Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gearing up for a New School Year

I am getting excited about planning for the new school year. I have had my baby (she's 10 days old and absolutely perfect!), and now I'm ready to get back to work. The way my maternity leave is going to work, I am taking off just six weeks from my daughter's DOB. This means that I am missing most of teacher work week, but I'll still be there for the first day of school. I am thankful about not losing any time with my "work kids" because this will help us build relationships and momentum. This also means that I am looking to take advantage of my evenings through August when both kids happen to be sleeping at the same time (like right now!).

The first thing that I want to plan out is week one. I love some of the things that I did last year, so I want to start getting those things organized and edited.  Here's one of the things I did--

Since one of the main areas of English class is writing, I decided to do a writing activity to begin the year and get to know my students. This activity had multiple purposes: to show me their writing skills, to help me learn their names, to help them value each other and be culturally sensitive to unique names, and to teach them a little bit about me. I printed a front/back worksheet for a name tag. This worksheet also doubled as a name tag tent. When it was folded, there was a front and a back of the name tag tent. The front had a spot for the student to write his or her name and draw three visual representations of his or her interests. The back (the part facing the student), allowed for students to write three things about themselves, two questions about the class, and one academic goal or concern.

The back of the worksheet was a space to write about their names.

 On day one, they did the name tag part of the worksheet (front and back of the name tag tent). Then I read them a children’s book about a student who had a unique name and felt it made it difficult to fit in (Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes).

 We used this to discuss the need to value one another. On day two, I modeled for students by writing my own “name” story. This helped them get to know me a little bit better. Then students wrote about their names. They got to choose to write about one of three things: 1) share why your parents picked your name 2) share history about your name or what it means or 3) write a fictional tale inspired by your name (like Chrysanthemum). This name tag tent activity, both the day one and day two parts, helped me to get to know student interests, writing capabilities, and cultural backgrounds. It opened up dialogue between students and with me and helped to build a positive class culture from the very beginning of the year.

Here's the PPT that I used on day one to introduce this to students.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reading in the Middle Grades

As much as I love blogging, I have found over and over again that life happens and blogging is the first thing to go.  I like to use blogging as a way to reflect on my teaching and make my teaching practices better.  This is why I really should make blogging one of my priorities.

Since my last blog post, my life has changed dramatically.  I got a new job at a public school, and I'm also expecting my second baby in July.  It has been an unforgettable school-year, and with just over six weeks to go, I think I should get back to blogging!

So let's talk today about reading in the middle grades.  My current position is as a sixth grade English teacher.  This seems to be one of the hardest grades to find books for.  The problem is that the students are still interested in the books that were popular in elementary school, but they are actually ready for some more advanced reading material, if they would just take a risk.  When we take trips to the library, my students often gravitate towards graphic novels and books in the Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries Series.  I encourage them to (or force them to) pick chapter books, and most of the time these end of being forgotten in the classroom.  When the students aren't invested, they just don't seem to read the books.  For all these reasons, and more, if you can find a GREAT book for students in the middle grades, you take note.  I want to have a long list of recommendations that students can draw from so that when they pick up a "chapter book," they keep on reading it.  With that being said, check out a book review for a middle grades book that I recently read.

I recently read The Kingdom of Oceana by Mitchell Charles.  From the first pages it was clear that this book would be full of action and adventure.  There is a strong theme of sibling rivalry which is evident through quests that the brothers take in the historic Hawaiian setting.  With such a setting, it is no surprise that the reader is drawn into the story with magic, spirit animals, and a mysterious (and cursed) tiki.   For lovers of Disney’s Moana, there are many similarities in Charles’s adventure tale.  Thankfully, his tale is more developed, with a wider range of conflicts and characters than the Disney movie that shares a similar setting.  Charles also has a writing style that I appreciate as an English teacher.  It is fluid and descriptive and ultimately enjoyable.  However, I did feel that the book was a bit of a slow read.  The book felt very authentic, which translated to a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary that personally slowed me down.  I think this would also be true for a reader who is in the middle grades. Due to the wide range of characters, you should also be wary about putting the book down for any extended period of time.  Even over a week or two, you may easily forget significant people that will come back in the end of the story.  This is a plus for the Kindle version, because you can easily search for a character’s name and find out when and where you met that person.  I feel that this book is well suited to a school-age reader, but due to the complexities that I mentioned above, they may find it a frustrating read.  If they stick with it, I think your students will find that it is well worth the time and effort.  It is an unforgettable story!  And stay tuned because it appears that Charles is also writing a sequel!  Want more information about The Kingdom of Oceana?  Check out Charles’s website-  

*Disclaimer- I received a complementary copy of the book for my honest review.