I loved the way my classroom functioned. My students executed our routines and their classroom jobs efficiently. I did school work on the weekends about once a quarter, but other than that, my weeknights and weekends were work-free.
So when the Virginia governor closed all public schools in March 2020, to say I was devastated would be a huge understatement.
Throughout the virtual, concurrent, and then in-person learning that followed, I strayed from many of the things I learned in the 40 Hour Workweek program.
Many of my routines couldn’t be carried out with social distancing. For several years, I’ve handed out report cards and that’s it! Every time I passed out a paper this year, I thought, “This should be a student job.”
I was pretty unhappy in my classroom and was struggling through hoping next year things would be more student-centered.
Overwhelmed, I decided I had to try something different. I started getting back to some of the smaller changes I learned through the 40 Hour Club. These little changes in mindset and routine saved me time and that gave me a better attitude about my classroom.
1. Establish routines and coach them to perfection.
My students know that when they come into the room, they have two minutes to write down the homework assignment in their planner. As soon as this is done, they start their warm-up, which is some sort of review or skill-building activity designed to take anywhere from three to five minutes.
When the timer goes off, I come around with a stamp to confirm that what they wrote in their planner is accurate. When the timer goes off again, we start class together. This routine gives me time to take attendance and gives me a few minutes to collect my thoughts between classes.
A few years ago, we had a security guard that would come to classes in the morning and when she came into my room she’d whisper, “Oh, are they taking a quiz?” when the students were simply doing their warm-up. The first few weeks of the year, I recognize students who are following the routine by saying things like, “I see Shaun remembers the routine. Thank you, Shaun,” etc. It doesn’t take long to get everybody on task, and I rarely get that email reminding me to submit attendance!
2. Create the habit of putting roster numbers on assignments.
Our learning management system automatically alphabetizes digital assignments. I had forgotten just how much time it takes to enter scores of paper assignments when I have to scroll to different parts of the roster.
Getting back in roster number mode made a huge difference. I can get any paper-based assignment in alphabetical order very quickly and directly into the online gradebook with minimal scrolling and clicking. I have to remind students of their number for the first few times but after a week or so of consistently hearing me say, “name, bell, date, roster number at the top of your paper,” everybody gets the hang of it.
This seems like a tiny change, but it makes record keeping so much easier.
3. Simplify grading by using rubrics or a checkmark system.
I used to think rubrics were just too much trouble. They were hard to make and even harder to arrive at a grade because they were so subjective. But with practice, this has become my preferred method of grading, for large and small assignments.
I really like Angela’s one-trait rubric for ideas and content. Other aspects of writing are important but not within my social studies standards to grade. I just need students to communicate what they know about my content.
For homework or classwork, I use a simple checkmark system which is really just shorthand for a very basic rubric. I had plans to make a nice poster, but for now, I simply wrote it out on chart paper and stuck it to my board. For these assignments, I’m looking for a few key ideas or the response to just one higher-level thinking question in order to determine the score.
Students are familiar with using rubrics to craft their answers and will often ask what they need to do on a future assignment to score higher or a student will bring me a work in progress and ask, “Is this at ‘meets standards’ or do I need to add more?”
4. Batch anything and everything.
My district recently adopted document-based assessments for social studies and I found these particularly challenging to grade until I started batching them. For example, halfway through the year, students have to write their own claim and support it with evidence and reasoning from the documents provided.
The grading moves much more quickly if I grade everyone’s claim first instead of grading an individual student’s claim, evidence, and reasoning, and then going on to the next student. Mentally shifting to different parts of the rubric slows down grading.
At home, I batch pack a week of lunches on Sunday night. I know the apple slicer is going to be clean and I can wash and slice multiple apples, sprinkle them with a fruit protector, and fill multiple little containers with peanut butter.
I make and freeze sandwiches because by my 1 PM lunch break they will be thawed and I won’t be super concerned about taste anyway! In the summer, I even fill and freeze multiple food-dispensing toys for my dog about once a week. Everyone’s happier when the food they need is ready at a moment’s notice!
5. Require a missing work form if an assignment is not turned in.
Even though students write down their assignments daily, not every assignment is completed on time. I have to turn the responsibility for tracking missing work over to the students. My directions for turning in assignments are always to either turn in the assignment or a missing work form to the designated tray for that class. I emphasize that this form is not a penalty but the student’s commitment to do the work.
My form has checkboxes to indicate why the work is not complete and has a place for the student’s signature. The bottom of the form is designed to be cut off so that students have a reminder of what they still need to do. There is a dry erase surface on the side of a filing cabinet near the late tray and I list the roster numbers for late assignments in each class on the cabinet. When students turn in the work, they erase their numbers.
6. Stop spending hours looking for the best activity.
In my building, several teachers have resigned or retired during this school year and we’ve had plenty who have been out sick for extended time periods. As a result, if I’m present and my students can see that the activities they are doing are helping them learn, they’re happy!
My district requires students to read using a reading strategy for at least 10 minutes each class period. I choose a good article and use a simple graphic organizer that students can draw themselves or I batch copy favorites to keep on hand. One of my 7th graders actually said this week, “Oh, yes! I love the three-column chart!”
While these changes seemed minor compared to all the other wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of the 40 Hour Workweek program, they were the perfect adjustments for this school year. Next year, I hope to be back to my full-scale student job. Until then, these little changes have saved me time and energy, which gave me the mental bandwidth needed to cope with other challenges of this year.
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