With the newly implemented Common Core State Standards and the highly controversial state tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, listening and speaking skills have become significantly more valued in education. Up until now, teachers have not been held too closely responsible for the speaking and listening skills of students. Some of you may be outraged. When, between September and June, do we have the time? Where in our already bursting curriculum can we fit these standards? Though clearly, with technological advancements and the increased usage of television and social media, it is clear that these standards are necessary for our students to master. Read on for a compiled list of YouTube channels and podcasts that can sharpen your students’ listening skills and generate hours of discussion. Continue reading
By nature, I have always been a hesitant person. When I was a kid, I was unsure of everything. Especially food. If it didn’t look or smell like chicken or pasta or cheese or bread, I’d pass. I didn’t learn to ride my bike until I was about 11 years old. And I still have never been on a roller coaster. While my cautious personality has sometimes delayed my experiences regarding some amazing foods and adventures, it has also saved me from diving too quickly into situations I’d soon regret.
As a teacher, I am skeptical of new trends, especially those that are extremes. I love the idea of a full on reading/writing workshop, but I also know the reality that my students’ abilities and interests are not quite there yet. I hate the idea of high-stakes standardized testing, but I also know the reality that my students will have to tackle these tests without me. So as a teacher, I need to find a balance between these worlds and not jump on the bandwagon of every new curriculum reform and tech tool out there. I need to find what works for me and my students.
When I heard of Kelly Gallagher’s latest book of wisdom, In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, I let out a sigh of relief. A) Because Kelly Gallagher published another book that I could add to my collection and B) because I could tell by the title that this book would be a voice of reason amidst the cacophony of panic. I loved this book before I even opened it. The title says it all.
Students. It’s the buzzword we all seemed to have forgotten about. We’re so worried and hyped up over new teacher evaluation methods, the latest technology tools, the next wave of standards, and the avalanche of state testing, that we’ve forgotten about the students and whether or not they’re even learning. Continue reading
With the holiday season just around the corner, and PARCC testing looming in the distance, my colleagues and I have had much discussion recently on – what I have affectionately come to call – dangler days. Days that you’re not to sure how to handle – they just dangle there, and you’re left to figure out whether to attach them to a lesson or a unit, or just hit play on the newest Pixar blockbuster.
This includes those last-minute delayed-opening/early-dismissal/snow days, those days when half of your students are out on a band field trip, those freakishly odd weeks when you only see your students for two days, and the dreaded testing days when your students are mentally exhausted and daydreaming of a utopian world without multiple-choice questions. You can’t possibly move on with instruction because then you’d have to catch up the other half of your students before school, after school, or during recess – which would be a ridiculously inefficient waste of time for everyone. So what are you to do?
Fear not fellow educomrades! I’ve compiled a list of activities you can utilize that will allow the students who are present to simply have more practice with concepts and skills they are already familiar with (and quite possibly have some fun while doing it).
My students absolutely LOVE having the chance to shine in the spotlight and having a role to play. Unfortunately, I rarely have time for reader’s theater in my 6th grade ELA classroom. There is just too much “stuff” we have to get through in time for state testing and my students need all the practice and feedback they can get. So, when we do have a random dangler day or two, I love slowing down to perform some reader’s theater. This can work for ELA as well as History/Social Studies classes. Below, you’ll find a list of links with resources for reader’s theater scripts. They range from short 3 minute scenes from movies (A Christmas Story) to full-length plays (A Christmas Carol) and even historical fiction/historical reenactments. Reader’s theater can help students with skills such as fluency, intonation, visualizing, identifying character traits, and can lead to a deeper understanding and connection with a text.
At the beginning of this school year, it was my goal to help my students become stronger writers in the art of the monstrous, tiresome, hideous, boring essay. One way I wanted them to improve was by feeling passionately (or at least feeling something) for the topics they were writing about. But aside from that, I wanted them to understand that there is no set structure in writing an essay – five paragraphs might cut it, but so might three, or four, or seven, or ten. Some topics shine clearest amidst story telling and anecdotes. Some topics call for humor. Some topics need to be more of a conversation. Not all of my writers have mastered this more meaningful type of essay-writing, but I have seen immense progress. I owe it all to the book, Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays.
When I first bought the book, I immediately flipped through to find essays related to literary analysis, since that is what I was focusing on improving this year. What I found was even more amazing! The index of Breakfast on Mars is neatly organized into several categories (my type-A heart was about to explode out of my chest): Personal Essays, Literary Analysis Essays, Informative/How-To Essays, Persuasive Essays, and Graphic Essays. But wait, there’s more! Because the editors are geniuses, there is an additional index of the possible writing prompts you can use with your students that have been inspired by each essay.
With a recent emphasis being placed on teaching methodologies such as gamification and flipped classrooms, the foreseeable future of education is obviously heading in a more technology-driven direction. Some schools are even delving into the beginning years of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Teachers are expected to know more and do more with technology. One very useful (and fun!) tool that can easily be implemented into the classroom is the tablet, whether it is made by Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, or any other company. The tablet has opened the gate to a world of paperless and effortless classroom management, as well as a ton of engaging learning tools and activities for students. Whether you have only one tablet for yourself, a few tablets to use with groups, or a class set (luck you!), there are apps and uses for each setting.
Setting Up Rosters, Policies, and Procedures
No matter which way you are able to use your tablets, one thing is for sure – there is a bit of set-up required before you can frolic through the fields of technological glory. If you are setting up your own tablet for management purposes, you need to enter your class rosters at the beginning of the year for a variety of apps, which can take some time. Some apps also allow you to insert any notes or parent information for quick and easy communication. If you are setting up tablets for classroom use, you need to make sure you have a strong wireless connection, load any apps you will be using onto all of the tablets, and define tablet policies and procedures. Some of my classroom policies and procedures (for sixth graders) included how to hold the tablet while walking to your seat (two hands, against your chest, like a snuggly teddybear), closing down all apps after use, locking the screen when a teacher is instructing, and staying focused on the instructed app (rather than playing games). If a rule was broken, the student would get one warning, if there was a second offense, the student was suspended from using the tablet for the rest of the period and would receive a lunch detention with the teacher. Once you get through the initial stages of setting up policies and procedures and instructing students how to navigate the tablet, the real fun and learning can begin! Below are some of my favorite apps that I use on the iPad (though many of them are compatible with Google Play and Android).
Synonyms (Apple) – Free! – A simple game in which students receive a word and it’s definition. The object of the game is to figure out the synonym using the set of letters provided. Students practice and learn synonyms, definitions, and spelling.
4 Pics 1 Word (Apple, GooglePlay) – Free! – Students receive four pictures that have a common thread or theme. With the letters that are provided, students have unlimited time to guess the word. There is also a “cheat” button that helps narrow down the answer. Students practice problem-solving, higher order thinking skills, and spelling.
NearPod (Apple) – Free! – An interactive slideshow platform. Upload your pre-made powerpoint presentations and add interactive slides that receive real-time feedback from your students such as quizzes, polls, short-answer questions, and even drawings. After the lesson is over, you will receive a detailed data report of your students’ responses.
Socrative (Apple, GooglePlay) – Free! – Basically, a student clicker system. You create the quiz ahead of time, or ask questions verbally, and students input their answers on their tablets (short answer or multiple choice). After the assessment is over, you will receive a detailed data report of your students’ responses and their final scores. Yay for no grading (unless you have short answer questions, which you must grade yourself)!
Pick Me Buzzer (Apple – BigRedBuzzer on GooglePlay) – Free! – Perfect for playing a trivia review game or jeopardy style game with students. Each student or group uses their tablet to press the big red button. On your tablet, you will see which group buzzed first to give their answer.
Edmodo (Apple, GooglePlay) – Free! – Edmodo is excellent for creating a social network within and outside of your classroom. You can provide copies of worksheets, give quizzes, create discussion boards, and even post grades. The app is an easy way to stay connected.
Show Me (Apple) – Free! – Turn your tablet into an interactive whiteboard! Not only can this be used on the projector screen, but it can also be helpful working one-on-one with a student.
GoodNotes (Apple) – $5.99 – This is a great tool to use when annotating a picture, a page in a book, or a PDF. You can highlight in various colors, circle, underline, and make notes. Documents can then be exported, copied, or printed, in order to save or collaborate with others.
I found this Darwin quote while fumbling through Pinterest this past week and it got me thinking about my students. They come in to the sixth grade so young, so innocent, so dependent…that I wonder how they will ever be able to adapt to the immense changes they will face in their future. Every September, I tell my students “I don’t care where you are coming from or what you can or cannot do. I care about where you go from here and how far you push yourself to improve this year.” Throughout the year, I try to teach my students how to tackle not one specific book or poem or play, but how to be more independent learners. I want my students to be able to tackle any difficult text that they face in middle school, high school, and beyond. I want to teach my students how to teach themselves. I want to teach my students how to adapt to the world around them.
I’ve always been told that the best way to teach is to model the behavior you want your students to embody. And I wonder…am I able to adapt? During the 2013-2014 school year I will have to adapt to a new curriculum aligned to the Common Core Content Standards and the PARCC assessment, a new Student Information System that my school has adopted, the new STRONGE teacher evaluation system, and a myriad of technological advances and updates. Some of these things I am excited about, while some of them I am terrified of – but regardless, I will need to adapt. And not just next year, but every year. I will need to constantly change the way I teach because my students, education, and the world are constantly changing.
I think everyone is at least a little scared of change. In order to change, we must become vulnerable and we are open to failure. But every now and then, I meet uninspired teachers who are not just scared, but who are adamantly against change. They huff and puff and sigh and insist that it cannot be done! I started to think about myself as a teacher and the ways in which any teacher can adapt, if they are to survive and continue to be effective. This is what I’ve come up with:
I’ve always been a firm believer in reflecting as a teacher. I not only reflect daily, monthly, and annually, but I reflect throughout the day. The way I teach my morning class could be the total opposite of how I teach the last class of the day, simply because the students are in a different mindset. If through reflection, you realize that something that worked last year, week, or period isn’t working anymore, then why use it?