If you are from Ohio, particularly Northeast Ohio, the story of the summer was Lebron James’ move to the L.A. Lakers.
I have spent countless hours watching Lebron and listening to my son’s details analysis and play-by-play of everything Lebron over the years.
I also have some students at school who loved to talk about him, and obviously, we have some catching up to do when we get back.
With one particular class in mind, my 8th graders who I know well, I decided to use Lebron’s stories – leaving Cleveland and his new school in Akron, Ohio – as our first unit this fall. It will serve as a review of some language and literature terms, allow me to observe them working in groups, and provide some good conversation and debate.
I have four reading resources ready to go:
#1 and #2 – Newsela has two articles I’ve chosen to use. One on each of the stories mentioned above. I love Newsela for many reasons, particularly the ease of leveling text by Lexile.
#4 – I am using the letter to Lebron “from Cleveland” that I found on Instagram and in Sports Illustrated magazine. The Lexile for this text is 400-500.
Below are the activities for this unit, which I expect to take about 5-6 days:
1. Students will complete a class flow chart activity I’m doing over several major summer stories. (More on that this weekend.)
2. Language Review Scoot based on the “Dear Lebron” letter.
3. Close Reading Activity based on Lebron’s “I’m Coming Back to Cleveland” essay.
4. The Newsela Articles will be read in small groups or independently using the PRO features our district has access to.
Depending on your students, these activities could be a fun, high-interest activity for the start of the year.
Just a few fun facts about what I have in common with Lebron James:
- His number is 23, and this is my 23rd year of teaching.
- He is going to L.A. and I teach L.A.
I thought I’d share those cheesy facts with my students, but first I ran it by Ian this morning to see his reaction.
Me – Ian, do you know something Lebron and I have in common?
Ian – You’re the Greatest of All Time?
Ah, not what I was thinking, but I’ll add that to the list.
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!
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.
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.
Students receive a prize for upgrading, as well.
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!
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.
My 7th graders are starting A Wrinkle in Time in about two weeks and I decided to use Literature Circles. This will be my second time attempting Lit Circles and this time, with a push from our district, I created two versions of each role to meet the needs of various learners in my classroom. Read this previous post about my first experience with Lit Circles.
The “A” version is for my higher resource students and my “B” version will be for some of my students who are alternatively assessed and follow the extended standards. Here is an example for one of the roles.
A few students will be paired up so that they are doing the same task as a classmate but at a different level. For example, I will have two students doing the “Discussion Director” tasks for the same chapter but one will do the A version and one will do the B version. Everyone will be responsible for participating daily. (See the grading system at the end of the unit).
The roles are similar to those I used last year, but with new worksheets and a page with the corresponding standards.
- Word Wizard
- Passage Picker
- Clever Connector
- Figurative Language Lover
- Discussion Director
- Sci-Fi Guy (aka Game Changer)
As we read the book, I’ll try to update on our progress and success. Let me know what you think and if you see any immediate changes that need made.
Tomorrow is December 1st!?!?!
Back to school for 15 days and the last day of school is my birthday!
I realized my 7th graders weren’t around two years ago when I did my “Christmas Countdown 14 Days of Writing,” so I decided that would be our journal writing for the next three weeks. Here is the PDF version for you to download and use in class: Christmas Countdown 2014
Good luck to the teachers of the very young and of the teenagers as well! Our winter started early and December is bound to be rough.
We are wrapping up the book Side-Yard Superhero this week, and my heart has been filled to the brim with love for both the book and for my students.
Tomorrow we will read Ch. 21, “A Promise Finally Kept,” and I know it will be a difficult read.
I’ve read the ending of this book at least a dozen times.
I am not exaggerating.
I don’t know how or why I would read the ending of a book this many times. There are only a handful of books I have even ever read twice.
There is just something so special in these pages.
Yesterday, one of my quiet 8th grade girls came to me and whispered, “I finished the book. It was soooooo good….and I cried.”
Today, another of my 8th grade girls, a slightly feisty one, came to me right away, “I’m gonna cry when you read Ch. 21 to us. I’m just sayin’. I finished the whole book last night and my dad was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying? I told him he didn’t understand how good it was.'”
Just a few days ago, during a class discussion, I heard her say, “I could totally write a book like this. I’m gonna write an automythography, too.”
Today, as we read Ch. 20 and searched for evidence that supports the theme of friendship, the feisty girl smiled and shook her head, “This will never get old.”
I hope she will read the ending of this book over and over.
I hope she never forgets the lessons she has learned or what it feels like to truly connect with and appreciate a good book.
Sorry to leave you all hanging about my big news.
I am still not sure if I want to post this now, or wait until Oct. 9th – which very well may be the day after the most exciting day of my teaching career.
Oh, where do I begin?
Let me set this up for you. As I posted here about a month ago, my class is reading the book Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick Niece.
Back in the second week of school, when we were just three chapters into the book, I received an email from a coworker involved in the One Book, One Community program in our county.
Two days later, I stood on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact. I was so nervous and so excited, but also determined.
I paced back and forth on the hot pavement. I took some deep breaths. I cleared my throat half a dozen times. I practiced what I had rehearsed I was going to say.
And then I dialed the number.
With some luck, I gained a much-needed moment to gain my composure when his wife answered, and then she promptly got Mr. Niece on the phone.
Mr. Rick Niece, the author of the book my students are reading…..On. The. Phone.
There I was, standing on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact, and I had a conversation with Rick Niece.
I have replayed the conversation in my mind a million times and I cannot explain all of the feelings I was feeling as he asked me questions about my class and my teaching career. He applauded me for 19 years as a special education teacher.
He asked me if I liked to write, and he shared that he preferred writing what he knew over fiction, and I told him how fiction simply eludes me. He told me about his career in education and his background with special education programs at the university level.
He told me he typically spoke with creative writing classes, but before we hung up, we had a plan in place.
Mr. Niece will be coming to visit MY students in MY classroom.
My Resource Room students, who are unable to read at grade level, who do not like to read…..are going to meet not only the author of this book, but a CHARACTER from this book.
Coined an “automythography,” the book is the story of Rickie’s life growing up in a small town and the friendship he had with one special boy.
My students are going to meet a man who knew every single one of the characters in this book. He knew them, he talked to them, he helped them, and he learned from them.
These “characters,” who made such an impact on his life, are now part of our daily lives.
My students may ask about shy Miss Lizzie Moore, her pumpkin bread, and the unopened letters on her table.
My students may ask about eccentric Fern Burdette and faithful Duke.(I just know one of them will!)
My students may ask to hear the tale of Frank Tully eating all those hamburgers.
My students may ask about dear, old Mary Waite or firefly-a-phobic Danny Coonzy.
My students can ask all the questions they’ve been dying to ask about Bernie Jones.
Or maybe they’ll ask about one of the characters we haven’t even met yet. We are only on Ch. 15!
Since the day I shared the initial email with my class, this story and these characters have come to life.
And soon we will finish the book. I can only imagine how that might go.
Mr. Niece’s one request was that we finish the book before he came to visit; he felt it was important.
I said I would try my best. (You know I will!)
I am beyond excited for this unexpected and unprecedented event that is going to happen in the lives of 21 students I care a great deal about.
To be able to share this experience with them, to be able to remind them every single day that we have a goal to meet, that we must finish this book, picture these scenes, connect with these characters, and prepare for a very special guest, it brings me so much joy.
To see them reading, to hear them making connections, to know they are anticipating….
October 8th will be a big moment in a small classroom, and as a teacher, an avid reader, and a wannabe writer, it will be a day I will never forget.
This summer has been pretty rainy and it started to get depressing when the kids weren’t home. I can easily sit and read all day; however, reading on the iPad is just more technology.
A few weeks ago I decided to bust out the markers and do a little creating.
I was waiting to buy some big chart paper, but since I didn’t have any at home I decided to just recycle some unused desk calendars my secretary gave me. This is not the sturdiest paper or the best way to do this and they won’t last forever, but I like to update every so often anyway.
I found a good way to hang and store the charts as well. I will be using all the itty-bitty pants hangers from my kids’ closets.
Last winter I hung some cork strips from Joann’s on one unused wall in my classroom and this will be the perfect place for rotating the charts. Other ideas I’ve seen include hot gluing clothespins to a wall or hanging them to a string, using tension curtain-rods with metal rings, and using E-Z clips.
Do you have your own great collection of anchor charts?
Or do you have some great inspiration?