English Teacher Confession: I Was Blindsided

Last week, about a third of my kids came to class telling me that they didn’t know how to do the homework from the night before. When 20 kids don’t get something, I figure I did a bad job teaching it.

So, I amped up my instruction, took detailed notes and checked in that every kid could tell me how to do the next assignment. We’re working on research essays, and are slowly winding our way through the process of sorting through research to find themes, develop a thesis and find supporting evidence. This is tedious stuff, but the kids seemed engaged. We re-examined my models, took a look at a couple of kids’ work, made a color coded anchor chart and re-started the assignment in class. Check-ins showed a refreshed momentum. I was pumped.

The next day, almost 30 kids came in without it done.

“What do you mean? I broke it down into simple steps! We went over three different models. Why didn’t you ask questions or email me last night?”

Once again, I couldn’t move forward.

I didn’t see it coming.

“It must be the weather,” I thought to myself. Still, why would 30 kids bail on an assignment?

So, I asked them.

“I didn’t know what to do when we got home!” a chorus of voices cried.

That’s when I remembered that 6th graders don’t take notes.

Even though I had worked to carefully print the directions on the board, color coding and describing each step, the students hadn’t bothered to pick up their pencils. When I was reviewing the models, they were listening- (hopefully)- not thinking about the need to jot down ideas.

When they returned home and tried to restart the writing process, they truly had no idea where to start.

In years past, I had taught essays using printed packets of carefully scaffolded lessons, walking kids through each step of the process. This year, we have moved to the writer’s workshop philosophy, which strictly forbid these packets. Writers are expected to take notes in their notebooks, and complete all of their writing there.

But by this time of year, even the most dedicated students struggle to focus long enough to follow the discussion and take notes. Thoughts of summertime fun, ice cream and school dances pranced through their minds. Taking notes for a research essay simply doesn’t compete with these daydreams.

I faced a perplexing conundrum.

So, I asked the kids what to do.

“Use google classroom!” a couple of bright-eyed girls smiled.

Of course.

Now, each day, I take a picture of the anchor chart. I add some annotations on the side, reviewing my directions in class. I upload these charts and my models to the stream. Then, I snap a couple of pictures of students’ work at the end of the class so that kids can see what their classmates are doing.

It is awesome.

When kids are absent, or parents are trying to support their kids from home, this is a great portal for them to find the information needed to complete assignments each night. Students who were in class have all of the directions and notes at their fingertips, every night.

There is room on google classroom for kids to have discussions about these notes and ask me questions, if need be. Next year, I’m going to print these pictures and notes on color coded paper for kids to glue into their notebooks, after they have taken their own notes. If they want to have an electronic notebook instead of a hand written one, they can just copy the documents from the portal.

No more excuses.

Well, I mean, they can still try to say they didn’t know what they had to do when they went home, but…

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3 thoughts on “English Teacher Confession: I Was Blindsided

  1. This is a brilliant way to use Google Classroom! My sixth graders are feeling school fatigue these days, too – but this is a great way to give them the resources they need to get the work done in what left of the school year. I’ll definitely have to get going with this at the beginning of the new school year.

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