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Jim Larson, Middle School ELA Teacher, on Teaching

April 21, 2012

We asked Jim to share some of his thoughts about teaching — best practices and fun facts. Read below to learn more about his teaching style:

Three words that describes your teaching persona

Urgent, Proximal, Warm-Demanding

Why teach? Or, how did you become a teacher?

It pushes me to my growing-edge daily.


What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?

Incorporate as many of Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion” strategies as possible. “Call and response” is my favorite. Take a basic “Do Now” with five problems as an example. Students enter the classroom (time them, of course, to promote urgency and competition), and I start a timer for 3 minutes. As I circulate the room updating them on the time and checking answers, I am thinking of how we will review answers, after the “call to open.” Timer goes off, students all stand and we recite the “call to open.” As they sit, hands should already be popping up to answer number 1, if I have done my job right. Instead of calling on five different students to answer five questions, I will most likely start by asking those with colored socks on to answer number one and then give them a countdown to ensure their responses are coordinated. From there I will come up with three other distinguishing traits and ask those students to respond. Lastly, I will ask for students in the [insert the cohort’s name here] cohort to respond. This reinforces a sense of cohort pride and what our school leader call’s “scholar identity.” Obviously if wrong answers are given, I will go back and address those either after the question is read or at the end of the “Do Now,” depending on how many wrong answers were audible.

Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?

Coffee, lots of it.

Describe your classroom management style (including a few best practices) in a few sentences.

I want my students to be exhausted by my lessons. So exhausted that there is no time to consider doing something that might get you in trouble. Even if they do not do their homework, I want them to know that I will stay late with them until they get it done or come in on the weekend until they get caught up. Some refer to it as warm-demanding or tough love.

Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher

At the risk of being provocative, the only “teacher” movie I will watch is “Half Nelson.” All others position the teacher as the savior; this film shows that students can and do have a tremendous impact on our lives as well.

Favorite Book (to read or to teach)

The Great Gatsby

Describe your process of preparing a lesson.

I want everything programmed and laid out in advance. My colleagues and I “borrowed” Boston Prep’s packets system and brought it back to Indiana. Now when students cross the threshold, they have a “learning ladder” in their hands that has everything they will need, save a book, for the next 55 minutes. No awkward transitions, no put this away and get out this, just flip the page and keep the pace moving. My colleagues and I create these “learning ladders” ourselves. It is a lot of work on the front-end, but we have found that when it comes time to execute, we are entirely focused on executing the lesson, a lesson that we know like the backs of our hands because we wrote it, not a textbook company.

Which teacher do you admire most and what makes him/her a great teacher?

I most admire a sixth-grade teacher named Dan Taylor. Mr. Taylor works with a cohort of approximately 22 young men, most of whom are below grade-level. His growth scores last year were through the roof. With two exceptions, he had each of his students reading, writing and computing at grade level after one year with him. He makes it happen by finding ways to incorporate learning into every second of the day. If Mr. Taylor’s students are waiting in line to use the restroom, they are reading. If Mr. Taylor’s students are waiting to transition from lunch, they are doing mental math. What’s key is that these examples occur daily. He never tries, never wavers from his high standards.



P.S. You can check out Jim’s Humanities course materials here: Humanities A – Reading and Social Studies.



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