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Tag Archives: middle school language arts

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

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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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Inspired by The Flip, The Cube, and The Apple

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.

THE FLIP
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.

THE CUBE
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.

THE APPLE
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.

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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.

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Differentiated Literature Circles

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. 

diff 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 and B roles ex

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.

 

 

Christmas Countdown 2014 Version

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.

Total Admiration

I have such admiration for the twenty-one students in my class.

~These students who quietly and apprehensively entered the room, followed my directions, and politely helped themselves to the pumpkin muffins I had made.

~These students who dressed up for this very special day and the students who talked non-stop about Rick D. Niece during homeroom that morning.

~The young man who entered the room and confidently went up to our guest, stuck out his hand for a firm handshake and said, “Hi Mr. Niece. My name is C. It’s nice to meet you.” I wish his mother could have seen how grown up he was at that moment.

~The boy who knew the answers to Rick’s questions, but was just too shy to answer. But finally, with some gentle coaxing, got the courage to raise his hand, clear his throat, and answer in a complete sentence. I am so glad he could leave class that day with no regrets.

~The star-struck girls who raised their hands for every question, who knew every little detail, and remembered things I didn’t even remember.

~The 13 and 14-year old boys with nervous, cracking voices, who showed the maturity and compassion I always knew was deep down inside. They were not afraid to ask questions and share their feelings.

~Those boys who were too shy to speak, but were respectful listeners, and still had a one-on-one conversation with Rick during the book signing.

~The very bravest ones who confidently stood and read one of Rick’s poems out loud to him.

~These students, many who struggle with reading, who stood and read a poem called “Small Towns” in unison and brought tears to my eyes.

I have such admiration for this man, Mr. Rick D. Niece, who let my students call him “Rick” or “Rickie, my boy!”

~ The man who met my students at their level, but never talked down to them.

~ The man who answered every question – even “What’s your favorite color?”

~ The man whose favorite color on this particular day was green.

~ The man who quickly learned their names and praised them for their questions and thoughts.

~The man who spoke personally with each student as he autographed each book and took pictures.

~The man who asked my spunky girl, “What do you want to do with your life?” (Does he know how important that made her feel?)

~The man who spent a few extra minutes with the little girl who had lost her book, but finally found it in time for an autograph.

~The man who fought back tears when my students read his poem “Small Towns” in unison.

~The man who told my class, “You guys couldn’t give me a better gift.”

Taking in every bit of advice from "that man" after our amazing class discussion.

Taking in every bit of advice from Rick D. Niece – as an author, teacher, and friend.

“This Will Never Get Old”

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.'” 

No. Words.

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.

 

Coming Soon: Big Moment in a Small Classroom

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.

With. Me.

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.

True. Story.

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.

My Pinterest: Anchor Charts

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.

So instead, I wasted time on Pinterest… collecting Anchor Chart ideas.

A few weeks ago I decided to bust out the markers and do a little creating.

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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?

Share your links in the comments.

Anticipation

We are finally wrapping up When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by the end of the day Tuesday.

Oh my goodness, does anyone else feel like novels can drag on forever?

This was actually the fastest I’ve gotten through a novel (5 weeks), but I am glad to be done and moving on.

I am also really excited for the activities I have planned for the next two weeks. Yesterday things just sort of fell in place as I was planning and I came up with not one, but TWO, weeks’ worth of plans with a variety of new activities. I love the idea of NEW ideas.

Things I have on tap that I am really anticipating:

In an effort to be current and real, we will be brainstorming, Instagram-style, on Schoology in an activity I am simply calling #zacharybeaver.  Ian and Dee loved practicing this activity the other day. (#guineapigs)

To differentiate and get kids engaged with the informational text unit, we will be trying out the .99¢ app called ReadNRespond.

To get everyone involved in discussion and control the conversation dominators, I am going to try a strategy called “Two Chips”. (I think it was originally  called “Three Chips,” but I only have 8 students in my class so I needed to adjust.)

To get a feel for my students’ use of Quizlet for studying, we will be using the quiz feature to assess vocabulary.

To push the writing (because, honestly, we don’t do enough) , I am going to try a book that I bought two weekends ago called “Writing Frames for the Interactive Whiteboard” by Scholastic. Based on the concept of modeling, I think this will help my students organize their thoughts and write structured, organized paragraphs for a variety of purposes.

To move away from Language worksheets (blech!), students will be using the Explain Everything app in groups to work on combining simple sentences.

To teach Theme and Author’s Purpose, I am going to use the lessons from my favorite Interactive Notebook collection.

To fulfill my SLO duties,  we will also be completing our pre-assessment for writing/language this week…not looking forward to that quite as much!

I know this is just a teaser post, so stop back soon to hear more about the things that interest you!

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