Four ELA practices to abandon in the New Year

The New Year naturally brings a time for self-reflection and goal setting.  Some people will choose to start a new positive habit, while others try to let go of bad habits. Here are four English Language Arts “bad habits” to abandon in the New Year.

Disclaimer: Sometimes (okay, lots of times) on Sunday mornings I leave a church service feeling like I’ve had my toes stepped on. The sermons hit a nerve dealing with something that I need to improve upon in my life. These sermons are good for me because they make me self-evaluate and grow.

This is one of those sermons.  In this case I am both the preacher and a member of the congregation.

Novel packets

I actually have a small fortune of these pre-made packets made by publishing companies that I either bought early on or inherited. This is where I turned when I didn’t feel confident in teaching a text. They include pre-made chapter-by-chapter questions (with answers), graphic organizers, essay topics, and tests. For $29.99 I could expertly teach a great work of literary merit. However, these packets do not facilitate joy in reading or true understanding of a novel. And most importantly, these publishing companies never met my students.

Once I became comfortable with the texts and when I first tried to stop using the packets, some of my students were resistant. They actually complained that they did not have questions to accompany their reading.  They had to be weaned off the pre-made questions that told them exactly what was important to look for and exactly how little they could read of each chapter to glean understanding.  Dear reader, make authentic assessments a priority.

180 days of lecture

I am not God’s gift to teaching. Nor have my students been graced with a teacher who has all of the right answers to the great literary queries. One of the things that I love about English is that there can be so many right answers. Stop acting like you know it all. Take a seat in a student desk and facilitate a discovery rather than pouring the “so called” correct information into the students. Ask more questions. Make less statements. Make learning more meaningful.

Writing without revision

True writing is a process.  And it is a process that English teachers often do a disservice. According to my Google Docs revision history, I have edited this post 14 times over the past two days. It will need about 14 more edits before I am ready to publish and even then it will not be perfect.

The stacks and stacks of essays that students are writing do not have to be edited by the teacher with 25 or more red marks per paper. Find a small element to focus on with your feedback (here is my go-to glow/grow method from Susan Barber), get those stacks of essays back in students’ hands, and have students revise and rewrite.

Reading without choice

Students in every grade and at every academic level benefit from choice, diversity, and relevance. Give them this in their independent reading choices. Allow students to select their own subject matter and level of book to read. Audio books count. Young adult literature counts. Graphic novels count. Read widely yourself. Consider giving students both choice in what they read and the time to read it; twelve minutes a day will equal an hour a week. Many students who once loved to read will rekindle that love when given choice and just a little sacred time to read every single day.

In conclusion

Man, my metaphorical toes are sore.

So, if you have had your toes stepped on with this post, you are not alone! Please let me know what practices you hope to phase out or other changes you plan to make in your classroom in 2018. Next on my chopping block, “gotcha” reading quizzes for outside of class reading. There. I said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Here is to a great 2018 in English classrooms everywhere!


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