This year (and last year) our principal asked us to take risks, try new things, and have fun. I’m formalizing the risks I’m taking this year by writing about them and posting them here. Feel free to share the risks you’ll take in your classroom this year.
- No desk. I moved classrooms again this year (I often do, and I’m usually teaching in two classrooms). This year, when I moved into the room I will teach 4 of my 5 classes with, I wondered where I’d be putting my choice reading bookshelves. The back corner was the perfect spot, but the previous teacher had a fortress of a desk. I had nowhere to put the desk if I wanted to have my books (especially since I had to be able to fit 28 student desks in the room). The simplest solution: dump the desk. Instead, I have a bookcase with all the materials that used to be on/in my desk. We’ll see how I feel after a few months of this, but I feel freed, in a way. It means I will always be among my students and there is a more democratic feel to the classroom. Lots of elementary teachers have done this and written about it, but I’m not sure how many secondary teachers do this. Let me know if you’ve gotten rid of your desk and have any thoughts.
- Infographics. Last year, I learned about memes and how to integrate them into the English classroom. This year, I want to figure out infographics. (Here’s a cool one about how teens use social media.) I’m the kind of person who has a hard time reading bar/pie charts, so this is a real challenge for me. But with the increase of visual media to share information, and the amazing images out there that convey information in an engaging way, I feel like I’m doing my students a dis-service if I don’t at least try to tackle my weakness. I’ll start by introducing them, having students interpret them, and then, hopefully, my students will create their own (in partners first, then on their own).
- One class without a seating chart. I mentioned I teach in two classrooms. For the one class I have in another room, I want to try not having a seating chart. They’re juniors, so this isn’t a crazy idea, and it is a class of 22, so it isn’t a huge number of students, but I want to give them the opportunity to make their own decisions about where they sit. It will be interesting to see if this class has issues with seating in comparison to my other classes.
- New way to do vocabulary. Aside from charts and graphs, my other Achilles heel of teaching is vocabulary. I struggle with giving standard quizzes, since students have often shared that they cram the words in for the quiz and then immediately forget them. I’ve been thinking all summer of ways to have meaningful vocabulary study. Since I’m starting my juniors with Into the Wild, there are many words I’m fairly sure they won’t know. So here’s my solution: a pretest on words. If students earn an 85% or above, they’re done. If they don’t, they take the quiz until they *do* achieve 85% or higher. I’ll do this three times (split the book into 3 parts). My plan is that they will have to learn to words, or at least look them up to do well. The bonus is that we have an online course system, so once I set the quiz up, they can just keep taking it over and over (and see the words over and over!). Again, it will be interesting to see how this works in practice.
- Taking a full-year intern. This isn’t a new risk, it is one I take on every year. Working with the Penn State Professional Development School is exciting and invigorating, but it is always a risk. I open my classroom to a stranger every year and work with them every day for the entire school year. I’ve done this enough times to know that this is a risk that is totally worth it–but there is always an element of trepidation in sharing your teaching space with another person. But like most risks, in the end, it is worth it. Over the years I have formed strong friendships with interns, and many have become close friends and colleagues. I feel lucky to work in a school that has access to an amazing bunch of student teachers committed to working in our district for an entire year.
So happy new year to all of you out there. And take some risks this year! Share them with us, or write about them and we’ll post your reflections here.