YouTube Channels and Podcasts – for Teachers!

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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

Calm Down: How NOT to Freak Out About Standards and State Testing*


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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

Dangler Days or What to do when half your students are out?

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).

Reader’s Theater

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.

Resources:

1. ReadWriteThink 

2. Reader’s Theater Scripts 

3. Busy Teacher’s Cafe: Reader’s Theater 

4. Aaron Shepard’s Reader’s Theater Editions

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Breakfast on Mars: Kid Tested, Teacher Approved!

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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.

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