Are you a content hoarder? How to de-clutter your curriculum in 3 steps.

Are you a content hoarder? How to de-clutter your curriculum in 3 steps.

From 2003 to 2005 there was a TV series from TLC called, “Clean Sweep.”  On this show the host would go into peoples’ homes who had rooms that were filled with junk and help de-clutter them.  They would take everything out of the room and put it all in 3 separate piles:  keep, sell, or toss.  Once the room was cleared, a design team would come in and re-imagine the space so it met the homeowners’ needs.  On occasion, we need to do the same thing with our content.  We need to stop and consider whether what we are teaching and asking students to do is really adding value.  It is also important to consider if there is too much content in a course.  If student learning hinges on significant amounts of homework either there is too much content or we need a new way of delivering the material.

How to de-clutter your curriculum:

  1. Empty it out.  Make a list of everything.  What is it that you teach?  What are the tasks, projects, and tests that you give?
  2. Put it all in 3 separate piles:  keep, toss, or modify.  Keep what is still worth teaching and toss what isn’t.  Toss anything that is outdated.  Keep only the tasks that are really helping students learn.  Modify the assessments so they truly represent student proficiency.
  3. Re-design and re-imagine.  Once you’ve purged yourself of the weight of all the “junk” in your curriculum you’ll have room to put it together again in a fresh new way.  Focus on efficiency.  The right thing to do is let go of some “good stuff” in order to focus on the “best stuff.

Resource Pages – using Google Docs to share curated information with students

Resource Pages – using Google Docs to share curated information with students

“Mr. K, can I come in for some extra help?  I don’t get it.”

“Of course!  What don’t you get?”

“It.  All of it.  Like for the last two weeks.  I don’t get anything.  Can I come in after school?”

I think most teachers have had this at least once.  (I think I used to get it once a week.) Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it when students care enough to ask for extra help – and I’ll do just about anything to see that (albeit cliche) “spark” of finally understanding.

Buuuuuuut. . .  if I’m being honest, the first thought that comes to mind is, “Seriously?!? ALL of it?!?!  You want me to reteach EVERYTHING from the last 2 WEEKS tonight after school?!?”  

It is for these students and times (and maybe more importantly for the students who aren’t brave enough to come to their sometimes too facetious teacher for help) that I created Resource Pages.  Resource Pages are Google Docs, shared with students, with information and practice to help master the prioritized standards.

I curate reteaching videos, notes, worksheets, and interactive practice for my students to work independently on individually challenging material in a way that respects their time.

Key factors for making your Resource Pages useful while also respecting your time:

  • Create and follow a template so students can easily find the information and practice they are looking for.
  • Consider your delivery/access method for students.
    My Resource Page Template
    • Google Classroom?
    • Class Website?
    • E-mail?
    • Edmodo?
  • Include other important links/information
    • Reassessment information
    • Contact information
    • Links to other review sites (like Quizlet)
  • Curate material.  Don’t create everything!
    • Use Google Image search to locate “notes”
    • Before making a “flipped classroom” video, check to see if someone has already done it!
    • Traditional printable worksheets are easier to find if you specifically search with the formats they are usually saved in (PDF or .doc)
      • Use Advanced Google Search (under settings)
      • or use filetype:pdf before your search for PDF documents
      • or use filetype:doc before your search for  Microsoft Word documents
  • Create enough to make it specific enough to your class
    • Vocabulary lists
    • Links to your lecture notes
    • Customized EDpuzzle videos

I’ve found success using Resource Pages. . .

  • for students who are gone the day of instruction
  • for students who need a re-teaching
  • for students who need/want more practice
  • as an opening or closing POD activity
  • to communicate with parents the content of the course.

6 Ways to Better Respect our Students’ Time

6 Ways to Better Respect our Students’ Time

What’s more important than a good night’s rest?

couch_relax_19121Apparently homework.

This past week, one of my students’ opening POD activities was to discuss the value of sleep, how much sleep they get, what gets in the way of sleep, and what is more important than sleep.

Most of their answers were predictable.  Most said they get between 5 and 6 hours of sleep.  They all said that sleep was important to their health.  The number one contributing factor to their lack of sleep was the amount of homework.  4 hours or more was the consensus.  They described an intense amount of reading, detail oriented projects, and extraordinary test prep.

What surprised me was the fervor with which students argued that homework is more important than sleep.

“I need to do homework to prepare for my future.”

“If I don’t do the homework, I’ll fail.”

“There’s not enough time for sleep.”

“It isn’t really the stuff I have to turn in that takes me so long, it is the work I need to do and the reading I need to get through in order to get an A on the test.”

“If I have to choose between homework and sleep – I choose success.”

“Social life, sports, good grades, sleep:  you can only have two of these.”

The majority of these students have listened to the advice of their teachers to get involved and take advantage of opportunities.  They participate in athletics, take challenging courses, perform with our choirs/bands/theatrical groups, and are loyal sports fans of their peers.  They are the students every teacher wants in their classes – driven, respectful, and participatory.  We’ve created a system that rewards these students with exhaustion.

As educators, we need to re-evaluate the amount of additional time students need to devote outside of class in order to be successful in our courses.  How can we better respect our students’ time?

  1. Consider the value of the products you ask students to create.  Does the product represent student learning or is it just re-presenting? (Just because a student is “creating” a product, doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing anything more than demonstrating their ability to “recall” information – which is at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.)
  2. Evaluate how much time is spent “sitting and getting” and how much time is practicing the material during class.  If the practice is so critically important to the success of your students, why is it not being done with you present?  Re-structure your daily lessons to incorporate more practice.
  3. Look at your assessment rubrics.  How much weight is given to the “look” of the product?  (Common justification here is that students also need to learn how to create a “professional” presentation.  How often do they need to demonstrate this?  In how many classes?  Is the time required to practice this skill really worth the payoff?)
  4.  Be mindful of the “hidden homework” you are inadvertently assigning.  Studying, self-reteaching, and reading.  What may take one student 20 minutes to read or review, may take another student an hour.
  5. Prioritize the critically important content and skills.  Teach as much as you can!  But, understand that there are limits to what we can realistically be assessed in a reliable way and how much a student can realistically learn in a meaningful way.
  6. Don’t be afraid to scrutinize the vertical alignment of your curricula. If there is too much information for students to learn in the time available during class, then we need to reconsider the scope/sequence of the classes that are meant to prepare students for the “capstones.”




If the homework task is so critical to the success of all students, why are they not doing it with you present?

If you believe that your time is better used not practicing.  And the work must be done at home.   Then, you are making the argument that time in your classroom is more important than a student’s time with their families.

Not an argument I am willing to stand behind.  This is why I don’t assign homework!


I’m a high school teacher and I no longer assign homework because. . .

I’m a high school teacher and I no longer assign homework because. . .

Just before the beginning of school this year, much well deserved buzz surrounded the note Brandy Young (@MrsYoung2nd), an elementary school teacher in Texas, sent to the families of her students explaining her no homework policy.  Since then, elementary school, after elementary school,  after elementary school have announced that they are banning homework as a building policy.

nohomework-trainYet, the movement hasn’t caught on at the secondary school level.  Many high school teachers are very reluctant to get aboard the #NoHomework train.  They cite studies by John Hattie and others that show a correlation between homework and academic achievement.  High school teachers argue that homework fosters organization, tenacity, and responsibility.  Teachers often contend, “if I don’t assign homework, my students won’t be prepared to succeed in college or won’t be able to handle the rigor of the real world.”

Before I explain why I no longer assign homework to my students, let’s take a look at a few hypothetical students’ schedules without homework factored in:

  • Ignacio is the quintessential “try-hard.”  He is a 3 sport athlete, is an active member in school sponsored clubs, takes challenging classes, and works as a stock boy at a local grocery store.
  • Jada isn’t a huge fan of school, but she shows up everyday and takes care of business.  While Jada doesn’t like to participate in school sports or clubs, she is an active member of her church and has a job as a waitress at a local diner so she can save for college.
  • Wyatt is an “at risk” student.  He struggles to get to school because his family doesn’t have a reliable vehicle.  Wyatt’s mother works 2 jobs to try and make ends meet which leaves him not only in charge of getting his 3 younger siblings ready for school each day but also needing to care for them in the evening.




Wakes up and gets self ready
Wakes up and gets self ready
Wakes up and gets self ready
Gets siblings ready for and to school
7:00 Extra-curricular meeting
7:45-3:15 In School In School In School
Sports Practice
picks up siblings
4:30 Quick Dinner
Makes dinner and eats with siblings
Cleans up kitchen, picks up after kids, and entertains
6:00 Quick Dinner
Gets siblings washed up and ready for bed
8:30 Packs lunches for the next day
10:00 Goes to Bed Goes to Bed Goes to Bed

If you look at these schedules, you might notice all three of these students have between 1 and 1.5 hours of “free” time that they could use for homework.  Let’s assume that these students have 7 classes in a day and 1 study hall (45 minutes).  There is then 2 hours and 15 minutes of “work” time for these student to do homework in a given day. With 7 classes each, the teachers in those classes can lay claim to almost 20 minutes of the students’ time.

But what about these students’ mental health?  What about their need to relax?  When might they be able to explore other interests?  Where is there an opportunity for the family to do things together?  What happens when one of those 7 teachers lays claim on an hour?  Is it possible that what a teacher expects to take 20 minutes might take a student 15 minutes to relearn the material- and then actually 30 more complete?  When the workload exceeds the available time, what should a student do – not do homework for a different class, lose sleep, or not read thedesert_road_sign_18648 chapter due for tomorrow?

I no longer assign homework because I don’t believe I have the right to dictate what happens at home.

I no longer assign homework because because I understand the home lives of my students are not equal and homework exacerbates the effects of that inequality.

I no longer assign homework because I believe I can inspire a desire to learn more without needing to require.

I no longer assign homework because I believe that the almost 40 hours every week students are in school is enough

But, what if it isn’t enough time?  First, consider your lessons.  We all have room to be more efficient in our delivery.  Since fully implementing standards based grading (SBG), it has been much easier to prioritize my instruction.  SBG also has helped my students understand what their strengths are and where their weaknesses are.  Consider making more room for practice during your lessons.  Utilizing POD lesson planning has opened the door for more meaningful practice time during class – further reducing the need for homework.

All this isn’t to say that students shouldn’t do work at home.  Students learn at different paces and in different ways – some may find more success with at-home work while others find an intrinsic desire to advance as far as they can.  I provide resource pages filled with reteaching videos, interactive practice, notes presentations, and worksheets for students to select and choose what, if any, work is valuable to them to meet their goals.  The policy and class structure is meant to help as many students as possible find success – but progress monitoring may lead to conversations that a different policy best fits the needs of an individual.

How to Implement Standards Based Grading

How to Implement Standards Based Grading

Step 1: Get into the “Mindset”

Traditional grading practices that use percents and averages to determine a student’s final grade has sent the message to many kids that the point of school is to “game” enough points to get to the class rank they are comfortable with.  If a student isn’t interested in this game, all too often they stop playing.  We as teachers have the tendency to see this as “apathy.”  We then decide that we won’t have any meaningful impact until the student “chooses to be successful.” AKA: play the game.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) tells a different kind of story.  Under this grading paradigm, students are assessed on only what they can do and what they know – not on the mountain (or molehill) of work the student has been able to produce.  There is always another chance to reassess and demonstrate an increased level of mastery.

SBG doesn’t take behaviors and shoehorn them into a content grade.  Punctuality, responsibility, organization, kindness, respect, attention, and attendance are all important; however, they generally are not a key content or performance standard.  These characteristics and skills are critically important to instill and teach to students – but they aren’t part of the “academic base;” they are part of the “responsibility base.”

If we want students who have given up to come back and join us, we need to meet them where they are.  We need to accept that students have growth needs in theigradingfromtheinsideout-265_1r “responsibility base” in the same way as they have growth needs in their “academic base.”  Allowing lagging skills in responsibility to distort they way we communicate a student’s academic progress is what breeds “apathy.”  That’s on us as educators.

Do yourself a favor and get Tom Schimmer’s (@TomSchimmer) Book, Grading From the Inside Out: Bringing Accuracy to Student Assessment Through a Standards-Based Mindset.

Step 2: Select your Standards

Understand the role your course plays in the building/school curriculum.  Remember to keep in mind that all standards can’t be taught by one teacher in one course. Ask yourself, “What is the main purpose of my course?” and “What will a student newly know as a result of my course?”  Your course is one piece of the overall curriculum puzzle.

pen_notebook_19140-2Don’t do this step in a vacuum if you can help it!  Read through relevant curriculum documents (Common Core, Model Academic Standards, prior District work.) Collaborate with your colleagues.  You want to make sure your standards are exhaustive and defensible.

Finally, think about which skills and what content are critical. You are not deciding what is important (there is a good chance that most of your list is important); you are deciding what is most crucial. Decide which specific abilities and knowledge are absolutely necessary for successful completion of your course and preparation for the next step. These crucial learning objectives are your prioritized standards – these are what you are going to assess. You will still teach a large amount of the other “stuff” but your focus and assessment should be prioritized.

Step 3: Devise a Comprehensive Assessment Plan

Focus on your Standards and remember that SBG assesses learning and not events. Your assessment should have a laser focus on the standard(s) and not [directly or indirectly] include other behaviors or content.

Reassessment must be a part of your plan.  Students learn at different paces and in different ways. Any given formal assessment won’t meet the needs for all students in terms of time and design. Students need to have the opportunity to reassess for full out_of_the_mist_18676-2credit in an individually respectful way when they are prepared. Best practice would be to incorporate at least one reassessment opportunity during class time through spiraling past standards into later assessments.

Separate formative from formal and vary your assessments.   Practice should encourage mistakes and risk taking. So long as academic rigor, validity, and reliability are present, alternative assessments should be allowed and encouraged.

Step 3: Modify your Policies & Plans

Units and chapters may become incongruent with your new framework. Be open to rearrange your sequence. It is important to note that there is an expectation that much more than just the prioritized standards are being taught – but there is a priority placed upon the content/skills which are critical.

Policies and procedures should be there to teach students organization, responsibility, and accountability.  We also need to allow for flexibility so that we can meet students where they are and permit them to demonstrate mastery when they are fully prepared to do so.

Step 4: Define Proficiency Levels

I’d argue that 4 levels are ideal – all you really need to know and report is when a student “doesn’t get it,” “kinda gets it,” “gets it,” and “really gets it.” At each end of the proficiency scale, I also include a section for those students that don’t fit – I have a “hasn’t given me enough information to know if they get it” category and a “is so beyond the scope of what we are doing, the assessment isn’t really valid” category.picture_your_gallery_19125

Define each stage of skill/content acquisition.  Be pithy.  Be broad.  Accept that professional subjectivity will play a role in selecting the level.  This is not a rubric.  You might choose to use rubrics targeted for specific assessments to help you and students understand what specific components will be analyzed to assist in determining the proper level. Click here for my Proficiency Levels Document

Step 5:  Convert to Traditional Grade

Be Protective of your proficiency scale.  Your proficiency scale tells an important story. If you are going to make concessions or leave out part of a system, leave it out of the traditional, not your proficiency scale.

Define the traditional grading categories by asking yourself, “What should an A represent?” or, “What should a D actually mean?”  Define all the letters in order to educate your alignment.  Don’t be afraid to abandon percents and averages and include your professional judgement as a part of selecting the appropriate proficiency level and in selecting the traditional grade category.

This is the conversion chart I am using.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “competency” in all course standards and has demonstrated a level of “mastery” in many course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “competency” in all course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “knowledgeable” in all course standards.and has demonstrated a level of “competency” (or higher) in many course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “knowledgeable” in all course standards or average of scores is at least 2.0

Student has only demonstrated at least a level of “building” in all course standards or average of scores is lower than 2.0


Student has not given a full and honest effort in at least 1 course standard.

Step 6: Be Tenacious and Resolute

There will be challenges along the way.  Your new “system” will encounter problems that you didn’t anticipate.  If you believe, as I do, that standards based grading is what is best for kids, it is worth the struggle.

Remember, the purpose of SBG is to better report what a student knows and is able to do.  Leave room for your professional judgement to come in and “fix” an unfair result of the system or do right by kids.

Click here for a printable/downloadable PDF version of the information on this post!

SBG Implementation Quick Start Guide

the POD (participation, option, differentiation) lesson planning experiment

the POD (participation, option, differentiation) lesson planning experiment

Summer gave me the opportunity to re-imagine how I wanted to design the flow of my daily lessons.  I knew I wanted to increase the amount of student practice as well as student choice.  Due to an increasing number of heritage/native speakers in my Spanish classroom, there is also a high need for significant differentiation.

Understanding that not all students go home to an environment that is ideal for studying or completing homework, I needed to find a way for my students to get the majority of their quality practice as well as instruction while they were at school.

With all those thoughts and goals in mind, the POD lesson experiment was born. The typical POD lesson starts with an opening pod that replaces the traditional bell ringer.  Following the opening pod comes a whole group activity/instruction.  At the end of class, students return to their small groups for a closing pod activity.

untitled-design-1First, why pods?  Because 3 brains are better than 1 and small groups are less scary than whole classes.  Putting students in small study groups builds camaraderie and breaks down the barriers to say, “I don’t get this” to someone that either will be able to help or commiserate.  If helping and collaborative teaching is taking place among students – great!  If commiserating is happening, as a teacher, I can spot a derailed group faster than I can spot a derailed individual.

I use the opening pod to increase “buy in.”  Typically, students are writing about or discussing a prompt I put on the board.  The prompt is connected to what we are doing, but is focused on drawing connections to their world.  “Describe a time when you ____,” “share your experience with ____,” “how does ____ make you feel?” or “what is your opinion about ___?”

The opening pod also lends itself to reviewing a prior lesson or pre-teaching /discovering key vocabulary or concepts before the main lesson

Pods have allowed me restructure my whole group lessons.  Now, lectures are not interrupted or slowed down for students to “finish copying” my presentation because they are going to be given time at the end of class.  Students are closer to me because they aren’t behind desks or tables and thus less able to “hide”, put their head down, or get distracted by their devices.  With the time saved during lectures, my whole group ristoranteactivities/practice can now be a lot more interactive and thorough.

The closing pod is great for an individualized wrap-up of the lesson.  Some students will find the most benefit from carefully copying notes into their notebook.  Others may need to focus on vocabulary acquisition.  Still others might need a more detailed re-teaching.  Occasionally, a group work activity (that in the past I  would assign as homework) becomes the focus.  An added benefit of this structure is built-in work time for projects.  Progress monitoring is a lot easier when a significant part of work is being in class – without losing quality instruction time.  During my 45 minute class period, I try and devote at least 10 minutes to the closing pod.

Bonus Benefits of planning with PODs in mind:

  • Smaller carefully selected groups increase the odds that social pressure will encourage more participation.  (it is easier to “brave” in a group of 3 than in front of a whole class.)
  • The transitions from pods to whole group and back to pods encourages student movement and keeps them alert.
  • Since work time is built-in, I am making my classroom and policies more equitable as the direct impact of differences in home-life are diminished, not exacerbated as they are with heavy at-home workloads.
  • “Antsy” students have hope that they are not going to be in any one space for too long.

This is new to me and I am still getting used to the pace; but so far I am excited about the possibilities this has for my students’ progress!