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What are you struggling with in your classroom right now?

By Dave Stuart Jr.

This post is short and simple and mega important. September is behind us, and the school year is officially in warp speed mode.

Looking back on your first month or so of school, I have a big question for you.

What are you struggling with in your classroom right now?

I've been plugging along myself with a new batch of freshmen, and, like usual, there's been a lot of joy and a lot of sweat and a good amount of learning through messing up 🙂

But being in the school year means my blogging time is even more limited, and that means I want to make sure every post is as relevant to readers as humanly possible.

So, if you have a minute right now, I'd love to know a problem or two you're wrestling with as an educator.

What is keeping you from doing the work you love in your classroom? What are you stuck on? What are you frustrated by? What makes you think about throwing in the towel or starting over?

Please share in the comments 🙂

31 Responses to What are you struggling with in your classroom right now?

  1. Giana September 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    I am struggling with the CC speaking & listening standard: “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric….”
    How do I get students to be effective critics of their peers?

    • davestuartjr September 30, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

      Giana, awesome question. I haven’t focused much on this standard in terms of having students evaluate their peers. Instead, I’d use something like a TED Talk or a political debate clip to have students analyze a different speaker’s point of view.

      • Giana October 1, 2013 at 10:50 am #

        Thanks for the idea, Dave. LOVE YOUR BLOG!

    • Penelope October 23, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      Have you tried Fishbowl or Socratic? They can peer asses, as well as self-asses.

  2. Emily Mayer October 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I’m struggling with how to make close reading accessible to struggling readers, while still holding them accountable for doing the work. The Common Core mentions scaffolding a number of times, but I’d LOVE some direction about what this might look like in an actual classroom. How do I support all students in the reading of these difficult texts?

    • Susan S. October 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

      Emily, my husband teaches U.S. History to students who are from “culturally and linguistically different” backgrounds. He still reads many primary source documents with them using a cloze sentence reading guide that leaves out key vocabulary while preserving the syntax of the original text. He models reading with the guide once or twice at the beginning of the year, and then his students take over with their own independent practice. I tried a cloze statement guide with my own struggling readers this week, and saw some of them flourish as they unlocked the structure of the sentences and were directed toward the essential words. In the guided statement that was the most problematic for students, I substituted the pronoun for its antecedent from the previous sentence. It was a clear sign (informal assessment) that this is an area of language my students and I need to give more attention. Creating a paragraph by paragraph cloze reading guide took me ten minutes. Adding two, text-dependent questions took me another five minutes. The 50 minutes of solid efforts of my students to sort through the language, draft fully-developed responses to the questions, and then extend their understanding in discussion were worth my time investment.

      • Lynsay January 3, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

        Susan, this is an outstanding idea. I also teach struggling readers and would love to try it out. Would you be so kind as to provide an example of the short original text alongside your cloze reading guide? Seeing the two together would teach me how to construct one for any piece of text. PLEASE use one you’ve already created– I would hate to add an extra task. Thanks and love from New Orleans!

    • davestuartjr October 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      Emily, this is a KEY question I’ve been wrestling with this fall. It’s marinating in my brain right now — keep your eyes out for more posts on close reading because I feel like there’s a lot of us wondering things like, “What about struggling readers?”

    • davestuartjr October 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

      Emily, this comment appears to have come directly from my soul. Here are some things I’m trying as I wrestle with this problem right along with you:

      1. Expecting them to begin by defining words they’re unfamiliar with. I have one student who is Level 1 ESL, and she literally ONLY looks up words while reading our 9th grade articles.
      2. Modeling how I work through the first few paragraphs, including how I annotate towards the focus question for the given text.
      3. Walking around during independent practice segments of the lesson and remediating for individual students as needed.

      How’s it going? It’s been awhile since you commented and I’d love to know if you’ve come up with anything since then!

  3. Susan S. October 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Now, back to the original topic: My current struggle is the shift from my own teacher-created assessments toward the district mandated performance assessments. The source of my struggle is that the district assessments consist of badly written prompts and a piece of text without an adequately specific scoring guide or tool for communicating results to students and parents. I still have to create the context, calibrate exemplars and score 120 of them, create a letter to parents that reports the results, and then assist my students in using the results to set meaningful goals: all for three written assessments that fall out of the sky onto my students’ desks this year. I like a challenge, though, so I’m diving in. Suggestions?

    • davestuartjr October 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Susan, you’ve got grit! I’m inferring that you’re in a pretty large district and that you probably don’t even know who made these assessments–yes? I believe in the “speak truth to power” school of thinking, so, if the assessments are truly horrid, I’d spend my energy on figuring out how to helpfully, constructively put words to that issue to those who can affect it rather than trying to turn lead into gold (i.e., communicating the results in a meaningful way to students and parents).

      If there is, however, a significant value in the assessments for students and parents, then I’d save the abovementioned energy for doing what you’re seeking to do–figure out how to make the results useful to them.

      • Susan October 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

        The powers that be don’t know the half of it. After giving the students the first of the PAs last week, I have much to say at an upcoming town hall regarding assessment data and teacher evaluation.

  4. Lisa October 8, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I am at a turn around school without tge support. I’m struggling with 8th graders that just simply don’t try to work and don’t care. Not one or two but 8-12 per class. What CAN I do?

    • davestuartjr October 8, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Hi Lisa,

      I am right there with you this trimester with several students showing similar lack of motivation, and I have been there in the past with whole classes refusing to exert themselves.

      Contrary to what many would advise, I don’t recommend extrinsic motivators, but instead by leading some class discussions on the research surrounding grit. Here is a video to get you started:

      Angela Duckworth’s first grit video.

      And here is by far the best book on the subject, filled with stories and research that I regularly infuse into my instruction.

  5. Shawn October 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I am struggling to balance all of the curriculum expectations that are being place upon me by the English department, curriculum director, and the state in just 60 minutes a day! I actually just switched school districts, in which I was given 90 minutes a day, and now am a first year here with 60 minutes.. When I came to the new district, I was given a basal vocabulary program that is expected to be implemented every week which consumes every Monday’s instruction and part of Thursday and Friday. So, basically I am struggling to decide what is the best way to spend 60 minutes a day while hitting all of this curricula!

    • davestuartjr October 11, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Shawn, that is an insane load! Does the basal vocab program connect with any kind of authentic texts? Any kind of reading, writing, discussing of ideas?

    • davestuartjr October 22, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Shawn, that vocab program sounds like a nightmare — why are they not letting you teach vocabulary in the context of something like an Article of the Week or other complex texts read with your students? Ergh. I’d talk with your principal or department to try to UNDERSTAND what’s happening — no need to make a fuss until you fully grasp what their good intentions are.

      My gut says your situation is insane and WAY TOO MUCH TIME is being spent on isolated vocab.

  6. Lynsay October 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    I am struggling with the passing of the honeymoon period, right as the curriculum ramps up. I opened with a narrative writer’s workshop unit, and kids seemed truly invested in writing, in the course, in me, and in each other. Now, in Week 10, they are reluctant to try ANYTHING, just as we make the switch into a unit on close reading and the purpose of education. I need to find quick ways to build community and momentum back. Also, I’m struggling to cram a grammar lesson plus a core objective lesson in every 60 minute class period. Kids need me to figure this out.

    • davestuartjr October 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Hi Lynsay,

      I’d play with a few things here:

      1. A whole-class discussion on what’s happening. Why are they getting funky?
      2. Some character strengths infusion. Check out this post.
      3. A big challenge, either within the curriculum or outside of it. This could be something like “having a perfect debate” or reading a book no one thinks your kids can read or something else.

      BUT it sounds like you’ve got some constraints, like you’re being forced to do a grammar lesson, which I don’t think is NECESSARILY a bad thing–but it all depends on what you’re being required to do for that lesson. How long is it? What types of tasks does it entail?

  7. Elizabeth October 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    I’m teaching a whole class novel through in-class reading of a chapter and then assigning a second chapter a day as HW. I am supposed to be using the book to teach elements of fiction and close reading, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so we are mainly reading the book and the students answer text-based qts for HW. How do I make elements of fiction lessons that are not simplistic and will actually be helpful to my students? I’m using Kylene Beers’ Notice & Note method of helping the students to identify important moments in the text to reflect on, but my students are not able to produce any deep thinking independently yet.

    • davestuartjr October 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      Hi Elizabeth! One thing I’m realizing is that kids need LOTS of opportunities to discuss, debate, and have their thinking prompted or critiqued in order to get them to a place of independently doing the kind of deep thinking we’re looking for. I’m beating my head against the wall on this once or twice a day — so you’re not alone! What elements of fiction are you required to teach? I’m sensing a little frustration in your comment about this — I’m not sure I blame you, depending on what you’re being required to teach!

  8. Rachel O October 24, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I struggle with pacing. I seem to be going too fast. It’s my first year teaching, and I tend to gloss over some things, and take too much time on others.

  9. Elizabeth November 23, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your reply. I have to teach the basics, character, setting, plot, point of view, conflict, theme, and the kids (6th grade) can identify those elements fairly well in their reading, but I don’t know how to elevate the discussion beyond identification. I especially want to work on moving the students toward the standard that asks kids to analyze how a word, sentence, paragraph, etc. works within the whole text. We are done with that whole class novel now, and the kids are independently reading a new novel independently (in class) on the same theme and meeting in book clubs periodically to discuss. Any ideas on how to bring analysis of lit elements and structure, etc, into book clubs? Thx!

  10. Milissa November 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I’m struggling with getting students to do homework and complete assignments. Homework is usually vocabulary and spelling choices, so they have variety. Grades are definitely a reflection of incomplete homework. If essays are not done entirely in class, some students will not do them. I have spoken to students about their performance and all I get is, “I know.”

    • davestuartjr November 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      Milissa, your comment is insanely timely: during the past two days of school, this exact problem has been getting me down. You put your finger on two issues:

      1) Without some work at home, our students can’t do as well in school; they cannot develop their cognitive abilities as well as those who do work at home.
      2) Many students fully know this and still struggle to change their habits once they leave our classrooms.

      I wish–desperately–that I had an answer to this problem, Milissa. I’ll be working on this in the months to come, and will be sure to share any insight I come across. Please do the same!

      In the meantime, know this simple truth: you are not alone!

  11. Travis December 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Mind if I send some of this in a message / email to you? It’s not that I’m shy about my thoughts. It’s just that I don’t want to start any sort of arguments or derail the thread, and some of them hinge on some sensitive philosophical issues.

    Other than that, mainly just burnout, frustration, despondency, confusion, fatigue, etc etc. But maybe it’s just the end of the semester.

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