How I Use a Calendar and Long-Term Planning to Improve Student Achievement

My first year of teaching I taught from the book. Every day I’d move on to the next page and at the end of the unit I’d give the test and then move on. I felt like I was living by the seat of my pants. It didn’t go that well.

My second year I realized I had to do a little more planning to be more successful. I started writing my lesson plans out for the week. This was better than the first year, but still not enough to make me feel calm about walking into class every day. My mother used a program called Calendar Creator to plan family stuff and write down important dates, etc. I decided to give it a try. I began planning a month at a time. Lessons, quizzes, tests, homework…everything. I loved it so much I actually began planning out entire quarters – and even semesters at a time.

Other teachers didn’t understand why I did it. They assumed I wasn’t open to shifting the plan if my students demonstrated a need. This wasn’t the case. If something happened, I’d rework things to accommodate my students’ needs. The thing was, that hardly ever happened. The more I planned, the more in tune I was with my students. Because I was planning so far in advance, I was forced to take the time to actually go through the lessons and look at the material, decide on classwork assignments, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests. I began to anticipate where students would struggle and where they would excel. Of course it was a learning curve, but now, a decade into my teaching career, I am to the point where I only have to revise a calendar once or twice a year.

Now I plan by breaks: summer is my time to plan from August through December. Winter break is time for me to plan January through Spring break. Spring break is the time for me to plan through the end of the year. I give students calendars at the start of every month. I email that calendar to parents every month as well, and I post it on my class website. On the calendar is the unit we’re on, the bell work for each day (sometimes very specific, sometimes generic), the class work for the day, and any homework for the day. The quizzes and tests for the month are on there as well.

Jan 2016 calendar

In addition to making me feel more prepared and a like I was a better teacher, it also had some unexpected benefits for my students. It increased their achievement in a few different ways. First of all, they had access to quiz and test dates, so they were more prepared for them and did better on them. Additionally, students who were missing school had access to the work we were doing so they didn’t fall behind. This worked very well for students who had absences planned in advance, too. I would get requests from parents like, “We’re going out of town next week, can you give my student work?” and I would respond that they could just follow the calendar and be pretty much caught up by the time they got back. Parents LOVED that. It also helped with missing work because students could go back and look at what they were supposed to do and turn it in if they were missing it.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Does it pay off? Yes.

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Why I Assign Seats in My Secondary Classroom

I began my teaching career in 7th and 8th grade math. I taught that for a few years and then switched to 7th grade English. Then, I moved up to high school English and Reading. After a 2.5 year break working in administration, I’m back in a 7th grade math classroom. I’ve found, through the years, that in the secondary (and most especially, high school) world, I am among the minority of teachers who assign seats.

I’m sure any teacher who doesn’t assign seats has a good reason for it, but I’ve found that for me, assigning seats helps my classes run more smoothly and more effectively. Here are some reasons I assign seats in my secondary classroom (the only grade I did NOT assign seats was 12th, because I felt like as adults, assigning seats was a bit much for them):

Housekeeping: Attendance is quick and easy with a seating chart. I don’t have to call out names or waste time trying to figure out who isn’t present. I look at the empty seats and match them to the names on the chart and attendance is done in 10 seconds.

Variety: I get bored easily and changing seats allows me to stay interested. Kids also get bored with who they sit next to (or get too chummy and chatty), so changing seats prevents social issues.

Scaffolding: One of the seating arrangements I employ is to seat a struggling student with a successful student (if my desks are in pairs – if they’re in rows, I seat every other student high-low by grade). This provides good modeling for the struggling student and someone to help them if I can’t.

Behavior management: Figuring out who can’t sit next to who in order for class to go smoothly is important. By assigning seats I can make sure troublemakers don’t sit next to each other and I stop problems before they start.

Life skills: Assigning seats teaches the life skill of working with someone you may not like. Students learn quickly not to complain about or ask to change their seat. I tell them, “It’s not a marriage. You don’t have to be next to him/her forever. I’m not asking you to be best friends, I’m asking you to sit next to him/her. You’ll move again in a few weeks. Deal with it.” And they do – for the most part.

Structure: Students like structure. It helps them be efficient. They feel secure. They don’t have to choose where to sit when they come into the room. Instead, they get right to work and it saves a lot of time (and trouble with seat fighting).

Not sure how to seat your students? Here are some of the ways I order them (and I change seats every 2 weeks in my room, so I rotate through this list several times a year):

By last name, by first name, by gender (alternating boy-girl or boys on one side, girls on the other), by grade/average (low-high alternating or low in front and high in back), by behavior/participation (I use the corners to seat behavior problems and make sure focused, quiet students surround them to keep them from drawing others in).

How do you seat your students? Do you assign seats? Why or why not?

On the Secret Use of Sticky Notes for Classroom Management

I often find that if I tell a student to stop doing something (or to do something), it can turn into a power struggle. I work with secondary students, and they are primarily concerned with looking good in front of their friends. If they sense that they look weak or have lost control, they will battle against whoever put them in that situation. It can get ugly.

teacher student fight

I also hate escalation and disruption while I teach. If I have to ask a kid 3 or 4 times to do something, that’s taking away from my lesson and probably getting the kid all worked up as well. Everything from eating to wearing the hoodie – my verbally asking a kid to stop is a disruption. Sometimes I just ignore things, but I don’t like that option, either, because it undermines my authority and shows other students that rules don’t have to be followed. I’ve also learned about the value of wait time – not just for question/answer sessions, but for directions as well. If I tell a kid to take off his hat, it’s unlikely he’ll do it immediately. But instead of telling him over and over and risking an escalation, I’ve found that if I just give him a few minutes, he’ll comply. I guess it’s a way of exercising some sort of control over the situation – he’ll do it, but he’ll do it when he feels like it.

student in hoodie

But there are some kids that even that won’t work for, so I use sticky notes. I’m not sure where I picked up this little method. All I know is I didn’t come up with it on my own. I carry around a clipboard with me throughout classes for various reasons – attendance, behavior documentation, participation tracking, etc. and on this clipboard, I carry a stack of sticky notes. If I notice a student doing something they shouldn’t be, I write them a note and make my way to their desk. I casually stick it right in front of them and keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t make any sort of fuss or draw attention to it. The majority of the time, no one else even notices what I’ve done. The kid reads my note, (9 times out of 10 s/he crumples it up) and then a minute or two later stops whatever behavior I’ve asked them to stop.

sticky note note

I used to just use this to manage misbehavior, but I eventually realized I could use this for positive reinforcement or even just basic directions. I have students who don’t like to be singled out for any reason – good or bad. But I still want to recognize when they’ve done something well, so I use sticky notes to write them a positive note when I’m impressed with their work or thankful they’re making good choices. I also use this when I have something I need done but I don’t want to disrupt the class asking for a volunteer. Most of the time I use my errand captain for stuff like this, but sometimes I’ll get a sticky note, write down what I need done, and give it to a kid without skipping a beat in my lesson. I also do this when someone’s been called to the office. When I hang up the phone, I continue teaching, write my note to the student who’s been called, and give it to them. Zero disruption.

I hope this teaching tip has been helpful for you. I’d love to hear what you use in your classroom to minimize power struggles and manage behavior effectively!