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!

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Welcome Back

Well, my summer break was officially over this past week as I trudged through my mornings with my coffee in hand trying to fall back into a routine that will be a part of my daily life starting Tuesday.  To those teachers and administrators that have been back for awhile, I hope all is going well. Welcome back everyone!

It has been a busy summer and one of the best I have had since going through the summer writing institute in 2010. With that being said, I went back to school Monday with an open mind and an understanding that things were going to be different again. It seems over the past 5 years that I have been teaching at the middle school level, there has been some type of change; whether it has been teaching assignments, new staff, or even new administrators. The week was interesting, but also very trying.

I applaud my principal for keeping an open mind to the use of technology in the classroom. We had a two hour segment titled 21st century learning and there were three staff members who presented, including myself.  My principal wanted us to share what we were doing in our classroom to engage today’s learner.  Three different digital tools were presented to the staff:

  1. Moodle
  2. Celly
  3. Schoology

I of course being the big Celly user introduced this to my colleagues.

The middle school science teacher discussed Moodle, which I do not use and do not really care for.  I find it difficult to navigate and not very user friendly for the students.

Finally, one of our high school language arts teachers showed Schoology. All 7th-11th graders will be using Schoology this year as a way to communicate, get access to assignments, and collaborate. Parents can even see what is happening in class.

One of the bigger issues at the helm was student growth.  Our beloved politicians in my state want teachers to be able prove they are doing their job by displaying there was student growth.  What is this supposed to look like?  Well, that is superb question.  One way our principal wants us to show student growth is by giving a pre and post test.  In addition, we were to discuss other ways within our departments how we could potentially show student growth.  The language arts department discussed writing portfolios and the possibilities digital portfolios bring.  With students from grades 7-11 using Schoology, it would be easy to pass their digital portfolios from year to year.  Schoology syncs well with Google Docs, so students can create folders within Google docs and put their writing samples in it.  The more important question is what is the definition of student growth? If a student scores one more right on the post-test than what they did on the pre-test, is that considered student growth? What is classified as being proficient? 75%. 80%. It was a conversation that quite frankly literally gave me a headache.

I deem myself as a hard working teacher and I know my students get better by the end of the year, but what truly is an accurate way to measure student growth.  I am curious if there is anyone who has suggestions.

I am blessed to have a job and I love being a teacher. I know I will have another successful year based on the mere fact I will engage my students each and every day.  I want my students begging me to keep reading and writing.  That is my measure for student growth.

Keep reading and spread the word.  I want to write everyday during the school year.  I want to use it as a reflective time to help me form my thoughts for the book I am working on.

Cheers!