The other day I ran into my old high school English teacher. We caught up and I told him about my career and classes I taught.
He frankly told me: “Shelby, I have been teaching for over 30 years and I have never struggled with teaching more than I do now. I don’t know how to teach kids today.”
He was referencing the fact that kids “today” are addicted to cell phones and social media. They would much rather watch Netflix than read a book.
Frankly, students today have so many distractions that it is very difficult for them to become invested in Romeo and Juliet or To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was lucky to begin my teaching career at a school that encourages innovation. Because of this, I have learned six “truths” of teaching Secondary English in my technology driven classroom.
While seemingly radical, these ideas and strategies have helped me adapt to individual student needs and ultimately “teach kids today.”
- I don’t get caught up in the fact that students don’t read. When I have to teach a whole class novel or text I front load the students with the storyline before we launch into the unit. That way, they know enough about the story to start doing assignments. As we progress throughout the book, I am constantly exposing students to the text. This station rotation model in my classroom allows students to focus on excerpts, important passages, and significant quotes in the book.
- I embrace Spark Notes and Enotes. If used strategically, these study guides can further enhance student understanding of the text. These ideas are further explored in an article by Jeraldine R. Kraver who talks about the importance of pushing students towards “meaning making.” Furthering the importance of these study guides, Kelly Gallagher talks about his process of using Cliff Notes to help his students understand Hamlet in a blog post.
- I try to embrace cell phones and the many tools they offer. While I have classroom etiquette for cell phone use, I do not waste a lot of energy making sure the phones are tucked away in backpacks. Instead, my students use cell phones as a way to take notes, make videos, and use classroom sanctioned social media sites. The picture below is of my students using Rocketbook Beacons to take notes of a Romeo and Juliet assignment. The picture will go straight to the Rocketbook app.
- I use social media in my classroom. The use of Twitter has helped my students develop an interest in reading. Using my personalized classroom hashtags, #scoieaplang and #mhhsfreshies, I hold book chats with my classrooms. We also reach out to students across the globe and try to connect with authors. One year, John Green liked one of my classroom tweets and my students were thrilled. I have also used Tik-tok and Snap-Chat in the classroom with positive results.
- I make sure I know my audience. My first year of teaching I quickly learned that I have a total of 3-5 minutes of lecture time with my students. Because of this short time frame, I learned to transition into a facilitator role in the classroom. My time is better spent one on one with small groups or individual students.
- I encourage students to choose their own books. This form of readers workshop is something that I am constantly doing in my classroom. I have developed my classroom library and am constantly bringing in more books.
As teachers, I think we have an obligation to change and adapt to our audiences based on our students’ present needs. This requires getting out of our comfort zones and trying new things.
The above ideas might not work for everyone. But I think that as long as we are experimenting and trying new things– we can be satisfied that we are doing our job.
Shelby Scoffield is a high school English teacher at Mountain House High School in Mountain House, CA. She loves to read, write, and watch movies. She loves experimenting with different teaching strategies and techniques in her classroom. You can follow her on Twitter at @sscoffield1.