Monthly Archives: February 2016

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”.



Who Am I?


As we journey down the Teach Like a Champion path, I have LOVED all of our discussions; however, a burning question still lingers inside of me–is who I am in the classroom the real me or is it a really good persona?  Teaching is absolutely EXHAUSTING when you’re good–and we are all good here 🙂  However, everyday we are putting on an elaborate show to motivate, educate, and, sadly, parent our students.  

After observing a teacher last week, I was talking to her about how wonderful it was to see her in action and see the real interaction she has with her students.  She followed with asking, “So, did you see what you expected?  You know me personally, but you have never watched me teach–am I what you thought I would be?”  My answer was yes, and then I used a lot of positives that I saw in her classroom.  She then stated, “Well, I’m glad because I just don’t understand how you separate the two–who you are as person outside of the classroom must carry over into the classroom.”  Gulp…my heart pattered as I silently questioned my own identity.  

Here is my discussion topic for our group:  How much of who you are in the classroom is the REAL you?  If it is the same, please tell me the secret to not losing your mind and keeping that same energy and power in your private life once you get home.  I may teach like a champion, but I currently feel like the bruised loser in the corner of the ring.    


Without Apology

By Katie Choate

No matter what I do, I still find there are topics that I can’t make interesting for freshmen.  Even if I’ve made attempts, many of them have it ingrained in them that school, English, writing, reading, etc. is “boring”.  On some levels I can see their point.  Let’s say I’ve managed to actually pique their interest on their current research paper.  I’ve allowed them to choose their own topic and they are really into it.  Now they’re ready to move on and take notes.  For many kids, the very thought of notetaking, citing, outlining, drafting, and editing is the antithesis for interesting.  This is where I lose a lot of them and understandably.  I’m essentially ruining their “good time” that they’re having with that topic.  One student actually asked me, “Why do I have to learn how to learn when I already know how to learn?”  I get it…especially from a 15 year old’s perspective, but I’ve never apologized for my content.  I am always trying to find a way to connect what we’re doing to the outside world.  I try to find ways that it will be relevant for them.  I don’t tell students we just need to “get through” something.  However, I am guilty of luring a student through something by saying, “Once we finish this personal narrative, we’ll be starting Greek mythology.”  I do this knowing it might perk them up.


“Making the content ‘accessible’” discusses how to introduce a topic.  I like the idea of telling students that once they grasp something, they will know more than others.  That means a lot to many of them.  I think the majority of students do embrace challenges, but there is a percentage who never do.  They want to be left alone.  This is the percentage that leave me and other teachers baffled.  And we tend to focus on those students more than the large percentage that are working and enjoying learning.  That is something I personally want to work on: focusing on the focused students.  I want to give more attention and concern to the students are enjoying the learning process and not fighting it.  I think if students see that more of my attention is being given toward the positive, they might seek out that positive attention.  I hope.