Worksheets reinforce good teaching, but they are not teachers.Read More
By Joyce Wilson
Summer side-gigs can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look, and while some teachers have the summer months free to do as they please, others have families to support and need extra income when the weather turns warm. It’s important to know all your options, and these days there are actually quite a few when it comes to earning cash outside of your full-time job. Whether you want to keep it temporary or hold onto it once school starts again, there are lots of gigs around if you know where to start.
First, think about what your needs are. Do you need specific items to run your business? Will there be any start-up costs involved? Starting your own business or becoming self-employed can sometimes require materials, whether it’s art supplies to make handmade crafts or a car that will allow you to work for a ride-sharing service. Once you’ve figured out exactly what you’ll need to begin, create a budget and a business plan. This might require you to get organized and think about details such as opening up a business bank account to keep all your transactions separate from your personal accounts.
Here's are some tips to consider when looking for a summer gig.
Consider your needs.
Whether you need a job that provides flexible hours so you can spend time with your kids, or one that will allow you to work from home, it’s important to figure out your needs in the very beginning in order to narrow down the field of job choices. Once you do that, you’ll be able to see pretty clearly what will work for you and what won’t.
Do some research.
A side-gig is defined as any job that is either part-time or temporary, meaning there are various ways you can earn extra cash. From allowing your creativity to flourish by selling your artwork online to starting your own business, it’s really up to you how you choose to proceed. You might open up an Etsy shop, sell gently used or vintage clothing online, break into the sharing economy, become a blogger or freelance writer, or take on freelance photography gigs. Or, you might put your teaching skills to good use and become a tutor or educate in a different field, such as teaching English as a second language online. Think about where your passions lie and let that be your guide.
Set goals for yourself.
Setting goals for yourself is about more than just making money; being successful at something means knowing how to find the things you’re good at and make the most of them. It’s also about knowing what not to do. For instance, if you love to paint and decide to turn that into a full-time job, will it be hard to create once you have to do it? Make things easier on yourself by setting small, attainable goals to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Many of the aforementioned side-gigs require you to work for yourself, which takes a lot of self-discipline. Knowing how to divide your time between work and your other responsibilities is essential, as is being careful about cutting out distractions. One of the best ways to do this is to create an office or desk space that is free of clutter and closed off from the rest of your home so that when you’re working, you won’t have to worry about struggling to get things done.
Finding the best summer side-gig for your needs doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. With a little research and a good plan, you can start earning quickly, and it may even turn into something you can do year-round rather than just temporarily.
For more work by Joyce, check out Teacherspark.org
On my very first day as a teacher, I met a boy named Dave. Dave was that kid who kept his head down in the back of the room and hid behind his long hair and expressionless face. I soon found out that Dave was in foster care, and heard his backstory of abuse and suffering. As an ambitious new teacher determined to engage every single student who walked into my classroom, I fought hard to win Dave's trust and attention. I'd sit down and talk to him regularly. I would comment on his clothes and ask about his interests. Sometimes I would wait with him at the end of the day at the bus stop.
However, after over a month of this, I wasn't seeing any progress. Something was keeping this kid cold and isolated, and I took it upon myself to warm him up. I remember other, more experienced staff would say stuff to me like, "Good luck with that kid Trevor. He is too far gone, and you just can't save them all." I wanted to defy those people, and believe they just didn't try hard enough. I would not let jaded people prevent me from saving this boy.
And after several months of constantly pouring myself into Dave, he began to talk to me. And then it was like a dam burst, and all of a sudden Dave was alive. He worked hard in class. He began to make friends. Dave came out of isolation.
When he received the first A of his life in my class, I wanted to scream from the mountain tops that there is not a kid a teacher cannot "save" or rescue if we try hard enough.
In fact, I did do that:
And then in my 2nd year as a teacher, I had a student name Darnell. Darnell also came from a broken home and unimaginable pain. Like I did with Dave, I spent so much of my energy on this boy. I met him on the weekends to play basketball. I swallowed my pride many times when Darnell would act out in class, knowing that with enough patience, I could see this kid turn a corner. I even expended a lot of my time and energy outside of school, away from Darnell. I carried his burdens home with me, shared them with my wife, and would lose sleep over him.
Dave taught me that any kid could be saved, and I wanted to do everything I could to make that happen for Darnell.
And then one day, Darnell did not show up to school. I found out he'd been arrested. A couple days later he dropped out of high school altogether.
The kindness I showed Darnell; my deep questions about his life and family; the endless amount of grace I showed him when he'd steal a phone in class or even cuss me out; the hours spent at home worrying and praying for this kid- were not enough to save him. It didn't suffice to turn his life around and help him finish his education.
Those other teachers were right, I cannot save them all.
This absolutely devastated me. I began to question the purpose of my job, and the impact teachers really can have on their students.
If you're still reading this, you might imagine I've got a silver lining coming up soon. Some type of resolution or inspiration I later had about how we can reach every kid.
But this is not that kind of blog post. In the years since Darnell, I've had many other students who entered my classroom distraught and damaged. And while sometimes I do get to see dramatic change unfold before my eyes, other times I end the school year feeling like a failure. Maybe a kid drops out. Or does not pass my class. Or leaves their time with me hating the subject just as much or even more. Sometimes at the end of the year, I find out a kid even despises me. These are the hardest parts about being a teacher for me.
When I break my back with sweat and blood landscaping my yard, I expect the end result to be a beautiful yard.
When I pour everything I have into the students in my classroom, I cannot guarantee the outcome. I can't ensure the result will be beautiful. I think this difficult reality is shared by every teacher and person who works with kids. And it's been enough at times to make me want to get out of education. All of the love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and work will not save, or transform every student
But it can for some of them.
And this fact is why I did not quit when I saw a student I care about fail. I've seen enough students transform before my eyes throughout the years- grow in confidence, adopt a hopeful view of the world- to know that love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and hard work is worth giving.
So while you can't save them all, you can still love them all. And show every student respect. And strive to engage them in your class. And let them know their potential for greatness.
Whether this causes them to overcome their past or not is not for us to decide. But the potential for this work makes it worth it.
WHAT TO READ NEXT
9 in 10 teachers joined this profession to make a difference.
Make society better.
Instill work ethic.
90% signed up to make a difference in the world. They believe the future of the world, in America, is in our classrooms.
And yet 59% of teachers have to work a second job to make ends meet.
They’re painting homes, tutoring in the evenings, babysitting, cleaning houses, and driving UBER so that they can have food in the pantry.
And still almost half of all teachers have run up debt to survive in America.
Did you hear that clearly? People who are devoted to the 74 million children in our country, and therefore this country’s future, cannot afford to live on their paychecks.
And yet the standards for teachers keep getting raised higher and higher. How can we expect them to do a great job when they are having to think about their other jobs at the same time?
So when I hear politicians and pundits claiming the teachers of Kentucky, Arizona, or Colorado were greedy for striking, excuse me if I roll my eyes a little and ask them if they’d give up their salaries to do the work of a teacher?
Teachers don’t strike because they want to be rich. They strike because after a long day in the classroom teaching, growing, disciplining, loving, and working with our children, they don’t feel like painting a house or driving an Uber.
Enjoy your summer teachers. You’ve earned it.
The stats for this article come from: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/05/02/605757547/unionized-or-not-teachers-struggle-to-make-ends-meet-npr-ipsos-poll-finds
In 1970, a man named Edward Packard was telling his daughters a bedtime story about a character he made up named Pete. Every night, Pete would encounter different adventures, and Packard would make up a new adventure for Pete on the spot. But one night Packard ran out of things for Pete to do. If you are a parent, you know exactly what this guy was going through.
So with no ideas for what Pete was going to do next, Packard asked his daughters what the character’s adventure would be that night. Each daughter came up with a different idea, and so Packard came up with a different ending for each adventure.
Choose Your Own Adventure books were born.
And it went on to become one of the bestselling children’s books during the 1980’s and ‘90’s, selling over 250 million copies. The magic of Choose Your Own Adventure is that the reader gets to become a participant in the story. Rather than just absorbing the information, one gets to have a say in what information is presented to them.
Often when we lecture, the story and information is being told by one source. This can work for a time, but study after study has shown that people can only sit and listen for so long before they lose interest and the teacher loses engagement.
Having your students interact with your story, your lecture, is vital. Direct instruction does not mean that the teacher is the only one who gets to talk. Teachers can create opportunities for students to join the story and determine how it gets told. There are a number of ways to create pauses in your speaking and allow students to interact with it. Here are a few suggestions to allow students to be a part of the adventure.
Turn and Talk
At any given point in your story, pose a question to students. It could be what they think happens next, or a reflection of what they’ve heard so far. Then have students turn to the people around them and discuss the prompt. Mix opportunities for students to turn and talk throughout any lecture that you ever give.
Like Turn and Talk, you first pose a prompt to the students. However, before discussing with each other, give them time to think and process by themselves. Following an allotted amount of time, students discuss with a each other, in pairs or group. Next, the students share with the rest of the class what they talked about.
Sketch-noting, or visual note-taking are visual stories a student creates when listening to a speaker or reading a text. Rather than traditional note-taking techniques, where it can be easy to regurgitate information in text and not actually comprehend the material, the learner sketches out what they are hearing and creates images of the story. To be able to draw what one is hearing or reading, one has to have some comprehension of it. This encourages engagement with the story and active listening.
Sketch notes can contain a combination of visual and text notes. The primary objective is for the students to create notes that work best for them.
Students create two columns on a sheet of paper. Title one column: “Quotes,” and the other column, “Thoughts.” As students are listening to the lecture, they write down any quotes they hear that stand out to them in the “Quotes” column. In the “Thoughts” column next to the quote they wrote down, they write their reaction. Their reaction can sometimes be whatever is in their stream of consciousness, simply putting their thoughts on paper. They can also write down questions that they have, to be asked later or just to ponder over. The Double Entry Diary serves two purposes. First, it makes great notes for students to recap what they heard and to study if there will be a test or paper later. However, more importantly it provides another opportunity for students to engage with the story. It simulates a conversation with themselves, giving them focus and making them think about everything they are hearing.
12 word summary
At any given point in the lecture, have students summarize important aspects of a particular section of the story in 12 words or less. While lacking detail, this is a useful way to make sure students are comprehending the key points of the story. How many words are in the average tweet? If a kid can pack a thought in a tweet, they should be able to do this.
Name the story
Have students identify the different parts of the story. What is the setting, theme, and plot? What is the conflict? How do you think it will be resolved?
Be intentional with the story in your lectures or talks, allowing your students in on the fact that you designed the lecture that way. Knowing this, they will look for different elements as you tell it, creating engagement.
We don't need to abandon the lecture at all. Instead we just need to make it interactive, and invite our students to be apart of it.
Have you ever said something in anger or frustration, and the second it left your mouth you knew it probably should have stayed inside your head to bounce around a while until you were less angry or less frustrated?
I published a blog post a couple days ago that I wrote from a place of anger and frustration. In the past week I’ve lost a grandpa and a friend, all while dealing with several issues in my school that have not been easy to wade through. Throughout my life when I am angry, I’ve always found it helpful to write. About what I’m feeling; why I’m angry; and what I wish would happen. For me, writing is therapeutic, and is a great means to cool off and evaluate issues from a different angle. Oftentimes I write my thoughts, read them after, and gain new perspective.
This week I did this exercise, and made the major error of publishing my frustration- writing to my blog before I cooled down. I didn’t wait for new perspectives to arise or the clear thoughts that come after anger. Instead I hit PUBLISH, and I think in the process didn’t represent my true thinking, and even hurt some feelings along the way.
My blog post was about how I have upset other teachers in my school with my different style of teaching. Judging them for judging me on how I run my class. I essentially said that learning should be fun (which I still wholeheartedly believe), but made it sound like my style of fun is the only way.
That music has to be loud.
Silent reading should be outside.
That teachers have to be funny.
That I have teaching figured out, and whole lot of people don’t.
It wasn’t my intention, but more than enough people have expressed their feelings that I was saying that their brand of teaching is not ‘strong’ or ‘effective’ because it is not like mine.
From my place of frustration, I left out the anecdote about my high school senior English teacher, Mrs. Perry, who was the most difficult teacher I ever had. Every piece of work she gave us was more difficult than the last, and I remember thinking that she got joy from making us suffer. We'd sit in rows in her room while she hammered home the material and made us practice the work over and over again.
But then one day she stayed after school and helped me write my college entrance essay, and praised me for how well written it was. When I received my acceptance letter and showed it to Mrs. Perry with pride, she gave me this smile that told me, “See? The hard work was worth it.”
Now that was fun.
She may not have been the boisterous, energetic teacher I now am, but she was the best damn teacher I ever had. And I think my blog post from this week gave the impression I don’t recognize the greatness in teachers like her.
Or in the many teachers out there who have countless different styles to reach kids and help them succeed.
If you are a teacher and you are dedicating a huge portion of your life to education and all that it does to make our society and world a better place, thank you. And if my blog post earlier this week did anything at all to make you feel less as a teacher, I apologize. I’ll always advocate for finding more ways to engage students and make learning come alive for them, but I want to do better at noticing how there are many ways to make that happen.
I’ll also buy a Moleskine notebook or something. It’s probably best to keep my journaling on paper :)
Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist who mastered the study of great stories. He identified a pattern we see in most great stories called the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey starts with a hero, the protagonist or main character of a plot in which the story revolves. To sum the pattern up into the most simple of terms, Campbell says this hero starts in what is called the ordinary world. This could be considered the calm before the storm, where we get to know the hero and their setting before he or she hears the call to adventure. This is the point in a hero’s journey where their world is shaken up, and they have to decide whether they are going to do something about it or not. Often, the hero refuses the initial call, choosing to avoid danger and trials that can cause pain and fear. But in a great story, she eventually embarks into the unknown, seeking adventure.
Adventure is full of danger and surprise; tests and challenges that introduce the hero to parts of the world she has not seen before. In a great story, a hero rarely ends an adventure unscathed, but also returns to the ordinary world with new strengths to use in later adventures. Campbell calls this the Return With the Elixir. This is what makes the journey worth it. Almost every Disney or Pixar movie is about a hero taking this journey. Think about the Lion King, and what Simba learned after losing his father, running away from home, and eventually defeating his evil uncle to retake his throne and rightful place in the world. Would Simba be as great of a leader without first battling hyenas? Would the peace of Hakuna Matata entered his heart without first crossing a desert? The hero’s journey is about leaving what is comfortable for experiences that build and strengthen a character.
So often, school does everything it can to maintain the ordinary world, keeping the heroes from entering unknown spaces and potential failure. Students sit in rows to control order. Teachers call it a classroom management technique, when really it is mundane-management, a strategy to prevent the unexpected. The answers are in the backs of textbooks to prevent any surprises. We teach the same content every single year because then we know what’s coming.
There is a very wealthy school district in the county that I live that will not provide laptops or tablets to students because they are worried that new technology will distract from the learning that needs to take place. Not because of financial issues, but because the internet causes more variables than a textbook.
A hero cannot embark on their journey if they are locked in a room without a key. And a hero cannot obtain the Elixir, their new strength, knowledge, character, wisdom, skill, etc- if they do not leave the ordinary world.
So what can you do to set your students up for the hero’s journey?
Maybe try teaching with a project and give students authentic goals to strive for.
Invite in people from the community to partner with your students and create a solution for a specific problem.
What if you let them plan the next unit, and you just facilitate their learning rather than teach it?
While my freshmen have been reading Romeo and Juliet this month, they’ve been summarizing each act after they read and acted it out. Now that we are finished reading it, they’ve turned their summaries into scripts and storyboards, and in groups are creating 90 second movies giving their depiction of Romeo and Juliet. Next week I am popping some popcorn and we will watch their films.
The students are absolutely loving this project. In fact, I’ve never seen this level of engagement out of freshmen before. They are taking the content that they would have read and studied anyway in a traditional classroom, but are now interacting and having fun with it.
Some groups are doing “Romeo and Juliet: Zombies.” Others have brought in their Barbie Dolls, and are creating a stop-motion version of the play. Some are acting the characters out on video games and recording their screens.
Their ideas are beyond what I ever could have imagined, and frankly this part of the project scares the heck out of me. The creative work is largely out of my control, and I do not know how these projects will all turn out. There is no teacher-script for how to create these videos. My classroom is not big enough for all of the groups to stay in here and film. I have to let them leave my room, and trust they are working when they are out of sight.
I am having to trust the students and trust my process. Just yesterday I received an email from an administrator asking why some of my students were climbing the bleachers in the gym when they were supposed to be in my class.
I responded, “Oh sorry, they are filming the balcony scene.”
This type of learning can be messy and feel a little chaotic. But it also has such a payoff. My students are out of their ordinary world right now, and they are become smarter, more skilled, and more engaged because of it. They are finding the elixir.
And also becoming intimately knowledgeable about Romeo and Juliet and the content.
As a teacher, I have to realize that my students are characters who can become heroes, and I am helping write the story that lets them do that.
during Spring Break, I will not respond to emails.
Yes, I know you’re worried about your child passing this semester, and so am I. As a matter of fact, I worry about that all the time and I’m with you, I really want him to succeed.
But I’m not going to worry about it for the next 7 days. I need a break from that. So if you send me an email, expect an auto-response, and know that I’ll get back to you when I get back to school.
I will not give you homework of any kind over Spring Break. You’ve worked hard for and with me this year, and you need a break. So take one, and spend this time resting, and playing, and creating, and reading, and hanging out with friends, and not thinking about English class.
Unless of course you’re that kid who’s mom will email me while I’m lying on a beach. The you might have some work to do over Spring Break.
Please give your teachers the whole break off. Encourage them to setup auto responses in their emails, to not grade papers, plan curriculum, or come into school over the break. A lot of the teachers I know need permission to rest, but all of them need it. So maybe you could give them that permission.
And dear teachers,
let Spring Break be a break. Spend time with family, go on a trip, read a novel, don’t check your email! Sleep in late, eat good food, and don’t think about school for a few days.
Of course we love teaching, otherwise we wouldn't’ do it. But you have worked hard this year, and your brain needs a break. And Spring is a great time for that. So enjoy your time off, recharge your batteries, and then come back strong.
Oh, one more 'Dear Students'- if you see your teacher at the beach lying on towel in their bathing suit, do us a solid and walk away.
“Two hands are better than one.”
“Many hands make light work.”
“People in the career world work in groups, so students need to as well.”
We’ve all heard these lines and others like them many times before, and of course there is truth to them. Classrooms need to be a more collaborative setting so students learn important skills that they will use in an ever-increasing collaborative world. We get it, kids need to do more group work.
But this doesn’t negate the fact that having students work in groups very often can be likened to getting a root canal or using an alarm clock everyday that wakes you up with chorus of “Let it Go.”
Here are 5 things every teacher can relate to when doing group projects (And a little help making these things happen less).
There’s always that one student who lights up when he finds out about a group project. He/she simply has to find their way into a group with a couple “A students,” make it clear that he/she should not be trusted with the most difficult tasks, and can then throw on their headphones for the remainder of the project. The freeloader rides on the coattails of others, and is the second-most least likely person to be selected to be in a group.
The most least likely person to be selected for a group is the know-it-all, the student who makes it clear that they know what’s best and micromanages every aspect of the project. The know-it-all attracts the freeloader at first because of the promise of that person doing all the work. However the sentiment changes quickly when the know-it-all drives everyone crazy with their insane demands and Devil Wears Prada-power moves. If the know-it-all can be taught to collaborate, they are best group members imaginable. But if not, get ready for parent phone calls about kids going home crying because of your class.
"Can We Pick Our Own Groups?
Teacher: “Alright everyone, we are going to do a group project. Before we get star- (student raises hand) Yes, do you have a question?”
Student: “Can we pick our groups?”
Teacher: “No, I’m selecting groups.”
Teacher: Well, I want you all to work with new people and make new friends.
Teacher: Well, research shows that there’s a lot of value to teacher selectivity when it comes to group formation and collaboration activities?
Student: But why?
Teacher: Because I need to make sure the more talkative kids and the quieter ones are spread out.
Student: But why? Me and my friends work really good together.
Teacher: Because I’m the boss and I said so.
1 Project = 4 Projects
The purpose of group work is for kids to learn to collaborate and use their collective knowledge and skills to solve a problem and complete a task. However, it often turns into students divvying up tasks with each other and then combining them for the final presentation. Essentially, if students were to create a slideshow, each kid creates a slide and puts it into one presentation. The final product ends up being 4 slides with 4 different fonts, 4 levels of quality, and basically 4 different assignments turned in at the same time. You taught them how to collaborate. You told them to collaborate. They did not collaborate.
Kids Who Do Nothing
Being intentional when selecting groups is key. You don’t want too many friends, know-it-alls, freeloaders, enemies, etc. in one group. But every now and then you mess up, and make a group made up entirely of unmotivated students. When some groups are developing cures for cancer, others are taping spaghetti to paper plates the night before the project is due. The result is unfinished projects, your hair getting ripped out, and you making a personal vow to never do a group project again.
Of course there are ways to address all of these issues. From having students write group contracts, having “collaboration grades” attached to assignments, teaching and modeling collaboration before even assigning it, or being very selective when creating groups, group work can be successful in the classroom.
But sometimes it's nice to feel solidarity and call out the parts of the job that challenge us. If you have come to loathe group projects, take heart in knowing you are not alone in that. Teaching and executing collaboration can be difficult, and rarely is a seamless process.
In my book, I share some strategies that have absolutely changed the way I see group projects in my class. Practices that make collaboration a beautiful, necessary part of the story unfolding in your classroom.
It's late winter and kids are beginning to drag. There's still content to cover- heck, it's testing season and there's a huge amount you have to get through, but winter is long, Spring Break is near, and your students are starting to feel it.
This is the ideal time to throw in a hands-on activity to get them excited, competitive, and engaged. The Strong Tower Challenge is a STEM activity I have used for years with my students to emphasize the importance of teamwork and strong communication. However, there are plenty of ways you can tie in math and science content as well. The video above gives instructions for how to do the Challenge with your class.
If you get a chance to do this with your students, PLEASE send me pics/video and let me know how it goes!
After You Watch the Video
Epic Project Based Learning is all about making work engaging and relevant for students. I've also used The Strong Tower Challenge as an ice breaker at the beginning of the year to teach and reinforce important skills with students before diving into PBL. Something I do as a pre-PBL ice breaker is have a student from each group bring the TAPE into the hallway at the beginning of the challenge, but not pause the clock for the rest of the students. That way, the rest of the group has to operate without being able to talk AND without a vital supply. Needless to say, their towers do not turn out great without tape. I then give another 10 minutes, this time with everyone and all supplies present.
It always goes much better the second round, and so we follow the activity with a discussion about how collaborative project work goes smoother and more efficient when everyone brings their full selves to the project. Great teamwork relies on everyone contributing, and The Challenge models that beautifully.
I once had an idea for a book about a bunch of kids who were taken from their parents by an evil madman who gave them a rare brain-controlling drug that was found deep beneath the ground, and forced them to mine more of this brain-controlling drug in a pit under the Florida Everglades, all to sell to a corrupt government to give to soldiers, in turn making this mad-man very rich.
I remember the day I had this “brilliant” plot idea, and rushed home as soon as I could to start writing the story. At first the writing was easy. My fingers danced across the keyboards, and the scene of the protagonist getting taken from his mother came to life. I went to bed that night elated, excited by the fact that I was actually writing my first novel.
The next day I returned to the story and wrote more, but not as much as the first day. The problem was, once my protagonist got to his new prison and went into the Everglades mine for the first time, I had no idea what to write next. I did not know who the other characters were. I knew nothing about my bad guy, or what made him so evil. I did not know how evil would finally be defeated, or how the kids would return home to their families. In fact, I had not considered how a whole novel could take place underground where there are no lights or oxygen.
My story needed to be planned before it could take place. Without an outline first, and some calculated brainstorming, I could not sit down and productively write my story. Unfortunately I did not learn that lesson until later on in life, and so this book never got written- and the world is better for it.
J.K. Rowling spent five years creating the world of Harry Potter before she wrote a single word of the first book. She invented characters and imagining details about them that made them who they are. Rowling devised the world of magic, and all of the rules of her imagined universe. She created a very basic outline of the plot of her story, and even knew before she wrote a word of the first book how it would all end someday.
Of course her outline was rough, and the story took many different shapes as it was written, but she had a map to follow along the way. Outlines are a guide to keep a story on track and help the author navigate through previously unknown territory.
It is the same with epic projects. Before every single unit, I create an outline that will guide my class through the story. Like the outline used by an author, it is rough and not precise. No amount of planning can eliminate the unexpected, nor should you want it to. Plot diversions and unexpected twists are what give stories character and suspense. However, planning the basic elements of a story prior to a project ensures that the plot can unfold and students are making their way towards something.
There are several key components to include in a project’s story to make sure that there is a complete plot. The plot of a story and project serves the purpose of giving a framework for the hero to journey upon, and allows for key events to activate a student’s mind and ensure that information is lasting (think neural coupling).
Every story can look different, and so every class and project should look different. So before you start outlining a project and using any of my resources to plan, know that this is not a formula that has to be followed exactly. The more you incorporate story into your classroom, the better feel you will get as to how those stories should flow and unfold.
Your outline can be shaped like the plot of a story. In its most basic form, every story has a basic arc. From Aesop’s Fables to Game of Thrones, stories start with an exposition (beginning), there is a rising action as the story unfolds, a climax, a period of falling action following the climax, and ultimately a resolution. Each of these plot elements are a heading for a project outline.
Your outline will contain details about what each of these elements will look like. As I have repeated and reused many of my projects several over the years, my outlines have grown much more detailed. I often come up with new lesson ideas, professional audiences, and final products for my students, and so the outlines for my projects need to have a certain level of fluidity to them. But when creating an outline for an epic project for the first time, I make sure I have an idea what each section of the story will look like.
I use the project overview to layout all of my projects. It helps me hit all of the details that goes into planning a project, and has a calendar to give plan what each day will look like. You can get the project overview, as well as 3 other essential tools for a PBL classroom by clicking the 'Toolkit Link' below.
As always, I would love to hear about the stories that are helping create in your classroom! Please feel free to connect with me on Facebook at The Epic Classroom, on Instagram at TheEpicClassroom, Twitter at @trevormuir, or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
The process of collaborating to achieve a shared goal can be a foreign concept and practice to most students, as they have not been asked to do it before. In many traditional classrooms, even asking students to discuss with each other rather than just to the teacher at the front of the room is a new idea. So releasing students to work and spend huge amounts of time with each other under the expectation that they solve a problem as a team can be a daunting task. That is why it is vital at the outset of every school year, as well as every project to set up a culture of accountability.
Here a couple tools I cannot live without in my PBL classroom:
At the beginning of a project, before any brainstorming or project work can take place, students go through an accountability process. The first step is filling out a group contract. A group contract is a shared document that the group members write and sign. The purpose of the contract is for the group members to have a discussion about what they expect from each other throughout the process. These expectations are clearly written down by a scribe in the group. For instance:
I will complete any task assigned to me by the group.
If I am sick or absent for some reason, I will check-in with the group.
I will not use my headphones unless I am working on an individual task.
I will meet all deadlines that the group sets.
Then students come up with the consequences of not meeting those expectations with each other. This usually entails a warning system where each student is allotted a certain number of warnings or strikes before more serious action is taken. In my class, the serious action is a sit-down meeting with me, the teacher. At this meeting I allow both sides to share their grievances and defense, and I try to find a way to get the group back on track working together. Most of the time, this is successful, as most students need to just be made aware that their actions are affecting everyone else, and they will do everything they can to remedy that.
However, if the student who has failed to meet their group’s expectations does not return to working the way they agreed to, they can be fired from the group. Being fired means that individual is removed from the group and must complete the entire project on their own. They cannot use any of the resources gathered from the group that they were in, but still have the same deadline and expectations that story deems from the rest of the class.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?
But this is not a punishment, and instead a natural consequence of negative actions, and it resembles the consequences of similar actions in the workforce. I make my students very aware of the firing process at the beginning of the school year when they first enter a project based, epic classroom. The reality is, students do not want to be fired from their group, and they do not want to have to complete an entire authentic project on their own. Thus they learn how to collaborate and hold each other accountable. This is why in my years of teaching, I can count on one hand how many times I have had to fire a student from their group.
Project Management Log
The Project Management Log (PML) is a tool that coincides with the group contract. It is a task list that students reference everyday at the outset of project work time. As a group, students discuss what needs to be worked on during that specific work session, and write down who is doing what. Therefore, everyone has a task to complete, and can use this log to hold each other accountable. If someone is not working or goofing around with another group, a teammate can ask them, “Did you complete this specific task that you said you would?” If the answer is “no”, then they can kindly ask them to get back to work. If the answer is “yes,” then they can help them figure out other tasks to work on for the group. The project management log helps students learn to divide and conquer, and if used as a vital tool, ensures tasks are completed and deadlines are met.
Holding someone, often your friends and acquaintances, accountable can be an extremely difficult task. But it is a necessary one, as accountability is a skill a student will use the rest of their lives in their careers and relationships. If students are completing important work together in your classroom, they need to be taught how to ensure that work is completed with excellence. This begins with the teacher creating that culture, but also allowing the reality of group work to teach it as well.
At the beginning of every school year during the start of the first project, groups write down in their group contracts the number of warnings that will be given out before firing. Without fail, most groups record that each student will receive around 10 warnings before a meeting with me, the teacher.
“You didn’t work today, you get a warning.”
“You didn’t check in when you were sick, you get a warning.”
“You’ve been on your phone all morning, you get a warning.”
You won’t stop using your headphones when we are collaborating, you get a warning.”
Needless to say, by the next project, kids start writing down in their group contracts that they are not giving out any warnings for offenses!
I of course then have to teach them about grace and second chances. But the point is, reality teaches them accountability, because if one person is dragging their feet in the group, it can have a dramatic effect on how much it slows the rest of the group down as well. Creating a culture of accountability is vital to the flow of the story in your classroom.
The teaching profession doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.
In fact, on top of all of the other things asked of teachers, the stress of this job is getting heavier and heavier and the work is becoming harder and harder. Not only are standardized tests gaining more power, parents hovering more, distractions worse than ever, and constant cuts in education funding, but teachers unfortunately work in a place that is becoming more and more violent. When I’m with my students, I want to think about making learning epic, and growing kids into kind, intelligent, critical thinking, extraordinary citizens.
And I’m still trying to do that, but I’m also thinking about keeping my doors locked at all times, and the fact that my classroom has huge windows facing the hallway, and that one student who keeps to himself a lot and is always angry, and about what I would do to protect my students if there is a shooter about to come into my room.
All 3 million of us teachers are thinking about these things right now.
And it is stressful carrying this weight and responsibility.
And it’s not supposed to be this way.
But it is.
What I think is interesting is the fact that we’re not seeing a mass exodus of teachers right now in American schools. The voices of teachers that are rising up following the Parkland shooting is not that of complaining or even ultimatums threatening to leave the profession.
You’re seeing teachers speak out in the name of students, supporting their voices, standing up for causes that are close to them. We’re seeing teachers fight to make our schools, and ultimately society better.
Teachers are heroes. They’ve always been. And the fact that they are showing up to schools every day despite the threats as well all the other pressures of this job only amplifies that fact, And I think it’s time society recognizes them for that. Teachers are the ones on the ground, in these schools every day. Politicians and the media should be discussing how to make school safer for our kids, but I think teachers need to lead these discussions, and politicians and the media need to listen.
If you’re a teacher, use your voice. Demand to be heard. You’ve accepted the amazing, but heavy task of caring for the young people in our society, and giving them the skills, knowledge, and example of how to make our society better. And for that you’re a hero.
And people listen when heroes speak.
And if you’re not a teacher, do me a favor and thank one.
Then take a second to listen to them.
In college, I took two years of classes all about understanding education theory, creating assessments, understanding content standards, and all the subjects that fit the job description of a “good teacher.” I was taught how to synthesize content standards into lessons. My professors taught me how to design effective assessments, and how to read the data from those assessments. I took courses on pedagogy and wrote several essays on how I intended to lead my future classes. In one class I wrote a paper on what my future classroom would look like, and how I’d arrange the furniture to achieve maximum student engagement.
Upon graduation from the program, I was well-versed in education theory; understanding cognitive constructivism, and could write a mean essay on behaviorism as a classroom management plan. I felt I was well-equipped to step into the classroom and put these theories and ideas into practice.
And then in my first week of teaching, a student told me that she’d been recently abused at home, and nothing in my teacher preparation program told me how to handle that conversation.
The first content standards I had to teach were on literature, and so I thought I’d have my students read The Great Gatsby, and we’d just have a bunch of deep conversations about the novel like the ones my friends and I would have in college.
If you’ve taught high school language arts before, you can guess how that unit turned out.
I had a strong set of ideals and believed I could subvert the system and avoid teaching certain content standards. The real world does not expect students to know MLA format, so why should I?
Unfortunately, my principal, as well as state testing did not agree, and I had to start submitting my lesson plans every single day to demonstrate my students were indeed learning specific content. So much for being a rebel in year one.
I often had to yell to get students to be quiet.
I didn’t know how to respond to disgruntled parents.
I was overloaded with work to bring home.
I had no idea how to say no to other teachers, administrators, and parents who requested extra work of me.
And frankly, my lessons were boring.
This was my first year of teaching. Sound familiar?
I learned quickly in this first year that all of the textbooks, classes, and research papers on teaching will not adequately prepare you for the real thing. I had this notion that the work of teachers was formulaic, and that if I could just follow a simple process, I could be one of those great, memorable teachers. However, I’ve learned since that those great teachers of my past hardly had a simple formula that they followed.
Finding the words for a student who shares about being abused can only come from wisdom and experience. Discovering a way to take a set of content standards, which at first glance can look boring and insignificant to a student (and teacher), and crafting them into an engaging and meaningful experience is not something that simply can be taught.
The truth is, there is a stigma that teachers are merely deliverers of content. First the teacher masters the content themselves, then gives it to students. The object is for students to retain that content long enough to demonstrate their understanding, and then discard it so that the teacher can deliver more. According to this stigma which has dominated the collective consciousness for over a century, everything revolves around this ‘delivery model.’ Classroom management equates to having a quiet class that allows the teacher to deliver. Lesson planning is about devising effective delivery. Assessment is about measuring that effectiveness. Professional development is about improving your delivery skills.
When I was a student, I thought of most of my teachers as content deliverers. From Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (Bueller… Bueller), to the teacher on Charlie Brown (WA WA WA), teachers have been labeled in media as deliverers. I was trained throughout my education program in college to deliver. And frankly, after years of teaching, I still often slip into the mindset that my job is simply to deliver.
However, I learned in my first year of teaching, and every day since, that teachers are far from just being mere deliverers of content.
Teachers are creatives.
The work of a successful teacher takes immense creativity. Designing engaging work for students, having the ability to constantly improvise, overcoming obstacles and barriers, and crafting a space or setting for others to flourish are among the many daily tasks of a teacher. Creativity by definition requires that something be brought into existence. Whether crafting original lectures, designing curriculum, or having a certain look to bring thirty students to silence, the work of a teacher is creative and original.
It’s very easy to look at teachers who do big and elaborate projects with their students and think that they are the “creative teachers.” And yes, we can use them as models and examples of what we want to strive for. But don’t let those aspiration negate this fact:
What you already do as a teacher is creative work.
I don’t care if you subscribe to a more traditional model of teaching and have your students sit in rows and use textbooks, the work you do is creative. If you teach reading to 1st graders, you are doing creative work. If you coach soccer and have to decide on the best drills for your team to practice, you are being creative. If you work at a university and give one hour lectures five times a week, and you spend time crafting those lectures into a format you believe your students are understanding, you are creative.
Adopt the mindset of a designer; someone who creates compelling experiences for their students, and you might just be blown away by what you can create.
When I was in 7th grade, I gave my class picture to a girl I really liked.
And on the back of it I wrote, “Hey baby, I heart U.”
Because that’s what you did back in the 90’s, and I was probably wearing Zubaz, and listening to Hootie and Blowfish at the time.
Well she giggled and probably went back to feeding her tamagotchi pet, and she slipped the picture I gave her into her back pocket.
And I didn’t know this in that moment, but the picture didn’t make it into her pocket, and instead landed on the floor of a middle school hallway.
And it didn’t stay on that sticky, influenza covered ground for long. Because I was sitting in class later that day, and I saw a group of kids across the room looking at me and laughing. And one of them passed something underneath the table to someone else.
When I walked over to them asked what they were laughing about, they just laughed and said, “Hey baby I heart you.”
And I was like, “Oh no, they’ve seen the picture.”
I walked back to my seat and watched the laughing spread throughout the room like a virus. In the hallway and other classes, kids would come up to me and say, “Hey baby, I heart you.”
I was mortified. The rest of that day I tried to hide from everyone and sneak between classes without being seen.
I went home that night never wanting to go to school again. I didn’t want to face another day of shame and embarrassment.
But that night, my friend called me, on this strange device attached to the wall in my kitchen, and said that he got a hold of the picture and would destroy it for me.
And the next day at school, a couple people gave me a hard time, but the photo evidence was gone, disappeared, and most people moved on pretty quickly.
It still hurt for a bit, but my world kept spinning.
I’m a high school teacher, and nowadays, when an embarrassing or revealing picture or post gets put online and spread around, it doesn’t just disappear.
It lives on screens and Snapchat stories, and twitter feeds, and screenshots
When those kids found my picture and passed it around, some of them used it as a weapon to hurt me in a way.
With the ever-changing world of digital technologies, the weapons have got a lot stronger. They’re sometimes lethal.
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teenagers, and cyberbullying is causing more and more of them every year.
I’ve heard too many stories of rumors flying around about my students, kids in my class who I care about getting slammed and shamed online. And sometimes I don’t think it’s with malicious intent. The anonymity of the internet makes it so easy to do major damage. A simple retweet or clicking “like” can send a rumor or a picture to thousands of people.
But I think there’s something teachers can do about it.
Teach Digital Citizenship
Teachers hold a captive audience, and what we say has a tremendous impact on our students. While not every word we say is retained by the kids in our classes, students are often listening. Instead of just using this influence to teach math, science, English, and history, teachers also need to speak out against destructive practices like cyberbullying.
Hold class discussions about it. Share suicide statistics. Get on a pedestal every now and then. It’s easy to think that everyone knows the consequences of cyberbullying, but many do not, and the classroom should be a place for them to learn.
I’ve overheard students talking about friends of theirs being targeted online, and even about how they themselves are targeting a certain person. My temptation is to ignore what I’ve heard and avoid getting involved in students’ problems. However, this only allows abuses to continue. Adults need to report cyberbullying when they see it and do everything they can to end it. In every situation I’ve been in to report or deal with what I’ve seen, the victim of the bullying appreciates the support. Students should know that no matter what, their teacher has their back.
Teachers and administrators can definitely help to prevent cyberbullying in schools, but no one is as influential as the students. Students should be empowered to be leaders who stand against mean behavior online. Encourage kids to report abuses, stand against bullies, and comfort those who are attacked. Anti-bullying groups and organizations are good and should be encouraged, but the most impact comes when students feel empowered to stand against it in their own social circles.
When the girl in my class was targeted online this week with damaging rumors, she felt alone and ostracized. She felt as if her reputation was ruined and that she had no place in our school.
But then another girl in my class put an arm around her and assured her she is not alone. Following this example, many other students gave this same assurance, and essentially denounced what was said on social media.
A teacher has many roles, but probably the biggest is ensuring the safety of their students. Because of the internet, this is more difficult than ever before. However, it’s also more important.
In this video, I tell a little story about a girl in my English class who refused to listen to me. I kindly asked her twice to wake up and stop sleeping. I mean, the work we were covering was complex and important for her to learn, and there was no way for her to learn it if she was sleeping in the back of the room.
And so the third time I caught her sleeping, I calculated that it was time to lose my cool a little and make sure she understands how serious I am about staying awake in my class.
And so I yelled at her.
In front of everyone.
She woke up and stayed awake, and I couldn't help but think that I am a highly effective teacher who has classroom management down. Sometimes I have to stop being Mr. Nice Guy and make an example out of students to make a point.
At the end of class, I approached Sara, and asked her why she keeps sleeping my class. "Why aren't you working, Sara?"
She looked at me with tired, wet eyes and quietly told me that her little sister had an asthma attack the evening before, and that her inhaler had run out. And since her dad works third shift and her mom hasn't been around in over a year, she had to call 911 and ride in the ambulance to the hospital with her little sister. Sara told me that her dad picked her up that morning from the hospital and dropped her off at school.
You can imagine how I felt in that moment. This girl who experience hell the night before, who practically raises her little sister and desperately needed rest, was shamed by her teacher in front of everyone. It was a punch to the gut, and all I could say in that moment was that I was sorry. Sorry for what she had to go through and for how I treated her.
This moment early in my career was a catalyst for me. I became aware of the fact that students are not just blank slates when they walk into our rooms, but instead are living stories with very real conflicts. As their teachers, we are being invited into these stories. And while the part we play is often short and temporary, our words and actions can have a monumental impact.
While this story is hard to want to remember and not something I ever want to repeat, it was the start of a relationship with Sara. I started learning more about her life, her family, and her story. I learned she needed more grace from me on those tough mornings when she was flat out tired.
I'm reminded of the great teachers from my own story. Yes they were great at teaching content and skills, and could talk beautifully and design great lessons. But their real greatness started with relationships.
Keep an eye out for the Sara's in your schools this morning. Give grace. Use patience. Learn their stories. And build relationships.
This morning I found someone's old bottle of chocolate milk sitting on a bookshelf in my classroom. I did what any self-respecting teacher would do and shot it like Steph Curry at the trashcan by the door. Unfortunately my shot was a little high and it hit the wall behind the can. Also unfortunately, the cap wasn't tight on the chocolate milk, and in front of my entire second hour English class, the chocolate milk exploded all over that corner of the room. Except it wasn't chocolate milk anymore, but instead a chocolate-flavored cottage cheese; a thick brown yogurt that seeped into the carpet (why do classrooms use carpet?!) and permeated the air. Instantly my classroom smelled like someone dropped a carton of rotten eggs in a locker room after a high school boys hockey game.
Needless to say, my class is working in the library the rest of the day, the custodial staff is giving me dirty looks (my scrubbing couldn't get the smell out), and my students all have a good story to tell.
I learned two thing important lessons this morning:
1. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself and the situations you are in. I made a dumb decision when I threw that bottle towards the door, and it was a little embarrassing when the milk covered the wall while kids were working on a grammar assignment. But the truth is, to every kid in that room, this was a funny moment in their day. It was a break from the ordinary, and an opportunity for them to see how I handle messing up. They saw me get on my hands and knees to clean the disgusting mess up. But I also chose to laugh at myself, and call out my dumb mistake. This strange moment gave me an opportunity to model humility.
Word spreads fast, and all day kids came to my class to laugh about what they heard happen. Instead of turning red or changing the story up, I owned my stupid move and let the students enjoy the story.
Now of course my room stunk all day, and I hope to not have this ever happen again, but since it did, all I can do is laugh along with the students.
2. I also learned to always check the cap before throwing a bottle of chocolate milk across my classroom.
I spent the past week speaking, telling stories, and listening at an education conference in the Netherlands. When I made plans for this trip after being invited, I thought it would just be a really cool opportunity to speak in a different country and see if the same stories and ideas I talk about in the US would work with another culture. However, as I type this blog post through the fog of jet lag, I'm realizing how much more I gained than gave during this trip.
Here are a few observations I made after spending a week with teachers on another continent:
1. The Dutch see teaching as a creative endeavor.
They are not robots, walking textbooks, or babysitters; instead artists who craft learning experiences like a painter and her canvas. Curriculum crafting is thought of as design work, and this mindset produces incredible lessons and projects for students. I've always loved the line from Sir Ken Robinson that "Teaching is a creative profession," and I've seen firsthand what can be accomplished when teachers adopt this mindset.
2. Teachers everywhere want more freedom.
It turns out it is not just where I live that standardized tests and politicians restrain teachers from doing what’s best for students. I felt this same sentiment on my trip, and saw a large group of people who want to do something about it. Not only do I feel solidarity knowing that this struggle is universal, but I am inspired by seeing other people who are actively doing something about it.
3. Doing what’s best for kids is universal.
Teachers everywhere care about their students and will do whatever it takes to make their experience worthwhile. Teachers do not go into this profession for the money or the accolades (it turns out both are few and far between in the Netherlands as well), and instead care about helping their students achieve greatness.
4. I’m so proud to be a teacher
I spent a week listening to stories; ones of hope and success, and sadness and heartbreak. These are the same stories I hear from teachers in the US, and all are told by people who love the work that they do. I learned from my friends in the Netherlands, and always by through your email responses and on social media, that teachers are truly a global community. From Michigan to Iran, Brazil to Holland- teachers are a tribe with a common mission. And it was such a joy to have that reinforced this week.
May you become a better educator everyday. See yourself as a creative. Continue to fight against systems that are not in the best interest of kids. And lean in on the community of teachers everywhere.
Dank je wel my teacher friends.
Happy New Year everyone!
The New Year is a fresh start, and as a teacher, a chance to reflect on where I'm at and think about how I can get better at what I do. This year, I am going to focus on 6 things to improve my work in the classroom, and hopefully become a better teacher for my students.
I hope this video can give you or someone you know some ideas or inspiration to continue to refine the art of teaching.
I'd love to here what you are going to focus on in this new year to make your classroom/school/community/life better! Please
Here is an outline for the video above:
It’s a new year and another opportunity to become a better teacher.
Here are 6 resolutions I am making this year to become a less-stressed, joyful, and all around better teacher.
Call Parents More With Good News
So easy to focus on bad stuff- and those times are most often why I’ve made calls home in the past
But calls home with good news are so much more powerful
Your some Finally nailed this math problem
Helped me clean up when everyone left
Your daughter raised her hand to answer a question for the first time today
Parents always want to hear good news about their kid And that news always makes its way back to the kid
Which always makes its way back into the classroom
And so I want to make more positive calls this year
Connect with Colleagues
Teaching can feel like I’m working on an island.Can go days without seeing colleagues who work next door to me. This year I Want to connect more w/ other teachers
Collaborate on projects,
share data and strategies to help students,
observe them in action
but maybe more than anything- give encouragement. This work can wear you down, and I want to do better at lifting my colleagues up
I don’t get paid enough,
my principal’s a jerk,
I hate testing,
these kids are driving me crazy!
I find myself complaining too much, and even though my complaints are sometimes valid , complaining only brings me down and lose sight of the joy in my work
So I want to focus more on the positive parts of teaching, less on the stuff that’s out of my hands, and work on fixing the things that are in my control,
like attacking the pile of papers waiting to be graded
I will not complain. I will not complain
Be better at grading
Speaking of grading. Need to work on not letting that pile get so huge
Getting bogged down with grading stresses me out, and so this in this new year I’m dedicating 10 minutes of every planning period to grading. Maybe that won’t be enough and I will have to bring more home, but it’s a place to start.
And the Lord knows I need to start somewhere
So much about loving teaching is about having a positive growth mindset. Instead of seeing failure as defeat, viewing it as a chance to grow.
When all of my students tank a test, instead of beating myself up, figuring out how I can go back and help them understand what they missed. Or what I missed
When that one student who was doing so well takes a big step back, not giving up, but trying to meet them where they’re at and helping them get back on track
Or this is a big one for me- when I have a bad day,
which is inevitable,
and feeling like my teaching sucked and I would be better off to work on crab boat in Alaska or be that guy who rakes beaches at tropical resorts,
remember that bad days happen, and that tomorrow will be a brand new one
Have more fun
I want to have more fun this year
Play louder music when students come into my room
Plan more epic projects
Surprise my students with donuts
Volunteer to act ridiculous in school assemblies
If you’re having fun, students are too, So I’m going to make this year more fun than the last.
And in the process love my job more, which will probably make me better at it
Have a great New Year!
Few people have found ways to make learning about independent clauses and correct uses of commas compelling. Snapchat, Twitter, and texting have made proper punctuation seem like a chore, something English teachers make you do, and make sitting through grammar lessons a boring nightmare for most students. And all of the teacher-speeches in the world about how knowing proper grammar in the future to write professional emails will come in handy, isn’t enough to stimulate and engage students. Not even the promise of a strong quiz grade is enough to compensate for the tedious work of learning grammar. Or as I like to call it, the algebra of English class.
So here’s the question, is there any way to make grammar engaging?
My students once interviewed World War 2 veterans and created documentaries with the footage. They created beautiful videos that were screened in front of the entire community at a local theater. I had the students create subtitles for the videos so everyone could understand what the vets were saying.
But in my first year of doing the project, I didn’t screen the videos with the subtitles prior to the event.
That was a mistake.
Veteran’s names were misspelled, the word YOU was spelled like this, and god forbid my students cared to use the correct form of their.
Following the event, everyone heaped my students with praise for their work, but person after person came up to me and said, “Great work, teach. But man you need to teach those kids how to spell and use grammar.”
I was mortified. Despite how great their films were, the poor grammar in the subtitles distracted everyone from the work. And so the following year during that project, I built in many grammar lessons, telling students that the subtitles in their films would be seen by hundreds of people, and that their use of syntax would need to be perfect. My instruction for teaching grammar was the same, but now it had a purpose, and students paid much closer attention because their grammar was leaving the walls of our classroom (and their gradebook).
When students see their is a real need for proper grammar, they heighten their attention because the stakes are higher. Every year, my high school freshmen create children’s books that we then bring to a local elementary school to read to younger kids. I stress to my students the need for proper spelling and grammar because elementary students will be quick to point out errors. And that is exactly what happens.
One year, I didn’t screen all of the books as well as I should have before visiting the elementary class, and one of my students didn’t capitalize their “I’s.”
There wasn’t a third grader in the room who didn’t notice (or point it out).
It turns out, third grade is about the time students start learning capitalization, and the skill was fresh on those kids’ minds.
Suddenly, my students learned that grammar is not just a rule that has to be followed for the sake of following, but a means to ensuring that you are not distracting your audience from your work. Of course the student’s book with the i’s and u’s was still readable, but it wasn’t polished, and that is all the audience could think about.
Simply telling students this fact isn’t enough. They need to be shown the value of using correct punctuation and spelling words correctly. Project based learning lends to this task well. When teachers heighten the gravity of the work students complete in class, there is almost always heightened engagement. This doesn’t mean teachers have to abandon the practices and lessons they already have, especially in teaching grammar. Those worksheets and direct instruction still have plenty of merit. Instead, they’re giving meaning for that work. They’re turning spelling tests from busy-work into meaningful assignments to prepare for an important presentation.
When teaching compound and simple sentences, I call local businesses and see if there are any marketing materials my students can help create. For proper punctuation, we send letters to elected officials petitioning for certain causes.
And for capitalization and comma usage, we create documentaries, and make sure the subtitles for them are perfect.
In the midst of all of these projects, I still stand in front a whiteboard at times and drill age-old rules into the minds of students who aren’t invigorated by grammar. However, they are energized by creating authentic work, and so do better on grammar quizzes.