Saturday, December 21, 2013

What are YOU reading?

Here are some of the free choice independent reading books
 from my class of 27 (23 are boys).
We hope that you are enjoying some lit-tra-ture over the holidays too.
Visit the public libraries, but don't forget local thrift stores.
Sometimes you can walk out with a winner for 50 cents!

Friday, December 20, 2013


It's the last 45 minutes of the last class before holiday break!   
May I recommend some colored pencils and mandalas?

That is all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

You Might Be a Writer

I keep "mission control" at the back of the classroom near a window.   The inside walls of my room are gray, so's the carpet.   Even the sky's been gray this week.   That's what made this writing opportunity just about perfect.

I was at my desk and some kids were nearby turning in papers and chatting.   At the exact moment I turned towards the window, a huge black bird swooped down from the gray sky, showing off a serious wingspan before landing just feet below.   My eyes widened at the sight, and I snapped my head around to see if anyone else had noticed. 

Yes.   I turned to see a male student with eyes as wide as mine.   "A bird!" he exclaimed.   Then he went to his bookbag and pulled out his second quarter two-sentence journal assignment.

At that moment I got another rush on top of the bird sighting.   I just saw one of my students become a writer.   He's been working at it for a while; his writing is improving exponentially.   I hadn't yet seen everything gel in a way that let me know that he could fly on his own.   

Swoop.   There it was!   

For second quarter, I gave my writers a list of 20 people, places and things to observe over the course of the nine weeks.   They were to "write hot" and not rely on memories alone.   (Yes, I know.   Some of my kids are going to fake every last one of those 20 two-sentence entries.   But some of them won't.   And magic will happen.)

Here's the list: 

four legged friend
mode of transportation
something unusual
something electric
child under 5
high school student
adult over 40
parking lot
inside a library or bookstore
grocery store
inside a closet or wardrobe
view through a window
inside a drawer

So what did he write?   
Here's E.S.'s two-sentence observational journal about a bird: 

"The black feathery beast glided from the roof.   
It realized there was no food and continued on its search." 

Here's the encore for tonight. Just because.

Capers, Part 1

You may remember when  I saw how to make a simple superhero cape on Pinterest last year.   All it takes is an old t-shirt and a pair of fabric scissors.   You can fancy it up, but that's optional.

SCA never took me up on a spirit day for cape wearers, so I forgot about it for a while.   This year I floated the idea by one of my classrooms full of dreamers and musicians.   Yes.   They were in agreement that we must create a reason to make and wear these capes.

Before I go any further, this has nothing to do with 
my curriculum or state testing.   Nothing.   
And it's not for a grade.

A finished no-sew cape. Black T & tape by LG.

We finally came up with the idea those who want to participate would make capes at home and bring in a photograph of us doing something awesome IN OUR CAPES!  

Things That Are Awesome:

taking out the trash
reading to someone else
reading to our pets
riding our bicycles
washing the dishes
playing our instruments
marching in an impromptu parade
singing into a hairbrush
brushing our teeth
brushing our pets' teeth
raking the leaves
baking cookies
vacuuming the house
hugging our grandparents
hanging around on the monkey bars

At the start of school, there were two Nerdfighters amongst us.   One of them was me.   Now that the John Green fan club is growing, we try to remind each other to be awesome.   For each AWESOME photograph that a student brings in, he/she will be rewarded with a priceless green DFTBA pencil.

Never fear.   No one is allowed to jump tall buildings....without a helmet!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Tanner's From

If this post's title sounds familiar, it's probably because you remember an entry from a while back, Where Malik's From.   See the original writing assignment here.

I'm just stopping by to remind all of us that writers bloom throughout the year.   I get a whole lot of flowers in September, but I also get some children who are seeds, bulbs and tubers...and planted at different times.   That's pretty normal in 8th grade.

There's a whole lot of research about boys and language arts instruction, so go ahead and read it.   Don't discount what you know to be true from firsthand experiences either.   There's not one magic key that unlocks a joy of writing for boys.   The young men who are most successful in becoming writers with my style of teaching have these commonalities:

They listen to mini-lessons on writing skills.
They practice these skills in small bits of writing.
They then work these skills into larger pieces of writing.
They welcome feedback.
They recognize that writing is a craft.
They get downright metacognitive about their use of language.
They believe that the world around them is to be examined.
They know that a final draft means edits and revisions, not simply neatness.

Before you think that I am a "my way or the highway" kind of writing teacher, I'd like to say that I don't think that I am.   I can't be certain, but I am pretty sure that if I were reviewing student writing with Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg-- we'd at least recognize and agree upon bad writing when we saw it.'s totally okay to see some bad writing from 8th graders.   I mean, they're 8th graders.   Sheesh.

I center September around some of Laura Robb's mini lessons for writers and Nancie Atwell's lesson on narrative leads.   If I can get kids using specific nouns, strong verbs, a variety of sentence starters, PARAGRAPHS, effective narrative leads and a unified topic...I feel pretty ding dang good about that.

(Pardon my shouting.   I'm still teaching perfectly kind children how to paragraph narratives.   It's December.   It hurts.   My eyes are bleeding from the dreaded BIG, FAT PARAGRAPH.   I might write a song about it.   Never mind.)

Back to Tanner.   He came into class on day one with a strong work ethic, unmatched tenacity, a kind spirit and some sharp writing skills.   Even so, his mom is pretty impressed with his current interest in getting all of his words in the right spots.   I sure do wish I could just let you see all of his various writing work from this year because he's a perfect example of a talented, developing writer who fits all of the qualities I listed above.   

Check this out.   Remember the two-sentence journal assignment I borrowed from a class I took at William and Mary?  Here's one of Tanner's entries, "It's the time of year when the smell of corn chaff and diesel fuel fill the air.  Visibility soon becomes low as the farmer takes the combine for another round."   You better believe I asked his permission to write that gem down for other grasshoppers to see.   It was feng shui perfection on the white board.

Here's where Tanner's from:

I’m from sunglasses in the rearview,
From tie straps and duct tape,
I am from eggs in the nesting box,
(Dry and Warm with a surprise inside)
I’m from orchard grass,
The yellow poplar,
Whose leaves fall every year just for me to collect.

I’m from fishbites and pellet guns,
From Pride and Horton,
I’m from the bluecollars and the hardheads,
From “How ya whole family doin’?”
I’m from “American born and Southern by the grace of God.”

I’m from Genesis and Communion,
3 inch slugs and ram rods,
From the man who died for our sins,
And the 10 commandments.

From the gray uniform stained with blood,
Whose owner long gone from Earth,
Waits patiently in the Promised Land for the ones who honor him most.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Here's something to ponder. 

"The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike
than those who think differently." 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

I found this quotation on Literary Jukebox, a cool site that pairs quotations with songs.   
Follow this link to hear The Beatles sing "Think for Yourself."

You may also want to follow Brain Pickings on Facebook.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

They've Got the Eye of the Tiger

I've mentioned them before, but here they are again! 
It's Mr. B's chorus students for the 2013-2014 school year.  
Magic.  Magic.  Magic!  

Watch and listen as they perform Katy Perry's hit, "Roar."

Thank you, Mr. B, for sharing your classroom with the world!
Don't you feel energized by watching children expressing themselves through song?

You can watch Katy Perry perform her song on Saturday Night Live here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

For those about to write

This year has been tough, but enough about that.

One benefit to our schedule is that my two fourth block classes are smallish.  This means 10-15 students most days.  Today I was enjoying myself so much; it almost felt like summer.  Almost.  We were down to 12 kids today because two of my students were on a band field trip; one was somewhere else.  All eighth graders spent their morning completing three intense timed Explore tests, so I thought I'd go easy on them.

This group loves independent reading time, so I made sure I gave them 20 minutes for that.  During that time I was also to get a child started on the audiobook for Frindle. Sadly the archaic technology of the cassette tape requires 1:1 instruction.  (Other books being read in that room include: the Lunch Lady series, the Vampire Kisses series, the Bone series, the Bluford series, the Wimpy Kid series, the Harry Potter marathon, World War Z, The Dead and the Gone, Cobra Strike, The Running Dream, Twilight, On The Run. The last title is part of, you guessed it, a series! It's Korman's Chasing the Falconers-- a sure sell for reluctant readers who can get bogged down by their reading pace. It's Friday night; I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.) Most children are reading good old-fashioned books.  One is reading on her cell phone.  By the way, if you haven't yet fallen completely in love with helping kids develop an individualized reading life, let the lovely Neil Gaiman  help you with that.

Back when I started this blog I had twice the amount of instructional time with all language arts students.  I've had to cut out some of the activities I enjoy.  On days like these when the children are a little spent or we have several absences, I try to move some of those lessons back in.

Today we created the My Name Is...  poems that I used to do the first week of school.   With only twelve students I was able to keep the art mess to one side of the classroom to make it easier on our custodians.  Students who finished first explained the secret second step of the assignment to their classmates as they were ready to pen their creations.  When they completed their work, we "published" by posting their poems on the magnetic white board with some cheap fridge magnets from Wal-Mart.   After that, I could move students around the room in order to give them other enrichment activities.

Some took Accelerated Reader tests and got new library books before the weekend.  Some played with my deck of I've Never cards.  Students sharpened our classroom supply of pencils.  They cleaned up after themselves and others. They used my school-provided iPad to play Chicktionary. They read their classmates' Six Word Memoirs as well as today's poems.  Two students helped cut apart my circus-sized copy of Chicken Soup with Rice.  (I want to create classroom posters with the pages.)  In short, we all just enjoyed each other.

I know that there is some research that negates class size as a positive variable in student achievement, but maybe it's all about the size of the room.  When I can plug learners in to different spaces with different activities when appropriate, my job is easier, and learning can be individualized.  I miss the days of being able to take my class to the technology lab in our former school building.  There were tables, a whole bank of computers, floor space, traditional desks, AND IT WAS RIGHT ACROSS FROM BATHROOMS AND A WATER FOUNTAIN.  The instructor was so cool about letting me have my class there during his planning period.  Think kindergarten classrooms for teens.

Back to reality...

So after the first student's poem was done, our assistant superintendent dropped by for an unannounced visit.  Stay calm.  It's okay.  It's always fun to see another adult in the room.  With the student's permission, I was able to show him a finished product while explaining what was going on.  He asked a young man what we were doing; the young man was additionally cutting out a snazzy moustache and other oddities while completing his 20 word collection.  I pointed out that wasn't quite what we were doing, but the assistant superintendent did remark that the child was engaged.  True.

Allowing children some time to socialize through appropriate, guided play can foster a love of language.  It helps balance out your classroom climate as well.  The classroom needs to be a place of play and experimentation in order for everyone to stay healthy and energized.  Play can build community.  Please resist allowing kids to plug into their iPods to listen to music while all of this is going on.  Believe me-- they will get all of their daily iPod time in later.  I love music too, but allowing them to detach from the "now" prevents them from connecting with friends through language and listening.  It will also dull their observational skills that you are trying to build for their writing lives.  Please don't let them disengage through isolation.  Besides, it will wreck all your feng shui up one side and down the other.

(It may be a bias that I think personal listening devices are for alone time, cutting the grass, going to sleep and pretending to be busy to avoid talking to strangers on planes.  I like my music loud and shared. \m/ )

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Novelty of Reading

There's something about the novelty of chance that's always appealing, so why not let it work for you?

Remember that Christmas ornament swap game?  It can get downright cutthroat, always a fun scenario around the holidays.

Here's how it goes:

Everyone brings a wrapped ornament and tosses it in a community pile.
Everyone draws a slip of paper with a number.
The person with the number "1" unwraps a gift, shows it off and sits down.
Person 2 may "steal" the ornament that's already unwrapped or pick from the pile.
Person 3 may nab either ornament or pick from the pile.
Any time someone's ornament is taken, the person returns to the pile for a new one.
And so on, and so on, and Scooby dooby doo-bee.

Here's how you can make this work for you:
Get a whole bunch of short high interest books of a similar size.  These could be read in 15ish minutes.
Stuff them in a bag/ box.
Let kids draw numbered slips of paper.
Same idea with the ornaments...but unless you want to wrap all of those books, just let the kids pick from the bag without looking.
The kids show off their book.
Subsequent players may steal or pick something from the bag.

EVERYBODY READS.   Will they complain?   Yeah.  But not for too long.  You've heard worse.

If your school uses the Accelerated Reader program, kids then take an open book test.   Then they want to read another book.

Children can switch titles with a friend or pick something new from the bag, once they are done with their first book.

The key is using high interest books with a visual element. Bigfoot, monster trucks, NASCAR, Disgusting Bugs, Area 51, Bermuda Triangle, ESP, sharks, urban legends, movie monsters, bats, hunting, extreme get the picture.

These books are usually expensive, but they are worth the investment.  A wide sampling of kids love them, and they are an easy way to build cultural literacy and general background knowledge.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


We don't have nap time in 8th grade.   If we did, I would be the first one with my head on the desk, thinking my happy thoughts.  For real.

Will some kids try to nap in your classroom anyway?   Yes.   What should we do?


Why?   They got on the big, yellow bus.   When it dropped them off at school, it wasn't a surprise.   Why would they expect to sleep at school?

Also, how are we going to explain that to parents?   Let's say the child has an F in our class, and we allow them to sleep.   "Hello, Mrs. Jones, Scooter is not doing well in class.   In fact, he sleeps days at a time during third period."

Most likely the parent will wonder why this is being allowed.

When we allow children to sleep during instructional time we are telling them that their contributions are not valued in the classroom community.   We are telling them that we do not value their education.

Does this make our jobs a little harder?   Yes.   It does.

You will most likely meet teachers who allow children to sleep as one of their last ditch desperate attempts at classroom management.   Here's a scenario.  Let's say there's a child who's not being productive in your room.  You've tried all of your tricks, so before calling home you ask her other teachers for ideas or advice.  Seems the teacher of the class that precedes yours lets him zone out and drool on his desk every day.  The teacher tells you this outright.  This means you're batting clean up.  Teens usually don't physically or emotionally transition from REM sleeper to star (or mediocre) student in the flash of a class change.  As an added bonus, you will probably be met with some surly resentment from the child as well.  Mrs. So-and-So lets me sleep.  Why won't YOU?!

The child.  Don't lose that thought.  The child will test you every day, and she may not like you, but that's not what you're here for.  And, after all, she's the child; you're the adult.

What to do?

In the best case scenario, we are working in schools where having students attend class awake is a core value.  If not, hopefully we established it as a core value for our classrooms on day one.  They should know what to expect from us, if they break that rule.

Stand near the child's desk.
Tap on the desk.
Wake the child up.
Ask if he/she needs to go to the nurse.
Ask if he/she needs to stand at the back of the classroom to complete the day's work, so he/she can move around and keep those eyes open.
What about a trip to the water fountain?
How about a S-T-R-E-T-C-H?

If this happens a second time, we speak with the child in the hallway.   We reiterate our expectations for all children, and remind this child that it's disrespectful for us to care so very little about his/her education.  We can certainly ask the child for her side of the story. (I'm verrrrry clear to the child that I am not the babysitter.  If I were, I would demand better pay, tasty snacks, a comfy couch and cable.)  We then contact guidance, administrators, nurses, case managers and/or parents as needed.

If you need support from your colleagues, check the child's current grades.  Is there a class where the student is excelling?  Ask that teacher for ideas, or check the cumulative folder to see last year's teachers.  Maybe they can help.  Usually they can.  After all, they just spent nine+ months with the child.  They have a lot of anecdotal information to share, and their expertise lets you hit the ground running.

Are kids sometimes sleepy for reasons that demand our compassion?  Yes.  More often it's an electrical issue.  You know what I mean.

Here's what we're up against.  We need to help kids know when and how to "unplug" and rest.  More on that on another day.

Back to the other teacher who is letting her sleep.  There's not much you can do with a grown person making his/ her own choices in this matter, unless that teacher is one you are mentoring.  Be kind and reasonable in explaining why alert students are preferable.  Most folks get on board with that.  At this point, it's your administrators responsibility to decide whether or not to request that the teacher change his/ her classroom management approach.

While this issue can usually be resolved by working with the child, sometimes you will need to ask for help at home.

Sometimes this issue is more complex than it first appears, but try the simple approach first.  Set behavior expectations early and follow through on enforcing them.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Writing Process and Projectile Vomiting

Hi there.  You probably know all about projectile vomiting at this point in your life.  If not, YouTube will help you visualize that concept.

Don't you just get all cranky when you give children a writing activity to complete, and some of those whipper snappers think that their ideas flow from their brain to their hand with the speed of an involuntary airborne stream of baby formula?  Makes me want to give those kids thick mittens and nubby crayons to slow down the process.

In all fairness, I sanction the "projectile vomiting approach" to brainstorming or short bursts of timed writings.  It has its place in the writing process, but turning in such impromptu musings for a final product is, how can I put this, nauseating.

Sometimes I ask my students to pretend that their favorite authors are in the room responding to the same prompt.  "Trust me," I say.  "Imaginary Stephen King is still drafting.  He's not even on his final."

I'm not a big fan of quotations.  They make my eyes roll with their pat simplicity in explaining complex matters...unless...they are just so true.  I'm sure I've mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating.   It also bears being stenciled on the wall of every language arts classroom.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult 

than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann

Ain't that the truth?  We didn't go to college to teach Knee-Jerk 101.  That class can teach itsownself!  

Craft your language, people.  If it took me longer to write the prompt on the board than it did for you to write your response, dig back in.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer Vacation Craft: Magnets

Happy summer vacation!  Isn't it relaxing?  Now you have all of this "free" time to notice the way you left your home fall apart during the school year!

I'll bet you can't sit still too long before cleaning the kitchen...again.  Funny how that place never seems to stay straight for long.  Are you wiping down the fridge, the handles, the switch plates, the cabinets and those hard to reach places?

There was some bit of news going around that the number of magnets on your refrigerator is usually indicative of the clutter in your home.  Discuss.

Okay.  Stop.  We're making these magnets for your classroom anyway.

You will need a tube of Liquid Nails, naked magnets, some spare wooden chopsticks and stuff.  By "stuff" I mean the kind of thingamadoodles that you can affix a magnet to.

Thanks to a friend who happened upon an artist's hoard of supplies, I am the proud owner of a mountain of mahjong tiles.  There were a few dominoes thrown in.  AND I found some of those cute wooden alphabet blocks all bagged up at a thrift store.

BEFORE YOU START...Read the instructions on Liquid Nails.   This is for adults. 

Also, I like to have all of my ducks in a row before I open the tube of glue.  Once the goop is flowing, I would prefer to get it all done in one clip.  So spread out your thingamadoodles and unstick your naked magnets.  (These craft store magnets can stick to one another pretty fiercely.)

The chopsticks are to help you mush the glue into the desired location.

I don't know about you, but I can never seem to have enough magnets in my classroom.  If you are not a teacher person and are looking for an inexpensive gift for teachers, I'm sure your homemade crafts would be appreciated.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

No Foolin'

I think all teachers might be guilty of sizing up their kids during the first week of school, sometimes the first day even.  Let's just say on day one there's a child who is already acting up in the classroom.  I mean, he/she knows about first impressions, right?  What in the world?  Have mercy!  Will this child be the death of us before June can get here?  That's a hyperbole, but you know what I mean.

Here's what I know about those kids.  Sometimes those kids are the ones who manage to carve out the deepest spots in your soft teacher heart.  Don't be fooled into giving up on them.

Are you a kind teacher?  I thought you were.  It won't be enough to be kind to the whole class.  You need to speak to these children individually, call them by name.  Often their tiny little knots of anger will start to loosen.  Sometimes praise can embarrass a child, but sometimes these kids ache to hear a kind word.  Don't be afraid to give a sincere compliment for their accomplishments in or outside of your room.  Even if only yesterday dealing with this particular kid made you actually write the countdown to summer "vacation" in your lesson plan book, don't withhold an earned word of praise or thanks.

We all know that life is hard.  As adults we also have learned that we will never really know just how hard it is for others, including our students.  We're also smart enough to know when to take a child's negative behavior personally and when the behavior has nothing to do with us.  We know how to find windows when children seem to have shut doors on the adults in their lives.  When we speak to even the smallest success with a child, that can be powerful.

And when our students (formerly known as angry) realize that we are on their team, they are usually the first ones to pitch in around the classroom or say a kind word to us in order to make our lives easier.   All because we acknowledged them.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Say what?

I need to make it clear that I think that the English folks at Virginia's Department of Education do an excellent job making all kinds of resources available to teachers and students in support of their Standards of Learning Assessments. They also allow teachers to apply to work on the committees that see the tests through just about from start to finish. Every effort is made to construct valid measures of students' abilities to read and write.

But I have to tell you about the practice writing tool that is available on line. It's a stripped down word processing program that children will use to type their essay responses to prompts in March. The tool is user friendly, right down to my favorite feature-- the indent button. You would not believe how many times I have to reteach how to indent a in literally. But that's a different story for a different day.

This entry is all about the spell check feature. This is the first year students may not use paper dictionaries, but they can use a feature that will underline suspicious words in red and offer suggestions, if you left click your mouse. It's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Lissen here, all y'all. That spell check doesn't care for dialect atall. Makes sense, right? I think so, but here's where I got into trouble. I was modeling an essay for my students using the "if I could visit anywhere in the world" prompt. Well, I decided to go back in time and visit with my grandparents at their home. It was a lovely summer night, full of corn shuckin' and sweet tea drinkin', and my grandpa talkin' like my grandpa did.

The words were "git" and "gonna." They look harmless enough, don't they? When I was showing my kids that dialect will most likely be considered a misspelling by the program, and that they should just double check to make sure they are spelling their dialect consistently and purposefully, if needed-- I clicked on the suggested words to prove my point.

Hmmm. One of the recommended words for "git" was "tit." I innocently clicked "gonna" to be rewarded with "gonads." Just so you can picture this, I had set up my projector in order to magnify the program on the screen in the front of the room.

I can't really say I was surprised. I mean, those words are in the dictionary. I just found myself wondering about the essay that would necessitate those words, and the scorer who would undoubtedly need a cold drink after work. And then I pictured a young Hunter S. Thompson sharpening his wit for a standardized test, and my heart got a little warm just thinking about the whole ding-dang lexicon being open to all of our kids.

Graffiti Talk

So...this is similar to chalk talk, but students get to write on their desktops.   It's time to get out your bucket of dry erase markers in a variety of colors.   Hopefully, you've been blessed with student desks that have light colored workspaces.   If the markers aren't visible, it's a no-go.

First, students will need to read text that will allow them to think for a bit.

Then, you will hand out markers.

Ask students to think of a comment, a question, an image and a connection that reflects their interaction with the selection.

Students will write these on their desks.

Next, students will travel around the room with their markers to read others' responses.   They should comment on at least two other desktops.   They can answer the question or add to the illustration.   They can add their own comments or questions.

I tried this out with "The Evil Eye" from Jamestown Publisher's Wild Side:Beyond Belief series.  
Here's how the discussion went in one of my advanced language arts classes:

Some cultures use charms to protect people from the evil eye.

One student has a family member with such a charm.

Black and white marbles, lemons, garlic, spit...all protection from the evil eye.

Students were fascinated with the fact that spit was used to protect a baby from the evil eye, if someone remarked on the baby's beauty without following the compliment with a criticism.

If you do not have a hoard of dry erase markers, make a mental note to watch for the August Back to School sales at Rite Aid and Walgreens.   Often the Sunday newspaper inserts will have coupons for additional savings.   Walgreens usually adds an additional teacher discount in August.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Don't we just love to laugh at ourselves...
as long as we're laughing at animals behaving like humans?   
Fables must have been all the rage at some point in time,
but Aesop seems to have fallen a little out of the mainstream now.

May I also remind you of Toonces?
Here he is in his rebellious phase.
Watch him roll his eyes!

How about some teen angst in French WITH SUBTITLES?

Today's lesson is--
when teens are a little surly and complacent, it's not amusing.
BUT when cats are--
that's a different story.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wonder: A Blog Inside a Blog

Help Readers Love Reading: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Thanks to my own middle skoo pal, Laura, I can share this ^ resource with you.   I have nothing to do with all of the hard work that went into this awesome site.   It's full of clips, links, songs and photos to help children visualize and understand the pop culture references in R.J. Palacio's Wonder.

What's Wonder all about?   Check out this book trailer:

Wonder has a broad appeal, and even though the main character is youngish, my 8th graders are enjoying his story right now.   When we talk about struggling readers, they are often open to a variety of stories, if you will provide the support they need to get through them.

I've been alternating my read-alouds with the book on CD.   So far we've only gotten through two parts, meaning two voices.   I'm not crazy about the voices that we're chosen to narrate, but sometimes my throat needs a break.   Now, I can use the resources this wonderful teacher has assembled to help kids get some of the references that are made in the book, most often by Auggie.   A good reader visualizes without thinking twice.   Others could use a little assistance.

Today we used paint chips to copy September's precept from the book.   Each child wrote on two paint chips.   They will hang one in a public spot.   My friends will help out by hanging the others.

What's September's precept?

"When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." (Dr. Wayne Dyer)

(For the record, I am well aware that I could also use a little personal growth, so I'm keeping one of the less legible tags for myownself.)

Long after I was out of paint chips for our Random Acts of Inspiration, people still wanted to participate, so those folks are at the top of my list this go round.

Isn't it good to be reminded every now and then that we are all wonders of creation?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Groundhog Day...Again

Remember your first year of teaching?  Wasn't ignorance bliss?

Yours, I mean-- not the students'. You taught something once, and they learned the skill. Ahhhhhh.

Wasn't it frustrating to have to teach skills they should have learned in 5th, 6th and 7th grade?   I mean, what's going on?  Are those teachers just kicked back reading romance novels while the kiddos run amok?

Once you put it all together you gasped in horror.  Those teachers were teaching, so were you. Your students were going to advance to the next grade with no ability to demonstrate some of the lessons that you taught them.

Ouch.  Yeah.  I can still feel the burn.

I feel it every time an 8th grader asks me what similes, metaphors, hyperbole and personification are...again.

And again.

If you're like me, that last one always gets you.  Personification has all of the quietude of Vegas.  PERSONification.  It's like a neon sign with dancing girls wearing fancy costumes and big, foam "We're #1" fingers pointing to P-E-R-S-O-N.  It's the official "If it were a snake" literary device.

I feel it for every apostrophe a child rains down on his paper to make something plural. I feel it every time there's an "a" slammed next to a "lot."   Contractions?  To, Two, Too/  Were, We're, Where/  There, Their, They're...   I could go on.

I'm not talking about the Queen's English.  I'm talking about what it takes to read and write on grade level.  Lawd.

This morning I stopped by the workroom after dawn cracked to flip the switch on the copier, so it would be ready for the first user.  Someone had left a worksheet behind.  Golden.  It was full of commonly misused and confused words.

Are you going to suffocate under (to, two, too) many papers to grade?  (Your, You're) students are over (there, they're, their) crawling out of the library's window towards freedom.

Okay.  It didn't say that exactly, but that was the format.  Eighth graders can always use more practice with these skills.  AND I just happened to read about a cool dry-erase marker technique on a Facebook page.  Teachers were advising a French instructor to allow students the chance to write their vocabulary words on their desks for practice. They are (They're) easily erased.  Cool.

So, instead of handing out the worksheet, I read each sentence aloud and indicated the word that I wanted them to spell.  They wrote it.  I walked around the room to check their work.  If they were correct, I told them to erase the word to get ready for the next.  If they were incorrect, they tried again.  And, yes, I retaught contractions.


And I bet the fat lady hasn't sung on that one yet either.

(Luckily, I stocked up on dry-erase markers at Walgreens during the Back-To-School sales like a true hoarder who had no idea how 50 markers would come in handy during this school year.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chalk Talk/ Gentlehands (M.E. Kerr)

It was a while back when I first told you about Chalk Talk, a great technique I picked up from the Eastern Virginia Writing Project.  Students love it, and it's the main reason I tried to make sure that I had massive amounts of white board space in my new classroom.   

Students in my advanced language arts class read Gentlehands on their own, 
and this is how we held our book discussion silence.

It started with me writing "Grandpa Trenker is..." on the center of the board 
and making lots of markers available for students who were ready to write.

As you can tell, it can be difficult to follow in places.  
Every now and then, you will need to ask that all students have a seat 
and take a moment to examine the board.  
Otherwise, the clusters of children at the board will obscure the responses for others to see.   

That is, unless you have a class of 10 kids.   
Oh, you do?
Aren't you lucky?!

I'm always surprised at how much some kids love Grandpa Trenker. 
He's on my list of literary characters I'd like to punch in the throat.

If the discussion is not automatically getting the depth of thought you were looking for, 
you can also write questions periodically to spark critical analysis.   
With advanced readers, usually the discussion runs itself, 
aside from minor crowd control on your part.

Here's 2/3 of the entire discussion in color.
Enjoy the silence!