Heart Maps

Today my class worked on their heart maps.  Seeing as I teach 6th grade and 6th grade boys aren’t always huge fans of hearts, I borrowed Ruth’s idea here.  The bone maps were an interesting addition to the activity.  In the morning, most of the boys started out by taking the bone maps I offered.  However, within a few minutes every boy had tossed the bone and decided to use a heart.  The hearts were free-form and they said that they needed more room, which the heart offered.  The hearts were looking great as we ended class.  Most of them had completely filled their hearts and even began decorating them.  

 

My afternoon class was a different story.  They were more reluctant and there were a lot of  “I have no memories” and “No one/thing/event is important to me”.  That’s what is so hard about having two different classes.  What works for one rarely works for the other and I am still feeling that out.  Some of the boys in the afternoon were very anti-heart.  Most of them wanted to use the bone or sketch their own bone.  Unfortunately I had a few who decided this wasn’t a serious activity and they could just write any old thing down in the bone/heart.  This class got a lot less done and as a result will most likely have a much harder time producing the entry that was part of their homework.

 

I think I will have to sit down and really rethink the direction I am going in with my afternoon class.  They are very resistant to writing.  They waste a lot of time whining, or drawing attention to themselves, or being inappropriate.   I need to put an end to that or it will be a long year.  Thank goodness for my homeroom!

Living a writerly life

During Writer’s Workshop, I am always telling my students to live a writerly life.  I share my own writing with them (and this was especially successful during our poetry unit), and I even share my fear of sharing with them.  I think it models that adults aren’t always perfect and that we have fears, too.

However, I realized last year that if I really want my students to value writing then I have to show them how much I value writing.  I need to prove to them that writing isn’t something I do just to model examples for them.  So, this summer I set a goal to work on getting something published.  Thus, last week I began sending out query letters to various magazines to promote an article I am writing about my trip to Michoacan, Mexico.  When I applied for the travel fellowship, I promised to promote the Monarch Teacher Network, and one idea I contributed was to get an article published about my experiences.  Well, we are off and running!  Now it is just a matter of sitting back and waiting to hear from the editors.  Wish me luck!

It’s funny, but now I have a new experience to share- the waiting game!  What is it like to send out a manuscript and just wait for an editor to make a decision?  Hopefully, this will encourage more of my students to be brave and attempt to get their own writing published.

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!

Summer Adventure Packets

Tonight, I finally finished the summer adventure packets for my kids! It was definitely a labor of love, but I feel like they are finally perfect. Jen Barney shared the packet she uses in her class, and I used Stacey‘s as a mentor/template and then added in my own activities. I can’t wait to see if any of my students take advantage of this….

You see, my students move on to the middle school next year, so they will be responsible for emailing or snail mailing their completed packets to me. That’s a hefty amount of responsibility in the summer! But I have some truly awesome 7th grade survival packs planned, so hopefully someone completes it!

I will also be handing out my list of amazing books, places to get books, and blogs to check out. This is the first year I will be doing this, too. This way,my kids will have a list of books I love and think they will love, even if I can’t booktalk them!

Summer Literacy Packet (6th grade)

Must-reads 2008

So Proud

Today, my students began presenting their Multi-genre Projects. I have never been so proud of them! Their projects and presentations were passionate, creative, and thoughtful. The pride they had in their projects was evident from the moment they stepped in the room. They were confident in their presentations, excited to share their passion, and willing to share bits of themselves with me and their classmates.

Many of the students went above and beyond the requirements, which is amazing for a project that was completed at the end of their last year in our school. Instead of the usual boredom and no-effort work I see at this time of year, my students worked diligently on these projects. It is absolutely amazing the effect that academic choice has on student effort. Because they chose their topics and cared about them, they were willing to spend the time to make their project “just right”.

We reflected on the project together, and they came up with a few reasons for their enthusiasm.  All of them agreed that choice was very important in this project.  It was the first time most of them were allowed to choose anything they wanted, with no restrictions.  Then, they were able to choose their genres (although everyone was required to write an encyclopedia article).  Even though it was overwhelming in the beginning, choosing anything they wanted let them pick something they were passionate about.  Thus, we had topics ranging from piano, to Hello Kitty, to Tyra Banks, to Greek mythology, to F-16s, to 9/11, to Pearl Harbor, to Lupe Fiasco, and even more.

The freedom to choose their genres allowed them to create multiple ways to communicate their research.  The girl who researched Tyra Banks created a modeling portfolio with photos, an autobiography, a birth announcement, an advertisement for America’s Next Top Model, and a diary entry.  The boy who studied F-16s included the specs, an advertisement, encyclopedia, and more.  Every project was just perfect.  And everyone chose amazing ways to present their information!  We had models of the Twin Towers that opened to reveal papers.  There was a traveling mythology museum, a model F-16, and a homemade suitcase.

I had tears in my eyes during the presentations today.  My students have grown so much this year, and no where was it more evident than in this project.  I am so proud of them!

Summer Reading and Writing

I have spent the last few days working on my summer reading and writing packets.  Because my students enter middle school next year, I will not see them when September rolls around.  This makes it difficult to hold them accountable for summer work, as they know they won’t be seeing me that first day of school!  I really have to rely on intrinsic motivation.  And maybe some bribing. ;)

Last year I made a summer reading packet, which was for parents and students.  It had 2 pages about summer reading and the positive effects it has on student learning and retention.  Then I listed 3 pages of books for all types of readers, divided by grade level (3-5, 7-8, 9+).  I am planning to hand out the same packet this year, but it needs some revising.  My students this year have become voracious readers, to begin with.  The packet will be adjusted for their needs.  Also, they love reading new books, and sharing their opinions on them.  I am adding a lot of new books to my booklist, along with a page of links to sites that might interest them.  The links will be a nice mix of blogs, publisher’s websites, and places like GoodReads.

I have never given summer writing work before, but I was inspired by this post over at TwoWritingTeachers.  I am using Stacey’s packet as a template and adjusting it for my soon-to-be 7th graders.  It will be an interesting experiment to see if I get a response to the reading/writing work packet.

And now, back to work!

Memoir Monday- Stuff Yer Face

“I’ll have a baby boli combo, Corbett boli, with a salad and Italian on the side”.

This order is usually followed by a groan from whoever I happen to be eating with at the time.  Yes, I place the same order every time I go to Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick, NJ.  The corbett boli, similar to a stromboli, is full of broccoli and mozzarella cheese, with a touch of honey mustard sauce.  The baby boli combo is a small boli with a side salad.  In other words, complete nirvana.  Delicious, warm, melt-in-your mouth heaven in a basket.  And it’s always served with a side of nostalgia.

Biting into my corbett boli immediately takes me back to college.  I began eating at Stuff Yer Face during my freshman year, when going out to eat meant it had to be a special occasion.  College students never have a lot of spare change, so going out to eat it a rare event.  Stuff Yer Face isn’t a fancy, hoity-toity restaurant.  It’s a college bar, a family restaurant, and the first place celebrity chef Mario Batali worked!  My girlfriends and I, known amongst ourselves as the Douglass girls, ate at the eatery sporadically during school, as we rarely had money.  When we did have money, we usually ended up splitting a plate of potachos (“like nachos, made out of potatoes!” as my friends say).  We would count out our singles, probably driving the servers nuts.  But it was always a great night out.

As we began to lead separate lives due to graduations, new jobs, and new families, we started meeting up at Stuff Yer Face a few times each year.  It’s centrally located in NJ, a 45 minute drive for most of us.  More importantly, it has a million memories inside the wood-paneled walls.  It’s where I celebrated my 21st birthday, where Erin and I “rushed” a sorority, where we talked through relationships and eventual weddings.  It’s where bachelorette parties started and ended.  Where the Rutgers bowl games were watched.  Where homecomings were celebrated. It’s where we are always comfortable- the food and conversation flowing like wine.  It’s home.

It’s funny how a restaurant can be so much to one group of people, and so little to another.  Stuff Yer Face will always be my special eatery.  Not because of its food or stellar service, but because of the memories that lie within the crowded rooms and the scratched and dented tables.


*Ironically, Stuff Yer Face is located 3 doors down from Stacey’s memorable eatery,Thomas Sweets! Thomas Sweets is another special place for me, and I am now craving a Thomas Sweet’s milkshake.  :)

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