Monthly Archives: January 2013

Room Arrangements and Decorations

Starting out the semester means thinking about how the room is arranged and whether or not those arrangements are conducive to the educational advancement of the students.

I am fortunate in that I have a nice room for a variety of arrangements. You see, it is the old drama practice room. The room is long and narrow with two doors. At the rear, there is a small stage area. The length makes for troublesome rows as there is really only room for four rows across, meaning I need a good five or six seats in each row to fit the students. The length of the room allows for the rows with a teacher command center in the front (host to the teacher desks, board, storage cabinet, SMART Board, and television that is probably older than I am mounted in the corner), student rows in the middle area, and tables for cooperative learning in the rear. Having the stage allows me to separate out groups – two small tables fit on the stage, a circle table down from it on the floor, and a larger rectangle table fits nicely under the window off to the side. Two doors are amazing because with administration needing to make frequent visits just for appearance in classrooms, there is an easy in and an easy out. I never have to be the bad guy when the students know anyone could walk in at any time.

Once setting up the room itself, a great amount of thought goes into how I can arrange the students in the rows in order to assure the best possible behavioral and academic outcomes. Our school has been under the gun for a few years, and people have been watching data in my room in terms of both discipline and academic testing and value added. Needless to say, I feel the pressure to maintain an environment with an intense academic focus through cooperative learning and direct instruction. I am working on creating a document (entitled “Guide to Grouping: Building a Cooperative Learning Classroom”) to outline my steps on this process, but I want to test out my thoughts and ideas before posting it. I have been doing much research on cooperative learning as I identified it as my major goal for professional development this year.

Considering decorating the room, I have created a few poster sets to post. We are not required to have a word wall, but I was at a previous school and I loved the way the students used it. In fact, I am a visual learner so I tend to teach that way as well. Students are practically trained to look at the posters and remember the posters for information throughout the semester. Before the EOC, everything has to come down but at that point the students have, hopefully, trapped the information in their memory. We are going to do an intense vocabulary review the first two weeks, so I wanted to provide the opportunity for all students to demonstrate this low-level of mastery from day one.
Anyway, I decided to post a few word walls from the start:
1. Because the eighth grade standards required students to master elements of plot, I wanted to have a poster set with those elements. Students are going to create and trade essential plot vocabulary trading cards, and having this information visible will help students access the information if it was not retained from the previous year. You can find the poster set at
2. Because our school is a TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) school, we are focusing on thinking and problem solving. While I have been able to teach and model T/PS in the past, I want to make more of an effort to help students label this information in order to help them internalize it for future academic use. I have posted this poster set at
3. To help students with accountability after an absence, I have created “What did I miss?” posters which I have secured to file folders and posted on the wall. Each day, I will put the names of absent students on any needed handouts and place them in the appropriate folder on the wall. These can be found at
4. Another item posted (actually on the door so students have access from the hall) is a folder labeled “Need help on the EOC?” In this folder I have placed a stack of study guides with essential terms and skills needed for the Tennessee State End-of-Course English I test. This list is also posted on the wall using the poster maker in the school’s library. This list is arranged first by the standard and then by grouping the terms in common skills areas according to the units taught. This document can be found at

Pacing and Planning

The goal for this week is to review the current standards in correlation to Common Core in order to plan for appropriate pacing throughout the semester. The challenge will be preparing for the current Tennessee State End-of-Course Test for English I while working to include the writing standards of Common Core. Additionally, our new textbooks have arrived, and we will be using Prentice Hall for the first time.
My first step in planning for the semester is to create the course prospectus and add it to my classroom homepage for students. Looking at PARCC’s Model Content Frameworks I feel a bit stressed about how to combine the year-long framework into one semester’s classroom learning. I have reviewed the state’s projections for my students, and I know I will have to do more differentiation to really help our students. I have always been a backwards planner, but the knowledge of the task ahead has me jumping between the pacing guide and doing the detailed planning for the first week returning.
So what we will do the first week? Our students had the luxury of a semester long Content Area Reading course intended to review standard literary elements of plot and basic structures of writing essays. While this did not go as ideally as it was in my head, we saw great gains and I am excited for the end of the year report so we can have data to support a repeat of the course in the future. Therefore, the first week we will review elements of plot using “Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. This is intended to review plot analysis and review the EOC-style question stems students are likely to see on the actual EOC by taking an in-depth reading quiz after completion of discussion and an analysis guide. Students will be prompted to use the RAMS Testing Strategy on each question. I am thinking about verbally guiding them through the process for the first two or three questions in order to model the process as I expect them to do it. After analyzing the data, I will do a reteaching where I create a PPT of the most missed questions so we can work through them together to try to find out why the students missed them and how to avoid missing similar questions in the future.
Hopefully, the reteaching of plot will help students to analyze the plot of their Winter Reading, “Begging for Change” by Sharon Flake, as they will be completing an plot analysis essay of the novel for assessment of their ability to analyze plot and cite textual evidence and to serve as the the start of our Writing Basics unit.
As a side note, I will also be calling home to all parents to ensure students are completing/have completed their Winter Reading in order to be prepared for the first week of class. It is ALWAYS a great idea to call parents to introduce yourself before you need to make a less than positive call, and this will be a good opportunity to get some insight on the students and parents.

Files created for the opening of class are/will available in Kirk’s Corner as soon as possible.

1. You can find my course syllabus online as well. This is available in WORD format for easy customization at While the syllabus has been posted, I will soon be revising the file to include a PPT I will use to introduce the course on the first day.

2. A generic template for pacing can be found at I will be posting my pacing guide for English I when it is completed.

3. A .zip File for teaching “Most Dangerous Game” will be posted soon as well. I will update this post with a link when it is available.