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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Back-to-School 2019! Volume 2: A Giveaway!!

Hey friends!! Just wanted to let you know that Tim Smith and I are currently having an AWESOME giveaway over on Insta. So head on over and enter to win one (or all!!) of these beautiful images for your classroom :)

Hurry up!!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Back-to-School 2019! Volume I: Spilling the Tea & a Giveaway!!

Musings from the Middle School BTS Post 2019

Hello Friends!! Welcome to my first Back-to-School post of the 2019-2020 school year! Here in NJ, we still have some time before we head back. That means that for the most part, I am still on "summer vacation mode," but I am starting to prep. And as a result of that prep, I've just recently stopped my #bookaday challenge over on Instagram. If you don't follow me over there (and I can't imagine why you wouldn't be?!?), I took up Donalyn Miller's challenge to read a book a day during the summer.

Musings from the Middle School #bookaday challenge
Just some of the books I read this summer during the #bookaday challenge!

Starting in the last week of June, I committed to read a book a day. Sometimes it was a picture book or graphic novel, but most of the time it was a novel or nonfiction. Then, I did an IG Story about it. One of my main goals of the challenge, aside from the reading, was sharing books and authors with you that you may not know about. I talked a lot about books needing to serve as mirrors, windows, and doors (thank you, Rudine Sims Bishop) for your students. I stressed the importance of kids finding mirrors of their lives in books, so it is ESSENTIAL that we have titles for kids of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We also need to make sure that our LGBTQ+ students and our students dealing with mental illness and disabilities, can find themselves in our library. I mentioned that not only are these books important to be mirrors, but also windows and doors for other students into the lives of those kids. There is no greater way to make your classroom "culturally responsive" and welcoming to ALL students than having a library that reflects everyone.

I loved this challenge for a lot of reasons. The first was that it definitely cut down on my scroll time. Since starting Musings from the Middle School, I spend more time on my phone than I like to admit. But, with my reading commitment, I had far less time to fall into the black hole that is social media.

The other thing I loved was getting to know you all so much better. Prior to doing these stories, I rarely received DMs via IG, but that changed this summer. So great to chat with so many of  you!!

I can also say that I am FINALLY over my fear of stories. I felt so stupid for the longest time doing them, but making one every day changed that. I actually look forward to making them now.

Okay... so back to Back-to-School talk...

I don't officially start until September 3rd and I won't have students until September 5th. But sometime around the 21st, I can get back into my classroom to prep.

And I've got a LOT of prep to do because my position for this school year is changing!!

I will still be teaching ELA to seventh graders. However, my class is going be organized a little differently. Rather than being an ELA teacher on a team (like I've been for the past four years), I will be my own team, pulling 7th graders from all four of our teams.

My class size is going to be smaller, anywhere from 12-15 kids per class. These students are non-classified kids who just need a little more support in ELA. It's not an intervention class per se, as these kids aren't identified as intervention students. Instead, they are kids who just have a few gaps and our hope is that with a small class size, they will be able to quickly make up those deficits and be performing like average 8th graders by next year.

Make sense?

Anyway, as a result of that move, I'm going to be making some changes to my curriculum. I am so excited about that since I've been doing pretty much the same thing for the last four years straight. I love new challenges and I am eager to meet my students, assess their needs, and get into creating some new stuff!! So, be sure to stay tuned because I will be sharing my trials and tribulations along the way this year :)

In addition to changing up my curriculum, I will also be moving into a new classroom. While I know that moving is stressful and annoying to a lot of folks, I really don't mind it. It gives me a chance to purge and I love the "fresh canvas" to decorate.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, then you know I've teamed up with my good friend, fellow-teacher, and artist-extraordinaire Tim Smith, to create some new artwork for my room.

Tim Smith Art

I first met Tim years ago when he was hired as a elementary school teacher in my district. He has since become a reading specialist in a new school district (the one where my own children happen to go!!) and has a budding art career. His style is AMAZING and when I started to imagine how I wanted my new classroom to look, I couldn't get Tim's work out of my mind. I approached him with a crazy idea of creating a line of artwork for schools and he jumped at the chance!

Tim has designed four pieces of art for my classroom. The jpegs of his pieces will be available for sale in his new TpT Store, Tim Smith Art, soon. Once you purchase these high-quality jpegs, you will be able to print them from your home computer or have them blown up to poster-size at your local print shop.

New Artwork by Tim Smith for my Classroom

Aren't these extraordinary?!? I cannot wait to see them hanging in my room!!


Soon, Tim and I will be doing a giveaway and some lucky teachers will be winning one of these pieces for their classroom. And one lucky teacher will win the entire set of four! Be sure you are following both Tim and me on Instagram so you don't miss out!!

So, as a result of these new paintings, I'm redesigning my bulletin boards to match. I have three large bulletin boards in my room (about 44" X 44"). Here's what I'm thinking...

Bulletin Board Mock-Ups

I have to have a "While You Were Out..." board. I've written about this board before and I CANNOT live without it. I also need a "Write Like This" board. This is where I hang copies of the mentor pieces we use for our writing units. It's so helpful to have them all together in one place for the duration of our unit.

In the past, I've always had an "Article of the Week" board, but I think I'm making some changes to that routine this year. I'm really hoping to go completely paperless with AoW this year and do it through Google Classroom. I do not have the logistics worked out yet, but in anticipation, I've decided not to do the bulletin board this year. I'm replacing it with a "binge-worthy" reads board. I love that I can change the books out whenever I remember each month or so and I think this will be a fun addition to the room.

I am in LOVE with the commUNITY clip art from Illumismart over on TpT and I can't want to see it all blown-up and on the boards!!

I am hoping to have the boards (or at least pieces of them!) up on my store once they are finished.

So, what do you think? You like 'em!?! I'd love to hear your thoughts, so drop me a line here, or over on Facebook or Insta.

If you are already back to school, I hope you are having the BEST start. If you still kicking it in vacation mode, enjoy these last few weeks of sunshine.

I'll be back soon with some more BTS info, so stayed tuned!!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Summer School - Week Three - Seventh Grade ELA

Hey Friends!! Happy August!! I cannot even believe that some of you are back to school already! Here in NJ, we don't go back until after Labor Day, so we are just in the middle of our summer break. In fact, I just finished up summer school!

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you my plans for my third week of our summer program. We did actually go for four weeks, but the final week was just some stuff that had to do specifically with our school and district, so they wouldn't really be helpful to you.

Not much else to share, except that I'm busy as a bee prepping for the back-to-school season!! I've got lots of great resources, blog posts, and give-a-ways to share with you this month, so stop back soon!!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Summer School - Week Two - Seventh Grade ELA

Summer School-Week Two-Free Lesson Plans for 7th Grade ELA

Hello Friends!! I'm here today to post my lesson plans from week two of summer school. Yes, we did just wrap up week three, but I've had a bunch of computer issues, along with a wicked stomach bug that has plagued my kiddos, and so I am just getting around to posting week two.


Always something!

Anyway, the poem we worked with during week two is one of my all-time favorites: "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon. I adore this poem and I adore the poetry this poem inspires my students to write.

Poetry - Lesson Plans

We started by reading and analyzing the poem. And then we did some brainstorming for our own.

"I Am From..." brainstorming organizer

After that, we wrote... and shared... and critiqued... and wrote some more!! And, as always, my kids blew me away.

We also worked on commas this week.

Word Work Lesson Plans
Of all the punctuation, commas are the most tricky! I actually began by reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves which is always a great place to start any lesson on commas.

I have to say, despite how little the kids seemed to know about commas on Monday, they were much improved by Thursday. Will it transfer? Gah!! Who knows? Overall, I'm still unsure of how much teaching grammar skills in isolation even works, but I also feel like I need to try. And the beauty of summer school is that we are free to try all kinds of strategies, activities, lesson ideas, etc. without the pressures of giving grades or tests. It's actually what I love best about summer school: the ability to test-drive some teaching that is out of my norm!!

Well, like I said, I just wrapped up my third week and will be posting those plans in a few days. That will be the last week that I post because even though we still have one more to go, we have a few things that we are doing that are exclusive to my district and kids... in otherwords, not helpful to share with you.

Hope your summer is going well. It certainly is going fast, that's for sure!! I can't believe that in a few weeks, I'll be posting back-to-school stuff!! Eek! Slow down!!