Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Six Things (Almost) Every Teacher Would Love for Teacher Appreciation Week

I've known a lot of teachers in my life and they vary wildly in age, build, personality, interests, subject matter, and tolerance of stupidity. One thing that is very common among them, though, is their nurturing nature. The vast majority of teachers are givers, not takers. They don't often ask for much, get little in return for their efforts, but they thrive in an atmosphere of giving.

Teacher Appreciation Week should be the one time we get to ask for stuff, right?

Teacher Appreciation Week 2015 has already come and gone. We have a wonderful PTO made up of Pinterest-addicted moms who supplied us with highlighters ("You're the highlight of this school"), Fantas ("You're FANTA-stic"), lunch on Tuesday, and other goodies. The office staff brought us doughnuts on Monday, and the athletic director fed us wings and nachos on Friday. All in all, it was a pretty awesome week.

That being said, there are just a few things that most all teachers would love to have for Teacher Appreciation Week that we just probably won't get. But if you have connections to a higher power, here's a little wish list I've thrown together for Teachers Appreciation Week 2016!

1. The opportunity to go pee whenever we feel the need. I don't think non-teachers can truly appreciate how precious a bathroom break is. Even the stay-at-home mom crowd gets to go pee, albeit with the door open and an audience consisting of a toddler, a baby in a wrap, and the dog.

MRW I finally get to go pee after a loooong morning holding it in.
2. A day free from repeating ourselves. I don't mean repeating lesson plans during multiple class periods. That's a given... it comes with the territory, right? I mean repeating "get out a sheet of notebook paper" or "turn to page 72" or "Scantron machines do not read red ink" or "is your name at the top?" or "number your paper one through twenty." A day where we only need to say instructions once.


3. Two fifteen-minute breaks. Did you guys know this is a real thing? There are real, adult jobs out there where you get two fifteen-minute breaks during your eight hour shift? What is this shit?

(Oh, and to all of the non-teachers who are saying, "What about your prep period/recess time/passing periods? That's a break!" my little boy has something to say to you.)

Learning his rude hand gestures from a very young age.
4. Lunch time. My husband, who I love and adore because he is an amazing man and a wonderful father, gets to sit down for lunch every day for an hour. He has a lunch hour that usually involves him going out for lunch with some colleagues where they proceed to eat lunch in peace and not work. I mean seriously... what do you do just sitting there eating lunch in peace for a whole hour? I just keep thinking about how much work I could get done in that time...


5. One day where all other businesses have hours that differ from school hours. It is impossible to run errands as a teacher. Everyone has the same hours you do! You can't make it to a post office, an insurance company, or a bank unless you leave work on time. And really, who gets to do that? I have to work extra just to get to leave on time.


6. Blue jeans and comfy shoes. This varies wildly by location, but I would love it if we got to wear blue jeans and shoes with laces. We currently have that luxury every other Friday (pay day) and I swear to you the morale throughout the entire building gets a significant boost by just this little change in dress code. If I feel really ballsy next year, I might even suggest we get to wear jeans and tennis shoes for a whole week.

MRW I wake up and realize it is, indeed, Pay Day (a.k.a. Blue Jeans) Friday.

So let's have it. What's on your Teacher Appreciation Week wishlist for 2016? It's never too early to start thinking of these things. (If anything these happy thoughts will help push you through until the end of the school year!)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Test Prep Madness (and new printables!)

I live in Indiana, in the southernmost tip so that we're practically Kentucky. Actually, my region is known as "Kentuckiana" for a reason. We live right along the Ohio River. It's always been my home and it's an interesting region. The Indiana side where I hang out is primarily rural and known for small-town tourism. People come to our little neck of the woods to travel back to a simpler time. Since we are right off of the interstate we are littered with fast food joints and chain hotels, but if you're willing to travel just a few minutes away from the interstate, you'll find all kinds of local attractions - caves, historic buildings, family owned-and-operated businesses, restaurants featuring the finest local foods and wines. If the city life is more your style, Louisville, Kentucky is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Louisville is weird, in all the good ways. There are awesome museums, tons of dining options, and bourbon. You pretty much can't go wrong with museums, food, and bourbon.


I should also mention that where I live #ballislife.

In a very tiny area we have raging IU, UofL, and UK fans (and a small handful of dorky Purdue fans*). Although our UK fans don't typically light couches on fire... you have to go to Lexington to see that shit.


March Madness is a huge freaking deal around here. People eat, breathe, and shit basketball in springtime. As soon as the brackets were released, they were EVERYWHERE in my school building. You couldn't turn a corner or glance at a room full of students without seeing one. I had students who were incessantly researching teams, googling stats, and fanatically following game scores.

If they put half as much effort into their academics, the whole bunch of them would graduate with honors. I found myself thinking about this often, long after the devastation that was UK losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four. (Did you know that there are people around here who get championship tattoos before their team has even left the gate?)

So there we were... mid-April... in the throes of test prep. Our poor elementary and middle school counterparts were already in test-taking hell... we had just been packing the bags for our journey. I had been reviewing essential language arts skills ever since we returned from spring break. We were taking benchmark tests every Monday, doing vocab work on Tuesdays, reading comprehension practice on Wednesdays, some kind of mash-up of grammar and crying on Thursday, and honing our essay-writing skills on Fridays. We were doing this week. after week. after week.

So as of two weeks ago, I was feeling really burnt out and I knew that if I was feeling it, the kids were definitely feeling it. We needed a change of pace in a bad way. We had just finished looking at some released test essay prompts and the released student writing from years past, and a girl in class casually remarked how she really wanted to do well on the essay because she's really competitive.

Competitive. Competition. Teams competing for fame... glory... doughnuts...


As soon as my classes cleared out for the day, I began tackling this idea that was just starting up in my brain.

I need teams. I need rules. I need enthusiasm. How can I get their enthusiasm? We need just enough energy to get through this last long haul. Prizes are good, but that's not enough. I need... March Madness.

I called my competition ECA MADNESS, since that's the test my kids take. I decided that since I teach four sections of general English 10, that we would be broken up into four regions, with four teams from each region, starting us at the "Sweet 16" point in the bracket system. Students would have to choose their team members and fill out an entry form, including their team name and their mascot. I'd use to determine the "seeds" and how they were placed on the bracket. But answering test prep questions wasn't going to be quite enough. I needed something else.

So I brought in a Wii.

The kids lost their minds (in a totally awesome way) when I introduced the competition to them. They were in it to win it. That competitive spirit permeated the atmosphere of the room as they started coming up with ridiculous team names and mascots. By the end of the day, nearly the entire sophomore class with buzzing with excitement over this. They were discussing t-shirt designs and test-taking strategies, Wii bowling tricks and context clues, bracketology and essay outlines. We started with in-class competition, narrowing it down to our Elite 8, then our Final 4, where only one team remained from each class period.

Here's how I chose to do game play:
1. Each team had to answer a question. The Sweet 16 questions were fairly simple, and as the tournament has progressed, I have upped the level of difficulty. The questions went up on my Smart Board and they had sixty seconds to answer the Sweet 16 questions (vocab and context clue related) and 90 seconds to answer the Elite 8 and Final 4 questions (reading comprehension).
2. If the team answered the question correctly, they got 10 points. They also got the chance to play Wii bowling. They were allowed to bowl one frame and they got additional points for the number of pins they knocked down (1 point per pin. I didn't have any kind of a bonus for bowling a strike.)
3. If the team answered incorrectly, they did not earn points and they did not get to bowl.
4. They had sixty seconds to answer the simple questions, and ninety seconds for the more complex reading comprehension questions.
5. The team with the highest score moved on in the bracket.

The competition got intense. Suddenly kids who never gave a whistle before about being able to answer a multiple choice question were absorbing any tips I had to offer. The results of this one-week competition have been spectacular! When a question would go up on the board the room would get silent as the kids leaned in, staring at the question. The competing team would mutter under their breaths to each other, analyzing the question, eliminating answers, until they were able to come up with a solution together. The teamwork was impressive, and I was thrilled to see them using these skills that I just knew were going in one ear and out the other a week prior. These kids were able to work through very difficult questions - questions that would have seemed impossible to them a week ago.

On Monday, we are doing the final competition. It's The Doom Brigade from 5th period vs. the Hungry Hippos from 2nd period. The Doom Brigade is a rag-tag group of intelligent misfits that often spend their time in the corner of the classroom discussing video games and sketching comics. This team has not missed a single question in competition so far. The Hungry Hippos are bright students, but they have to work hard to do well in school. They're just not great test-takers. But their hearts are set on this and they are doing very well.

Monday's competition will be a close call. All of my students will take one final practice test, but they will be doing it with their teams. They will have reading comprehension, vocab, and grammar questions, and they will have to outline an essay, all in forty-five minutes. I want them to use the team mentality on this last test, because I think we're to the point where they won't learn much more from me... but there's still a lot to learn from each other. After I score the tests, Hungry Hippos and The Doom Brigade will get to bowl one frame for each correct test question, and we'll have our champion. As promised, the winning team will get a dozen doughnuts of their choosing.


I decided that this whole system worked too well to not share with you. I'm confident I am not the first teacher to come up with this idea, but I did a lot of leg work with this and now I want to share it with you! I've made it more generalized, so it's titled Test Prep Madness instead. Whether you are prepping your students for a standardized state test, PARCC tests, or just want to spice up your final exam study routine, I hope you will find this as inspiring and fun as we did.

The PDFs are ready to print. I've also included Word Document versions that can be edited with your preferences. The bracket starts at the Sweet 16 level, but you could always alter this and start at the Elite 8 or whatever works for your classes. I've also included the rules that I gave to my students as a Word document. Feel free to edit as you see fit and print away! I only ask that you keep my copyright at the bottom of the pages :)

Test Prep Madness Bracket - PDF
Test Prep Madness Bracket - Word Doc
Test Prep Madness Entry Form - PDF
Test Prep Madness Entry Form - Word Doc
Test Prep Madness Sample Rules - Word Doc

I would love to hear some of your test prep success stories! How do you help your students prepare for unit tests, finals, or even the Big Dance tests?

*I should mention that I'm married to a dorky Purdue fan and half of my family are dorky Purdue fans. I love dorky Purdue fans. This is good-natured teasing... except during basketball season. Then it gets hella vicious.