No Pronoun Days

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes we have to spice up our delivery of…well…boring content.  Although the historian jury is still out on the accuracy of what we teach about feudalism, my good friends in Columbus still tell me to teach it and threaten that it may appear on an 8th grade social studies achievement test (should the test ever resurface).  So I teach feudalism.



Feudalism is based on relationships between different groups of people.  So we spend calorie after calorieprocessing these relationships and dissecting the roles of kings, lords, vassals, and peasants.  The students are able to convert the first image on the IWB to the second through oral and written explanations.  By the end, they master it.


Students' Work After

Before we reach that point, however, I find my highest students getting bored with the repetition and are no longer getting anything out of the slightly-varied explanations.  And thus was born, No Pronoun Day.

Need a blast-from-the-past pronoun review?

The idea is really quite simple.  Instead of my students demonstrating their mastery with, “He gives him some land.  Then he hires him to protect the castle from him.  But he doesn’t do this for free so he…,” I watch as even my highest students methodically and meticulously draw arrows and explain, “The king gives the lord some land.  Then the lord hires the vassal to protect the castle from the vikings. But the knight doesn’t do this for free so the lord…”  See the difference?  But that only authentically engages one of the 31 students.  So I added this kink: when the explainer slips up and uses a pronoun, the audience has permission to rudely yell, “Who’s [pronoun]?!”  It looks something like this:

High student brags to table about how easy this challenge will be – gets called on and goes to IWB.

High student: Here’s how feudalism works.  The king owns lots of land and marries the queen.  The king gives some of the land to the king’s friend, a lord.  The lord needs help protecting his cas…

Class: WHO’S HIS?!

High student is frustrated (the good kind) and asks for a second attempt.

High student: Again, feudalism works like this.  The king owns a whole bunch land and marries the queen.  The king has a friend, a lord, and the king gives some of the king’s land to the lord.  The lord needs help protecting the lord’s castle from the vikings because they ar….

Class: WHO’S THEY?!

High student sits down, flustered (again, the good kind) and low student who has been actively watching/listening goes to the IWB.

Low student: Here’s feudalism.  The king has a bunch of land…”

Low student explains feudalism perfectly and “gets past” the high student’s point in our feudalism narrative.  Self-esteem is raised, objectives are met.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Netflix Wasn’t the Answer


Image Courtesy: Netflix Media Center

For years, I’d receive my bi-monthly mailing from my friends at Netflix trying to convince me that I should sign up for a free trial offer.  And for years, each envelope was wasted postage on Netflix’s end.  They all ended up in the trash.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about movies when he mentioned that Netflix “instant streaming” can now be streamed through my Wii console.  I went home and signed up for my trial.

Several weeks in, I thought I was on to the new sliced bread.  I used Netflix at school to stream “Scooby Doo: Where’s My Mummy” during a study hall day when no one had homework. (Fear not, it fit my Egypt standards.) After staying up way past my bedtime watching my first episode of “24” one night, I was able to stream the whole first season one weekend on the Wii.  I spent a manly Saturday afternoon with “No Country for Old Men.”  And I spent a date night with “Yes Man” and Elizabeth.

I was convinced that my ten bucks a month investment in Netflix had revolutionized the way I watched movies. Past tense.

Tonight, Elizabeth suggested we watch, “Office Space,” as she had never seen it and had heard several of our friends quote it recently.  After I picked my jaw off the floor, I immediately reached for the Wiimote to start the streaming.  I searched, and searched, and searched. (Note: the Netflix Wii interface is a disaster when searching for a specific movie!)  No Wii streaming.  No browser streaming.  Netflix fail.

I jumped in the truck and headed to Family Video to spend my $1.07 to get the flick for five nights.  I got to thinkin’.

And here comes the parallel.  We have to remember, as educators, that there’s no cure-all.  There’s no one method, one book, one lesson, one approach, one theory, one path to student success.  We’re dealing with dynamic, independent, breathing creatures.  God put a pretty complex mind in each one of them that despite the newest research and approaches, we still know very little about.

As I transition into my new position as a 5th grade language arts and social studies teacher, I’m getting hit from several directions (both from self-seeking and mandated programs from my district) about the way to teach.  There isn’t one.  Netflix wasn’t the answer.  Teaching takes learning…and I don’t mean on the students’ part.  If we want to touch dynamic students, we must be dynamic teachers.  “Lifelong learner” shouldn’t be something we put on resumes and cover letters.  It should be a checkbox on administrators’ interview form.

Fearing Differentiation

A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of Liz Kolb’s Blogtalkradio show and heard her guest speaker make some interesting comments about teachers and differentiated instruction.  He suggested that he thinks a vast majority of teacher buy into WHY it is important to differentiate, but there are many who still shy away from it.


First, it’s the road less traveled.  When you differentiate from “old school” (pun fully intended) teaching methods, you become vulnerable to attack from misunderstanding parents, communities members, and sometimes even administrators.  “Why did Johnny have this homework and Tony had this homework?” they ask.  “Why were these project assignments different?” the questions continue.  “How do you intend to grade these fairly?!”

Fair Grading is an interesting concept when it comes to differentiating.  Fair grading is a concept that only exists when you’re comparing two students.  The longer I’m in the classroom, the more I learn that true education…true instruction…true assessment, has nothing to do with comparing students.  Conversely, it has everything to do with the uniqueness of a single student.  Differentiate that student’s instruction…that student’s assessments.  It makes…a unique student.  Imagine that.

To keep everyone happy and to keep it objective, rubrics (like from Rubistar) should be a differentiated teacher’s best friend.  They make the grading easy and predictable.  Last fall, I attended a workshop session in which the presenter shared his use of rubrics in his classroom.  The process is as follows:

1.  The students are given the project (or paper, or homework, or presentation) rubric.

2.  The students are given the assignment.

3.  Upon completetion of the project, the students use the rubric to give themselves a score/grade.

4.  The students turn in the assignment with the rubric.

5.  The teacher uses the rubric to assign her/his own grade which is the actual score the student will receive.

Here’s the kicker…

6.  If the student’s score is within a close margin (let’s say two points) of the score the teacher gave, additional bonus points are added on!

Brilliant!  This process strongly encourages students to look closely at the rubric as they’re working and especially before the final product is submitted.  Hopefully, the student identifies “weak” areas according to the rubric and wants to correct those!

Has anyone used this (or similar rubric strategies) in the classroom?  Feedback?