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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Back to School 2017!!

Pictures of my classroom
Happy Back-to-School 2017!!!! Can you hear my excitement!?!? You can't??? Well, I'm screaming at you through the computer!!

Phew!! Friends, I am beat!! There is truly no tired like back-to-school TEACHER TIRED!! (Well, maybe just-had-a-newborn-and-also-have-a-toddler tired... but I digress!!)

So, we went back to school this week. I had in-service on Tuesday and the kids came Wednesday. So far, so good! Kids are awesome, love my schedule, love my team. We are certainly honeymooning!!

I've been sneaking snippets of my room on my Facebook and IG accounts this past week, but I wanted to sit down and break my classroom down for you and talk about what we did during those first three day. One of my goals this year is to highlight all the amazing TpT products that I use all the time that are NOT my own, so I'm going to be showing you those, too.

Classroom Tour:

Photo of my While You Were Out bulletin board in my classroom

This is the first thing you see when you walk into my room. My While You Were Out board is one of the BEST things I've ever done in my room. It makes absences a lot easier to handle.

Products:

For background fabric I used these flat hospital sheets. One of the 66" x 104" sheets did two boards. Easy and CHEAP!! I just made the letters for the days of the week on my computer. I used the KG Font Summer Storm.

Pictures of my 7 Habits display

I've been teaching this book for a few years now. You can find almost NO products to go along with it because the title is trademarked and the company is fierce about enforcing it!! But the amazing Amy Groesbeck created these editable templates that you can use to fill in with the 7 Habits information. To make the word "HABITS," I used the same KG Summer Storm font and I just cut the "7" and the circles from construction paper.

Pictures of my Teacher Workstation

This is my teacher work area. I don't sit at my desk much during the school day, but I did want a work space that makes it easy for me to move around, so I added a standing desk. Not sure who loves it more, me or the kids!?! I also put this teacher desk organizer on my regular desk. It's AH-MAZING!! A little pricey, but I love the storage, the white board space, and the privacy :)

Products:
The HEART of my classroom!! Book shelves are Walmart, bins are Really Good Stuff, lamps are Target (decorated with Washi tape), and signs are from Hobby Lobby.

Pictures of alternative seating

I bought two of these stools last year and my students LOVED them. They really stood up to a beating so I decided it was worth it to by some more.

Picture of Mentor Text bulletin board
 
My Mentor Text board gets lots of use throughout the year. I'll string some ribbon across the board and use clothes pins to hang the mentor pieces.


Pictures of Growth Mindset posters

Still in love with my Growth Mindset posters!! Frames are from IKEA and they are hung with Command Strips (my FAVORITE for sticking to cinder block!!)

Pictures of Article of the Week Bulletin board

This board will be getting tons of action through out the year. Read all about my Article of the Week routine here.

Products:
Picture of classroom decor

These are pages torn from last year's Erin Condren planner and framed in cheap Michael's frames that I spray painted white. (Lamp and "&" from Target. A former student made that "Smith" sign... so cute, right!?!?)

Pictures of Academic Vocabulary posters

These are my Academic Vocabulary posters. We refer to these words all.the.time!! Only bad thing is that I need to take them ALL down before state testing!!

Picture of I Can... bulletin board

This is my "I Can..." objectives wall. I absolute CANNOT remember to write down my objectives on the daily. But, I can remember ONCE to write them all down for the week. I created the letters and days of the week signs with the same KG Summer Storm font.

 First Few Days of School:

Over the first few days, we did:

Icebreakers that Rock from Cult of Pedagogy


The All About Me and Reading and Writing Inventories from my Back to School - The ULTIMATE Activity Pack 





I created a syllabus this year using the Infographic Creative Syllabus Templates from The Teal Paperclip. (Font is Amy Groesbeck's Taco Tuesday!) I love how it turned out!!




Holy cow!! Thanks for sticking with me if you made it to the end of this post!! I know that was a lot of information. 

Anyway, I am exhausted and that is all I've got in me right now. I'm so looking forward to an awesome school year and I have so much content I want to post.

Hope the year is off to a great start for you!!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

ELA - In 50 Minutes a Day!



For my entire career, I've had a lengthy block of time to teach ELA. (Note: For my district, ELA encompasses all the English Language Arts Common Core Standards.) At most, I've had 106 minutes, and at least, 90 minutes. I've always felt as though I had ample time to cover everything AND to do some fun, creative work, as well. I never felt stressed or overwhelmed. In fact, it was the opposite. I became extremely comfortable in my gig and felt as though I was adequately preparing my kids for their standardized tests and making them not hate reading and writing at the same time.

Since I started the blog, I've heard from so many of you about how to manage time. Specifically, how can you incorporate everything you see me doing in my large block of ELA into the more standard-sized block of 45-50 minutes per day. Up until NOW I've only been able to speculate about what I think I might do. Give some good guesses as to what I think I'd take out of my program.

But, NOW has finally arrived.

This school year, my district is overhauling our schedule. That means my 106-minute block of ELA is going to be just 53-minutes long.

Speculating and guessing is over. Talking the talk is over. 

It's time to walk the walk. I have to fit what I did in 106 minutes into 50 minutes.

Okay, so when I had a 106-minute ELA block, I typically broke the period up like this:

So... what to leave in and what gets taken away?

First and foremost, it's important to mention that my entire building will be getting 30-minutes of Reader's Workshop every other day (I can also work my small group instruction into this time!). This will be built into our schedule. Obviously, I wish that it were EVERY DAY, but alas, I have no control over that. Thirty minutes every other day is the best we can do. So, if you remove that from my schedule above, that means I have to fit 85 minutes into 53 minutes.

Also, the "break" gets removed so that means that I now have to fit 80 minutes into 53 minutes.

Something else important to mention is that our report card is now going to give just one "ELA" grade as opposed to a "Reading" and "Writing" grade. This means that I have a bit more leeway with grades and do not have to have students write as many formal essays.

Okay... so here is what I'm thinking. I've only planned till winter break because I have no idea how this is actually going to work! Could be I'm revising by the end of September! Ha!!






Important to note:

Writing
  • First, rather than teach THREE FULL narrative units, I'm going to be combining them into one unit. So, I'll use the mentor texts and mini-lessons from my Narrative Writing: The Bundle, but instead of having kids produce one "Lessons Learned" essay, one "Memorable Places" essay, and one "Special Treasures" essay, they will DRAFT all three, but only PUBLISH one for me to grade (it will be their choice which to publish). With our report cards being the way they were before, it was important that kids wrote and published all three for me to grade, otherwise I would not have had enough grades in my WRITING grade book to give an accurate report card grade. Now, I'll have all their reading tests and quizzes to combine with that, so I'll have more than enough grades in the grade book. 
  • I've made some big changes to how I'm doing Article of the Week. This means kids will have a ton of expository writing under their belt by the time we test in May. So, I do not feel the need to do any expository writing until after Christmas break. Our focus will be on narrative (both fiction and nonfiction).
  • The Greek and Latin Roots program that I use is from Got to Teach and can be found here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Greek-and-Latin-Roots-Prefixes-Suffixes-Ultimate-Bundle-2212685 . It's TOTALLY worth the price!!
  • I have not figured out how to work small groups into my writing time! This is giving me a ton of angst right now, but I don't think I can find the solution until I spend a month or so "living" this new schedule. One idea I have to make every Friday "FREE WRITE FRIDAY" and pull my groups during that time. That's only about 20 minutes once a week, though, so we will have to see if that's a possibility. Small group instruction is SO IMPORTANT in middle school! Once I find a good way to do it, I'll get back to you :)
Reading
  • Due to the changes that I've made to our Article of the Week routine, it's essential that I start the year with teaching Elements of Nonfiction
  • My plan is to cover the same number of short stories that I did last year, but to spend less time on them. Before, I had the luxury of working with the same story for at least a week. Now, I plan to spend no more than four days (or less!) on each story and to just focus on whatever skill we are working on at the time.
  • We will work more on incorporating compare and contrast into our literary analysis so I do not have to teach a full compare/contrast unit in writing.

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Okay, this is a start. I totally plan to do some VLOG posts about this topic because it's just too much to write! I think it will be a lot easier to record myself doing some actual reflecting on how this is going and changes that need to be made. It's much easier to express myself that way!

Anyway, hope this helps some of you! There is absolutely ZERO doubt that there are too many ELA standards to cover in a "normal" class period of 45-50 minutes (that seems to be average). Obviously, some things just will not get covered the way I think they need to be, but we are only human. We can only try our best and do what we can.

I'd love to hear how you structure your ELA period!! Please share any tips and tricks you have!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Article of the Week - An Update!!

Blog post about using an Article of the Week routine in your middle school classroo.


Note: Friends, this is a long post. And, in it, I am promoting a resource... something I've mentioned before that I don't like to do!! However, I feel so passionate about this product, that I just COULD NOT make it any shorter or not NOT share it. (And, in all honestly, expect a video coming soon!) This resource has been a labor of love and determination. In fact, I think I can honestly say that this is the resource I am most proud of in my store. Changing how to approach NEWS made such an incredible difference in how my students THOUGHT ABOUT THE WORLD! Each week, after introducing the changes in my Article of the Week routine, I was blown away at how much better they got at thinking, at reflecting, at arguing respectfully. By May, I remember wishing that I could get a few politicians and news anchors into my room to watch how beautifully disagreements can be handled and how passion and outrage and excitement can be channeled into the most enlightening conversations.






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The 2016-2017 school year, brought NEWS into my classroom like never before. The volatile political race had my students “feeling all the feels.” Some were angry, some were scared, some were desperate, some were passionate. Curious, confused, adamant, disengaged, enraged. You name it, I had a student feeling it!
                
Undoubtedly, all this emotion in the minds and mouths of preteens was troubling. But more concerning than all this emotion, was the lack of information and reflection from which it stemmed. Digging deep into their thinking, I found that kids’ feelings were not grounded in FACTS and THINKING, but rather they were just repeating a sentiment that they’d overheard, or found in a soundbite, headline, or (gasp!) meme. I came to see that my kids (who are merely a microcosm of the world) were not THINKING about what they saw and heard, but instead just assuming the thoughts and beliefs of the latest “bit” they’d consumed. This was not okay. This was not something that I was going to let just slide. I spent a lot of time reflecting on and talking with colleagues about what I was seeing (and not just in my classroom, but on my own social media feeds!). It seems that people today are accustomed to believing that the “right” answer is whatever they’ve been told by someone or something that they think they trust (whether that be a newspaper, a news anchor, or Twitter). Because they accept what they hear as “true,”  they wind up putting little (if any) thought into thinking about what they’d heard, contemplating the reasons for why they were hearing it, or considering what beliefs might run counter to it. Rather, they just consumed it, accepted it as truth, and repeated it.
                
Thinking back to my own adolescence, I’m sure this is typical. As a kid, I know I considered certain presidents “good” and others “bad” because my parents felt that way. In fact, I’m sure that this is how most thinking evolves in a person. Someone you trust expresses an opinion, you assume this opinion too, and later, you may choose to investigate this opinion further and it reaffirms or changes your thinking. The thing is though, I grew up without the Internet that we have today. Yes, it was around and helpful, but it wasn’t the continuous bombardment of bits and pieces of news commentary that it is today! Instead, my dad watched the 6:00 news and then he and my mom talked through it at dinner. There wasn’t a panel of commentators or professors or journalists affirming or condemning what was going on. No one was retweeting the headlines that seemed most sensational. Folks were not going on rants on social media feeds or turning the information into a meme. Facts were presented, my parents discussed them and drew conclusions, and I accepted or rejected their thinking.
                
Today, media is much different. It’s rare to find news just presents facts without an onslaught of commentary on the rightness or wrongness of the facts presented. Opinions are far more prevalent than facts these days.
                
To be clear, I am no expert of human psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc., but I do know that when people stop THINKING for themselves about what’s going on, dangerous territory approaches. Allowing people to just become complacent with the news they are receiving is the underlying plot line of most dystopian literature! So, I decided that I wanted to make sure that my students didn’t become complacent; they were going to be thinkers! And I was going to use my Article of the Week routine to help me.
                
Now, I’d been using an Article of the Week routine for years. Each week, I’d give kids an article (always timely, well-written, and interesting) and had kids “work” with it. They had to read and annotate it. Answer some simple questions that assessed their understanding of it. And then usually answer one or two questions that showed some higher-level thinking. Please note, all the questions, even the “higher-level” ones, basically had right answers. Meaning, I could create an answer key for each article and use it to grade students on how well they were able to find right answers and the evidence that supported it. This time around though, I didn’t want students to just read and respond with information they garnered from the article. Instead, I wanted them to synthesize while reading and then reflect on the thoughts they were thinking. This sounds complicated, but really, it’s what we should be doing whenever we come across information.

Annotation symbols for marking an article

                
Of course, I am not the first person to suggest using an article of the week to spark reflection.  Kelly Gallagher (all hail!!) has been having his students reflect on articles for… well, my guess is forever!! Similarly, many amazing teacher-authors have been talking about this practice in their books, or on their blogs for ages. But, typically when I read from these folks, they are talking about high school students, not middle schoolers. And, because their kids are older and have more mature brains, they are able to get them to reflect on how this article broadens their understanding of the world. 
                
My goal for this is not to get kids to start solving world problems – let's save that for high school! Rather, my goal was to get kids to read, connect, conclude, and reflect. That means they need to be able to read (and understand) something; connect what they’ve read with what is already in their heads; draw conclusions about the world based on their understanding and connections; and then reflect on the accuracy of their conclusions. Sometimes their connections, conclusions, and reflections lead them to thinking that is off-topic from the original article. THAT’S OKAY!  The goal is simply to get them to see that it is their civic duty to be presented with information and then consume it responsibly by thinking about it.

The three steps to completing an article of the week

When I first started with the “new” AoW routine, my students really struggled. They had thought reading an article and finding some right answers to a few questions and supporting those answers with evidence from their reading was difficult enough! But to make them do some thinking about their reading and then reflecting on their thinking? They thought I had lost my mind!
                
In the beginning, they hated that there was no “right” answer. They were uncomfortable being asked to read something and then spend some time silencing their unending mind chatter for some focused thinking. They had a hard time being able to put their own thinking into words. They also lacked the confidence in themselves to believe that their thinking was in any way relevant enough to slap onto something that I was going to grade. We certainly struggled early on.

                
But, after LOTS (and I mean LOTS) of modeling, practice, and discussion, my kids started to see that thinking, while not easy, was definitely something they could do. And when they shared their thinking, their thoughts rolling freely out of their heads, the discussions growing more interesting, more passionate, and more thought-provoking each time, they started to see that not only could they do it, they wanted to do it. 

Responding to an AoW

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In this product, you’ll find my lesson plans for getting started with an AoW routine whose objective is THINKING! I want to be clear, however, that your students will likely need a lot more support after this introduction. In my old AoW routine, I needed to dedicate very little class time to our articles, other than passing them out of Mondays and collecting them on Fridays. This will require more. You’ll want to be spending some time each week participating in those rich conversations that are so rewarding. You’ll also want to be sharing their work more so kids can see the wide variety of perspectives that can be found in your classroom. It takes some time, but it is certainly worth it! 

For the next week (up through August 25, 2017), I'm offering this product at 20% the list price. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it and how it is working for you in the classroom!

Happy Teaching!! (And happy back-to-school for those who've started already!!)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Writing with Mentor Texts Series - Lesson #10

Lesson #10 of my Free Writing with Mentor Texts Summer Series. Creating parallel structure in your writing.

The last one! I can't believe how quickly this summer has flown by. I hope you've enjoyed these lessons I've shared. I can't thank you enough for supporting this little blog of mine and shopping my TpT store. This journey has been awesome and it's all because of YOU! These lessons are the least I can do.

Lesson #10 uses this picture book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and we discuss parallel structure. Undoubtedly, parallel structure is tricky and most writers do not master it until they are much older. But, it's never too early to get middle school writers thinking about one of more sophisticated grammar rules!



In about 10 days, my school will be open and teachers can come in to start prepping their rooms. I've got big plans for my classroom this year, so be sure to check back as I'll certainly be documenting my decorating!


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View the other lessons in this series:

Lesson #1
Lesson #2
Lesson #3
Lesson #4
Lesson #5
Lesson #6
Lesson #7
Lesson #8
Lesson #9
Lesson #10

Also available in my TpT store:

The Story of My Life - Cover Page Templates

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Writing with Mentor Texts Series - Lesson #9

Lesson #9 of my Free Writing with Mentor Texts Summer Series. Writing complex sentences.

We are getting to the end, Folks! Hope you've liked these lessons that I've shared with you!

Lesson #9 uses a beautiful picture book called, Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, and we talk about writing with complex sentences.



If you are trying this lessons, I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page!


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View the other lessons in this series:

Lesson #1
Lesson #2
Lesson #3
Lesson #4
Lesson #5
Lesson #6
Lesson #7
Lesson #8
Lesson #9
Lesson #10

Also available in my TpT store:

The Story of My Life - Cover Page Templates

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing with Mentor Texts Series - Lesson #8

Lesson #8 in my Free Writing with Mentor Texts Summer Series. Incorporating flashbacks to enhance your story.

I've got my 8th lesson in this series for you today and it uses a great book called Separate is Never Equal. Much of the story is told in a flashback, something kids love to include in their writing but can be tricky to write well. We talk about how we can add flashbacks to our biographies, as long as we transition to them clearly so our reader won't get confused!



Enjoy!



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View the other lessons in this series:

Lesson #1
Lesson #2
Lesson #3
Lesson #4
Lesson #5
Lesson #6
Lesson #7
Lesson #8
Lesson #9
Lesson #10

Also available in my TpT store:

The Story of My Life - Cover Page Templates


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Writing with Mentor Texts - Lesson #7

Lesson #7 of my Free Writing with Mentor Texts Summer Series. Choosing words that reflect your writing style.

I can't believe we are on Lesson #7 today! Summer is flying!!

Today's lesson on writing style and word choice uses a book called Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by the amazing husband-and-wife team, Brian and Andrea Pinkney!



Hope you like it!


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View the other lessons in this series:

Lesson #1
Lesson #2
Lesson #3
Lesson #4
Lesson #5
Lesson #6
Lesson #7
Lesson #8
Lesson #9
Lesson #10

Also available in my TpT store:

The Story of My Life - Cover Page Templates