Monday, September 1, 2014

Falling in Love With Close Reading (Giveaway!)

Trust me when I need to read to the end of this post in order to check out this giveaway! :)

But first...

My 8th grade students are still working through the Walt Whitman Introductory unit, and I'm loving the results! I showed you last week how we started off close reading together "O Me! O Life!" and created the keys to use for Close Reading.

These are available now at TpT!

Here is how the second day of modeling in class looked, where we finished up Plot, Setting, Connections, and Theme.

Notice how even comments like "World War Z" get written down, because it's their connection. The student said that the crammed cities and towns reminded him of that movie, so if they can explain it, and it helps them connect to the text, we should write it down. Their homework Tuesday night was to go home and close read "O Captain! My Captain!" on their own. Now- almost EVERY student did this, and those that didn't had started but didn't finish. I was pretty impressed. Out of my 40+ students I only had 3 No Assignment Forms turned in for this one. 

I told students they did not have to write down the key this time (box in corner) because we had just written it on the previous pages. Some kids used it, and others didn't. I like the way they are using a lot of color this year to identify, and writing more in the margin than they did in the past.
This student is very neat and precise with close reading, and did choose to write in the key for the second piece they did by themselves. I was most impressed with their identification of plot within a poem for both pieces. When I asked, where is the point in "O Me! O Life!" where something happens that can never "unhappen" they said, "The answer! Once you know an answer, you can't un-know it."
More examples...
-I don't know what "facts" are doing in a fiction close reading, but this is why we model. I like that this student felt it was important to identify information about the story as "facts".
More examples following (they all wanted me to take a picture of theirs, so I can't not put them in this post! Plus, they were all good!)

After we checked in the close reading, we moved on to the next page in their ISN to review Types of Questions from last year. This is something in our Pearson book that I loved!
We discussed how, as the questions continue, they get progressively more difficult. 

#1 questions are "easy" questions that they can find just by looking at the text or inferencing. 
Example Question: "Who is one of the main characters in The Little Prince?" Students said "The Little Prince" even if they hadn't read it, because they could inference that he was probably one of the main characters. 

#2 questions are also fairly easy, but we look at the outline of the poem and how it's written rather than what is written.
Example Question 1: "What form of poetry does Dr. Seuss usually use for writing?" Answer: Rhyming.
Example Question 2: "What form of meter does Shakespeare utilize in writing?" Answer: Iambic Pentameter.

#3 questions are like our Shared Inquiry questions. They require evidence from the text, and support for the evidence. There can be multiple answers, or the answer requires more thought.

Example Question: Which theme is most prevalent in the novel Night?

Once this was done, I assigned partners and students had to write two questions for each type with their partner. We finished this in about 20-25 minutes with me walking around and helping. Students had to use BOTH poems in their #3 question. For their other questions, they each had to be about one of the poems, and they couldn't be the same question. They also did not need to answer their own questions.

I loved seeing their process as they went through this, remembering from last year how they formulated these questions.

When they finished, we shared our #3 questions and decided which ones we liked best. This was a moment of truth for me, because I always formulate shared inquiry questions ahead of time, and I was relying on them coming up with awesome questions. They did not disappoint! Check out what their questions ended up being and you be the judge!

My first group of the day:
Group #1: Which of the two poems has a meaning that is more relevant to modern society?

Group #2: Based on the two poems, what can you infer about Walt Whitman’s general outlook on life?

Second group of the day:
Group #1: Identify the theme of each poem. How are the themes of each poem alike and different?

Group #2: What events in modern history would influence Walt Whitman if he was alive and writing today? What tone does Walt Whitman use in both poems, and would he still have the same tone to his poetry today?

Students started prepping for their shared inquiry, and will get two days in class this time. Then each group will have a class period to discuss, while the other group does the close reading for non-fiction. honor of my love of close reading AND fall, I'm doing a giveaway!!

The winner will receive a $10 Starbucks gift card, my favorite new fall candle "Pumpkin Pie Diner" by Glade, a copy of Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, and a travel mug!
*I was not reimbursed or compensated for these prizes, I just wanted to share my fall faves with you! :)

Here's how to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ends Thursday, Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Working with Word Within the Word

I'm not sure how many people that read this are familiar with WWTW, but WWTW is short for Word Within the Word, a study of morphemes by Michael Clay Thompson. It is a study of Greek and Latin roots, and in my opinion, a great way for students to identify and define vocabulary. I have seen programs that have better activities accessible within the actual book, and that it my main issue with this program, it is not user friendly. I have found that the activities in the book are good for in class work, but nothing that was really challenging or helpful in terms of utilizing the stems in writing. That's my other problem with canned vocabulary and morpheme programs, they focus on memorization rather than implementation. 

I find a lot of my students cram and dump the information as soon as the test is over, and I want them to see the value in the words. I personally always share with students how valuable knowing stems has been for me. A great example I shared with them was when I had to take the Miller Analogies Test to get into graduate school, which is exactly what it sounds like, a test with nothing but analogies. If it hadn't been for my knowledge of morphemes, I wouldn't have been able to define and determine the relationship between the words without it! 

Here's how I do an example with them:
Complete the following analogy: acropolis : port city :: skyscraper :  Sears Tower/edifice/hut
First, can you tell me what an acropolis is? *answers vary, mostly "no"
Well, let's break it down. 
What does acro- mean? *high
What does -polis mean? *city
So it literally means, high city.
What is a port? *something by the sea?

Ok, so what is the relationship between these two words? They are antonyms. So what would an antonym of skyscraper be? *hut

Would you have gotten that answer correct if you didn't know what acro- and -polis meant? (I rest my case.)

So to make it a bit more *fun* for students, since they had a bit of a negative attitude about WWTW, I had them create folders in class on Thursday. I have a lot of extra manila folders hanging around from the great purge of May 2013. Students spent time decorating and making the folders their own, and then we went into the lesson. I asked them, "Why are we 'wasting time' decorating folders?" and they were able to answer pretty quickly, "Because we are doing this all year, and it should be our own." -thank you previous teachers, for teaching them the value in ownership of work ~mwah!

In the past I have always required students to do notecards. I don't know why, except that I always had to make notecards, and felt that this particular form of torture and paper cuts should be passed down to future generations. Just kidding, I actually love notecards, but in middle school, one or two (or half) always seem to get lost, end up in the hallway, or wedged inside their lockers somewhere. 

So I created this little stem sheet, and thought it would be great if students kept all of them in their folders, that way they would have easy access to all of them in the room for writing assignments. My goal is to tell them on every writing assignment that they need to utilize at least TEN *I'm mean stems in their writing. Some students still wanted to do notecards, so I asked them to bring in a ziploc bag that we could staple in to the folder, that way the cards would stay in there and not get lost. I will not deny a student the opportunity to learn something in a way that is best for them. Most opted to do the handout. Some started the notecards and decided halfway through that they would rather do the handout. We'll see how many of them switch over in the next month or so.

Students are required to write the stem, definition, three examples, and a sentence using one of the examples. If they don't know the meaning of one of the example words, they need to look it up in the dictionary in order to use it correctly in the sentence. I think the sentence is important, because it means they are writing it and connecting the meaning of the word/stem to make sense in the sentence. Of course I color coded mine because...why not? It's pretty.
I put in extra spaces on purpose so that if we are going to review any stems from the previous lesson we can add them there. My thinking is that if they have stems they missed on the test, they should add them at the bottom of the sheet. 
Here's a student decorating her folder. 

I'm still trying to think of different ways to have students study morphemes that are new and different for them. I think this is a good start, but I'll for sure be posting as we use more strategies! I also used to have students use Quizlet, but I'm testing out Study Blue, and I think I like it, I'll get the verdict from students on Tuesday! Happy Labor day, I still have a few more posts in me for this long weekend!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Open House 2014

Did you think I fell off the wagon already? Not so! I have four drafts ready to go, so brace yourselves for some more posts on WWTW, Close Reading, and Genius Hour this weekend!

So, the stations worked out pretty well I think at Open House, even though it was a bit messy for me. I like controlled situations, so having people milling around like a party was kind of disconcerting, and I was worried I didn't get to talk to everyone that I wanted to. I'm not sure if I'll do it again next year, so I'll have to rethink this a bit to make it more organized for my taste!

In addition to stations, I put out examples of 7th grade activities for parents to see...

and 8th grade activities...

7th grade projects...

and 8th Grade Projects...

I also set out Writer's Notebooks and ISN's from the previous year for parents to peruse. They really seemed to enjoy reading their children's thoughts and "100 Things" they love!

Here's how the room looked.

The giving tree was a bit hidden, so not a lot of "bites" on the apples. See what I did there? :)

What did you do for Open House/Back to School Night? This is a great night, but also very stressful for me, I'm better talking to kids I think!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Prepping for Open House

This year I am trying stations for the first time at Open House! I am very nervous about it, since I've seen it done with elementary schools, but not a lot at middle school. I'm also not sure how many minutes we have with each class, so I don't know if people will get through them all in time!

First they will sign-in (I have the sign in sheet and the "Involve-Mint" sign in a package with my parent questionnaire on TpT for free- grab it here)

This is from last year

Today I had students label a manila folder with their first and last name, and pick up the following handouts:

Scholastic Book Order Information
Interactive Student Notebook Information
Grading Information
Parent Questionnaire
Student Technology Sheet

I will have this by their "cubbies" where parents can take a look at the ISN's, and I'm going to place some projects and activities that we have done in the past on the table nearby.

This is where they have to go to various parts of the room to find their child's Six-Word Memoir, hopefully we will have enough time at this point!

 I purchased the Giving Tree handouts from Ms. W at Tales of Teaching in Heels, and loved them, but decided to put a little twist on it. I drew the giving tree and little boy on my whiteboard, and then found some apple post-its I had hiding in a drawer. I put things like glue, index cards, post-it notes, markers, etc.. on them. I hope it doesn't come off as tacky, (does it?) but most things are fairly cheap on there, and I don't want anyone to feel obligated to take it! I am definitely using the adorable thank you notes that came in the download, I love them!

Ok- I'm sneaking in a little close reading to this post (just a little)...

Today we made our keys that we will use all year for close reading. This was a fun process with one small hiccup. My 2nd period class made the key, but I have two 8th grade classes and only one ISN. So my fifth period class didn't get to create the key as much as review it, which didn't give them as much ownership. I think it still went ok, but I wanted both classes to be consistent.

I will be making these into .pdf posters tonight and will get them uploaded soon to TpT!
**I'm putting them in below!

Close Reading Non-Fiction Key

Close Reading Fiction Key

We didn't get as far as I wanted with the close reading because we were also doing the open house, but we'll catch up tomorrow! The top is 2nd period, and the bottom is 5th period.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Genius Hour Kick-Off

So last week, my students played around with their Weebly pages, and had to create a header, a new blog page, and their first blog post. Their prompt for their first post was "I chose to take Genius Hour because..." Their responses were amazing! Many of them talked about "filling the gaps" for high school in terms of learning research skills, and many expressed their desire to work independently about what they were interested in, rather than a set curriculum. I am so looking forward to this class, and they seem to be as well!

We only have 38 minutes on Mondays, so I decided that I will use this day to teach technology tools, research mini-lessons, or activities like what we did today.

Today, I started class with this video:
This was great to introduce them to the idea of Genius Hour. They also loved how someone was drawing as it went along (those are my favorite videos, too!) When I asked them how many of them wanted to work at Google now, almost every hand went up in the air!

Then I shared this video, which was done by a student who was presenting his findings from his Genius Hour experience:

This video was awesome, because it led to a discussion about what failure is. Then, before we did our activity, we watched this video:

Needless to say, they were pretty amazed by this kid. I started off by saying, "We just talked about failures and how they are ok. Let's look at an example of a great success."

Next, I had students get out a piece of paper and write Failure and Genius. They had to define both of these by writing down as many things as they could for each. Many students had gotten the idea that failure is an opportunity to succeed again. I used an analogy of playing games on the computer or any console. I told them how I'm addicted to Candy Crush, and when I lose I don't just give up, but I go back with zeal, and I believe that I will CRUSH that candy this time and win. And sometimes, when I do win and I celebrate, Bella is the only one around. I don't need to have anyone else pat me on the back though because I know I accomplished something great. *The addiction is real, people. Bella has an account so she can give me lives when I run out. I need an intervention.

All in all, I'm really looking forward to brainstorming with them this week about their projects. We will hopefully get to the point where they are filling out a project proposal by the end of the week, and then it's off to the races!

I'm also toying with the idea of putting the project proposal in a Google form, that way it's all in one place, but I'm not sure yet. Thoughts?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Classroom Through the Years...and the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Today's post will be a photo tour of my classrooms through the years!


My first two years at my school, I taught Drama as an exploratory class to grades 6-8. My classroom was the actual stage, which you can imagine was terrible in terms of sound. I was always having to shout to be heard because the school was fairly new and the ceiling wasn't insulated yet. If it rained, the roof was metal, so you could hear absolutely NOTHING! It was a difficult room to decorate, and there were no bulletin boards. It was hard to find pictures from this time, and it definitely speaks to how young I was! Also- there are no windows in this room, so the color is very muted and dim. This wasn't my camera, it was like this all the time!

Almost everything in this picture I bought at The Chalkboard

Very exciting wall (sarcasm)

 I had the cubbies, and tried to decorate as best I could at the time
 The good old futon (that is my best set piece I've ever had for drama. It has been a bed or a couch in almost every year in a show). You can also see my blue chair back in it's better days. It was unfortunately put out to pasture this year.
There was a hallway and stairs that students had to come in from the door. This was a nightmare if students were late, because it was locked, and I couldn't hear them.


I can't find a single picture from my first year in my classroom, which is surprising (since I apparently like to photograph everything).

2010-2011 baby classroom library :)

This is back when I was hypersensitive about checklists! Students had to check in on a clipboard when they were late, check out on another clipboard when they went out of the room. Wow. I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

I remember feeling guilty that I bought these posters and didn't use them!

The beginnings of my "comfy" classroom vibe. That Marilyn poster will be with me forever!

Another view of the classroom library


 I notice a few things about myself from these photos: I wanted it to look great, but I didn't have a clear vision. I also wasn't seeing past the typical or looking outside the box. It was more like, put classroom rules here, hang obligatory poster there, etc...

 This is the year I went crazy at our local libraries used book sale and bought pretty much everything!
I believe this was the last year for that table. The legs had pretty much collapsed in on themselves by the end of the year.
My inner control freak calmed down to let my students make a classroom library rules sign. :)

 The beginning of personalized labels and bins! :)

 Sometimes things just work. That painting, done by a student in 2010, will never not be in my room. I love it!
 Mega Desk (have you seen The Office?)

Yeah, those bins didn't work out. Good effort, though, haha :)

This was my third year in the room, and I was starting to "pack" it in more and more each year. Student projects were overflowing from the top of the shelves, and behind the boards they were packed full!


Ahh, yes...2012-2013, the year of the Owls...

Running Owl Count: 1 (that's not so bad)

 Running Owl Count: 64 (just kidding, and yes, I counted all the ones on the border)
 Running Owl Count: 65

 I still love how clean and neat the front of this room looks!

Running Owl Count: 66

Running Owl Count: 68 + 20 for the rest of the groups

Running Owl Count: 90 + all the ones hanging from the ceiling and peeking out around corners?? 

Classroom reading area

I'm tired of counting owls, lol. And who could forget these??
which now totally remind me of:
from one of my fave movies, Labyrinth!


I'm sharing a link to last year's classroom tour for this one, as there were a lot of pictures, and I already had it organized. Also, if you already follow this blog, you've probably seen them all already!


And this year. I've already shown you lots of pictures, but I'll go in order and try to give some details for everyone. 

Classroom library and reading area. Pillows made with fabric from Hobby Lobby. Hanging lights from Target (Room Essentials) Throw, green lamp, and carpet from IKEA. Other lamp from Target.

Agenda boards and Jeff Anderson "Invitation" board. Made with wrapping paper from Target. The right board at the bottom will have a running list of what we have learned during the year.

Bins, tablecloth, and file folders on wall from target. Organizer on bottom from IKEA. Classroom rules sign stenciled by me.

Desk, chair, and stools in corner from IKEA. Clipboard, tray, acrylic box, and calendar from Erin Condren. Supply box from Home Depot, mod podged. Large clothespins from Michaels.

Chair covered with fabric from Hobby Lobby. Easel from IKEA. Tables were props from High School Musical, painted blue. 

Signs made on computer and glued on to cardstock from Michaels.

Large post-its from Target and Office Depot.

My classroom has changed into one that is more student-centered throughout the years. I carved out space specifically for student learning and enjoyment. They have a dedicated space to find materials, store their own materials, browse and read books, and a clutter free space for learning and working collaboratively. I have slowly made my teacher area smaller, and more functional so that it is primarily for working when students are not in the classroom. This takes the focus off of me as the teacher, and gives it to the students. My overall goal is to make my our classroom inviting, warm, and functional.

The bulletin boards are also student centered, and require input from them in order to be complete. They are also works in progress. The students will change and add to them as the year goes on so that it reflects what they are currently learning. While I love decorating, I wanted it to be functional rather than strictly decorative. This has definitely been a learning experience over the past eight years, and I feel confident about where it is at now, but I'm sure it will evolve and change in the future as well. 

I hope you enjoyed this classroom through the years tour! 

Also- I took the Ice Bucket challenge. Head on over to my Facebook page to check it out and see who I nominated! I donated to Team McLaren for the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon benefiting Project ALS.