Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mapping Out the End of the Year

Ladies and Gentlemen... we are in the home stretch!

Only about 6 more weeks left in the school year. How can that possibly be? What a fast year!

My kids are all finished with testing season... PARCC is over (aside from a few make-ups here and there for some kids) and our 7th grade ELA cumulative exam is done (and the SGO calculations complete!). So, we are now free to move into what I like to call the "Ahhh"-season. It's during this time that I really try to make sure that the ARTS in ELA is emphasized.

So... here is what I've got on tap for the next 6 weeks:


We are going to read and analyze four myths from our Holt Literature series and then do a little myth writing ourselves with some help from:

Then, we are going to read a few excepts from Holt's Unit 7: Biographies and Autobiographies. After we do some reading, I'm thinking a little research project, maybe using this:

And then, I think we are going to finish off the year with a whole-class novel. Right now, I'm debating between Tuck Everlasting and Ruby Holler. Tuck is my most favorite read-aloud of all time. And I have an entire unit with all the foldables for our ISN already done in this product:

But, I haven't taught Ruby Holler in a long time and it's SOOOOOO good! And our library has such a beautiful (i.e. hardback!) class set of it...

The thing is, though, I reread it while my kids were taking the PARCC. And I realized that I haven't read it since the birth of my boy/girl twins. And I also realized that it will be impossible for me to read the book without picturing my babies' faces as Florida and Dallas. And therefore, I also came to realize, that, despite knowing there is a perfectly happy ending, there isn't a chapter where I don't choke up reading about the misadventures of Florida and Dallas. 

Now, I'm totally fine with crying while reading to my kids... I've done it plenty of times. But, it's usually just at a part or two... NOT AT A SCENE FROM VIRTUALLY EVERY CHAPTER! So, needless to say, I'm still debating if I can pull off Ruby!

But, whether I choose Tuck or Ruby, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to use this as our final project:

I love projects that can be extended and take us right up to the very last day of school!


So, right now we are doing a bit of poetry writing. But, as soon as we are finished, we are going to move on to this:

This project can be used in reading or writing, but I'm pretty sure that I'll fit it into my writing time.

Once that is finished, I think I'm going to break out this product again:

But this time, rather than just writing snapshots, I'm going to let them write a short story. I'm not a huge fan of short story writing, mostly because it's impossibly difficult for a 7th grader to tell a complete story, but they've been BEGGING to write some fiction, so now is a good time.

And finally, I think that I'm going to close out the last week with this:

Again, this can easily be stretched out until the very last day of school, and that is most certainly a plus!


Now, I don't teach math anymore, but I did for years! In those days, I always ended the year with this:

I used the project faithfully for years and it never fails to disappoint! The kids have a blast and do quite a bit of math in the process.

Last year, I followed up the Theme Park Project with this and the kids really enjoyed it. And again, it took us right up until the last day of school!

So, there you have it! My last-six-weeks-of-school plan! How do you end your school year? Do you like to stick to business as usual, or bust out some of the more creative stuff? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Testing! Testing 1, 2, 3!


Not just oh-I-think-I'll-turn-in-a-little-early-tonight tired. No, it's more like putting the peanut butter in the refrigerator and coffee creamer in the cabinet tired. Like falling asleep while reading Good Night Moon causing your four-year-old to pry open your eye lids and yell, "Mommy, you felled asleep!" tired. Like 6 weeks into life with a newborn tired.

Who knew that watching your kids spend a couple of hours in front of computer screens for state testing while you walk around making sure everything is okay, but at the same time being super careful not to really *look* at all the secret information in front of them, could be so exhausting!

I'm beat!

Anyway, we've been PARCC-ing every day like crazy... well, except for today, when the whole state of NJ got to take a little testing respite from PARCC-o-mania because the system crashed. (And let me just say... I'm proud to be a teacher always, but today, I was absolutely bursting with pride for my peeps! With no more than a few minutes notice that the test was cancelled, teachers frantically pieced together a new schedule, along with lessons and activities, LIKE A BOSS in order to keep our kids rockin' and rollin' throughout the day! Whoever says teachers "resist change" should have watched our crew in action. Undoubtedly, teachers are some of the most flexible and "roll with it" kind of folks I know!)

Since most of you are likely in the middle of testing, or getting ready to test, I wanted to take a minute to share with you some of the things that I've found to be helpful during this time. This is my 11th year giving some form of a standardized test, so I've definitely got a few tricks up my sleeve.

What I have found is that you need to really balance between fun and mindless and hardcore academic. If you let kids totally veg and party on each day after the test, you will find that it's almost impossible to rope them back in and take the next 6 weeks seriously. But, you also don't want to hammer them with business-as-usual work. The kids are tired. Those tests take a lot of mental stamina. They won't put their all into anything you give them if it's too difficult, so save the tough stuff for another time.

1. Educational Activities Disguised as a Movie!

After our first session of testing, we read the story "Young Arthur" from our anthology. Then, for the next few days after our testing sessions were finished, we watched Disney's "The Sword and the Stone." (Hold the phone! You won't believe how many of my kids had never seen it!!) While watching, the kids completed the Movie Notes sheet from my newest freebie:

After the movie was finished, they compared the two versions.

So... compare and contrast? Totally educational! Watching a movie? Totally fun! See what I did there?!?

2. Fun, But Mindless, But Sorta Educational, But Super Interesting Activities. 

Last year, we were all about the adult coloring book stuff, but this year, dot-to-dot is our jam! This Extreme Dot to Dot book came from Mindware (my favorite kids store!) and it's been awesome! I am My kids are a bit obsessed. After everyone is finished testing, I hand these out and I the kids go to town. It's drawing... so that's fun. And it's dot-to-dot, which is counting, so it's obviously educational! The perfect balance.

3. Sugar.

This needs no explanation.

Print yourself some cute, little motivational things (like these FREEBIES), stick a piece of candy on each one, and watch a smile appear across the face of each and every one of your cherubs! They will love them and love you for thinking of them. 

So, those are my three favorite survival tips for state testing. What are your favorite tips and tricks? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Testing Teaching!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Game-Changer for Organization... an Update!

Back in August, I wrote about this idea that I stole from Brooke Brown's blog, Teaching Outside the Box.

Basically, you get yourself some project cases (like these) and you use them to store your lesson plans. What is nice about these is that you can put everything you need in file folders. This means no hole punching for binder storage or sliding papers into those slippery page protectors! Also, you can store all your additional lesson plan artifacts (like task cards, mentor texts, picture books, etc.) right in the case.

The boxes store easily and keep all your lesson materials safe and sound!

Typically, I keep an entire unit in one box. I have a file folder for each day or lesson of instruction. On Friday, before I leave for the weekend, I take the file folders out of my box and put them in this hanging pocket organizer behind my desk (get a similar one here). That way, when I come in on Monday, everything I need for the lesson is right at my finger tips! I'll also add, that this is great if you are unexpectedly out sick one day. You can just direct the sub to follow the lesson in pocket!

Seriously, people! I am IN LOVE with these cases and this method of organization!! I have all my writing units put together and hope to get all my reading plans organized over the summer (just got another batch of cases from Amazon and some pretty teal and hot pink file folders... swoon!!). This has been an absolute game-changer for sure and I am forever in the debt of the lovely Brooke Brown for this awesome idea.

What is your favorite method of organization? Have you tried the project cases? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!