Math teachers have it easy. Everything is already sequenced; there’s already an organizational structure built in. The kids have to know this before they can do that. The tests are objective, you don’t have essays to read, and best of all, you don’t have to figure out what the heck to teach. The next thing  on the list is binomials, then there’s quadratic equations (or whatever), and so on…

Math teachers have it hard. How do you mix things up when there’s a sequence you have to follow? How can you answer the “math is boring” people, when math IS boring the way American schools are forced to teach it? How do you answer the “why do we need to know this?” question when, after they’re finished with 5th grade math, most of them won’t need to know it? How many times can you watch kids come to the board to solve random equations? How does one actually get people to learn math? And  how the heck do you NOT do the old go-over-last-night’s-homework-then-see-examples-of-the-new-topic-then-practice-a-few-then-start-the-homework thing that math teachers have done for a millennium?

Anyway, I’m sort of off topic and I haven’t even started. I was interrogating my servants today, getting the latest on what they’re doing in their 8th grade English classes. I am always very curious about what goes on in other teachers’ classes. I am especially interested in how they divvy up their time. How the year is organized, how the weeks are organized, and most importantly to me, how the periods are organized. When I started teaching that was the biggest mystery to me.

As a BTSA teacher, and as the tech support guy at our site for the last 12 years, I have been in a lot of other teachers’ classrooms while they’re teaching. Many times I have watched entire periods. But it’s still hard to get a picture of the big picture. Are things organized by the novels/short stories? How do you work in grammar, mechanics, and writing? Or do you suspend those while you’re reading? Are all the writing assignments tied to the reading? Should they be? Is there a theme to the readings? Should they be connected in some way? Do people still do “units”?

Then there are the day to day questions. What does it mean to “teach” a novel? Read it in class and discuss? Center all activities, including grammar and vocabulary and such around whatever you’re reading? Both? When you assign it to be read at home, how do you make sure they’re reading? If you’re in a grammar “unit” is that all you do? What do you do in class, and what is homework?

I know there are standards, but that doesn’t really help a whole lot with the organizational aspect.

So, I always quiz my eighth grade servants about what goes on in their English classes. This year, since I have a section of eighth grade, it’s especially interesting to me.

“So what are you guys reading in English?”

“We’re doing grammar.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. We finished Nothing But the Truth.”

“Wait. You only started that a week or two ago.”

“What did you do?”

“We read a lot in class. Now we have a final project due.”

“No open-mouth quizzes? No reading checks? No shtuff related to the novel?”

“No.”

“So now all you’re doing is grammar? What’s that mean? You’re not doing vocab or a novel or whatever too?”

“We get a worksheet. We work on it with partners. We correct it. We start another one.”

“The whole period?”

“Pretty much. We start The Pearl next week. There will be a packet this time.”

I couldn’t get through a whole period that way. One of my tenets of middle school teaching is that you have to have at least three activities per period. Middle schoolers need a routine, but they also need some variety.  A typical period for me would look like this (our periods are 54 minutes):

Warm Up – Usually related to our current spelling/vocabulary list. (10 minutes, including correcting/going over)
Grammar/Mechanics Related Activity – AKA Pink Sheets. Sometimes starts as homework, sometimes not. Ranges from partners working on worksheets and then quizzing after to Schoolhouse Rock. (10-15 minutes)
Vocabulary Activity (Wednesdays), Writing Activity (T/Th) (15 minutes)
Reading/Literature Activities – Reading aloud, discussion, open-mouth quizzes, reading checks, etc. (15-20 minutes)

Plus there’s usually an ongoing thing, like: 120 seconds, the usual Friday tests, research, pretesting, and so forth, that cuts into the above schedule. It is almost unheard of in my class for us to do the same activity for an entire period. That may be as attributable to my ADD as to any pedagogical justifications.

So I’m interested. How do you divvy up everything?