How Rubrics Saved My Life

If we are being honest, Jesus saved my life. But the use of rubrics in my classroom has been a huge blessing.


I teach English II, which is an End of Instruction tested subject in the State of Oklahoma. I have a lot of material to cover and a limited amount of time in which to do it. With the implementation of Common Core, I make it a priority that writing be a part of the curriculum as much as possible. But, in the world of an English teacher, more writing, which equals more learning and hands-on-experience, also means more grading.


This year, I took the basics from the state writing rubric and only included what a score of 4 would earn. I average the five components together (on a scale from 4-1, like the state test) and that’s the grade I give the student (all of my essays are out of 100%).

I have had these English II Writing Rubricsmade up for awhile, but I never really used them. I have specialized rubrics that I use for other essays, but for general writing — I was lost. In one of my classes, I’m guinea-pigging the use of Interactive Notebooks. While students have a very organized notebook, I have a hard time grading their writing from the notebook! I’m currently halfway through grading the essays from my 3rd hour with these rubrics. There’s space to write notes and I highlight the areas students need the most work.

It’s going so fast, having this guide, and it’ll be a really quick and easy way for me to organize and post their grades.

In short, the use of the rubric has saved my jam-packed weekend from being “bleh I have to grade essays.” Instead it’s more of, “now I can hangout with my boyfriend and not have a worry on my mind!” Thanks, rubrics!

Ms. K


Arguing the Inarguable

Blah Blah Blah is usually how students interpret an argument. Even better: most students believe that an argument involves a problem where the arguer is mad at someone and is taking out their angst on that person. With the implementation of Common Core, there is a need to explain that arguing is simply making a claim and supporting it. We use it all the time, from our first Interpretive Essay to our last assignment of building a Knight’s resume.

In my 1st and 4th hour, we have begun a 4-5 week unit on Argument and Persuasion. In the Unit we will peruse the joy of persuasion as we read Sagan’s “On Nuclear Disarmament” and two articles about animal rights and animal testing. The articles are meant to encourage discussion and expand students’ minds in these controversial areas. At the end of the unit, we will research for an editorial.

Last week I had the privilege of being observed by my principal (observation 3 of 4 of the 2013-2014 school year). I don’t pull out the dog-and-pony show when he comes because (with the exception of a few low-key days) every day is a crazy-fun day (not just my words). On this particular day, I planned for him to see a type of lesson I’d never done before. We had already introduced the concepts of an argument the day before, taking notes from the textbook and coming up with examples from media on different types of persuasion, but on the day of my observation we were going to concretely put those ideas into practice.


I love copy paper and markers.We folded a piece of copy paper into thirds so we’d have a pretty good outline for our graphic aid. I stole the aid from my textbook (And should have done so AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER) to help explain and identify the Claim and Support (also helpful when teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details). We took markers and outlined our roof and pillars. You’ll notice that the roof is marked as the “claim” and then we have two supporting reasons and a counterargument.

The claim, for this exercise, had to be a simple sentence presenting a the existence of something that doesn’t actually exist. For instance, one boy claimed that Bigfoot is real, another that snow was just angels’ dandruff. One girl claimed that running was actually bad for your health. A bright young man claimed that there are no other countries besides America, it’s all a Hollywood facade.


For each claim, the students had to give two reasons why the claim was true. They could only use ONE testimonial, the others had to be “facts” (made up details from scientists, experts, the news, etc). The counterargument had to be different than the reasons they had previously given. Each supporting detail had to be explain in at least five sentences.

It took them awhile to begin; making up a topic and claiming its existence proved a bigger challenge than they expected. But the results were phenomenal. I prefaced the lesson by explaining that we would use this model to do an editorial later in the unit, but for today they would just have to make something up. They were engaged, they understood what a claim and counterargument were, and what they came up with truly was genius.

In the spirit of Common Core, I put learning into their hands. I taught them the structure of an argument, the importance of “real facts” to back up a claim, and the joy of being creative.

It was a good lesson and a good day.



Cut and Paste

As I am staying late after school today to advise the production of Bethel’s The Posted Paw, I am doing some planning for the rest of this unit. Unit 3 focuses on theme and symbol while we review the past works we have read and then apply our skills to two poems: Brooks’ “The Sonnet-Ballad” and Crane’s “Do Not Weep, Maiden, For War is Kind.” We look at verbal irony and sonnet structure as well as theme. Instead of an essay this unit, I have decided to have them apply their sonnet knowledge in creating a new sonnet based on Crane’s poem’s parts.

This is the result. I love cut and paste. And bright colors. I hope they love it too.
Sometimes I just love my job!


Kiss Those Binders Goodbye!

I thought that by now I would be settling into a curriculum and not creating lesson plans anymore. Alas, that’s not possible. Every time I re-write a lesson plan, I come up with something else to do. By the time I’ve gotten through 4 classes of the “same” lesson plan, it looks NOTHING like it did when I first wrote it. There are post-its all over them and writing and scribbles and about two extra activities than were originally planned…

I’ve had binders with separate tabs for three semesters now. And I hate them. I can never get the right binder separators, I can never get kids to keep all of their things in their binders. It’s just hard.


And then I found this gem on Pinterest: The Curly Classroom. Not only is this woman’s hair BEAUTIFUL, but she is a BOSS in the classroom. I spent literally 2 hours reading her blog — and while I write blogs a lot and I look at educational blogs from time to time, I’ve never been HOOKED on one. I want to work with her. But since that isn’t possible, I’m going to steal all of her ideas.

I’ve stolen her interactive notebooks and I’ve changed quite a bit. I also plan on stealing her sentence analyzing process as well. It’s brilliant. I’ve started putting my lessons into this book as the semester goes along. I’m going to “beta-test” it on my new block section of English II next semester. I spent an entire week just creating this notebook and when I started getting some good pages, I ran up to Ms. Jessee’s room (the English I teacher) and breathlessly explained my idea. I’m unbelievably pumped about this. I think it’ll be a REALLY good way to keep track of student progress — and not just for me! The students themselves will be able to see exactly what they’re learning throughout the semester.

I plan on keeping a grade tracker sheet in the back of the book so the kids can keep track of assignments that are done outside of their notebooks. I also plan on using A LOT of interactive foldables in the book.

These are moments where I love my students and I love what I’m teaching and I love how I get to teach it.


Check out the rest of my Interactive English II Notebook HERE. There are explanations of what the sections are in the captions of each picture.

Annotating Texts, the Unrated Version.

IMG_2854One of my favorite activities of the whole year is when we learn how to annotate texts during the introduction unit.  We learned the rules and the format for all of our essays, and then we read Mary Sherry’s “In Praise of the F Word.”  It’s so great to see the looks on the students’ faces like, “we’re going to read something about our favorite word!”  But in reality, the F word in this case is Failure or Flunking.  I’ve blogged about how much I love this article.  I highly recommend that secondary teachers use it in their curriculum.  It, at the very least, gives students AND teachers a starting point for discussing grades earned vs grades given (hint: grades are entirely earned in my class).

As much as I do love this article and annotating, I struggle with teaching annotations.  I should do some more research as to how to approach it, but this is the method I’ve settled on.  Like so many things in my curriculum, it’s almost entirely stolen from other teachers and incorporated with my love of post-it notes.

We will use at least four post-its for this assignment: one for our annotation legend and three for organizing our main-ideas.  We will use the legend throughout the semester and the main ideas we will use for organization as we write our cited, summary essays later this week.


We first talk about annotation and how I love to see them scribble all over their papers.  It proves to me that they’re paying attention and reading.  Plus, there’s always the post-its…  I have them write down the annotation key, fully knowing they will lose it and have to recopy it later.  But for this week, they have it safe and sound in their binder.


For this first time annotating, I don’t make the students read the text first. Instead, we read it together. I ask that they put two ?’s next to words or phrases they don’t know, and I suggest they can find main ideas and details as we go but it’s not necessary.  All we do is read.  Following the reading, we talk about the confusing parts and I ask them what they found to be the main points about the article, including anything interesting they may have discovered during the first reading.  I had several students tell me they were surprised and disappointed that it wasn’t about the F word.  But alas, a few students wanted to talk about the “trump card of failure.”  That led us back to a discussion about responsibility.  Our bellringer was a writing assignment where they were asked to define the word responsibility.  At this point, we share our answers and see how they match up with what Sherry says.  By this point, there are some eye-rolls.  And then I pull out my own trump card: I will fail any student who deserves/earns it.  This, of course, blows their minds.  In my first hour, I have a repeat offender — I mean a student who failed my class last year — and he shouts an “AMEN! She really will.”  He then proceeded to hang his head.  I ain’t playin.

Once we have established one of the big points about the text, we move into the main ideas.  This is difficult because two of them are verbatim in the text.  However, the third one you have to read the rest of the paragraphs to figure out.  We find the first two and write them at the top of two post-its and then I make them find the first one themselves. There are some supporting details that can be underlined as support, but nothing that can be word-for-word starred.  Because of that, I have the kids read the rest of the paragraphs again, by themselves, and figure out what the 3rd main idea is.  The main idea is that responsibility for education rests in the hands of both teachers AND students.  This launches a discussion on how much responsibility the kids have to have.  I get to repeat to them that I will fail them and that by the time they’ve failed, the only person to blame will be them because I will have done my hardest to keep them from that.


We didn’t get into it today, but tomorrow we will put some supporting details by asking the questions “why is this true?” and “how do we know?”  I hope they can see why we need supporting details and how, when we write our own essays, we need them to get our point across.

Again, I love doing this.  It gives us a great foundation for the rest of the semester.  They’ll be taking these main ideas and supporting details and turning them into an essay where they will have to explain what Sherry was saying as well as give their opinion.  The essay will prove to me that they a) know what the article was about, b) they can write well about a given topic and c) they can cite information correctly.  All of these skills will be used ALL semester, so it isn’t like we are wasting time doing some meaningless beginning-of-school activity AND we get to have our responsibility conversation.

Love it.


Monday Fun-day: Pop Quiz!

We started off Monday morning in English II with a binder check. I’m that teacher that doesn’t trust the students enough to take their binders home.  They were required to have all of their binder materials today and thus we began writing our names on the spines, checking to make sure we had all of the materials inside, and writing on the tabs.  Every single face that looked back at mine was hollow and asleep.  But, to their credit, only two of them were unprepared and they all did what they were asked.  Props to 1st hour.

I then politely asked them if they’d like to go easy this morning.  Eyes flicked open and wide, mouths smiled and heads shook.  If anyone spoke, it wasn’t above a whisper.  I’m considering starting that class out every morning with jazzercise.  (still pending)  We’ve been learning MLA format this past week so we have it down for our essays and other assignments, and instead of the traditional quiz or seat work, I’ve made it a game.

The Pitch and Review Game

I’ve stolen this game from the K20 Center in Norman (they do a lot of our PD, but ironically enough they don’t know a whole lot more than we do about Common Core, so there’s that).  This “game”/quiz is an opportunity for students to show what they know, edit what they don’t know, and get feedback almost immediately.  I’ve used it for other things in the classroom, but it works especially well with reviewing MLA Format.

We started by writing the correct MLA format on our papers.  I asked the students to crumple up the paper and pitch it into a cardboard Avon box (thanks mom).  They looked at me in horror, “crumple up the paper?! What?!”  They 3 point shot them into the box.  There were a few other rounds, and they were asked to initial each round so we’d know who did what.

2. Put the title “MLA Format Quiz”

3. Put the correct page number header

4. Mark all the margins and the indention

5. Write a sentence that goes from the indention to the second line

6. Write the two items we talked about for MLA format (always double space and 12pt Arial font)

7. Write the three things all essays must have in our class (introduction of 2-3 sentences, at least 3 body paragraphs, all paragraphs must have 7-15 sentences).

After we had completed all rounds, I gave each student a marker.  We went through each round and put a check mark beside the items that were correct and we had to fix (with the marker) the parts that were incorrect. The great part about the initials is that the students were hollering at the students who did stuff incorrectly and telling them what to do.  It was a great opportunity for students to understand the format but also to correct each other.  Most of the student comments were appropriate, some were rude.  But again, that gave me and opportunity to remind them of the respect conversation we had the other day.

This is one of my favorite ways to assess students and to get them involved in the task at hand.  Even my students who don’t like whatever we’re learning get into this activity.  It takes a lot of class time sometimes, which is why I would suggest setting a timer for those particularly unfocused classes. I use usually.  That way I can show it on the board.

The Class Runs Itself (mostly)

Today we’re doing a study guide for our Unit 1 test tomorrow.

I’ll be honest… I spent last night watching TV. I had work to do — and I did some. I started making the test for tomorrow. But honestly, I just wasn’t feeling preparing an entire study guide for this kids. They need to do some of this work.

So then I remembered… Meetings.

I learned this really cool technique at a C3 workshop last summer. I love it. It gets the kids moving around, gives them time limits, and they actually assemble the study guide and discuss the issues all by themselves. If they took notes and paid attention: they’ll do great. I’m also making the study guide a grade.

I’ve attached the Meeting Template. It’s got my instructions for today. I use e.ggtimer to keep track of things. I post it on my ProBoard so the kids know how to pace themselves. I usually do 10-15 minutes for each, depending on how much time we have. But today I’m doing 15-10-5-10. They’ll start off by choosing partners for each of those times — not repeats. At the 12 meeting, they’ll sit with their partner and follow the instructions. For the 3 meeting, the same, and so on. They love it. And I just get to walk around and watch and answer questions as we go.

I love Common Core. Not only do I feel like I can come up with engaging activities on the fly, but I can also get them engaged in a meaningful way. I’m also saving paper which is a shortage these days!

Here’s to a good day.