Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April fools...


Teaching middle school is really just begging for a good April fool's joke. My kids tried a few on me, with little success. I think my attempt for my last class was just what we needed to end this crazy, rainy Tuesday. I told my last group of students that I made them something special for always being awesome.  The first group who was cleaned up for the day got the first peek at their brown-es.
I think I got a few of them. And yes, I had to explain it to some. Since I only tried it with my last period no one had spoiled it for them, and they were even able to get a few kids from other classes after the bell rung for the day.  I had at least ten students in my room after school looking for the leftover brownies.  It was fun, and I will surely do it again next year!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Memoir Writing

This year my writing plans for my 6th graders got a little crazy. Typically I start the year with the narrative memoir piece because it is the "easier" genre to write. However, this year I was asked to participate in our district's Disciplinary Literacy training which pushed our memoirs to the spring. Turns out, I think it was the best accidental planning shift to happen. Our DL unit is amazing and has the students analyze four different argument articles from "the real world" and write a culminating argument essay supporting which article they believed was the strongest. This unit is massive, filled with academic language, works on pulling evidence and formal essay writing. And even though the kids say they hated it, the conversations/debates they had about each article said otherwise. Starting out the school year with this unit did exactly what I needed, it set the tone and pace for the year. The "we aren't messing around in here when it comes to learning" was made very clear after that unit.

After winter break we started our memoir unit. It has been created using the Writer's Workshop model that I find to be fairly free and enjoyable for the kids. Using our writer's notebooks we were drafting and planning our memoir for many days before the students really realized what we were building up to. I kept the whole "big bad formal memoir" a bit of a secret for a while. No need to cause unnecessary stress at 11. Instead we wrote about our lives. Short little entries that resembled more of a journal entry. We wrote about family members, happiest moments, griefs and losses, we made lists about significant moments in our lives, etc. Modeling is huge in writer's workshop so I was writing in my notebook just along side of them. I enjoyed the process of really feeling the steps they were taking, and I know how critical these examples were in guiding them to success. After our initial writing we started reading several memoirs that allowed us to understand the difference between a journal write, a memoir, and the retelling of your entire trip to China last summer.  I think the biggest challenge was when I reminded students that our memoirs were going to be focused on just one moment, and so it needed to be a good one (I gave them the guideline of an hour, the moment should be told in the confines of just an hour or less, most wrote about an event that happened in a matter of minutes).

Yesterday we had a celebration of their final memoirs. Of course that meant food and fun, and several volunteers reading their pieces to the class. They were amazing. I kept sitting there listening thinking, "wow, did I help them get here?!?".  For some, their memoirs were amazing from many years of amazing elementary teachers who supported their writing skills. And no, I don't take the credit there. But when listening I could here those little elements we worked on come out. Figurative language, hyperboles, precise vocabulary, amazing character description. Yes. I had gotten them there too. And it felt really amazing.  I must admit I'm actually kind if excited to read these, grading may not be the end of me this time. However, I did decide for good measure to let them marinate in all their goodness this weekend, and I'll get to them tomorrow. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Religion poetry anthologies - and my room turned in to a coffee shop



Yesterday my students brought to school their religion poetry anthologies. We have been working on this project for about a month as we learned about four major world religions in history. Before officially assigning this massive project, I started the kids off by writing a different type of poetry for each chapter we studied. When planning the unit I relied heavily on my notes in my masters journal from my poetry class, meticulously finding which format would work best with the content.

Here's what we did:
4 acrostic poems on the four influential founders of Judaism
1 memory map poem on Judaism
2 eraser poems, one on the origins if Hinduism and the other on the caste system
1 Hinduism Haiku
1 I Am poem on Prince Siddhartha (Buddha)
1 list poem on the Eightfold Path (Buddhism)
1 two perspective poem on Christianity (from the voice of a Christian and the voice of a Roman)

I collected each draft of their poems, assigned a small point value, and then kept all of their poems until two weeks before the project due date. At this time we went over the official project and assigned due dates for each of the finals to help my students plan and not procrastinate.


This week students were also given class time to create a mandala that represents the idea of religion as a whole. We reviewed our classroom art expectations and used many "real life" mandalas for inspiration. It seemed fitting that an art form founded in Hinduism be used as the visual art piece of the project, and after seeing their work, I think I choose wisely. These are some of the most impressive projects I've ever collected from my kids! 
See my classroom art expectations here.

My students were already familiar with the concept of mandalas because it was the very first project we did this year. However, being a first project meant it was very structured and I was "bossy" with how I wanted them done. (I use this project not only to have the kids define what history is, but really set up classroom expectations for art within our room).  The freedom I allowed with their religion anthology served me well as it allowed their individuality and creativity really shine. 

Now to celebrate their typed, revised, edited version of their eleven poems and a ridiculously striking cover I turned our classroom into a "coffee shop" and we had a poetry read celebration. Now, a few simple tricks will really set the mood for the best day ever.  And no coffee is actually served. 

#1 let the kids bring food, but keep it to the coffee shop theme - doughnuts, muffins, croissants, etc.  We also had one student bring in hot cocoa from Starbucks in their giant travel containers which was an extra special treat for them. 
#2 turn off the fluorescent lights, and bring in a lamp. The change in lighting really sets the mood, and the lamp in my guest room loves being used for once. Yesterday was even overcast, making for a perfect backdrop to our Seattle inspired celebration. 
#3 use technology to create a coffee shop scene. I found an image of the outside of a Starbucks and used airplay with my iPad to display it on the flat screen, and I found another interior Starbucks image to project from my laptop onto the pull down screen. These two little images taken from the internet made it very clear where we were. 
#4 have a special area for the students to read their poetry. I always use my two teaching stools, but you could use anything that is special or different for the kids.
#5 we snap instead of clap. This actually came from one of my students the very first time I attempted this classroom transformation, and it works. It keeps the mood calm, and feels more appropriate for the scene we are setting.


Here are the images I used this year:



Once the room has been transformed, have the kids pass out their treats, place their anthologies safety under their desk until it is their time to read, and sit back to enjoy a day they will remember from their time in middle school. I do require each student to read a poem of their choosing, and they can read it with another person if so desired. In one class we heard many two perspective poems because those we co-authored, and were understandably easier to present. However, as the readings continued, the comfort level began to rise,  and many who were hesitant to initially read ended up sharing multiple pieces of the poetry they had written. 

We did take a couple mini breaks to clear the trash and get rid of the empty cups, because thanks to Anna Kendrick, empty cups are no longer safe in the classroom. 
See what I'm referring to here. And yes, I love this song, but just not in the classroom, unless we have a reason for it. 

Some kids will get very into this whole experience, and others will read their Haiku poem and quickly return to their seats, but no matter what, we celebrated their hard work, dedication, and pretty amazing poetry with a day. And because my planning was either insane or ingenious, this poetry read just so happened to fall on Valentine's day, which is also the last day of school before our week long break, and apparently was one crazy day on campus. But in our little corner of the school, it was calm, peaceful, and a pretty magical day. 

See my first attempt at this type of celebration here and here.

Poetry anthologies can be great for any concept, especially in history. When I taught 8th grade, we did one for Andrew Jackson, and instead of having a project span 5 chapters, we did it for just one. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr. - celebration project

It seemed like when I was an elementary teacher there was always time to break away from pacing for a bit to study events that may be tied more to the calendar than state standards. However, in middle school because of the brief time that I see my kids each day, I often struggle to veer from my pacing. But sometimes, you just have to do it. In my third year of teaching I walked into a teacher's classroom and she had a beautiful bulletin board celebrating MLK's life and achievements. Now at this point I can't even remember what exactly her art looked like, but it inspired me to create a project of my own. I had been strangely entranced by positive/negative space art and was determined to develop a classroom project around the concept.

This website was the only one that helped me understand how to create this style of art. See it here

I'm blaming being left handed on my slow to get process here. I also learned that making a few examples before teaching the project is also a really good idea. 

So bringing it back to the current school year I decided the morning of to make it a "Martin day" and enjoyed this project with my sixth graders. I still do this project with very guided instruction using my document camera and projector to show each step. This project really tests their listening and spatial reasoning skills, and man do they look impressive hanging around the room. 

This year I decided to change the written piece that I have accompany the project to a personification poem on equality. This last minute project change was a blessing since I had forgotten that I shared this project with a friend of mine, only for me to move into a position that made me those kid's teacher the next year. See more on that here.

I used a personification poem format I learned in a masters class that made the writing manageable for my kids. They have to assign the following information/details to whatever they are personifying, and for us, we used equality as our prompt. Here's a sample outline:

Gender:
Appearance:
Clothing:
Occupation:
Friends:
Family:
Hobbies:

Now you can modify it however you like, and I was very flexible on format and order, as long as they were able to "paint me the picture" clearly, then they were good. (Week 3/4 on our poetry anthology projects and I think I can finally use this saying without the kids freaking out that they are also having to paint a picture for each poem!)

Here's one example (they conveniently forgot to put their name on the front of the paper, which dinged them a couple of points because that was a project expectation, but hey, it works well for blog example purposes).
Because I did this project with my 100+ students we have Martin everywhere, hanging all over our room from baker's twine, and even out in the hallway on a bulletin board. I loved the discussion we had this year about the symbolism behind this project. They talked a lot about how the project doesn't work unless you have equal parts of black and white. Others noticed how to two colors had to work together in order to create his face.  Love the process, the final product, love the discussion we had while creating!
See my first attempt at this project with my 5th graders here.

And see this project inspiring others around the world here.

If you are interested in making the project for yourself, Nicole from Teaching with Style loved the project so much, she has shared her template for her Martin online.  Go check out her blog for the freebie!  FYI, she did this project with 2nd graders, so it really can be done at so many levels!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

why I know I will be a teacher blogger again...one day

Teachers are busy people.  I will argue until the end of time that we are some of the hardest working people on the planet.  I can't tell you how many dedicated teachers I am lucky enough to know that understand that your "teacher brain" never stops.  Waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea for the classroom is something that really does happen.  However, being so busy also means we don't always have time to get out into other classrooms.  Wouldn't it be awesome to have time to really see into other classrooms?  Well, teacher blogging is one way that us busy teachers do just this.  And even though I do not have the time it takes to be a dedicated teacher, mom, and teacher blogger, I do need to share one thing, something that made me realize that it will be my goal to get back on this space more in the near future. 

I was looking through the stats on this blog and realized I was getting insane traffic from a site I did not recognize.  So I decided to click on over to see what it was, and to my surprise, I got to see this...

Yep, that is my Martin Luther King Jr. project from my 5th grade classroom three years ago.  This continues to be my biggest "pinned" classroom art project, and getting to see it as the inspiration for a Bulgarian teacher was awesome.  The blog is Moments in the Classroom by Antoinette Milanova and she used my project as the inspiration to create a similar project for a Bulgarian revolutionist, Levski.

I love knowing that something that I created with my students and enjoyed inside the walls of my little classroom have now spread to students across the planet.  On a funny side note, I decided to take a break from my history pacing this year and enjoy this project with my current 6th grade students.  The only problem was I forgot that I shared this project with my great friend who I co-wrote my thesis with.  That wouldn't normally be an issue, except I moved into a position this year where her 5th grade students from a different school fed into the IBMY programme at the middle school I work at.  So I was all excited to share this project with my students, only for many of them to kindly raise their hand with the phrase no teacher wants to hear, "um, Mrs. Lewis, we did this project last year".  At first, I'm thinking "HOW?", this was something I created out of thin air, it isn't from any teaching manual.  And then it hit me, oh geez, I shared it with my friends, never thinking I would get their students the next year.  Oh well, my kids were great sports about it and made their Martin again, and thankfully I had decided to change the written piece, or we would have really been in trouble.  

With that being said, my goal this week will be to take some pictures of our Martins this year, and share the updated written piece [that really knocked my socks off].  

See Antoinette's blog in it's untranslated version here - and thank you Antoinette for loving my project enough to bring it into your own classroom!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

see what we've been up to lately...

Come see us at our new online home - Olive Everly!
I promise, we haven't disappeared, just moved ;)
we have a new post up that explains all this goodness...
and shares where you can find more!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...