers a sense of being right on track and help to make sure that we end up where we need to, have acquired the skills, and have mastered the standards that are necessary at the end of the course. However, pacing for a 43 minute period with freshmen can be rather challenging. Lemov discusses pacing using the five “muscle groups” (203). Freshmen need consistency and they need to know what is required of them at all times. In fact, they will most likely ask you this question many times throughout the class period.

Knowledge Assimilation is what we do when we start a new unit. We take notes, discuss the new content all before we move into the Guided Practice component. This is the big test to see if students understand the new material that was presented, which usually takes place in the form of question and answer. Then students move on to the Independent Practice. This is when “autonomous execution of a skill” takes place (205). I usually have students complete these muscle groups often and on a daily basis. Then there is the reflection; the very important metacognition aspect of learning that needs to take place. I have to admit that I do not do this as often as I should. With my current freshmen we have finished the research paper (5 weeks!) as well as the persuasive speech, and I must have been eager to move on because I left out this critical component. I am now thinking that I want/need  to at least go back and have students reflect on what they thought was the hardest for them while completing the research paper and what they had to do to problem solve. I think this would be very worthwhile for them, especially after getting their grades and feedback on this major project. The last aspect is Discussion. Discussion is another aspect of the learning environment that I am the biggest fan of, but sometimes with 43 minute periods, this is one that doesn’t get to happen with my English I students as often as it should. In my Honors course, we do discuss daily, and at varying levels. I do think I need to incorporate more Socrative seminar, turn and talk, and debates into my English I classroom because they are capable and could benefit from hearing each other more often. I will add this to my forever growing to do list.
As great as these changing activity types are, I know I really have to watch myself as to not include too many activities in one period because that is one way to lose students!! I found this out the hard way last year after coming from teaching upperclassmen on the block for years to teaching freshmen on skinnies! It was a tough transition, but what I have found out is that 1-2 significant activities during a 43 minute class period is plenty for the mind of a 14-15 year old brain…and mine too!!! Lemov mention on page 209 that changing formats is a great strategy, especially when more time is needed in one area, or if the energy is down (which, let’s face it, can happen in any classroom).

It’s About Time!

by Kroeningj

Time is so precious in the classroom, especially when you only have approximately 43 minutes with a classroom of 9th graders. Routines need to be established, but after a while, they sometimes fade away. A more pressing activity has taken it’s place. Or maybe it’s just time to change things up. Regardless, there definitely needs to be a Clean Start to let students know the show is in the road. Without realizing it, I have been using the Clean Start technique for years (211).When I want students to start on an activity I say, “Ready,Set (pause for dramatic effect), Go!” And of course, my students begin immediately, well, sometimes, a few times…However, I have to admit I am not so good at the Clean Finish (212). I do have the standard “Finish up the thought/passage you are on”, but often a student calls out,”It’s time to go” and soon they are out the door. I need to plan better for a Clean Finish.

I might just be back in the classroom teaching a regular schedule next year. Managing a 90 minute block seems daunting after spending five years with skinnies and two more years running a MTSS room. I like All Hands (214). Setting up a routine for answering questions in the beginning of the year only makes sense. Once a student is identified, all hands need to go down and students should then track the speaker. Respectful culture.

Breaking it down is Breaking me down

By Alissa Hansen

I try to stay optimistic, but I have to admit that sometimes this is hard, especially while working with 150+ high school freshmen on the research paper. Day after day, I do mini-lesson and we babystep our way(I repeatedly break down each step along the way) through the writing and research process, but I still have so many students fall off the wagon along the way and thus we have what I like to call: The Great Divide. This is when a portion of the class is moving through the steps swiftly and accurately and are eager to move onto the next step, while another portion is lagging behind. They lag because they need extra help, they think it’s too difficult, or they just do not see the purpose. This is a painful thing to witness, but one that occurs year after year with this project. The paper itself is five paragraphs and we are on week five already and there are students who have yet to complete notecards, which is the most important aspect! Again, my goal is to stay upbeat and to positively frame when duty calls, to give precise praise, and to try to keep that joy factor alive during a unit many find challenging. However, this process is taking a toll and I am finding it hard to praise or positively frame much at all with the students who seemed to have given up. I do not want to be a bitter, frustrated teacher unwilling to help, but I am struggling with having to consistently repeat directions or redirect off-task students. I know it’s hard to sustain a strong work ethic for a 45 minute period at times, but at least putting in some effort would be nice from some. Today I found myself saying to a class: “I am going to stop nagging you to get back to work and let you find out the hard way.” This seemed to do the trick for a few.

This is where I am at… I will say that the light at the end of the tunnel each week has been gearing students up for the persuasive speech, which follows the research paper. We take a day each week where students give a 30 second speech on the day’s theme. We started with an informative speech on animals then they had to argue the better of two options to hone their persuasive skills (ex. iPhone versus Samsung). Some students are asking to do this on a daily basis, so it has really added some of that joy back into this research process and see that some are truly seeing the purpose and enjoying it along the way. But it can be grueling at times.

What I find tough is while I am breaking steps down for students (and these are the ones now that are behind…way behind for a few), is that I often give too much away so they do not “solve” anything or much themselves because out of frustration, I solve it for them so they can move along and not fall further behind. How can I combat this? I think if I ask a question, it only seems to further confuse them. Now I do not usually have a template that I use for this, Lemov’s template on page 271 is what I aim for when I run into these types of situations. With the research paper students tend to struggle with taking appropriate notes and this becomes clear when looking at their rough drafts and seeing that the facts that they have included do not seem to appropriately support the claim they intend it to. So, what do you do? I have been spending much of the day walking students individually through in-text citations again as well as explaining this process by including examples and providing the context, and I am hoping that it sinks in. I always ask, “did that make sense?” and I usually get the nod, but that is not always the case when I look at the final product. This whole process is what is breaking me down…perhaps I am over-complicating things here, but I am not sure how much more can be broken down, elaborated on, explained in detail, or perhaps it is just that I am giving them too much and it’s enabling them. Either way, as much as setting expectations and building trust is important in the classroom, so is figuring out the best way to help ALL students. And this is one I need to work on.

In the words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive”.