Thursday, August 27, 2015

Graffiti, Characterization, and Best Practices

If I have learned anything about middle school students in my time in the classroom I have learned this, middle schoolers are social and need to talk, they are active and need to move and they need variety in manageable chunks.  Today, the mini-lesson I taught centered around the four types of characters (round, flat, static, and dynamic).  After explaining what a round character is, I had the students turn and talk to their table group about a character from their favorite book, movie, or TV show.  The students had to give the character's name and explain to their peers how they knew this character was a round character.  After everyone had discussed their selections, they went to the board and simply wrote the character's name.  Next, I explained what a flat character is and showed the students a cartoon clip as an example.  I chose to use the teacher from Charlie Brown.  I then moved on to dynamic characters.  After the explanation, I repeated the strategy previously used.  The students discussed dynamic characters and recorded their thoughts.  To complete the lesson I explained the characteristics of a static character and showed them a clip from The Lion King as an example.   By having the students discuss, go to the board to record their answers, and by switching from the creation of their own examples to the sharing of my examples I broke the lesson into chunks that offered the students variety.

Below is a link to the Google presentation that I used.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The best part of my job!

Today, I took my students to the media center for orientation and to check out books.  I know this sounds boring and routine to most, but to me these are my favorite days.  Why you might ask?  On these days I get to have conversations with my students and help them develop a love of reading.  As I was trying to help my students select books today, one of my students wanted to know how I knew so much about where books were in our media center, who wrote the books, and what the books were about.  My simple reply, "It's my job!"  I believe that in order to be an effective middle level language arts teachers that I must be an avid reader of young adult literature.  When I am able to put a book in a student's hands I make a personal connection with that student and I move that student one step closer to developing a lifelong love of reading.

In case you need a starting point on your own journey of being a lifelong reader and developing lifelong readers, I would suggest the following young adult novels.

Gated by Amy Christine Parker
The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki
Girl Stolen by April Henry
Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Variant by Robison Wells
Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman

Monday, August 24, 2015

Snowball fights

Over the weekend my students had homework.  Yeah, I know I am the "mean teacher" that gave homework on the weekend and worst of all it was after the first week of school.  For homework my students had to write one level three question based on their notes.  As the students came in today each student wrote their level three question on a sheet of paper and balled the paper up to make a "snowball".  I then gave the students the guidelines for the "Snowball fight".  The guidelines were as follows:

  1. Do not aim for anyone's head.
  2. You do not need to see how hard you can throw.
  3. You do not throw until the music starts.
  4. As soon as the music stops you need to stop throwing, find a "snowball" and quietly report to your seat.
Watching the sheer delight on my student's faces was the highlight of my day.  They were amazed that I was allowing them to throw things in class!  At the conclusion of the "Snowball fight" the students then took turns reading the question written on their paper aloud.  As the each student read the question the other students had to decide if the question was a level three question (Based on Costa's Levels of Thinking) or not.  I had the students indicate their thoughts about the question by giving it a thumbs up if it were a level three question and a thumbs down if it were not.  

If I were to do this activity again, I would have my students respond in a different way.  I would have them hold up one finger (Because I teach middle schoolers, I would direct them on which finger is appropriate to use.) if they felt the question was a level one question, two fingers if they thought the question was a level two question and three fingers if the question was a level three question.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

We survived week one!

Boy am I tired and this was a three day work week!  Getting back into the swing of things is always tiring, but I have loved getting to meet my new students this week.  I spent a lot of time this week on getting my students used to routines and procedures that we would use all year.  I didn't spend time with the minor details, such as when to sharpen your pencil or how to label your papers.  To me these things are not very significant.  I know many teachers are particular about these minute details, but I am more concerned with procedures that will have a lasting effect on their learning.  Cornell notes and Costa's levels of questioning filled our class time this week because I know in the long run that these things will benefit them more!

So here's to a good weekend of relaxing, reading, spending time with my family, and oh, yeah planning for next week.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Deep thinking leads to deeper learning

Over the summer I attended the AVID summer institute.  It was by far the best professional development training I have ever attended.  One of the main focuses of AVID is using Cornell notes.  I am proud to say I used Cornell notes on day 1!!!  My direction instruction was a mini-lesson on voice and point of view.  The students completed the notes section in class and the questions section at home.  I gave the students a list of possible level one, level two, and level three questions, based on Costa's levels of questioning.  I purposely gave them very little instruction on how to write these leveled questions.  I wanted to know what they could do on their own.  Today, I had the students copy their questions onto sticky notes and place them according to the level of the question.  Next, I read the questions out to the class and we analyzed the questions for two aspects:  1.  Was the question placed within the correct level? 2.  Did the question make sense and correlate to the notes?

This activity allowed me an opportunity to see where my students were successful and where they might need some help.  The general consensus is we have level one down, but we still need to work more with writing level three questions.  This activity also gave the students a chance to hear examples from each level.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kicking off the new school year

Today marks the beginning of my fourteenth year as a middle school teacher.  When I think about the fact that I have taught approximately 1300 students and that I have new batch of a hundred or so students this year, the enormity of my position and the responsibilities that come with it makes it even more important that I focus on remembering the successes from previous years  This year I hope to continue to focus on knowing my students and on growing a love of reading within my students.

In order to  accomplish my goal of getting to know my students today I had them create a list of adjectives to describe themselves.  The students then selected one of their adjectives and wrote it on an index card that they then decorated.  This activity took 15 minutes and as the students were working I was able to go around the room and visit with each student in order to begin to build a relationship with each of them.

Last year, I kept a record of what my students were reading and charted for others to see as well.  My students LOVED this and always wanted to know how close we were to meeting our goal.  I am doing the same thing this year.  My goal is for my students to read a total of 1200 books this year.  I can't wait to chart their progress.