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Owning Our Mistakes

My 7th graders got an earful from me today (in the nicest way possible).

  1. They really need to stop starting every sentence with the word so.
  2. They also really need to stop starting every other sentence with and, then, or but.
  3. They also really need to stop starting every sentence with I.
  4. They can always make their writing better.

My goal: To help students identify ways to improve their own writing by using actual anonymous samples from their latest creative writing pieces.

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As I was reading their writing from the other day, I noticed some trends in the types of mistakes they were making in sentence structure and overall style.  (Obviously those mistakes have already been pointed out above in #1-3.)

We spent about 25 minutes practicing ways to improve their writing by eliminating those three problems.

I included random lines from their samples – with the intent of making the task authentic and relevant. I told them it was not to make fun of anyone, but to show them that there are ways they can all make their writing better.

(That’s a rule of mine. They cannot say, “I’m done” or “Is this good?” when they are writing.  They must ask “How can I makes this better?”)

Through some revision practice on the Smartboard and their dry erase boards, I reminded them of the rules they’ve learned this year in LA 7: subordinating conjunctions, FANBOYS, simple, compound, and complex sentences, phrases, and clauses.

Before we moved onto their next task –  to write another piece avoiding those three no-nos we listed above – I  passed out their papers and had them analyze their mistakes.

I asked them to reflect and identify their biggest writing problem. I also wanted them to come up with a solution or strategy to make their writing better.

Here are a few examples of their reflections:

 

I am anxious to read their new writing assignment.  Hopefully, today’s lesson was effective.

One of the boys did say to me as he walked out at the end of class, “You are going to love my story. It is SOOOOO good.  I mean, it’s…it’s…it’s…amazing.  SOOOOO amazing!”

He laughed all the way out the door.

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Do You Bitmoji?

I use Bitmoji in approximately four ways:

1) To participate in group holiday texts with my family

2) To tell my kids goodnight if they are at their dad’s house

3) To express sarcasm, enthusiasm, or exhaustion with my colleagues (don’t we all?)

4) To get my students attention (This either makes them laugh or makes their eyes roll.)

I’ve seen a lot of teachers customize the expressions and phrases to fit their classroom.

Instead of getting out of bed and starting the laundry, I decided to do likewise.

Going for the IXL Gold

So yesterday I was sick in bed and an idea came to me as I went in and out of sleep.

I decided to create the IXL Olympic Games.

I created two podium slides for each class period for two different areas: the time students spent on IXL and the number of skills students have shown progress on in February.

The kids simply went wild for this silly idea, as you can see below.

We will wrap up the competition on February 28th. Right now, it’s anybody’s game!

Tell me about a silly spur-of-the-moment idea that was well received by your students. I’d love to hear from you.

Managing the Differentiation of IXL Assignments in My Classroom

I’ve tried several ways to assign IXL so that the assignments are appropriate and differentiated.

(If I were using IXL for math, I could have students use the Recommended Lessons on the Math Diagnostic, but that isn’t an option for Language Arts.)

I’ve found a good way to assign a series of lessons on a given topic that will meet the needs of my students who range from Beginning Reader to Lexiles in the 1100s.

These tiny IXL tickets get stapled into the student’s agenda books so they have the sequence of lessons with them at all times.  Students mark off each lesson they complete, and then I meet with them near the due date (typically two weeks) to check their progress and award stickers for their iPhones.

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Below are the PDF versions of the IXL Tickets I’ve used in class most recently. I plan on going back and tweaking some from earlier in the year.

When you take a look at these files, you will see they cover different grade levels and sequences depending on the skills.

Students have the option of working horizontally or vertically on some tickets, finding just the right place for them. As always, I encourage them to “Level Up!” when they can.

IXL Ticket Author’s Tone and Purpose

IXL Ticket Sensory Details

IXL Ticket Word Relationships

IXL Ticket Sentence Structure

IXL Ticket Figurative Language

IXL Ticket Organizing Writing

IXL Ticket Compare and Contrast Text 6-8

IXL Ticket Compare and Contrast 3-5

IXL Ticket Theme

IXL Ticket Author’s Purpose 3-5

IXL Ticket Understanding Character

The Every-Single-Week To Do List

I am a big planner. Actually, a huge planner. I love To Do Lists and notebooks and planners.

If you are also a planner you can follow me on my Instagram dedicated to my planning obsession – @momplantastic

I currently keep two Erin Condren Life Planners up-to-date at all times. One is for work and one is for my personal/home/kid/pet life.

I was very fortunate to win a huge giveaway last Mother’s Day from over 20 shops on Etsy.

Don’t be jealous, but I walked away with over $600 in free stickers for my planners. I’m pretty much set for at least a year.

Anyway….how is this school related?

Well, the one sticker I found I really needed was a To Do list for things that happen EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

I could have found someone to make me a customized sticker on Etsy, but I decided to try my sticker maker, which I bought at Joann’s.

I then brainstormed a list of current needs and came up with this nifty little sicker I’ve been using for the past few weeks. I can easily update it as things change.

The fact that by the end of my planning period today I had everything checked off for the week….Well, I call that a happy ending to an otherwise stressful week!

Happy Weekend, Friends! I hope you have some fun PLANS in your near future!

The Day I Gave All My Students iPhones (Part of the IXL Series)

I took a big risk a few months ago by putting on my cheesy teacher hat and pushing out an idea that came to me as I was trying to encourage my students to use IXL.

In a grand opening-of-class announcement, I told all of my students, “Ok guys, I’ve been thinking and I have a plan. You are all getting an iPhone. I got this deal on iPhone 1s, and you will get to add apps to your phone for your hard work on IXL.

Oh, the look on their faces!

I then proceeded to pass out white paper copies of this iPhone template I tweaked from Coffee, Cats, and Crayons on TPT.

Oh, the look on their faces!

“Now, I know this is an old model, and it only comes in white with black lettering, but I talked to people in the main office and they assured me that they would be coming out with a new model soon. They also promised new colors were in the works.”

I had to keep it up…

“Please be very careful with these phones. I didn’t get insurance on them. So if you lose your phone at any time you will get a new one but you will have to your apps will be wiped clean.”

And we were rolling…

The iPhone incentive is working well in my room. Students earn one sticker for each LA skill they complete to satisfaction. As I wrote before, I’m flexible with the SmartScore to accommodate all learners.

I check their progress once a week by customizing the the reports and award apps/stickers in a little one-on-one conference.

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A student selects his apps for his latest progress on his IXL ticket and gets to upgrade.

Once their iPhone 1 is filled with 12 apps, they upgrade to an iPhone 2 and so on.

Their old phone goes in the “showcase” under the dry erase board.

Only a snapshot of the dozens of iPhone 1s and 2s that have been retired in the showcase. 

Students receive a prize for upgrading, as well.

This was a fun day ~ The day I shared all the prizes connected to the upgrades.  They got a kick out of this.

When the first student upgrades to a new phone, I present our newest model: “The iPhone 2 has just been released. It comes in a lovely Butter Yellow.”

The iPhone 3 is “Peppermint Pink.”

Recently I had one student upgrade to the “Mint Green iPhone Cuatro.” He is the the envy of many; not because he got a prize from Prize Box 1 but because he was the first.

I’ll admit, this is an incentive program that takes dedication and organization on my part. I’ve tweaked it a little by adding special BONUS apps throughout the week such as:

  • Scoring a 100% in Newsela Quiz earns you 2 apps, while a 75% earns you 1 app.
  • I had a tiered level of rewards for growth in winter MAP scores.
  • Perfect attendance by the whole class for the week or 100% completion of homework.
  • Sometimes just helping out in class or being a leader earns you an app.

Playing the part of a Verizon salesperson is challenging, but I’ve spent enough time in Verizon to know key phrases that make it feel authentic, which makes it even funnier.

Almost all of my kids love it.

Secretly, even the ones who act like it’s dumb? Well, they love it, too. They even tell me what their stickers represent. (If they get a little emoji with headphones? “Oh yes, I got my music app!”)

Oftentimes, making a reward silly is all it takes to reel in a middle schooler.

Sometimes, it’s about making the experience seem like a reality. Not many of my kids have iPhones, so this is almost like having the real thing – even if it’s just within the walls of my classroom.

Always, it’s about ensuring everyone sees some success and everyone gets credit for working hard.

What do you think of my incentive plan?

Could it work in your classroom?

Do you do equally silly or crazy ideas to motivate students?

I’d love to hear your ideas, questions, and thoughts in the comments!

RELATED POSTS:
IXL Bulletin Board
Blog Series: IXL in My Classroom

IXL Bulletin Board

As promised, here is the first of several IXL related posts.

This is how I highlight the skills we are working on for the week…or two weeks…or month…depending on how many snow days we have!

The board is divided for my three different classes: a 7th grade class, an 8th grade class, and my C+M stands for “Core Plus More” which is our part of our Intervention program.

We are often studying different things at different times so the charts get moved around quite often. (Many of my anchor charts are Pinterest inspired.)

The “73,300 Questions” above the board shows how many Language Arts questions my five classes have answered collectively since the beginning of the school year.

The “Target > 85” refers to their SmartScore.

The SmartScore is a hot topic in our building right now. What is fair? What is reasonable? What is realistic?

I went to the IXL FAQs and found that a SmartScore of 80 is considered “good,” 90 is “excellent,” and 100 is “mastered.”

I chose 85 because it seemed to be a good challenge for the students I work with.

At times I will tell a student to work towards a lower SmartScore if they are truly working hard and still struggling.

I also encourage students to “Level Up,” meaning if they are working at the 5th grade level and hit 85, the should Level Up – I tend to make a silly video game noise when I say this- and try the related 6th grade skill. (More on that later).

Of course, I’ve had students ask, “Can I get higher than 85?”

Without a doubt- go for it!

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Blog Series: IXL in My Classroom

Last year, one of my coworkers kept talking about what I heard her says as “I Excel,” an online learning program she signed up for using one email, then another, then another…as her free 30-day trials ran out.

Seeing as I gave her my email to use at one point, and tending to shy away from things like this, (why, I don’t know!?) I never got on board.

I mean, I was already using Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, Quizizz, Skills Navigator, Schoology, and had just started using Google Classroom. Did I really need another reason for my  class to be on the Chromebooks?

Things changed this year when our building was able to buy the full features of the Math and Language Arts curriculum with our 21st Century Grant.

Now I have incorporated IXL into my classroom, as have many teachers in the building.

The big questions though…

  • How should we use it?
  • How much is too much?
  • What should we expect from students?
  • Should it be graded?
  • Should it be homework?
  • How can we keep it fresh?

While this page has lots of inspiration for using IXL, I thought over the next several posts I would share a few of the ways I use IXL in my classroom that seem to be effective, and tell you some of the things that haven’t seemed to work.

Just look at the progress we’ve made so far!

Screenshot 2018-01-21 at 9.59.01 AM

This  graphic represents 111 students I work with throughout the day, including some who are part of our after school program.  It includes ELL students just starting to speak English, IEP students working several grades below grade level, and students working at grade level. This chart represents only the Language Arts topics.  NOTE: October had the most actual “school days” due to holidays and weather.  (I had to think about this because I was shocked to see how the numbers dropped off as we moved through the months.)

Do you use IXL?
What are your favorite strategies and methods?
What motivates your students?
What questions do you have?
Please share your ideas, thoughts, and questions in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom from the Grip of Facebook

When I first came back on the blogging scene a month and a half ago, I wrote about the app called “Freedom”. The app allows me to block websites and certain apps on my phone.

I basically have all social media (except Instagram) blocked for 23 hours a day. I can only access those sites from 9 pm-10 pm.

It’s been over a month, and my Facebook habit has been broken. I don’t miss it at all.

Maybe twice a week I will use my Chromebook to just check my notifications, but I’m realizing the less I use it, the fewer notifications I receive.

Before I tell you the positive changes it has made in my life, let me put a few disclaimers out there.

First of all, if you enjoy Facebook and other forms of social media, I respect that. This is about me and my personal decision.

Now, onto why I had to get away from Facebook, in particular.

It’s not that I don’t care about people’s lives, but sometimes it’s overwhelming to read about every tragedy. The world is so full of sad news, and it hurts my heart to read more. I would often find myself in tears over a link I clicked on, but I had absolutely no connection to the person whatsoever. I would hope if something tragic happens that I need to know about right away, I would be contacted outside of Facebook.

Sometimes the negativity of every gripe and “Dear (fill-in-the-blank)” letter that is posted brings me down. I know people use FB as a sounding board, a dumping ground, and place to vent, and that’s ok. I used to do it too ~ before I broadened my circle of Facebook friends beyond my immediate family and closest friends. Once I added colleagues and old high school acquaintances, it just felt weird to post those personal complaints.

Then there are the time-sucks ~ mainly the quizzes (for example, Which Disney Princess are You?) Let’s be honest, any true princess fan knows how to pick the right answers to get the princess you already think you are or want to be. (If I want to be Jasmine – which of course I do, I mean have you seen Aladdin? – I pick a tiger for a pet.)

All of this probably sounds harsh, so let’s get to the focus of this post: What positive things has Freedom (and leaving Facebook) done for me?

I read more. Always an avid reader, I now grab the iPad instead of my phone. I’m on my third book of the year already.

I truly relax. Instead of scrolling during lunch, I read a magazine. I pet the dogs while I drink my coffee.

I get on that stinking treadmill. I’ll admit, right here, that part of the treadmill habit is because I’ve learned about the joy of binge-watching on Netflix. Now I make myself watch at least one episode of a binge on the treadmill.

I feel happier. First off, see above. More exercise leads to better moods (so I read in a magazine at lunch one day). But also… less comparing, less jealously, less wanting of things I don’t have in my life. Less reminders of bad or sad break-ups because a post is similar to something I once felt or said or thought or shared on Facebook.

I plan. I am of a special group of people they call “planner addicts” or “planner girls.” My Erin Condren Life Planner obsession is a hobby, provides a creative outlet, and balances my work and play.

I create. Blogging, writing, bullet journaling and lettering are other things I’ve been working on instead of getting lost in Facebook.

I listen. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. I listen more – to my kids talk, to music – I’m particularly obsessed with the soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman”- and to the music my kids make.

After the free trial of Freedom was up, I did pay the full-year “premium” price for the app. I think it was about $20, which seemed worth the time and peace I gained from it.

What app could you/would you say “Good-bye” to if you could?

How could it/would it change your life?

Reading Folks

My 7th grade Language Arts students will be starting the novel, Seedfolks by Paul Feischman this week.

I really wanted to do something different, like my Literature Circles. However, I only have 8 students in this intervention class, and I knew I needed to make some modifications for something like this to work this year.

This new collection of Seedfolks Chapter Worksheets has 13 graphic organizers (all the same, but labeled with each character’s name.)

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I plan on completing the first few together, and then have them work with a partner or group on others.  At some point near the end of the novel, they will do one on their own for a grade.

I also made 8 different pages that look like this:

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Each page will ask the students to list three character traits, which is a review from earlier in the year.  Also, on each page, the students will have to ask one question, as if they were talking to the character in the chapter. I’m excited to see what they come up with for this box!   The box across the bottom and the box on the right-hand side are  different on each of the eight pages, covering a variety of reading skills including:

  • Inferring
  • Visualizing
  • Characters
  • Making Connections
  • Author’s Craft
  • Asking Questions
  • Reflection
  • Evaluating Text

My plan will be to pass a different one out to each student at the start of the chapter, and then we will discuss in a literature circle type fashion.

Seedfolks is based on the concept of individuals coming together to create a community garden.  My lessons will be based on the concept of a community of readers.

I may just call them my “Readfolks. “

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