Thursday, January 4, 2018

Keeping the ART in ELA

I began elementary school in the era of phonics. Looking back, I can honestly say that it seemed to work okay. Matching pictures with their word families in plaid workbooks... I learned to read, but don't remember loving reading.

I finished middle school in the era of dioramas built in shoe boxes and cereal box book reports. Looking back, I can honestly say that I loved every.single.minute of it. But, I also loved to read, so it's hard to say if it was the book reports or the actual books.

I went to college in the era of guided reading, balanced literacy, and running records. Looking back, I can honestly say that I agreed with a lot of it. There was just no proof that dioramas made kids better readers.

I teach in the era of Common Core, standardized testing, and rigorous teacher evaluations. Looking around, I can honestly say that I don't think this is working. Kids are not better readers. And writing skills? Forget about those! And, please, don't get me started on what I think this era is doing to kids living in poverty, in print-poor homes. It's criminal, really.

Throughout my 32 years of schooling, I've seen the pedagogy of ELA swing wildly back and forth. And, I do believe that in every era, there are some nuggets of positive mixed in with a whole lot of negative. As teachers, we need to find those nuggets and figure out ways to integrate them into what we do every day. The hope is that all those nuggets will come together and create the perfect learning environment to foster life-long readers and writers.

The one nugget that I work to incorporate always is ART. I firmly believe in keeping the ART in ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS. Because, despite the fact that we, on the daily, absolutely flog literature in the attempt to help kids better answer multiple-choice questions and we've dictated writing formats for students to follow in an attempt to standardized their responses, ELA is ultimately about ART. Literature, poetry, memoir, essays... these are creative, artistic works.

For me, the best way to make sure that we continue to view reading and writing as an art form is to find ways to incorporate actual artistic practice - coloring, drawing, photographing, cutting, gluing, creating - into our day. We don't get to this stuff every day, but we do it as often as possible.

So, without further ado, here are 8 of my favorite ways to incorporate art into our daily ELA instruction.

1. Experiment with the One-Pager. One-Pagers are all over the Internets! Just Google it and you'll find more information than you'll ever need to implement these. Try having students complete one instead of taking a standard test. You won't be disappointed!

2. Give List Writing a try. Enough said. You know how I feel about writing lists. If you're new around here, check out this video:

3. Create Covers. Have your students make covers for their work. They can glue them on notebooks or staple them to the cover of their papers. It makes the BEST "fast finisher" activity and adds such a fun, creative spin to serious work.

4. Put it on a Poster. Instead of having kids answer questions on lined paper, stick a few students together, give them a large sheet of paper and some markers, and simply tell them to PRESENT the answers to their questions. Same work, but a more creative output.

5. Work on Handwriting. Gah!! As a teen, I spent HOURS perfecting my handwriting. Today, it's a lost art :( But it doesn't have to be!! I've watched lots of YouTube and can now hand-letter like a BOSS. When I do it in front of my students, they are mesmerized. They ask me to teach them cursive and show them all the ways I know to write the letter "G." Handwriting is lost art because we've allowed it to become one, so if we want to see it thrive again, we need to work on it. Trust me, your students will thank you.

6. Illustrate their Answers. Why not have students create an illustration to go along with their next literary analysis? In this picture, you are seeing a "mood picture" created by a student for the Bradbury story, "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed." For the assignment, students had to find the parts of the text that best created the mood of the story. This student then used those examples to a create a picture inspired by the story.

7. Integrate Interactive Student Notebooks. No lie, every year there are 7th grade students that need a demonstration for how to use scissors properly. And there are lots of 7th graders that need to be reminded on how a glue bottle works. Each new school year, I am appalled at the number of kids that do not have these basic, dare I say LIFE, skills. Using Interactive Notebooks (or these huge Interactive Anchor Posters) is a great way to add coloring, cutting, and gluing into your day.

8. Use a Writer's Notebook. I truly believe that Writer's Notebooks should be at the heart of your writing instruction. And I can not encourage you enough to have your students include artwork in them. Motivation will sky-rocket and their notebooks will be so pretty at the end of the year, they'll never want to throw them away. (If you don't feel artsy enough to model this, feel free to start with this.)

So, those are some of my favorite ways to keep the ART in ELA. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and would really love it if you shared some of your favorite ways to keep the creativity flowing!!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Everything. Happy Always.

Santa came.

Small room + four kids + pets + parent gifts = an overwhelming room!!

Wishing everyone a spectacular end to 2017 and a blazing start to 2018. The blog will be quiet for the next few weeks as I take some time to unwind and snuggle close with my loved ones. But, I've got some great content coming up in the new year, so stay tuned! I've got a discussion on executive functioning, some awesome new products to share, and an update to my new, 50-minute ELA schedule, so be sure to stop by soon!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Anchor Activities - An Essential for Effective Classroom Management

Over the years, I've mentored plenty of new teachers. And without a doubt, the biggest area of concern is classroom management.

Heck, who am I kidding!? Classroom management is still an issue for many of us veteran teachers!

When talking to teachers who struggle with classroom management, something I find is that many of these folks view classroom management as a reactive endeavor. So, a student demonstrates behavior X and then teacher responds (reacts) with action Y. Often times, this results in a culture where "classroom management" becomes a system of rewards and/or punishments used to keep students' behavior in check.

What I encourage these teachers to do is to rethink their definition of management. Specifically, rather than being reactive, try instead to be proactive. This means figuring about a way to structure their classrooms to restrict problem behaviors from happening in the first place.

For me, a HUGE part of fostering a classroom that limits problem behaviors is to make sure that there is always, and I mean ALWAYS, something engaging for students to do. That means that there is absolutely NO WAY a student can be "done." In my experience, students who finish early and are "bored" are 99% of the time responsible for unwanted behaviors.

Therefore, having a stash of high-interest, open-ended anchor activities available at all times to students is essential!

In my classroom, I always have a handful of anchor activities available. Typically, the anchors that I use involve reading a book from the classroom library, or writing in our writer's notebook. I like activities that are fun and engaging, but also not totally astray from our curriculum. I also want tasks that any kid can do, regardless of ability, and are not too much prep/management on my part.

My Top Three Favorite Anchor Activities:

Library Scavenger Hunt

Have students "hunt" through the books in your library for a variety of things. Prompt examples might include:
  • Find (and record) 10 sentences that use one of our Greek and Latin root words.
  • Find (and record) 10 examples of complex sentences.
  • Find (and record) 10 amazing openings that draw the reader in.
  • Find (and record) 10 titles from books about the Holocaust.
I usually just have students keep their lists in their writer's notebooks, but there have been times where I've collected lists as classwork grades and even given some extra credit for them.

Picture Book Bin

I use picture books often during teaching, so I've got a pretty decent collection of high-quality ones. Every once in a while, I'll put them out in a bin in the library for students to read during their free time You will be AMAZED to see how quickly 7th graders get lost in a Chris Van Allsburg or Eve Bunting!

Writer's Notebook

 There's no doubt that kids always need more writing practice! But, I find that I have to have some SUPER ENGAGING prompts, or this becomes a real drag real fast. Recently, I've put some of my favorite, no-fail prompts up in my TpT store:

These activities are all about creative writing (which we just don't ever get enough time for!!) and stretching the imagination. I am always shocked at just how much kids love working on them!

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

So, do you use anchor activities to keep your classroom running smoothly? I'd love to hear about the anchors that you use! Comment below or share with me on Facebook or Instagram

Monday, November 27, 2017

TpT Cyber Sale is Happening NOW!!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving full of family, friends, and food!! This year, only TWO of my children were sick, and considering that my brood can develop a fever at the mere whisper of an approaching holiday, I consider that a major win!!

Well, Cyber Monday is upon us and Teachers Pay Teachers is bringing their best game!

Everything in my store is 20% off and TpT will bump up your savings to 25% off if you use promo code: CYBER17.

Holy cow!! With savings like that, it is the perfect time to pick up some of the big ticket items, such as:



And don't forget THIS:

Happy shopping everyone!!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

5 Tips for Effective Parent/Teacher Conferences

Hey everyone!

It's parent/teacher conference season and I've got a new video with five of my best tips for making sure your conferences are as effective as possible!

Let me know what you think!! (You can download the one-pager at my TpT store!! Grab it here.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Awesome Classroom Library Additions!

We all know how difficult it can be to keep up with all the great young adult literature on the market. With so many incredible books (and Amazon Prime!), it's an overwhelming task to stay on top of the best reads for our students.

So, I thought I'd offer a bit of help. Let me start with a recommendation:

Friends, this book!! I can’t even!! I read the whole thing in one day because I absolutely could not put it down. You will laugh. You will cry. You will cheer. Timothy will be your new forever hero! His love for his sweet baby brother will melt your heart. My students love this book so much that I’ve had to put a three-day checkout limit on it due to its high demand. Make sure to add this one to your library today!! 

Next, I want to encourage you to head on over to the amazing blog by Secondary Sara to read all about her tips to keeping up with new books when you're a busy teacher!

Finally, go check out this Instagram loop where several incredible secondary teachers shared some of the best new(ish) books to add to your classroom library.

Hoping this helps a little in keeping your classroom library fresh and exciting!

Happy reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Spooky Snapshots

Hey, Friends!

So, it's that time of year :) My favorite season for some great writer's notebook lessons. I've said before that one of my favorite activities is writing Spooky Snapshots.

I've had several folks email me over the last few days asking if I had a good mentor for this. Typically, I draft a "mentor" in front of my students. This is always original and needs some revising to be considered "good." Anyway, I can't seem to remember to save my drafts along with some student samples, but I do have one that I wrote a few years back that I've used in a few different ways (in fact, parts may look familiar to you if you own my Lessons That Create Writers :):

Here is the text:

A bone-chilling breeze rustled the bare branches of the trees. Along with my boots crunching the frozen snow on the ground, the breeze, along with a random woodpecker and an occasional croak from a frog, were the only sounds you could hear. Ahead of me, stood the old church, its dilapidated tower a silhouette against the grey sky. Coming closer, you could see that the vines had grown so unencumbered over the years that the building gave the appearance of having been enveloped by the web of a gargantuan spider. The old man who served as caretaker of the church was there, as I could smell the burning of the fires that he kept lit in the drafty ruin of a building. As I approached the building, I could see he was burning piles of leaves in the old graveyard. The acrid smoke danced through the air and burned the insides of my nose with each breath I took. It was gritty in my mouth, leaving my tongue like sandpaper. Just as I was passing the crumbling structure, the fog began to roll in. Every noise was muffled. The wind rustling the leaves, the frogs croaking by the river, the woodpecker knocking on his tree all sounded as though you were listening to them from under water. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I quickened my step. My heart was thumping in my chest and it felt as though every nerve in my body was on fire. My breath was swift and shallow and sweat beaded on my brow. I began to run.

Anyway, I hope that helps those of you looking for a mentor!! If you do this lesson with your kids, I love to hear about it. Comment here or give me a shout out on Facebook or Instagram :)