The Best Part of Planning: The Bell-Ringer

The day I heard people giggle as they read Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” during the first minutes of class was the first day this year I thought I was doing something right.

Photo by Javier Sierra on Unsplash

I No Longer Feel Guilty

In a previous article, I talked about the struggle to get settled during each class transition. There are so many things to do, including setting up for the new conference, taking attendance, checking email for messages from students or colleagues, and taking a breath.

To help the students and me, I assign bell-ringers, a Google Slide deck that contains a slide for each day with an activity they can complete while the housekeeping tasks are completed.

As the weeks have passed, I have allowed myself to be more creative with the activities. That’s because I no longer feel guilty for taking more time to develop them. The more creative activities seem to resonate with the students, and they are learning something. Why not unleash even more creativity?

Slide Decks Are the Perfect Vehicle

Once upon a time in my stubborn head, I refused to use presentation software for anything other than presentations. In fact, I felt that way about any software; it should be used for its intended purpose and that’s it. What was I thinking?

I don’t want to admit it, but I was being stubborn. Meanwhile, other teachers were running rings around me and using presentation software for all sorts of materials, including worksheets, digital notebooks, and journals — all intended for students to use, not for them to consume passively as the teacher presents.

(By the way, I did not even touch slide software in the first few years of teaching because I am against passive learning for the most part. To me, slide decks were symbolic of such learning. To avoid death-by-lecture, I used other ways of presenting.)

The bell-ringer slide deck works. First, it is easy to separate each day onto one slide or, if necessary, two slides. It’s also easy to embed videos and audio into the slide for students to consume. Instructions and other notes can go into the speaker’s notes, keeping the slide open for student input.

The decks typically open, too, with thumbnails on the side that make it easy for students to navigate. I hope the students feel more comfortable with the software each time they open their slide deck for the day.

This Week, I Multi-Multi-Tasked

The housekeeping aspect of the transition from one class to another has become a wee bit easier, so this week I decided to multi-task a tiny bit. To support vocabulary learning, I moderated a Quizlet Live while finishing attendance as the bell-ringer activity. I think the kids enjoyed it because they were able to compete and collaborate.

It was a bit more stressful and I worried about something going wrong, so that might not often happen during hybrid instruction days. At least I know it can work.

Next Week, the Kids Will “Meet” My Friend

On Friday, I completed the bell-ringer for Creative Writing by focusing on response to art. The first slide provided the students with six options to respond to on the second slide. The next four slides introduce the students to a friend of mine who is a sculptor.

He immediately came to mind and I found the perfect article to base the activity on, complete with the perfect pictures of my friend sculpting and his work. Each day, the students will create a response to a picture or a quote from the article. Friday’s challenge is to give my friend’s sculpture a name and a backstory.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Core Courses Get Another Dose of Poetry

Over in core course land, the students will get another dose of poetry because we will soon start a poetry unit. AP® will work on structured poetry (sonnet, villanelle, and sestina) while English 10 will study Emily Dickinson and those she influenced.

I decided to embed a video of Bobby Esnard, a spoken-word artist who performs what I call “Poetry Gets You.” It is an amazing 3:31 video. I also embedded the video “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan on another slide. Shane is also a spoken-word poet. These performers make poetry accessible, less frightening, and more enjoyable.

Next week, I am going to introduce them to Taylor Mali, my favorite poet ever (sorry, Shakespeare).

This Is My Way of Saying I Value My Students

I value my students’ time and their educational progress. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their seat… well, all right it was a long time ago. Still, I remember the waiting. It was only a couple of minutes, usually, but it seemed longer. We were not provided the opportunity to learn on our own. Content was king! The teacher was the sage on the stage. So we waited.

Instead of that, I’m handing the kids opportunities to process and express themselves. So far, it seems to be working. It’s a bonus for me that creating these opportunities has also become the best part of planning.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Be well. Be good to you.

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