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The Big Fresh March 21, 2015 Taking Detours

Brenda Power

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn't mean to take.

                                                            Paulo Coelho

I recently was in the midst of studying the novel Lord of the Flies with a group of seniors. We had been on a roll of great discussions and inquiry into the nature of human behavior. The students seemed to be enjoying the book; we were close to finishing…and then BAM--it was like someone hit the slow motion button on the remote. Interest began to wane, and despite my best efforts, we just couldn’t regain that momentum we had at the beginning. I had a goal in mind. I knew where I wanted my students to be and when I wanted them to be there. We had to finish this unit by next Tuesday…because I had written it in my lesson plan book…in pen!

Then I took a step back and asked myself, “At what expense?” So, we slog through and finish up the book by next Tuesday with my lesson plan book still intact, but with students who no longer have any interest in the text. When they looked back on this book, what would stick in their memories more: the great work we did early in the unit, or the sour taste left in their mouths at the end? I knew the answer and, more importantly, what I needed to do.

We spent the next two days studying and crafting “Thank You Notes” in the style of Jimmy Fallon. The students were surprised by the change in pace, but quickly got into discussing the sarcasm, irony, and comedic timing that makes these notes so hilarious. I asked students to create one note, but all of them wanted to do more, and we posted the best examples on a bulletin board in the classroom. All of the laughter and fun we had on this brief hiatus from the novel buoyed our spirits before we got back to work on it.

I once read that Ernest Hemingway said, ““It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”  I realized just how true this is. Lesson plans and goals are essential to our teaching, but sometimes we get so caught up in them that we forget about the importance of student engagement. Stopping periodically to “take the temperature” of the classroom can be very valuable. And, if it’s time to take a detour, there’s always white-out!

This week we look at creative ways to overcome the spring slump in classrooms. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Gretchen Schroeder

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Gretchen Schroeder teaches 11th and 12th grade English at Millersport High School in Ohio and is a teacher consultant for the Columbus Area Writing Project.



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Clare Landrigan offers advice for writers in Overcoming Slumps:


Audrey Hansen finds the best way to tackle the spring slump is to look objectively at the progress of her struggling students:


Gayle Robert at Responsive Classroom is Keeping Rules Front and Center During the Winter Slump:



Are you drowning in data? Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan's online course Making Assessments Work for You will help you organize and make sense of information you're gathering while keeping students at the center of your work. The course includes a DVD, Clare and Tammy's book Assessment in Perspective, three webcasts, and personal response from the instructors:


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Sometimes you get a class of students that pushes every one of your buttons. Shari Frost provides a case study of how one teacher is Surviving "That Class":


Mary Lee Hahn finds midyear is the perfect time for refreshing anchor charts:


Are you finding effort from students is flagging? Katherine Sokolowski develops Weekly Check-in Sheets as a way to lift student energy and reflection:


In this week's video, Katie Doherty Czerwinski tackles the challenging issue of helping a student catch up in book clubs and reader's workshop when they have missed a lot of class time:


Spring is a good time for quick reminder lessons and check-ins with students. In an encore video, Sean Moore works with a group of second graders to briefly reinforce how sticky notes should be used during independent reading:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.