Substitute Survivor Guides

I’ve been considering how substitutes will regard the lesson plans I’ve been writing. I’m trying to make them as clear as I can, assuming they know (and remember) 10th Grade level math. But what I’m really worried about is how they will get through the day. I remember subs in high school having nothing but a seating chart to go on, and those days weren’t very productive. Some classes were filled with responsible students, and we were able to read the plan and go through the lesson helping each other. Unfortunately, not all classes are like that.

I’ve found a lot of ‘survival kits’ for substitutes to bring or fall back on, but want to focus on what I can do as a regular teacher to make anyone who comes into my classroom have an easier time getting by. Here is what I’ve been able to find so far. Please add recommendations in the comments!

  • On a Clipboard:
    • Substitute Feedback Forms
      • These tend to have things like overall class behaviour, absences and tardies, and concerns. I plan on drafting one of these for my class, to give substitutes a voice as well as enable me to address any problems or successes after my return.
    • Sign-in Sheet
      • Having a back-up sign-in sheet would be great in case the sub is unable to find the attendance program on the classroom computer.
    • Period Overview
      • I found one PDF that consisted of each period, the lesson plan topic, and trustworthy students. When my mom first started driving our middle school bus route, she relied on a couple students to tell her where to go and which houses to stop at each morning and afternoon. I imagine having a go-to student (and even fellow teacher) for questions would be helpful and reduce stress.
    • What to Do/Where to Find
      • Another PDF I stumbled upon had two columns: What to do about… (attendance, homework, tardiness) & Where to find… (lesson plans, grade book, class lists). Having a compiled list like this would be a godsend if I were to substitute at this point, so I plan on making this available to my subs.
  • SubPack
    • Many resources talk about kits called ‘SubPacks’, which substitute teachers can bring into a new school. This usually has things like school supplies, activity ideas, and motivators. I’d like to have a small kit of something similar, that would have extras of things found around the classroom. Locating materials in a new environment can be tricky (just ask anyone who’s tried to find something in my mom’s kitchen), so I plan to have the necessary supplies stored in one place for the convenience of any newbie. One resource also listed first aid materials as a kit element. While I assume most classrooms will have this nearby, having some basic items (gloves, band-aids, etc.) would be handy.
  • Guidebook
    • I’ve found a printable document that lists virtually every policy and classroom activity that a sub might need to address (like evacuation plans, classroom procedures, and special education info). It is left blank, so that teachers can fill in the information for their schools and classrooms. I will definitely be making my own one of these.
  • Welcome Letter
    • I didn’t actually find this in any of the recommendations I viewed. But I think it’s a good idea to give someone filling in for you a nice greeting. I would appreciate it, anyway. It will not only have a basic welcome and thank you, but some basic info that may not be covered in the rest of the kit, as well as where to find the elements of the kit. Maybe some tips, too. Like who near the school is quick with to-go orders or who owes me favours they can spend. Something like that.
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What High School Is

This week’s assignment for my MOOC, “How to Teach Us” is to create a ‘dream day’, consisting of a schedule or narrative that explains how I would like to plan my day. Part of it will vary due to the school-wide schedule, but I’ve based it on my ideal. Please give feedback in the comment section.


My Schedule
High School
Student Day Length: 5 1/2 hours

  • 9am– School buses begin to arrive
    • I open classroom for students who need tutoring and prepare my room for the lessons ahead.
  • 9:30– School day begins
    • Students arrive for their first period.
  • 10:25– Passing period
  • 10:30– Second period
    • This subject is the same as the first. (I may try different methods of teaching this lesson to see which works best.)
  • 11:25– Lunch period
    • My class is open while I eat for students who want tutoring. I use this time as a prep period.
  • 12pm– Third period
    • Students arrive for a new subject.
  • 12:55– Passing period
  • 1pm– Fourth period
    • This subject is the same as the previous. (I may try different methods of teaching this lesson to see which works best.)
  • 1:55– Passing period
  • 2pm– Fifth period
    • Students arrive for an honor’s class.
  • 2:55– School day ends
    • I open classroom for students who need tutoring. I use this time as a prep period to collect paperwork and tools for the next day.
  • 3:30– I go home

Class schedule:

  • 0 min.– Bell rings. Students may collect supplies and ask questions before sitting down.
  • 2 min.– Students should be sitting and working on the entry task.
  • 5 min.– Go over entry task as a class.
  • 10 min.– Merge from entry work into related lesson.
  • 17 min.– Brain break. (This is a 30-second opportunity for students to move their bodies, which increases blood-flow and glucose to the brain.)
  • 30 min.– Brain break. Transition to next section.
  • Work time. Students may use this to work on their daily assignment, unit homework, or other class work.
  • 53 min.– Students are allowed to begin packing and preparing to change classes. (This gives them time to mentally prepare for the change– something important for those with agoraphobia or sensory disorders– and some extra time to walk so they can use the facilities between classes.)
  • 55 min.– Bell rings. Class is dismissed.

Homework Plan

Hello, again!

I’ve been auditing a second MOOC, How to Teach Us, from the Coursera platform. This week, one of the readings was a chapter from Fires in the Mind entitled “Is Homework Deliberate Practice?” This chapter covered how many teachers approach assigning and assessing homework in secondary grades, and included quotes from interviewed students. While reading this chapter, I started cementing my ideas (which have previously been vague, but purposeful) of how I wanted to assign homework in my classroom.

One thing that stood out was the idea that, in order to be deliberate practice, each homework assignment should fall into one of four categories known as ‘The four Rs’:

  1. Readies students for new learning (more complex concept/step)
  2. Repetitive in knowledge and application of skills
  3. Reviews previously learned material (such as practicing instrument exercises to improve the playing of a musical piece)
  4. Revises work or understanding (such as editing a paper)

Another point made was giving students an opportunity to complete work at school. Some students don’t have time or help at home of they get stuck. I will make sure to have tutoring time available during my prep, lunch, or after school each day. I will also encourage my school to have a study time available throughout the week.

The final thing that guided my plan was how students believe their teachers see homework. Many see it as a one-size-fits-all assessment. I’ve tried to cater to that by basing the final homework assignment for the lesson on what was missed in the first unit homework assignment. I can do this by having sets of questions (or worksheets) created before the unit for areas in which I foresee struggling, or using software to help find problem areas en masse (The Learning Company computer games were excellent at catering to the child’s level of understanding). A second concern the interviewed students voiced was that they believed teachers didn’t use or really looked at the assignments that were assigned. I would make it obvious that I go over and make notes and consider altering lesson plans based on what I am reviewing.

My Plan

I’ve tried to weed out the issues as I went, and did an overall review to add specifics after I first wrote it all down. But if you see something you think I’ve missed, please comment! This plan is for my future high school math classroom, which may include more at-risk students than the average classroom.


Daily Assignments

  • Formal, formative
  • Graded on completion (based on a holistic rubric– partial credit available)
  • Expected work time: 20 min.
  • Time available during class

This will be a short set of questions (less than ten) that are directly related to the material covered that day. These will be pre-created, but may be altered if necessary. When assessing my students work, I will look over and mark which parts were wrong (and what the correct steps would be), then make note of concepts they are struggling with. I will note class-wide trends for review during class time. When completing these, students should:

  • Do it! Partial credit keeps their grades up, and seeing their work helps me find gaps in understanding or if they are ready for more.
  • Show their work. Having that window into their process gives me better insight into where things may be going wrong in my lessons.
  • Work out the problems they struggle with to the best of their abilities. I don’t know where students get stuck if they don’t attempt the question.
  • Make note at the end of the assignment of points where they notice they struggle. This would also be an opportunity to note when too little time was spent on a concept during the lesson.

Unit Homework

  • Formal, formative
  • Graded on correctness (based on an answer key)
  • Expected work time: 45 min.
  • No work time given in class

This will be a long set of problems assigned at the beginning of the unit. These problems will be a mix of elements from each lesson, as well as questions that ‘put it all together’. Students are to complete this as they feel competent in each area. This will be collected at the end of the unit, giving students time to seek help and find time in their schedules. This will be an opportunity for students to practice time-management and academic honesty. The motivation to complete this with their own work is intrinsic, as the final assignment will be based on what they need practice in and will rely on them understanding each concept fully, without outside help.


Final Homework Assignment

  • Formal, summative
  • Graded on correctness (based on an answer key or analytic rubric)
  • Expected work time: 30-60 min. (varies for each student/activity)
  • No work time given in class

This will be a follow-up assignment based on what each student needed from the Unit Homework. Assignment activities will vary. Students may be given a problem set, worksheet, or BINGO card (containing multiple projects that fulfill one or more concepts). Activity purposes will be determined by assigning each student to one of four categories:

  1. Students who understand everything will receive deeper questions or require deeper thinking in their projects/application.
  2. Students who misunderstand one or two things will receive problems/projects based on improving, practicing, and applying that specific element.
  3. Students who misunderstand multiple things will receive problems dealing with specific base concepts, then combined and applied concepts in questions/projects .
  4. Students who understand little will (hopefully) have been given intervention as the unit went on. This will be built upon in this assignment by giving them questions and explanations dealing in base knowledge and practice. Reviewing past lessons and subjects will occur if necessary. Altered assessment will be considered for final testing.

That’s it! Let me know what you think!
–Pinky

Adjustable Timelines

With all of the fuss about world education ranks and standardized testing these days, many seem to have forgotten the point of assessments– to assess learning. Testing is meant to tell how much the student has been able to absorb, process, and explain what they were taught. The ideal concept is that the teacher and student would get more out of the feedback than the government.

Unfortunately, there are many teachers who see a poor average grade in a unit and use it as a chance to lecture the students for not working hard enough. Some will think, “Well, I guess that section was too hard to grasp. Let’s move on to something else.” There is a race to cover as much as possible before the end of the year (or before the state testing) comes along, and there is no time to emphasize a single section when you school’s funding (and possibly your job) is on the line.

One of the reasons I love the new Common Core (I have many; feel free to ask for more!) is that a lot of that pressure is taken away. In the Montana CC Mathematics Standards, secondary objectives are to be taught over the course of four years, rather than by the end of each year, as the former “benchmarks” were. Students learn at their own pace. Within this, they will learn different concepts at different rates. Your class may fly through the Pythagorean Theorem, then get stuck on the rest of the Trig Identities. Teachers need to me aware of this. We need to plan to change our plans to accommodate our learners.

This last Monday, when my professor went over the class syllabus, he gave us a timeline for when we would cover each concept. The class objectives were on the board, along with how long he predicted each to take. But then he said, “We may spend more, if you guys need it.” The schedule was tentative. This should become more common, as public education (hopefully) improves in the near future. We no longer need industrial workers. We have machines and robots for that, now. What our society needs now is workers who can adapt to difficult situations, alter their strategy when necessary, and self-evaluate their methods. To create those future citizens, we need teachers with those skills. Set plans are safe. Schedules and deadlines let us know what is expected of us. But sometimes, our future students will expect a little fluidity as well.