Little Things


Often it’s the little things that make life in our classrooms easier.

GOLF PENCILS. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting down to business is the old “I don’t have a writing utensil” problem. Instead of getting all uptight and letting it derail a portion of a class period, I keep lots of golf pencils on hand. It removes the hassle. “I need a pencil” + “Okay here” is a lot less stressful than “Goll dangit kid! Can’t you just be responsible? I guess you’ll have to go to your locker or borrow from a friend or give me your shoe so I get it back!” (Who really wants a high school student’s shoe? I mean … really.)

CARPET SQUARES. I listen to lectures better when I am a doodling. Some people like to have something in their hands to play with to help them focus. Other people are tappers. While doodling and fidgeting are usually not distracting to others, tapping can be, so I keep carpet squares on hand. The students can drum them with their hands or a pen or pencil and it pretty much muffles the sound altogether. My tappers and the people around them can all be happy at once.

WHISPER PHONES. Reading aloud is helpful to some students. It’s one more kinesthetic layer to their learning. Obviously, if you have a room full of students trying to read, some prefer quiet though. Reading aloud isn’t quiet, unless you whisper into a whisper phone (which can easily be made with two PVC elbows). You hold it like a phone and whisper it into one end and the sound travels to your ear through the “C” without broadcasting to the room. I can have a room full of silent readers with a handful of students quietly reading to themselves out loud. This works well too for students who are checking their own writing for errors in a quiet room and need to listen for errors (because we often catch errors with our ears that our eyeballs miss).

DRUM. Reading your own writing aloud in front of peers is for some reason less scary when you have a drum accompaniment. Weird, but true. Also, if you teach English, the drum is vital for any reading of “The Telltale Heart.”

None of these ideas are mine. I’ve learned of them from other educators over the years, and like a chef using someone else’s recipe, I’ve tweaked them to make them work in my classroom.

What We Wish We Knew

Listen, Understand, Act

Steven Shorrock via Compfight

Have you ever wished to know what made a particular student tick? Why s/he behaves in such an unruly fashion? Why s/he seems so sad all the time? Why s/he never turns in homework? Why s/he doesn’t respond when you ask a question in front of the class?

At the end of last school year, a teacher from Colorado asked her third graders what they wished their teacher knew about them. She gave them the sentence stem of “I wish my teacher knew …” and let them complete the sentence. The results were telling and heartbreaking. The children’s honesty floored her and when she shared some of the responses with the interwebs, the people of the interwebs were astonished too. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew went viral. It even reached into my classroom. One of my students wrote a blog post that broke my heart and it inspired me to want to write something in response. However, the end of the school year happened, and then a new job offer happened, and then a summer class happened, and then starting a new job happened, and here I was in the midst of a new school year and I still hadn’t written anything. However, once I decided that one of the first assignments I gave my new students this year would be the high school version of what Kyle Schwartz asked her third graders to do, I knew it was finally time to write one too.

The assignment asked students to write at least one paragraph explaining what each student wished their teacher(s) knew about them. The students’ writing has been so honest and so helpful in learning about them in just a few sentences (or more. Some went well beyond the one-paragraph minimum). And so, I am still inspired and now I will write what I have been wanting to write, since Devon posted her #IWishMyTeacherKnew piece in her blog last May. As a result of this assignment, I have created a page dedicated to the subject of what #IWishMyStudentsKnew. The reason I’m making it a page and not a blog post is that it’s important to me that students (and their parents, and my colleagues) get to know me. It is just as important for me to get to know them and this assignment helped me get a little closer to understanding them as individuals. I also will shape and mold it as my career carries on. There will always be something new to add or subtract as I gain experience and as my philosophy evolves.

I encourage you to do the same. I think your students will be surprised to learn what you have to share with them. I think you will be surprised what you learn about yourself.

Here is a link to my page –> #IWishMyStudentsKnew.