Novel Unit Rehab

Thursday, April 30, 2015
Hanging my head in shame, Lori

This meme really has nothing to do with my blog post,
but it makes me laugh. And I'm feeling silly in my old age.
Sometimes I forget that I am pretty legitimately into my 30s and sometimes I forget what it was like to be in high school. But there is one awful thing about my high school English classes that I'll never forget. 

Study guide questions. 

Geez. It's like the plague that comes along with every novel unit. The dreaded packet. I even hate the word packet. It's very onomatopoetic too. The sound it makes when you thwack it onto a student's desk sounds so thick. So stapled. It sounds like a packet.* Packet. Yuck. 

Here's the thing, friends. If you are guilty of this in a past teaching life, it's ok. I am too. I'm hosting a rehab group** every Tuesday and Thursday. We meet in an old broom closet on campus and trade horror stories about-- 

  • Standing line at the copier for an absurd amount of time and even having to refill the paper drawer. Twice. (By the way, if you left it empty...a plague upon your house. You don't get to come to group. You get to go refill the copier.)***
  • Assigning a ridiculous number of questions and "requiring" that students respond in complete sentences. 
  • Glancing at the students' work (or lack thereof) and giving a completion grade because who would EVER read all of that?
  • Entering zero upon zero in your gradebook because our kids are people too and they are kind of like us, thinking WHO WOULD EVER WRITE ALL OF THAT?
When you come to my rehab group, you need to bring all of your old study question packets with you and be prepared to burn them all. All except one. Here's why you get to keep juuuuust one. 
Look at all the STUFF. Just stuff. No kid ever truly learned from a study packet.
This one copy is your guide to your new and improved novel unit. Instead of assigning questions 1-30, covering chapters 1-5 (Dang're mean), now you will pick A SINGLE QUESTION and use it as a teach piece. Allow me to demonstrate. Say you are teaching The Giver and one of your eleventy billion questions asks about the symbolism of mirrors. Now you have a single teach piece on symbolism and The Giver is your vehicle for teaching that. Welcome to rehab.
  • STEP ONE--Admitting is the first step.
  • STEP TWO--Identify small teach pieces and skills in the midst of all of that stuff. 
  • STEP THREE--Use a combination of your visual dictionary and targeted passages to teach specific skills. 
  • STEP FOUR--Assign that one itsy bitsy question to your students to determine their level of mastery. You can mix up how they answer, but the point is they are doing less at a deeper level of complexity and rigor. 
  • STEP FIVE-- Say bye-bye, copier! Bye-bye completion grades! Bye-bye, zeros!
  • STEP SIX--Say hello to accountability, quality teaching, and happier kids!
*If you don't believe me that the packet actually makes a sound that says packet, follow a teacher who has stood at the copier for her entire conference period. Steal one of her packets. (She'll be really irritated because her count will be off). Thwack it on your desk. Just listen to it and cringe.
**My rehab group will start next week. Please sign up for snacks. Carbs only.
***No really. You really have to go refill the copier if you want to keep being friends.


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  3. I love the onomatpoeia of the word "packet"--now that's funny. I have always felt guilty that I don't do a lot of packets, because scads of teachers use them. THANK YOU for liberating (and agreeing with) me! The only thing I find a little daunting is this: Without a whoppin' packet, the final assessment piece seems a little harder to create. With packets, it's easy to create non-essay, objective Q's (that don't take as long to grade). I am a teacher who has essay Q's be much of the assessment, but it's nice to have a student aide (or husband) grade the objective Q's too. How do you feel you have enough to assess on?