Saturday, June 4, 2016

2015-2016: What Worked and What Didn't

As I mentioned this time last year, I'm a big believer in reflection as the school year comes to a close. Before I get lost in a hazy summertime reverie, I think it's important to make a little record of the stuff that worked and the stuff that didn't that school year. I've done this every year since student teaching, and I think it's really helpful in figuring out what needs to be changed again for next year. Here are my reflections on the 2015-2016 school year.

My Gradebook Software
I have lamented before about our very outdated grade book system. Well let me tell you, it really outdid itself this year. Through the course of this school year, I lost whole classes (and all of the grades!) in my gradebook THREE TIMES. In addition, the software also ate my list of assigned (textbook) numbers for three of my classes! And, like a total idiot, I did not have this information backed up anywhere. Very fortunately, the support people were able to retrieve the lost gradebooks (thank you Tech Gods) but were unable to get the textbook numbers. I lucked out this year, though, because every single student returned a textbook. Anyway, I need to come up with a backup grade book and book list (paper? Google Docs?) because our crappy old software does not work.

MFW my gradebook disappears...
Evolved Sanity Saver
I discussed the evolution of my Sanity Saver and how I was going to try out spiral binding for the first time this year. The huge pro to the evolved Sanity Saver is that it held up beautifully throughout the year. From the outside it still looks as good as new! It has been crammed in bags, dropped in water (because butterfingers, but not the candy bar because ewww...), and generally hauled around all over the place all school year, but it is still in excellent condition. The clear plastic cover protected my pretty first page, the black vinyl on the back kept the book sturdy enough to write in, even without a desktop beneath it, and the spiral binding held everything together very well. Thank you Staples! The only drawback to the spiral binding is that I could not easily add documents throughout the year like I would be able to do with a binder. Really, though, the only documents that I wanted to add were the ones that I should have added when I made the thing. It was a silly mistake on my part. Anyway, I truly loved my spiral-bound Sanity Saver and it definitely worked!

Classroom Website
My new and improved classroom website is probably the best thing I did for the my classroom this year, and I think my students would agree. What a fantastic resource for me, my students, and their parents! The students reported that they regularly checked the classroom agenda (I updated this every Monday pretty religiously until the very end of the year) to see what was going on that week. I loved having a detailed digital record of what we did every day. I included links to all kinds of resources throughout the website, so when students needed help with a skill when they weren't in class, they were able to use those resources to help themselves. The website was a LIFESAVER when it came to leaving behind strong lessons for subs. I missed way more school than usual this year because my little boy is prone to ear infections and all other kinds of icky sticky illnesses. Fortunately, I was able to link some of my video lessons to the website, so my sub just had to get online and click play. The one thing I need to change next year is my Filing Cabinet page. I ended up adding way more resources than I ever imagined I would and it quickly got out of hand. I ended up posting the resources that were relevant for each unit on the agenda and the Filing Cabinet kind of became a resource catch-all. I need to come up with a new way to organize those resources. Other than that, the website was amazing and it worked wonders for my classroom.

Classroom Rewards Card
This went only slightly better than last year. Dear God, I am really, really bad at positive reinforcement gimmicks! Maybe these things will work well for other teachers, but I've come to the conclusion that I love the theory but they don't work for me.

Moving My Homework Agenda
A really amazing opportunity popped up for me the second semester of school this year. I was given a new class to teach. Now some of you might think this sounds like the stuff of nightmares, and under normal circumstances it probably would have, except that I have been dreaming of teaching this class forever. I was given a theatre arts class starting in January. Adding a new class in the middle of the year came with its own set of challenges (something I'll hopefully be writing about soon), but one challenge I did not expect was how it would alter my classroom layout. I now had three different preps, meaning I had to have a place to write homework for three different classes. My homework agenda has always been on the white board in the front of my classroom, but I wasn't crazy about the idea of using even more of that precious space to add another column to my homework agenda. As a result, I decided to move my homework agenda to the board on one of the side walls of the room. Big. Mistake. I quit using it! It was inconvenient to get to when students were in the room and I just never really looked at it. I think I wrote down one week's worth of assignments and those January assignments stayed until I erased my boards and removed the tape last week while I was KonMari-ing my classroom. Moral of the story: don't put your homework agenda in an inconvenient location. It doesn't work.

"This is totally gonna... yeah, no, it's not gonna work."
The Stop Watch Trick
My cousin-in-law (a middle school teacher) and I were chatting about how squirrely our students had gotten with the end of the year being so near. That's when he told me THE STOP WATCH TRICK. It is simple and it is effective. He told his students that he was going to start allowing them "Free Time Fridays." This was a serious novelty in his classroom so the kids were pumped up. He also started carrying a stopwatch during class. Anytime his students got off task, were disruptive, etc. he would click the stopwatch and let it run up time until the class got quiet or back on task. He kept a running total on the board of the amount of time his students wasted. The amount of time wasted by Friday was the amount of time that was taken away from their Free Time Friday. So if he promised them fifteen minutes of free time and the stopwatch totaled up to nine minutes by the time Free Time Friday was supposed to start, that meant they only got six of their minutes. It was one of those "you waste my time, I'll take yours" scenarios. I thought it was genius and I implemented this in my general 10 classes during the last few weeks of school. I added my own twist: the amount of time they wasted was time that they would have to spend writing on a topic of my choice. It was amazing how quickly the students started policing each other. They would hear the distinct beep of the stopwatch and would get quiet and back on task in a real hurry.
A word of caution: I don't think I would implement this trick at the beginning of the year. I think it best serves as an intervention tool for when you really are losing valuable instruction time. If you know your students are wasting ten or more minutes of your time over the course of the week, it couldn't hurt to offer them that time as a reward for good behavior. I just don't think I would set this precedent unless it became necessary. I can vouch for this though; it works.

Remind Text Messages
I have been using Remind for a few years now for sending out drama club notifications, but this is the first year I implemented it in all of my classes too. I love this system, and my students do too! For those of you who don't know about it, Remind is a way for you to text your students without having their personal phone numbers, and vice versa. You can send class announcements as well as small-group or individual messages. You can also attach documents to texts, include links, and do a few other nifty things. My favorite feature is the text scheduling. I had a monthly writing assignment that was always assigned the first day of the month and due the last day. I scheduled Remind texts to go out the day before the assignment was due each month and then forgot about it. Lo and behold, students got their reminders and they turned in their work. This was also great for letting students know in advance about a change of plans for class that day. This is one of my absolute favorite teacher tools. Totally works and I highly recommend it!

What about you all? What awesome thing worked for you this year? Did you have any busts like I did?

Happy Summer!