Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.


Ready or Not, Here We Read

WOW! It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Now that the book is written and the school year is under way, it is time for me to get back into writing my blog and sharing what is going on in my classroom with my students.

So this past summer I “assigned” reading to my students and I feel that I may have failed my students as their teacher. Yes, I said it, I FAILED my students.  My intent was not turn them off to reading, it was to help with the Summer slump that can occur with our students when they don’t engage their brains at some point. I have a hard enough time motivating my middle school students to read now. Though I see more positive in the last two years, than I ever have.

I asked my students to pick one chapter book to read and to find one non-fiction article to read.  In addition, I gave them a short writing assignment to help me see that they actually did do the reading.

I am really trying hard to become a better reading teacher and I thought this would be something that could help them.  I even celebrated our reading we did over the summer with a treat trying to make it a big deal that we read. In addition, I held drawings for our students to get free books that I bought out of my pocket.

I wasn’t feeling the excitement from my students and there is only so much dancing and singing I can do about books before my middle school students look at me really funny.  Regardless, I still give them that excitement every day! At this point, I want to know where do middle school students lose their interest in reading.  What experiences are they having to turn them off to reading?  I had them take a small survey and here is what I found.

1. Most students couldn’t recall a time where they were “turned off” to reading.

2. My students are more resistant to reading when they are “forced” to read something.

3. Students want choice (I knew this already, but it was still nice to see).

4. Students feel they don’t have time to read when they are in middle school.

So, I am left thinking that I killed my students with “making” them read over the summer.  In addition, how do I get middle school students to realize they do have time to read? I need to do something different, or do more.  Any feedback would be great! Whatever it may be, I am not going to give up on my students.

Cheers!

 


Getting a Grasp on Good Readers and Writers

It has been busy the last few school days of school. I feel as if I am wasting time at certain moments, but I know what I am doing only paves the way for the rest of the year. As I sit here in my local library, escaping the hustle and bustle at my house, it occurs to me that within the first few weeks of school, I still do not have a clearly painted picture of my students as readers and writers.

Thursday was great with my middle schoolers! I felt very accomplished with both 7th and 8th graders.  The 7th graders continued their brainstorming and pre-writing with completing their wordles about their beliefs.  It was an interesting start to the morning when students were having difficulty with the website freezing up from time to time and they had to start over.  Then, the printer was having issues with the ink cartridge and I had to have that replaced.  Needless to say, I was off to a rough start with the 1st hour of the day. As wonderful as technology may be at certain times, it still can cause major issues with completing your lessons you may have for the day. The students completed their wordles and handed them into the homework tray. As part of the brainstorming process for their “This I Believe” essays, I gave them a grade on their wordle.  Next, I gave the students an experience survey as a pre-reading activity for the novel we are going to start on Monday or Tuesday, depending on time.   The 7th graders are going to be reading The Acorn People by Ron Jones. In my opinion, it is a very compelling tale about a young man right out of college who learns to look past people’s differences and see people for who they really are and as a result the campers are allowed to be themselves. Below is the survey I gave to my 7th graders.  I posted it on Schoology for them to start the discussion.

  • Pick at least two questions to answer for discussion. Please use QIS and explain with detail. Respond to at least two classmates.Have you ever…

    1. Been faced with a challenge that seemed not only unpleasant – but impossible?

    2. Felt uncomfortable around someone very different from you?

    3. Felt uncomfortable around a physically or mentally handicapped individual?

    4. Felt adults underestimated your abilities?

    5. Met someone who stayed positive no matter what?

If anyone is curious about what QIS is, it stands for Question Inclusive Statement. I am a huge fan of my students writing in complete sentences that includes part of the question. This survey acts as a springboard for our discussion prior to the novel.  The students are already doing an excellent job of discussing the questions on Schoology.  In addition, we will also have another discussion about disabilities.  I am thinking I may have the students do a short 2 minute video using a webcam describing what they think are their disabilities might be.

In terms of technology, the 7th graders have been fully submerged.  Friday I finally was able to send home the Gmail/Google Drive letter to gain parents permission for 7th graders to create a Gmail account.  If you would like to see the letter I sent home, just email me.

The 8th grader have spent more time writing this past Thursday and Friday.  Seeing how the 8th graders already had a Gmail set up from last year, we took some time and I showed them how to set up a folder on Google Drive to start their digital portfolio.  When they were done setting up their folder, I had them put their 6 word memoir and their 140 character Twitter memoir in their digital portfolios. When they completed adding work to their portfolio, I had the students try something I have not tried for a very long time.  The 8th graders completed their first reading assessment on a short story we read earlier in the week.  On Schoology, in the discussion section, I asked the students to take an event from the story “The Osage Orange Tree” and I asked them to write the event from the antagonists point of view. As readers we only saw the story from the narrators prospective. I wanted the students to write the event from that other point of view and ask themselves if the story changed at all.  I want my students to understand how the outcome of the story could be completely different if told from another characters point of view.  We actually spent some time talking about how The Hunger Games could be an entirely different story if it were told from Haymitch’s point of view.  The students of course laughed and I think they got what I was trying to say.  Upon reading their responses, most students did a great job and I started see some creativity pop out in some of their writing.  Others, still struggled with the idea and what I was trying to get them to do.

These first few weeks have been used to get a lot of technology and digital tools up and running. On the other hand, both 7th and 8th grade have already read a shorts story and completed 2-3 writing tasks.  Even though the students have been busy, I still don’t feel I have a grasp on what type of reading and writing skills they have.  I am referring more to the 7th graders of course, because I had the 8th graders all ready last year.  Next week I do plan on sitting down and talking with each of the 7th graders to discuss what their strengths and weaknesses are as readers and writers.

As I prepare for next week, I am looking forward to starting both grades novels and their bigger writing assignments.

Cheers!


Listening Skills and Article of the Week

7th GRADE

As we continue our narrative unit in class, I added something new today with the 7th graders.  I typically spend 2-3 days on a short story.  I use our literature book for the short stories and poems as a prelude to reading a larger work such as a novel.  The 7th graders already read “The Fan Club” as homework at the end of last week.  Today, I wanted to have the 7th graders practice their listening skills and, as a teacher, I feel it was important to cater to my auditory learners.  So, the students opened their books, I plugged the CD into the computer and they listened away.  I did require them to follow along in their books and gave them a few focus questions so they were listening and reading for a purpose.  Afterword, we discussed the story a bit more an moved on to a writing handout I had for them.  When I decided to do this particular activity for the 7th graders, I assumed with my knowledge of the CCSS, listening to the story covered a speaking & listening standard. Though it may be a stretch, I believe I have covered standard SL.7.2.

  • Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.

I really like this excerpt about new technologies and the CCSS.

  • New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. The Internet has accelerated the speed at which connections between speaking, listening, reading, and writing can be made, requiring that students be ready to use these modalities nearly simultaneously. Technology itself is changing quickly, creating a new urgency for students to be adaptable in response to change ( Information taken from the mastery connect website about the CCSS).

8th GRADE

Today I went through some guided practice with Article of the Week for my 8th graders.  Last year I tried to introduce article of the week, something I found from reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readacide. It flopped last year, not because of what the students did, but because I failed to follow through and assign it.  It won’t happen this year.  I am also more organized by providing a guide to the students to use when they are doing article of the week (I can direct anyone to sites where teachers have created guides or if you want my guide, let me know). I reminded my 8th graders the importance of reading informational text and stepping outside of their bubble.  In class we went over the guide to completing article of the week and then I had the students read the article once without doing anything but read.  Then, I had them decode the text and make notes in the margin so they demonstrated closer reading.  In the end the students will need to write about the article.  For example, they need to give me a brief summary, who was the intended audience, what was the author’s purpose, and what was their opinion about the article.  I give the students one week to complete the article and I try to return it within a couple of days.  I told the students I will post the articles for them to retrieve on Schoology.  If students can not get access to the article, I can print it off for them.  I also have the guidelines posted to the site as well. You can get articles on Kelly Gallagher’s resource page. With the students doing article of the week I am covering the following standards:

  • RIT.8.6 –  Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.
  • RIT.8.2 – Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RIT.8.3 – Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

Tomorrow I am introducing my 8th graders to Youth Voices. In addition, my 7th graders are doing their Wordles and I need to start getting student’s Gmail up and running for the use of Google Drive.

Cheers!

 


So Much to do, so Little Time

The first week of school is over and it has gone by extremely fast.  Friday was nothing but a blur.  I am very grateful we decided to change our homebase from 40 minutes each day to 18 minutes every other day.  This has allowed us to add approximately 3-4 minutes to our core classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  With three sections of 7th and 8th grade I still feel, however, I need more time in each of my hours.  I now have about 53 minutes for each class.

After our evacuation drill and pictures causing my 3rd hour 7th grade class to get behind and the unscheduled shutdown of the Schoology website causing my 5th hour 8th grade class to fall behind, Friday was a bit of a catch up day. To be honest, it allowed me to catch my breath.  Remember, as wonderful as it is to integrate mobile devices and digital tools into your classroom, it is important to stand back and observe what is happening with your students, good or bad, and to make sure the digital tool you are using is enhancing your lesson, unit, or classroom the way you want it.  Trying to do too much will not only overwhelm students, but it will overwhelm you. As of Friday, the only major set-back I dealt with were the 7th and 8th graders who could not log-in to a laptop because the server or the computer was not accepting their username and password.  The problem should be resolved next week.

On Friday, students finished up 6 word memoirs for both 7th and 8th grade. 8th graders moved forward and we had very good discussions about “The Osage Orange Tree” by William Stafford. The students were assigned to read the short story for homework and in addition, they were asked to do some very minor research about what an Osage Orange is and if the orange itself or the tree has any valuable use. Prior to the students leaving class Thursday with their homework we discussed the different ways they could quickly access the answers to my questions.  Besides accessing the internet, the students said they could find information from:

  • Ask teacher (besides me), parent, relative, etc.
  • Ask a neighbor
  • Go to the school library or local library really quick
  • Look in a school science book

Needless to say I was impressed with their responses and I was even more impressed with their answers when they came back on Friday.  They even taught me a few things that I didn’t know. Yes, my students did some research during a narrative unit.  When my 8th graders started class on Friday I wanted to do a quick check on whether they did their reading.  So, I had the students post 3 questions on Celly.  Students who did not have a cell phone wrote in their journals or could post to Schoology.  With the students having plenty of choices on how to complete the task, they went to work.  After they were finished composing their questions I asked them to try to respond to two of their classmates.  In some groups they had to respond to three students.  The students did an excellent job of responding to each other and we had a very vibrant discussion at the conclusion of class.  Students were then assigned vocabulary homework and I demonstrated to them the use of dictionary.com and showed them the app you can download on an Ipad or smart phone.  Overall, it was a very productive day.

I left my 7th and 8th grade with a few nuggets of information before each of them left for their next class.  I told them we would be going at a very quick pace.  However, I was not going to neglect the fact they needed to know the curriculum presented and taught to them.  I asked them to come and talk to me if at anytime they felt they were drowning and couldn’t tread water anymore.  I think I may see a few students stopping in after school.

Next week we look grammar, This I believe essays, and twitter memoirs.

Below are the CCSS I used on Friday.  Mostly with my 8th graders.

  1. RL.8.2 –  Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  2. RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
  3. W.8.8 – Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (partially).

 

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!


I got My Middle Schoolers to Like Reading and Lived to Tell About it!

It’s almost May, we are all wrapping up the end of the school year and for some of us, we are already dreaming about the summer days on the beach with a margarita in hand. For this teacher, I am getting increasingly sad as the days go by.

This year has been by far my most successful year when it has come to reading and writing. I have more students reading on their own. Furthermore, I see them having conversations about books without me prompting them. I am not a magician, but boy do I have a lot of students reading on their own this year and they are always wanting to talk about books. Though I am going to share insights into my classroom and some of the ideas I use in my classroom, it may not work for all.

1. Oral read to your middle school students. The idea was introduced to me this past fall during a professional development session I attended on Twitter called #titletalk. Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp co-lead the PD on the last Sunday of each month. I chose to read The Hunger Games to my students and I had countless students check out my copies of the 2nd and 3rd book, not to mention I had countless students order the books through Scholastic. They could not get enough and we had multiple conversations about the books. I even witnessed students talking about it at lunch.

2. Bring in authors. As my 7th graders finished up the myth and legends unit, I was able to bring in a Michigan author by the name of Frank Holes Jr. He talked to the students about the dogman myth and legend that exist here in Michigan and how he was inspired as a writer. It gave the students a unique opportunity to ask an author why he writes. Using a Michigan author helped keep costs down for my school. If costs are a concern, consult your student council leader for help, your librarian, and your principal. Boxtops for Education could potentially help too. I strongly believe this also showed my students that writers are real people instead of individuals who are untouchable.

3. Visit your school library. Early on I coordinated with my librarian for my middle school students to visit the library every two weeks. As the school year progressed, we have not visited it as often, but I still have students who request to go to the library to check out books. In addition, my librarian has done an excellent job of asking staff members, especially the language arts teachers, to give her book suggestions. She has taken our suggestions and put more books on the shelves for the students.

4. Read with your students. Every Monday we have designated time for our students to do silent reading and I make it a point to read with them. As teachers, we can’t preach to our students, especially middle schoolers, to read and not model it ourselves.

I could list a ton of other strategies for teachers to use. In addition to the four strategies I have listed, I am a firm believer in giving enough choices to both boys and girls in your classroom to be successful. More importantly, having a lot of choices when it comes to books is detrimental to their success.

Cheers!