Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's a SALE!!

Hey all!

I just realized that Teachers Pay Teachers is hosting a 3 Million Teachers Strong sale right now, so I jumped on in & set my store at 20% off through March 2nd (because if you're like me, you don't always get to TPT on week nights :)

I'm super proud of a new poster and activity kit I put together that merges vocabulary & text evidence via looking at character traits. MANY posters and reproducibles are ready at your fingertips!
It comes with three turn-in sheets, 55 word work pages, and 150 posters (3 sets of 50.)  It's being trench tested in my classroom right now :)

Happy SALEing!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On Implementing the Common Core State Standards

Today after school, I had a district ELA Lead Teacher meeting.  Last summer, in lieu of hiring a new secondary literacy person, our district hired one ELA teacher per grade 6-12, plus one MS & one HS special ed teacher, to form an ELA Lead Teacher group to forge the way for implementing the CCSS and creating/revising inquiry units of study. 

We generally meet twice a month after school & are out of the classroom one day a month to meet.  So far this year, we've worked at becoming a cohesive team to support each other in implementing the standards & inquiry units of study.  We check in with each other about where we are in the process, how it's going, questions/hard parts, successes. We have presented two half-days of professional development to our grade level peers and will move into a more active role in supporting our colleagues this summer and next school year.  All of us are full-time classroom teachers.

Today we started by reading two short articles.  The first was "NEA Calls for Course Correction on 'Botched' Common Core" (find it here.) The second was "A San Diego High School Used Schoolwide Essential Questions" (find it here.)

We are in an interesting position in relation to the first article.  Several passages stuck out:
  • "states and districts have 'completely botched' implementation...and must do a better job of listening to teachers..."
  • "there has been little to no attempt to allow educators to share what's needed to get CCSS implementation right.
  • "teachers must be given more time to grapple with the standards"
  • "more supports to introduce them into teaching and learning"
We are in an interesting position, because our experience is almost polar opposite. After reading articles like this, I couldn't be more thankful for our district's approach to supporting us in the implementation of the Common Core.  That being said, it hasn't been an easy process.

We began a new curriculum cycle several years ago, and it has been nothing like it had been.  In the past, we figured out which textbook we wanted after a series of meetings and presentations and then were given a dollar amount to order anything else we might need.  

This time around, things have been much different, and although it's been confusing along the way as details were ironed out, it is much more efficient and smart.
We aren't host to book companies trying to sell us their latest and greatest. Instead, we need to purposefully plan inquiry units of study, figure out which texts we'd like to go with them, and then place our order.  This means that the process isn't a one-time deal, but has been spread out over several years.

It has also led us to a deeper working relationship with a local library-builder, Mackin Books.  We are able to submit book list requests based on our inquiry questions, and Mackin's people will compile a book list for us to consider.  In the end, we can request some/all/none of the books listed, add from our own knowledge base, etc. 

Carly and I requested two lists, one for our current unit ("How do individuals and communities deal with conflict and tension?") and one for the unit we repurposed last spring ("How do individuals impact the community, and how does the community impact individuals?" mainly using the text Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.) We are looking for alternate titles for our struggling readers for the current unit, as Witness is a sophisticated text--in the "productive struggle" range of independent reading for the "average" 7th grade learner in our school.  For the other unit, we are looking for tougher texts for our advanced readers; we want them to end the year in a productive struggle, and Seedfolks (in our opinion) isn't challenging enough for them. Our lists haven't come in yet, and I'm so curious to see what they come up with!!  

Anyway, back to the main we do this work, we are finding that it is tough. We are in constant flux, planning, trying out new concepts, trying hard to build the concepts through the year, working on new rubrics for writing that reflect the standards. We are constantly reflecting; most days, Carly and I touch base several times to share how each class responded, to see what we want to change for next year, to decompress, to find humor. We find ourselves planning and planning some more. We had intended on waiting until this summer to repurpose our Holocaust lit unit, but once you are rolling, you are rolling. Inquiry units of study and the Common Core aren't "something to do, to check off of a list as DONE." They are a way of being, a way of teaching. And how can we go back to a quiz that has kids match members of Anne Frank's family and the people in hiding with personality descriptions when we just finished a Socratic Seminar where kids spent about 15 minutes in one class (50/50 special ed/mainstream) discussing the difference in how Klansman Johnny Reeves dealt with conflict when the KKK kicked him out, how Merlin Van Tornhout dealt with conflict after he didn't follow through with the Klan's request to poison an African American family's well, and what made the difference in their choices based on their circumstances: age, investment and buy-in with the Klan, etc. All we had asked was how characters in the novel dealt with conflict!

When kids say things like, "Well, while I hear what you are saying Tyler, but I disagree. I think that Harvey Pettibone actually *was* loyal to his wife, Viola, after all, because in the end, he realized he was in way over his head with the Klan and they ended up fixing their marriage." Well, after this...knowing that Otto Frank worked for Opekta doesn't seem so relevant. To assess kids on whether or not they know a small fact doesn't tell us how they are progressing with their critical reading and thinking.  Why Anne's diary has resonated with readers so much so that it's the second most widely read non-fiction book after the Bible seems like a much more relevant question.

So instead of grading the research essays we both have waiting (and waiting loudly!) we did some impromptu down and dirty planning yesterday during our prep time because the new unit starts next Monday.  So we kind of needed to.

My point is that this process isn't streamlined. It isn't perfect. We still have a ways to go, looking at how to challenge our high-level students, how to work with our struggling students. How to build on concepts from one unit to the next.  How to incorporate effective activities back in so that the humor and fun doesn't disappear in our quest to up the rigor.

This is new territory for me, and I most definitely, most honestly couldn't do it alone.  This is my 15th year of teaching, and when I started I had no idea there were standards.  Even when we went through my first curriculum cycle in 2005-2006, I read the standards, but I just thought Yep, I cover that with this story...I think I cover that...check, check, check.

I planned with the story in mind first, then the activities. Standards didn't really enter in.

Carly's good at reminding me that now we need to start with the WHY. What's the point? What do we want kids to get out of this unit? 

Then we find ourselves moving to the standards and figuring out which skills kids need to develop and stretch based on the continuum of the CCSS.

Then we do a rough "How do we want to run it? What do we want it to look like? What routines have we done earlier in the year that we want to keep stretching them with? How do we put the learning in their hands and make it active and meaningful for them? What texts do we want to use, and if we are repurposing and I've used a particular text for years, how can we supplement so it's an anchor text vs a whole class novel?"

Yeah. It's messy. It's hard. I am exhausted. But I'm telling you, I haven't felt such a sense of purpose in my teaching ever.  And the best, most awesome part, is that we truly, honestly know that we are helping students grow in their writing and independent reading, that they will leave 7th grade much stronger critical thinkers, which is the BEST, most gratifying part.

So, back to the first article, YES!!!  "More time to grapple with the standards, and more supports to introduce them into teaching and learning." Sincerely necessary. 

  Last year our expectation was to plan and implement one inquiry unit of study (while implementing the CCSS), and this year two and on.  Carly and I agreed to be a Pioneer Team to forge forward faster, and I have that responsibility, too, as an ELA Lead Teacher.  We then can use our experiences and reflections to guide other teams working on implementation, to help with inquiry questions, ideas, our process for using things like Socratic Seminar in class, at the same time acknowledging that there is most definitely more than one way to do it, that we aren't the know-it-alls, that it's a never ending learning process, that teachers are at different places with their comfortability in this process. Heck, I still grapple to understand the standards. I still ask myself from time to time if we are "doing this right."  Well, you know, if we are in the ball park at least. 

Overall, I think I'm trying to say:
  • I love the Common Core and inquiry and what it's brought to my teaching and learning.
  • I've had an excellent (albeit overwhelming and exhausting) experience in implementation, and I think that's because we have awesome support district-wide and are able to grapple with the standards and implementation without being given a prescribed curriculum or mandates. 
  • As teachers, we are l-e-a-r-n-e-r-s!!
Well, after all of that, it's way past bedtime.  Crossing my fingers that mother nature warms our tundra tomorrow so we don't have a 7th day out of school due to cold or snow.  Too much of a good thing is getting to be, well, too much :)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this--the CCSS, implementation, inquiry, how your district is supporting you, how your teaching has changed.  Please consider commenting :)

Happy teaching!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Peek at My Week

Last week was the first full week we've had in a while, and I think our stamina is in trouble!  It was nice, though, to be uninterrupted during a unit.

It's finally the golden time of the school year when we were able to open up plans for a unit and not have to start from square one. We have started our work with Witness by Karen Hesse, and it was the first unit we repurposed last year (what I've been calling old units that we are rewriting with the Common Core and inquiry in mind.) We still have work to do, but we aren't starting from scratch, and it is so nice to feel more than one day ahead of the game!  

I LOVE this novel.

I'm linking up with Jennifer at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings for A Peek At My Week :)

This week the students will have their first try at focused small group discussions.  Here's what the week looks like.

Monday:  20 minutes to finish reading Act II, prep for small group discussions including reviewing conversation starters and how they will be grading themselves, small group discussion, whole group wrap up of Act II.

Tuesday:  Reading day. Students need to read Act III independently, complete four record and responses (or writing long off of a post-it) either with stickies and notebooks or using four note cards on Noodle Tools. They also have to consider how different characters displayed (or not) five different habits of mind.

Wednesday: 10-20 minutes to finish Act III work, small group discussions. Wrap of Act III.

Thursday: Reading day for Act IV. Record and respond & Habits of Mind analysis.

Wednesday & Thursday nights we have conferences from 4-8, and Friday we have them from 8-12.  They were scheduled differently (Wednesday night and all day Thursday) but students are making up a cold day on Thursday.

I'll be back through the week to talk about our reading day processes. I also want to write about how we approach the reading days with our co-taught classes (a work in progress!!), what we specifically do for the record and respond and Habits of Mind analysis, my thoughts on whole class novels/anchor texts, etc., and how we guide our kids to have more effective small group discussions (or try at least!) Oh, and how could I have forgotten...I'll discuss our wi-fi "using older siblings' passwords from the high school and then oops those credentials spreading like wildfire through the school" debacle that unfolded on Friday as well.

Does your school let students have wi-fi access?
Currently ours doesn't.
Never a dull moment!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thursday Throw Down: Technology and Research

Several days ago, Erin at Miss Lifesaver wrote a post on using citation machines. It is quite timely because 1) I'm was gearing up to link to Erin at I'm Lovin' Lit's Thursday Throw Down, and 2) We just finished the research I wrote about in my previous post/Thursday Throw Down...and it was all digital.

So without further ado, here's my Thursday Throw Down contribution for February!

Because we are in an ELA curriculum cycle and have adopted the CCSS, last year 7th grade English at my school invited the research paper back into the game.  I had dropped it eight or nine years ago; students researched for speeches in their Communications class; they researched for History Day; and they also did an infectious disease report for Health.  So, I let it be and happily went on my way with creative writing.

Oh, how the times have changed!  While we still have units on free-verse and narrative non-fiction (two of my favorites!) our students write many more essays through the year, and they also take a big stab at research.

My special education co-teacher and I wrote for and got a grant last spring, and we've been working on ways to meaningfully integrate technology into our curriculum.  One observation we made last year is that our reluctant writers more often than not had an easier time writing when they could type.  That observation has been the same over and over again this year.

Last year, our new thing was our district's Google Docs, which is called Collaboration Station, or Collab for short.  We taught the kids how to create an account, how to make folders and documents + share with us, and they began to write major papers on Collab.  In turn, we also had a learning curve in grading: to print or not to print. What would it be like to not red-pen (or for most of us, purple-pen!) everything? Well, we dove in, and we love it. We still print rubrics for grading, but we read student work online, comment on it online, and I add GRADED to the title of their essay once I'm done.

We also wanted to try some sort of digital note card last year, so I made a template on Collab for students to upload and use.  I did this for source cards, too, and this is how they looked.

It worked, but it wasn't the greatest when it came time to organize the note cards, which were all made in the Presentation mode of Collab. We could move the slides up and down, but it still wasn't quite what we wanted in terms of organization.

Enter Noodle Tools!  Several teachers, including Carly who teaches both 7th and 8th English, started experimenting with Noodle Tools.  I listened and liked what they had to say, but I didn't have the time to check it out.  When we began planning for January this year, we knew we wanted to use Noodle across 7th grade English for research,  and it was absolutely fantastic!  

Last post, I wrote about finally being back at school after winter break and two cold days. We had tackled practicing making online citations in Noodle and creating note cards. 

Three more cold days later and the rest of the month of January, we are finally done! Our schedule was planned to go something like this: (each day is a 50 minute period of class)

3 days: introduction including learning Noodle, practicing citations/cards, talking plagairism

5 days: research using online databases our school subscribes to

1-2 days: organizing note cards, outlining, thesis writing, talking about paragraphing, looking at exemplars

3 days: typing the paper in class, introducing in-text citations, introductions,& conclusions

We didn't have time for peer editing, but instead for the second year, we extended an invitation to parents via email to "parent edit" their kiddo's work and let us know via email or a note to earn their kid 3 pts extra credit. This is an awesome way to communicate to parents, bridge school and home, and make the kids happy :)

Well, it sort of panned out that way.  We had to do some fancy footwork due to the scattered snow days (and Robin and I were out a day for our Special Ed/mainstream teaching cohort...and I was out a day for a district ELA Lead Teacher meeting...) so it felt a little disjointed. However like all things middle school, we go with the flow!

To give you a look, here's what a student project looks like from the teacher view.  This is a kiddo from my 1st period. 

His research question was: How did Satchel Paige impact the 1920s and 1930s? 

After researching (he had six sources and 31 note cards), his thesis statement was: Through the 1920s and 1930s, Satchel Paige fascinated and entertained both the black and white public because he had absurd tricks on and off of the mound, he often jumped negro league teams across the country, and was the first negro baseball player to be inducted to the Hall Of Fame.

What's really hard to see is the blue hyperlink to the 30-day log of work done on this project. Mmm hmm! Minute by minute.  Of course we generally don't look these over, but if a parent ever wonders how their student is using his or her time in class, it's right there.

Here's the view of the rest of the project dashboard:

And a look at what you see if you click on Works Cited:

They don't have the boxes from their view; that's where I can comment on their sources. To the right of the citation is a listing of how many note cards came from said source.  You can click and see all of them right in order!

Here's a view of the note card table top and outline:

This is where Noodle is eons ahead of my templates in Collab from last year.  As kids make note cards, they can pile them by sub-topic. Once they are done with their initial research, they can make the outline (to the right of the screen) and drag each note card right into the outline so they are in order! Pretty awesome :)

And a shot of a digital note card:

Yes, you see that correctly. Once you enter a source citation, it shows up in a drop-down box right on the note card & if you try to save without linking, a pop-up box shows up.

So now that January has passed, my main reflections:
1) Noodle Tools and Biography in Context are ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!!!

2) Next year instead of just telling kids to focus on three main areas of impact/significance, we are going to integrate Habits of Mind and have kids focus on three habits of mind their person (from the 1920s and 30s) exhibits.  

3) With the unexpected days out, we really took a leap of faith between the note cards and papers.  I'll start grading soon. Here's to hoping they remember *everything* about paragraphing from 5th & 6th or they were really good at following my hand outs!

4) Needed: mini-lessons on paraphrasing and note taking using screen shots from this year of a variety of note cards so they can really take a look and discover what strong paraphrasing and note taking looks like.

As far as Erin (Miss Lifesaver) asking what we think about citation makers, I am totally for them.  As a matter of fact, I was looking for an old email today and came across one from a (now retired) colleague from Dec. 8, 2003, (my birthday!) with a link to the first iteration of Citation Maker!!  

For this project, because the students cited all of their sources in the Bibliography section of Noodle Tools, we didn't even have them copy and paste a Works Cited to the end of their paper (which was created in Collab.) What would we have been assessing? Their ability to copy and paste.

So for now, research is wrapped up until next January.  I do have 160 (or so...some are still quietly working at home!) research essays and outlines patiently waiting for me online.  In another post, I'll talk about how our rubric changed, too.

Now we are on to a literature unit, one of my favorites with Witness by Karen Hesse.  It was our first try at implementing an inquiry unit of study last year, so much of it was set, but we updated some of the work, and over half of my students are using Noodle note cards as "record and respond" cards for their response to literature.  I'll tackle that next time, too.

This is the first time this school year when I've been able to catch my breath. I'm not working on new curriculum. I'm not getting ready to present to peers.  I do have a load of grading, and parent conferences are next week, but pffft. Old hat :) I look forward to those things.  What I'm saying is I anticipate more time to reflect on my teaching (learning!) here...and more than once a month!

Happy teaching!