Power of the Pen (SOL #25)

I love coaching Power of the Pen. It’s always fun to spend a Saturday with a group of students who are excited about writing and who get to try their best to compete with other writers in the area.

Today my team competed at Chillicothe Middle School in the Regional Tournament, and after this one, they only have the State Competition left if they qualify. We know we will have at least two of our writers moving on, since they placed 1st and 3rd individually!

The day is always a little crazy because students do three rounds of 40 minute writing sessions, during which they have to follow a prompt – given at the beginning of the round. For each round, I act as a judge in in one of the writing rooms. I am always impressed by how much effort these kids put into their writing, and how much talent I get to see on competition days.

Overall, my 8th grade writers did a fantastic job during today’s tournament – they ended up placing 3rd as a team, with the two who placed 1st and 3rd in individual awards. One of my students even wrote a story based on something that we talked about in class, which made me feel proud. Last week, I showed them a John Green video in which he argues about why we should get rid of pennies in the United States. She took what she learned in that video and turned it into a response to the prompt “Create an acronym for a protest of your own making” – and she did No More Pennies (NMP). I laughed as I read it.

We also have a lot of parents who come to support their children during the award ceremony, and it’s so nice to have them there. They are kind and really appreciate the work we do, and the kids love seeing them there too.

All around, we had a great day!

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Forgetfulness (SOL #24)

Today is going to be a 2-for-1 day – as long as I remember to post later today! 

Yesterday was the last day of school before Spring Break, so my mind went into shut down mode. I completely forgot my slice. Sometimes we forget things, but it’s okay. 

I was planning on writing about how I reorganized my classroom library and trying a new system. I got rid of most of my bins because I’ve found that my middle schoolers really like being able to see all of the spines instead of having to dig through bins, especially ones that are a little high up. I’m hoping this results in more kids finding more books!

How do you organize your classroom library?

Here’s my new setup:

Workshop Strategies (SOL #23)

This week, I’ve worked with my district’s literacy coach to help me out with a few things in my classroom. I initially reached out because I was struggling with classroom management in a couple of classes, so we took a look at mini-lesson strategies to help with that. I realized that I was feeling a little unstructured with many days full of writing for students, and that having true mini-lessons really do help them focus.

Yesterday, my “mini-lesson” was more of a directional one, but I gave students the task of writing their goal for the day on a post-it note, and keeping it on their desk. Then, I had them sign up for one of four categories on the board, with the caveat that they could move their name at any time. The categories were 1) work alone (AKA don’t bug me), 2) conclusions, 3) planning, and 4) individual conference (the catch-all). This was our last day of writing in class, so my students were pretty self-aware at this point if they needed help (though a few needed some nudging).

These focused strategies were both suggested by my literacy coach, and they worked really well to help students stay focused and to remind them what they should be working on. I am still a little afraid of small group instruction (luckily I got to see a great model of that from my coach, too!), and I am getting more comfortable with stepping back and letting my students take the reins.

I am so proud of the writing they’ve done, and I think they are too. At the beginning of this unit, I told them that this would probably be one of the hardest writing assignments they’ve ever done. I could tell they finally recognized this when a student (who usually slacks off a little) came into class today proudly sharing how much work he had put into his writing.

That’s all I can ask for.

(On a side note, my 1st period class was very independent – but they worked hard the who class! See Exhibit A:)

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Trying (SOL #20)

Lately I have been feeling not enough. I’m struggling with classroom management in a couple of classes, and I’m finding it hard to keep the balance between being forceful and keeping my personality in the classroom. I’m also struggling with a few personal things like nutrition and pushing myself during workouts, as well as pushing myself to learn more. I used to think I was smart, but now I feel like I am not doing anything to learn new things.

Tonight I told my husband these things and that I feel like I am trying too hard – in the negative way. His response was that we’re all trying – that’s what we do. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. That made me feel a little bit better.

I guess the only thing I can do is try something different tomorrow. I’m not going to change everything, but maybe I can rearrange my seating chart so the frequent talkers are separated in my 8th period class (and make them stay there). Maybe I can clean up behind my desk so I feel a little more organized. Maybe I can choose to read something outside of my comfort zone.

I can’t make a difference in everything in one day, but I can be intentional. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why I am I saying what I’m saying? I may be putting a little pressure on myself sometimes, but this week I am going to try to take things one day at a time.

 

For the Love of Conferring (SOL #16)

I love conferring. It’s one of my favorite things to do as a teacher.

When students are engaged, it works beautifully. I get to sit and chat with students about their writing and give them one-on-one instruction. The other students are engrossed in writing their own papers. (Not that this is how it always plays out.)

Right now, my classes are working on argument writing. They studied and researched the topic of child soldiers, and they are arguing whether or not child soldiers should be granted amnesty. They have struggled with this topic – with the real world implications, with the complicated decision of what makes someone a victim and what makes someone a perpetrator, and how to craft an argument around such a delicate subject. Most of them knew nothing about child soldiers before they began this research.

So I love seeing the discovery in their writing, and how their thinking plays out in the writing process. I keep telling kids that their arguments or reasoning is so nuanced, which makes what they’re writing even stronger. Some get stuck. “How do I explain my evidence?” Lucky for them (and for me), I have prepared a set of materials beforehand with tips on writing counter arguments, transitions, and more. I gave them a checklist to use, which has become one of the most important tools in my writing conferences.

What makes me the most proud, though, is seeing their hard work. They are learning. They are becoming smarter, and they are recognizing that this process of working through the struggle will make them better writers. I told them at the beginning of this unit that this will probably be the hardest writing they have ever done, and that I expected them to push themselves.

They are rising to the challenge.

Better than Expected (SOL#15)

Yesterday, I felt like I couldn’t move on. I was stuck in a rut with a couple of my classes who didn’t seem to know how to function in a normal classroom setting after testing. I get it. I was once a student, and even now, if someone told me I needed to take a reading and writing test on the computer for two hours, I would balk at the idea. I was also upset yesterday because I had another issue come up, but I was able to resolve it by speaking up for myself.

When we started testing yesterday, I was nervous because we were trying the online testing system for the first time. What if I screwed something up? What if the kids can’t get on the test? What if the wifi network crashes?

After a quick test session time-out snafu in the beginning, my students were off and rolling. The testing ended up going pretty well, with the exception of squirrelly kids who finished really early (in 25 minutes). Today, I have hope that things went just as smoothly.

The online testing has actually been a bit easier for teachers to administer. Of course we had to go through multiple training sessions, but now we write the test session on the board, help them if there are technical issues, and the system takes care of the rest. We still have to mark down every little thing that happens, and when students leave the room, but there are no longer secure test materials to hold on to. We don’t have to worry about guarding state tests with our lives. That part is kind of nice.

I think the students like being able to type their written responses too, but I know they don’t like reading on the computers very much, especially when there is a lot of scrolling. Even though testing usually feels like a burden, my students handled it maturely today, and I was proud of them. That’s not always easy for 8th graders!

Spent (SOL #14)

I don’t have much in me today.

We started state testing today, and it always takes more out of me than I think it will. Then the kids were a little out of control in class because they were antsy from testing. I feel exhausted and spent, and I’m not looking forward for a repeat tomorrow. I’m restructuring my lesson so hopefully an engaging mini-lesson will get them ready to write during their 30 minute classes.

We’ll see how it goes.