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?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Creating a Thinking Classroom

I began this post on Sunday, but I am finally posting it after a couple days at camp with my students.  You can read more about what I learned about myself at camp at my personal blog

Some teachers have those big READ decorative letters hanging in their classroom library.  A previous coworker told me I needed to have giant letters in my classroom for THINK.  On almost any personality test I have done, I am first and foremost analytical. I think about everything.  My mind is busy and scattered.  This is why I learned to make lists and write things down.  This is why I have to organize my physical space because it allows me to begin to organize my mental space. 

After two weeks in middle school, I am so excited about the potential of the rest of the school year.  Seventh and eighth graders are independent enough that we can now really pursue my passion – thinking. My primary goals for my students this year are to become better thinkers and to be able to articulate their ideas. As teachers and students alike, we have to take time to stop doing to allow time for thinking.

I have a co-worker who uses the ideas of Dr. Sandra Kaplan in her teaching.  In discussing the traits of a scholar this  past week with her students, she introduced the idea to them of keeping an idea notebook. She bought them mini-composition notebooks from Staples and they used tabs to create sections.  The students will write down their questions and ideas in each section. 
I am absolutely in love with this idea! I played around with having an ideas section in our binder last year, but it did not really work.  There is something more special about having a separate place just to keep ideas. 

One of the very first things my advisor recommended to us last year when I began my doctoral program was to keep an idea notebook.  It is a place to record ideas and even notes from discussions during research meetings.  I had already been keeping a notebook, so I was to get some validation for my habit.  My past notebook was giant conglomeration of ideas related to work, school, home, and every aspect of my life.  It could be difficult to go back and find things.  Thus, last year I decided to try a sectioned notebook to see how I liked it.  I bought the Arc notebook by Staples.  You can see below how I created sections for ideas for for work, school, research, blog, and home. 

I also could have just made tabs like my co-worker did with her students. I am finding I am using it some, but I am also recording a lot of ideas in Evernote on my iPad.  For me, I am finding it easier sometimes to record ideas on there in different notebooks than even in my paper notebook. I like Evernote because I also have the app on my Mac.  So I can use it from a variety of places.

 I really want to encourage my students this year to ask questions, generate ideas, and pursue their interests.  I work at a blended learning school, so all of my students have Macs.  Like all good teachers, I am going to “steal” my co-worker’s idea of using idea notebooks.  With my 7th and 8th graders, I am thinking about giving them the option of using Evernote or using a physical idea notebook.  Like myself, some may even use a mixture of the two.  I want my students to apply what we learn to the real world.  I like Evernote because you could also save web links and pictures.  When we get ready to start doing research papers later in the year, I am thinking Evernote could be a great resource to record resources and thoughts about those resources – an updated version of the index card.

Have you ever tried idea notebooks? How did they work for you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First Week in Middle School

Where does the time go?  Somehow I will manage to get in a routine of blogging, work, and school.  I just finished up my first week in middle school.  I taught primarily grades 4, 5, and 6 for the last six years.  This year I am teaching 7th and 8th grade.  Can I just say, "my mind is blown?"  They are older, so I knew they would be more independent and we could really explore higher levels of reading, writing, and thinking.  However, knowing and experiencing are completely different.  They are so independent!

I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  It is amazing what a difference a couple years makes.  This quote felt appropriate.  Even with older elementary students, it seems like they have such large reactions to small problems instead of just stopping long enough to work through it.  My 7th and 8th graders seem so much calmer and able to work through problem solving so calmly and rationally.

Source: Pinterest

As a teacher, I am excited to move more toward the role of facilitator since they can problem solve and find answers so much more independently.  Now, I can focus on scaffolding asking higher level questions and really analyzing with so much more depth.  I really want my students to really be able to think, articulate their ideas, and have intellectual conversations on their own.

I really want to try implementing the socratic seminar.  I am familiar with the approach, but I have never completely used it in my classroom.  I bought this book last night for my Kindle.  

Any other suggested resources for implementing socratic circles?  There is another book coming out in November that I wishlisted. I found a couple small resources on TpT as well. I look forward to more adventures in middle school. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Room Reveal at the Idea Backpack

School starts tomorrow.  I am so glad we had a 3 day weekend.  It has been a busy weekend, but I also tried to get a lot of rest.  Over the last week, my fall semester started for graduate school and I have been getting ready for the first week of school.  Did I mention I had summer school students until last Wednesday?  It has been a tiring week!

This weekend I got my lesson planning done for the first two weeks of school.  Have you used Planbook?  It's amazing. I can plan right from my iPad. We also finally planted some more plants in our flower bed out front and put down some mulch.  We had planted some things at the beginning of the summer and just never finished.  Better late than never, right?  At least the nursery had good sales this weekend.

I am actually excited about going back to school.  I am ready to get back in a routine.  I am moving up to 7th and 8th grade this year, so I am pretty excited about the change. I hope you will keep checking back to read more about my new adventures in middle school.  I decided to decorate my classroom with  subway art quotes.  I love a good quote, and it felt appropriate for Middle School. I got some New York City posters to complement my subway art quotes.  I really love the way it turned out!  If you follow me on Instagram, you probably have seen some of my pictures.

I hung a wire from Ikea on the dark blue wall. I will eventually hang student work from the wires.  For now I hung a welcome sign from my TpT store.  It adds some color to the wall and looks cute.

I used Ladybug Teacher Files' Genre labels to label my book baskets.

Now that I will be in middle school, I am also looking forward to finding new ways to use essential oils in the classroom.  I finally bought a diffuser.  I knew that a diffuser would come in handy in the afternoons in a room full of adolescents.

Have a good evening!
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