Spinning Plates

When I was a kid, there used to be this show that would come on every summer.  It was called Battle of the Network Stars.  There would be all these TV show actors competing in a silly Olympic-type atmosphere, only far less athletic and a lot more amusing.  The only thing I really remember was the spinning plates.  It seemed they always had Bob Newhart doing that one, probably because it was so hilarious how he would face the task with such a deadpan.  He would have ten or a dozen vertical sticks in front of him, and he’d have to spin plates on top of each one.  The goal was to get them all spinning with plates — but of course, some would drop and crash into bits before he had them all up.

That’s what I feel like now, but without the hilarity.

A week from today, school begins.  I do not enjoy the first day of school.  It’s going over rules and learning names and checking off that students have brought supplies.  It’s just not very fun for me.  So I’m trying to come up with something a little more enjoyable, a bit more interactive.  I’m considering doing this activity, but since I found in on Pinterest, I fear that students may have done it before.  In this case, that might not be bad, but I find that I often can’t surprise students with things I saw on Pinterest, because they’ve seen them too.

In addition to trying to make the first day more interesting, I’m trying to plan my lessons.  I’m doing a new thing with three-ring binders this year, and having students taking notes in them instead of on their iPads.  There’s a big push toward using technology in the classroom, but I found last year that when I allowed my students to take notes on their iPads, some of them weren’t taking notes at all (but rather were playing games), and when they saved their notes, they could rarely find them again because its title was something like “Blank 34.”  Things weren’t organized into folders or given good names.  I recognize that I probably need to learn better how to use the iPad so that I can better teach students how to organize things on the device.  However, that won’t solve the gaming problem.  Plus, I really think that some students need to have tangible organization and notes to help them learn how to arrange things logically.  That skill can later be transferred to the virtual world, but trying to do it virtually first is difficult.  Last, it’s a lot easier for me to do random notebook checks if notes are in binders in my room rather than on students’ iPads.  Now, having said all that, I know I need to allow time for students to get all their supplies, but I want to start them taking notes very quickly in the year.  So I’m trying to figure out how much time to permit them to get their stuff in, and when to start with note taking.

I want to teach grammar better this year.  I personally enjoy grammar, but the grammar books we had at our school were terrible, and I had a hard time teaching it well with poor materials.  I have a colleague who said she has some materials for me, so I’m hoping to try that this year.

One of the buzz words in education lately is differentiation — meeting each student, whether struggling or gifted — where he or she learns best and where each student’s mastery level is.  I did some things last year in an attempt to differentiate, and it felt like chaos.  I don’t function well in chaos.  I’m still trying to figure out how to differentiate well.  How to I offer extra assistance to the students having trouble, plus challenge the students for whom the subject matter is a breeze, all while maintaining a sense of order in the classroom?  I haven’t figured that out yet.

On top of all this, I’ve agreed to sponsor a middle school newspaper AND develop a mentorship program for at-risk middle school students.  I’m not too worried about the newspaper.  I’ve got some gung-ho kids who will be great leaders in that venture.  But the mentorship program… that’s a different challenge.

It’s a lot, and I’m feeling a little spinny.  I’m ready for school to start, but it’s an excitement tinged with trepidation.

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