#TBT. I Miss School.

I haven’t done a throwback Thursday in a while and honestly I’m not sure if it is still even a trend, but for today it’s being reinstated! To date we have officially been out of the classroom for 5 weeks. We are still providing curriculum through online platforms, as I’m sure you all have seen several memes created about it, but I am here to tell you while we are making the most of it; I miss my school, I miss my kids, I miss my classroom.

These last few weeks have been some of the hardest. I am trying to be there for my kids as much as I can, but nothing seems like it is enough. Unfortunately me being me, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t think there is a way to make it feel like there can or will be “enough.” One of the main things missing is connection. Yes Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, Google Voice/Text, and Email all are ways to stay connected and I couldn’t be more thankful for having them at this current time, but it is just not the same. Students cannot easily just walk into my room, they cannot steal my lunch or my planning, they cannot wave through my windows as they walk by. I’ve tried to turn my classroom open door policy into an “open phone” policy and while I wake up to answer texts at 2 or 3 am, I still feel helpless.

Beyond becoming creative to ensure there is still connection, teachers are working tirelessly to transition years of in person curriculum to digital formatting. Henry Ford Academy, where I teach in Dearborn, MI, is a PBL school. If you are unsure what PBL is, it stands for Project Based Learning. Our lessons are inspired by hands on activities, collaboration and differentiation. This is certainly something hard to imitate through distance learning. It is also another thing I am missing. I love seeing students “ah ha” moments and all of their wins no matter how big or small. As I have been working to repurpose several different units I have also been reminiscing on them, which brings me to my #ThrowbackThursday; Mock Interviews for my juniors. This is one of my favorite lessons to prepare, teach and watch.

Now getting to the actual mock interview is a process, I promise you I don’t just throw them into the fire! Although, I do have some fun making them sweat as we approach Interview Day as I like to call it. Each step has its importance. The whole lesson lasts about 6 days, but this would vary based on your schools schedule. First things first, the course. Junior Workshop is a college and career english course that our students take during their 11th grade year. Students explore their strengths/weaknesses, personality styles, career aptitude, job outlooks, college options, college costs, scholarships, resumes, cover letters and interviews. I was lucky enough to sit in on this class during my student observation year and had the pleasure of watching one of the best, my coaching teacher {what’s up Ms. Anttila!}, teach it. Henry Ford Academy (HFA) runs on trimesters, three of them, each having around 12 weeks and mock interviews fall in the last 2 weeks of that time frame each semester.

Step 1: Resume history, introduction and formatting

Believe it or not some of my 11th graders are unsure of what a resume is before we get to this section of class. Due to the varying levels of understanding and exposure, I always start the unit from ground zero. Day one we begin with background/history of what a resume is and why it is important/beneficial. I like to break down the origin of the word letting the students know it is an early 19th century French word meaning “summary.” I then share with them that the first resume is credited back to 1481-1482 by Leonardo da Vinci in the form of a formal letter written to a potential employer. We talk about how resumes take different forms based on their purpose. I share with them a couple varying types such as the short (one/two page) resume and a running resume with the explanation of how both are significant. We discuss what an objective is and brainstorm ideas of what we think would build a strong one. Then before I move into showing them examples I work to create a connection about how your resume is a paper representation of who you are and what you have accomplished. Once this discussion and group work is complete I move on to start to show them templates. I have one that is created specifically for them and the information I am asking for as an 11th grader, but I also show them ways to find “fancier” templates through Google Documents and a simple Google search. Once we look at templates, discuss formatting and talk about the required information I then show them examples from classes before pointing out pros and cons of each as well as my own resume. After a quick formative assessment, formatting varies based on the class and time, we then move onto starting our rough drafts, beginning with brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorming // Rough Draft

I dedicate about two and a half days for individualized brainstorming and formation of the rough draft. This time includes the rest of the class period on day one and all of the class periods on days two and three. I front load the students with information, assignments and templates allowing them to be able to work at their own pace. I first assign a brainstorming graphic organizer. This sheet helps them develop ideas for their objective, school and work history, skills, hobbies/extracurriculars and awards. Students tend to struggle getting started on the brainstorming more frequently than not. The other beneficial point of front loading everything, it also allows me time to work one-on-one as questions arise. Once they complete their brainstorming they can then move forward to the rough draft. The biggest question that comes up here usually deals with formatting. Students typically struggle with creating action statements and keeping the correct tense in reference to past and present. They are instructed that they have until 11:59pm on the third day (typically this works out to be a Wednesday) to turn these in.

Step 3: Peer Editing // Interview Details

The morning of day four (usually a Thursday) I print a copy of each resume along with an accompanying copy of my peer editing circles handout. As students arrive into class this day they are instructed to get something to write on and with and take a seat in one of the 2 circles I have set up. This is a timed activity that is very different than classic peer editing. Students do not just exchange their paper with one other person, their resume is floating around the circle with multiple sets of eyes laid on it. They are also guided through 7 rounds all covering different elements of the rubric. The layout is as follows:

  • 7 rounds
  • 3-4 questions per round
  • 2-3 minutes per round
  • 10-15 people per circle (dependent on class size)
  • Rounds 1 & 2: focus on content
  • Rounds 3 & 4: focus on appearance/layout
  • Rounds 5, 6 & 7: focus on several aspects of writing

Once peer editing is wrapped up I give them their first look into mock interviews. Up until day four there is not mention of anything to do with the physical interviews as I do not want them to become overwhelmed or lose their focus on the tasks at hand/steps prior. They have several questions about it during days one to three, but I divert them to the best of my ability without making them feel as if I am disregarding them. I have a Google Slideshow comprised with all details which I upload to Classroom once I present it to them. The information provided covers a wide range from what to wear, how to walk up to your interviewer/introduce yourself, do’s and don’t during the interview, fidgeting, formal language/word choice and sample interview questions. This “first look” is usually a quicker run through of information in a “hold all your questions, let me word vomit this to you, you can digest it tonight and we will delve in deeper tomorrow” sort of way. At the end of class I collect all the of the resumes and peer editing forms. That night I go through each of the resumes giving hand written feedback of my own. While my classes run mostly paperless this an activity where I do not like to give my feedback through Google Classroom. Why? This is because if I give the corrections via Classroom all the students have to do is hit a little green check mark and “accept” the changes, they don’t have to try to understand why there needs to be changes. However, if I write them hard copy then they have to go in and physically make the changes themselves they also have to work to comprehend why they are changing it which leads to several clarifying questions on their behalf.

Step 4: Continued Interview Details // Teacher Feedback

Day five. This class period starts with revisiting the interview slideshow. We go through each slide bullet point by bullet point stopping to address any issues/clarifications that arise. After we finish this I then “rapid fire” interview questions out at random catching many students off guard. This is done purposefully. When I call their name and rattle one off typically there is about 5 to 15 seconds of crickets and then some nervous laughter. I tell them this is okay, to be expected and to get it out now. Several students ask questions back to my questions instead of answering it. I also share that this is okay and I help them see how they can formulate a response asking for more clarity if they are unsure as to what exactly is being asked. The question that seems to be the hardest that I throw out to them is asking them to describe themselves in two words. When they are puzzled in how to respond I remind them to think back to our very first assignment in the class, strengths and weaknesses and other accompanying lessons since. This usually takes about half the class period and then I hand back their resumes (with my edits) and their peer editing sheets. They then have the rest of the class period to begin making corrections.

Step 5: Final Draft

Their final draft is typically due by 11:59 pm on day 5, but depending on the school schedule this of course can be subject to change. The main thing with the final draft is that they are personally responsible to print a copy of it on their own and have it with them the day of the interview. I tell them that if they forget it that this is on them and I will not print it. I paint a real life scenario asking them to think if they were to forget their resume would they walk in and ask the front desk, if there is one, to print it for them? As they begin to answer I tell them that questions is rhetorical because of course they would not as that would make their first impression an irresponsible one. While I have them submit their final draft on Classroom, I do not look at them. I want there to still be somethings “wrong” with them so that their interviewer too can provide feedback.

Step 6: Interview Day

There is a lot that goes into this day much beyond preparing the students. I bring in about 7-10 outside interviews, who the students do not know, to run the interviews. I usually begin planning this day 2 months in advance and reaching out to my interviews at the latest a month and a half in advance. Many of my volunteers take time from their daytime jobs to come to HFA and be there for my students so I like to be respectful of their schedules as far out as I can. I provide the interviews with a list of questions they can use, but do not have to stick to, as well as a detailed time schedule and a copy of the rubric. If possible I also like to create a Google Drive with all the resumes matched up that I can share with them if they want to review at all prior to the day of. The layout is as follows:

  • Interview stations set up for each interviewer with a name sign
  • 10-12 minute interviews dependent on class size
  • Interviewers control the floor for the first 8-10 minutes
  • Interviews have the last two minutes to ask for corrective criticism to their resume and feedback on their interview skills
  • There is about a five minutes “switching” window where the interviews can complete the rubrics and I change out the groups
  • Repeat until all groups have been interviewed
  • All interviewers come back into the class and introduce themselves and share work history and a tidbit of generalized advice

This day would not be possible if it wasn’t for my amazing volunteers who come in and selflessly give their time, knowledge and heart to my students. It is one of the activities I look forward to the most each trimester. The growth I see in the students from day one to day six is indescribable. Seeing them arrive in their business casual/school uniform attire and walking around hearing them answer the questions in such a mature manner puts a smile on my face that lasts for hours. They do not look like the 11th graders who walked into my class just about 10 weeks earlier.

This is one of the lessons I have been thinking about since day one of transitioning to distance learning as it is something I do not want this trimesters Junior Workshop to miss out on and I am going to work tirelessly to make sure of that. It was hard initially for me to move out of my own brainstorming stage because I was not sure of the fate of the weeks to come, but now that I know we are online for the rest of the school year my brain has been racing. While what I am about to share is certainly fluid I have high hopes that virtual Mock Interviews will still be a hit and students will power down their computers feeling accomplished.

  • Resume brainstorming/rough draft: video record lesson information to the students covering all details just as if we were in class and hold open class hours for questions/clarification
  • Peer editing: create several small groups of students (around 5 students each) and assign a specific time for each different group to get on Google Meet and circle edit the papers (all copied into one easily accessible document where I can also see as students work) with time rounds facilitated by myself
  • Teacher feedback: print resumes at home, complete hand written feedback and scan to send back through text or email
  • Interview information: once adapted to the virtual interview, self video record information as I talk through details
  • Example interview questions: same groups from peer edits given a new Google Meet time frame to sign on where I will “rapid fire” questions at them and we will talk through them
  • Final drafts: still due on classroom
  • Interview Day(s): reach out to my list of usual interviewers and see their interest/ability to participate in a virtual interview, inquire on day and time that would work best for them during the provided week I give them, schedule one student every 15 minutes (number of students per interviewer will depend on how much time they have to give), provide rubric digitally to the interview, provide link for both and sit on to mediate, once student signs off interviewer can verbalize their feedback to me and I will transfer it to a rubric for each student

One thing I have quickly learned through this whole online teaching realm is that it is okay to make mistakes, to not have it all figured out. I have tried to stop putting so much “perfectionism” pressure on myself. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable with my students that I am figuring it out right alongside of them. In these times of vulnerability I also remind them that all of their teachers are doing everything in our power to make virtual lessons just as enriching as that of the classroom. I’ve reminded myself that just like with anything in life we can only do the best we can, with what we have and as long as you feel like you are doing “enough,” you probably are and then some. I’ve remembered we as teachers need to be patient with ourselves just like we are being with our students.

How have you been transitioning some of your favorite lessons to a digital format?

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