Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Article of the Week

So, are you itching for winter break to get here or what?!? I am drowning here, people! Between report cards, conferences (for my students and my own kids!), shopping, baking, parties, wrapping... DROWNING!

Don't get me wrong, I love this time of year... but, seriously?! Such a crazy time! I don't know how my parents pulled it off every year.


Anyway, today I want to do a shout-out to some of the best teachers that I've NEVER met: the fine, fine folks at Vale Middle School who put together these fabulous Articles of the Week and post them FOR FREE on their website for teachers everywhere to use.

If you are not familiar with Articles of the Week (AoW), they are a great way to get students reading and interacting with lots of interesting and current informational texts. Kelly Gallagher (swoon!!) is a huge proponent of them and writes often of their use in his classroom.

When I decided that I was going to scrap all other forms of homework and focus solely on AoWs, I turned to my besty, Google, to look for a place for great, kid-friendly articles, and lo and behold, I stumbled upon Vale's collection.

Guys, seriously?! I can't even explain what a time-saver this site has been. Not only are these teachers scouring the net for great reads, but they also include scaffolded questions for each article based on the CCSS. So, basically, all you need to do is hit print, copy these babies, and send them home for homework!! AND... they are also editable, so you can modify any article/questions to fit your students' needs.

I've been giving an AoW each week since September. It is the only homework that I assign. I can't say my students love them, but, they've gotten sort of amazing at close reading and analyzing them. And what's more, they are learning so much about the world!

Vale has a huge collection of these AoWs. My favorite ones are those that also include a little video to go along with the article... it makes the whole experience like a mini-RST (if you are not a PARCC state, RST stands for Research Simulated Task).

Vale also provides a rubric and a sample piece students can use as a model (I sent a copy of this home with each student in the beginning of the year so they knew exactly what was expected of them each week). Additionally, they provide a blank template so that you can create your own AoW using the same format.

I have become a giant fan of the AoW... I actually can't imagine going back to more traditional homework. So, folks at Vale Middle School, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!! You are amazing! Keep up the great work!

Ever try using the Article of the Week in your classroom? Think you might give it a try? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!

(And Happy Holidays! This might be my last post until the new year because, you know, drowning and everything!! Thanks for reading, and I'll see you bright and early in 2016!!) 

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UPDATED: Here is a copy of the simplified rubric that I use to grade the AoW. You can right-click to print :)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sub Kits

It's Always the Little Things That Are Such Game-Changers!!

On the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, the unspeakable happened... two of my children started vomiting! Within hours, three of my four kiddos were down-and-out with a nasty stomach bug!

Stomach bugs are the things of nightmares. Especially, when you have four kids, two of whom are too young to make it to the bathroom.

I spent the better part of Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday morning doing laundry, rubbing backs, doing laundry, syringing teaspoons of Pedialyte into sleepy mouths, doing laundry, and applying cool compresses to feverish heads. But, you know what I didn't have to spend a minute doing?!?! Writing sub plans!! Because this year, I made myself a slammin' sub kit and, ladies and gentleman, I can say for sure that this is a game-changer!!

Leaving sub plans is the worst. It's actually worse than the worst. They take me hours... and usually, like in the case of last week, I do not have hours to spare to put them together.

And then, despite how wonderful your sub might have been, it's rare that the plans you spent hours putting together have been implemented to the point that adequate work has been produced.

Well this year, I decided to change that! After 11 years of teaching, I put together this sub kit. Now, this is hardly a new or original idea! Lots of you are loads smarter than me and have been using one of these babies for ages! But, for some reason, I just never got around to putting one together... until this year!

Let me show you mine:

First, I used a box... like the ones that I wrote about here. I made a cute cover... obviously, yours doesn't need a cute cover, but I wanted it to be big and bold so a sub coming into the room can't miss it!

Inside, I have glued a note to the sub explaining all the procedures of the day.

Next, I have a stack of important documents: attendance forms, class lists, fire/lock down drill info, etc:

And then I have plans... and not just any plans, but fun, engaging, standards-aligned plans that I've put time and thought into creating. The idea is for students to be engaged (and therefore, well-behaved), but also doing something meaningful.... not just busy work.

In each folder, I have explicit directions for the sub, along with enough copies of necessary materials for all my students. (Check out the task cards and directions for "Writing Pass" that are available here.)

I keep two days worth of plans in the kit, but I have several additional folders of lessons that can replace the plans in the box as they get used.

This kit sits right on top of this stack of bins on my desk. You really can't miss it! So, if I need to be out and I have no time to sit and write out my sub plans, all I need to do is put a note to the sub through the computer system we use to put in for a sick day saying: Please see Sub Kit on my desk for directions and plans for the day. 

And that's it! I can get back to my sick kiddos (because let's face it, they are really the only reason I miss school. I could be steps away from a coma and I'd still drag myself to school!  I know, I know... not good! But, it's the truth!!)

So, anyone use a sub kit? What do you keep in yours? Anything I'm missing?

I'd love to hear from you :)

Happy Teaching!!