Some years, I’m so ready to come back to work after break, to get back to a daily routine. Some years – like this one – I just wish there could be just a few more days without alarm clocks and emails.
It’s a good time of year anyway to reassess and reboot, so I’m grateful for the chance to remind myself of what works and what matters and to get back and off to a good start.
1. Look Forward
Think ahead to the units and subjects that you’ll be teaching later this school year. Explore Pinterest and your favorite education sites for lesson ideas. Google the subject and look for resources that might be interesting and useful. Find things that excite you and that catch your attention – and that may do the same for your students.
Set up a time to meet with others, especially those at other schools, who teach similar content. Have coffee, bring brownies and share your favorite ideas. The best ideas often come through collaboration.
2. Know Your Students Better
The best classroom management comes from having respectful relationships with students – getting to know each of them as individuals. Ask them about their holiday break time, give them a chance to talk or write about their goals or resolutions for the year. The more you know about your students, the better you’ll be able to connect with them and make their learning relevant to their lives.
Use mid-year testing and end-of-semester exams to truly assess what your students have learned so far this year and what they are ready for next. We can’t assume that just because you taught the content that the students learned it. Find out what they really know and understand and plan future instruction based on what they need.
3. Avoid the Worksheet Trap
It can be really easy in the rush to plan lessons from day to day to fall into the routine of assigning yet another worksheet or page from the textbook. Students need to practice new skills, but there are many ways they can practice, and possibly making greater connections between the skills and “real life,” that don’t result in a never-ending pile of papers for you to grade.
- Mini White Boards – Have students respond to the practice problems by writing their answer on a small white board (or on a heavy duty page protector with a piece of blank paper inside). Students then hold up their answers for you to see. This gives you a chance to find out what they really know so you can adjust tomorrow’s lesson, if needed.
- Student Self-Assessment – Use rubrics or checklists and have students assess their own work.
- Projects and Hands-On Activities – Seek out opportunities to make student practice more kinesthetic and novel, which also makes the content easier for students to remember. For example, if students are learning about capacity measurements, give them a gallon of dry rice and empty quart, pint, cup and other containers. Have them measure the rice to figure out the conversions.
- Have fun! Turn the assignment into a game, use an instructional strategy designed to get kids out of their seats, or add manipulatives or resources that will help catch kids’ attention and make students’ time in class more enjoyable for them and for you.
4. Grade as You Go
For those days when students are practicing skills on a worksheet or other assignment paper, turn that assignment into a formative assessment by grading as students work.
“Grade as You Go” is one of my favorite teaching strategies because it’s so easy to implement, and it saves me a ton of grading time.
As students work, circulate around the classroom. Have a small stamp or stamp marker in hand. Look over whatever work each student has completed and stamp the answers that are correct. This way, students know immediately what they are doing correctly, and they have a chance to go back and try again – a much better way for them to learn than for them to continue to practice the skill incorrectly.
I especially like doing this when students are working with partners, so that when they do have an incorrect answer, they can talk through it together, further reinforcing the skill.
And then, when students turn the assignments in, the grading is pretty much done! Yeah!
5. Take Time
It is Friday. Which means that tomorrow is Saturday. Plan time this weekend to do something that you truly love to do. Even better, plan to do as little as possible. Enjoy the time you have!