Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is what you are teaching or assigning useful?

Have you ever stopped to evaluate if the tasks you are assigning your students are meaningful? Are they useful?  It really is a good question.

Often as teachers we spend so much time trying to cover a scope and sequence that we do not always make time to really self-reflect.  I know I have been guilty of this.  There is always so much to much that feels important.  What do I leave in?  What do I take out?  I don't think this struggle will ever get easier.  Every year you have to evaluate your students needs and make decisions about what they need and how you long you need to spend on certain concepts and units.

This semester I am taking two graduate classes: a class on Creativity and a Curriculum class.  This past Thursday we had our first creativity class.  I am really excited about the discussions we will have.  I think studying the concept of creativity is such a fascinating one.  Like you often do in a college class on the first day, we reviewed the syllabus.  As we went through the expectations for the semester, I found myself appreciating the tasks we are being asked to do.  They all felt useful. Every assignment is given with a purpose - with a sense of how it will help us in future tasks as graduate students or scholars.

It reminded me that as teachers we need to stop and do the same thing.  I try to always give assignments with a greater purpose in mind.  At the same time,  I know that I occasionally need to be reminded to make more time to self-reflect.  The things I teach and the tasks I assign need to be done with deliberate intention.  We all need to ask questions like:  Is this meaningful? Is this going to be useful?  Sometimes we do something just because it will be fun.  And that is okay too on occasion.

What questions do you ask yourself as a teacher when you take time to self-reflect?

Friday, January 16, 2015

New books to accompany Wonder by RJ Palacio

Have you read Wonder?  Better yet, how could you not have read Wonder?  It is such a great book with such a great message.  Wonder has so much material in the story for great discussions with students.

Well, RJ Palacio has written two more books to accompany Wonder.  

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown's Book of Precepts

In Wonder, Auggie's teacher, Mr. Brown, is always sharing quotes with his students (which he calls precepts) and asking his students to gather quotes as well. In 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Brown explains some of his philosophies as a teacher in a section for each month of the year as well as reflecting on some of the events from Auggie's first year at Beecher Prep. Mr. Brown also gives a quote for each day of the year.  This book would make a great follow up to reading Wonder.  You could discuss Mr. Brown's point of view on events from Wonder.  You could discuss individual quotes and their meanings, as well as applications to the story and applications to your student's daily lives.

One of my favorite strategies for incorporating journal writing into my classroom is also to use quotes as writing inspiration.  Well, this book is amazing.  Now, you have a collection of 365 quotes that could easily be pulled into journal writing ideas or even put the book in a writing station/center for writing ideas.

Julian's Chapter

RJ Palacio has also written a short ebook called  The Julian Chapter.  It is the bully's point of view on Auggie's year at Beecher Prep.  This ebook would be such a great follow up to Wonder to discuss point of view, forgiveness, and even discussions of bullying in general.

Have you read them?  If not, you should!

Also, if you are interested please follow my personal blog where I am sharing about my experience and dinner ideas for the paleo diet and Whole 30 at Balancing the Backpack.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teaching Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Once a week I teach Speech and Debate.  Last semester we focused on Speech.  This semester I am going to introduce Debate.  I was the president of my Debate team in High School.  To this day, I still believe it was one of my most valuable experiences in school.  I learned so many thinking and speaking skills that translated to real life and other experiences.

This is my first time to teach Debate myself, so we are going to figure it out as we go (like so many other things in teaching).  I went ahead and registered my classroom with the National Forensic League.  We are a long way from competing, but if I am going to teach it I want to teach with the goal of eventually building a team that could compete.  The National Forensic League has a lot of great resources, so I am excited to check it all out.

Another resource I purchased this summer was the book Make Up Your Mind: A Classroom Guide to 10 Age Old Debates.

The book is broken into 10 chapters with each chapter focusing on a different topic.  It deals with philosophy, science, history, etc. and all of the topics require students to think critically about an issue and consider two sides of the issue.  There are topics such as nature versus nurture and discussions of American identity. I will definitely incorporate some of the other chapters into language arts because many of the chapters include writing tasks; however, you could easily incorporate a lot of the chapters into other subjects based on the topics. It actually would also make a good resource for taking discussions of point of view to the next level.

One of the chapters was on inductive and deductive reasoning, which turned out to be a perfect introduction to debate (in my opinion). We read about different types of inductive and deductive fallacies that are used in argumentation. We  then read an article about Bigfoot, claiming its legitimacy as a field of study.  They had to read through the article to find evidence of the different types of fallacy arguments.  It made for great discussion.

We easily could have followed up by looking for articles from current magazines and online sources to examine for the arguments.  As our closing activity, they had to write a letter to an editor of a newspaper making their own "ridiculous" claim and convince the editor why it is valid using the different inductive and deductive arguments. Here are a couple of the examples they did:

How do you teaching critical thinking and different types of reasoning in your classroom?  Do you incorporate debate or public speaking into your curriculum?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January Vocabulary and Spelling Choice Menu (Freebie)

Remember me?  I used to blog.

Well, I decided to enjoy my winter break.  I'm not going to apologize for that.  It was awesome.  I slept a lot and watched way too much Netflix.

I am looking forward to getting back into a regular blogging schedule though.  Today, I have a freebie for you.  My middle school students are doing SAT vocabulary words this year.  Back in October I made a vocabulary menu for them with writing choices themed for the month for them to choose from to do a writing assignment with their vocabulary words.  I decided to make another one this month and plan to keep making them each month. It is a fun way to give your students choice and challenge to be a bit creative.

You can get a copy HERE.  I made a version for vocabulary and a version for spelling. How do you give you students choice in practicing their spelling and vocabulary words?
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