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!
Earlier this week I attend the Ohio Middle Level Association conference with seven people from my building, many who happen to be some of my best friends. We left after school on Wednesday and got home Friday just before dinner. It was a whirlwind trip with lots of laughs, lots of honors, and lots of inspiration.
We had some time to catch up with each other beyond the confines of our classroom walls, talk about our personal lives, learn new things about each other, and realize, despite the bad things happening in our schools these days, we still share the same common desire: to engage and relate to middle school kids.
Sometimes getting away from the classroom can be just what you need.
I am excited to put some new ideas into action and tweak some other ideas to fit my classroom and my personality.
One of my friends presented a session called “Just Flip It”. Not only did she do an amazing job of presenting at 8 a.m. on Friday the 13th, she inspired me to try some flipped classroom concepts myself. I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought “flipping” was only meant for the math classroom. I couldn’t picture flipping anything in Language Arts. I realize now I was wrong. Anytime you have a chance to frontload students, flipping is an option.
The key points I took away from her presentation:
-Start with someone else’s videos.
-The videos don’t have to be perfect. (In fact, she said they’d be downright ugly at first.)
-Keep your videos short!
-You can hold students accountable in a variety of ways. (eduCanon, guided notes, Poll Everywhere)
Yesterday I sat down and made 6 short videos (the longest is 3:23 minutes) for my 7th grade Resource Room Language Arts class. The videos introduce the 6 Notice and Note Signposts. I did start with some YouTube videos I found here, but having students who struggle with reading, I added a voiceover, and I included some of my own material to match what I already have created in my classroom, which you can see here. I probably spent an hour making the videos and the accompanying handout, and each video was a little easier and faster to make.
If you’d like to know more about flipping the classroom, I am sure my friend wouldn’t mind sharing her presentation.
I also attended a session called “Strategies to Revitalize and Energize Your Classroom.” The two presenters were so similar in personality to me, and I enjoyed every moment of their presentation. I am now searching for a perfect cube-shaped box, so I can make a “Team Challenge Cube.” Just imagine students bringing their agenda, their book, a pencil and their homework to class everyday, and never needing to give that lecture! Look for a future blog post about my experience with The Cube.
Click here for contact information for both presentations.
Sometimes you can be your own inspiration. When you get just enough confidence and believe in yourself, when you put yourself out there in a new situation…it’s exhilarating.
My principal asked me to write a proposal for a presentation at this conference, and I did just that. My presentation was posted here on the blog a few days ago, so many of you may have already taken a look.
I was incredibly nervous and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls, but I did it. I gave a 45-minute presentation on something I am passionate about: writing.
My friends said I did great; I have to take their word for it. I remember very little, but I am so glad I took the risk and had the opportunity to present. It may not have been perfect, or completely how I envisioned it, but it was a learning experience and something I look forward to doing again.
So where does the apple come in? (This is where I brag a little.) On Thursday night, following a social hour with some of Ohio’s top middle school teachers, I received the Ohio Middle Level Association East Regional Award for Best Middle Level Practice. Nominated by my administration, primarily for my experience with author Rick Niece, I received a certificate and an apple. Oh, and this special ribbon to add to my name tag.
The thing about it all, the reality…I could not have won that award without my 21 students. They were there with me every step of the way. They were the reason I stood in my driveway and made the call to Rick Niece in the first place. They were the reason I won this award. Everything I’ve done this year, I’ve done for them. Without them, I wouldn’t have this apple.
How do you manage missing or incomplete homework?
I have a simple system for my Resource Room that puts the accountability on the students.
When students come in and don’t have their work, they immediately fill out a “No Excuses” slip. HW No Excuses
I put these simple papers in a small box next to the homework tray. I then hang onto these slips until they turn their homework in.
For documentation, I write a comment in Progress Book. I quote their exact words. “I couldn’t do it because I had to clean my room.” “I had a concert.” “I forgot.” This communicates the issue to the parents and serves as a record I can pull up any time to show a student.
Very rarely do I need to say, “Go fill out a slip.” They just know.
I also don’t usually have to go looking for the homework the next day. The accountability is there.
Just a brief side note on how I grade homework. There is always a lot of debate about how to grade homework. Our building has yet to come to a consensus on the issue.
Each nine weeks, I keep track of all the homework assignments; a simple check mark or missing circle system on a printed roster works for me.
At the end of the 9 weeks, I figure out how many assignments were assigned and completed I give a grade out of 10 points based on their percentage. (For example, 11 out of 12 assignments completed would be a 9.2)
I label this grade as a “Speaking and Listening” grade. Look at some of these “I Can” statements for SL.7.1 of the CC:
I can effectively participate in one-on-one, group, and teacher-led discussions. [SL.7.1]
I can discuss my own ideas clearly in a discussion. [SL.7.1]
I can build on the ideas of others in a discussion. [SL.7.1]
I can refer to evidence discussion. [SL.7.1]
I can prepare for discussions by reading and researching class materials beforehand.[SL.7.1]
I can follow established guidelines for class discussions. [SL.7.1]
I can participate in conversations by posing and responding to questions and making relevant comments that keep the discussion on topic. [SL.7.1]
I can acknowledge new ideas introduced in a discussion or collaborative activity. [SL.7.1]
I can modify my views if presented with a new perspective. [SL.7.1]
I feel like this 10 point grade at the end of the nine weeks is justified in terms of grading completed homework. Students must be prepared for class discussion, and that means homework should be completed.
What procedures do your students follow for turning in homework (late or not?)
What is your philosophy about grading homework?
Does my grading philosophy make sense?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Finishing a book I am going to read with my class next year and wiping a tear from my eye, I say out loud (and wake the dog), “Ah, they are going to love this!”
Getting to the most exciting part of our novel and watching their faces light up when they realize the truth about the protagonist, I say to myself (so they don’t realize they’ve been fooled into learning), “Ah, this is why I love teaching.”
Looking at the calendar and realizing there’s only seven more days of school and one more Monday, I say to myself (because I need all the encouragement I can get), “Ah, I can do this.”
Making a Summer “To Do” list and purposely including things like read, relax, lay out, ride my bike, walk the dog, I say to the dog (who is, of course, begging to go on a walk), “Ah, Summer….”
Letting my boy be semi-responsible for his diabetes-care and sending him a friend’s house for five hours on a Friday night, I say to his sister (as we shop, eat, and talk in peace) “Ah, this is nice.”
Checking my boy’s blood sugar at 5 a.m. and getting a decent number, I say to myself (so I do not wake him), “Ah, I can sleep a few more hours.”
Waking up late on a Saturday morning to bright sunlight and stretching a good stretch, I say out loud (coming up with no other way to describe my sleep), “Ah, I slept hard.”
Waiting for the Keurig to finish, pouring in my Friendly Farms Vanilla Caramel creamer from Aldi’s’, and taking that first sip of coffee, I say out loud (to no one), “Ah, that’s good stuff.”
Looking at the sink full of dirty dishes and walking away to grab my laptop, I said “Ah, it can wait. I haven’t blogged in a while.”
As I looked in my mailbox at lunch today, I saw what appeared to be a “Please call Mrs. So-and-So” memo from the secretary.
My heart sank.
What now? Who did I give detention to? What did I forget? Whose grades are not where they should be?
The year is ending in 11 days and my sights are already set on next year: Year 2 in 7th grade. I just need a fresh start. A do-over, if you will.
This year was not a stellar year for me. New grade level, new content, new co-teachers, new administration….I just never felt like I was on top of things in a fabulous ‘Super Teacher’ sort of way.
However, the conversation turned out a little differently than I expected.
“I just wanted to thank you for working with R. this year and being so patient with him and so understanding about his needs. It’s no secret he hates school, but he told me last week that he doesn’t want this year to end.”
(Hmmmmm….What 7th grade boy says that??)
His mom continued, “I asked him why and he said, ‘Because Ms. K won’t be my teacher anymore.'”
I think I may have said something like, “Awwww…..I just love him!” I told his mom that I knew he’d do great next year in 8th grade and that he’d be in good hands. Truly, he gained a lot of confidence this year and really matured. I couldn’t be happier with his new and improved attitude and effort.
That was ALL she wanted to tell me.
I hung up with a smile on my face and a warm, happy heart.
And I skipped out of the office to face the rest of the day.
This whole year I felt like I hadn’t done enough.
Was I giving enough, teaching enough, learning enough, helping my kids grow enough??????
Right at a time when I really needed to hear it, when eleven days feels like ten too many, one simple phone call was exactly that – enough.
Teacher Appreciation Week has passed. End of the year gifts are nice and all. But trust me, in times like these, such a simple gesture means a lot.
As I wrote about in my last post, we have been studying resilience and I said I would share my project details here. While my expectations are tied to the extended standards for 6th-8th grade, this activity can easily be modified to fit the Common Core. In fact, a colleague of mine used this as a model for a similar assignment with his 7th grade language arts class.
This research project lead to a three paragraph essay and Google Presentation. After reading about various people who struggled with illness or physical limitations, my students had to choose someone they knew who had a personal struggle and ultimately showed resilience.
Of my ten students, eight of them had a family member they immediately chose. One boy had to ask his grandpa about the project and found out his great-grandpa had lung cancer. The other student wanted to write about diabetes and Ian. Honestly, this melted my heart.
Plant the seed about this project. Make it authentic. Tell them they get to pick the person/topic as long as they could tie it to the theme of resilience. I was amazed, when the next day, three kids came in with notes/interviews with their family members.
Explain the project. Believe it or not the requirements for this project just fell into place during a class discussion. Literally. I was talking about how we would be starting the project the following Monday and I was asking them some questions and I just started typing up on the SMART Board and it all just came together. The kids were part of the planning process so this was the second way in which the lesson was authentic.
Research and note taking – I gave each student 7 note cards to get started. I modeled how to label each note card and we talked about what each word meant.
1. Title slide
6. 3 statistics
More research and checking in with me.
Work on Google Presentation. I printed their slides for reference on Day 5.
Begin rough draft of the informational paragraph. I used a writing frame called “What I Learned.”
Type final copy of informational paragraph. Edit and finish presentation. For homework, write narrative about your person. “Tell their story.” This is when my student approached me about writing about Ian. He didn’t personally know anyone who had diabetes but he has always had an interest in Ian’s story and his medical care.
Edit narrative and begin writing rough drafts of opinion paragraph. Again, we used a writing frame to develop this paragraph.
Type final copies of narrative and opinion paragraph.
*Due to technical difficulties the project was spread out over three weeks. (See my post about unreliable technology.) After we returned from Thanksgiving vacation we spent a few minutes each day doing presentations. I only did three each day because I did not plan for the engaging discussion and conversation that came out of each presentation.
I was impressed with their knowledge and the genuine interest in their chosen topic. Every student seemed comfortable and natural up in front of the class. To me, this was evidence that they really learned something.
I was touched when students asked to not only share their presentations, but also their loved ones’ stories. This was never a requirement because it was personal. I loved that they were all adamant that their loved one had shown resilience and that they could prove it. A few examples from my class:
I think that Ian has shown resilience while he had diabetes. The first reason is that he had to draw all that blood and the needles must hurt. Another reason is he cannot eat whatever he wants like cupcakes and sugar foods at school. Finally he has to get a lot of shots at school and at home and measure what he eats. Even though it is difficult, he still makes it through the day.
I think that my aunt showed resilience when she had cancer.The first reason is she had to go to work. She had to make money for her house payment. Another reason is she kept going to see her family. She did not want to leave her family. Finally after 1 year my aunt is cancer free. This is how my aunt was resilient.
I think that my aunt showed resilience when she got cancer. The first reason is because she traveled to Chicago for treatment back and forth .She spent a lot of gas money and she drove a long way. Another reason is people were with her to help her be strong.Then she had to leave again for awhile to Chicago. Finally, she never stopped giving up. She didn’t just sit around. Even though she died she was strong and fought hard during her struggle.
I think that my uncle showed resilience when he got Melanoma.The first reason is he had to deal with cancer for 10 months. He had to stay strong when he was ill. Another reason is it was difficult because he had to go through many surgeries. Finally, it was a challenge for John because he had to say goodbye to everyone. He got to spend his last few months with his family. These are 3 reasons why I think John was a resilient guy.
I was sad to see this project end and I am hopeful I will come up with something even better for next nine weeks.
Here are the guidelines I used:
I had that feeling you get – there is no word for this feeling – when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling?
Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we are holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.
– from Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Before heading into work yesterday, I posted on Facebook: “In some weird and wonderful way, this “end” feels like a “beginning.”‘
Well, after a little speed bump first thing in the morning and then a summer kick-off shopping spree, my official calendar restarts TODAY, June 1, 2013.
Our teacher work day was yesterday, 8th grade recognition the day before that. The weeks and months before that…a total blur.
To say that I was ready for the year to end is an understatement. All teachers say that pretty much. But for me, I was so done with this year and all things associated with it.
That may sound horrible coming from a teacher who
blogs blogged religiously about teaching. It’s kind of embarrassing. I tried a few times since January to return to blogging but my heart wasn’t in it; it just wasn’t the right time.
I feel there is no graceful way to come back into this and act like nothing ever happened. Because a lot did.
In every part of my life – my family, my relationships, and my job – I faced some major changes.
And to be expected, those changes were my primary focus and probably still will be for a very long time. I am going to take this summer to start fresh, to think clearly, and take care of me….
Part of that is working on this blog again. It will help me with the changes I will face at school next year (I’m teaching 7th grade!) and it will bring me a piece of happiness that has been missing from my life the last five months.
I’ll have to start small and get back in the groove, but I am excited to try.
To get going, I’ll leave you with two sweet stories from the biggest parts of my life: my family and my students.
As I whined the other night that I was “so ready for this school year to end,” Ian told me he “didn’t want it to end because 4th grade was the best school year EVER!”
How amazing is that? My 10-year-old son, who just 5 months ago was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, saying THIS was the best year of his life?!?
He loves school and he loves his teacher. He loves his friends. He loves playing baseball and he’s a happy boy. And his proclamation let me know I did my job as a mom to make sure his life remained as normal and happy as possible.
(Incidentally, my new 8th-grader Tweedle Dee is beyond thrilled to be out of school for three months!)
The last two weeks of school we worked on our poetry project in my Resource Language Arts. As I’ve written about before, and as it must make perfect sense to fellow writers, you really learn a lot about your students through their writing.
One of my favorite poems was written by a student who started with me later in the year and really grew on me, despite some very challenging traits.
This poem seriously just touched my heart and gave me the greatest joy. There were many days in the past few months when I felt like I was trudging through the motions with my class. But this little poem made me realize I am still providing my students with a safe and happy place to learn.
You see, I’ve realized I’ve been too hard on myself the last few months. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to get over these road blocks in a timely fashion. Healing takes time. For once, I am going to let myself be a little less than “perfect” and know that even on my worst days, I am not so bad.
To go along with my Prezi, I decided to create mini-lessons for the five text structures.
The plan was to spend one day on each, using the Prezi as an intro, taking notes in the Text Structure Flip Book I created, and then doing corresponding activities.
The activities took me a little longer than five days but ended up making a great unit.
I used many of the graphic organizers from a PDF I found online (Comprehension and Text Structure Graphic Organizers)
I also used many of the nonfiction reading selections from www.readworks.org.
Here are some highlights from each mini-lesson.
Students used a graphic organizer that really helped them think spatially as they described our classroom. I gave students the option of describing their bedroom if they wanted to.
Compare and Contrast
For this lesson students rotated in groups to three different stations. Each station had a nonfiction selection from ReadWorks.org. I picked a variety of Lexiles and highlighted some text features like footnotes, headings, bold words, and captions.
At each station they had to record three details showing similarities and differences.
I used the questions that come with the selections the following day as a review of test taking strategies on the SMART Board.
Cause and Effect
I used the cards and activity that begins on page 29. I cut the cards and students picked one from the bag. They then wrote their “cause” statement on their paper. I played some music and students walked around until the music stopped. They plopped down and wrote one “effect” on the paper. We repeated this process about 5 or 6 times and each time the students had to read all of the effects listed and come up with something different. I loved the creativity of some of their responses and they loved walking around and writing on their classmates papers.
Sequence or Process Writing
For sequence writing, I used three nonfiction selections spread out over a few days. We completed these individually just like we would the OAA – I read the directions and questions, they read the selection, and I repeated the directions (per their IEP accommodations). This provided some practice and forced them to pay attention to detail and read headings.
- The Scientific Method 600L
- Scientific method questions
- Colorful Crayons 630
- Crayons questions
- Magellan Was First 790
- Magellan questions
Problem and Solution
I turned this mini-lesson into a speaking/listening/social skills lesson where students had to rotate with small groups to 6 different “problems.” For each problem they had to come up with a good solution and they had to use a signal word from the list on the Prezi in their response. After reading some of their solutions, I realized we needed to work on some of our social skills so I will be coming back to this activity later this week.
The final activity was a matching activity and part of the PDF file.
Wow! That is a lot of information. I hope I provided enough information to show the variety of the lessons. The last thing I wanted to do was bore them with a bunch of worksheets but with the OAA coming up tomorrow I wanted to be sure to cover a lot.
And on THAT note….I should probably wrap this up and relax a little before the fun starts tomorrow! If you happen to be in Ohio, or are taking any sort of achievement tests this week….Good luck! It’s all downhill from here!
Here is a link to my newest Prezi, “Identifying Mood.” I incorporated this mood lesson into March Madness as we will be completing this next week when we get back from Spring Break.
Students will have to identify the mood in songs, images, and text. (I chose 4 poems about basketball. These may need to be changed for a younger audience.)
Happy Spring Break to everyone if you are off this week!
We are supposed to get 6 inches of snow tomorrow night. Not. Cool.