A few weeks ago an English teacher I work with was telling me about a problem she used to have with her senior English students. They had to complete a fairly extensive research paper over the course of several weeks, and during those several weeks she would schedule certain days to take them all down to the school library to "do research." Which was fine, except she discovered that often her students would not make very good use of their library time; she'd find them sleeping, or goofing off on the computers, and she ended up spending a lot of her time with them in the library chewing them out and making them get back to work.

Ms. H recognized that her students needed a little bit more help with the whole "do research" thing, so she put together a "goal sheet" for her students to fill out, which turned out to be both remarkably simple and remarkably useful. The goal sheet contains these four items:

  1. Today's goal [for the library visit]
  2. Assistance needed from teacher or others
  3. Accomplishments: List what you accomplish in detail
  4. Where to begin next/Future goals - set new goals

The day before a library visit, she has each student fill out the first two items. As each student enters the library on library day, they have to get their goal sheet from Ms. H (along with accompanying materials like their current outline, current draft of their paper, note cards, etc.). She takes that opportunity to review the students' goals with them and give them any last minute guidance, suggestions, etc., and sends them on their way. After each student finishes their work in the library that day, they fill in the last two items on their goal sheet and give it back to Ms. H, which sets up the students for the next time they go to the library. She said it has really helped her students to clarify their specific goals for their library time, and it also gives her a way to regularly monitor each student's work and provide assistance over the course of a long and complicated assignment.

So a little while after that conversation with the English teacher, I was having a conversation with a cosmetology teacher I work with about her frustration with her students squandering time they spent in the lab. (Her course consists of two main types of instruction: classroom time, which is all about learning the textbook stuff, and lab time, which is when they actually get to practice on mannequins and, eventually, actual people.) She said they all had stuff they were supposed to be working on, but they'd often get sidetracked or start goofing off, and she ended up spending a lot of her time with them in the lab chewing them out and making them get back to work.

I thought, "Hey, that reminds me of something," and I showed her Ms. H's goal sheet, and she said, "This is perfect!" Win!

So for all of you who thought that English teachers and cosmetology teachers and math teachers don't have anything in common, I'm here to tell you you're wrong. (Now if someone could just finish the joke for me...)

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom Flickr via Compfight cc


Great Classroom Action (2)

February 24, 2017
Thumbnail image for Great Classroom Action (2)

The theme for all of these examples of Great Classroom Action seems to be: simple, but highly effective. All of the following are learning activities that are relatively simple to implement, yet dramatically increase student engagement and rigor, and also take what is often a relatively passive activity and turn it into one that is […]

Read the full article →

Using group roles for more effective group work

February 2, 2017
Thumbnail image for Using group roles for more effective group work

Ms. C is a first year lateral entry teacher that I had been working with for a few months, and I was scheduled to visit her second period Marketing class and give her some feedback. It was one of the first few days of the semester and she had divided her students into small groups to do the […]

Read the full article →

Great Classroom Action

January 1, 2017
Thumbnail image for Great Classroom Action

Another teacher and I were recently trying to come up with a list of the top five best teaching strategies or activities that we had ever seen. I remember thinking, "Man, it's really tough trying to narrow it down to just five," and then I remember thinking, "Hey, this reminds me of Dan Meyer's Great Classroom Action posts." I'm […]

Read the full article →

A Facebook debate on why black lives matter

September 27, 2016

This past summer a conversation almost didn't take place. The two main reasons why it almost didn't take place were 1) it was on Facebook, and 2) it was going to be about police officers shooting and killing black people. I'm not generally a fan of talking about politics on Facebook. It's not a great […]

Read the full article →

Why math is social

July 11, 2016
Thumbnail image for Why math is social

Wilt Chamberlain just taught me how to be a better teacher. Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast recently featured an episode called The Big Man Can't Shoot. It's about why good ideas are often not adopted, even when it's clear to everyone that they're good ideas. The episode focused on Hall of Fame basketball player Wilt […]

Read the full article →

What do principals expect to see when they visit your classroom?

April 9, 2016
Thumbnail image for What do principals expect to see when they visit your classroom?

A few weeks ago I was talking with a high school foreign language teacher that I work with about visiting one of her classes, and she suggested that I would probably prefer not to visit her 4th block class because it was one of her advanced classes and so she "wouldn't be teaching much" in […]

Read the full article →

Inspector Columbo is my hero

March 21, 2016
Thumbnail image for Inspector Columbo is my hero

Back in the 1970's there was a popular TV show called "Columbo," which starred Peter Falk as a fictional homicide detective. Columbo came across as a kind of lovable doofus, a kindly almost grandfatherly man, but not particularly bright, and certainly not smart enough to catch the criminals he was trying to catch. Every episode followed pretty much the […]

Read the full article →

How to de-escalate a tense classroom situation

October 30, 2015
Thumbnail image for How to de-escalate a tense classroom situation

For any of you who may have been wondering, in the wake of a recent classroom incident in South Carolina, exactly how that incident could have been handled better by the adults involved, let me offer a thought or two. We had a no cell phones policy at the high school where I taught previously, […]

Read the full article →

You’re gonna have to get over yourself

October 19, 2015

One of the best stories I've heard in a long time is from a podcast called Risk, which I started listening to a few months ago. Fair warning, a lot of their stories are pretty raw, including some with graphic sexuality and stories of abuse, but this one is just a great story from a woman […]

Read the full article →