This semester is my first attempt to survive multiple preps. While I have been teaching at the college level since 1999, I’ve been fortunate, even when my student load was high, to have just one or two preps each semester. This was really helpful when I started directing the Morehead Writing Project because that involves juggling a lot of hats from grants to marketing to programs to accounting (sometimes in the space of one day). I long ago devised strategies to manage grading for multiple writing classes, but still struggle with maintaining head space (planning and teaching) for multiple preps (combined with the aforementioned MWP hats). Here are my three strategies for surviving multiple preps also known as maintaining my sanity without shorting my students:
Build a similar frame
This is the most important strategy. On paper two of my three classes are built identically and while the third has to be different in some key ways as it is an upper level content-focused class (rather than general education writing), it still contains many common elements. And, the Blackboard shells for all three classes are identical (structurally identical, some content varies of course). This saves some work, but more important it means I do not need to rethink everything and that saves a lot of valuable time and energy now and will be even more true as the semester unfolds (and the grading load increases).
Another major time, stress, and energy saver is that class time itself is structured the same. Both general education writing classes follow the same structure every week and they mirror each other. I’ve adapted a writing workshop model to suit my weekly night classes. We open each night with a writing prompt then I teach a mini-lesson to support our current assignment-in-progress and we wrap up with a discussion jumpstarted by our writing. In addition, weekly blog prompts (between classes) provide more opportunity for writing and discussion supporting our assignment-in-progress.
This frame allows me to easily tweak the prompts and/or mini lesson to suit the individual needs of two different classes without creating two new three hour classes every week. While it is not as easy as prepping once for two sections of the same class, it has proven quite manageable.
Let it go
I never thought of myself as the sage on the stage, but somehow I had fallen into a prep trap creating elaborate plans for each class. Obviously this semester that would be a recipe for crash-and-burn at some point in the semester. So this semester I am all about building the ball park and inviting my students to come play with me. I worried (a lot) about this structure before we started. Would my students talk? Would classes run embarrassingly short? Would the students feel cheated? Could I still impart the important lessons that needed to be delivered?
My overall impression now that we are well into the semester is that I am an idiot for not doing this sooner. Students are talking, more and longer each week. I am able to plan mini lessons to cover the essentials and often sprinkle important tidbits or reminders into our discussions. Perhaps, most reassuring, students are enthusiastic about this model. They feel like valued members of the community because their contributions matter and their voice is heard – and we are modeling best writing practices by writing, reading, and talking about ideas so their writing does not develop in a vacuum.
Stay simple stay true
I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I always find interesting new things that I want to incorporate in my classes. This is why my one little word for 2015 was simplicity (in an attempt to rein this in). I don’t think I am as bad as Dug, but it can spiral out of control. So I need to remember to stay simple and follow the framework – to trust the framework I have created and not be distracted by squirrels and shiny objects.
Staying true to my core mission is essential. There is so much I want to teach and do in my classes that it is sometimes difficult to stay true, but again I need to trust my core vision and focus on that by asking (every time a shiny new strategy crosses my path) if this will really improve on what we are doing.
So far my survival strategies have meant more than simple survival, I am enjoying the classes and so are the students and we are all learning together – so win, win.
What are your survival strategies for coping with multiple preps? I know many high school teachers (and some of my college peers) are managing more preps, so how do you make it work for you and your students?
Stay Simple Stay True artwork by Love This Pic