Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thoughts from a Random Memo Pad

I suffer from Too-many-notebooks Syndrome. I have a house notebook (all my dreams of remodeling / decorating for our house), a Lost notebook (all of my theories and questions about one of the greatest TV shows ever), a Writer's Notebook (duh), a Staff Development notebook (duh), and countless other little note pads where I jot things down.

Here are some ramblings I found and wanted to record before I lost them:

Teaching with The Outsiders
  • If we're going to call the unit, Friend, Foe, or Frenemy, then we need to focus on friendship and bullying. Maybe we can (1)start with a survey about bullying {we already kind of do = our anticipation guide} (2)share the bullying matrix and identify examples in the book as well as in our own lives and (3) incorporate a PSA about bullying
  • Maybe throughout the reading, we can have warm ups with sentences from the book and others that have similar themes, like (1) The Revealers (2) Romeo & Juliet (3) The Chocolate War (4) Scorpions (5) Schooled (6) Star Girl.
  • I'm not satisfied with how we do vocab with The Outsiders. I would like to try an ongoing word wall that kids add to throughout. I think the words become more meaningful when the kids select them. And I don't want to assess the vocab like we have in the past.
  • How much can we really continue to read in class? I think of all the activities we could be doing in class, but we're always reading. We also need to talk to 6th and 8th grade and see how we're handling this topic at each level. I would like to attempt a read in and out of class model, more like Reading Workshop.
  • Let's let the kids count The Outsiders on their Reading Log.
  • And like we've said for years, we need some non-fiction articles on bullying.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reflections: TAG & Multi-Genre Research

My TAG students have completed a 5 week Multi-Genre Research project. I'm really proud of them; I feel like some of the expectations I set for them are comparable to work I did in high school.

The idea to complete a multi-genre research project came from our neighboring school. They complete one every year with their TAG kids with much success and lots of accolades. I will definitely do this again next year with minor adjustments.

From reviewing their final products these are areas of weakness I noticed:
  • Some kids continue to struggle connecting their thesis to the rest of their paper. More often than not, they had an awesome thesis, but then the paper was just a list of information about the topic. I think this had to do with the order I taught the process. I should have had them write their thesis statements way earlier.
  • Alphabetizing Works Cited (small but important)
  • Internal documentation. This is no surprise to me; I didn't teach it, I "covered it".
  • Fuzzy graphics. I need to teach the kids how to preserve the quality of a graphic when they copy it. Also need to reinforce citing sources for pictures as well as text.
I was thinking maybe next year of having the TAG class complete a multi-genre project at the beginning of the year as an introductory activity. They could choose any interest they have and research it. IDK, I'll think about it again in the fall.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Possible Workshop Idea: Life Graphs

When I saw that one of the expectations for Summer Job-Alike was "hands-on", it changed what I was thinking of sharing. One of the most hands-on activities we do all year is our Life Graphs. I've also brought it to protocols and received "warm" comments on it from other teachers.

So if I present this, here are my ideas so far:
  • Title - Life Graphs: Life is Lived in Moments (thank you Clark for that title)
  • Run through the lesson (in an abbreviated fashion) just like I would in my classroom
  • Pick 10 good things and 7 bad things. Solicit ideas for other types of graphs besides line (together we can only make this lesson better). Graph, add pictures, write about two events, share.
  • Have a PP with pics of the kids' work
  • List TEKS involved, Multiple Intelligences
  • Why should you teach this
  • Mention vertical articulation - each LA grade has a similar beginning of the year activity: 6th=Where Do I Fit In, 8th=Mandala

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Possible Workshop Topic: Analyzing Your Learning Style to Improve Your Teaching

Bare bones ideas:

  • Invitational learning
  • Setting expectations (and sticking with them: )
  • Respect and classroom management = "The rights of every person are diminished when the rights of one are threatened." John F. Kennedy
  • Answering questions
  • Learning something new...what works for you...knitting...Wendy's knitting book - Custom Knits

More Thoughts on Reflection

As I narrow down the topics I want to focus on this summer, I keep returning to reflecting. I continue to lament the lack of time for my own, but I'm equally concerned about the lack of time I give my students.

I went ahead and asked my kids today if I could borrow some of their reflections from throughout the year. I also solicited their whole Writer's Notebooks. (Side note - I would also be interested in studying ISNs/Writer's Notebooks as a topic as well.) A lot of kids were ready to hand me their notebooks on the spot, but I told them to hang on to them because they would need them during the next two weeks.

Brandon approached me in 8th period and tried to hand me his despite my instructions. He persisted and explained that he didn't need anything in it at all. It got me thinking, why doesn't he need it? Julie and I attempt to do activities that we hope the kids will find important and worthwhile, but I guess they're not for everyone. Which leads me to think about, how can we make their writer's notebooks more valuable to them? I think the answer could be explored in depth, but the simple answer is, we need to use them more often and engage in activities that will inspire ownership.

Possible title = Reflection: Taking Time to Think Back

What I've Learned So Far: Band Aids Heal (Almost) All Wounds

Have you ever noticed, that sometimes all it takes to make a student feel better is a Band Aid? I used to try and conserve my Band Aids because I buy them myself. I would try to hold on to them for serious injuries. But when I realized how much better they make students feel, so I stopped pinching pennies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Last week we celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day. The national day was in April to celebrate poetry month, but we were busy with TAKS and other things, so waited to celebrate. Some of the kids seemed a little dubious when I announced the special day, but when we discussed that song lyrics "counted" as poetry, quite a few more bought into the idea. George asked if he could bring his favorite Journey song, which I already knew was "Don't Stop Believin'" because he sings it constantly. I said of course and began looking forward to George's rendition on the classic.

The big day came and I had the kids sign up with seasonal partners so they could share in a comfortable setting. They had three different partners and George sang his song each time - the whole song!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Importance of Mentor Texts in the Writing Process

The longer I teach, the more I realize how heavily I depended on mentor texts as a student. As early as first grade, I remember reading something (or sometimes seeing) and then writing my own version of it. I went through phases of feeling guilty for "copying" and then not, but now as an adult I look back in amazement at how successfully I used this strategy on my own without the direction of teachers or parents.

I wrote and rewrote many versions of Alice in Wonderland in lower elementary grades. This rewriting was based on the movie; it wasn't until middle school that I actually read the Lewis Carroll classic. Sometimes I was the "Alice" and sometimes my friends were. I considered it a gift to them if I wrote them in as the protagonist.

In middle school, I was obsessed with short scary stories. I read as many as I could get my hands on even though it meant nightmares and being scared to go upstairs alone in our house. At the time, our family had its first computer and I enjoyed typing/copying the stories onto the computer, printing them and then illustrating them. I would also record myself reading the stories so I could play back the tapes at night after I was supposed to be asleep. Sometimes I would paraphrase the stories and submit in Language Arts class for a grade. I felt like I put enough of my own spin on them to make my own. But when I would get them back from the teacher with 100s on them, a part of me wondered if she knew they weren't original.

Sometime during 7th grade I read A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary. This was the first memoir I vividly remember reading. I had read some Ramona books in elementary school and I was intrigued to see how Cleary's real life experiences were reflected in her fiction. I was also fascinated by the fact that someone could entertain a reader with an account of their life. I set about writing my own autobiography right away! I worked on it the most at home and in Study Hall. I attempted to record EVERY memory I ever had. Even for a twelve-year-old, it was quite a task. I finished my Plano, Texas years (birth-5) and made it well into my Long Island years (5-10) before I felt too overwhelmed to go on. I still have it, of course. Maybe someday I'll type it up.

One last influential text was Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike. Within the story were other short stories about characters in the book. These short stories were written by another character with the intent to harm them. Apparently, her words were magical and could make things happen (man - I can't believe the crap I used to enjoy reading). In her short stories, she would never use a character's real name, instead she would name them another name that started with the same letter. I immediately began writing my own stories about the people at school that I felt hurt by. I knew my words didn't hold the same kind of power the fictional character's did, but it gave me a sense of power over people who were being mean to me.

As I look back, I wonder why I wasn't influenced by the texts I was seeing in class. I'm sure my teachers were providing meaningful examples, but nothing really sticks in my mind. I wonder if it was the fact that I located my mentor texts myself and so they therefore had meaning to me.

The Lost Art of Reflection

As we celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day today (which was actually supposed to be last month, but we are celebrating late because of TAKS and other date conflicts) I lamented about the lack of time for reflection.

I shared my poem with the students ("The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats) and then had them share with four different partners. I attempted to have them sign up "seasonal partner" style and despite having done this in the past, it went terribly awry today. Students not following directions was mainly to blame. I think as soon as the word partner leaves my lips, the listening stops. As soon as were done we moved on to book group work, but I was wishing we had stopped to reflect on the poems and the day in general.

Although I value reflection, it doesn't show enough in my teaching practice. I think I need to slow down and take a step back and give the students more time to reflect. I see how beneficial it is to me and my teaching, so why can't I make it a priority for my students?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Redeeming Value

I have a student this year who is challenging, humorous, loud, and out-of-control most of the time. The other day we were in book groups and he is reading Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. One of the activities he chose to work on was to make get-well-soon cards for kids in a hospital. At the end of the unit, I will gather up the cards and mail them to a local children's hospital.

For some reason on this day, my student was extremely focused on his task. He usually has trouble with being easily distracted. He was making his card on the computer and he called me over to look at it. It looked okay and I told him he could print it. Once it was printed, he asked if we were really going to send it. When I said that we would, he asked if he could have the rest of the class sign it. I was shocked! I actually had to look the other way as I said yes because I thought I might start crying! It just goes to show you, underneath these rough exteriors, there's a good hearts inside.

I'm so glad this happened because as I started typing about this experience, I realized that this could be our service learning to go along with our health unit. After the success with the Linus Blankets I've been thinking a lot about how to incorporate more meaningful service learning into our curriculum. I remember reading awhile back on another teacher's blog about her class making hope chests for kids in hospitals after reading Drums. I don't know why I didn't connect the dots before, but we could do this too. Even if we just started with cards and built up, I think this could be the start of something!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Workshop Highlights: Katherine Bomer's "Jewels Waiting to Be Set: Naming Beauty and Brilliance in ALL Student Writing"

How to learn to notice and name jewels in student writing:
  1. Read widely
  2. Write
  3. Look at art (all kinds) / Art feeds art
  4. Copy from blurbs on backs of books
What I got out of this workshop:
  • Stop using the rubric as the only source of feedback to students. Give honest, encouraging feedback on good aspects of the writing.
  • There should be no correcting in a writer's notebook; it should be a safe place to practice writing.
  • Look for the good in writing.