Mix It Up (but not too much).

November 10, 2008
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No school today. Or tomorrow. A 4-day weekend for Veterans’ Day? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Weekends mean sleeping in; 9 am instead of 5, and I’ll take two extra days of that any time. It’s a good time for another (irregular) installment of tips for middle school teachers. (Here’s a link to the first round.)

1. “Say/Do That Again…and again, and again, and…again.” Most everybody has to be told something several times before it becomes “rooted.” (Especially teachers. No offense, but as the tech support guy, and the BTSA guy, and having given many an “in-service,” I have learned that teachers, as a rule, listen about as well as middle-schoolers. I have the e-mails to prove it.) I’ve heard the number seven bandied about; as in you have to see/hear/etc. something seven times before it takes. Anyway, ms’ers need a lot of repetition, but…it works a lot better if they see it, hear it, do it, do it again, in several different ways: Start with some warm up questions to see how much they know, then a “lesson” (I’ll have a post sometime on my dislike for that word), then practice, then homework, then more practice, then a finished product like a test or a paper or a project. I sometimes get in a rut with the clickers because they’re easy, but I have to remember to shake things up now and then.

2. “Make it look like this!” (AKA: Make sure it doesn’t look like this!) Examples, examples, examples. Both good ones and bad ones. I make overheads all the time of student work, and demo to my classes what I do when I read their papers. I call it “Grading it Live.” We practice grading example papers against rubrics, and compare their “gut reaction” grade with the “rubricized” grade. (The latter is almost always lower.) It takes the mystery out of revising if they know what’s wrong. The better your examples, the better the work you will get out of them. Bad examples work almost as well…they love to pick other people’s work apart, and after they do, I tell them that I get an awful lot of papers that look like the one they just tore apart. Papers are a lot better on the next round. (Well, sometimes.)

3. “Mix it up!” Middle schoolers are squirming after 15 minutes of one thing. And well, so am I. Make sure you have at least 3 “activities” per period. That includes (especially) student presentations. Things like that (unless they’re totally immersive – like a re-enactment or something) should never last the whole period. I never do more than 20 minutes of speeches, presentations, etc. in a single period. Nobody, including yours truly, can really concentrate on those things longer than that. I always schedule several days for things of that nature. Also that way, the rest of the things you’re working on in class (novel, writing assignment, grammar shtuff, etc.) still stay part of the routine of the class. Which brings us to the next one:

4. You have to have a groove. Ms’ers crave routine as much as they insist they don’t. They like to know what’s coming. They can become completely discombobulated if things change on them all the time. (Most of the time they have enough of that in their personal lives.) The have to have some sort of routine; they hate chaos, even as they cause it — ironic, huh? Their other greatest fear is being bored (remember their mantra: “This is boring”), so make sure you mix it up like we said above, but you have to have a routine.

“How many on the warm up today?” (Always a warm up. Always.)

“That pink sheet was easy. I already did both sides.” (Pink grammar/mechanics sheets are always due Tuesday/Thursday.)

“D’oh! It’s Wednesday? I’ll have make-up vocab tomorrow. Really.” (Always vocabulary h/w due on Wednesday. Make-up always available Thursday w/accompanying sentences.)

“How many Mental Floss? What’s the doodle theme? How many Trackwords are possible? Do we really have to get 70%?” (Always a test on Friday. Mental floss is what we call the warm up before the test. Doodling on the back of the test form and Trackwords are two things they can do if they’re finished with the test early – they can also read or nap. And we’ll see how SSI works out.)

“It’s Monday, and that means…assignment books!” (Always all the homework for the week assigned on Monday.)

“Would you stop calling them that? They’re called planners.” (Always the lip.)

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Mr. Coward has been teaching on the beautiful central coast of California since 1989. He sometimes tweets when he's in the right mood: @mrCinSLO.

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