Reflective Teaching Practices – Week 1

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(Photo compliments of Mistie Bibee from freeimages.com)

I am beginning my quest to reflect back on my teaching practice each day and week for the rest of the semester/year. During this reflective period, I am throwing out or reworking what isn’t getting my students engaged. Though I am posting for my own professional use, I invite anyone to offer suggestions and critiques into what I am doing or what I could be doing in the future.

There were two specific areas I wanted to highlight with 8th grade. First, I recapped parenthetical documentation. We went over this prior to Christmas break and it needed to be reviewed for a paper they are doing in Social Studies. The lesson in December went well, however, the review was just mehh! One class asked questions and were engaged. My first class, however, was unresponsive and I think if I used jumper cables they wouldn’t have budged. So, the initial lesson was good. On the other hand, the review needs some spice.

Next, the 8th graders finished their semester writing reflections. I asked them to look at their first piece of writing from the beginning of the year and it was awesome to just watch their facial reactions. I then had them follow-up with some basic reflections questions. They all did really well for the most part. I will definitely keep doing reflections.

As a side note, although 8th graders did well, I have some work to do with the 7th graders. Last week we started to look at Civil Right issues prior to us starting to Role of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I showed a short video to the classes, but I feel that I need to do more here. Some how I need to incorporate informational text reading at the beginning of this unit.

I also need to continue to work on grammar and doing more of it in my classes.

Cheers!

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“I Quit”

The first week of the new school year is in the books. Overall, I feel we are off to a good start and moving forward nicely.

This year I am really focusing on building relationships with the students during the first two weeks of school. The first day I only discussed one rule with my 7th graders; respect me and I will respect you. Then, we spent time in a circle sharing something about ourselves. I learned a few things about my students and they were excited it wasn’t going to be another class filled with rules.

As the week progressed, students read a short story, a memoir, and did some smaller writing assignments. Yesterday I did the Marshmallow Challenge with my 7th graders. If you have never done this with your students, I highly recommend this activity to witness your students problem solving skills and it is an activity that helps them develop their collaboration skills. The gist of the challenge is participants have 1 marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of string, and 1 yard of masking tape. They must create a free standing structure in 18 minutes with the last thing on top being the marshmallow. Tallest structure wins. I usually give the winning group suckers.

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I am always super excited about having my students participate in this activity…until yesterday. Needless to say I was very disappointed with not only how most of the students performed, but the number of times I heard:

“I quit!”
“This is hard.”
“I give up!”
“This is impossible.”

By the time my third section of 7th graders left my room for the day, I couldn’t help but shake my head and begin to worry about how my 7th grade students are going to perform this year. I was pleased with a number of the groups and the structures they built, but at times my coaching voice kept trying to creep to the surface of my throat and I had to keep pushing it back down. I would reply to the students by telling them that quitting and giving up in middle school is not an option.

I really worry about the work ethic and the perseverance that our students are lacking and it seems to be getting worse. I truly do believe in having compassion for students, but I also believe there are times they are going to have man up or woman up to the challenges that face them. I refuse to hold the hands of middle schoolers unless absolutely necessary. Middle school is a huge transition from elementary school and I will continue to encourage them to do their best and I will not accept mediocrity from my students.

As a society, we need to challenge our children to problem solve and not always lend a helping hand. After all, some of the greatest success’ does come from failure.


1 on 1 With Young Writers

Today I spent a considerable amount of time meeting with my students individually about their writing.  While I was doing this, the rest of my students were walking through a checklist making sure they had everything they needed before handing in their final draft for grading.  For the last four years I have dedicated a lot of time to making sure I meet with my students one on one about the major writing assignments they have throughout the year.  I firmly believe my students grow as writers with this instructional practice I have put into place.

Depending on the assignment, the students come prepared to talk to me.  The conference should focus around the student talking about their writing.  Now, I want to provide constructive feedback to my students, but the focus is for the student to talk about their writing. Purdue Owl provides a good resource for teachers interested in  starting one on one writing conferences.

Below are the basics for my writing conferences with my students.

  1. Conference shouldn’t last any longer than 3-4 minutes TOPS
  2. Student finds one specific area in their writing that they want to discuss with me (This may vary depending on the assignment)
  3. Student discusses their strengths in the piece of writing.
  4. Student discusses their weakness in the piece and what they are doing to improve their weakness.

I am in a unique situation where I get to teach both 7th an 8th grade English, which means I see the students for two years.  Writing conferences take time for the students to learn.  On most occasions when I begin writing conferences, the students expect me to do all of the talking.  Modeling the procedure is something I would suggest so students start to understand what their expectations will be during the meeting with them.  Unfortunately, it takes time and for my students it takes 3 or 4 times before they completely have a grasp on the procedure.

Taking time to talk one on one with my students about their writing not only helps my students as writers, but it helps me to build a trusting relationship with my students when it comes to their writing.  In addition, my students and I are talking and they are learning conversation skills that are a crucial life skill.

I am looking forward to seeing the amount of growth in this year’s 7th graders like I am seeing in the 8th graders.

Cheers!

 

 

 


Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!


Steady is the Pace

Recently I received an evaluation.  I want to say how thankful I am for an administrator who offers constructive feedback.  I often wonder how many teachers would take that constructive criticism personally or take it to heart and actually reflect on how they can better themselves.  Not to float my own boat, but I do A LOT of reflecting on what I need to do to make my students more successful. Often times, I am up well past midnight thinking about different strategies and lessons I can implement.

With the Common Core being fully implemented into my classroom and having less than  2 years under my belt of teaching 7th graders, I can’t help but feel I am not doing an effective job getting through to them.  Am I going too fast with my 7th graders?  Right now I feel as if I am not following my own advice where I said I would teach a mile deep and not a mile wide. I don’t want to push through curriculum for the the sake of saying I got through all of the curriculum, yet I know I have a responsibility to get through the standards.

Could the CCSS have anything to do with the way I am feeling?  Even with having minutes added to each of our core hours for more instructional time I find myself running over class time trying to squeeze in last minute details and key points with lessons.  Could there ever be enough time added to get through everything?

As I look back through what I have done this year, I am pleased with what I delivered in the way of curriculum to my students, despite the fact we have had snow days (I think I am one of few teachers who always wants school). However, did the content I deliver to my students really sink in?  Perhaps I did a better job of just skimming over content rather than making it rich and meaningful. Quizzes, unit test, and other forms of assessments show positive growth, but how much are they truly retaining and would they retain more if I slowed down?

Pacing for 7th graders has to be different than my 8th graders.  I have found plenty of support from other district’s pacing guides that help me draw that conclusion.  I am going to continue to reflect on what I can do differently in way of pacing and I am hoping I can continue to help my students to grow academically.

I am always going  to be a life long learner and will continue to strive to be my best. If there are any middle school teachers out there that would like to provide some suggestions, I am all ears.

Cheers!


Transitioning from Narrative to Informational

Pushing forward this time of year seems to be a slow process and transitioning from narrative to informational reading and writing can be a rather challenging task with 7th and 8th graders.

Previously my students just completed a 12 week journey with narrative reading and writing.  From memoirs, to This I Believe, and on to mysteries, my students did a lot of reading and writing in the narrative world.

With the narrative unit in the rear view mirror, it is time to emerge my students into the informational world.  Before I write about my introductory lessons for this unit I want to share with you some thoughts shared at a few conferences I have attended since last Spring.

Recently I returned  from Las Vegas and the NCTE conference. While there I listened to Kelly Gallagher speak about writing in his classroom.  He echoed the thoughts he had at the end of  his book Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts about great writing isn’t just narrative alone, informational alone, or argumentative alone.  Great writing should involve elements from all three or at least more than one.  Jeff Anderson said the same thing at a session I attended last year at MCTE.  While trying to motivate us as writers, he pointed to a book on the triangle fire and discussed with us how the book used both narrative and informational elements to reach the reader.

Now, I relay this information because I want educators to understand that though I spend a lot of time on separate units revolving around Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative reading and writing, I am also building on each unit as I enter the next.  For example, I began my unit by displaying some of the Common Core Standards.

  • (RL.7.1) Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

 

We discuss the idea that informational reading and reading is used to inform and explain a given topic. I tell my students they are going to hear the words inform and explain A LOT from me.

Then,  we generate a list together on a shared Google Doc where they see information reading or writing.  Below are a few items they listed:

  • Magazines
  • Letters
  • Newspapers
  • Internet searches
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

When the students were done adding to the list we took some time to talk about what type of information each of these genres were trying to inform or explain or what was the purpose.  I was very satisfied with the conversation that took place.

To help demonstrate to students(7th grade) that there are reading selections with both narrative and informational elements I chose the short story “The Green Mamba” by Roald Dahl.  When the students were reading it they completed a T-Chart with one side labeled Narrative qualities and the other side labeled Informational qualities.  If you visit the ReadWriteThink website you can find a really nice T-chart for the student to use. When students complete the T-Chart I have them listen to the short story on CD (RI.7.7) and they complete a short quiz about the selection.

I feel my students begin to understand how a reading selection can have both narrative and informational qualities by completing the T-chart and listening to the story again.  The short story serves as a quality transition piece for my students as we dive into informational reading and writing.

Today we discussed Facebook and the type of information the social media website portrays.  After taking a short survey with my 8th graders, about 80% of them have Facebook but do not visit their page that often.  Most 8th graders said they visit it once a week.  Most students who had access to it via mobile phone didn’t even check Facebook during school.  It makes me wonder if Facebook is on the way out.  Both my 7th and 8th graders are creating Facebook profiles on paper and then we are going to use those profiles to create a profile on Schoology, the social media website I use in my classroom.  More to come later!

Cheers!


1st Day Reflections

As mentioned in my last blog, my goal is to write every day this year to reflect back on my experience.  Perhaps some of what I write tonight should have been written prior to the start of the first day of school, but if I didn’t take time to think about what I did, I couldn’t reflect, right?

This is my second year teaching both 7th and 8th grade language arts. I have to say I am completely amazed at the differences between the two grades.  There is a huge difference in maturity, both socially and academically.

Despite the differences, I felt both groups of students did fairly well today.  I am not sure what other teachers do on their first day of class, but I do not go over any classroom rules with my students.  Part of me believes that is what their expectation is from me and I like to keep my students guessing. Bwaaahaaahaaa! That was my evil, take over the world, laugh.  Instead of the rules, I jumped right in and had both my 7th and 8th grade students take a narrative reading pre-test.  The state of Michigan has required teachers and schools to measure student growth.  Our district has decided on a pre and post test as a way to measure student growth.  I was not about to give my students an eight page reading document and 36 questions for the reading portion.  Instead, I discussed with my principal how I have broken down my units into Narrative, Informational, and Argumentative.  This mirrors the Common Core Standards and three major areas of writing that the CCSS focuses on.  I do not however, teach just tree units, I teach six total units.  So, I have broken down my pre-tests and the students took a short seven question narrative reading pre-test.  This is only one part of the narrative pre-test.  I will be giving them a small grammar pre-test in the coming days over the grammar concepts we will cover during our narrative unit.  As a language arts department, the students will show growth through a writing portfolio throughout the year.  I know, it sounds confusing right?  If you haven’t already checked out Kevin Hodgson’s blog today, I encourage you to do so at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.  I think we all feel the way he has portrayed the teacher in his comic when it comes to juggling the Common Core.

I also addressed the homework policy for my classroom.  Now, as any middle school teacher knows, it is our job to prepare them for high school.  I am always amazed at the 7th graders response when we go over the homework policy.  Usually their mouths are wide open and they are disbelief.  This year I feel I am going hardcore my students.  To put in simply, they lose 50% for being one day late unless it is a major project where they will lose 30%.  If it is more than one day late, they get no credit. If you would like a copy of my homework policy just leave me a comment.  If my students bring it back signed by them and their parents tomorrow, I will give them extra credit.

I also took time with my students today setting up their writing notebooks or journals.  This is important because most days we start the hour by doing “writing into the hour”.  I set my notebook up very similar to how Jeff Anderson discusses journal writing in his book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage and Style into Writer’s Workshop. My classroom is indeed a writer’s workshop and this book was read by our language arts department prior to the start of last year.  This year we are reading Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher.  “Writing into the hour” is basic.  I give students a topic to write about.  The students can choose to write about the given topic or they can write about what is on their mind that day.  In addition, I allow my students to even go back to a previous days entry and either continue or revise that piece of writing.  With having so many choices, the students have no excuse not to be writing.  I give my students 5-7 minutes to write and ask them to forget about the editor in their head and just write.

With those two activities, there wasn’t a lot of time left in class.  I did hand out reading textbooks to my 8th graders and I tried to become more acquainted with my 7th graders by playing 2 truths and a lie with them.  It isn’t the most thought-provoking activity, but it is fun and the students seem to enjoy it.

Now tomorrow and the rest of the week is going to bring in a whirlwind of technology to the students.  Tomorrow the students will set-up their Schoology account and I will demonstrate and walk them through the reason we will be using this digital tool.  Thursday the students will set-up their Twitter accounts and Friday we will do a recap and then move our way towards getting our Celly accounts ready.  It is a busy week, so I am off to bed and ready to start another adventure tomorrow.  Email or leave a comment with any questions

Cheers!