Monthly Archives: March 2016

What I Learned From Being Sick

Last month I was sick for over two weeks. It sounds silly, but my illness started with an ear infection that just exploded into a massive mess throughout my body. I ended up missing seven full days of school, and there were several other days that I was nowhere near top form.


While trying to get better, I was also trying to help my classroom continue running. A month has now passed and I’ve had some time to reflect on what I learned during this difficult time period.

1. If you know you’re getting sick, take the day off. – Sometimes we know the germs are coming and they’re coming fast. In the past, my principal has even told me that it’s better to call in sick for a day to recover rather than push through and then be sick for a week. I didn’t do this. And boy did I pay the price. On a Wednesday evening I felt it coming, but I “toughed it out” and went to school Thursday and Friday. By Saturday morning, I couldn’t even get out of bed.

2. Have a series of canned activities ready. – I had a full day of “just in case” plans ready with copies made, but after those were used up, I wished I had more. Putting copies of activities any substitute could use on any day on a shelf would have made writing lesson plans from home much easier and less stressful. These could have been activities about less-than-exciting standards anyone could teach, such as grammar, math review, or something from a textbook.

3. Video can help. – During the second week at home, I reached that point where I was feeling better but not well enough to go to school. Two of those days I made a video of the lesson for my students to watch. I launched a¬†Google extension called Screencastify, filmed myself talking through the lesson presentation, and sent the link to my colleagues to give to the substitute. I later realized it would have been even easier to post the video on Google Classroom. I’m guessing the students enjoyed hearing my voice after so long…I hope!

4. Have an amazing team. – This one is just a shout out to my colleagues who helped me out immensely. I’ve been trying to repay the favor ever since.

5. When you return, it’s okay to take it easy. – I returned to school on a Thursday. School started at 8:40 and I was exhausted by 10:00. Did my individual reading conference happen that day? No. Guided reading groups? Na-uh. How about a math enrichment group? Not a chance, and that’s okay. If I had gone all out those first two days, I might have regressed in my recovery. I wasn’t going to risk it, and that was the right decision. The kids did more busy work than usual, but I made it up to them the next week.

I hope you never have an extended illness! However, it’s always good to be prepared, and maybe these tips will help you in a time a need.


{image via Wikipedia commons}




Solving the Problem of Grading Authentic Tasks

I try to make things real. I don’t succeed all the time, but I know from research, and because I’ve seen it, that kids put forth more effort and learn more when their assigned tasks are real. If the sense an actual audience or practical goal for their work, they work more diligently to meet and surpass expectations.

But these kinds of tasks take time. Lots of it. Which can cause difficulty in the gradebook.


If you are blessed with a non-traditional report card that allows you enough freedom to report to parents whatever is most necessary, I’m jealous. However, if your report card you issue still looks the same as the one you got when you were in elementary school, I have some ideas for you.

First of all, don’t compromise your activities. If you know pushing worksheets onto kids will help you get enough grades to meet a quota, resist the urge to do it. I’m not saying I don’t ever hand out a worksheet, but the goal of any task should never be “I can get a grade from this.” If you’re giving students a worksheet just so you can grade it, there’s a better way.

The secret? Create the authentic student tasks you know are best for students, but figure out a way to give multiple grades to each, maybe lots of grades. If you are going to spend two or three weeks on a writing project such as this one, where my students wrote persuasive letters and sent them out into the world, you can’t just take one grade, especially if you’re facing a grade quota or other scrutiny. Think about what you have taught during the unit. Did you teach lessons about supporting your opinions with evidence? That’s a grade for Ideas and Content. Did you discuss how to structure your piece? That’s a grade for Organization. For our persuasive letter project, the students received a rubric with six separate grades based on the lessons and expectations for their letter. I didn’t have to push a bunch of paper onto students just so I have worksheets I can grade.


You can do this with smaller tasks too. Each time I take a reading fluency assessment, I assign a grade for reading at the correct speed, one for phrasing, and one for expression. Not only does this complete my gradebook, it helps both myself and parents know how to best help students during the next few weeks until the next assessment. Again, I also don’t have to stand at the copier for an hour a week making endless reading worksheets to grade.

By assigning multiple grades to each task, you’ll find you have more time to allow kids to do meaningful work. Keep looking for those authentic assignments that challenge students, ones that have practical applications to their lives!