The English Teacher Files

Notes from the Classroom Trenches

Use Lino Sticky Notes for Colorful Class Discussions

I began using the free online Lino sticky notes in my class last year after looking for ways to increase class participation during class discussion.  I have used Lino in various ways throughout the year to aid in class discussion, to answer study questions, to lead department meetings, and to lead parent discussions. Lino eliminates the need for paper sticky notes or the large easel-sized notepaper.

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Here is how to get started:

Sign up at Linoit.com

  • I signed up and tried to invite students to join my Lino sticky note account, but most of my kids did not receive the email invitation, so I created an account under my name and shared the same password with all classes.

Create Classes

  • Create different groups for the different classes that will participate during the year.Image

Create a Canvas

  • Create a canvas for each class and for each different discussion. For example, I had two sections of APEL so I created a canvas for each period.Image

Group Students

  • Most of my students have cell phones, iPads, or Kindles with Internet access. I make sure that there is at least one device in each group.  I give my iPad to the group without a device.

Use a Projector

  • Project the Lino canvas from a teacher computer for the whole class to see as they type in responses. This is also a good way to keep an eye on the posts or to edit student posts in real time.

Get Students Posting

  • Assign each student a role to play in the discussion group. I sometimes have students turn in a worksheet that accompanies the discussion or take notes in their 70-page spiral notebook. One or two students in each group can share the posting duty.

Discuss Lino Sticky Note Posts

  • Call groups to the front of the room in front of the projected Lino sticky notes.  Enlarge the group’s sticky note as they discuss what they have written.Image

Save the Canvas for Later Studying

  • Save the Lino sticky notes. When the class has finished the discussion the sticky notes with all of the class input will be available for later viewing.

Types of Activities

  1. Answer study guide questions
  2. Create vocabulary notes
  3. Summarize a passage or a speech
  4. Analyze a passage or a speech
  5. Explain the correct response from a multiple-choice test
  6. Take a survey
  7. Create class norms for future discussions
  8. Post ideas for a class project
  9. Add photos and links to the canvas
  10. Use Lino at Parent Night, department meetings, and staff meetings

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know how this works out for you in your classroom 🙂 I am excited to know about the different ways you use Lino.

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Classroom Procedures—The Key to a Successful Classroom

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The introductory sentence of my Classroom Procedures page sums up the need for such a document:

In order for a classroom to run smoothly, efficiently, and fairly, the same procedures must be followed by everyone at all times.

A Classroom Procedures document is given to all students at the beginning of the school year. I have extra copies on hand for new students as they arrive throughout the year.

It is very important to have a set of procedures in place that describe everything from how to enter the classroom to how to exit the classroom at the end of the period. I know it seems silly to tell kids that they should enter the classroom in a calm, dignified manner and to take their seats before the tardy bell rings, but there will be one student who will challenge you on this policy if you never told him that he had to enter the room in a clam manner and take his seat.  You may not have recourse on this or other issues if it goes to administration and your policy is not in writing.

Students need structure. Students actually want structure in the classroom.  This little procedures guide is a helpful way of acquainting the students with the expectations, but it is an especially helpful guide for parents and administrators as they will be clear on your expectations and they can support you when a student deviates from the procedures.

Here are some categories to consider when creating your own Classroom Procedures:

  1. Guiding Rules
  2. Guiding Procedures
  3. Materials
  4. Announcements
  5. Lecture
  6. Critical Viewing Policies
  7. Attendance
  8. Distributing Graded Materials
  9. Grading and Grading Scale
  10. Teacher Desk, Chair, and Computer
  11. Materials for Class
  12. Heading of Papers
  13. Plagiarism
  14. How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism
  15. Restroom
  16. Food, Drinks, Gum
  17. iPods and Cell Phones
  18. Homework
  19. Closing Transition

Describe in detail the expectation you have for each heading.  For example, under the Materials heading I ask students to bring their notebook, highlighters, a pen or pencil, and completed homework.

Here is an sample of what I have written for Distributing Graded Materials and Grading:

  Distributing Graded Materials

  1. Graded materials are located in the back of the room. Each student will have a personal file where graded work will be filed.  It is up to each student to retrieve these materials periodically.
  2. I will assign teacher’s assistants to file these papers.

Grading

I will accept your late work for 50% credit.  After five days, late work is not accepted.  Grades are kept on Aeries at https://BlahBlah.com Grades are updated every two weeks.  Please turn in work on time to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date grade. I will return all on-time work no more than two weeks from the day I receive it.  Assignments on Collaborize Classroom cannotbe made up after the due date has passed.  Assignments on this site close at 11:55 P.M. on the due date.   I use the following grading scale:

  • A = 90-100%
  •  B = 80-89%
  •  C = 70-79%
  •  D = 60-69%
  •  F = 59% and below.

As I mentioned in “How to Survive the First Day of High School,” it is important to read through this information with the students on the first day of school.  Be sure to summarize the classroom expectations at the end of the document and provide a signature space for both the student and the parent.

In an effort to conserve paper, I project the four-page document for all students to see while we discuss it in class.  I do, however, make the entire document available on my website for parents to view. The students go home with a one-page summary and signature page.

Here is an unformatted version of my summary and signature page:

Classroom Procedures

Dear Parents,

This is an abbreviated version of our classroom procedures. We have discussed them in class. Please read over the rules with your student. A complete copy of the classroom procedures is available on http://www.BlahBlah.com. It is important that your student follows our classroom rules so that our class runs smoothly and each student has a chance to learn.  The following is a summary of what we have discussed in class.

Respect Yourself

  • Demonstrate respect for yourself – maintain dignified behavior.
  • Demonstrate respect for others – treat others as you want them to treat you.
  • Demonstrate respect for property – do your part to keep things clean and pleasant.
  • Turn in late make-up work before the five-day grace period. All late work will be accepted for 50% credit with the exception of Collaborize Classroom assignments for which there is no make-up.

Respect Others

  • Raise your hand to speak.
  • Be polite.
  • Enter the room in a calm, dignified manner. Take your seat.
  • Refrain from using iPods and cell phones during class.  They will be confiscated and taken to security where parents may pick them up.
  • Refrain from bringing food, gum, or drinks to class.
  • Limit trips to the restroom.
  • Carry pass whenever you have permission to leave room during the class period.
  • When the teacher is instructing, listen quietly and take notes.
  • Remain in your seat until the bell.  Standing at the door is not an option.

Needed Materials

  • 70-page spiral notebooks (4 for the entire year)
  • A flash drive
  • Pens and pencils
  • College-ruled notebook paper
  • 3×5 note cards (colored or white)
  • Highlighters (different colors)
  • A donation of a box of tissues, a few pens, or a few pencils is greatly appreciated.  I also use recycled copy paper.  If you would like to donate copy paper that has a clean blank side, I would appreciate that also.  Please be sure there is no sensitive personal information or inappropriate images or words on the other side.

I have some exciting activities planned.  We are going to have a great year!! Please feel free to contact me if there are any concerns.  The school telephone number is (213) 867-5309.  My extension is 123.  My email address is BlahBlah@gmail.com.  The classroom website is http://www.BlahBlah.com.   Grades can be accessed on Aeries at https://BlahBlah.com.  The classroom website has all of the access information for grades.  I look forward to teaching your students about all of the wonderful things that literature has to offer.  I look forward to talking with you about your student’s progress.

Sincerely,

Victoria Porraz

English Teacher

Wonderful High School

*******************************************************

Classroom Procedures for Mrs. Porraz

Student/ Parent Signature

*******************************************************

Please sign and return this page.  This is the first assignment of the year. You will earn twelve (12) points on this ten (10) point assignment for bringing this completed page back the next day.  This page will be counted late after the first week of school.

Thank you,

Mrs. Porraz

I have read and discussed the classroom procedures with my student.  We understand that late/absent work is accepted for five days with the exception of Collaborize Classroom assignments for which there is no make-up after the due date.  We understand that iPods and cell phones are not to be used during class.  We understand that food and drinks are not to be brought into the classroom.  We understand that all work is to be completed by the student and that the student will not plagiarize.  We understand that being out of class for an extended period of time will be considered tardy.  We understand that students are to show respect for themselves, as well as other students, and the teacher.  We understand that my student will come to class with all completed assignments and materials.  We understand that an education is a partnership among the student, parent or guardian, and the teacher and we will contact the teacher whenever we have questions or concerns about the success of my student.

Student Name: ____________________________________________________

(Please print student name)

Student

Signature: ________________________________________________________________

Date: __________________________

Parent/Guardian Name(s):_________________________________________________________

(Please print parent/guardian name)

Parent/Guardian

Signature: ________________________________________________________________

Date: _________________________

Email address: ________________________________________________________________

(Please add an email address if you would like to be contacted by email regarding your child’s progress.  Email is the best way for me to make contact with you; however, I will make telephone calls during my prep period or after school.)

**********

I hope this is a helpful document. Please let me know how this works for you 🙂 I am excited to hear about your first day of school.

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How to Survive the First Day of High School—A Few Helpful Tips for Teachers

I have been teaching since 2001, yet every year I get the same nauseated feeling on the first day of school. I am very excited to meet a new group of kids and to have great experiences in the new year, but no matter how well prepared I am, the nervous butterflies still invade.  One thing that helps me get through the rough first day is having a great plan. I have developed this plan bit by bit throughout the years and I have come to have a more comfortable, and a bit less nauseating, opening day.

There is some preparation needed before the first day of school:

  • Place a sticky note or tape scratch paper on the corner of each desk.  Each sticky note will be numbered with a Sharpie or large marker. I have 40 desks in my room, so my desks are numbered 1 through 40.
  • Cut twenty-3×5 note cards in half. Number the note cards 1 through 40 using a Sharpie. Reserve the remainder of the cards for later use.
  • Make a map of the layout of the classroom desks. Print a copy of this layout for each period of the day and an extra set to rewrite student names at the end of the day.

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On the first day it is important to greet each student at the door. Meet the students with a clipboard, a roster, and the numbered note cards. Ask each student his last name and hand him a random numbered note card. Write the number of his card on the roll sheet to mark this student present. Instruct him to find the seat that matches his card. Check in the next student, give her a numbered card, and instruct her to find her matching seat number.

I find this initial process to be very helpful for a few reasons.

  1. The students feel welcomed with the face to face greeting at the door. This initial greeting goes a long way with building a classroom family.
  2. Randomizing the note cards as the students enter the room helps break up a group of friends who were planning to sit together and chat during class.  This also separates the doting couples without putting anyone on the spot.
  3. For the student who is new or who does not have many friends in the class, this process gives her an immediate assigned seat without making her feel that she has to ask a nearby student if the desk is taken or saved for a friend.

This process takes a bit of time, as you will find a line forming outside of your door, but each student gets a personal greeting from me on the first day of school.  I am sure they are nervous too.

  • Collect the cards once everyone is checked in and seated. Use the cards again for each period of the day. Late students will be assigned to the remaining seats. If the classroom is large and the class is small, arrange the note cards so that seats near the front are taken first.
  • Give the map of the classroom to the student nearest you. Point out the location of his seat on the map and have him write in his first and last name. Instruct the rest of the class to follow the same instruction.  By the end of the class period you will have a complete seating chart. Use the roster and a blank classroom map to recopy student names. I recommend copying the seating chart in pencil. This seating system sometimes needs tailoring to meet specific student needs such as proximity to the board.
  • Take roll one more time so you can see the face that belongs to the name. This is the time that kids ask me to call them by a nickname or a middle name instead of a full name. Write a note of this on the roster.
  • Give or project a copy of the classroom expectations as you discuss each important element of the expectations. Be sure to have at least a summary page of the expectations that is sent home for students and parents to sign.
  • Give a handout or project the expectations for the course, such as the types of books or articles read in class. Briefly discuss grammar and vocabulary expectations.
  • Ask students to fill out a 3×5 note card with their class schedule on one side. The other side should contain student and parent contact information including address, phone numbers, and email addresses. It is important to ask the students to supply the last name of the parent, as parent last names do not always match student last names. I take this information home to use if I cannot access our district grade program with contact information.
  • Students will create the tabs for their files. Pass out small cube sticky notes and clear plastic file tabs and instruct kids to fold the sticky note into thirds. Ask them to write their last name and then first name on the folded sticky note and push the paper into the plastic file tab. The students pass this up and I put the tabs in alphabetical order and attach the tabs to file folders that I keep at the back of the room. All graded homework, classwork, and quizzes get filed into these file folders by period.
  • Give everyone a homework assignment. For example, the older kids have a one-page argument essay to complete. The younger kids have a Shakespeare survey with a short writing portion. Give some type of writing assignment to assess the skill level in the classes.

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 Most importantly, be sure to be firm, but fair. I have heard advice about not cracking a smile until the semester, but I have a hard time being this stern for more than a day. I have found that the more structure I present into the classroom atmosphere and the daily schedule, the more the kids appreciate being in my class.  Be cautious about too much structure; the kids cannot or will not think on their own. They will expect your guidance, or editing, or reminding and they won’t grow. Kids seem to respect a structure that is not too exacting. Once order is established at the beginning of the year, it keeps the rest of the year flowing smoothly.

Please let me know how this works for you 🙂 I am excited to hear about your first day.

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How to Use a 70-page Spiral Notebook in Class

The beginning of the school year is around the corner, and with it is the dread of the stack of assignments.  This is what my life looked like before I started having kids use a 70-page spiral notebook in class:

I have to look at grammar and vocabulary and notes from the movie and the book summary and the study guide questions. The assignments seem endless and then I ask kids to answer some questions at home and now the due date arrives. I secretly hope that most of the kids will not turn in the responses, but they do and now there is a stack of 165 papers to check off, record, and return. This cycle does not end because tomorrow the next assignment is due and that is 165 more papers and I did not grade yesterday’s work because my son was sick and I took him to see his doctor, then I had to make dinner, then I had to respond to parent and administrator emails before making my lunch for the next day only to begin the cycle again.

I have reduced the number of loose papers turned in to me by two-thirds by using a 70-page spiral notebook.

Here is how it works:

Begin the year by letting kids know to add a 70-page spiral notebook to their school supplies list. Older students, grades 10-12, usually find a way to obtain a notebook by the second day of school while the younger kids, grades 9 and below, have trouble obtaining a notebook. I usually supply about 20% of my ninth grade students with the first 70-page spiral notebook of the year. Our class typically uses three notebooks per year.
On the second day of school I go over the set up.

  • Student name, period, and teacher are written outside and inside of the front cover. The first two pages are blank. Students will use these pages for a personal table of contents.
  • Students will number each page in the top right-hand margin. Numbering the pages seems to be a bit of a task, so I demonstrate with my own notebook how to write page numbers on the front of each page only, not on the back.

IMG_0442

Try to modify all assignments to fit in the notebook setup. Instead of copying handouts, try projecting study questions, graphic organizers, and class notes that will be copied down or answered on a specific page in the notebook. Homework and classwork such as grammar exercises, vocabulary exercises, documentary notes, and short journal entries is done in the notebook.

  • As we come to a new assignment it is assigned the next available page in the notebook and all students should have the same assignment on the same page.IMG_0441

I keep a running log of the page numbers and the assignment titles in my notebook which students are welcome to look at to find what goes on a blank page in their notebook.  I keep all different courses in one master notebook with a tab separating each course. This log is especially helpful for absent students on their return.
For example, I have a daily assignment called Cartoon Words. The students are to come into the classroom, sit down, and begin copying the Cartoon Word of the day. I ask everyone to put this on page 1. I demonstrate how to create a chart on page 1 so that they can fit all ten daily words on one page. Now everyone in the class has Cartoon Words on page 1. What goes on page 2? Anything you want.  After the Cartoon Word, I may ask students to grab a grammar book and work on an exercise. I will tell students to use page 2 for the grammar exercise. Next, we might work on vocabulary. I will tell students to use page 3 for the vocabulary exercise.

  • Let kids know a few days before notebook collection so that they have time to work on any blank pages. Consider making the grading an easy ten points per page, but perhaps allow a five-point page for half of the effort. I try to collect notebooks when the students have completed between fifteen and twenty pages. I grade for completion only. I have tried to go over each page to check for correctness or grammar, but it is overwhelming and time consuming. I try to get the notebooks back the next day so that the class can work on the next day’s assignments.

There are a few negatives to this system.

  1. Some students will copy another student’s notebook, however; if I sent a worksheet home that will be copied too, hence my check only for completion. After many years of sticking to principle, I have learned to pick my battles and this is not a winning battle even if I receive 165 loose pages per day. I have used date stamps or cute teacher stamps to try to curb the copying as I walk around the room, but some assignments do not allow me to give this instant check.
  2. Some students simply cannot afford to purchase a notebook. I try to get a few dozen notebooks at Back to School sales and give them discreetly to students who cannot purchase one. If I have no notebooks to give I staple twenty pages of notebook paper together and that becomes the notebook.
  3. Someone always “loses” his notebook. There are not many, but there are always one or two “lost” notebooks. In these cases I excuse the assignment the first time it happens, but the second time it is a missing assignment and counts against the grade.  Students quickly catch on that “losing” the notebook or letting someone “borrow” their notebooks is a bad idea, especially on a due date or if I allow open notes on a test day. Too bad. Late notebooks are late and there is no makeup for not having notes in class on test day.

There are quite a few more positives to this system.

  1. It allows me to schedule a time to collect notebooks that does not interfere with other assignments or classes.
  2. It keeps the kids responsible and working during class time, especially as I cruise through the room with my teacher stamps.
  3. All of the assignments are in one place, and no one accuses me of losing an assignment.
  4. My assignment pile is reserved for in-class essays or something that does not work well in the notebook.
  5. There is no late work or make-up work. Everything that goes in the notebook can be done at home with the textbook. If I have given class notes and the student was absent, I give him a website to take notes on his own or tell him to ask a friend if he can see the class notes—I know, back to the cheating issue.
  6. We can pick up in the same place where we left off the day before without the fuss of looking for yesterday’s notes.
  7. The kids learn a valuable note-taking lesson. They quickly learn to use a different notebook for each class and how to organize their notes by date or page number.  The notebook can be a valuable tool even in college.

The best thing about the notebook is that a teacher can make it as simple or complicated as she would like. I know of some teachers who ask students to tape handouts or charts onto pages in the notebook.  If you choose to have students add items to the notebook pages, I recommend using tape and not staples. The staples cut into the other pages and make the writing surface of the other pages lumpy and uneven.

Please let me know how this works for you. I am interested to know about the modifications you have made for your classroom 🙂

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