Well, hello there friends! It’s been a minute (or several).
But, here I am, so… let’s just jump right in.
It is Week 3 of my 13th year of teaching – which is CRAZY to me. Yes, crazy that we started school at the beginning of August, but more crazy that I’ve been doing this for 13 years. I’m halfway through my career give or take a little… I’ve said this before, but when I first started teaching, I honestly could not IMAGINE how people did this job for 25+ years… Now, I see how fast the time FLIES by. I guess that’s what happens when you love what you do. And I really, really do: Every year more than year the year before. Last year, in fact, was one of my best years in the classroom EVER.
Today, I’m sharing five ways Instagram has inspired me and made me a better teacher recently. Hopefully, you’ll pick up an idea or two and even add to the list with your own inspiration in the comments!
1.) Classroom decor & set-up
I’ve always cared about the space I’m working in, but about a year ago, I finally felt like I had the energy and time/resources to go “all in” in creating a classroom that really felt like home to my students. (Please note, that was ELEVEN YEARS into my career. I don’t think this should be anyone’s first/top priority or that it makes anyone a good teacher!)
There are a lot of articles etc. out there suggesting that “flexible seating” options actually improve student focus and learning (and, in fairness, plenty saying the opposite too), but the bottom line – for me – is this: I want my students to WANT to come to my class, to ENJOY reading/writing/discussing/learning, and to get a sense that I care about them and I know them when they step through my door. A more casual, welcoming learning environment does that for us. Now, when we discuss books on the couch over coffee, it feels more like a Book Club than like being in school; and, I hear from them over and over again, that that matters. So, until it stops working for me, I’ll keep adding and adapting and making my classroom a safe, happy, and comfortable place for my kiddos!
2.) More diverse and current literature + More Book Clubs & student choice
Three years ago (ish), I wrote a blog post that shared my entire curriculum for ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade English. I was really proud to share it, and I got mostly positive feedback about it, except for one comment that has haunted me every since. The commenter basically called me out for only teaching books written by “white men,” and she was absolutely right. It was horrified to realize that I’d never even noticed how NOT inclusive my reading list was… I *believed* in featuring diverse voices in my classroom and giving kids literature that provided “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors,” but my syllabus sure didn’t show it…
Then and there, I vowed to do better, and I have. I still have a long way to go, but, slowly but surely, I am building a library I’m proud of that is representative of ALL my students. Because of funding, school norms, etc. it wasn’t an overnight change; but small steps – a new book or two every year, following organizations like @projectlitcomm on Instagram, giving my students choice in the things they read, taking risks and trying something different – have added up to a significantly more well-rounded library/curriculum; and my students and I both are SO MUCH better off as a result!
Speaking of student choice, as my classroom library has developed, I’ve been doing more Book Clubs / Lit Circles where students sample and choose from several different books to read and discuss in small groups OR simply choose a book they want/are excited to read to read independently instead of whole-class reads. *Full disclosure, I still do whole-class reads for a lot of the year, but I have implemented this methodology for at least one unit in each of my three classes, and it is a FAVORITE (of mine and theirs) every time. I hope to do even more in the future!
*One of my favorite ways to assess Independent reading is with creative One-Pagers (shown above).
3.) Teaching with Podcasts
I’ve taught the Serial podcast (using my own version of these plans) for awhile now, and it is one of our best units every year. Students get SO into the story, and we have a blast dissecting Koenig’s rhetoric, studying satire with the SNL spoof, and – ultimately – writing our own arguments for or against Adnan’s innocence. It is one of those lessons that checks all the boxes for my AP Language class, so it’s kind-of silly that it has taken me so long to add even more podcasts to my curriculum…
Podcasts are SUCH a big part of culture today, and I really suspect that they will be recognized more and more as a form of storytelling art (i.e. literature) in the future, so it makes sense to use them to supplement discussions and studies whenever I can. Thanks to lots of IG inspiration, I’m excited to use an episode of Gangster Capitalism this year with The Great Gatsby and American Hysteria with The Crucible, to start. I’m also working on an entire intro to persuasion unit with my ninth graders based on Smash Boom Best (one of my 2nd grader’s favorites) later this year that I think will be lots of fun and super effective.
4.) Classroom Transformations
A classroom transformation is, essentially, turning your classroom into something else (a masquerade ball for Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet, a crime scene for The Tell-Tale Heart, a funeral for the end of Gatsby) to bring the literature (or whatever it is you are studying that day) “alive” for students. These are super fun and, in my experience, the students (even high schoolers) REALLY get into them and appreciate the extra effort it takes on your part to transform your classroom..
There are some REALLY amazing examples of these on Instagram, but I tend to actually keep them pretty simple… For example, I just finished “Kindergarten Day” with my ninth graders where I set tables with brightly colored paper, markers, scissors, and glue, played “The Wheels on the Bus” over my speakers, and served goldfish crackers while we read children’s books to review the elements of a narrative. We all had a blast and the total money/energy exerted on my part was minimal.
I started small and have slowly added more and more of these. Last year, I “invested” in some yellow crime tape, black roses, cobwebs, and a cardboard casket (on sale at the Dollar Store after Halloween) + some battery operated tea lights, a wedding veil, and a bunch of cheap plastic tablecloths. (Target Dollar Spot is GREAT). You’d be shocked at how much I’m able to use just these few items! ALSO, when I’m in a hurry or on a strict budget, I’ve found that a great Google image projected onto the board + an Amazon Prime playlist goes a long way too!
5.) Stations instead of Power Points
This probably seems small, but it is the change that I have implemented the most easily and the most often over the last year… Though I occasionally still give a lecture with a Power Point, I have now adapted most of my lessons into more interactive STATIONS that get students moving around the room and actually ENGAGING with the content of the day instead of just staring at me / pretending to listen.
I did this the first day of school with “Back to School Stations” that had kids talking to each other, being creative, and close reading instead of just sitting in chairs reviewing the syllabus. I also love stations for introducing context before a novel study, reviewing concepts, and analyzing short works like political cartoons, speeches, quotes, etc. There are a ton of great station activities for high school English classes on Teachers Pay Teachers, but I’ve found that they are really easy to create in yourself PowerPoint too… Just ask yourself, “What do I want students to learn today?” then break that up into small, actionable parts, type up instructions on slides, print, and go!
6.) Daily Agendas
This is a last minute add-on, but also an ESSENTIAL part of the positive changes I’ve made over the last year or so: posting a Daily Agenda for students at the start of EVERY class. (Mine is from Write on with Miss G’s TPT store and WELL worth the $1.25 in my opinion.)
I LOVE lesson planning – really, I do – but I have long struggled with the most efficient and effective way to do it. Daily Agendas have been exactly what I needed! Basically, I write all my plans paper/pencil in my Simplified Teacher Planner (more on that soon – promise) and then I transfer them to student-friendly language and add a cute Bitmoji on my Daily Agenda slides. These slides (which I easily converted from Power Point to Google) are then linked on my class Blackboard page so that students can access the most up-to-date, real-time plans at any point. This saves me the extra step of having to “post” something every week, and the kids find it easy and accessible. THEN, during class, I project that day’s slide on my ActivPanel when students enter my classroom and serve as a guide through that day’s lesson. While I think having a clear agenda is great for my students, more than anything, it is a visual reminder FOR ME of what I need to get through each day + special announcements, reminders, etc. I need to make sure to share. This keeps me SO much for more organized / on track, and… they are fun to make too!
For now, let me know what changes you’ve made in your classroom recently to keep things fresh, engaging, organized, etc. Are you using podcasts? Which ones? What’s on your Daily Agenda? What’s your favorite classroom transformation? Let’s chat!!!
P.S. Want to know exactly WHERE I got all these ideas and inspiration? Check out my blog post: My Favorite ELA Teachers on Instagram or the Instagram post where I tagged some of my tried and true favorites!
P.S.S. It’s also worth noting that I met many of the lovely ladies behind these Instagram accounts and got to experience some in-real-life inspiration at the Keeping the Wonder Workshop last fall. This was a GAME CHANGER for me, and I strongly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity to attend one of their sessions. (There’s also a Virtual Conference you can learn more about at the link too!)