When I was a kid and lived and died baseball (I gave it up forever after the ’99 strike), I bled St. Louis Cardinal red. And growing up in suburban Sacramento like I did, the only chance I would ever get to see my beloved Redbirds was when they would come to Candlestick Park in San Francisco (90 minute drive) to play the hated Giants. And one of my fave memories of going down to see them is the guy selling programs outside.

“Ya gotta hava program! How you gonna watch da game if ya don’t hava program? Ya gotta hava program! Ya gotta hava program. Hey kid! Ya gotta program? Ya gotta hava program!”

What was this New Joisey guy doing in SF? He talked like Archie Bunker.

I loved it. My friends and I must have put dozens and dozens of different words in place of “program” over the years. Brainstorm and discuss possibilities. It has to be a two-syllable word.

Then I moved here, and went to a few Dodger game down in SmellA, and realized that that guy used the same shtick.

I still loved it.

Where I’m headed with this near record-length intro is that middle schoolers gotta hava program. In this case though, I am using the word program in the sense of  being a routine, a day-to-day routine so that they know (mostly) what to expect when they come in the door. The problem so far this year is that in the first four day of school we have only used our so-called regular schedule once. Some routine, eh? That ain’t no program to be having. I’ve rum out of time thre time already. That’s more than I usually do in a whole quarter.

Wait, this is starting to sound familiar, I think I might have covered this topic before. Wait, I’ll be back…

Back. Boy, I’m coming up on 300 posts to this here blog, and it’s getting mighty tough to ‘member if’n I done said somethin’ too many times already. But I was right, and here is the relevant post. And it was back in 2008, so I figure it’s legit to rerun it. This is from November ’08. The points most relevant to this topic are #3 and #4.

 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.)