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!


TL Handy Middle School PD

TL Handy Middle School PD.


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!


Myths as Informational Reading and Text

No, your not seeing things! I actually wrote the title you see before you.  Last year was my first year teaching 7th grade and my first year teaching myths.

Last year when I taught the myth unit, I felt it was a success.  We looked at many different types of myths from different parts of the world and students wrote their own myth.  This year I am continuing this mini – unit within my bigger informational text/writing unit.  Below is a list of the myths my 7th graders read.

  • “Persephone and Demeter” (Greek).
  • “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (Mesopotamian).
  • “The Secret Name of Ra” (Egyptian).
  • “Why the Sky is Away from the Earth” (African).
  • “The Instruction of Indra” (Hindu).
  • “Amaterasu” (Japanese).

All of these myths are found in our literature text book we have.  I use our literature book the longest during the time we read the myths. During the rest of the year, it is a filler where I may use a story to introduce a specific genre or a certain literary concept before going on to a much bigger piece of text such as a chapter book.

Now, besides sharing the different myths that my students read, I want to share the reason why I view myths with my students as informational text. I share at the beginning of my informational unit with both my 7th and 8th graders that informational reading and writing does two things: informs and explains. We also discuss how informational reading and writing helps individuals learn something they may not already know.

As many people know myths were stories created to explain events or objects in the world that could not otherwise be explained.  Despite the fact the explanations themselves revolve around supernatural forces, learning about different myths from around the world gives us better insight into the cultures from where they originated.  Furthermore, myths can lead us to look at the similarities and differences of the different beliefs and attitudes of traditional cultures.  Finally, the students are better informed leading them to identify and relate  to contemporary literature and modern English when there are references made to the myths we study.  So what information is being given or taught to the students? Specifically:

  • students learn about different cultural beliefs.
  • as an expansion for S.S., students learn about different regions in the world.
  • there are valuable lessons to be learned from each myth.
  • students gain insight into more contemporary literature and can better understand it.

Many English teachers may think I am really stretching this and perhaps taking a wrong approach to the way I teach my students about myths.  For me, I feel I am pushing or challenging  my students to think critically about the oral tradition that includes myths. The same oral tradition where legends are thought to be historical, but lack the evidence to prove them accurate and true.  Folk tales, fairy tales, and tall tales all come out of this tradition as well.  And although these may not hold truth, what better way will students learn about personification without a good fairy tale such as Pinocchio.

My students also write their own myth where a lesson has to be learned within their myth.  That can be saved for another post!

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!


Not Enough Time: Digital Citizenship/Mobile Devices/Discussions

Day 2 of school had its bright spots and its challenges.  We are fortunate enough to have a mobile lab with 30 Dell Laptops for our students to use.  After finishing some typical house keeping items, I was ready to deploy the laptops to my students.  Before I assigned students to a computer, I began by asking students to help me make a list of examples of mobile devices.  The list the students compiled looked like this:

  1. laptops
  2. cell phones
  3. Kindles
  4. PSP
  5. Nintendo DS
  6. Ipad
  7. Ipod
  8. Itouch
  9. Nexus
  10. tablets

It was clear to me, whether it was 7th or 8th grade, the students had a clear grasp on the concept of what a mobile device is.  Upon completing our list on the whiteboard, I shifted their thinking to another topic that involved using mobile technologies; digital citizenship.  As an educator and an advocate for the use of mobile technology in the classroom, I was disappointed when I posed the question: “Who has heard of digital citizenship?” Out of all three of my 7th grade classes, not one student raised their hand.  This is a problem.  By 7th grade students need to be made well aware of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.  Needless to say, I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic with them.  During our conversation we discussed the characteristics of being a citizen. Students knew that a good citizen participated in community activities, was respectful, followed rules/laws, and needed to be helpful to others.  After students exhausted all the characteristics we talked about how they apply to being a digital citizen as well. Furthermore, I took the time to address cyber-bullying and sexting.  By the end of the week, I would like to develop a handout or sheet for the students to put inside of their planners stating their responsibilities as a digital citizen.  I also want to send the handout home to parents to help educate them as well.  The 8th graders were much  better when it came to digital citizenship and that is because I discussed it with them last year.  I did revisit cyber-bullying and sexting to pound home the importance behind what NOT to do when using a mobile device.

Even though I took more time discussing digital citizenship than what I wanted, it will be worth it in the long wrong.  Laptops were handed out to each student.  I called up 5 students at a time and assigned them a number.  The number they are assigned will be the same number laptop they will use in other classes.  This helps us as the teachers and our tech guy who to talk to if the computer has been used maliciously or it gets broken.  On the whiteboard the students were given written directions on what to do with the computer.

  1. Turn on the laptop
  2. Login to your school account
  3. Access Internet Explorer
  4. Go to www.schoology.com
  5. Watch the short video on the home page

After all of the students completed the tasks on the board, I walked them through the sign-up process for Schoology.  Students were given their individual course codes and then they had to fill in their names, usernames, and passwords.  I directed students to use their last name and first initial of their first name for their username.  For example, mine would by hylerj.  I asked them to make their passwords something easy to remember or use the same password they use for Facebook.  Schoology has an excellent feature available to teachers where they can reset a student’s password if they happen to forget it.  Now, I did run into a few glitches today with students not being able to log in to their school accounts meaning they couldn’t use the laptop that was in front of them.  Such is life when it comes to technology.  I had these students look on with other students who didn’t have difficulty logging in.

Despite the typical issues that came about today, I was able to get everyone signed into their courses I created.  We then walked through the files/links tab and the discussion tab.  We focused more of our attention on the discussion tab.  It is here where we will be collaborating as a class.  I will have the students post discussion questions for socratic discussions we will have in class.  It will be a place I may post reading questions after the students finish a reading homework assignment, and it is a space where students can ask me questions about homework or other assignments.  Today, I simply posted the question, what is your favorite music, music artist and why?  I instructed the students to post their reply and respond to 2 other members in the class.  Prior to releasing them to work on their own, I modeled for them what a quality response is to another member.  Responses like nice, wow, I agree, I like that, and great are not accessible.  I want my students to actually have a discussion, so I direct them to ask questions, be thoughtful and to put some time into their responses.  This conversation and modeling is worth it because students really start to have quality discussions.  Below is an example of what a discussion page looks like.

Once students got started, there weren’t any issues with them operating the site.  A lot of students were shocked how much it is like Facebook.  Even though it appears my students may not have done a lot in class today, they did complete at least one of the Common Core Standards.

  • Standards W.7.6 and W.8.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Students were able to identify technology (Schoology) and collaborated with peers and their teacher through technology to enhance their writing.

By the time the end of the day came, I felt like I had been holding my breath all day long.  It never seems like there is enough time to cover what needs to be done.  Tomorrow brings us to Narrative reading.

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!