Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making Writing an Authentic Habit in the Classroom

As an educator, I believe it is important to strive for authenticity in the classroom.  Learning should have meaning and reflect what happens in the real world.  Finding ways to apply skills to the real world can be difficult.  Approaches to teaching like project-based learning are a wonderful way to incorporate real-world application.  Now, I wish I could tell you my classroom was a masterpiece of project-based learning, but I am striving for authenticity, right? I truly do want to incorporate more PBL this year, but that is another story.

Learning should be authentic. 

What I want to share with you today is about writing. By now, you may know I am working on my PhD in Educational Psychology with a focus in Gifted Education.  One of the things my advisors have been encouraging us to do lately is to set aside time every day to write.  This is nothing new.  I have heard this in creative writing classes and from other graduate professors before. However, that does not mean I have actually implemented this habit in my life.  The hardest part about writing every day is figuring out the time that works best.  My schedule is crazy hectic between work and school. I just started this week and have decided to set aside 20-30 minutes every morning to write.  For me that means, I will probably write most mornings between 5:30 and 6:00am.

To become a better writer, you have to practice.

To produce writing, you have to set aside time every day to write. 

Choose a time.  Be consistent.  Just write. 

It got me thinking.  I want to be a better writer.  I want to actually produce writing.  I want my students to be better writers.  We need to make time for writing...writing without pressure...writing without due dates.  Now, don't get me wrong.  We will have assignments.  We will have due dates, but writing needs to be a regular and authentic habit in my classroom.  Writing needs to be a time to allow for creativity, risk, flow of ideas, and authenticity. 

In the past with my elementary students, I have usually done 5-10 minutes of journal writing.  I find this is a great way to help kids get used to putting ideas down and get over the perfectionism of every sentence having to be perfect. I usually did this almost every day.  This year with my middle school students, we have a block schedule.  Thus, we only have Language Arts twice a week.  So we will only be able to set aside a dedicated space for writing twice a week.  Now, I don't want you to think we haven't been writing.  We have been doing more formal writing assignments, but not necessarily every class. 

I started thinking about how I wanted to collect my own writing every day.  I would rather type it.  I know I do not need 10,000 Word documents.  I thought about storing my journal entries in Evernote, which would work well. Then, I remembered a website I had looked at a couple years ago, but I never ended up using in my classroom.  Penzu.  Penzu is an online writing journal.  Now, if I was writing something super personal, I may not store it online. But for writing for grad school or even writing drafts of blog posts, I think it is a fabulous place to store entries.  With Penzu, you can customize fonts and backgrounds.  They even make the page look like notebook paper, so it feels like a journal.

I decided I wanted to try Penzu with my students this year as well.  I signed up for Penzu Classroom for a teacher account.  This way, I can view their journals and even send them assignments.  I can even comment on their assignments within Penzu, so I am excited to try it out.  Yesterday, I got everyone signed up for accounts. Most likely, I will still have them publish final drafts in Word.  We will use Penzu more for pre-writing, brainstorming, short journal entries, and free-writing. If students do not lock their journals, they can even view one another's journals.  I am thinking this could work well for peer feedback.  We will have to see how it goes. I'll let you know. I also gave my students the option of using Penzu or having a paper journal.  Almost half of my students chose a paper journal, and the other have chose to use Penzu.

You can view a video on Penzu Classroom below.

How do you make writing authentic in your classroom?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pumpkin Freebies for Grades 1-2

I teach at a very small school, which means we all pitch in when needed.  Our first and second grade teacher had to go out of town suddenly for a death in the family, so I got to sub today for first and second grade.  I am planning some fall related activities for them next week and found some cute pumpkin freebies on TpT.

A Cute PowerPoint on the Pumpkin Life Cycle

An Interactive notebook page on the life cycle of a pumpkin

A Pumpkin Observation Activity Sheet

A Pumpkin Seed Recipe and Experiment Activity - Super cute!

A Pumpkin mini-unit - My favorite resource I found!

Reading Passages for Fall - This wasn't a freebie, but it was too good a resource to pass up.  There are passages for every Fall topic you can imagine. These are awesome for extra reading and fluency practice or to introduce/reinforce different topics.

I have to say I enjoyed the little ones today.  They are so sweet and so full of joy. I have so much respect for primary teachers, though. I don't know how you do it... It was fun for a short time, but I enjoy the older ones.

Friday, October 3, 2014

News Sites for Kids and Teens

With the introduction of Common Core, many teachers are trying to find ways to incorporate more nonfiction in their classroom. There are great classroom magazines like Time for Kids and many of the Scholastic magazines. However, it is nice to have something you can easily access online. I was looking for some good articles for my students about events going on around the world, and I found the following news sites for kids and teens.

Like any good teacher blogger, I thought I would share:







Anyone else remember the Channel One broadcasts from middle school?  What are your favorite sites and resources for covering current events with your students?

I also found some freebies on TpT for analyzing articles:


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Resources for Discussing Ebola with Your Students

My students just finished watching the movie, Guns, Germs, and Steel, based on the book by Jared Diamond.  As a follow up to watching episode 3 of the movie, they are currently researching germs and disease. I checked out a ton of books at the library to aid in their research (whose titles will probably become another post at a later date).

I was searching for some articles to use for our weekly "current events" type class.  I saw some of the articles on the Ebola outbreak.  Being that we also are in Dallas, it seemed a very relevant topic to discuss considering it also relates to what we have been discussing in Social Studies with Guns, Germs, and Steel.  The third episode of the movie also primarily focuses on the history of diseases in Africa with the Africans and the Europeans, so it makes the Ebola discussion even more relevant.

Here are some of the links and articles I found.  I know some of the latest issues of the Scholastic magazines also include articles on Ebola.





PBS also even has lesson plans with activities to help you discuss this topic with your students:


HERE is a link to some suggested answers to questions you may get from your students, put out by PBS.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Read Alouds in Middle School

As I was getting ready to move up from grades 4-5 to grades 7-8, I had to make some plans to adjust some of my teaching approaches to older students.  One aspect that I love about teaching Language Arts is reading aloud to kids.  Reading great books aloud to kids does so many wonderful things.  You get to model fluency, and it gives you room to discuss all of the elements of literature and reading strategies.

With elementary students, I usually used a mix of novels and picture books for read alouds.  As I was planning for middle school, I remembered a presenter from a workshop I went to years ago.  It was a workshop on balanced literacy.  The presenter was a middle school teacher who said she read the first part of a different novel to her students every week.  If they wanted to know what happened next, they had to pick up the book and read.

After thinking about it, I decided to try this for this year with my 7th and 8th graders.  Every week I will read the first couple chapters of a different book to them.  Occasionally, we may choose to read an entire novel all together.  Reading a couple chapters gives enough plot to discuss characters, plot, literary elements, good introductions to writing, etc.  It also is a fabulous way to introduce kids to different genres and hopefully get them excited about reading. I will have my students record different concepts in their language arts notebook as we read.  We will use some foldables and some just drawing different graphic organizers.

What we have read so far this year:

1. Wonder

The first week of school, we read Wonder by RJ Palacio.  We discussed what makes all of us unique an also how we want to be perceived by others.  I had them write their first essay of the year on how they wanted others to perceive them.

2. If I Stay

Then, we read the first couple chapters of If I Stay.  I won't always choose books that are movies, but I know a lot of times the kids are interested in the books that are movies.  For If I Stay, we discussed the differences between external and internal conflict.

3. The Maze Runner

When we started reading The Maze Runner, this is when I really saw my plan come to life.  The kids were so intrigued with the story from the first two chapters, they voted unanimously to have us read the entire book. I happened to have the audiobook on my iPad, so we are listening to the audio version of the book for about 30 minutes per day.  Of course, some of them went out and saw the movie.  I had a few rush out and buy the book and read it right away.  Some have started the second book.  Ultimately, it got many of them excited about reading.

During the first two chapters, I had my students write down descriptions of the setting and also listen for new words and guess their meanings using context clues.  The boys in the glade have a very interesting set of slang words, but it is a great demonstration of using context clues to determine meanings of words. As we are listening to the audio book, I will have them do some tasks in their notebooks, but most of the time we will listen just for pleasure. We will also probably do some writing assignments using the novel.

How do you use read alouds in middle school?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Having Your Students Take Ownership of their Learning

I am always trying to find ways to have my students take ownership of their learning.  One of the things I love about blended learning is that it allows students to work at different paces and at different levels.  The challenge though is that it means that not everyone is always doing the same thing at the same time.  As a teacher, it means there is more to monitor.  It also means your students have to take more of the responsibility for their learning.

One of the things I have learned the most in the last six years is that there is not a perfect student planner.  I feel like I have tried every student planner known to man.  I have also created every type of form you can imagine: forms with lists, checkboxes, etc. You can even read old posts where I have shared some of the versions I have tried over the years.

Source: Pinterest

The truth is as adults we don't all keep up with our schedules the same way.  Why would we assume our students would, too?  I created a Goal tracker form we used the first couple weeks of school.  I broke our day down into the time increments and they had to write down what they needed to get done in that block of time and then answer if they met their goal and why.  Some students really liked the form and kept up with it.

Source: Pinterest

After that, I gave them the option of using Edmodo as their planner.  Many of our students used Edmodo as their planner last year and really like it. You can read about the Edmodo planner here. This week we discussed they could now choose how they wanted to organize their week.  Some want to use the goal tracker form, some want to use a paper planner, some are going to use Edmodo, and some are using other calendars from their devices.

The part I think is most important for my students to learn is not just finding a planner that they like, but taking time to self-reflect at the end of the week to check in and ask themselves if they met their goals and why.  Do they need to make adjustments the following week?  I am having them write a paragraph on Friday afternoons as part of this self-reflection process. I am having them do this because I want to encourage that ownership process. They were submitting it to me; however, some complained that they felt the process lacked any real meaning.  So now I am having them write the paragraph as an email to their parents and they have to copy me. By including their parents, it gave the process more meaning.

I know the organization process is something I am still struggling with.  I love my Erin Condren Life planner.  I can't imagine not having it.  It is the figuring out how best to allocate my time during the week to have time for work, lesson planning, grading, blogging, working out, cooking, cleaning, and studying for graduate school.  I am still trying to figure out if I prefer studying in the morning or afternoon right after work.  I have tried later in the evening, but I am always too tired.  Maybe my students can figure out the process before I do.

How do you encourage your students to take ownership?  Do you have a favorite student planner?  Do you find ways to encourage self-reflection in your students?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yoga Poses for Kids

I have been practicing yoga for years.  I have wanted to incorporate yoga in my classroom for a couple years now.  I just never got around to it.  I actually would like to try yoga with my middle schoolers, but I decided to try it first with one of our younger classes.  On Friday mornings, I am going to try doing 15-20 minutes of yoga with our grades 3-4 class.  I practice yoga, but I wasn't quite sure where to start with planning sequences for kids.  I was googling ideas and came across a great website.  I found a website called Kids Yoga Stories.  They have sequences that center on different themes.  I thought this was such a fun idea!  I am excited to try it out. A lot of their themed sequences even play off of a picture book.

Here are links to some of their Fall related themes:

Labor Day Poses

Autumn Poses

GoNoodle also has some yoga videos you could use for brain breaks.

Have you ever tried yoga in your classroom?  What were some of your favorite poses and sequences?

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