Monday, November 10, 2014

Crash Course Week 10: Improvisation

This chapter was titled "Improvisation," but I think it could also be titled "Resiliency." This is a must for a teacher. Can you share with us an example of when a situation didn't work out how you had planned, but the result of your "plan b" was as good as, or maybe even better than, the original results may have been? Or share a time you've witnessed improvisation or resiliency in your classroom.

It's hard to believe, but we only have 2 weeks left in the fall book club. Now is the time to confirm that you introduced yourself (name and school) in the first week's post and that you've commented to all 10 weeks' blog posts. For next week we will read the last 2 chapters, "Gratitude" and "Faith."

55 comments:

  1. Last school year I had extra time in the semester to incorporate a new unit. Therefore, I decided to spend more time on the characteristics within plot. Whether it be a short story, novel, movie, etc...they all pretty much follow the same outline. However, I wanted my students to be aware and see how "theme" somehow fit into all this as well. Rather than completing a traditional test/exam to measure their understanding and growth at the end of the unit, I decided to have them create iMovie "movie" trailers to establish the components of theme in particular texts. After several work days I could see this project was not going the way I had planned and essentially was a useless tool of measurement. Our class walked away from this assignment and tried again a few weeks later with a different text. In the time off I also re-defined my expectations for the assignment as well. By stepping away from the project I was shocked to see the difference in the quality of the assignments once we could identify what was NOT working and move to correct those issues. Through all of this I simply learned not to be afraid to admit when things aren't working and to take time to address them to have the most meaningful impact.

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  2. Robert Burns could have been analyzing a day in the life of a teacher when he wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Earlier this school year, I had planned to have my class watch a video clip from Youtube of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: Act 1, scene 1 and then write a paragraph about the mood of the piece. However, I downloaded a Youtube video that had the scene from three very different movie versions of “Macbeth”. The assignment quickly became: which of the three different variations of the scene best fits the mood of the play. This became a much better lesson and a question at a better depth of knowledge level.

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    1. That sounds like something I would do, download a video that didn't turn out quite the way I planned! But it sounds like your new lesson better fit with what I know of Language Arts standards (and literacy standards for Social Studies for sure- compare and contrast multiple texts then synthesize the results). I think kids would really like that activity!

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  3. This year I started a new Book Club for our faculty. It’s a way for teachers to earn PGP points, read what’s new in professional literature, and mostly just spend time with fellow teachers. I always have my discussion questions and activities carefully planned and try to watch the time carefully- I know an hour after school can seem like a lifetime when your desk is stacked with papers. One day, we were discussing our pre-arranged questions when one of our group members arrived at our meeting late and seemed frazzled. I could tell she was preoccupied and needed to talk. As soon as there was a break in conversation, I said “Jeannie would you like to talk; you seem upset?” Jeannie immediately welled up with tears and told us of her conversation with a mother that had just taken place. It seemed the mother had completely given up on her son and had decided to let him drop out of high school. Jeannie was devastated. We spent the rest of the hour (and then some) talking and supporting Jeannie. Many thought that was the best and most helpful club meeting we've had. Now, I don’t have a specific agenda for our meetings. We talk about what we need to share and discuss things we need professional opinions on. I think our Book Club is much more successful now. It is difficult for me to NOT have a plan but sometimes I find I just need to “go with the flow!”

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  4. One time my class was going to the computer lab to do some required quizzes, and the whole system was down. I didn't have a back-up plan. I decided to allow the students to use that time and write about someone who influenced them and why. Teaching fifth grade, I knew I would have some good responses, but I was overwhelmed with all the positive people my students had in their lives. I loved reading about everyone and how they impacted their lives. I felt like this journal entry brought me so much closer to my students because I was able to learn so much more about them. If it weren't for the faulty computer system, I would have missed this spontaneous opportunity to truly learn more about my students.

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  5. With 1:1 computer adoption, it has been crucial to determine which websites available to teachers are not accessible to students because of different filters. Some safe, worthwhile sites are blocked to students because the sites originate in another country; however, many sites both good and bad are readily available. In other words, there is no reasoning behind some of the blocks. As a foreign language teacher, this can be frustrating to discover on the fly. Once when I had prepared a food vocabulary lesson for my 7th grade Exploring Languages class to create a shopping list from a choice of online grocery sites, I discovered that most of the foreign sites I had researched were not available to students. One student began scouting out her own resources online, finding sites that rescued the lesson when she shared them with her classmates. By the next day, I had requested that the tech team release for the students the blocked sites that I had searched; but as a result of a quick thinking student, we had remained productive on the project throughout the time and doubled the number of resources for students to consult.

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  6. I think resiliency is one of the most important aspects of teaching. Since I read the prompt, I have been trying to think of one specific instance that stood out, and I have come up blank. I think teachers demonstrate resiliency daily.

    We are a one to one school, and heavily reliant on technology. When things work, which is most of the time, it is awesome, but the days when it doesn't, doesn't mean that I don't still have kids to teach. I have learned that sometimes you just have to be prepared to punt. I have learned not to let it bother me anymore. Sometimes guest speakers don't show up, sometimes other teachers forget to tell you they have a speaker coming in next period and require your class in the gym. Once in awhile, the blower motor in your heating unit burns up... Things happen, you just have to roll with it. It sometimes leads to a spontaneity and energy in the classroom that might otherwise be missing, and I think it is good for the kids to see that things don't always go perfectly, and it is okay.

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  7. Being able to just go with the flow can be hard, but it can also be so rewarding. When teaching To Kill A Mockingbird with my HS freshman, I was very leery of some cultural and racial conversations that needed to take place. I had set questions and was prepared to guide the conversation but after a student asked a really thoughtful and important question, I decided to let the students take the reign with the conversations. I was very nervous about giving the students control. Knowing the students dynamics and inexperience made me very careful. But surprisingly, letting go of the plan and going with the flow probably made sure that my students actually got the message from the unit.

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    1. I was leery as well with the racial pejoratives used in Mockingbird. I decided to start the unit off with a discussion of the power of words. We started off mildly talking about how words do in fact hurt, even though as young children we often hear the phrase "sticks and stones might break my bones but words will never hurt me." We discussed words that got giggles out of the students, like "brace-face" and "four eyes". I let them take over the discussion, which led us to stronger, derogatory words, and we discussed how the power of a word can change depending on who says it. This led us to the discussion of the n-word. I brought up the fact that the African American community has taken this word and chosen to use it almost as a term of endearment to one another. We viewed an interview Oprah did with Jay Z on this topic and the use of the word in rap lyrics, so students could understand two different viewpoints on the subject. I ended the discussion with posing the question of why Harper Lee would choose to use this word in the novel. It's a lesson I was scared to death to try at first, but one that I think is a must when teaching any novel that uses racial terms. (I do it when I teach Of Mice and Men as well.) I have found students enjoy a teacher being forthcoming and open to a discussion of this kind, instead of sweeping it under the rug like the word doesn't exist in the novel.

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    2. Oh, right, Sarah! Students become much more engaged when teachers are "real" about the real world. They appreciate the honest discussions. I have a hard time sugar-coating literature for students because I view it as a form of plagiarism to change an author's original work. The author used controversial words for a reason, and I think it is much better to have an honest discussion about the word choice. I like your "power of words" activity!

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  8. As a teacher I always had my plans written and lessons prepared. Sometimes conversations and questions caused some lessons to run longer. I have always been a very planned and organized individual. When I became a counselor, one of the toughest things to learn was improvisation. I could have a list of 20 things to do, but if a student came in upset or with tears I had to stop what I was doing and take care of that problem. When a senior comes in with an application that has to be sent today, I drop what I'm working on and take care of it. It is important to be able to think on your feet and always have Plan B and Plan C ready to go.

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  9. The model of teaching I use the most is called Explore-Flip-Apply developed by Ramsey Musallum. I start each lesson with an exploratory activity. I have an idea from past experience where it may go, but it is to determine what the students already know and what they can learn through inquiry. I don't move on to the flip stage until the students can progress no longer without some direct instruction. Therefore, I don't know how long the explore stage will take. It could be two days or 15 minutes. What comes out in the explore stage determines how and what direction I take with the application/assessment stage. It relies very much on improvisation in order to allow the students proper inquiry and discovery. As a matter of fact, I often use improvisation games as the Explore activity. Many times, students will pull other lessons from the improvisation and we might go in an entirely different direction. Since I began using this model, I've never been disappointed in the outcome of the lesson.
    I also use a model called Peer Instruction developed by Eric Mazur. Once I've established the Peer Instruction expectations with the students, we often to jump into impromptu peer instruction. A debatable question will come up during a fishbowl discussion or socratic seminar, so we'll break out into a peer instruction session, and then return to the discussion and share thoughts. Once the students get used to the quick give and take and moving from group-to-peer-to-group paradigm, we can have some lively discussion that continue on for days in hit on many topics I would have never anticipated had I led with pre-determined discussion questions.

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    1. I'm curious about this EFA model- going to have to research it. Thanks for sharing it! Also the Peer Instruction...sonds like you have some innovative ideas!

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    2. There are a variety of blog posts about EFA. Ramsey Musallam developed the model as part of his doctoral dissertation. This blog post here added a lot of clarity for me: http://www.cyclesoflearning.com/learning--instruction/a-pedagogy-first-approach-to-the-flipped-classroom

      Peer instruction was developed by Eric Mazur, but Julie Schell is the leading researcher in Peer Instruction. She blogs here, which I think is a great resource on PI:
      http://blog.peerinstruction.net/

      I've also written a book called "Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners: Strategies and Lesson Plans" that has a chapter that details these two models plus a couple more if your interested in learning more.

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  10. I agree with several of the previous posts for this discussion. I am also very well prepared and plan out each of my lessons. Thinking of a time when my lesson plans didn't go as planned or there was an interruption is hard. I guess the one that first comes to mind is when the electricity went out in my classroom. I am fortunate to have a classroom with windows, but I could hear out in the hallway kids that were shouting for joy. The best sound I heard though was a student whisper his complaint that they had to be in my classroom. I took that as a compliment b/c he knew that they would have to keep working and the lesson would continue as planned. I was glad that we were able to finish the lesson with the light from the outside. I believe this happened because my students had been conditioned to know that they will work and learn from bell to bell when they walk in my classroom.

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  11. As soon as I started reading about the exercise balls, I knew what was going to happen! I subbed in a classroom that had these, and it drove me crazy!

    Every day I feel like I have to have a plan B because even though I have my plans, I never know how long something will take or how quickly the students will understand. I might take two days to write instead of the one because of some learning opportunity that comes up. That is why one popular characteristic of teachers is flexibility!

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    1. Becky,
      I agree! I am a planner but something always comes up where we have to adjust and be flexible!

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  12. I had to improvise just today! I made a Battleship review game in QUIA to practice for a quiz. I thought that all 6th graders knew how to play Battleship- we'd played it before in my class. However, I quickly learned that in every period, several kids didn't remember how to play. Kids just don't play board games anymore as much, even the electronic version. So I had to learn how to teach the game first- something I don't enjoy doing nearly as much as teaching the content of the Middle Ages. It stretched and surprised me as a teacher, but I have recovered my sanity and now just expect the kids to not know how- and because I'm prepared to improvise, it's going much more smoothly than when I spitted and sputtered the first few periods of the day. I feel like I always learn something new from the students- being a middle school teacher has forced me to improvise way beyond my comfort zone though!

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  13. Although I feel like most of my lessons are relatively planned out and/or tested by past experiences, there are tons of times I've had to make alterations on the fly. For example, if a band class doesn't need as much time in a particular class period to master a certain skill or improve a piece of music we'd been working on, I may end up with a few extra minutes before the bell. Even if the kids would love to just have free time to chat and hang out, I know that it's not the best use of our instructional time. It would be boring to just rehash a piece of music and play it again, so sometimes I like to throw in some improvised variations. One in particular is to have the students change their seats to sit by their friends instead of by instrument section. It changes how they listen to their own music while they play and forces them to think more independently rather than relying on their section-mates.

    Another example is something that happened just today, while I was out and a sub was taking over for the day. I had emailed some plans with music review worksheets, but for some reason, the copies never got made and delivered to the sub in time for first period. The sub emailed and asked what to do, and we came up with a quick backup plan so that the kids weren't just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. I'll have to wait until I get back to school to see if the net results were worth it, but in the short term, it kept the students on task and actively participating when the original lesson did not work out as planned.

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  14. Flexibility seems to be the name of the game in first grade and this year more than normal. We have had several changes in personal since the beginning of the year that has directly affected us. Which means training, retraining and retaining again. So it happens with lessons, it happens with school personal, it happens in our homes and it happens with our families. Sometimes the best lessons are when things don’t go as planned, when dinner goes up in flames (It has happened more than once.), and when we least expect it. The thing I try to remember is that when things don’t go as planned it is my response that will make the difference. I can either find the laughter, let learning “happen” or stifle it. Flexibility the word of the day!

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  15. The first time I taught a unit called "Living the Real Life" had bombed really bad. I took a seminar course on how to do this unit and followed their directions to a T. I was a first year middle school math teacher and I felt it would benefit my students tremendously. Even thou I made adjustments as things were not working I felt like a big failure to my students. So during the summer I took the unit apart and put it together many times until I felt it would work for my classroom. So the next school year I taught the unit the revised version. It went much better but revisions still took place as the unit progressed. Each time the unit was tweaked it was because of the uniqueness of the students themselves.

    One year while teaching in a Catholic School my seventh grade religion class did a modern day version of the crucifixion of Christ. We did a modern day jury trial. The unit went so well that other schools were copying my unit. The second year the unit went flat and I was really disappointed. This was my ahha moment of how different groups of students can make a huge difference in a lesson.

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  16. A few weeks ago, I was going over with my students how to create lesson plans. Inevitably, as with every other year, the students were having trouble grasping it. Writing an objective for a lesson plan is a difficult thing to do for some veteran teachers, let alone a junior in high school. Each year, I have tweaked it and done it a little different. This year, with my group, I could see the blank stares. So, mid lesson, I had an idea! I had the students create three different dice on three different types of card stock. Each die represented the three parts of writing an objective. I had them write 6 examples of the three parts on each die. They then were able to roll them and identify whether or not it created an appropriate lesson plan objective. All of a sudden the lights went on!!! They were all getting it. In this particular class, they create lesson plans throughout the entire semester and a good portion of them are still using them today. I don't know where it came from or how I thought of it, but I just knew I had to change something because it wasn't clicking with them. After 10 years of teaching, there is one thing I have learned, when it is not connecting with the students, it is certainly ok to bail mid lesson and find a way to make it connect. Don't just keep on going because this is what you had planned or they "should" be getting it because I have always done it this way, therefore I am going to keep doing it this way. Be resilient!

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  17. I’ve had lessons flop, and come back the next day with a new way of teaching the same content. Then I make a note to myself in the margins of my lesson planner to teach the “new way” first next year since it usually goes so much smoother. One example I can think of is when I have students read articles published by CNN about everyday heroes. (CNN chooses 20 people nationwide that are heroes in their community for various reasons.) Students are assigned a hero, must read the CNN published article, summarize the article, then create a PowerPoint presentation to share the information about their hero. The first year I assigned this project, I realized my freshmen had little understanding of what it means to summarize. So we backtracked and did a couple practice summaries together as a class. This year, I did the practice first before even introducing the CNN project. Summaries were overall written better this year!

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  18. I taught in a moderate disabilities classroom. My students loved art class. A few years ago, our schedule had to change and I became their art teacher. In the beginning, I tried to plan detailed art activities. The students didn't care too much for it and let me know by rebelling, "we don't like that" or not doing as well as I thought they could do. I went about it in the same manner for a few weeks and there wasn't anyone that was happy---me or them. When I decided to change the plan---have an assortment of materials and give them more choices---allow them to be even more creative---they really loved it. Even when the art teacher stopped by one day, he said, "Oh, they REALLY like that!" I felt good about it. I just had to realize that the plan I had in my head was not going to work and it turned out better than I had even hoped.

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  19. A teacher can count on the fact that her job is unpredictable! Despite having a lesson planned out to the minute, sometimes life just happens! Whether it's dealing with unplanned interruptions from students, or sometimes adults, the ability to be flexible and roll with the punches demonstrating a positive attitude can teach my students that things don't always go as I want them to, but it is not pleasant for anyone if I get all bent out of shape about it. Teachers like to be in control, and they usually are, in their own classrooms. But, I hope I am not such a control freak that I can't be a good role model when things don't go as planned. As a teacher, I don't want my students to be full of drama when their days don't go as planned, so, I, in turn, should not be a drama queen in front of them when things don't go my way. I have had to change plans, cancel speakers, sub for an absent teacher, give up my prep when I really needed it to do something an administrator asks me to do. Our school has lost power and been in darkness for most of a school day, and I've had to call an administrator to report water flooding a part of the building, and vacate a room when a wall had a large gap during renovation to the school. I've flushed a toilet and had the water flood into a nearby classroom! Since I've been teaching in my school, we've had two bomb threats. Once, we took students to the football field and bleachers, and a second time, we had to walk to a nearby school down the road. Usually, however, days are less chaotic and go as planned. As I look back, the unexpected times always break memories and stories! How boring if every day went smoothly!

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  20. There's not a week goes by that I don't have to improvise something in my lesson plans. Flexibility is a key word in my classroom. If something doesn't work right the first time, we are flexible and find a way that works. In years past when my students have read The Crucible, I have had them fill out a packet of comprehension questions. Most students would get bored, and, in turn, they would not turn in the packets. This year, I didn't to change things around. Instead of answering many reading comprehension questions, I had them summarize each act and illustrate their favorite scene from the act. I created a giant "time line" across the back of my classroom and posted their summaries and illustrations. The students loved doing this activity. Every student completed every activity. In addition, all of the students could tell me the main points of the play, which they loved.

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    1. You are just full of great ideas!! :) I'm totally stealing this idea for when I teach Midsummer Night's Dream next semester!

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  21. I always know that I have to have a plan B. Some students need more time to grasp new concepts. I try to adjust the pace to how the students seem to be getting the material. Having a plan isn't up for debate, but I am always will to adjust if the situation calls for it. Just this week we have an impromptu assembly that ran very long and I still make a quality lesson in the shortened time frame. Then I made up the material the following day. I've also had the smart board glitch on me multiple times and had to break out my not so marvelous three dimensional graphing skills to complete a lesson.

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  22. You just never know with kids...I created a lesson on the Industrial Revolution. I wasn't actually sold on it, but it covered everything I was supposed to. This subject can be a bit tedious, but the kids received it with so much interest and passion that I extended the lesson to include a section we used to do as an interdisciplinary unit: an Invention Convention. The students are required to create something completely new or adapt an existing product to a new purpose. They have to build a prototype, come up with a marketing plan, and a presentation including target demographics and a commercial. There are some amazing ideas that kids come up with that we occasionally send in to corporate America!

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  23. I agree with the earlier comments that teachers are constantly improvising and using their life skill of flexibility. I can have a lesson planned perfectly, or so I think, and based on student responses/questions the lesson can end up going in a different direction. I think that's ok though. We are so pressed for time that sometimes the times that aren't planned can end up providing more teaching opportunity anyway.

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  24. Teachers are nothing if not flexible! It seems that there is always something interrupting our schedule or causing a change in our regular routine. We must have plans A, B, and C to make sure we're prepared. One of my biggest learning experiences was when I was student teaching. I was trying to teach the 3rd graders how to break down a story problem into smaller parts and show their work to arrive at the answer. As I continued with the lesson, I could tell by the confused looks on their faces that I was not doing a great job of explaining the topic in a clear manner. I had to step back, regroup, and come at it from a different angle. Even though that's been nearly 15 years ago, I can still remember my heart beating fast and looking for help from my supervising teacher. It was a great learning experience though because I realized that I can't just have one way or one perspective for reaching my students. I was explaining it in a way that I understood but obviously the kiddos didn't. Even today I try to explain my mistakes to my students and help them see how I am using our lifeskill of perseverance to keep going and figure out another way or another solution.

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  25. Several years ago I taught a 6th grade resource reading class. I vaguely remember the specific topic; nonetheless, the conversation that came out of that reading was life-changing. I remember kids sharing and one or two shedding a few tears. That was a great year as far as behavior in my classroom. The class really rallied around each other from that moment on. The vulnerability that the kids displayed led to something beautiful happening within each student. I feel like that lesson, which was not planned in that manner, changed the lives of each student there—and the two adults! As teachers, we need know when to let things flow in a different direction. On that specific day (and many others), I could have made sure we followed the exact lesson, but something inside of me knew that it needed to go in a different direction. We need to follow that inner voice as teachers. Learning will still occur in those moments!

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  26. I’m not sure there is a week that goes by that I’ve not improvised part of my lesson or I’ve seen others do this. As an elementary teacher, especially one who pulls groups from classrooms every day, I have learned that it is rare if my day will go as planned. You never know what the students will bring with them to the classroom. Johnny might have had a bad night of sleep. Susie missed breakfast. We have a convocation that we only learned about that morning. I get pulled into the office to help with a new student. I count myself lucky if my day goes as scheduled. Flexibility is the name of the game in teaching. Yet, I’ve learned, like Kim said in this chapter, that often times that detour you took is a far better plan. I can’t tell you how many last minute lessons have come up because of a detour that day and this lesson ends up being far better than the ones I had previously planned.

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  27. I agree with other bloggers that a teacher must improvise daily, hourly even. As teachers, we are constantly assessing the growth of the students and adapting our lessons to accommodate the students’ learning needs.

    An example of when a “plan b” worked as well or better than an original lesson actually occurred on Tuesday this past week, although I didn’t realize it until the next day. My “plan a” was to continue rehearsing concert music with my 6th grade group for our up-coming December 2nd concert; the only snag was that the music stands were set up in the gym for the 7th and 8th grade bands’ part in the Veteran’s Day Program. I assumed that I would be able to take the 6th grade band down to the gym to rehearse; the program didn’t start until 10:00, and band class ended at 9:15. I did not find out until that morning that the student government would be practicing for the program from 8:30 – 9:30. Since it is difficult to rehearse without music stands and I didn’t want to interrupt their practice with 60 spirited 6th graders, I had to improvise. I quickly put the copier to work and handed out a post-concert music term worksheet and a form discussing our after school band program. I was disheartened to lose precious rehearsal time, but the time we took going over the music terms proved extremely valuable on Wednesday when we were rehearsing our music. We were able to put into action the terms we discussed Tuesday. Every student was up to speed on crescendos, decrescendos, and other dynamic markings. In addition, this “plan b” allowed me more time to discuss the after school program and gave me the opportunity to talk about solo and ensemble contest too. As Bearden so sagely states, “We don’t always get what we want in life. The detours are often exactly what we needed instead.”

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  28. Most have already mentioned that teacher’s plans are always changing. It seems that the day starts with thought out plans that incorporate every minute of class but it seems that time flies and every segment of the plan can not be taught. Sometimes students need more time to process the material and have more questions than normal…but all I do is improvise and try again the next day. Flexibility is the key to a good lesson plan.

    I can’t think of one certain lesson that I can share that didn’t go as planned. I remember trying a lot of different projects on the computer the first year that we went to 1:1…several were flops! With a little tweaking for the next year, they were successful. There have been several times where a planned event did not go right because of technology problems…but things are improving as we continue the 1:1 endeavor. Again, flexibility is the key!

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  29. I agree with Angie L., although i my case there are so many I do not know where to start!!
    First, I want to comment on Kim's chair/ball experience, I always wondered about how they would work!!
    In the past month I have had 2 lessons that really didn't work out they way I had planned. One was that I was teaching my 3 year-olds cutting and for practice I had read to use straws for them to cut because it would be a short quick cut. Well, the next thing you know I had little bits of straws popping up and flying everywhere in the room ( in fact we are still finding pieces of straws in new places!). I went back to my original idea and got out play dough and had them roll and cut those pieces. It was a better activity for both small motor and manipulation skill and the children liked using the dough better and it was much cleaner!!
    I feel like this year I am adjusting and changing daily to fit the needs and the development of my children. I let them set the pace by their attention and interest. Although I like to have clear cut plans, I am more flexible and resilient than I was 5 years ago. I have learned to "let it go" when it is not working and yes we laugh a lot!!!

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  30. Oh boy, I am a queen-in-the-making at this! One of my most favorite "teacher" signs says "Keep Calm and Pretend Its In the Lesson Plan". So true! Things happen. Stuff doesn't work out. Things break or don't work. I've got to know how to go with the flow. That isn't always easy but I do try :)

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  31. Probably the best example is lecturing. As many times as I've taught a class, each class and lecture topic finds more emphasis. Sometimes too, the lectures can take a new direction just based on a current event or latest commercial or thing going on in their world. It's so important to be constantly changing, adaptable, and flexible.

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  32. I agree with all the posters that teachers must be resilient in today's school environment. When I was first trying to become familiar with our mimio projector, which is a variation on a smart board, it was never a given that I could get it to operate the way I wanted it, so having a plan B was crucial--six year olds aren't good at sitting politely while you scratch you head and figure out what to do next. One example I have of a lesson that had to change was my plan to take my first graders out on the playground to measure and chalk a 'Mayflower' sized shape on the blacktop so they could really see what it might have been like to be confined to that space for 2 months. We were rained out at the last minute so I postponed the lesson and used the time to have them brainstorm and write plans for what things they could do to stay occupied during our upcoming 'virtual voyage.' They enjoyed that experience and were then actually better prepared than they would have been if the experience had gone as planned!

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  33. Last school year, when my new principal was observing me for the first time I was running a review game which just plain flopped. It was a game based on writing equations of the line from pictures of graphs. I explained how the game was played and had a brief example I felt my students were prepared, but as soon as the first game cards were turned over I knew I was in trouble. I could see the confusion on their faces as they were unable to figure out how to complete task. The students were arranged in pairs and I had to quickly run to each pair and show them the best way to count the slope and pull the y-intercept from the graph. The first round of competition ended up as an example for each pair and then we picked up with the next round. After that, the game went smoothly.
    Teachers need to take risks. Students enjoy being in classrooms that are not filled with the same dull routines. No one likes to fail, however, I do not feel like I am a good teacher unless I continue to reach beyond my comfort zone. When things do not work out like you want them to, you need to adjust, fix what you can, and move on. I try to use these “bad lessons as an opportunity for me to learn.
    Just a few weeks ago, I planned to have my students work together in pairs to complete a review. I thought they would benefit from a quiet discussion. After I explained this to the class, one student raised their hand and asked if it was ok to play a game instead. So, on the spur of the moment I adjusted to one of my favorite games called Head of the Class. The game worked for most of the problems. At the end the front row won the candy. I then helped the students set-up the equations for the remaining word problems. Then I gave them time during Algebra enrichment to finish the worksheet. I think my students were tired of sitting still!

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    1. As a fellow math teacher, I hope you received positive feedback from your administrator when you had to improvise the graphing activity to suit your students' abilities. It is only in offering these opportunities do we find out what students know and what they still need to know for which it sounds like you also accomplished teaching them an additional skills along the way. I affixed to the door of my classroom a sign that says "Making mistakes is proof that you are trying." I love seeing that sign everyday as I know that anything can happen and still be used for good.

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  34. I am not so good with improvisation. I like to have things planned, I usually over-plan, and most of the time things go according to plan! However, there are times when plan B must be an option -- many earlier posts talked about technology not working, and I can certainly relate to that. But I don't really view going to plan B as improvising, I just learned along the way that I should always have a back-up plan. I also connect with all the posts about revising lesson plans. There are many, many times when something seems great on paper, or in my mind, but it doesn't pan out in the classroom. When that happens, I always try to get feedback from my students about why it didn't work -- they often have good insight. Then I reflect, revise, and try it again. To me, this is an essential part of becoming a better teacher. I'm not sure I will ever be great at improvising, but over-planning has served me very well!

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    1. I completely agree! I am not great at improvisation either but over planning has saved me on more than one occasion. I also like to have a few back up activities, ideas ready for each unit so that if I need them they are there.

      I also agree about reflecting and revising...it makes us life long learners and helps us grow as professionals.

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  35. Honestly, I'm a day by day type of planner. I usually have ideas for the week, etc. in my head, but I know better than to write them down in ink, as they change sometimes from one period to another. I feel that I'm pretty good with improvisation and I hope that my students see and learn a little from me as well. I stay pretty calm and collect when things don't work out in the room. Especially with technology these days, a teacher always has to have a back up plan for lessons that require the use of computers, printers, etc.

    Transitions, in general, are rough for special education students. Anything out of routine can throw a huge curve in their day, so I feel that staying calm and acting like "it's no big deal" is very important in how they will handle situations that don't go as planned.

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  36. I am constantly making changes or going with the "flow" in my classroom. A lesson I taught the other day I had meticulously planned out from the questions I would ask to the assessment. The students were unable to tell me the main idea which stopped me right in my tracks. I had to pull up an old lesson on main idea and detail before we could move further, but the lesson actually turned out amazing because of all the questioning they were doing and other students answering instead of me. It was brilliant to see them communicate and discuss the story rather than me leading it all. Just a little reminder to myself a teacher's middle name should be flexibility.

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  37. This was my favorite chapter so far, partly because I could relate to it in my personal life as well as my teaching life. Recently, I have been working with 2nd graders on distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction books. Most of them have a pretty good grasp on the difference. However, I could tell that the class I had today was confused so I took a step back and gave them a tip or mnemonic device to use that I thought might help them remember the difference: fiction is "fake" and non-fiction is "not fake". This seemed to help them and then we were able to move on with the rest of the lesson. Teaching is like a dance. You are always having to change your steps to match the tempo of the music, or your students and the circumstances.

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  38. There is no such thing as a normal day in middle school. Each day gives you an opportunity to "pretend it is on the lesson plan." :) Since I teach five classes and I teach the same thing each class period, I find that I am fine tuning each class period and adding things that come up in the class before - it makes each class better than the last in many ways. Also, I find times when at the end of the day, someone brings up an example or idea that wasn't mentioned all day - I make sure I share those with my students the next day.

    I always try to have a back up in mind in case things go wrong but I would say most days go according to plan...I definitely have back up plans when ever I have lesson plans that involve technology because in my district it is minute by minute if the technology will work. Nothing worse than having a great lesson that involves the internet, and you get to school to find out the internet is down and no idea of when it will be back up.

    Being flexible models this trait with my students. It is not a crisis to have to go to plan b - that's why you have a plan b! It can be disappointing but sometimes the best learning moments have come out of my plan b.

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  39. This chapter was written for my current teaching assignment! There is no such thing as a normal day in any classroom but I feel that this is especially true in our Life Skills room. I feel that the days that "something comes up" are more often than the days that are "normal." We constantly have to be flexible to make adjustments for absences, medical issues, emotional meltdowns, behaviors, and other random things that can occur anytime on any day without any notice. Some times something will work wonderfully one day then the next time we try the same strategy it can be a disaster. I sometimes do my best teaching and come up with my best ideas "on the fly." We need to be resilient to come back quickly whenever something out of the ordinary happens. They occur so often that if we "threw in the towel" on any given day when something not in the lesson plan book occurred, then no learning would ever take place! It is important to have a plan but it is more important to have a back up plan.

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  40. There have been many times where I have had to improvise during my teaching career. Often times it comes from a question students ask and we want to explore, other times something just doesn't work - whether it be technology or an activity that just needs to be cut off and something else tried. Last year during a rare time I was able to get into the computer lab, but many of the sites we wanted to use were not loading properly, since I only had one day we worked with what would work, then the next day I was able to get things to load in my room and we did parts as a whole class. It wasn't ideal, but it was the best with what I had to work with. Other times, I have come up with something on the fly if I have more time that I thought - often those ideas work really well. I tend to be pretty good at improvising when needed.

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  41. As much as I like to plan and be prepared, it doesn't always play out as I envisioned and that's just a daily struggle being a teacher! Brings out some of our best moments, funniest stories, and teachable moments! Being a good teacher doesn't always mean being able to predict the route your students will go but more about being able to listen to your students, adapt, and reroute to maximize their interest and learning!
    I usually have extra activities to use if we find extra time in our day - very rare but it gives me peace of mind if something comes up or I would have to leave.
    I am always open with my students when something doesn't go as expected or realize that the lesson isn't working and we need to make a change! Sometimes their input on where we should go from there is helpful and turns in to them voting and a bar graph lesson! The modeling of "oops, this didn't work but let's be a problem solver" makes them see I am human too. It is also useful later when they have a problem that we need to work through!

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  42. I'm a planner and like consistency. So I am constantly working on being flexible and improvising. This is hard for me but I am working on it. I tend to over plan for my day, so my goal is to realize and accept that there will be disruptions and that's ok. My "plan b" is usually because students get involved in a lesson and I need to move on but I must stop and answer extra questions that I hadn't planned for. That wasn't the greatest example but the one I struggle with most.

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  43. Improvisation is an ingredient for the art of Teaching. It started for me the first year I taught and still I am finding myself thinking on my feet all the time. You get better and wiser over the years. First years I had no money to purchase items, so I made all my items for boards. 28 years later I'm still grabbing items for free boxes at garage sales. I have and still get touched tied. When a student catches me and calls me on it, I reply "good noticing" that was my first mistake all year. So when the next mistake happens, I'm caught, I reply the same way...eventually a student will enquire or demand that is was my 3rd or 4th. Makes for good discussion about mistakes, or a fun game to engage them in better listening. Those students who are always thinking, are great at keeping a score for me. LOL So when I was being observed and I gave the wrong date/ period for the Gettysburg address, the students had no idea, nor did my principal that they rescued me, as they cried with delight "Are you trying to see if we catch the mistake? " whew!

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  44. I am a list maker and planner. I feel like I'm a better teacher when I have things prepared down to the last detail, but there is NEVER a day in kindergarten that doesn't require for flexibility! Just last week, my students spent several days learning about Pilgrims, Native Americans, and the First Thanksgiving. We watched video clips, read books, compared/contrasted fiction and non-fiction, completed a Scholastic "Let's Find Out" magazine (love those!), and re-created the Feast. I had planned on having the children write a sentence about something they learned about the First Thanksgiving, but instead they were super interested in how Pilgrim children were different than them. We switched gears and made a Venn Diagram to help us compare/contrast this, and we made detailed illustrations of Pilgrim children and children today. Finally, the children wrote about Pilgrim children using a format similar to "I can _________________, but Pilgrim children could not." We put our writing samples in the hall with a "craftivity" of a Pilgrim child. By taking the lead of my students, we had a much deeper and more meaningful culmination activity than my original plan,

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  45. Although I try to plan for all the possible outcomes that may come up in my classroom, this task may be impossible. The art of improvisation is something that is necessary for all teachers. Although I am very structured and methodical, I know it is necessary to be able to make changes that are necessary for the needs of your students.

    My first year of teaching Geometry proofs did not go as smoothly as I hoped. Many of the students were confused and I was running out of time in the class period. I let the students know that I understood that they were confused and told them we work on it again tomorrow. I came up with another way to approach the proofs for the following day. That evening I had parent/teacher conferences and I mentioned to one of my parents that we had begun the proof section and I understood that their child was confused. I insured them that we would be working on them again and trying some different strategies. The parent made my evening by telling me that is what a good teacher would do.

    Everyday something may not go as planned. I just know that I may always have to adjust.

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  46. I am a Special Education teacher who is always on the go. I have meetings weekly that take me out of the room as well as behavior issues that cause me to leave me frequently. Some days a quick behavior issue calls me away for 340-45 minutes. Plans that were wonderfully done quickly unravel and make me feel as though I have failed for the day. Some days I leave feeling as though I didn't teach anything because I was called out of the classroom. I have learned quickly to always have back up activities accessible for my aids to be successful when I step out the room. However, when I return, my lessons don't always return to the "awesomeness" that I had hoped for. Some days, I just have to say pack up these materials and go get a review pack. Then I end up try to start the lesson again the next day. My Plan b usually consists of creating games to go with many of my lessons that can be used to review at anytime. Other times, I make sure I plan with my aid to ensure that our lessons can continue and I step back in just like nothing happened. These days make me feel like I'm on top of the world.

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