180 Days: Day 171–Getting Where We Need To Go

Today we discussed how to turn in and test run all group projects on Monday.

I left the day both elated and worried. It’s amazing how some students have it so together while others just struggle to know what is required of them.

I gave the students a last-second checklist to ensure that they had all that they needed–all the steps of their process were followed and evident, that their final product meets the criteria on the rubrics that have long been in their possession, and that they have started the process of rehearsing their lines and timing their speeches.

The groups that provided the elation were paying attention to the smallest of details–is this the right word to use? does this autobiographical video count as a primary source? is this .gif okay to use? How do we cut if we are too long? I knew these groups would be ready to roll and rehearse full scale come Monday and find the necessary answers to their questions.

The groups that left me worried were the groups still trying to finish up their scripts (past due at this point) and hadn’t even read them aloud, much less ensured they had all the items on the checklist checked. But that’s what days like today are for–to reflect. To see where we are at. To see what we need to move forward. To build a plan to get to where we need to go.

“This Time” by INXS from 1985’s Listen Like Thieves



180 Days: Day 170–Interviews and Preparing for the Limelight

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Mock Interviews. Day 2.

Today, the remaining interviewers–all two of them–came in and conducted interviews and coached the remaining third of my students. The rest worked quietly and diligently on their TED Talks while I circulated and ensured that all their questions were answered. Luckily, AP Lit 2nd Semester seniors are pretty self-directed kids. There were no teacher dreams today, and all went smoothly. Thankfully.

My sophomores, on the other hand, have two days remaining before all is due on their group research projects–multimedia presentations. So today, scripts had to be complete. I collected word-processed versions of their scripts to ensure that they developed Pecha Kucha style media to accompany their research speeches. We reviewed all three rubrics that would be used in scoring: presentation, team scores, and listening. The presentation rubric included all of their research, use of credible sources, delivery of a clear message, delivery of a well-rehearsed speech, limited words on the slides, slide images/media being strategically chosen to complement their words, and slide composition. Most of the points come from the presentation rubric. But the team rubric is designed to give each member of the group an individual grade based upon feedback from their peers within their group. The listening score is derived from the students listening and filling out a short form about each presentation.

Having revisited all the rubrics today, sophomores started to match their work to the boxes on the rubrics as a checklist of what remains for them to accomplish before Monday’s dry rehearsals and the beginning of presentations on Tuesday next week. The groups have already signed up for their time spots for next week, so everyone knows that all is due for rehearsal on Monday–technology is tested and ready to go, timing is down, etc.–and we begin in earnest on Tuesday. But today, the reminder I gave them made it feel even more real. We crammed a lot into today’s short class, but we all felt we made great progress before they step into the limelight next week.

“Limelight” by Rush from 1981’s Moving Pictures


180 Days: Day 169–Do Debrief Adjust Talk

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Today was the final day of block scheduling for state testing and I spent it with my seniors. We debriefed yesterday’s mock job interviews and spent the remainder of the time researching their final projects of the year–TED Talks.

The debrief was helpful to the remaining students scheduled to interview tomorrow. And sharing each of yesterday’s interviewers’ nuggets of wisdom was even more enlightening. Of course, my brother threw a curveball at the students by opting to do a “group” interview with his students rather than one-on-one interviews like all of the other interviewers. He tossed tough questions like “why should I hire him instead of you” at them. Being able to debrief about how it felt different to attempt to differentiate yourself while the other candidates are in the room made it all the more a great discussion today. We discussed what panel interviews and group interviews often look like as well.

After the debrief, I gave the remaining interviewees a few moments to prepare for tomorrow’s interviews while returning feedback to yesterday’s interviewees. Then I introduced the final project of the year, a project in which all seniors at our school participate. All seniors write and deliver a TED Talk-style speech, because, well, they all have ideas worth spreading. I limit my students to a 3-6 minute time frame instead of the usual 18 minute maximum at most TED events.

I spent time reviewing the rubric with them so they know exactly how they will be scored and that they need to include strategic use of media or props. I uploaded a few model speeches to our class portal and checked that each student had developed at least a topic by the end of the period. I also put a deadline to bring a rough draft of their scripts to class day after tomorrow. We would look at a few more sample speeches and discuss how to adjust their speeches at that time. Tomorrow, we will sign up for their final project time slots.


“Talk Talk” by Talk Talk from 1982’s The Party’s Over


180 Days: Day 168–Teacher Dreams and Interview Nerves

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Mock Job Interviews: Day One.

I awoke this morning earlier than usual. I typically am nervous on Mock Interview Days because so much planning and preparation goes into them. I had to do some quick rearranging of schedules when one interviewer had to suddenly cancel the day before, but I completed all I needed to do to have my students ready, to have packets with sample questions and rubrics for the interviewers, and be ready to go. But this year, for some reason, I had teacher dreams in the early morning.

“Teacher dreams” typically happen on the first day back from a big break for me. Many teachers have teacher dreams for a variety of occasions, but they are typically connected to some work stressor. I was surprised to be awoken with a teacher dream on this occasion as I’ve hosted mock job interviews for about a decade now. And every couple of years, I update all the materials and begin making necessary changes to reflect the changing job market around us. This year was one of the reflect and revise years–and next year will be as well. But overall, I was not under any more stress than usual for this year’s interviews. But the dream happened. And I knew when I woke up that I wasn’t going back to sleep. And that getting through this week and this project was weighing more heavily on me than I thought.

So my interviewers showed up–today I had seven interviewers signed up: our district superintendent, our district chief academic officer (who was also my grown son’s elementary principal), my brother–a golf coach and corrective exercise instructor, my principal, one of my assistant principals, a social media expert, and a school board member. Two-thirds of my students interviewed today and received glowing remarks from the interviewers. Everything went off without a hitch–and I was relieved that my teacher dream came to naught.

“Dreaming” by Blondie


180 Days: Day 167–All for One, One for All

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Today starts the last week with a block scheduling and testing. Today (Monday) and Wednesday are the final two block days, but we have five days with five different schedules this week. I will see each class four times at four different lengths: 120 minutes, 41 minutes, 49 minutes, and 55 minutes. And I’ve had to plan accordingly for my students to be able to complete all that they need to do for the run-up to their final project due dates next week. So today’s 120-minute classes were spent with my sophomores. And we focused on putting the same research process used for our individual research projects in place. The focus of today was to exit class with a thesis and reliable sources to use in their research.

Some groups were still working on finding narrowed topics and research questions, so we had to really structure the time: 20 minutes to iron out topics, 30 minutes to research to narrow the topic and develop and/or revisit the research question, and the remaining time to research how to answer the question and develop the thesis.

So today’s exit ticket was a thesis statement and one source evaluation sheet per group member. I was pleased to see the groups working cohesively–one and all– and gelling around particular topics and finding credible sources. Some groups found that they needed to change course with their topics because the research showed a different outcome than they expected. Only one group changed topics altogether. I discerned from today’s activities that the second time through this research process students are feeling a lot more comfortable making adjustments and are recognizing the need for them before they are too deep into it.

“All for One” by The Stone Roses (2016)


180 Days: Day 166–When Asking about You Isn’t Really Asking about You

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Today is my seniors’ final day before their mock job interviews next Tuesday (Monday is a block schedule day when we will not see each other). So we worked on perfecting their “accomplishment statements” and “smart stories” highlighting their action verb skills. Then we tackled common interview questions and critiqued a couple of youtube videos offering advice on how to answer these questions. There are many, many, many of these instructive videos on YouTube, so we briefly discussed the need to verify and replicate the advice they find online. Advice and tips on job resume writing and interviewing are like scattershot on a target–all over the place. So finding replicated advice can lend it credibility.

We started with the most common of interview questions, the ubiquitous “tell me about yourself.”

“Tell Me about Yourself” by Linda Raynier


Then we gradually moved to the homework questions for which they wrote answers. And they looked up potential answers and tried to replicate advice before personalizing their answers and practicing interviewing one another in pairs.

We finished up the day going through our checklist to be ready for our next class period–day one of the two interview days. We verified who was interviewing with whom on which day, having their resume and references ready to go, dressing in business casual, and having polished handshakes and interview answers featuring “accomplishment statements” highlighting their skills.

Next class period: Show time!!! “You’re gonna go far/You’re gonna fly high…”

“Have a Cigar” by Pink Floyd from 1975’s Wish You Were Here


180 Days: Day 165–Old Project In, New Project Out

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

My sophomores completed the research process today. And then they started all over again. Much to their shock and chagrin. But this time, instead of working alone, they got to choose their own groups and their own topics. Sounds easy, right? But not so much. Giving freedom and teaching kids to make choices is a good thing. But there is such a thing as too much freedom and not enough structure. Especially for students who are learning and are not confident, practiced, and polished.

So I put together a map of the process we had just been through on the individual research papers on the front board. And I placed us back to square one: brainstorming topics, looking up information about them, deciding on a more narrowed topic and developing the research question. The catch? This time, the groups would be writing a script for a multimedia presentation. And the topic had to relate thematically to at least one of our readings for the year. Their topics had to meet criteria this time, instead of just being whatever they wanted. Again, students need a little structure to guide them through a process that is not yet practiced and polished. They want to be out of control, but I tied them up a little tight to start this process.

That’s a lot to do in one day. But we accomplished many tasks. We formed our groups. Each class formed 9 groups comprised of between 2-4 members of their choice. Each group then exchanged contact information using school email and remind texts. Then they started their brainstorming quest for a topic. By the end of each period, all of the 27 total groups had a topic, and roughly half had already developed their research questions.  Some outright struggles with how to connect to our literature, so it was important that I spent time with each group helping guide through the beginning brainstorm process. By the end of the period, I had index cards with each group’s members, topics, pieces of literature to connect to thematically, and some research questions.

After the initial shock, they found restarting the process opened up new questions they hadn’t originally thought of, and they engaged in the process with fidelity. That’s a good day in my books.

“The Shock of the Lightning” by Oasis from 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul

“…I’m out of control but I’m tied up tight…” Noel Gallagher

180 Days: Day 164–Dress Up Day Line Up

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

My seniors modeled appropriate interview dress for me today. For the purposes of our mock interviews, I have instructed the kids to wear business casual for their interviews. But I wasn’t going to let them procrastinate and not find the appropriate clothes until the night before. So here we are forming two lines in the middle of the classroom and critiquing everything from the colors they chose, the ironing of their clothes, the height of their heels, and the color of their belts. We talked about jewelry and hair and shirt garters and makeup and paying attention to the little things. I call this day every year “Dress for Success” Day.

Most student change clothes between classes and change right back out the clothes after my class. They don’t like “dressing for success” for the whole day, but today offers a great chance to dot i’s and cross t’s in their last second preparations for job interviewing. They clearly differentiate how to dress for work with how to dress for school, and they don’t care too much when the two modes of dress cross paths. But the discomfort is temporary I assure them.

After our “Dress for Success” line up, we applied our attention to detail to the resume rough drafts the students had typed up and brought in as we conducted a last second round of peer review on the overhead and then with at least three peers in class. We have only this class period and the next before the mock job interviews begin. So today was dedicated to polishing up those little details.

We ended class today reviewing common job interview questions. I gave the students a number of resources to review before assigning their homework: select three of the top interview questions that look hardest to them and write their answers. In the next class period, we will practice interviewing–it’s almost time to pull it all together!


“Out Here in the Open” by Train

“Out here in the open
Underneath my name
Somebody’s gonna pay attention to me
Someday everybody’s gonna pay attention to me…”


180 Days: Day 163–After the Long Weekend

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Including today, we have 18 days remaining in the school year. Most students will feel like they are the longest 18 days of their lives, while most teachers are in panic mode trying to make sure that we cover everything we should be covering in our curriculum for the year. The fact that we are only in week two of three weeks of state testing, means that students really are feeling like days are dragging on and on and on.

And to make matters even more draggy–today is the last day my sophomores have to work on their individual research projects. I spent the day circulating the room stopping to work individually with the students as they frantically researched, read, and wrote their essays.

I gave them most of the period to write, but I did reserve time at the end for a mini-review of MLA format, works cited format, and where to find the resources in our online class portal.

When I see these students next–on the day after tomorrow–they should have in their hands a researched document that has more than 1,000 words, plus a works cited page featuring at least three sources. My fingers are crossed that a majority of students turn their paper in on time so I can read these papers and go over the major issues we need to address in our group research projects that start full steam ahead that day.

The next few weeks will feature a lot of culmination and pulling together all the skill sets we’ve spent the past school year developing. Things are really starting to get more complex and interesting despite seeming to drag on and on.

“On and On” by Stephen Bishop


180 Days: Day 162–When a Handshake Is More than a Handshake

Over the next week, a flurry of the final 18 days of the school year will begin to post. Thanks for your patience as these last few weeks have been overwhelming.

Today was a regular six-period day with 55 minute class periods as opposed to the two-hour blocks we have had all week. I was stoked to get to see all of my students today. My sophomores turned in their “This I Believe” revisions, but my seniors are in overdrive mode. As part of our job search unit, we spent the day talking about interviewing and the importance of nonverbal language–like a handshake, a look of terror on an interviewee’s face, fidgeting, etc.

It’s not every day where the class assignment is to shake hands with your classmates and score them on their handshake, but that is what we did. I broke handshakes down into 10 what-not-to-do handshake styles, and three simple steps to effective, strong, confident handshakes. Getting kids up and moving around, shaking hands, discussing their handshakes, practicing…it was fun, yes. And it was an effective lesson in nonverbal language. Every student commented on their exit ticket that they wouldn’t have thought about something like a handshake had I not made it a focal point of the lesson-along with how to sit straight, not to cross legs (unless crossing ankles duchess style), to make eye contact, etc.

“Shake a Hand” by Elvis Presley