First Days of School and Scheduling

We went back to school this week which means I have been overwhelmingly busy.  Our district redistricted which resulted in my school, previously grades 4-6, becoming a sixth grade-only school.  This was a first for the district, so teachers, parents, and students were in complete chaos!  The first day was definitely tough, but the second day calmed down.  Hopefully, next week it will all even out and we can begin teaching.

This year I will have approximately 100 students.  I’m already a little overwhelmed by the prospect of grading that much.  But I’ve been working out a new schedule and think I have a few ideas.  If any of you also teach language arts for 50 minute periods (4-5 periods/day), please let me know if you have any advice!

I will be teaching language arts to 4 classes each day for 50 minutes at a time.  Until this year I had almost 2 hours to teach language arts daily so this is a huge change.  I’m still angry about losing my time (and feel like it is so unfair to my students) but I am committed to doing the absolute best I can for them.  I’m planning to teach reading for 3 days and writing for the next 3 days, alternating all year long.  This will allow me to continue teaching with reading and writing workshop.  I also plan to have two classes doing reading while the other two are doing writing, hopefully allowing me to spread out the grading a bit.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that this year’s class will not get the scope and depth of instruction that previous classes have received.  However, I will continue with my read-alouds daily and booktalking.  I already do very few whole-class novels and I will continue with those.  But the 50 minute periods will force me to focus on my mini-lessons and not get off-topic.  This year will take a lot more planning but I think I can do it!

How do you schedule your middle school language arts classes?

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

It’s a rare find when you finish a book that you know will appeal to middle grade boys and girls alike.  I was lucky enough to have that experience with Sara Lewis Holmes’ newest novel, Operation Yes.  While the plot is fairly simple (girl has to move in with boy cousin and his family across the country because her mom is shipping out to Iraq) the messages about courage, friendship, strength, war, education, and love are complex and thought-provoking.  This would make a fantastic read aloud or book club choice for middle grade students.

Bo is the Colonel’s son.  On an Air Force base, that’s a pretty big deal.  He always has to set a good example and when he gets into trouble at school Dad really lays it on thick.  But this year he has promised his dad he will do better in school.  He will do his best not to get into trouble or spend any time in the principal’s office.  Bo doesn’t love school, but when he meets his sixth grade teacher, Miss Loupe, he realizes this is going to be no ordinary year.  Miss Loupe is young, she has a tattoo, and wears more earrings than most of the other teachers combined!  When she shares her love of improv with the class they aren’t sure how to react at first.  But when they learn to “say yes” to the “The Taped Space,” otherwise known as the Theatrical Space or the Temporary Stage, they realize this year is going to be very different.  Miss Loupe teaches them the sixth grade curriculum but she also teaches them “Theater is the art of saying yes,” and “Art is arranging objects to create beauty”.   They begin to build a community in their classroom.

But Bo’s world is turned upside down when his cousin, Gari, comes to live with them from Seattle.  Bo hasn’t seen her since they were little kids and she caused him to get stitches.  The worst part?  Gari is in sixth grade and will be in his class.  And his parents expect him to show her around and help her make friends!  But Gari is not looking forward to moving to North Carolina.  Her mom has been called up to serve in Iraq and she worries about her constantly.  She decides to formulate a plan that will get her out of North Carolina and her mom discharged from the Army.

Both Bo and Gari are able to relate to Miss Loupe.  Gari can relate to her stories about her favorite brother, Marc, serving in the Army Special Forces in Afghanistan.  Miss Loupe understands Bo and how hard it is to live up to the expectations people, especially your family, have for you.  When Miss Loupe’s brother is wounded in action, the entire class unite and says “Yes!” to taking a stand.  Their project unites activism, art, and the town around the base.

You will find yourself saying “Yes!” over and over throughout this book.  What Holmes says about education and schools will resonate with any teacher reading the book.  What she says about war, activism, and patriotism will resonate with anyone who has family in the military.  And she she says about friendship, family, and learning to let go will inspire any middle graders who read this.  Both boys and girls will be glad they picked this one up!  While the subject matter is serious at times, Holmes throws in more than enough humor that will leave kids laughing out loud.  (The description of the kindergarten bathroom always got me chuckling!)  But she says about taking up a cause and being passionate about your beliefs will inspire anyone who reads Operation Yes.

I can’t wait to book talk this to my class.  I also plan to book talk it to plenty of my teacher friends.  I hope that any teachers who read this will be inspired to become a little more like Miss Loupe.  I know I was!  Sharing our passions with our students can light a flame in them and I’ve seen in numerous times in my own classes.  Opening up to students does allow the class to become a family.  A family that sticks together and stands up for each other.  This is a must-have for any middle grade library!

Review copy courtesy of the publisher