Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Printing on Post-Its... Everybody's Doin' It! Are You?

Are you printing on Post-Its? So, it's pretty much the greatest thing I've learned in the history of learning things.  I'm kinda obsessed with it... and it's not really the most practical obsession. Seriously, Post-Its, especially the super sticky, fun-colored ones that I like, are expensive!

But, seeing that I already spend a ton on stuff for my classroom, what's another drop in the bucket?! Especially for the hot pink ones... I'm a sucker for hot pink!!

Anyway, here's my latest printing-on-Post-Its endeavor...

So, last week I wrote about changing up my math block and mentioned how I am using a differentiated menu board for the students to use after small group or independent work.  I wanted to make a large version of the board to hang in the classroom because I knew that the kids would be far more likely to utilize that one, rather than get out their math journals and look at the one we taped onto the inside the cover.

Now, I'm always reluctant to print a poster version of something from Staples or the like, because they are expensive! And I knew that it would be likely that I'd be changing up the activities on the menu board when I get bored it's time for a change, so I didn't want to drop any cash only to have to do it again a month later. Enter my Post-Its....

First, I took the menu that I created in Publisher and saved it as a jpeg. Then, I opened the jpeg and re-sized it so that each box of the menu was approximately the size of a 3x3 Post-It note. Next, I made a bunch of copies of it and cropped each one so that I had a separate jpeg of each box of my menu. Then, using a template like one of these, I inserted each jpeg into one of the Post-It frames. I printed out a copy of this and it looked like this...

Then, I put a Post-It on top of each outline, reinserted the paper into my printer and hit print again. That will give you this...

Finally, I hand drew a grid onto poster board, cut it out and laminated it, and stuck each Post-It into its spot on the board.

Now I have a large menu hanging in my room and if I want to change out the activities it's just a matter of taking down an old Post-It and replacing it with a new one!

Are you printing on Post-Its? How do you use them?

Happy teaching!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notice and Note (Part Two)

As I mentioned before, over the summer I read the book, Notice and Note (Beers & Probst), and I decided that I am going to use their strategies for getting kids to dig deeper into text, or "close reading." (Just an aside, I can't be the only teacher who is slightly offended that "close reading" has suddenly become a "thing," can I? I mean seriously!? All this recent hubbub surrounding "close reading" seems to imply that the powers that be who make up school stuff - like standards, and tests, and rules, and what not - think they invented something brand new called "close reading." I get the feeling that they really think that for infinity years, teachers haven't been working their tails off to teach kids to read deeply, reaching further and further for all the meaning behind the writing! Seriously!? Teachers have been teaching "close reading" basically since teaching was invented... we just called it "reading." We felt no reason to fancy it up by adding a "close" before it! Sorry, rant over!)

Anyway, the premise behind the book is that there are six signposts that readers should be on the look out for when reading (but really, it could be when watching a movie or a TV show, as well. Once you learn the signposts, you will literally see them everywhere!!). When you see a signpost, you need to stop and ask yourself the anchor question for that signpost and think about your answer. And, in thinking about the answer, and all the other wonderings the answer makes you think about, you will be digging deeper into the text.

I decided that I was going to teach the first three signposts at the start of our first unit (I use the Holt Literature series) and then we would practice those throughout all the reading we do in the unit. My plan is to teach the next three at the start of unit two, and then for the duration of the year, practice looking for all six every time we read something.

Over the course of three days, I had my students glue notes about each of the signposts into their ISNs. (As I said in this post, taking notes is a pretty new concept to 6th graders, so in the beginning, I give my students the notes I want in their ISNs and they cut them out and glue them in.)
Then, we practiced looking for and discussing our latest signpost in a short story.

After teaching the first three signposts, I gave the kids a little quiz. I gave them a short story (I used an excerpt from Esperanza Rising that is in our Holt books) that I knew contained one example of each of the signposts taught. They had to read and annotate it, writing down where they saw each signpost and the thinking they did when they answered the signpost's anchor question.

So, I just started to look through the quizzes the other day and I have to say, I was super stoked at what I saw! The kids found lots of signposts and did some really cool thinking... but the kicker is that many of them didn't annotate where I did. They found signposts in other parts (that I TOTALLY missed!) and came up with some really awesome predictions and inferences that NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME! Don't you just love it when that happens? When the kids come through big time and teach you a thing or two?! It's my most favorite thing ever when that happens!

So, long story longer, I'm loving this book and its approach to close reading. I'm eager to teach the rest of the signposts and see what kinds of discussions arise!  I'll certainly keep you posted.

Happy teaching!!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guided Math: Let's Talk...

For the last three years, I've been one of the few cursed lucky middle school teachers to teach both ELA and math. Let's just say that when standardized testing time rolls around, there isn't enough chocolate in the world to soothe my frazzled nerves!

Admittedly, ELA has my heart. When I've got my kids all wrapped up in a heated debate sparked by the novel we are reading, or I witness the moment when a student steps out of the role of "kid who writes" and into the role of  "writer," I feel a sense of purpose radiate through me. Aside from motherhood, nothing else I've ever done compares.

Math is, well, math. It's not that I don't enjoy it... I love teaching, so really I don't mind teaching anything! But, I find it often plays second fiddle to all my ELA planning.

This year, though, I spent a good chunk of my summer revamping my math block. I am piloting a new program (Digits), so I saw it as an opportunity to mix it up, changing everything that I don't love about the structure of my block. After speaking to some of my brilliant colleagues, I got some great ideas. Then, I streamlined some stuff, cut out some stuff, and added some stuff. What I'm left with is a dynamic math workshop that keeps me on my toes and really seems to fit the needs of all my learners.

The 90-minute breakdown:

I'm scheduled for 90-minutes, but my block is right after specials, so my kids are almost always late... and then they need a drink... and then they need the bathroom... and then they forgot their books in homeroom... so basically, I only plan for 80-minutes.

During the first part of the block, I have an intervention teacher come in to support, so we start our day with small group instruction. The independent work the students do at this time supports the lesson from the day prior. As you can see from the plan, struggling learners spent most of their time with the intervention teacher for small group instruction. Everyone else completes their independent work, but I am there to troubleshoot or answer any questions they might have, so the kids who need the most help are not interrupted. Additionally, some of my strong learners get to do some enrichment/challenge work at this time and I can support them as needed.

In the past, I have done small group instruction without another teacher in the room. I set the rule that I was not to be interrupted while I worked with the struggling learners. This meant that the kids who were working independently and had a question, had to rely on each other for help! With a little training, kids can really become great "peer coaches" and their helping strengthens their own skills, too.

The menu board:

(*A note... I do have 10 iPads in my classroom all day long, in addition to five desktop, student computers)

This menu board has been the biggest change that I've made this year. In years past, I've made center work that I collected and checked. By the end of the week, I was literally buried in papers! This year, I fixed that problem! This differentiated menu board is perfect for kids who finish early. I spent some time thinking about what activities would be meaningful, but required almost no paperwork. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the resources I have and how to best use them so that the kids would always be engaged in meaningful math stuff, but, other than the initial set-up, would require very little work on my part!

On this board, there are two activities that the kids must complete. These are paper and pencil activities, but we check them all together on the day of the topic test, so I don't have to collect and grade all of them. Students have the option of completing a Sudoku for a little extra credit, but these take 10 seconds to check. When kids do complete a Show Me or perform a Flocabulary song, the whole class watches, so again, no paper/pencil stuff for me to grade!

So far, the kids are way happier!! They love the activities and I think they like the idea of trying out some different math activities without the pressure of being graded. And since I am free to walk around during this time, I can keep all the students on task.

Math Journal-Problem Solving:

Word problems that have two or three steps are always difficult for kids to solve. In the past, I've put problem solving questions in a center, but I found without teacher guidance, even the highest learners can struggle with these kinds of questions. It seems they just never know how to get started. 

This year, I've carved out time in my daily routine to work on these kinds of problems. We started simple: word problems with two or three steps, but fairly simple math. For a while, I modeled how I solve these through think-alouds (a favorite technique that I use all the time in ELA). Now that we are a few weeks into our math program, I'm slowly releasing the responsibility and letting them work in pairs. So far, so good! My hope is that by PARCC time, they will be great at jumping right in to start solving these kinds of problems.

So, this is the gist of my math routine! I'm super happy with how things are going and I think this new format is best for everyone! 

How do you structure your math time? Any other helpful hints/suggestions?

Happy teaching!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting

This year, I decided to teach this skill over a few days at the beginning of the year. I've never taught it like this before. I usually wait until I move into nonfiction and argument writing and then I mention the difference in the three, but I never teach it as its own lesson. However, this year I thought maybe knowing how to do each of these early on would help as we start working on answering open-ended questions.

I was inspired by this post over at The Creative Apple. I loved her anchor chart, which I believe she borrowed from this blog

Wanting to have an interactive page for our ISNs, I turned the anchor chart into this interactive folding page! {You can get it FREE right HERE!}

They looked like this in our notebooks:

Which open and look like this:

Next, I had the kids read some short articles (I used some old Time for Kids magazines) and answer some simple, "right there" questions using either a quote, summary, or paraphrase to support their thinking.

I am hoping that teaching this strategy early on will pay off. Often, I have students (usually my struggling learners) who will copy an entire paragraph from a text because they think they are supporting their answer. Typically, they don't use transitions and their answers come out disjointed and confusing and LONG!

Do you teach this skill as its own lesson? How's it work for you?

Happy Teaching!! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

"SPIT" out a great answer every time!

How do your students do with answering open-ended questions in ELA? This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult things I have to teach kids! Every year, my colleagues and I struggle with getting kids to master this skill.

This year, I came up with a new idea... SPIT! My hope is that this will give a little guidance and structure when it comes to answering open-ended questions.

We just glued the anchor chart (available here) into our ISNs today and talked a little about how we will use it this year. The kids LOVED the picture and the "spit" motif!  Hopefully is will help make their open-ended answers better!

How do you teach your kids to answer open-ended questions?

Have a great weekend :)

Happy teaching!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Breaking In to Our Interactive Reader's Notebooks

So... We starting to put some nice, meaty pages into our ISNs. We use the Holt Literature series in my district and our first unit covers plot, character, setting, and conflict. I start by giving the students some notes on these elements.

Taking notes is a fairly new concept to my 6th graders, so in the beginning I provide them with the notes they need (I created these on Photoshop). We talk about being a good note taker and I let them play with the highlighter a little bit. As the year progresses, I can hopefully make them become more and more responsible for their own note taking, so that by May, all their notes are in their own hand.

Next, we read a short story and use some foldables to analyze its story elements. We do this all together, and I basically tell them what to write so that they have an excellent model to use when they need to do this on their own.

I just bought this for some inspiration and new ideas for the interactive pages. It's got some nice stuff and I think I'll use quite a few of her foldables.

Over the next few weeks, my kids will read four or five short stories and/or poems, analyzing their plots, characters, settings, and conflicts. We will also work on answering some of the (dreaded!!) open-ended questions, using the texts to support our thinking.

I'm glad we are finally rolling through the curriculum. I am not a fan of the beginning of the year and teaching the routines. I'm much happier to be settled in and working!

Anyone else use ISNs in ELA?

Happy Teaching!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Write Like This...

So, this year I am using the book, Write Like This, by Kelly Gallagher in my ELA class.

It seems to be geared a bit more toward high school students, but almost all of his suggestions will work (with a bit of modification) for middle school kids, as well.

So far, I am LOVING it!  Over the past few years, I've noticed that I've let standardized testing fears guide my writing instruction too much. I've spent too much time focusing on creating great test takers rather than great writers. I made a promise to myself that I won't do this ANYMORE! If I help to create great writers, than they should be able to write anything well... right?!

Gallagher believes in teaching kids through real-world writing. There is lots, and lots, and LOTS of modeling. Last week, I introduced the kids to Gallagher's six writing purposes and we completed his 1 Topic = 18 Topics organizer (btw, this is genius!! It's worth buying the book just for this!). Today, I modeled a quick write in each of the six purposes and tomorrow my students will give it a try. I'm excited to see how they do!! Several of them are extremely resistant to writing, so I know I'll have my work cut out for me.

I'll keep you posted on how they do :)

Happy Teaching!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Notice and Note (Part 1)

We are FINALLY finished our benchmark testing (a great way to start the school year, right?!?) and today I got to do some teaching! Over the summer, I read the book, Notice and Note, and really liked it. For the last few years, I've struggled with getting the kids to stop and dig deep while reading. They do okay when I stop them during their reading and ask a question to get them thinking, but getting them to do it on their own? It's been a struggle!

Anyway, this year I'm giving this strategy a whirl. In a nutshell, this book suggests there are six "signposts" to look out for while reading, and when you come across one, you need to stop and ask yourself a question that will help you dig deeper into the text.

Today's signpost was, "Contrasts and Contradictions," and I followed the plan from the book. The kids did great with it! We talked about it, put some notes in our ISN, and then read a short story for some guided practice. Then I had them read a second short story on their own for some independent practice. (I have a full 90 minute block for ELA, so there was plenty of time for all these activities!) All in all, great day! I'm excited to see how the kids do using this strategy this year :)

Happy teaching!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Numbering of the Notebooks

My students' first day was Thursday. I seem to have a GREAT class, though I know everyone is on their best behavior the first few days! Anyway, today was a full day and I dove right into teaching. The first thing I did was hand out our Reader's Notebooks.
I started using an interactive student notebook for reading about three years ago and have NEVER looked back! I love them and feel like it's completely streamlined the way I teach. I have a sibling of a former student this year and he commented that his sister was still using her notebook in 8th grade. It really is packed with a ton of valuable info by the end of the year.
I only used hard-covered marble copy books. My first year I used a spiral and they were a mess by June. Never again! The first thing we need to do is number all the pages. It's a beast of a job and takes a while, but it's essential.
I recommend you make this a "no talking" activity because if they break their concentration, mistakes happen. After they finish, we block off the first five pages for a table of contents. Now our books are ready for use starting next week. I read the book Notice and Note over the summer and will spend next week teaching the first three signposts. I'm eager to see how it goes!!

Happy Friday :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Creating a "While You Were Out" bulletin board

Do you have one of these bulletin boards in your classroom? Last year was my first year putting a "While You Were Out" board in my room, and let me tell you... life changing!! I am the WORST at keeping track of the kids that are absent each day and reminding them to make up the work they missed. But, having this in the room takes the responsibility from me and gives it right to my students.

I spend about 15 minutes on the first day of school talking to the kids about responsibility and how this board works. I also make sure to showcase this board to my parents on Back to School night.

Want to make one for your classroom? The title letters and days of the week can be found for free right here. I just used some plain file folders that I covered in contact paper, some black butcher paper, cheap border, and tissue paper pom poms (which you can buy or make yourself if you're feeling crafty!).

I'm telling you, you NEED this bulletin board in your classroom!! Seriously, life changing. Seriously. Not even kidding.

Happy back to school!!