Ditch That Textbook-A Book Review

I love books… and yes the tech geek that I am still reads paper books. Not that I have anything against reading online but before I make the switch, I have to finish reading the 100+ books that are waiting to be read. I pick up novels, professional development and personal development books mostly and they become this huge pile of books next to my bed. Every year, I set a goal to read a number of books. Last year, I did not reach my goal of 30 books but read 28… which is not that bad. One of those books was Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller.

Funny anecdote about the book: I ordered this book over a year ago through Amazon. I bought it with two or three other interesting books that were most probably mentioned at a seminar or by friends and put them on my to-read pile next to my bed. When I finally got to it, I noticed that the book had a printing issue. Some pages were blank. I started reading thinking maybe this was a concept where we were meant to take notes but no… pages were missing. When I contacted Amazon, I was told it was too late to return the book for a year had passed… I was so sad. I contacted the author… and guess what? He sent me a free copy. A free signed copy and send some cool stickers along as well. What a great guy! I really wanted to mention it here so that you know what kind of person we are dealing with here. Made me want to read the book even more!

As a textbook author myself, I have to admit that the title kind of scared me. After all, since I wrote a few textbooks, I know that there is a lot of good stuff in there. The whole idea behind Ditch That Textbook is not to present an exposé against the material. It is also not about making sure your class become completely paperless and uses technology. It’s about embracing being a teacher, being creative, being innovative. For any motivated teacher, this is a: I am not alone kind of book.

As I read the book, it sometimes reaffirmed that what I was doing was good, sometimes gave me ideas, sometimes made me rethink things that were going on in my own classroom. Of course, some of the suggestions did not apply to me but the message always did. The author made me feel that it was absolutely OK to try things… but also to choose and not use some of the ideas presented. His reflections felt like talking to another motivated teacher and having someone understands what this passionate teaching is all about.

The Skype Mystery calls really intrigued me and I would love to try it in my classroom… The possible technical issues in my classroom(s) scare me a bit but innovation is all about getting over the fear, trying something new and adjusting.  I will also check out how I can incorporate Twitter into my teaching as well. I already use it for professional development but could use ith with students so that they communicate with others and not just me or the other students in the class.

The suggestion to use the chatroom Today’s Meet during silent reading was the first thing I tried and it is just great. My students can ask questions and not be stuck because of a word or certain passages and yet, are still silently reading and not be a distraction to other students…not that my students are silently reading every class! I just hated those long classes where students read in silence and I was left out. What a great way to still communicate and guide them! Something that technology allows me to do and that I could not do before.

With Teaching Like a Pirate, it’s one of the other must reads that I will recommend to colleagues and to the student teachers I supervise! It’s a book that I will have to schedule to re-read from time to time as well!

I invite you to follow the author on his blog here, or follow him on Twitter. I also participated in the Ditch That Textbook Summit which was amazing! It was my second year and was such a valuable professional development opportunity.


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Time management- in class and in life! (part 2)

In my last blog post I talked about using timers in class to organize activities and manage time effectively for students. As a teacher, there are a variety of tasks that we need to complete outside of the classroom as well. We do have time here and there to do it: during pedagogical days, during a scheduled ‘’work’’ period in our schedule and, let’s be honest, during our lunch hour and our breaks! We also work from home at night and during the weekend!

I often hear how overwhelmed teachers are with everything they need to do and it’s so easy to get sidetracked during those hours dedicated to administrative work. Ever had a pedagogical day where you left and said: ‘’I did nothing today’’? I’m sure you did a lot. You maybe just did not get everything done like you expected to because of distractions. And what about working from home! Between the husband, the kids and the motivational distraction (just one more episode of Stranger Things and I will correct those copies), it’s easy to feel like nothing ever gets done.

One thing that helps me focus is to use timers, yes, again.

Using timers work

I have some blocked time in my schedule here and there. For an hour and 15 minutes I can work on anything that needs to get done… but it rarely happens if I get distracted. Emails come in, colleagues talk to you… and then you realize that your to-do list never got done. So, I like to use a timer. I will decide on 2-3 or more tasks that absolutely need to get done and estimate how much time it will take to do them. Then, I put on my headphones (yes, I’m anti-social like that), turn on my focus playlist on Spotify (here’s one I really like), and then attack the actual task. The timer not only serves as a reminder to focus on the task but makes me work a little faster since I want to finish before it goes off.

Timers can be used for 10 minutes, 30 or even an hour. During pedagogical days, I like to separate my day into sections, look at my list and decide what I would be satisfied being done with at the end of the day. Then, I hide… I find an empty classroom or I use my headphone and attack. I make sure to count some break and socializing time for my day and I make sure to actually take my lunch hour and socialize. I used to work through lunch and I don’t anymore. I find that the actual break makes me more, not less, efficient! I can focus better when the timer is on.

Dealing With Distraction

One thing that distracts me big time when I am online is my email. That is why I always keep a little 10 minutes in my timers for checking my email. I answer what seems urgent and save the rest for later. 10 minutes, that’s it! Then I go back to the tasks at hand and ignore that email. What could one hour of work look like? Here is an idea:

  • Timer 1: 10 minutes: Check emails
  • Timer 2: 20 minutes: Correct essays for group 32
  • Timer 3: 10 minutes: Take a break and read some interesting articles
  • Timer 4: 20 minutes:  Correct essays for group 32

I may not get all of my correction done, but at least for 40 minutes, I corrected and gave myself a break. I may repeat this same schedule later on and get the correction finish. The important thing is to choose the most urgent tasks and get them done. I will get more done in those 20 minutes than I will if I sit for an hour and procrastinate. Those breaks help me as well. I don’t get distracted during the set correction time because I know I will have time to do other stuff and it helps me not to be stuck in a correction pattern either. I find that if I correct for hours, I start to have similar grades for students, I get frustrated with their mistakes (but we saw that in class 3 times!!!!) and it just does not make me an efficient evaluator.

Using Timers at Home

I also use timers at home. There are so many tasks that I do not like… emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the litter box… Tasks that can easily be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list but actually need to get done. I will divide those tasks and set a timer: 30 minutes to do 3-4 things. I put on my favourite motivating playlist (here is one I really like on Spotify) and just go for it. It’s crazy how much faster things get done when you are working against the clock. This idea is something I have been doing for years and comes from a wonderful system by Flylady, which has nothing to do with teaching but helped me become someone with a clean house and helped me organize my life! When you sign up for the daily emails, you can take over the chaos in your home if that’s something you need.

Scheduling Time for Yourself

With all of the tasks and the endless to do on my list I have added to things to my getting things done philosophy: add some time for yourself and accept that not everything will get done. I schedule time for exercising, meditating, reading and can also not plan at all. One of my favourite vacations of all time was travelling with no reservations, nothing planned and using a quarter to decide of our next destination. It’s good to sometimes not use timers, not use a list, not use anything and just relax.

My other challenge was to accept that not everything on my list will get done and that it is absolutely OK! I prefer to look at my list and be proud of everything I have done rather than look at what is not done, it’s a lot more motivating!

So, what will you first timer be? What task will you give yourself 10 minutes for?

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