I honestly believe I have the best job in the world. Whenever people look at me with their crazy eyes when I tell them I teach eighth grade, I almost feel thankful there's only a small group of us in the world who love to work with middle schoolers everyday. If everyone knew the hidden secret - middle schoolers are AMAZING - there would be too many people competing for my job!
This year, we're running Reading Workshop in our ELA classrooms and let me tell you, it's wonderful. I've read oodles of books on Reading Workshop, but never put it into play until this year. It's like having a box full of car keys and after searching for years, you finally find the one that fits. Each week, my students work towards their reading goals with books of their choosing, and we're adding in mini-lessons that fit the Common Core Standards. We want students to become lifelong readers and giving them choice is the key.
This is the Reading Goals Chart that made me sing today. This student is charting his reading goals by making a graph. Each of this quarter's 9 weeks is represented on the X-axis and page numbers in increments of 10 is on the Y-axis. Each week, students chart their reading goal for the week with a bar of one color and at the end of the week, they chart what they actually accomplished. You can see this student's goals in green and his accomplishments in red. The coolest thing about this is each week he's exceeded his goal and each week he's completely demolished that goal! As a reading teacher, I love seeing that he's pushing himself in the THIRD WEEK of workshop! Look at how his goals have increased each week! It's truly amazing and I am so proud of his work. So many other students have charts just like this. We're working on setting SMART goals and I know it's helping them progress.
The next picture I'm going to show you was something I wasn't planning on today. This summer, my colleague inspired us to give students an opportunity to do inquiry based projects with each unit. It's so neat to see how her idea has sparked a flame among us and our students. One of the best things about the 8th grade ELA staff is that we aren't scared to share ideas we may think are a little risky. We all come together and find a way to make them work.
This year, students are completing inquiry projects modeled after our Academic Team's Future Problem Solving Team. Each unit, we give students a blanket theme - our first one is called "Be The Difference." As we read Articles of the Week on the topic and grow as readers and writers, students form their own groups based on a problem they identify and want to solve under that big unit topic. Here's a few examples from this unit: one group found that our local animal shelter needs volunteers so they're figuring out how to get students involved; another group is going to find people in our community who have a hard time mowing their lawns and mow them for them; another group is creating a website all focused on improving self-confidence in teenage girls. All of these problems are identified and solved by the kids. They have to find their own resources and texts that support their project. At the end of each unit, they have to present their problem and plan to solve it creatively.
Today, I gave my classes 10 minutes to meet with their groups to discuss our upcoming "Genius Hour" on Thursday. Genius Hour is the time they have to meet in their groups and work on their projects. One of the groups in my last block class wants to make a difference in our school by painting and beautifying the 8th grade girls bathroom; it seriously needs some love. The girls asked if they could use my computer to work on their Power Point presentation and as they worked, I realized it was a perfect opportunity to show their work-in-progress. These ladies confidently shared their work, all completely done on their own, and I was and am so proud. I loved seeing their classmates look at what they accomplished in such a short amount of time. The initiative of our students is amazing. I'm telling you - give them some room to work, freedom to make decisions, encourage them and let them know they CAN make a difference, and they do. It's phenomenal and I love being there to watch it unfold. We really do underestimate our teenagers. The stereotypes we have that describe them are not accurate. They want to make a difference, and they can do it.
I hope you get a chance to see them present their plans sometime this year. Our first big Share Fair will be sometime next week. If you can make it to school, come on in and see their work. You'll be amazed, just as I am! Rock on, girls. YOU WILL make a difference. I know it :)
This weekend, I will do my best to post all the pictures I've taken of the amazing work my students have done since I last posted. Let me tell you, if you have a student in one of my classes, be ready to see them grow. Of course, I want them to grow academically. Reading and writing well is key to being a good communicator which is also a key to success in life! I also hope, though, that your child grows in other areas of their life. One of my favorite things about teaching Language Arts is we have such a unique opportunity to dig into life as we work on academics. Our lives are springboards for writing and we can learn so much from the lives of others as we read. The conversations that flow from both are already firing up in Room 212 and I wish you could see it happening for yourself.
Our students are developing their own Action Plans. What's an Action Plan? Action plans are developed by groups of students who are passionate about solving real world problems they've identified on their own. The problems they see fall under our unit's theme "Be the Difference." They're identifying areas where they can make a difference and they're DOING IT. Their ideas are amazing and I cannot wait to see their final products. I hope YOU are interested in seeing their final products and presentations, too, because everyone is invited to our Share Fair which is tentatively scheduled for September 4th.
Whenever I tell people what I do, it's not uncommon for those people to tell me how lazy teenagers are nowadays. Honestly, the students I work with can do amazing things when they put their minds to it and I cannot wait to see them do that this year in class.
The other ELA teachers and I are also so encouraged by the reading being done by our students. We're running Reading Workshop this year which is highly focused on students choosing their own books to read. We want our kids to become lifelong readers and we want them to see how important reading is to their success. Today was our 11th day of school and we've already got students finishing books and moving on to others; we've got some students who are self-proclaimed "non-readers" READING; and we've got students discussing the process of choosing their books with us. One-on-one. And I love it. I love seeing their faces in the morning when they come to me, raising their book in the air, and saying, "Mrs. Simmons, this is THE BEST book." Granted, not all students are to this point yet, BUT they're getting there. We've also started a hashtag on twitter #CCMSRead and we've had 6...yes 6!...young adult authors tweet back with our students about their reading. A fire is being lit and it's the coolest thing to sit back and watch.
Again, I'll post pictures soon. I want you to know that I am PROUD to have these kids with me this year and I know we will all grow from working together.
Until next time - find some time to READ and WRITE!
It's been a fabulous week so far! This year marks my 9th year as an educator and the group of students I have the pleasure of working with right now are some of the best I've had. I know it's only been 6 days and often it takes awhile for true colors to show, but honestly, I think I've got a fantastic group. I'm impressed with their work ethic, their positive attitudes, and their willingness to try new things.
The end of last week brought our annual ThinkBook Decorating party. I loved watching my students use their creativity to cover their ThinkBooks in things that represented them. We had covers adorned with Mac n' Cheese pictures, inspirational quotes, outdoorsy themed books, and everything in between. The ThinkBook is the HEART of our class and it's something students can take with them when they go on to high school. Click on the "ThinkBook" tab on our website to learn more!
This week we've dove head first into Reading Workshop. Reading Workshop allows students to choose their own books, while learning reading strategies aligned with the Common Core Standards. I absolutely love this format because not only are students learning how to be better readers, but their invested in their books because they got to choose them. I want my students to become lifelong readers. Reading is something that they will carry with them and it can help them in so many areas of their lives. This week, students are learning the ins and outs of a successful workshop. We've already had students FINISH books! FINISH them! Today, one of my students did an impromptu Book Talk on the book Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. This girl came into class excited about the book and was willing to share in front of the entire class without any preparation. When I saw students open their ThinkBooks to their "To-Read Lists" and adding the title without my prompting, my heart leaped. I want them to be PASSIONATE and that's exactly what I saw today.
Also, we've had TWO...yes, TWO!...young adult authors tweet our class with our hashtag #CCMSRead! In the same week! Jennifer Nielsen, author of book The False Prince and Geoff Harbach, author of Stupid Fast, tweeted our students! This is a HUGE deal! We never expected authors to use our hashtag when we started it and I cannot wait to see what happens this year.
In writing, we're beginning our first unit called "Be The Difference." We're brainstorming ideas and writing about the essential question, "How do the needs of others affect how you live your life?" We're also preparing to start Daily Grammar Practice next week. In order for students to be successful, they must review and master knowledge of the eight parts of speech. The picture above shows students playing a grammar game to review. I think they've been surprised at their engagement, and most students are seeing improvement in post-assessments.
I love my job
I loved that my morning started like this. I woke up with a breathtaking sunrise to the east and thunderstorms rolling in like a wave to the west. I thought about this quote by T.D. Jakes and thought about how thankful I am to do the job that I do. It's so much more than a job to me and today I got to meet a whole new crew of students. It was WONDERFUL!
After shaking each and every hand, my students started working on their first project. I wanted to do something different for our first few moments together. To introduce themselves to their table mates, they created an object using aluminum foil and pipe cleaners that represented them. I enjoyed watching them generate ideas and see their ideas come to life. I even had a student make the words "MS DOS" out of pipe cleaners. For you techies out there, you would have loved it! The creativity in the room blew my mind. Here's what they did:
Next, we transitioned into another creative activity focused on writing since that what our first class period together is all about! Students generated lists of objects in their homes and put the words on popsicle sticks. We put the sticks in a pot and students randomly selected four to use in their CHOPPED poem! Chopped poetry mimics the actual TV show Chopped where cooks get a box of 4 random food items and they have to make a dish using them. Students composed an 8 line, free verse poem incorporating the random words they selected. It was awesome hearing kids say, "I can't do this!" as they started because they didn't give up. They sat, thought for a minute or two, and bravely gave it a try. I was so proud. Here are some of their poems and the feedback given from everyone in the room!
Students have me for two class periods - one period dedicated to writing and the other to reading. Reading was probably my favorite part of the day. I am so passionate about reading and today was the day I got to watch my students select their own books for Reading Workshop. We called the activity "Book Speed Dating" and discussed how finding a "just right fit" book is just like finding the right person to date. You have to picky, you have to observe their traits and qualities, and make note of what you like and don't like! My kids were in my room and rotated to different table groups every 2 minutes. During these two minutes, they had to "date" the book by noting the title, author, writing down as much information as they could gather about the book, and then rating it based on what they learned. After two minutes, they rotated to another table group with a different stack of books. After this, my other two 8th grade ELA colleagues opened up their rooms as they did the same thing! Mrs. B's kids came to my room, the other Mrs. B's kids went to another room, and my kids went to one of their rooms and repeated the process. I honestly believe many kids were surprised and appreciative of the opportunity to get their hands on a wide variety of books. Reading Workshop is going to be different from anything else they've experienced. We want to help our students become READERS. Every child likes to read; they just have to find the "just right fit" book.
If you click on the far right picture and look at some of the specific feedback, you'll notice we have students who are excited about Reading Workshop and others who are so turned off by reading because of their past experiences. No matter what the feedback is, I love the beginning of the year because I get to be alongside my students as they discover what works for them. Sometimes it takes time! If you're a parent of one of these kids, make sure you ask them about their reading regularly. They'll get more details on the how-tos of Reading Workshop tomorrow. I'm going to challenge them to read 40...yes, you read that right...40 books this school year. I KNOW they can do it.
Thank God It's...Monday? Really?
I swear, pulling up to my house and seeing a brown box with that Amazon.com smiley face adorning it. Whenever I order from Amazon, 75% of my order is going to be some sort of book - either a Young Adult Lit book or a book about how to improve my teaching practice. I love reading and I adore learning, so Amazon spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e for me!
Today, I pulled into my driveway and after glancing at our garden thats overrun with bright, red tomatoes, I saw it. The box. The smiley face. Finally! After attending an amazing teacher's conference while on vacation in Michigan this summer, I ordered a slew of YA novels for my students and I to devour. These titles are supposed to be phenomenal and I can't wait to get them into the hands of my kids. They're going to love them. In this stack, I've only read three so far. After Mrs. Burzynski's recommendation, I picked up Persepolis from the public library and read it in two evenings. It's a graphic novel about a teenage girl who lives through the Iranian Revolution. Sounds interesting, eh? It is. You should grab it. Stupid Fast is an awesome book for guys who are into football or if you're someone who likes to root for an underdog. I also got three teaching books - Teach Like a Pirate, Children Want to Write, and What Readers Really Do. I have so much school work to do, but I just want to read!!
Reading is like magic to me. I love reading for so many reasons. It relieves stress, helps me travel to another world for a moment, teaches me about life, and it helps me perform better academically! So many students have such terrible reading lives because they haven't had the right books in their hands. Passionate readers emerge if you just find the right book. It can take time. It can take patience. The cool thing? I'm patient, and we've got time! I can't wait to tell you more about how amazing reading is and get you started on Day 1 with our first Book Tasting! You'll love it.
The beginning of school + a stack of new books = It feels like Christmas in August!