Snow Day. Show Day.

January 28, 2013  |  Teaching

I’m in Connecticut working with some fantastic teachers. As a Brooklyn guy, I don’t drive. (As in, I detest driving.) But when you come to Connecticut, you have to drive. So imagine me; driving around in this SUV the rental people gave me. (Picture me rollin’?) In my mind, I always imagined that I would be super cool in a car. I’d be leaned waay back going real slow, like in one of those shiny P.Diddy videos from 1997. That is not my reality. I probably drive like I’m older than Moses. So not cool.

I've been naming strategy charts after the kid in the class least likely to try the strategy. Result: That kid tries the strategy. Mr. Minor: 1, Kid: 0

I’ve been naming strategy charts after the kid in the class least likely to try the strategy. Result: That kid tries the strategy. Mr. Minor: 1, Kid: 0

Now the plot thickens. Today it snowed. A lot. So much that they had to send the kids home early. I considered spending the night in the school library (a fantasy that I’ve harbored since I was in primary school) to avoid having to drive in the snow, but alas they sent me home too, so I had to drive the four miles back to my hotel. It took me 20 minutes.

Real slow like P.Diddy, but not cool — cold. Literally.

Now I’m snowed in at the Hilton. So I’m doing what any good educator would do — throwing wild crazy parties organizing my teaching charts. Lots of people have been asking me about charts recently, so since SnowMageddon is happening outside, I figured that I would warm up the world with some didactic goodies. Here goes…

Writing Process: What it can look like if kids choose to publish on paper and what it can look like if students choose to publish on a device.

Writing Process: What it can look like if kids choose to publish on paper and what it can look like if students choose to publish on a device.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fostering independence among students. Though they are not all there yet, that kids can write, read, and think on their own is critically important. There are so many things that one can do in a classroom to grow this kind of autonomy, but I think that just about anything that we name must start with visible reminders — especially for those of us that work with middle school students.

But it’s not just about wallpapering the room with charts, there’s a few rules you gotta follow:

(1) Don’t ever make your own charts. I believe in child labor. Get a kid to do it for you. Buy a fancy pack of markers. Make your chart on a notecard, then hand the notecards and the fancy markers to some kid. Kids like fancy markers. They like praise even more. When you teach your lesson with that chart, be all like, “Raphael made this chart!”

(2) Reference your charts often, stand by them, gesture toward them. Never answer a question that is answered on a chart somewhere in your room, simply walk over to the answer and gesticulate at it. If you don’t use your own charts, kids will not either.

(3) Cycle charts out after the unit of study is over. Photograph them, and throw them away. Charts from last year are worse than gym shorts from last year. Have you been in the boys locker room lately?

(4) You should have a high percentage of skill-based charts. Yes charts like “How to get a bathroom pass” are important, but keep those charts limited to no more than 20% of your total charts… Seriously. What you have on your walls is a reflection of your values. Do you value where to put the pencil shavings over organizing evidence in writing? I did not think so.

(5) The charts should be organized in some way… Reading charts on the west side and history charts to the east? Your call.

I usually keep a chart of weekly expectations somewhere in the room so kids can be constantly reminded of their progress. You can help them to make decisions about how they spend their time across the week if expectations are clear from the beginning.

I usually keep a chart of weekly expectations somewhere in the room so kids can be constantly reminded of their progress. You can help them to make decisions about how they spend their time across the week if expectations are clear from the beginning.

Here is another one that looks at partnerships… I usually choose partnerships, and I give the partnerships specific goals. This can help. At times I even ask partnerships/teams to negotiate contracts.

Howdy, Partners.

Howdy, Partners.

Here’s a quick example of a partner “contract”.

Partner contract. We should have made Nate Robinson sign one of these. *Sigh* Knicks...

Partner contract. We should have made Nate Robinson sign one of these. *Sigh* Knicks…

Here is a chart that might support a lesson.

A quick chart that can support your teaching by guiding kids strategy implementation... I always leave room to post my demonstration at the bottom.

A quick chart that can support your teaching by guiding kids strategy implementation… I always leave room to post my demonstration at the bottom.

Maybe a chart to remind kids of what they already know…

Kids bring lots of old learning with them. We can raise expectations simply be understanding this.

Kids bring lots of old learning with them. We can raise expectations simply be understanding this.



4 Comments


  1. We LOVED your visit and cannot wait for your return in the Spring! There should not be any snow at the end of April- but one never knows. You are all set now though. Last Monday, you had your mini lesson for winter driving, confirmed the rental was all-wheel-drive, and drove quite nicely back to that hotel during the snowstorm. Those were probably the most slippery road conditions you will encounter too!

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