Dear Students

This post originally appeared at  Reprinted with permission.

Dear Students,

I haven’t met you yet, but I have prepared to teach you for years. I’m excited for this semester. I probably won’t be able to sleep the night before we meet. I never can, 10 years after getting my teaching certificate.

My mind overflows with ideas for readings, activities, and discussions. I want to show you how literature connects the world; everything from societal ills to economic struggles, human triumph to engineering feats – stories hold history lessons, which can then be guides for the future. I want to examine how to manipulate the written word in writing and speech. I want to study the craft that is language arts.

I also want to learn fun and interesting intricacies about you. I want you to share your life with me through writing and connect it to literature. I promise to provide plenty of examples of how literature connects to me.

You will learn that I drink lots of coffee Photo credit: Quality Coffee by Lkaus Post (Everystockphoto. Click for source.)

I never stop thinking about education and how to influence yours the best I can. The more I learn about teaching, leadership – the monster named education – the more I realize all these outside factors influence you, heavily. More than I can. More than you may want them to weigh on you. More than you may even know.

So I propose that we go into this school year together. I promise to teach you the best I can. I hope you promise to learn the best that you can. If you have those outside influences weighing on you, let me know. Maybe I can help, maybe I can find someone to help you. I will at least try to understand.

I hope that you leave my class believing you got a fair deal – that we worked, but that the workload and your treatment was fair. I will do the best that I can everyday, and I hope you do as well.


Mrs. M.


LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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Is It Okay to NOT Use Technology?

Tech in the Classroom 2 Tablets, Smartphones, SmartBoards, Apps, and more are invading our classrooms.  They bring interactivity, multi-media, and edu-tainment.  They bring new classroom management challenges (oh, how to have a jammer for text messaging in my classroom!)  But is it okay to not use digital textbooks, eReaders, Smartboards, or videos?  Is it okay to do things “old school?”

Let me first assure you that I do love technology.  Case in point– summer of 2010 I brought home two very exciting new additions to my life: my newborn son and a copy of Office 2010.  One of them did a lot of fun stuff those summer days, while the other mainly slept and ate and didn’t come with a Help button…

I love exploring new technology, and I love many of the possibilities it offers.  But my classroom was not a technologically advanced classroom.  I did not have a Smartboard.  I had a chalkboard… sometimes, I even had chalk!  Sometimes I worried that my students were missing out by not being able to pull out some digital device to look things up or watch a video or text-in an answer.

My classroom was not the only hopelessly out of date classroom out there– there are many, I’m sure, in areas too cash-strapped to upgrade.  And yet, in spite of this, my students learned.   At times, they were engaged in projects that did not use or require technology.  Other times, they were working on regular old school work– dead trees to read from and write on.  Things not inherently “fun” or “interactive” (overlooking the fact that learning can be fun just because it’s learning!)

Note Taking in 2012Technology can easily become a crutch.  We rely on it rather than ourselves.  Such as taking a photo of the lecture notes or getting a PowerPoint from the teacher– rather than doing the work of reading and re-writing (and in theory writing down only the important stuff), students “save” themselves work.  But what are they losing?  Students no longer have to process the information.  They just “have” it, which skips an important step of learning.

But what about scaffolding? How does one build connections if information is not retained?  How much more is remembered by writing (even copying) something compared to taking a picture or reading the notes (assuming the student actually does that, rather than planning to but failing to follow through?)

Back in math class, sometimes we would have to work without our calculator (gasp!) to ensure we knew the process and complete it manually.  I think that this notion applies to all classrooms, from time to time.  Can the student spell without spellchecker?  Can they take notes by hand and capture the important information?  Can they do order of operations without a calculator?  Can they read a diagram that’s not interactive? Can they find things in a book rather than online?

And I do believe that not only is okay to not use technology, but it can be useful to do things ‘old school.’

(You’ll pry my digital gradebook from my cold dead hands, though.)
CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher (and computer nerd!), likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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Don’t Overestimate Students’ Technology Skills

Students and Tech Skills“Oh, kids, they’re so good with technology!”  I hear that regularly, but I want to gently remind people that it’s not always as true as they think.  While my students appear to flawlessly navigate Twitter and Facebook, they often are missing some basic skills with productivity tools.  And it is these productivity tools that will serve them in the workplace more than Instagram or Pinterest.

Some shocking things I’ve seen from my high school students:

  • Inability to copy and paste (and inability to deal with wonky formatting during a copy-paste process)
  • Inability to save to a different location (i.e. save a file to a thumb drive instead of the desktop)
  • Trouble with Google search terms
  • Inability to double-space properly (hitting enter every line is not evident on a print out, but painfully clear when submitted digitally!)
  • Can’t adjust content in Resume Template (because it’s a Table, and they have no clue)
  • Don’t know how to email things to themselves
  • Do not know how to change the file format (such as saving as an RTF file)
  • Don’t know how to find a file they’ve misplaced

I assure you that this is not hyperbole..  And it doesn’t even get into topics like lack of familiarity with Excel (such as not knowing how to enter formulas) or trouble manipulating layered objects (like several pictures or textboxes in a PowerPoint or Word document), not that they know what an “object” is.

While many students do have solid skills, and others well surpass their teachers in technology skills and comfort, we do a disservice by overestimating their ability.  It’s important to remember there are students who have missed lessons on technology, students who ignored lessons because they are already “good with computers,” and students who were not taught something because another teacher assumed they already knew it.

Dont Overestimate Student Tech SkillsWe wouldn’t assume that a student who has books at home reads fluently… but we assume that a student who has a computer at home (or has used computers regularly in classes) has certain skills, often without verifying and without checking.  And without providing the support they need when lacking those skills.

When setting students loose on the computer to complete a task, I consider what skills they need.  And consider what they would need if they didn’t have those skills.  How can I support them, individually if need be (hey, differentiated instruction works here, too!) I find myself watching their use of the technology as much as their completion of the assignment, offering tips and support as I canI admit it helps that I am a computer nerd.

Just as those who cannot read printed words well are great at hiding it, those who struggle with technology are also proficient at covering up their deficiencies.  They can ‘get by’– but instead, they should be helped up.  And not just for this lesson or this activity, but because technology is such an integral part of personal and professional lives.  And more than just texting and Tumblr, but true productivity skills.

CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher (and computer nerd!), likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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Easy Add-ins improving Student Engagement

Do you have your preferred teaching style down? So do I.  Are your students reaching academic success? So are mine. Like any good teacher though, I am actively seeking to improve. So are you. Rather than completely overhaul what works, let me take the good base that I have and build upon it.Hand Raising Desk Slapping

What experience tells me: 
Passive students tend to
fall behind in my class.
What do you add into your lessons to improve student engagement?  Here are two, tried-and-true routines:

Hand Raising (non-traditional sense)
Are students really thinking about what is being said in class?  
Force students to commit to an opinion: Raise your hand if you agree. Raise your hand if you disagree. Raise your hand if you don’t know but are participating. It’s good to participate.

Check their pulse:  Raise your hand if you love your momma. Raise your hand if you’re breathing. Raise your hand if you want to go home.   Can you visualize the hands that go up on that last line? What academic purpose does it serve to have students admit to wanting to go home?  Little, unless you value that the majority of students just responded to a verbal prompt and voluntarily chose to be actively involved in the lesson. Perhaps the student zoning out suddenly sees the entire class putting their hand up, raises his as well, and mentally ponders/chides, “Why are we raising our hands? I better start paying attention.”  Perhaps the platform for student voice (albeit canned and highly structured) earns the exercise a point.  Running these type of statements in trios hopefully provides everyone with an entry point. Personally, knowing that students are still listening and processing what is being pushed out is reassuring.

Do you ever sense that your secondary students get tired of raising their hands?   Surely an active response can take other forms.  Our elementary counterparts mix it up with clapping.   Poetry units at the secondary level often welcome snapping.  In my high school Algebra class, a resounding slap of the desk does the trick. Clapping, Snapping, Slapping — it really is all on the same train.

Desk Slapping
In my opinion, slapping requires the least investment of the student (only one hand, no fancy finger configurations), has sound appeal, and is less socially taboo for teenagers (perhaps because of its affiliation with violence).
One rule: No repetitive slaps.
Some of the more refined 9th grade classes give their desk a little love pat.  However, a few classes will truly SLAP their desk with oomph.  This almost in unison thunder clap invigorates both teacher and students.  As I like to say (and my students groan), it supports the learning momentum.  Weak slappers sometimes improve at this request:  Slap your desk if you were right.  A prideful nature should be exploited.  Are you considering trying out the technique for the first time? Use in conjunction with a question that has a high probability of correct response in the middle of a difficult lesson. (Don’t explain, just call it out. Repetitive slaps can be channeled later on. Sales pitches can be given later as well.)

Like any novelty, either of the above techniques overused will lose its charm.

What easy student involvement techniques do you use in your classroom?  

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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High School Students and Boundaries

My high school students don’t understand boundaries. The normal guidelines – recycling paper, returning dictionaries, taking turns – are followed, most of the time. They stumble over regular, unspoken guidelines. My analysis always turns into, why?

They are children.HS students and boundaries

Why can you have coffee in the classroom when we can’t?

High school students can be deceiving. They drive cars. They have sex. They have jobs. They spend money. They look like adults. But they are not.

Research and studies tell us that their brains are not fully developed. Some comments that challenge boundaries are from childhood naivety, a lack of experience experience. Science is telling us that this is combined – the underdeveloped frontal lobes we teachers studied in brain-based learning classes. The study fascinates teachers, but are parents and students onboard with the idea that this is science and not just a stage to be fixed – that it is part of brain development?

They explore boundaries.

I can wear this shirt – it follows the dress code.

Part of adolescents is finding your place, pushing boundaries. I did it in high school. Sometimes I got pushback and told to follow the rules. Other times I didn’t and got myself in messy situations.

Do all teachers and administrators give healthy boundaries? What does it tell students when we set a boundary, and fail to enforce it?

Society and parents tell them they are adults.

I pay union dues!

Many parents tell me that their teenagers are grown. That they treat them like adults. That teens can set their own curfews, create budgets, and make life decisions. They hold jobs and pay union dues, just like I do.

I personally have not parented teens. I can understand this approach though. Teenage years are difficult and parents are busy. They look like adults and some of them act more adultlike than others. Teens are still growing though and even if approaching teens as adults is easy, it is not correct. Parents may also be listening to messages from people with ulterior motives.

Marketers and advertisers devote time, research, and money to capturing teens. The easiest way to do this is to capitalize on what teens want: to be adult, to be respected.

If part of adolescents is pushing boundaries and parents and billboards encourage adulthood, why wouldn’t a teenager believe he is on equal footing with a teacher?

A combination: they believe they should not have these boundaries.

I am so tired of this s**t!

I have had too many students honestly believe that they are on equal footing with the teacher for me not to believe the boundary issue needs addressed.

No doubt, teens receive conflicting messages. Media targets them – frequently and with oodles of money. Parents are tired, stretched thin, and may believe that teenagers are indeed adults. Even educators are unaware of new research.

Where do these instances leave teachers? Aside from confused, some steps have helped me in my classroom full of teenagers.

1. Share stories from my teenage years. I did plenty of nonsensical (albeit embarrassing) mistakes as a teenager. When I share a clean and classroom appropriate example, I am met with understanding. Teens have empathy, and this shows them that I get it. I am not clueless about their lives that pull them every which way and send them confusing messages.

2. Teach science. Plenty of activities address this issue, and many are on TpT. In my ELA class, I can easily pull a science article and teach a nonfiction lesson.

3. Send home information. I send home blurbs and websites addressing new research on the teenage brain, specifically about teens and boundaries. Do all parents read these newsletter blurbs? No. A few do, and a few can start the change in beliefs about teens.

I have more questions than answers. Science is changing, teacher education programs are changing, and society will slowly follow. Setting and enforcing boundaries for teenagers is tricky.

It is easy to say have clear boundaries in the classroom, and teachers should; however, I think we would be remiss not to bring attention to these other issues surrounding teenagers and boundaries.

Teenagehood is a rough time and we should bring parents and society’s attention to the new science and struggles. Doing so should help future adolescents.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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Three Tips for Quick Assessment

1. Design your assessments to be quick to mark in large quantities.

This doesn’t mean that you should make really short assessments – rather be aware that you’re going to have to mark a ton of these so let’s set up a few things to make that easier.

A. After each problem, write out what the question was.

Well of course you would do this, but what saves me lots of time is writing it out in a particular way.  For example, if the question was out of 5 marks, I wouldn’t write /5, instead I write 0 1 2 3 4 5.  It is so much quicker for me to go through and draw a slash through the 3 than it is for me to write out the number 3.  Ridiculous though it may sound, when you’re marking 60+ 6-page tests this time really adds up!

Michelle Brosseau - Assessment Quick Tips - Quiz (1)

B. If doing matching questions, use a phrase to make the process quicker.

I will sometimes use a made up phrase or acronym to make matching quicker to mark.  For example, I think of the stellar classification chart OBAFGKM (this could be the solution).  Maybe not easy to see if you’re not an astronomy buff, but these 7 letters has a phrase associated with it to help you remember: Oh, be a fine girl, kiss me.  Now you’ve got a phrase that the students don’t think anything of, but you can look at quickly to see if they’ve matched correctly.  I will sometimes use this or a made up phrase in a different language so that I don’t have to check each question individually, I just have to search for that phrase.

2. Mark using Mr. Sketch markers or erasable pens.

Because I use the slash through their mark on each question I enjoy using Mr. Sketch markers when marking some of my students’ work.  It’s quick, it’s colorful and honestly, the smell keeps me in a good mood!  I color code depending on the category I am marking which makes it easy to add up later on.  Also, it is fun to see kids smelling their tests before they even look at how well they did!

Feedback that is too long to write in marker I use erasable pens for.  Again, you can color code the comments as we know some students are sensitive to colors (my former self included!).

3. Have a buddy who can encourage you.

I am lucky enough to work with my sister among a wealth of other amazing colleagues.  When time is short and report cards are looming sometimes you just need someone to kick your marking motivation into high gear!  Let them know what you have on your plate and that you need some encouragement.  Plan to have a marking party in the staff room and both agree not to leave until you’re done.  Bring snacks and some good music and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can crank out those assessments!

Good Luck!

Mrs. Brosseau's BinderMichelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Vocabulary Strategies

taraNo matter your subject area, vocabulary is critical for speaking the ‘language’ of the subject, and for building up confidence and comfort with test questions.  In other words, as we approach testing season, it is very important that students are familiar with the vocabulary.

In my classroom, I use several strategies for students to build up comfort with the vocabulary.

quizletAt the start of the unit, I give students a list of terms and definitions for the unit.  I usually make these up by using the website  Once you enter the words, you can choose from a list of previously entered definitions for that term.  I try to keep the list to a manageable, not overwhelming amount.   For homework, they have a week to do to options from their vocabulary ‘menu.’  They can do three for extra credit.  This menu includes options such as drawing pictures, using in a sentence, writing definitions, writing a story, etc.

Then within class, I like to spend a day on vocabulary, and do some station work.  Sometimes I will miss in the vocabulary with other review stations.  On other occasions I just focus on vocabulary.

Some of the vocabulary station that I like to use are:  Students can use different games on the site to practice with the words.  My favorite is scatter, but there is a ‘learn’ mode that is also great.  Some of my lowest students can practice over and over and feel a sense of success.

– match up words and definitions.  Print out terms on one set of cards, and definitions on another.  Students match up the words and definitions.  They can also compete to see how quickly they can match them up.

– Pictionary – students can get into small teams and choose a word randomly (draw a card); and then draw the word.  Their teammates try to guess which term they are drawing.

– Create a test question using the vocabulary terms

There are others, but this is a good place to start.  I think its really important that vocabulary stations focus on knowing the definitions and student processing, not only on spelling, or word searches/crossword puzzles.

Students are engaged, competitive, and practicing using the terms they need to learn.

profile pic2Science in the City is a science teacher in an urban district and seeks out ways to make her lessons engaging and memorable for students.