Ah, September. As the warmth of summer fades and the school year begins I am reminded of the sounds of Fall. Through the crinkle of fall leaves and children’s laughter on the playground comes the sound of coughs and sniffles. With cold and flu season looming and several district professional developments to learn about new teaching resources I’ve been anxiously reviewing my substitute teacher plans.
Days I need to be away from my classroom due to sickness or PD have always taken a ton of time and effort to prepare for and never really resulted in my students having the experience they needed.
I used to go into my classroom and prepare materials for a sub for hours only to return and find them in a neat pile where I left them, untouched. Overly detailed and intimidating for guest teachers, my carefully designed plans would often get tossed in favor of coloring pages and game of heads up seven up. This resulted in me leaving plans that were easy to follow but not exactly challenging for my students or common core aligned.
I don’t feel too guilty about a stray coloring page or word search but if I use all my 12 sick days and attend 6 days of PD, conferences or personal days a school year my students are with a guest teacher 10% of the school year! Those sub days are precious time for my students, many of whom need to make 1.5 years of growth this year. When I think of it that way I knew I needed to level up my sub plans this year to provide high quality, common core aligned lessons that anyone can pick up and teach.
In order to design these learning experiences I zoomed out from my grade level’s common core standards to the “big picture” K-12 College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards. Corestandards.org explains “The CCR and grade-specific standards are necessary complements—the former providing broad standards, the latter providing additional specificity—that together define the skills and understandings that all students must demonstrate.”
I’ll be dedicating the next four blog posts to sub-friendly, common core aligned learning activities you can feel good about leaving with your students.
Today’s hits several of the common core anchor standards for ELA;
Short term research project and presentation
This plan could be employed for one day or longer if you needed to be absent for a longer period of time. It has four easy steps; select, research, present, reflect
- Select a Topic
You could narrow it to fit the unit you’re working on like selecting an animal that lives in rain forests if that’s what you’re studying or open it up to anything your students are interested in learning more about. You might chose to have younger students or those who may need help with this project buddy up with another kiddo or small group of students. You could do a whole class topic “How do people survive around the world?” would be a social studies example, and then have student select a subtopic like “food”, “shelter” or “water”. Allowing students to select their own topic will create instant buy-in and engagement.
Students can use whatever tools you’ve taught them to use independently. If your students have exprience with and access to computers they can use internet searches and educational videos. If not, the research information could come from paper encyclopedias and nonfiction books. You could provide the sub with a basic graphic organizer for students to use during the research phase. Depending on the age and possibly differentiated for students I might provide a graphic organizer with a place for 3-5 details.
After collecting information about their topics students can use tools such as powerpoint, prezzie or magazine pictures, markers and posters to organize and share their information with the class. You could even invite another grade level to come see the projects and have students teach another grade level about their topic and integrate some of the speaking and listening anchor standards.
As a conclusion to their presentation ask students to reflect (written or oral) on what they know and understand now about their topic and what they want to continue to find out. This encourages them to see research as an ongoing and developing process as opposed to an isolated “project”. The recursive nature of research and design hits on all kinds of engineering and science standards too.
If you’re feeling brave, give this plan a try the next time you have a sub and see what your kids do. I felt there was little to lose and a lot to gain if my students are actively engaged in high level thinking and practicing Common Core ELA standards while I nurse a cold. It makes me wonder what awesome projects I’ll find when I return instead of dreading a mess or untouched plans.
What are your go-to activities for low-prep yet rigorous sub plans? I’d love to hear.