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The new school year is two-months old.

That’s enough time to try some things and to have a pretty good sense if they’re going to work or not.

Everything new “I’ve” (some of these have required a team effort) tried so far seems to be working reasonably well.  Of course, with this being my twenty-second year in the classroom, I already have a looooooooong list of things I’ve tried that haven’t worked!

Here’s the list (not in any kind of ranked order):


Fruit Basket

Based on idea from my talented colleague Lara Hoekstra, I’ve been brining in fruit each day, putting it in a basket on my desk, and inviting students to help themselves.

It’s been hugely popular!  After initially deciding that I could only afford to bring ten pieces each day, I’ve “upped” it to closer to fifteen.  And students contribute to it, as well, by adding fruit or packaged food from the school’s cafeteria’s breakfast and lunch.

I’m pretty sure that if I brought thirty-or-forty pieces each day they would all be gone by 3:30 PM, but that is beyond what I am willing to spend.

This fruit basket not only helps hungry students by providing a nutritious snack – and removes hunger as a potential distraction from learning – it also communicates a message of caring to all students in my classroom.


Cell Phones Banned For Use In Classroom

Implementing a new rule requiring students to keep their cell phones in backpacks when in the classroom was a school-wide decision, and a wise one it was.

Though they are slipping out of backpacks and into pants pockets, and I have to remind individual students a handful of times in each class, the cell phone distraction problem is about a tenth of what it was last year.  And, even when students are out-of-my-sight (if small groups work outside or in the second room of classroom “suite,” based on my “spying” on them when they aren’t looking, they are still respecting the policy.

I think it helps that I have periodically said something like this:

Here’s the deal: I work very hard to provide engaging and useful lessons, and also work very hard to support all of on a personal level.  What I ask in return is that you respect your classmates and me, you try your best, and you don’t make me have to “police” cell phone use.  Do we have a deal?

There’s always universal headshaking, and I believe it’s genuine.


Positive Calls To Parents


Our new bilingual aide has an hour each day to devote to ELL parent outreach.  Kara Synhorst, another of our talented teachers, has developed a Google form which lists all of our ELL students and which is accessible to all our ELL teachers.  Under each student’s name is sort of a “check list” where teachers can check if there are any particular concerns or particular praises, along with a space to write positive comments (the emphasis is on positive commentary).  Every couple of months or so, our aide will call each of the students’ homes to share mostly positive comments from all the teachers.  The aide will then write a report of what happened on a spreadsheet accessible to all of us.  Obviously, calls can be made more quickly if necessary. I’m pretty excited about this kind of parent/guardian parent outreach.

This has been working out quite well!  In addition, parents/guardians have been called when students have done particularly well on assessments or other activities.  We also have a student or two whose attitudes changed remarkably for the better after we worked it out with parents to give them daily calls providing reports on how their child had done in school that day.


Voluntary Homework

I also shared in EIGHT WAYS WE ARE “ACCELERATING LEARNING” FOR OUR ELL NEWCOMERS THIS YEAR that I was planning on doing this kind of homework activity:

I’ve approached the Newcomer students who appear to be most motivated (about nine of them) and told them if they would commit to doing homework in a special multicolor workbook (English For Everyone, a book we were able to purchase for the first, and likely last, time), they could review it with a student teacher outside for fifteen minutes while the other students are doing different work. We’d do this twice a week to start off, but it could build to everyday.

They begin doing this next week.

The idea behind this is do convey the message that doing homework is “cool,” and that I hope that most, if not all, the other students want to start being part of this “cool” group. The “price of admission” is doing homework in the workbook, and then everyone can work in special groups (they would be able to choose which classmates they want to work with) with peer tutors or student teachers for those fifteen minutes.

This has been going very well, and we’re now up to over sixty percent of the class being part of the homework group.  I expect it to reach seventy percent by next month.


Permanent “Pods” In My Second Classroom For ELL Newcomers

I kick myself for not thinking of this idea sooner: Since I have adjoining classrooms, I’ve set up “pods” of three-or-four desks each facing each other (each pod has a desk for a peer tutor) in one classroom for my two-period ELL Newcomer class, and teach my IB Theory of Knowledge classes in the other room.

Each Newcomer has a basket with their name on it containing a folder for their papers, a notebook, a mini-whiteboard, marker, eraser, and copies of the various “consumable” books we use, like Edge Grammar, Inside The USA and Inside Phonics. Peer tutors also have their own baskets.

This kind of set-up eliminates time for materials distribution and moving desks around.  It works very, very well.  It also helps keep peer tutors focused because they sit with “their” students the entire class period (though they can also often go outside and work with them there).   It’s helped me be able to successfully implement my plan for the class.


Weekly Oral Presentations By ELL Newcomers

I experimented with this idea near the end of last year, and have been able to put it into practice this year.

Each week, students need to create a simple Google Slideshow.  For example, today it was on their favorite holiday memory.

I posted these simple instructions/scaffolds on Google Classroom:

First Slide: “My Favorite Holiday Memory” and your name
Second Slide: “My favorite holiday memory was when ______________”
Third Slide: “It is my favorite holiday memory because ______________”
Fourth Slide: “It happened ______________________________”     When did it happen?

Their peer tutors helped them.  In many cases, the peer tutor can act as their “Google Translate,” which reduces the problem of overusing that app.

Then, one student from each pod “rotated” to the next one, where they and everyone else in that pod would present.  We’d switch maybe five-or-six times, so students get lots of speaking practice with peer tutors there to support them.

Though we also do a dialogue activity culminating in half the class performing in front each week,  these low-pressure small group presentations also work great.


I’ll continue to post about new successes…and failures.