Why I Switched to an Online Lesson Plan

I can still remember my first years teaching. Planning with curriculum binders, teacher guides, textbooks, and post-its covering every available surface, I would attempt to do the impossible and craft lessons that somehow covered EVERYTHING while also being engaging and rigorous. There was never a one size fits all program, and so I was constantly hodgepodging materials and having strokes of genius at 2 am. My plans were eventually housed in 3-inch binders along with every cool thing I picked up from trainings and worksheets I had stumbled across online. The problem with this method was as I moved classrooms, schools, and grade levels I was constantly searching for things I had done in the past or remembered seeing somewhere on someone’s blog not to mention lugging pounds of instructional baggage with me. Before my 9th year in the classroom, I stumbled across Planbook and to say it’s revolutionized my practices would be an understatement.  Here are five reasons why I say, “YES!” to online lesson planning as well as some pros and cons of the most popular programs out there. At the end of the day, we have to choose what works for our students and us, but at least be informed about what you’re doing and why. We have to make this work manageable lest we suffer the fearsome teacher burnout everyone keeps talking about.

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you find that you are recreating items from year to year, it is probably because you have items in various locations. Sure, at the time your organization makes sense, but then you can’t locate the plan or handout when you really need it. Online planning allows you to have everything you need within one click. If you come across something exciting or a new idea to try out, you can save it and have it on hand when you need it most.
  2. Keep your ideas in one place from year to year. On the same wavelength as #1, keeping your plans in order from year to year can be a pain. Online planning allows you to simply migrate your plans over from one year to the next. You now longer have to wonder, “What did I do during this unit?” or “How did I review this last year?” It’s all on hand. This method also allows for you to share plans with students and parents (in the case of absences or accommodations).
  3. Easily change formats to change with the times. If there is one thing we can count on as teachers is that every fall we will be introduced with a new way of doing the same thing. Whether that is new standards, new planning templates, or a new Learning Management System (LMS), we can count on having to somehow making what we do “fit” with the “new, research-based way of doing things.” Online planning allows us to keep what works and easily merge it with the new lingo and format of the present.
  4. Push paperless interaction with administration and substitutes. I remember teaching in a large independent school district with mixed feelings of nostalgia and “how the heck did I do it?” Each year we would get a box of printing paper. That’s right one box of paper for 150+ students, and somehow we were supposed to make that sucker stretch until May. This meant we were making handouts a quarter of their original size so that we could squeeze four papers into one. On top of that, we had to keep lesson plan binders and sub binders updated with, you guessed it, multi-page, detailed, lessons complete with handouts and copies. Let’s just say…the box of paper didn’t go far. Online planning allows for paperless distribution of plans and materials with administration and subs. Even though I’m at a school now where we can print to our heart’s content, the old me remembers the “good ole days, ” and as such I send my plans soft copy. The way I see it, if they want to print it, they can use their own paper to do it. (Petty, I know. But it is what it is.)
  5. Search for files and skills with ease. No longer do you have to have to search through binders and boxes to find that one handout or activity from when you taught something way back when. With an online plan, you can search for skills and lessons with ease. With a simple keyword or tag search, you can pull up lessons, units, and deliverables in the time it takes for you to take a sip of your coffee.

Here are some of the options for online planning that are available. This is not an exhaustive list, just one based on what I’ve seen and use. Below each one, you will find the link to the website and some general pros and cons. 

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 11.32.32 AM This is an example of my plans that I migrated from last year to this year. 
  • PROS:
    • $12 for the entire year. Even if you leave, your plans are still accessible.
    • Can share plans with admin, colleagues, parents, and students with view-only or editing access.
    • Can move lessons from one day to the next in the event of schedule changes or unfinished lessons.
    • Works well for secondary teachers with multiple classes or preps.
    • Add in important events and non-school days so that you have an accurate depiction of days and times when planning.
  • CONS
    • Is really teacher/admin centered. There is not much on the student end but viewing plans for missed work.
    • You have to set up your template first so that it is pre-loaded into each day’s plan.
  • EVERNOTE
    • PROS:
      • User-friendly. Evernote has a ton of videos and posts about how to best use it. It’s probably the easiest to get the hang of.
      • You can take an image of handwritten notes and plans, and the text is searchable within Evernote.
      • Probably the easiest to convert from handwritten plans to online.
      • Can use with students for note-taking, notes, presentations, etc.
      • Can use the online app or computer application.
    • CONS
      • You need a premium plan for full functionality such as student interaction and notetaking in a shared notebook. You can work around this, but it may be more time intensive than necessary.
      • Can be clunky regarding organizing your plans. Check out this post here for an easy way to setup your workflow.
  • MICROSOFT ONENOTE
    • PROS:
      • Free!
      • User-friendly. Microsoft has a ton of videos and posts about how to best use it. Here is one about setting up lesson plans and templates.
      • If you have multiple preps, you can set up multiple notebooks.
      • You can take an image of handwritten notes and plans.
      • Can use the Class-Notebook add in that allows for you to share documents with students, set up work groups, and review student work.
      • Can use with students for note-taking, notes, presentations, etc.
      • Pairs with most LMS systems (Windows users only)
      • Can use the online app or computer application.
    • CONS
      • Handwritten text is NOT searchable yet, so it works best with typed plans.
      • Handwriting recognition is only available with the Windows version (sorry Mac users! It’s a huge gripe that we all have)
      • Full Class Notebook functionality is only on the Windows version.
      • SLOWEST sync time out of all the apps listed. This means that if multiple people are working on the same page, you have conflicting changes rather than a seamless sync like with Google.
      • Works best if the school is already using Microsoft 365/Microsoft for Education.
  • GOOGLE SHEETS
    • PROS:
      • FREE, FREE, FREE!
      • Can integrate with Google Classroom.
      • A lot of templates are available online or through Teachers Pay Teachers.
    • CONS
      • Workflow setup on the front end is more intensive. Check out this FREE template for setting up plans with Google Sheets.
      • It is really for personal plans rather than for sharing with admin, students, or parents.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. With so much time saved by planning online, you can have some much needed ME TIME, and when everyone is freaking out at the copy machines and teacher in-service about what they are teaching next week, you can smile because you’re done!

 

 

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“Boys Don’t Read”…Or Do They?

There is a common (mis)conception that boys don’t read. I put the mis in parentheses because although I have seen that the love boys have for reading books dwindle as they reach the middle grades, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t reading. Students are overscheduled. As they get older, this only gets worse and so their time for reading for relaxation or to escape into worlds unknown is limited. Reading must compete with sports, family time, school work, and the ever present budding social life.

Consider this for a moment. Your son or student plays HOURS of games on their Playstation or Xbox. Many of these games–Resident Evil, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Persona 5, etc.–all have in-depth storylines that the gamer must READ to succeed. Sure there is often the option to “skip through,” but most tried and true gamers read and listen to every word. I often see the same engagement with the boys I teach when we’re reading something particularly juicy like Ender’s Game or Unwind. The amount of intrigue is too good to pass up, and before they know it, they’ve devoured the entire book. So I propose that boys DO read, we just have to find the find the right texts and tools to KEEP them reading.  Read on for my own criteria/rules for getting my boys to fall in love with reading again.


  • Boys prefer to read GOOD stuff. It seems like a no-brainer, but time and time again we assign them things that are tedious and odious texts. But the standards?! But the tests! I know. I know. That is another post for another day. The fact of the matter is if he doesn’t like to read for pleasure, there is little to no chance of getting him to read passage upon passage for a state test. In short…if you assign it, he’s not going to read it unless it’s good or you’ve convinced him that it’s good enough for him to commit his time to. Some classics are classically boring and telling him to read “just because” does not hold up in the court of “I have more fun things to distract me.” Give them a reason to get past the first page and chapter.  

 

  • Annotation is not always the best practice. There is a time and a place for annotation, and when he is reading about an intense fight scene or nail-biting heist is not it. Annotation, especially DEEP annotation requires the reader to pause, leave the text, highlight, write, recap materials, and then re-enter the text. The flow of the moment of lost. While annotation is an excellent skill for short passages, challenging primary and secondary sources, and poems, we should not require that students mark up every single text that they come across. My boys HATE this. Annotating just to have something on the page is not what the skill is intended to do. Teach them how to annotate when they come across a reading block or struggle, but don’t let annotation interrupt the flow of a good read. When I tell my students just to READ, no annotation required, you can hear the sighs of relief and joy. There is more than one way to check for reading comprehension, and if the only way you’re checking to make sure students have read is by how much highlighter is in the book then you need to reevaluate the goals you have for reading in your class.

 

  • Give them a good reason to re-read. Layer in argument, pop-up debate,  and low-stakes writing. Students NEED second, third, and fourth reads. As a loyal follower of Kelly Gallagher, I can attest to the power of Deeper Reading; however, students, especially boys are reticent to do a plethora of close reads when they’ve already read it once. I hate to stereotype by gender, but there is a reason why so many comedians make a note of a man’s unwillingness to follow directions. Why? Because he has to read and re-read them. I’ve found that my boys are willing to re-enter a text if they have a reason to, and an argument is a great reason to go back to the text and dig deeper. Any book or passage we are reading in class is often followed by a pop-up debate or a quickly constructed response for them to collect their thoughts and provide evidence for them. I play devil’s advocate a lot to entice them to prove me wrong, i.e. go back into the text and prove me wrong. It works every time.

 

  • Boys need choices. The more choices they have in the text they are reading, the more likely they are to actually read the text. Instead of providing one core text or excerpt, provide multiple ones from multiple perspectives. Literature circles work great with boys because they feel ownership over their chosen text. After all, they chose it.

 

  • Get over the gore factor. Most boys like gore. There is a reason why Stephen King is a bestseller. My boys like to read gore and write gory stories. The more mysterious, the better. There are some who shy away from stories about death and monsters, but the majority of them will read it because of peer pressure. I should feel bad about this, but I don’t. My class library favorites of my boys are The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman), Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Jonathan Auxier), the Unwind Dystology and Scythe (Neal Shusterman), anything by Cinda Chima Williams, Endgame (James Frey), Ripper (Stefan Petrucha), and Lockwood and Co. Jonathan Stroud. All of these are middle grade and/or YA, and all have at least one cringe-inducing moment of gore that the boys can’t wait to talk about.

 

  • If your current novel list doesn’t include at least two sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, graphic novel, or juicy nonfiction, then you’re doing it wrong. These books tend to have plots that not only appeal to boys but also add conversations and connections to current social and political situations. During a study of 1984,  I had my boys read excerpts from Art of War, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” “Harrison Bergeron,” “Minority Report,” and watch V for Vendetta. They are analyzing these supplemental texts under the guise of “understanding Winston more.” If I taught these texts out of context from the book, they would never get read with the same level of interest and depth.

 

  • Either throw away the “reading schedule” or be okay with them reading ahead. Plan ahead for “spoiler” kids.  Strict reading plans tend to stifle students. Once they start reading, they will inevitably read ahead. I’ve had to relax my type-A personality and let this be okay. As long as they don’t “spoil” the book for others, they can read ahead. In fact, I encourage it. I also let them come and talk to me about what’s happening in the book.

 

  • Allow them to get comfortable. When you’re reading in class, let them get into relaxation mode. If this means you endure smelly feet and have to step over boys who are sprawled out on the floor and under their desks, then so be it. As long as they’re reading.

 

  • Read what they’re reading and engage in authentic conversations about the texts they like to read. I teach at a boys school because I love teaching boys. I also read many of the texts that my students read. They recommend a variety of texts to me, some that I like and others that I don’t, but it opens the door for conversations. Without this, I would have never discovered the Reckoners series or watched Death Note on Netflix. Turning my nose up at what they like, even in jest translates to “I’m judging you.” (Let’s be honest sometimes I am) Boys are sensitive, in my experience more so than my girls because they simply shut down rather than showing me how upset they are. I’ve had to work really hard to at least try what they like and show them that I care about the same things they do.

 

  • Audiobooks are a gift from Amazon. Many people dislike audiobooks. I don’t know why. For struggling readers, they open a new world of seeing the book. Once I opened the door the audiobooks in my classroom, my boys started reading again, especially my struggling readers. They can get them for free from the local and school library on Overdrive. My one concession is that I want them to follow along with the actual book as they listen so that they see the words on the page. They especially love the full cast productions (again The Graveyard Book is a favorite here).

 

That’s it, my TOP TEN ways for getting your boys to read. Try one or try them all!


Click here for my summer reading list of Books for Boys.

 

Happy Teaching!

Stop the Summer Slide! (Summer Writing Routine)

I’ve gotten a lot of questions this year regarding the boys’ writing and how to keep them practicing over the summer. Rather than send one-off emails, I sent one to all of my parents, and I’ve decided to share it with you as well. See below for a 4-day writing routine that will keep students writing over the summer, but also allow them time to RELAX.

PREFACE: MANY OF THE BOYS WORK VERY HARD DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR, AND I AM A HUGE PROPONENT OF BREAKS FROM THE DAILY GRIND. OTHERWISE, HE WILL BURN OUT, AND THAT IS NOT WHAT WE WANT. IT’S ALSO NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY TO BUILD UP YOUR ACADEMIC LIFE AND NEGLECT YOUR SOCIO-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT (I.E. FRIENDS, CLIMBING TREES, PARTIES, ETC). Both of my parents were teachers, and aside from a daily journal (10 minutes) and a summer reading log (which my mother honestly never checked, because I never stopped reading), I was free to go rollerblading, attend Band and basketball camp, go to waterparks, watch MTV all day,  etc). In short, when school was DONE, it was DONE.

It is important for the boys to be DONE with school, but keep their saw sharp over the summer through low stakes, engaging activities for no more than 30 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week (every other day).

If you’re interested in a writing routine for your son this summer, see the example schedule I’ve prepared below. This does not include his summer reading of Tom Sawyer which should be saved for the last two-three weeks of his summer vacation.

Placeholder Image

  • Day 2
    • Grammar Practice on Study Island (All of the boys from my class have a login. It is his school email address and whatever password he chose. If he forgets it, shoot me an email and I can retrieve it for him.)
      • Log into Study Island (https://app.studyisland.com/cfw/login/)
      • Go to Texas Programs (LEFT-HAND SIDE), then 8th Grade Writing or English EOC I
      • Take the Diagnostic (first time)/practice areas of growth for 20-30 minutes
      • Allow him to do Game Mode

 

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  • Day 4
    • Study Island Practice  AND
    • Share. Have him choose one of this week’s pieces to share with you. (Sharing is a VERY important part of the writing process! Do not CORRECT his work. Offer him two “Glows” and one “Grow” (“I’m wondering what will happen to _____. What do you have planned for this character?” or “I would have liked more physical description of this character so that I could see them in my mind”)

 

That’s it! A simple but effective way to keep kids writing, but not burnt out over the course of the summer break.