Podcast

TnT 88 How to set up your lesson planning for student success

Once the holidays hit, it can be a time of panic for teachers. With a quick glance at their pacing guide, they realize that they’re more behind than they’d anticipated. They ask themselves: Do I have enough time to cover everything I was supposed to? Am I on track? If I didn’t get to everything, how am I going to cram it all in? These are questions that at some point we all ask ourselves, and it can be scary. However, with careful and purposeful planning, you can still get to most of what’s left and better yet, get those things to stick.

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TnT 87 How to tackle organization when you’re naturally disorganized

Imagine if teaching only involved the part where you’re interacting with students. Things would be much easier, right? But the reality is that there are so many facets of teaching that pull at us, and unless you’re hyper-organized, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by it all. I know that there are many of you that are FAR more organized than I am, but I really want to help out the rest of us that are too frazzled or absent-minded to be that way. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to keep my organization in check and at a manageable level, and I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned along the way. 

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As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m not a very organized person by nature. Now before you peace out because you don’t want to take advice from someone like me, remember that the people that are hyper-organized don’t understand why you can’t get it together. I do understand and have battled with this, and because I’ve pushed past it, I’m exactly the person you should take advice from!

 

So a lot of you really like planners, and I’ve seen so many people invest in those gorgeous Erin Condren planners. I personally LOVELOVELOVE to buy planners! I remember going to Michael’s and geeking out on the Happy Planner and all of the accessories that go with it. I bought washi tape, fun pens, cute little post-its, and everything else that you can use to pimp out your planner.

 

Here’s the thing: I LOVE to buy planners but I never, ever use them. I’ll try it for a month, and then I’ll stop using it. And I’ve invested literally hundreds of dollars over the years in planners that I never use.

 

In fact, my daughter laughs at me when I ooh and ahhh over planners and literally pulls me away. She says, “Mom, you’re not going to use it and you know it.” And I’ll say, “But look, it’s so pretty! If it’s THAT pretty I’ll use it!” To which she’ll reply, “When was the last time you used a planner for an entire year?”

 

And she has a point! The last time I successfully used a planner was in college some twenty years ago. So yeah, buying a planner is a waste. Plus, I have to actually remind myself to use it. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of it?

 

But if you’re a die-hard planner person and can use it, then I highly encourage you to do so. Planners are such an effective tool for staying on top of things when there are so many balls in the air. I obviously won’t recommend one because I can’t stick to one, but I cast no judgment on how much or how little you spend on one.

 

So what do I use instead? Technology.

 

I’m an Mac and Apple nerd, and the fact that the devices sync with each other is really helpful. If I was an Android user, I’d probably use more Google Apps because I already use them a lot on my iPhone.

 

I make lists on the Notes app, use Reminders, and put all dates on the Calendar. I only use the native apps on my phone because I don’t find it necessary to pay for anything.

 

I used to not have a system in terms of planning. Every year I’d have to spend hours rebuilding what I did the previous year, and for whatever reason, I always want to change things up. Sound familiar?

 

So my first step towards solving this conundrum is I took a paper monthly calendar, went through the calendar in JupiterEd (which is the learning management system I’ve used for YEARS) and the assignments in Google Classroom from the previous years, and wrote down what I did and when. I needed a visual for what I had done before so that I could always come back to it. If you use a paper planbook, then you can do that too.

 

Next, I started to transition to creating notes in the Notes app with my schedule for the week or month. I’d put what I’d teach each day for each period, and it gave me the flexibility to adjust as needed.

 

I know some people who use Google Docs for this. The reason why I used the Notes app is because it didn’t require the internet to get my Notes, and unless I set my list as being able to edit offline, Google Docs requires internet. And while I usually have good service or Wifi, I don’t want to have to deal with it if I don’t. Also, in the Notes app I can create folders, while you have to make folders in Google Drive and then put the Google Docs in there.

 

There’s also Google Keep, which is just like the Notes app. If I didn’t have Notes, I’d be using Keep because it’s very intuitive and is a little bit easier to hyperlink to online files.

 

This year, I’m trying out something new by putting the agenda for each day on a Google Slide, and I have a set of slides for each quarter. I have a slide for each day with the periods listed since I have more than one prep. I used to put the Google Drive links with the resources I used in the speaker notes section of each slide, but honestly, I’ve kind of slacked off on that part. 

 

In any case, this method helps me stay organized, and ideally, I can just reuse these slides next year with new dates. I’m basically trying to make it so that I don’t have to do any planning next year unless I feel compelled to. I don’t want to slave away at planning anymore, especially if what I’m doing this year is effective. I mean, unless you hate what you did last year, you can just reuse everything with minor tweaks. That will save you a LOT of time while also keeping you organized! 

 

And another way to cut down on planning the next year is to take notes after a lesson that you know needs to be better next time. For example, if you need more or less time next year, write that down. If the activity didn’t help the kids learn what they needed to do, write that down so that you can find a replacement.

 

So there’s definitely work upfront, but it means that with each subsequent year, it’ll become easier and easier because you’ll have a system down.

 

The next part of being organized is your classroom. I have a unique advantage this year in that I don’t have my own room. It might seem like a nightmare, but traveling to different rooms means that I have to be very strategic in terms of what I take with me. I’ve opted out of getting a teacher cart and basically have a few bags. And I’ve been more organized than ever before!

 

So think about what it is that you really, truly need on your desk. I’m all for having photos of your family, friends, and pets. But do you really need all of the desktop organizational systems? How often do you reach for what’s in it? Can it have its own bin in a drawer so that you don’t have to look at it all of the time?

 

In terms of what’s on your desk, try to keep it to things that you find yourself reaching for frequently. This could be post-its, pens, pencils, tape, stapler, and a pencil sharpener. The more you stuff you pile on your desk, the less real estate you have to actually work!

 

If you can, take advantage of drawers in your desk, and if you don’t have any, you can buy one of those rolling drawer systems for supplies like rubber bands and white-board markers. But having a desk that is relatively clutter-free will help your sanity and level of organization.

Now let’s talk about bins. I know a lot of teachers with a TON of bins that are filled with stuff they never use anymore. What’s the point of that? The more stuff you have in your room the less room you have for teaching. You don’t need to cover every space with something, and in fact, too much clutter is also distracting for students.

 

So the more storage you give yourself in your room, the more likely you’re going to fill it with things that you don’t need anymore. In my End-of-the-year Sanity Saver course, I have an exercise where you pack up your stuff in preparation for summer cleaning. This is the perfect time to get rid of stuff that you know you won’t use because you haven’t

 

When I moved out my classroom, I got rid of a LOT of stuff and pared down everything to about five small boxes. And now that I’ve traveled and know what I truly need, I know that I’m going to get rid of even more stuff at the end of this year. But what if I get my own classroom again? I still know that I don’t need so much stuff to do a good job.

 

You also want to think about where you put things down. This could be student work, paperwork or forms you have to fill out, mail, supplies for kids to use, etc. Does the location of those items truly make sense? Are the bins for submitting work in an easily accessible place for students? Is your paperwork and mail pile somewhere where you won’t’ look at it? Do you have stacks of items that are randomly pushed the side of a table that will be dealt with eventually?

 

The reason why I ask this is that everything that one can set down somewhere needs to have a purposeful place. If you have random stacks of things or you just pile everything on your desk, you’ll become overwhelmed and never get to it. You’re going to find yourself behind on paperwork, losing student work, and having a lot of things just collecting dust.

 

So you need to come up with a system so that everything that gets set down has a home. And stick to using that home for only those things.

 

Now notice that I didn’t give you a system or suggestions on how to do this. This is because whatever system you use, you have to own it. I’ve read and heard about so many different ways to organize a classroom, but if it doesn’t work for me, I won’t use it. So you need to really know yourself and what makes sense for you and stick to it. If you want to try something out, then do it, and get feedback from your students as well as to how it’s working.

 

And let students help you! If you need assignments alphabetized for easy grading, having someone do that. If you need someone to check off who’s submitted an assignment so that you can hunt down the ones who haven’t, then do that. You have students that really want to help and feel important, and who are naturally organized, so tap into that. When they take ownership of the classroom, that gives you more mental bandwidth to focus on teaching.

 

Finally, I want to do a refresher on making use of your non-teaching time. I’ve talked about this several times before, but I think it’s important to reiterate a few things.

 

First, if you think you have no extra time, then for a week or two, write down exactly what you do every hour that you’re NOT physically teaching. This could be social media, eating, grading, planning, answering emails, etc. I know this seems tedious, but it’s really important to get a clear picture of where all of your time is going. And be honest with yourself – there should be no shame involved. You’re doing this so that you can increase the amount of free time you have outside of your duty day and spend more time taking care of yourself.

 

So take a good look at this and figure out where you’re wasting time. You might think that you’re working really hard after school, but instead, you’re chatting with your neighbor, playing words with friends, and scrolling on Instagram. Which is TOTALLY fine, but then we have to be honest with ourselves about why we feel like we don’t have enough time in the day.

 

Once you’ve figured out your time-wasters, you need to start actually scheduling what you’re going to do with the hours outside of teaching. If you have a one-hour planning period, decide what you’re going to do during that time on each day. And batch activities so that you’re not wasting time switching between them. So save your photocopying for one or two days and grading on another.

And stick to your schedule as much as possible. If you schedule the gym, go. If you schedule family time, don’t work. If you schedule grading, stay off of social media. It’s really hard to be committed to this, but you have to remember that the ultimate goal is to be more organized and have more free time.

I personally get to work about 15-20 minutes before school starts. This is the time when I answer emails in bulk. One of the benefits is that I can do this rather efficiently, plus my email ends up at the top of the recipient’s mailbox. Of course, if there’s an urgent or time-sensitive email I’ll answer it at other times, but sticking to a schedule makes it easier for me to be in one zone at a time.

I also make really good use of my planning period and our advisory. I try not to go on social media during that time unless I want to give a quick update on Instagram or my Teachers Need Teachers Facebook group, but otherwise, I work really hard to get things done.

You’re going to find a system that works for you, but just know that the only person who can give you back your time is you. If you waste time, then obviously you won’t have any left to do the things that really matter to you.

And the benefit of being purposeful with organization and your time is that when you finally have time for yourself, you can be truly present. I can’t take back the time I spent on my computer grading or planning when I should have been hanging out with my daughter. And now that she’s a teenager, she’d rather be with her friends.

But when she was 7, she wanted to play with me. She wanted to go on walks with me. But not, mommy was too busy, so let me put something on the TV so that she can be distracted instead of distracting me. I have a tremendous amount of guilt about this and really wish that I’d done things differently, which is why this topic is so darn important to me.

Now, maybe you don’t have a child, but you can think of this the same way with the time you spend making friends, spending time with the ones you have, dating, etc. Unless you’re truly purposeful about it, you can neglect a lot of important people in your life or miss opportunities for some really great memories.

And maybe you need a side hustle but you can’t find the time. Staying on top of organization this way will allow you to do that successfully without burning you out.

So I know I covered a lot today, and I hope you can walk away with at least one or two strategies to be more organized. I also have the transcript for this episode at teachersneedteachers.com/87 if you want to remember what I covered without listening to the episode again.

And remember that I’m still going to be releasing episodes, but they’re going to be ones I did in the past that you guys have found to be the most useful. But if you don’t want to miss my returning episode, be sure to hit that subscribe or follow button.

And as always, please share this with your colleagues and professional learning network. Share it on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook…and let other teachers know how much it’s helped you! Most podcast apps make it really easy to do that! Let’s work together to build a huge community of new teachers that are benefiting from the advice I share here!

Thanks again for hanging out with me today, and have a fabulous week.

TnT 86 How Open Middle Math lessons can get your students addicted to math

Math tends to be one of those subjects that kids either understand and love or are completely befuddled by and hate. New math teachers often find themselves struggling between teaching procedures versus concepts. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of controversy in terms of which way leads to greater student success. In this interview, Robert Kaplinsky of openmiddle.com lets us in on why Common Core is given such a bad rap, the concept of Open Middle Math (and if you’re a math teacher who hasn’t heard of it, you’re in for a treat), and then we both get into the complicated discussion of grading.

Where to find Robert:

Open Middle Math

RobertKaplinsky.com

Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

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TnT 85 How to set yourself up for success with station rotations

In the last episode, we covered why teachers should incorporate station rotations into their teaching, the logistics of planning for them, and how they can help with differentiation and classroom management. But if you’ve done them in the past and they were a disaster, chances are you didn’t set them up properly. Today I bring Laura Kebart back to discuss how to use stations for small group instruction as well as how to train your students so that your stations are a success.

Where you can find Laura:

languageartsteachers.com

The station rotation freebie:

languageartsteachers.com/easystations

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TnT 84 Why station rotations can positively impact your teaching practice

A lot of teachers have different strategies for cooperative learning or to facilitate more engaging learning experiences. One that most know of and not enough try is station rotations. I’d seen these done with various teachers and even dipped my toe in a bit, but I wanted to know more about how to do them effectively. So I invited my friend, Laura Kebart from languageartsteachers.com, who is an expert on making stations fit within the context of your class. We go into what stations are, why we should use them, how to group students, how to create an assignment that lends itself to stations, how to make them work in a 45-minute period, classroom management, AND grading.

Where you can find Laura:

languageartsteachers.com

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Kim  

I’m super excited about this episode because not only do I want to learn more about stations, I want to try to convince you to give them a shot as well. I’m always looking for ways for students to stay engaged and to create deeper learning experiences for them. And I think stations are really going to change up how I do things. 

 

Kim  

Well, thank you, Laura, so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.

 

Laura  

Oh my gosh, I’m so happy to be here. Kim, happy to talk to you and we’re ready to go. Yeah.

 

Kim  

So about a year ago, actually, you were on the podcast. And you know, we have you back with For those who haven’t heard that episode that you were on, could you tell my listeners more about what you do?

 

Laura  

Oh, sure, yes. So I serve middle school English language arts teachers by providing full curriculum and instructional coaching. So that involves embedding, reading, writing, speaking, listening all those skills into the lessons, and I work with teachers all across the country at this point who either have no resources, or they have too many resources and lots of flexibility. And you know, teachers who were told Oh, just teach the standard, you’ll be fine. Well, what does that mean? 

 

Laura  

And so I provide those resources and that instructional coaching to them and I do it in a way that’s completely realistic. I really take the whole teacher into account when I’m providing advice or instructional coaching in other words, what’s your what’s going on with your family at home? What do you like to do on the weekends? What’s happening in your life outside of school, so that I’m always providing information and resources that make sense for them where they are. 

 

Laura  

So I will never tell a teacher you need to put together this whole project, it’s going to, you know, you ever been to those workshops and conferences and you think, wait, if I was actually going to do that, that would take hours every night, right? And, you know, so I just I never offer that kind of advice. So I serve in a very realistic way. The teachers you know, who are in our membership, so I serve these teachers through membership so that I can provide consistent support and resources every month all year long.

 

Kim  

And what’s great about that is I’ve always recommended to my listeners, especially when they’re starting out to not create their own lessons, because it just it takes a long time, number one and number two, you kind of don’t really know what’s going to work. I think that it’s better to you use other people’s lessons that are vetted and that have worked in the past, you know, they’ve worked out all the kinks. 

 

And with a subscription service like yours for middle school, la Teachers, that overwhelm of Okay, am I covering all of the standards? Am I, you know, doing everything that I’m supposed to do? And then they still have to grade? And then they still have to answer parent emails. 

 

So when you use somebody else’s resources, it just takes one more step in this step that takes up a lot of time. And I think it also helps eliminate that Sunday fear, where what am I going to do tomorrow? Well, if you are using your service, it’s like here, this is what you’re going to do for the next month. You know, it’s already planned out and they don’t have to worry, that’s one less thing for them to worry about.

 

Laura  

Yeah, it’s true and it opens up so much bandwidth, to be able to actually build relationships with your students. So instead of thinking about all the things you’ve got to do, and the random Random resources online and you know, spread out all over the place. You’re trying to kind of Frankenstein your plans together, or you have no resources and you’re trying to invent something scratch that takes so much emotional and mental bandwidth. And then you’re doubting yourself, Is this enough? And, you know, we’re Teachers, it’ll never be enough. 

 

Laura  

So we put that pressure on ourselves. But you know, to have that part, taken off your plate opens up so many more possibilities to just get to know your kids and to build those relationships. And, you know, rather than focusing on what is going to happen the next day in class, because now you’re out of lesson plans, or you don’t have anyone to ask about it, so right. I really enjoy serving in that way.

 

Kim  

Now, the reason why I brought you back this time, is because I want to know more about stations. I’ve heard of other teachers using stations. I tried it in the beginning of the year, and it was really cool. My students were into it, but I still kind of feel like I could be better about it. I don’t know, I was a little bit overwhelmed with it, it was actually super exhausting. So for those of us that either have never used stations or maybe we’ve only dabbled Can you explain how they work?

 

Laura  

To answer that question, so much of what we think about stations comes from seeing how they’re supposed to look after months and months and months of prep time. Or it’s like seeing the final product and not understanding what it takes to get there. And nobody really talks about what it takes to get there. So I know for me, I’ve been through you know, so many workshops and professional developments just like everyone else, and you know, stations, this is what you’re doing and they show you what it’s supposed to look like, but there’s nothing about how to get there. 

 

Laura  

So people who have never used stations, what it is is stations allow students to work for a very specific amount of time. On a very focused piece of content, and then they rotate to another type of work, they can physically get up and go to another table where that next assignment is already there for them. Or if you have a large class or a wonky class, and you don’t want them giving up, because we’ve all been there, um, sometimes the students stay seated and the work itself can rotate. 

 

Laura  

So the point is that students have a very specific amount of time to work on a very focused piece of content. And that’s what makes it so different from just group work. You think well, how’s it different from group work, but group were kind of has a, I don’t know, kind of a connotation that there’s no real star, there’s no real and everyone’s kind of working together and you end up with the one kid who writes in the other, just kind of sit there and you know, gets out of hand. So stations are a lot more strategic is what it is, and it allows for differentiation, which we can get into later. But that’s really the way to think about it is that it’s a special civic amount of time, the students are working on a very specific assignment.

 

Kim  

Okay, so it sounds like you’re more of a proponent for stations compared to just regular group work.

 

Laura  

In most cases, it depends on what you want to happen. So if you want to use stations in other words, if you want your students to slow down, you know you’ve got these fast workers, right? I’m done after five seconds. If you want students to really focus on one thing at a time, give their best effort. If you want your students to not feel overwhelmed. If you want your students to feel successful with just one thing at a time, then that stations now group work there’s nothing wrong with group work. 

 

Laura  

But if your intention is I just need my kids to work together in groups because I’ve got a splitting headache and it’s Friday and it’s 240. Go for it. That’s fine. You know, or if it really is a group project, and you need your students working in groups on the project, that may be a different situation, but stations are just a lot more strategic. And they really allow the teacher to differentiate without doing a whole lot of extra work. So group work is not going to have much differentiation involved. Not typically, you know, and I don’t want to say never, because I know there’s someone out there who will argue, and that’s not the point. It’s just that stations are very, very strategic, whereas group work is a lot more open.

 

Kim  

Okay, so then what do I need to take into consideration in terms of like the classroom layout and how I split up the students to make stations more efficient and make them work better?

 

Laura  

Yeah, and you know, this is going to depend on your group of students, it’s going to depend on the time of day, you may have to approach stations a little bit differently, let’s say after lunch, then maybe before lunch, but it’s you know, you have to think about how many minutes you have in your class period. You’ve got to think about the behaviors in each class, the student dynamics, really looking at which students work well together, which ones don’t. 

 

Laura  

And so, you know, it’s interesting, because we may have listeners right now who are thinking, well wait a second, it should depend on reading level, it should depend on, you know, Lexile or, well, yes, we’re going to get to that as we go. But when you’re just getting started with stations, none of those other things matter. If your students are not working, if they’re not working the way they should, if they’re not getting along with each other, those other pieces don’t matter. So when we’re starting out, we need to consider how much time we actually have for stations per day. And which students work well together and which ones should never be together because that’s just the reality. Right?

 

Kim  

And then is there a better layout for the physical movement that you’ve seen like? Should everyone be at opposite corners of the room or

 

Laura  

Do you know what I mean? I do yeah, I know what you’re saying. And again, that’s going to depend on your students. As you get to know your students throughout the year. You’ll know which ones are okay. Kind of back in a corner working and you know which ones you would never have. Okay over there on that part of the room. When we’re getting started with stations, though, I do want everyone sitting in a chair. Now if you know flexible seating, that’s different, but I need to see all of my students I need to be able to see what they’re doing. I want everything out in the open. 

 

Laura  

And then as we move through the year as I get used to the stations, as the students are getting used to the stations as they’re working up to my standards, then I can start to be more flexible. Yes, you three can go and sit on the pillows over there. Yes, it’s fine for you to go over, you know what I mean? But starting out, I’m I recommend being a little bit more strict about it. 

 

Laura  

You just want to make sure that Visually you can see and hear your students and get to them quickly as you’re going through those initial setup, you know, set up procedures for training them on stations. And I mean, we can talk about how to train your students for stations too. But okay, yeah, but for the layout, I really want my students to have space to work, and I need to be able to see and hear what’s going on.

 

Kim  

Right. And so now if I decide that, you know, I haven’t figured out in my head, like how the layout is going to be and who can go where what should I consider when I’m creating an assignment for stations?

 

Laura  

Oh, my gosh, that’s a great question. So well, first of all, whatever the assignment is at that station, is it the type of assignment the students have actually done before in your class? So Well, yes, they’ve done vote. Yes, we do vocabulary every week, okay. But is this a totally different way? that they’re using the vocabulary because if so, That’s it’s going to bring up some questions. And so the point of stations is that ultimately you need to get your kids to the point where they can work independently the other institutions, but you know what I mean, they can work independently, without having to ask the teacher a question every two seconds, it really needs to be an assignment that they’ve done before, or that’s very, very similar to what they’ve done before. 

 

Laura  

So when you’re getting started with stations, give them something to do that is very similar to what you’ve done before. So maybe, maybe it’s annotations. Let’s say you’ve been working on poetry annotations. So you know that they can do it whole class, you feel confident that they can handle it. They’ve done it before they’ve seen the work before. So give them a very similar assignment. Something that’s been done before that’s really important. Do they know what their work is supposed to look like? So again, if it’s a similar, you know, if it’s an assignment that similar to what they’ve done before, then they know what their work is supposed to look like if you’re giving them something new. thinking, Oh, well, they’re working together, they can figure it out. They may or may not figure it out. And they may or may not use that as a perfect excuse to not really put forth their best effort because they can always fall back on the well, we weren’t sure what to do. And we know they know that sometimes, you know, it’s just it’s so much easier when you’re starting out with stations if you do. 

 

Laura  

If you provide an assignment that is similar to what they’ve done before, they need to know what their work is supposed to look like as well, which goes back to your expectations, right? So you know, and when we’re creating an assignment for stations, it’s, it’s important that students know what to do when they’re done. So let’s say you’ve got a short 45-minute class. And let’s say you plan on having students do you know, to 20-minute rotations, maybe that’s all you can do that day, right? Um, students need to know what to do when time is up, so or they need to know what to do if they look up and they see your timers. And they’ve still got four minutes. That’s something else to consider as well. 

 

Laura  

So if you’re creating an assignment for stations and you know, they’re only going to have 20 minutes, is the assignment going to be too long? Is it maybe not long enough? Or do you have procedures in place? So the students know what to do next? Or where do they put their work? How do they submitted to you. So those are definitely some things to consider when you’re setting up an assignment for stations. And on that note, when you’re first starting out with stations, I recommend actually giving all of your I’m going to use the word groups here. I recommend giving all of your groups the same assignment because when you’re first training your students, it’s not even about the assignment. It’s about making sure they know what to do without you. Making sure that they know what to do if they finish a little bit early, or what to do. If you know the timer goes off, and they’re not done yet, what the quality of work looks like and so you That’s the other thing too, that is so much easier for teachers starting out with stations. 

 

Laura  

It’s like we’re taught that we need, you know, eight stations in the room and every station is something different. And that’s how we get started, oh my gosh, no. Start with however many groups you need. And just give them all the same assignment because we’re not ready for differentiation yet. We’re not ready to let the kids complete and figure out everything on their own. It’s just a step. It’s a step to figure out who should never be sitting together. Are they completing the assignment with the same level of quality that they would if they were not in a station?

 

Kim  

So that answers my next call. That leads me to my next question is classroom management because, you know, you did mention like some students can and cannot handle it. And of course, that’s the reality. There’s got to be some trust built into there, but it In my mind, it kind of sounds chaotic. And how can I make sure that everyone is actually working when it appears to be complete chaos?

 

Laura  

Yes. And I know what you’re talking about. Yes, complete chaos. And this is the fear that causes many teachers to either give up very quickly on stations or don’t even try them because they don’t even want to go there. And I get that, like, why would you want more chaos to your classroom than what’s already there? So, okay, one tool, I guess that really helps ensure that all students are working, rather than doing what something they’re supposed to be doing, which brings chaos is really using your teacher station strategically. 

 

Laura  

The teacher station is it’s literally just you may be sitting down at a table, not your teacher desk unless your teacher desk is a table but it’s you as a teacher sitting down at a table with a small group of students in front of you. Maybe the goal is you want to do a mini-lesson with them. Maybe you want to extend the lesson for your more advanced students. Maybe you want to just make sure you know you’re closing some gaps, whatever the purpose is of the teacher station when you’re first starting out, you can use the teacher station very strategically to help ensure that your students are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing. So here’s the deal. 

 

Laura  

Once you feel confident that your students are completing the assignment you gave them and stations, they know what to do if they finished early, they know what to do if you know time is up, and there’s so much done. The quality of work is about where it should be. You can start using the teacher station as a classroom management tool. And so the way this works is you sit down at your teacher station and this is good. You want your students to see that sometimes you sit down and sometimes you’re up, keep them on their toes. 

 

Laura  

So when You sit down your teacher station, the first time you do this, don’t just pull up a group. Well, I need to pull my low group because I need No, don’t do that. Because what happens is now I’m not saying you don’t ever do that I’m saying this is all, in the beginning, this we’re starting out or you know. So instead of pulling one group of students to come and sit with you, so you can reteach or whatever, pull a student from each station over to you. Because what this does is you pull a whole group to you, what are all the other groups in the class thinking for about the next five or 10 minutes? You know, like, oh, we’re off the hook. Okay. She called group a good writer work, you know, but when, when you’re training your students when you’re wanting to hold them accountable for their work. There’s nothing wrong with pulling one kid from each group, pulling it from this group pulling it from that group. Call her names out, have them come to you. And when they come to you, they bring their work with them. Because this is not group work where there’s like one paper for each kid or you know, they’re working in stations, they’re working together, they’re allowed to talk with each other. But ultimately, they’re responsible for their own work. 

 

Laura  

And so when you call their names, they bring those papers to you. Or if you’re, you know, or your one to one device, whatever your situation is, but they have to bring their work to you. And so they sit down with you. And you’re just looking at the work. The point is not to create it. The point is, not to reteach something. The point is not to go in deep with something right now, the point is to get your kids get used to you calling names. They’re getting used to you holding them accountable, they know that you’re going to be looking at their work. And this is just a quick check. 

 

Laura  

And in the beginning, they’re not sitting down with you for 20 minutes. Right now. We’re still in the early stages of training our students for stations So you call, you know, four or five kids over to you. They’re all from different groups in the classroom. They come to you. And maybe you’re just checking in. Maybe you’re just looking at Oh, I noticed you skipped number two. Are you doing okay with that? That’s great, that’s a great checkpoint. Just checking. Hey, I noticed You’re almost done. And we have 14 minutes left in her station. Oh, why do you think you went so quickly? You know, or it’s not a gotcha. It’s not you’re not looking for anything to get them on. It’s just to let kids know that you are always looking, you’re always checking and they have to bring their work to you. 

 

Laura  

Oh, I noticed you don’t have anything on your paper. Tony, what’s going on? You’re not accusing them you’re not, you know, you’re just opening up that dialogue. And so, you know, listeners might now think, well wait a second, but what if we are at the point where each station is doing something different? That’s okay. You can still do this because you’re just checking in. You’re just checking in with them. This whole thing could be three, four or five minutes. That’s it, you send them back to their stations, and then maybe you call another four or five kids. 

 

Laura  

And the beauty of this too, is that when we’re talking about training our students for stations, if your students are in the station, and maybe there’s a mistake, maybe there’s a typo on your instruction sheet. Maybe they truly cannot figure something out and they’re stuck. Well, if they know that anyone from their group could be called it anytime, then they know that they’ll be able to come to you and ask a question like, well, I’m really stuck on number two. I don’t even think number two is right. I think we read this. I think mister mister mister herb is so and so. Made a mistake. Well, okay, so I’m gonna jot that down on a sticky note the next time she calls someone from our table, take that question to her. Okay, yeah. So you just turn your students into problem solvers. They can skip whatever is holding them up, they can move on. And you as a teacher doing these quick check-ins, it gives you a chance to address or questions as well, that’s really good for relationship building too.

 

Kim  

And you do get a chance to see their work and, you know, mini-conference with them to which there’s that already, you’re setting that expectation that they’re going to show you their work, and you’re going to talk to them about it.

 

Laura  

Exactly. And, you know, on that note, if you pull, you know, maybe four or five kids from random groups over to you, and if you see a red flag with one of the ones you called, it’s okay. Just you can do the check-in, send the others back. And then you can do a quick reteach or get them back on track or you know, whatever the situation is. So, you know, it just, it allows for flexibility as you and the students are figuring out this concept, this concept of stations in the classroom, you’re not locking yourself into where my kids had better be a because I’ve got to sit down with this group of students for 20 minutes because we need to do this guided reading activity or I need to get their minutes in. Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to do that. But realistically, you will be able to do that if you’re putting these other pieces in place first.

 

Kim  

Okay, so then when they’re coming, and I’m checking all of their work and have you ever experienced where students are sort of like reluctant to show you their work because they get anything done or while you’re working with the groups, other people are being off task?

 

Laura  

Absolutely. I mean, their kids, it does happen, for sure. And here’s the thing, these strategies will make a huge difference in those kids who are on the fence like they could go this way or they could go that way. But when they know you’re checking, it’s going to help them choose the right direction to go. And now are you gonna have some kids who no matter what you do, are still going to be off task. Yes, but it’s going to be much fewer and it gives you a chance to actually see you.

 

Laura  

You know, because if you’re checking in with kids and you start to notice, okay, it’s the same kid over and over or you know, in some cases, let’s be realistic, it’s the same kids over and over, you’re able to document that. And so you can have a clipboard sitting next to you and they don’t need to see what you’re writing, you know, let you know, let them wonder what you’re writing. It doesn’t matter. But, but you can start just very quickly jotting down notes about how often it happens. Who’s not working consistently like over I’m not talking about one kid one day doesn’t feel good isn’t working. I’m talking about when you start to notice those red flags over and over and over. You are covering yourself because now you’ve got documentation that proves that you’ve been checking in with your students because of course if this goes to a point where the parent says all they do is working groups, you Don’t ever check on them. That is not true. And you have documentation to back it up.

 

Kim  

Oh, that’s good. Yeah. Now how about grading? Do you grade everything that they do in the stations? Because I’ve seen the stations where there’s a different assignment for each station. And I couldn’t even get through all the grading Laura there were like eight stations, which means that times 176.

 

Laura  

No, yeah, whatever that number is no way. Okay, so two things here. First of all, if you need eight stations in your classroom, because let’s say you have that many kids, right like you’ve gotten 30-35 kids you need a station because you don’t want 10 Kids each station That’s ridiculous. If you eight stations, your classroom that does not mean that you need eight different assignments. If you could, you could have four assignments and maybe you have like, there to station to station Bs, you know what I mean to station sees. So right there that cuts the word coat and half. 

 

Laura  

The other thing too, is that you can take a regular assignment, let’s just use the example of a terribly boring 10 question worksheet, I now use the W word which everyone frowns upon. But let’s just say you have a terribly boring 10 question worksheet. Well, for stations, I mean, you can cut, cut that worksheet into five parts or cut that worksheet into four parts. And maybe each station ends up with two questions. Let’s say you only have 15 or 20 minutes for a station. Okay, we’ll let them as a station choose which of those two questions they’re going to answer. I guarantee you will get such a better answer when they’re only responding to one question. And they’ve got 15 or 20 minutes to do it. 

 

Laura  

On better be a fantastic question, especially if you’ve been working on Short answer writing if you’ve been working on, you know, restating the question from the prompt, pulling in a quote, embedding it, adding in some commentaries and text evidence to support that can easily be that one question could easily turn into a 15 or 20 minute assignment. And the focus that they’re going to put in on that question is going to be so much deeper. 

 

Laura  

So right there, we’re not talking about creating eight different activities. That’s, that’s insane. That’s the stuff that Teachers fear, I’m going to be up all night long creating these eight different station activities, because I was told I have to do station, you know, you can take something you already have and just split it up, break it apart, cut it up, and let students really just focus in on one or two things and the quality of work is going to be so much better, because they’re not looking at a worksheet with 10 questions that they are just going to throw any answer down at all to get through it. Okay, I’m done. 10 questions. Great. I’m done. It’s going to be a lot more focused. That’s the first thing. 

 

Laura  

And then the second part of that is, what was the second part of the grading? That’s right. Here’s the thing, when you’re pulling kids up to you, when you’re doing these quick little check-ins, just these five minute little check-ins, you know, you can tell so much about what a student understands, just by talking with them. So if you’re worried that your students are they’re just, they’re just all copying each other. Yeah, I agree. They have their own work, but it’s really not their work. They’re just copying each other. Okay? Well, when they come to you, make them hand their papers to you. And just you know, so they can’t look at them again, but and just just talk about what’s going on. 

 

Laura  

So just look at their paper, look at the questions and just one at a time. Just ask them. If they can explain it back to you. They’ve got it right. And if they’ve got it, could you record a grade? Right there? Oh, good point. Yeah, right there. Have a clipboard sitting there, how your laptop up and just put a note in there. Especially if your standards-based, I mean, if they’ve got it, they’ve got it. If they don’t have it, and you know, they need more practice. Could you give them a temporary grade? Could you give them a little grade and progress? Could you just jot something down next to their name on your roster? So that you know, okay, well, he’s got about 75% of it. And maybe that’s not the real grade. But you know, he’s got about 75% of it. 

 

Laura  

So right there, okay, I’m gonna call him back up. I’m gonna give him a little, you know, a little something to think about. And then I’m gonna call him back up later in class or call him back up tomorrow, and I’m going to look for him to improve upon that. 75% Okay, and then this kid, okay. Wow. I mean, he barely wrote anything on his paper, but wow, we just had a pretty good discussion and two or three minutes. He’s got it. Um, I’m going to encourage him to go back and write it down. But in my grade book, I’m, I’m giving him full credit. He got it. Right. He got it. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s how I handle a lot of the grading. It takes so much pressure off of you. was a teacher to bring home all these stacks of papers. And it’s really good, authentic in time feedback for your kids now they don’t need to know what you’re writing down. If you’re doing this all the time, they’re used to it, they’re using you miss this. So as I was always writing stuff down, I don’t know what she’s doing.

 

Laura  

You know, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to give a kid you know, a perfect score in the first 10 minutes of class and then he goes off and thinks he’s done for the day. But at the same time, I need to record for myself that oh my gosh, this kid has it and I’m probably going to need to extend him a little bit. So and there are other ways that you can handle you know, the grading issue if you know that something is just practice like you really just need them to practice. middle school kids still love stamps and stickers. 

 

Laura  

I mean, if you have a stamp collection not you know, like postage stamps and talking about you know, I have I have a stamp collection like Cookie Monster stamps a rainbow stamp a cupcake stamp but footballs to happen to just have a sitting there and you know, and just talk about Your kids, hey, show me what you like best about this particular paragraph you just wrote, oh, I really liked that I finally figured out how to use a quotation from this text. Great. How about a football stamp? I like that too. Good job. They’re not too old for that. They love it. So there are different ways to assess their different ways to interact with what your kids are doing. And behind the scenes off to the side, if you know they’ve got the concept, give them a grade, you know, just give them a grade and be done with it. Are you going to get through 100 kids in one day with all your classes? No. But I mean, my goodness, if you could get through half of them, right. What would that do to your grading load?

 

Kim  

And then I wouldn’t have to grade outside of school ever again.

 

Laura  

Yeah, and the the assessment is authentic. I mean, it’s meaningful to them. It’s certainly helpful to you, and right there in the moment. Do you know who’s struggling you Who you need to circle back with? And you know who’s writing for something else?

 

Kim  

Can you guys believe how much Laura just covered? I’ve already learned so much from just this conversation right now. And next week, she’s going to tell us how to train our kids for stations, and how to incorporate small group instruction. So here are my key takeaways from today’s conversation. 

 

First, stations aren’t just an alternative to or a fancy way of doing group work. At their simplest stations allow students to hone in on a specific skill and really show mastery of that. So rather than just having students sit and write a science lab, each part of that lab can be split up so that they can focus on one task and make sure it’s really really good. soon as they’re still doing their own work, but they’re working cooperatively through a task. 

 

Second, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing stations. So even if you only have a 45 minutes period, you can benefit from them. Don’t focus so much on the number of rotations or stations with different activities. Instead, consider how you can split up groups, whether it be by personalities and or levels, and what you can have them accomplish before they switch tasks. You obviously have complete control over how long each station takes. So don’t get hung up on those details. 

 

Now, finally, stations don’t have to be a classroom management and grading nightmare. I originally thought that this is what it was going to be like from my one experience. But you know, Laura gave us some really good advice on how to monitor students with the teacher station, and I’m definitely going to steal her idea but streamlining the grading process with students so that they meet you at the station. So I’m a huge fan of that teacher station part. 

 

So next week I have the second part of this conversation or Laura goes into how to incorporate small group and structure And she breaks down How to Train Your students for stations. You don’t want to miss that. Now, remember, you don’t want to just dive into stations and see how it goes because you just might become overwhelmed and quit like I did. Laura has a systematic method for doing this at ease them into stations, and it’s definitely worth coming back for. Plus, if you come back next week, are you listening? She’s offering a freebie that you can use with your stations. So you can’t get that freebie download unless you come back next week. So of course, then be sure to look down at the device you’re listening on and hit subscribe. That way you won’t miss out on that episode or honestly any week’s episode. Thanks again for hanging out with me today and have a fabulous week.