Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Awesome News & A Day in the Life!!

I get to officially announce that I've been hired as the 7th grade Lead ELA teacher in my district & will be working with a group of teachers 6-12 on moving forward with our grade level colleagues on inquiry/Common Core-based curriculum. Pretty awesome as ISD 196 is the fourth largest district in Minnesota!  I'm humbled and very excited to get to work. I still have my regular job at school teaching 5 sections each day of 7th grade English, but I will be out of the classroom about once a month plus for after school meetings twice a month to work with the other grade level reps on moving forward with curriculum.  When we have professional development days, I'll head up the 7th grade ELA meetings. This is our third year of the cycle, so we aren't starting from scratch.

I have an awesome bunch of 7th grade teachers district-wide to work with...seriously. I think we are happy in the middle, right between 6th and 8th.  And I owe a tremendous amount to my close colleagues at FRMS--Robin my special ed co-teacher, Carly--my closest colleague in crime, and Rachel--who moved to sunnier fields (beaches) in Fla...for holding hands and jumping off the dock into uncharted territory (for us.) Our teaching is definitely stronger, and it is truly through team work that we've grown like we have and dared to try new things.

Speaking of new things, I've mentioned that we are repurposing stories from the beginning of the year with a different focus than before.

I've used The Guys Who Got Bin Laden (Scholastic Scope) for the past two years (it was published two years ago for the 10 yr anniversary of 9/11) but never with this much academic focus.

This past Friday after some vocab work, we did the following with the article:
1) Talk about text features and skimmed the photos/headings, etc.
2) Did a four corners activity prompted by the box on p. 7...
    Students had to decide which would be hardest:
         a. Swimming in shark-infested waters
         b. doing 42 push-ups in 2 minutes
         c. retrieving a mask at the bottom of a pool with your teeth (& your hands tied)
         d. going five days without eating
    Hands down, most students would have trouble not eating, with the shark bunch in second.
    Then of course we had a push-up contest with willing participants in each class...and of course my little wrestlers always won!  One from 1st period did 42 PUs in 32 seconds, and another in 4th period did 42 in 27 seconds!
3) Then they got re-seated and armed with a highlighter and the article.  I wanted them to work on marking up/coding their text as I read...focusing on information that seemed the most important.  We generally got through the article with the time left, except for the class that met during the planned fire-drill. Of course I always forget about them...

Monday we had a quick post-test on the vocab from Names/Nombres by Julia Alvarez, 
and then we focused on Cornell Notes.  I had them get out their articles, and I gave them a copy of a CN page (we'll most likely do them in notebooks when we do notes...I wanted them to see the template and use it for now.) Here's how it went...

1) I did a brief overview of CN and then showed the three video clips that I mentioned in yesterday's post.   The first one has no audio and illustrates the parts of the page, so I could talk while it ran.  The second one made the kids cringe (CA Girls) but I couched it in humor and purposely played it hoping some of it would stick.The third video, Mr. Hixon Does Cornell Notes, shows another way to do them, so we could really talk about how there are numerous ways to use a CN sheet and that it probably depends on the teacher as well as what you are taking notes on.

2)  We filled in the top and then using the document camera, I was able to skim back through the first two sections of The Guys Who Got Bin Laden, going back and forth between the article and the CN sheet, writing new notes with each class so they could see the act of taking the notes. I talked about how magazine articles have narrative leads to draw you in and that a narrative lead usually doesn't have anything "note  worthy"...that a text book may have note-able information right away and they need to be on the look out for that. We got through the intro and some classes got through A Symbol of Evil.

Here are some shots of my notes...

This morning, I was planning on being done with the article, and moving on to a piece that we photocopy to the article packet--it's from American Teacher (Sept/Oct 2011) and titled Is Sept. 11 footage appropriate for the classroom?   (hyperlinked...go to P3). The plan was to highlight the arguments and then hold our first round of philosophical chairs.

But then...after tossing it around in my head, I decided to continue on with the note taking. Not that it's a fun activity...but I noticed yesterday that kids REALLY struggle with taking notes. They are ok/pretty good at copying down notes, but they haven't learned a whole bunch to take their own notes.  I noticed that they were intently and studiously (mostly ha ha!) transferring my information from the board, but it was so passive.  And I wasn't comfortable with that.

So I thought ok...we'll finish up the section called A Symbol of Evil together, and then I'll have them work in small groups to take notes on the remaining sections.

My first period this year (and second, too, really...third I have off and then it's the lunch/study block) is really a great group to start the day with. They have been a fun and pretty sharp bunch so far, and they are pretty good guinea pigs :)  

I noticed during 1st and 2nd that some kids really got how to highlight and then skim from their highlights to take notes on a section but that the ones who were lost really were lost.  So I jotted a quick post-it to myself that looked like this:

Paragraph #ering
Paragraph to paragraph notes
HIGHLIGHT what is important
What to paper? (what to transfer to their paper)

We have co-taught classes (Robin and I) 5th and 6th periods, which means that 13-16 kids of the 32-34 in those classes have IEPs for reading/written language.  I knew we'd have to have something more focused and helpful for those classes.  So during prep time, I drew this up...

4th period did pretty well with it, but by the time 1pm rolled around, the kids were tired and having trouble focusing as much as they maybe are able to in the morning. Sound familiar?

So we ended up modifying a bit, especially by 6th period, and showing student examples of notes taken during 1st and 4th without guidance from me:

And I quickly modified the direction sheet for 6th by, um, cutting off the top of the directions before they moved into small groups since they would be looking at the last three sections not four:

 It's tough because we still have gifted/talented & average/high students in both co-taught classes, and pull-out English classes were cut several years ago in favor of mainstream English + Strategic Reading with the Special Ed teacher, so we also have 2nd/3rd grade level readers in the same class.  

Robin and I work in a cohort in the district with other co-teachers and have time set aside to plan and reflect on how we teach together (vs the old mainstream teacher teaches and sped teacher floats and "helps") but we haven't had much time to really meet and think out how to differentiate for the new stuff this fall yet.  

I did manage to write some notes on what I'd like to do differently next year:

These may be more independent worker directions...
Number all the paragraphs the first day
Visual directions for co-taught
Paragraph by paragraph

We still have some big thinking to do about how much we want to bite off in terms of teaching note-taking.  We don't give a ton of notes, but it seems like these are the same skills needed for finding the main idea and strong details and that it will serve them well.  How much is enough to teach? How much is too much? Is this our realm as English/mainly fiction teachers? Will it help overall, though, with plucking out essential information which is super important for using textual evidence? Discussions we need to have...

Carly tried the YES/NO article today and took a stab at taking notes on it to ID arguments.  After school when we talked, she recommended staying with highlighting the arguments vs taking CNs on them (we've just highlighted in the past.) And to note if you use this piece...the YES position author is much loftier in her words than the NO position author. We'll see how that goes tomorrow...I don't remember it being too hideous last year with co-taught, but then again, we weren't preparing for philosophical chairs, which is a new trial this fall!! 

That's our task tomorrow...

Well, time to get ready for bed (aka try to figure out what Wed/Thurs/Fri really look like in the classroom...who am I kidding...I'm not headed to bed...)

I'll leave you with a snapshot of my desk after school.  So much for a clutter-free classroom. Real desk from the trenches ha ha!!  It looks much better now...

 A little I-Spy...can you find:
Two copies of Have You Been to the Beach Lately? by Ralph Fletcher
A highlighter, pencil, and pen used for note taking

A half eaten Zone bar
Glue bottles used for interactive notebooks...but Market Pantry tops come off...so these
     are the inactive bottles!

An uneaten apple
Student examples of notes from the article
A vocab post-test key
A Gallileo thermometer
A pick mousepad from the Museum of Rock and Roll in Cleveland (ripped apart courtesy of my 2 yr-old)
A SAD lamp...dem be dark days in winter in MN
Not one but two water bottles
Small post-its that I thought might work for focus on the directions sheet...not so much
Stuff from my mail box including an Interactive Reader from a student who withdrew & a Teaching Tolerance magazine
A document camera
My school keys
A note from a colleague with TGIF...remember this is a phase (after we crossed paths at daycare on Friday, me barrel-holding a kicking and crying 2 yr-old)
Notes from students with You-tube video recommendations to show during homeroom

And um, what, a computer and a desk, and common formative assessment sheets with some student data on them somewhere in there!!!  

Ok, time to stop procrastinating...

Happy teaching!


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