Back from Teachers College

I have been up since 5:20am, on two trains, in two taxis, and in 3 separate buildings at Columbia’s Teachers College.  The three sessions I attended today were awesome and I am brimming with new ideas!  However, I am also completely exhausted and barely even able to think straight.  Expect updates tomorrow!

TC Reunion Saturday

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year.  I will be heading to NYC, very bright and very early, to attend Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion at Columbia.  From 9am-3pm I will be surrounded by like-minded teachers who are passionate about reading and writing workshop.  Anyone else heading into the city tomorrow for the workshops?

Monarchs, Day 2

Tagging demonstration at MTN workshop

Today was another awesome day at the workshop. Busy, busy, busy as always! But we got through everything and did an great release. There were a few preschoolers and toddlers in the building who came to the event, which made it extra special. Holding one little boy’s hand, I watched his face light up with each monarch that alighted on a participant. And when one landed on his shirt? Absolutely priceless.

The Courier-Post sent a photographer who photographed a good deal of the morning activities, including the above photo where I am explaining tagging to the participants (with Sue, my amazing cooperating teacher from student teaching). There should be an article tomorrow and another story in the local section next week.

One more day left! But if you want to experience a bit of the workshop for yourself, check out this video from NJ.com and the Star-Ledger. This workshop ended today at Raritan Valley Community College. The video is great!

My Middle School Language Arts Classroom…

I have spent the past few days beginning to plan out next year. I am a third year teacher, so some of my units are ready to go, others need tweaking, and some are being rewritten from scratch! However, I wanted to share what my normal day looks like so that other teachers can possible get some ideas!

I teach in a team setting: I teach Language Arts and my students have a different teacher for math, and a third teacher for science/social studies. I have two classes- my homeroom and my afternoon class.  I teach Language Arts in a 2 hours block.  M homeroom stays with me all morning, then we go to lunch, afterwards I get my afternoon class before they go to special.  Because of this, we start each day with a Do-Now. I am in charge of the Do-Now for my two classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Traditionally, we use DOL as our Language do-now, but I want to change that next year. Granted, the ease of use is a big temptation, but the research shows that DOL doesn’t help kids use correct grammar in context. And I am willing to bet half my students just put any old answers down and wait for us to go over the correct answers together. So this summer I am revamping all of my grammar plans! This means I need a do-now. It has to be something quick and easy (we have a ten-minute homeroom) but also needs to hold students accountable. Any ideas?

Word Study: This year, I plan on using a mix of direct instruction, inquiry, and grammar in context for grammar. Right now I am writing my curriculum, based on our state and district standards. I am using Don and Jenny Killgallon’s Story Grammar for Elementary School: A Sentence-Composing Approach and Grammar for Middle School, Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, And Style into Writer’s Workshop and EVERYDAY EDITING: Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer’s Workshop. Last but not least, I am waiting for Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching. I know, it’s a lot! But when I went to the Columbia Teacher’s College Reunion Saturday back in March, I went to great session on teaching grammar in middle school. The presenter introduced all these great books to me, and I was inspired.

We have a district spelling curriculum, which means we have a spelling pretest on Mondays. Students complete a spelling contract during the week (that I wrote) and take a final spelling test on Friday.

Vocabulary is something I am still struggling with. Last year I followed Linda Rief’s model. I had my students find 5 vocabulary words each week from their reading. They then defined them, wrote each word in the sentence that they found it, and handed it in. For extra credit they included the etymology of the word. I just didn’t feel it was successful with my students, so I am searching for a new idea this year.

Reading Workshop: Reading workshop, reading workshop, reading workshop!!! I start my reading workshop with a mini-lesson. My students have one Language Arts binder that is divided in 8 sections. (I may amend this to 6-7 sections this year.) One section is devoted entirely to mini-lessons and notes from mini-lessons. The section begins with a table of contents that the students fill in each day, noting the subject of the lesson.

This year, I plan to use more short texts in my mini-lessons, so that my students have common texts but can still focus on their independent novels. This will allow me to differentiate more in conferences, but all the students will have common texts at hand. For this purpose, I am reading Less is More: Teaching Literature With Short Texts, Grades 6-12 by Kimberly Hill Campbell.

After the mini-lesson and guided practice, we break into independent reading. During this time, students read independently, putting into practice the skills we have learned. During this time, I have individual conferences with students and pull small groups. I also sometimes (especially at the beginning of the year, when I am building the reading foundation) just read with the students. This models an adult enjoying reading, something they don’t always see. They also see me enjoying their literature, children’s, middle-grade, and YA, valuing it.

I do teach whole-class novels, as they are required by the district. But I love the novels we do together, and they allow us to have a common text. Plus, I don’t assign the reading for homework- we treat it as a read-aloud/whole class novel. I do a lot of text marking, teaching them how to annotate their books. It’s a skill they will need in future years and one I never learned (and wish I did!). Our whole class novels are: Tuck Everlasting, The Giver, and The Devil’s Arithmetic .

Writing Workshop: My students keep a writing notebook. I start the year with a lot of activities from Notebook Know-How: Strategies For The Writer’s Notebook. My students have a little bit of experience with the workshop method in the primary grades, but not since then. I really have to ease them into it. For the first half of the year, their weekly homework is to write 4 entries in their notebook. I collect these as a homework assignment.

This year I will be using the front half of the writer’s notebook for their writing and the back half for notes and mini-lessons. I am hoping this helps keeps them more organized. And to be honest, it will keep me more organized, too!

In 6th grade, we focus a lot on persuasive writing because it is tested on the state tests. But I start the year with launching the writer’s notebook. Then we ease into personal narrative. I am working on what we will do after that! I do know I will be doing my poetry unit again because it was such a success. :) And I plan on doing my multi-genre projects again at the end of the year. Right now, I am paging through Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5 for ideas.

Read-Aloud: My favorite part of each day is at the end of class. That’s when we have our read-aloud. During the read-aloud I model higher-level thinking and other comprehension skills. And the students love it! We experience various genres and everyone. To see what we read this year, check out this post.

As for how I choose my read-alouds, it’s all about the kidlitosphere! I read reviews, read Newbery contenders, and of course turn to some of my personal favorites. The read-alouds change with each class and each year. This way, they stay fresh and personalized!

I still have a lot of work to do for next year, but I am getting excited. I love my grade level and I love teaching language arts. Hopefully, this post can help some other middle school English teachers!

Our Eco-art book!

Yay! Today my class’ eco-art photobook arrived, and it turned out beautifully! The book includes photos of both class’ eco-art and the poetry that it inspired in my students. The book was created as part of the Voices….From the Land project through EIRC.

The book, a 12×12 photobook made on Shutterfly

The awesome back cover, a collage of the art created in our schoolyard.

One of the photo/poetry spreads. (Made smaller because I don’t want my students to be recognizable!)

Another photo/poetry spread

One of the poems that a student wrote after creating his group’s artwork.

Another poem.

The final page in the book- a photo I took inCape May coupled with my favorite quote (and mantra).

I am completely in love with this project. It is a great marriage of art, science/ecology, language arts, and technology. We will also receive books from two other schools (including one in New Zealand!). How cool is that?  Even cooler?  The fact that I might get to meet that teacher from New Zealand at a workshop this summer.  Talk about making global connections in a new world, huh?  Absolutely amazing.

My favorite quote from today was, “Wow, Miss M!  I am published in a real book!”

IRA Presenter Handouts

For those of you like myself, who were unable to attend the IRA (International Reading Association) Convention last week, I have good news!  The presenters’ handouts are now online.  I just spent an hour downloading and reading and wow!  I highly encourage you to check them out.

IRA Presenters’ Handouts

Monarch film

Since last summer, the Monarch Teacher Network has been shooting film for a full length film production about the monarch butterfly and Monarch Teacher Network. The videographer, Ed Waters, has filmed for many years in New Jersey classrooms for the New Jersey Education Association television series “Classroom Closeup”. Ed accompanied the March 8-15, 2008 trip to Mexico, filming in the monarch colonies and other parts of the trip. The film is shot in HD and includes lots of great close-ups.They are hoping to have the final production finished and available as a dvd to teachers who participate in the summer 2008 MTN workshops, as part of the materials they receive at the workshop.

Since his return from Mexico in March, Ed has put together about 5 minutes of footage and made it available. The teacher who is interviewed is Jessica “Netia” Elam, who was trained at our Prince William County, Virginia workshop in August 2007; she teaches Advanced Placement Biology at Forest Park High School and uses monarchs in her work, as a result of getting involved with MTN. ( MTN will be back in Prince William and Fairfax County, VA on Aug 11-13 (Fairfax County) and Aug 6-8 (Prince William County) for another workshop this summer. I will hopefully be working as staff at one of the Va. workshops!)

Below is the clip from the film. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. Keep in mind that Youtube does compress the quality a bit, but it is still stunning. My students watched it with me today and they were sitting silently, at rapt attention. It’s that good!

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