Sunday, February 9, 2020

Memoir Writing in Middle School: Part 1

Hey friends! I've got a picture-heavy post for you today, so grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settle in.

So, for years... basically since I started my career, I've been teaching personal narrative writing to my middle schoolers. Recently, my district started to tweak a few things in our curriculum and so for this year, we replaced that unit with memoir.

I had to do some research to find out the difference between the two and I found this is a pretty murky area. But here is a decent explanation:

Memoir v. Personal Narrative

Anyway, when I taught personal narrative, I usually did make the kids reflect on their feelings/lessons learned from the experience, event, person, place they wrote about. So, for me, there wasn't much of a difference. But, I decided to take this an opportunity to shake up my old plans and work in some new stuff. I have just over five weeks (27 lessons) sketched out.

What I hope to do is basically give you a run down of the Memoir Unit that I'm teaching. This is only what I've done up until February 7th!! I have a basic overview of all five weeks of the unit mapped out, but I won't have more specific lessons until I teach them. This is because I may have to change things up in my overall plan due to student needs. Therefore, you need to stay tuned for the next several days of lessons!!

Days 1-4:

Objective: SWBAT collect important memories from their lives and identify the emotion that each on evokes. 

I showed the movie "Inside Out" and then we created a list in our notebooks of different memories that evoke the five emotions portrayed in the movie. You can borrow my images below. Just right-click on each one and copy & paste them into a document or slide show to print. Please note: I cannot sell or share with you ANY materials that feature the pictures of the "movie stars" from this film. Those images are trademarked and unless you have explicit permission (which Disney does not often give out) you are not allowed to use them!! If you've bought TpT materials that feature Disney characters, please know you are purchasing an illegal product. You will see that I altered the following images for my students to include the "Inside Out" characters. I found those images through a Google search and just placed them on top of the memory circles. You can easily do the same if you wish. 

Core Memories List Writing

Day 5:

Objective: SWBAT identify characteristics of memoir.

Define memoir and discuss. Share the picture book, The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson and discuss why this book is considered a memoir. Give students a chance to look at all the examples of memoir we have in our classroom library. Please note: Prior to teaching this unit, I pulled lots of memoir examples from our classroom library and put them in special "Memoir" bins. We will refer to these often to guide our own writing.

Memoir Anchor Chart

Paging Through Mentor Texts

Paging Through Mentor Texts

Paging Through Mentor Texts

Day 6:

Objective: SWBAT recognize how places from our younger years inspire memoir writing.

Show students the maps from the front of Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams and Spinelli's Knots in My Yo-Yo String. Share with students the student memoir model from the Narrative Writing Unit (Vol. 2), "The House of Four Leaf Clovers," showing them how one former 7th graders wrote a memoir about a special place from her childhood. Have students create their own maps of their neighborhoods. Be sure to create your own version so students can see your model.

Using Maps to Inspire Memoir Writing

Day 7:

Objective: SWBAT recognize how memoir writers use descriptive language and sensory details to create a sense of place.

Read the first chapter in Marshfield Dreams, "Marshfield," and have students highlight the words and phrases that help the reader visualize the places Fletcher talks about. Have students practice "Writing Like Ralph" and create their own piece about a place important from their maps they created yesterday. Please note: I have worked a lot this year with explicitly teaching my kids how to use mentor texts to influence their writing. I always start with this lesson. You also want to be sure to create your own draft to share with students. While they are writing, I draft on a Google Doc projected onto the big screen and then share my draft with students when finished.

Using Mentor Texts

Okay! So that's pretty much what I've been doing the last two weeks. Stay tuned for an update to see how the rest of the unit is coming along :)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Shaking Up Your Seating Arrangement in Your Middle School Classroom

Happy January, my Friends!

I hope you are all feeling that "sweet spot" right about now. That's what I like to call the time from January - March. We've got a lengthy chunk of uninterrupted teaching time. The kids know me, I know them, and they know each other well and can work together. The routines, expectations, and procedures are understood and practiced seamlessly.

It's just my favorite time in the classroom.

This year, my job changed a bit. My building added an additional ELA and math teacher to both 7th and 8th grades. These teachers (me being one of them) are not on a "team" but instead pull students from each of the four teams at both grade levels. As a result, this has decreased the class size of all of the ELA and math teachers in the building, as we "add-on teachers" now take a chuck of the kids who would have been on their roster. 

So what does that mean for me? Well, rather than having a large class of mixed ability students, including those with IEPs, and a co-teacher, I now have a small class of similar ability students who I teach on my own. I went from having class sizes between 24-28 down to 12-15. There are lots of strategic and logistical reasons for this change, but namely, it's to provide intense ELA instruction to kids who've been identified as benefiting from a smaller group.

I could go on and on and on about why I firmly believe that NO class should ever have more than 15 kids. I actually feel overwhelmed with all the blog posts that I want to write on this subject because there are just too many. I'm sure you could name lots of them, too, even if you've never had a class with less than 15 similarly-abled students. I know I could before I had this experience.

But, it's the reasons that I didn't realize, the things that I'd been missing for way too long in a classroom of 25 kids, that really give me pause and have caused me to reflect so, so, so very much on my pedagogy.

More than anything, this experience has taught me that even though I've carefully planned a lesson and executed it well, and most kids seem to get it, there is a group of quiet, compliant kids who are sprinkled throughout your room who just don't understand. These kids will often not let you know they don't get it. They won't distract you with avoidance behaviors like so many of our students do. They won't ask you a million clarifying questions, following you around the room even so as to be sure they are doing it right. And they won't sit and just do nothing, gladly taking a "0" instead of handing something in.

Nope, not these kids.

Instead, these kids watch those around them who "get it." They try their best to copy what they see others do, as they've become mimicking experts. They avoid making eye-contact with you or answering your questions with anything more than a vague response or something to similar to what they've heard others say. They do all the work, handing in everything on time. And they gladly take the "C" you've given them because you and they both believe that they are peddling as hard and fast as they can and so this "C" is acceptable.

We all know these kids because we all have them in our classrooms. We might feel a bit guilty about giving them less of our attention, but we are quickly drawn to the kids with behavior issues and the kids with a million questions and the kids who are legitimately failing. These kids, with their adequate grades and minimal issues, lose our attention among the many hammering for it.

Well, now I have a classroom full of these kids. Kids who skirt just under the radar. Kids who've spent years avoiding detection, begging to remain invisible. And I've realized just how much they've needed from me for all these years but haven't been able to get.

Something that I've done in my room that's made all the difference in the world is changing my seating. I pushed my small group tables together to make a large table that seats us all during instruction. I sit right in the middle (not at the head, but the middle) and teach from there.

... the difference this has made!

No more raising hands to speak. No way to avoid eye-contact or conversation. No way to be "invisible." We converse together, talking things over and over again, making sure that everyone can be heard and understands.

It's informal, but intimate. We venture off on more tangents than a casual observer might deem necessary, but I haven't felt like one single second has been wasted. Kids who haven't said more than a dozen words up till now are participating, speaking up to share thoughts and ask questions.

And my heart is swooning!!

Now, I know that this seating arrangement might not be possible in a class of 28, but I can't help but wonder what might happen if we shake up the traditional "rows and columns" that we find in most secondary classrooms? What would happen if you called the students to come and sit on the floor, "crisscross applesauce" with you for a lesson? What would happen if you give a bunch of kids some independent assignment while you worked at a table teaching a lesson to a small group of kids?

I know that these seating ideas might scare you, but I'm telling you that you might be pleasantly surprised by the result. 

I have more kids than this, but, this table in the center of the room fits all of us during instructional time. I cannot even explain what the gift of proximity and equalization has done for my kids.

How do your students sit in your classroom? How do you think this seating arrangement shapes the learning? I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Holiday Gifts for Big Kids!

Winter break is getting closer, Friends! Can you feel it?!?!

I just wanted to take a minute to share some adorable and FREE last minute gifts that you can give to your students. A couple years ago, several of my fav secondary sellers got together to put some great gifts together. Head over to TpT to download and share with your kiddos!!

and last, but not least, my own tag...

I hope all is well, readers, and you are on your way to well-deserved break! Remember to rest, relax, eat, drink, and be merry!! I will be back in the new year with more musings from my middle school classroom!

Merry everything.
Happy always.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Using Exit Tickets for Formative Assessment

I swear that I blinked and it was DECEMBER!! Holy cow! I can't even. I'm hardly ready for the holidays, but I can tell it's that time of year because my own home has been nothing by an infirmary for the stomach bug, sore throats, fever, and ear infections. I had to miss three days of work this last week to care for my sweet little patients. 'Tis the season!!

Okay... so a long, long time ago, I wrote about how I use exit tickets in my math classroom. It's been a hot minute since I've taught math and I recently updated my exit ticket resource, so I thought I was long due for a new post.

Recently, I was talking to one my readers who happens to be a brand new ELA about her first observation. One of the critiques made by the observing administrator was this teacher's lack of closure for her lesson. I mentioned that she might want to try an exit ticket and I was surprised when she said she'd never heard of exit tickets.

Well, have no fear... I schooled her.

Exit tickets are for real one of the best ways I know of to close a lesson. Basically, you ask the students to answer an question or respond to a prompt about the day's lesson. It gives a clear mark of closure for the kids and lets the teacher know just how well the lesson went over with her students. And administrators eat them up during observations.

I've had an exit ticket resource in my store for quite a while and have used those tickets for years in my classroom. But, this year I am more digital than ever, using Google Classroom for all.the.things. And so, I updated my resource to include DIGITAL versions of my exit tickets.

Paper and Pencil Version

Digital Version

Anyway, I just wanted to share that with y'all. If you already own my exit tickets, the new digital ones are already included in your purchase. Just download the updated version from my store and you'll get the link to the digi-copies.

Okay, friends! That's all for now! If you are fan of exit tickets, shout out below or over on Facebook or IG. I'd love to hear what you think of the digital versions!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October Happenings and My Lesson Plans

Are you feeling me on this?!?!?

In all honesty, as much as I am over Halloween (I've never been a fan... costumes freak me out!!), I cannot believe how fast this month went. I also can't believe that I haven't written a post yet this month! Or that I haven't filmed a classroom tour!!

I am sorry. It's been a nutty month. I turned 40 this month. Yes. The big 4-0. Remember when you thought 40 was so old?!?! Like crazy old?!?! Yeah, me too. I was actually thinking that right up until this month!! Anyway, I'm one lucky girl and have been celebrating with family & friends just about every weekend since early October and I still have one more celebration to go this weekend. So that, along with my growing kids whose sports' schedules are all-consuming, explains my Internet silence.

Okay, something that I've been asked to do over the years by lots of different people is to post my lesson plans. I've always been hesitant to do that because my plans are a mess and I'm usually off-pace by Tuesday the end of the week. I've also hesitated because my plans reflect the scope and sequence of my district, so what I am doing here in south Jersey might not relate to anything you need to do in Texas, or Canada, or Australia! 

But, I've decided to give in this year. I really want to commit to sharing my daily plans with you all. So for the last month, on Friday afternoons, I've been tweaking my plans to reflect what I actually did for the week so I can share them with you.

I'd love to say that I plan to post them weekly, but no way, no how can I commit to that! So, my plan is to post them monthly. 

Now, I know that October is over, so it could be that seeing my October plans now won't be that helpful, but it's the best I can do so that what you are seeing is accurate. We all know that if I posted my November plans now, they'd basically be wrong by the first fire drill of the month.

I do have a copy of them lesson plan template that I use here.

I will also link any resources from TpT that I mention in my plans. I hope to provide some context for each month that I hope will helpful, but I am sure you will have questions. I will answer them when/if I can, but I do get busy, so it might not be right away!

October Plans:

We spent October learning to "live" like writers. I wasn't teaching a unit per se, but we were doing a lot of practice with mentors and developing ideas/creating lists for future writing pieces. My plan is to teach narrative writing and a little literary analysis in November and December. We have also been reading narratives to study story elements (we use the Holt Literature Anthology).

Week of October 7:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Week of October 14:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Week of October 21:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Week of October 28:

So... helpful? Not helpful? Admittedly, I'd love to glimpse other teachers' plans. Even if I can't use them, I just like the idea of peeking into someone else's classroom!!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Back-to-School 2019!! Volume 4: September Happenings


September is over.

How did that even happen?!?

What a busyoverwhelmingfunfantasticamazingexhausting month it's been.

So, I do still have a classroom tour coming up. Like I've said before, I don't like to share my room until it's been "lived in" for a bit. If I share before school starts, it looks too Pinterest-perfect and that is just not the reality! So stay tuned for that because it's coming!!

This school year has been pretty amazing so far. The kids have been awesome. My schedule is too die for. And I couldn't be happier with the folks I am working with.

Lemme share a little about what's been going on...

So, first, I already made changes to my ELA in 50 Minutes a Day schedule!! Ha!! Who didn't see that one coming?

Middle School ELA Daily Schedule

I had mentioned that my original schedule was inspired by Gallagher and Kittle's 180 Days. Well, several of the ELA teachers in my building have decided to use the suggestions in that book for our PLC this year. So, I modified my schedule to fit their recommendations a bit better.

No doubt, this schedule is jam-packed and FAST. But, I am amazed at how well the kids are doing with it. I've always known that 20 minutes is really about the max of their attention span, but I've never been able to make MYSELF adjust to that. This year, I'm not giving myself a choice. We move fast and furious. We make the absolute most out of our chunks of time. There isn't a second of down time and no one seems to be bored or off-task. Granted, it's still September, but I'm happy with this so far. I do foresee myself being exhausted by December, but oh well! My stamina will build, I'm sure of it.

This past week is really the first week we've been diving into the curriculum. The first two weeks were really all about establishing routines, learning procedures, and getting to know each other.

Much of this time was spent establishing our reader's workshop. This is the single most important routine we have, so it needs a lot of attention. I did tons of book talks, shared lots of first chapters, conferred with each kid several times, and taught several mini-lessons.

Musings from the Middle School - Establishing Reader's Workshop

Musings from the Middle School - Establishing Reader's Workshop

Musings from the Middle School - Establishing Reader's Workshop

If you want to hear more about making reader's workshop a part of reading instruction, I have a video you can watch here.

We also talked quite a bit about academic vocabulary. If you've followed me for a while, then you know that I'm pretty passionate about this.

Musings from the Middle School - Academic Vocabulary

You can read more about how and why I teach academic vocabulary and check out the resources that I use with the following links:

So... that was basically September in a nutshell!! I have this crazy idea that I want to post each week with my lesson plans to give you all a real "feel" for what's happening in my room, but I'm not sure that I can keep up with that! I have to think a bit more on this one to see if I can make it work.

Stay tuned because I will definitely be posting a classroom tour in the next week or two! And even if I don't wind up posting weekly, I still have a lot of great stuff planned for this year, so I hope you stick around.

How was your September? I'm eager to hear!! Comment below or check me out over on Facebook or Instagram.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Back-to-School 2019!! Volume 3: ELA in 50 Minutes a Day - The Reboot 2.0

ELA in 50 Minutes a Day!

I giggled to myself as I created the title to this blog post! If you are new to my blog, I'll have you know that this is the THIRD time I've written an "ELA in 50 Minutes a Day!" post. In 2017, it was my first year having to fit both reading and writing into a combined 50 minutes. It was nothing short of a disaster. So, I tried again in 2018. I did better, but it still wasn't great.

And so... here I am AGAIN!! My third annual "ELA in 50 Minutes a Day - The Reboot 2.0" post!!

Lemme just start by saying... 50 minutes is NOT, in any way, shape, or form, enough time to adequately teach ELA. I do not care how gifted of a teacher you are... it is NOT enough time. End story.

But, alas, most of us do not have a choice and so we work it out.

Okay... so this summer, I did A LOT of work. I started by rereading Gallagher and Kittle's 180 DaysI went through that book with fine tooth comb, watching the accompanying videos and revisiting my notes from their workshop back in December. Next, I spent some time really reflecting on my year: what worked, what didn't, what I didn't get to, what I included but shouldn't have... etc. In doing that, I came to a few realizations. The first was that I did too much "teaching." What I mean by that is I spent too much time teaching kids stuff that they already knew or stuff that isn't all that important to know. My overall "talk" time or "teaching" time trumped their actual reading and writing time, and that was a mistake.

I also realized that I spent too much time doing "fun" stuff instead of writing. Now, don't get me wrong, the fun stuff is important, but my number one goal is to get kids to write, and to write A LOT. This cannot be second fiddle to anything else.

My third realization is that I sacrificed precious reader's workshop time for teaching from my anthology. This pretty much got me no where. Despite spending so much time in the anthology, my kids didn't do all that well on our mandated benchmarks (these are a part of the Literature series our district uses). Sure, they could tell me all about the five stages of plot and the ways a writer creates a character, but they didn't have the stamina and skills to comprehend the complex stories that are part of their benchmark tests. They only, only, only, (and one more time for the people in the back) ONLY way to improve kids' reading comprehension is by reading. Period.

So, with those realizations, I've decided a few things for the upcoming year. The first is that we will have 15 minutes of uninterrupted reader's workshop time EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I will still do my First Chapter Friday, but that will replace my mini-lesson on Friday and not our reader's workshop time. This will mean that I have to cut out several short stories that I teach (along with their "fun" activities) and will have to streamline the teaching of literary elements. But, I really think this will result in a better outcome. Time will tell :)

The second is that I will cut my mini-lessons to no more than 10 minutes. If I need more time than that, then the lesson will continue to the next day rather than cut into our guided/independent work time. So, rather than teach a 20-minute lesson on comma rules (which I could easily do), I will cut that in half and teach two, mini mini-lessons over two days. This ensures that our practice time will always be at least 25 minutes every day. Admittedly, this will require careful planning and I can get lazy about that. I find when I don't meticulously plan a mini-lesson, it can easily get out of control time-wise pretty FAST. This needs to stop, even it means spending more time planning.

The next decision is to move nonfiction and Article of the Week to after winter break. My hope is that kids will have matured and gotten a handle on ELA in middle school by then. And that should mean that I can do less hand-holding re-teaching regarding this routine.

And finally, I've decided that the overall "vibe" of my class will be that of a writing class. We will do lots of reading, that's for sure, but much of it will be us "reading like writers." We will be reading for the purpose of becoming better writers. You will see from my scope and sequence below that more than 2/3rds of the year will focus on writing units. Yes, there will be reader's workshop every day, and yes we will be reading a ton of mentor texts, but we are first and foremost WRITERS in our room.

So, first things first, this is my daily breakdown. Technically, I have 56-minutes per class, but in reality, it's 50 after all is said and done. Those 4 minutes of "chat" time is what will likely go by the wayside.

Class Period Schedule

And, this is my year-at-a-glace plan:

Scope and Sequence - September

Scope and Sequence - October

Scope and Sequence - November

Scope and Sequence - December

Scope and Sequence - January

Scope and Sequence - February

Scope and Sequence - March

Scope and Sequence - April

Scope and Sequence - May

Scope and Sequence - June

I promise that I'll make a PDF of this available soon, but right now my Adobe account is being weird because it seems that I've forgotten my password too many times. Oops.

Okay, thoughts, questions, suggestions?!?! I am open to hearing them!! I still have about two weeks until I'm officially back to school, so these plans are subject to change as I obsess look over them for the next 14 days :)

What does your daily schedule look like? I'd love to hear about it!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Scope and Sequence - 7th Grade ELA