Saturday, June 29, 2013

Must Watch Videos!

If you haven't discovered it on your own yet, you really need to go check out!

The entire website is dedicated to 1-10 minute videos, made by real teachers in real classrooms, give some nuggets of advice.  These can be life-hacks, Common Core Sources, lessons, or whatever!

Here are a couple of my favorites:

I've used (or am currently using) every one of these in my classroom.  Let me know if you want more information on any of them or how I used them!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bringing da Noise!

One of the most challenging aspects of classroom management, at least in my opinion, is cutting back on the chatter, social elements, and flat out noise. In my classroom, especially, they love to test me during assessment times. I've voided more tests than I ever thought I would...

I found this idea on Pinterest - one of the few I think really work for a secondary room - and latched on to it. The original post came from this Tumblr account.  I found it too late to use for this past year, but I'm definitely using it this year.

Every conference I've ever been to (including when I heard Charlotte Danielson speak) and almost everything I've ever read has stated that one of the best methods of getting rid of the noise is to have a silent signal, like raising your hand. That system doesn't work for me, but I need something. This is the solution.

I am posting these letters on my white board in the front of the room, where they are clearly visible. Whenever it gets too loud, I take off a letter, starting with the "E".

Eventually, this is what's left...

And this "NO" means exactly what it says - NO more. The classroom basically goes on lockdown. No talking, no working with partners, no getting out of seats, etc.  

I like this because it gives the students a chance to regulate themselves and seems a lot clearer than putting strikes on the board or what-have-you. Having this decoration up all the time shows that expectation is always there, as opposed to being able to "forget" when there are no strikes.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Journaling with a Purpose

Journals and short writing prompts seems to be a favorite amongst us Secondary English Teachers. It keeps the students writing, and we all know practice makes perfect. We also strive to make writing worth something, so the more writing we can give the students that can connect to their lives OR let them give their opinion, the happier we are.

But who, in reality, has the time to create those interesting journal prompts, especially if you journal every day.  Here is a solution that a colleague of mine came up with...

Every day, put up a random, interesting photo. It can be a setting, a person, an animal, ANYTHING (school appropriate, of course). Students write a section of a short story every day that has to do with that photo.  Soon, with only 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class, students have a solid short story. If you keep the photos random (or create a PowerPoint with several random ones), you might even get the reaction of "What am I supposed to do with that?!"  This makes me happy :)

Imagine going from this....

To this the very next day...

This is how he does it...

  • 12 school day cycle, on average - 3 days of photos and 1 day of revision X 3.
  • Day 1 has at least 1 person in the photo, real or fictional, and that person becomes to central character to the students' stories.
  • From there, he just puts whatever interests him that particular day - here are 2 sites that could provide very interesting material...
  • Revision days follow the RADaR method, and it's either an individual or a partner activity.
  • He floats around the room offering suggestions... but mostly, he lets the kids use their creative brains to make the connections themselves - and we all know making connections is not necessarily easy for some students.
It's really nice because after about 3 weeks of bellringers, the students have a solid narrative that they spent (on average) 90 minutes drafting and 30 minutes revising. How often are you going to get students to write that long - and with almost complete attention?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Meeting Kelly Gallagher!

I went to a seminar today at the community college, about 45 minutes from my house. I was definitely not looking forward to getting up early, especially since I've really gotten used to sleeping in and spending my entire day reading (using Goodreads, which is an amazing site) and playing with my dog. However, I went...

And it. Was. Awesome.

It was a talk by Kelly Gallagher, who, if you have never heard of him, will really open your eyes to several completely practical ideas what you can incorporate into your classroom. He's all about reading and writing, but it could completely work for any subject area.

I don't know if I could even begin to describe my 5 hours at this seminar, so here's what I'll do. Links to his website and Amazon...

Here are the main points of today:

  • Writing scores are at an all-time low - NCLB obviously did not work.
  • Formulaic writing is "fake" -- Kelly even dares his students to find a published 5-paragraph essay.
  • To achieve greatness, you need 10,000 hours of practice in ANYTHING. That averages out to 4.72 hours of writing or reading every school day from K-12... and we don't have that kind of time.
  • Don't just "assign" writing - teach it.  Write along side the students.
  • Students have been doing entirely too much "Frugal and Gorbit" reading.  See if you can answer the 2 questions following the passage below. If you can, it proves his point.
As he rudled down the laskin, the jolet frugal plamed the gorbit.
"Phat plamp me again," quirfed the gorbit, "or I will sasted you."
"Oh zep," corped the brated frugal. "You always misto."
Away went the blotted frugal and the whorlotted gorbit. Perhaps the listents could thormi another day.

1. What did the frugal do?                                                     2. What might to listents do another day?
     A. blotted himself                                                                 A. plame
     B. plamed the gorbit                                                             B. thormi
     C. sasted his zep                                                                  C. rudel
     D. plumped his quirf                                                             D. blot

Here are just a couple of the methods to incorporate writing and higher order thinking at the same time:

  • Instead of having students fill out endless worksheets, have them write their own headline for the reading. You can't fake the comprehension there.
  • Incorporate an Article of the Week!
  • Have students break down what a writer is doing sections after section and have them follow that pattern - students can imitate style... and sometimes it gets them going easier than looking at a scary blank page.
  • Have students summarize in TONS of different ways - 17 word summaries, reflections, shrinking notes, whatever. Students can fake multiple choice, but not summary.
Food for thought...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Course Mason

I just got home from a PD about this amazing new Common Core resource... It's a website called Course Mason and it was designed by a local assistant superintendent.  It has all the big essentials in one place - Standards, Essential Questions, Resources, everything!  The best part is - it's free!  If you read my previous post, this is basically an electronic version of the Big Binder!

Here are some pictures of what I worked on today, so you can see what this program offers:

When you log in, it sets you up with your different courses/classes -- I'm lucky enough to just have 2 preps, but you can create as many as you need.
The entire thing is really easy to navigate -- huge buttons at the top and sides in order to find everything that you need.
The first thing you're asked to do is choose which standards you need to apply to your course... this site has all the Common Core standards and they're adding more every day.  When I spoke to the developer, he said his goal tonight was the add the Next-Gen Science Standards. The picture above is from RL 9-10.
Next is to input your units and figure out what time frame you're working with. It's pretty nice to pace everything so you don't run out of time or spend an extra week or so on something you don't need to.
Assign the standards to the unit you've chosen.  I think it's much, much easier to work in everything when it's in small doses, as opposed to 70+ standards, looking at them, thinking "HO-LY crap. What am I going to do?"

Once all that is done... and it takes time, you can start creating assessments, like good backwards planners. If you use this program, it forces you to really work with the standards first, instead of trying to twist the standards to fit what you already teach... you can start designing the different units.
Assessments first... you lay them out on what days you think they are going to take place. They can be changed (nothing is set in stone, especially since nothing works that way in education, anyway).
Assign your standards to the units...
And then the MAGIC!  This site already breaks the standards down for you!  No more having to bend over backwards trying to figure out what exactly they're asking you to do.  You could even use the "I can" statements from my previous post and make it even easier!
It prompts you to put in essential questions and big ideas...
And finally, you can see your unit (broken down into weeks), as well as where the assessments are supposed to happen.  They're expanding this every day.  Some teachers focused on one unit today and uploaded PowerPoints, YouTube videos, and day-by-day plans. They're ENTIRE unit, from start to finish, is uploaded here in one place.

I didn't do that - hence my units look pretty bare.  I focused on getting assessments uploaded. I can plan the day-to-day stuff later and during the year. It's not like pep rallies or mock ACTs are scheduled that far in advance anyway.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Common Core "I Can" Statements

The CCSS are not exactly written in people-friendly language. It takes hours to deconstruct the skills and concepts in each standard into something a teacher can actually work with.  Many companies have published flip charts and various other resources that have that already done for you, but here's the thing. I'm cheap. I don't want to spend money on something if I don't have to.

So, here is the resource I have found that has saved my life.  It's a breakdown of the ELA CCSS...

9-10 Grade Span

11-12 Grade Span

Don't spend money if you can get the exact same thing here!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Binder That's Saving my Life

With Common Core taking over American education, almost every teacher I know is up in arms.  The old guard is half freaking out because of the differences it will cause in the way they teach, and half apathetic because they don't necessary believe it will last very long -- NCLB, after all, was deemed awful in less than 10 years.

Anyway, I belong to the new guard and am completely focused on making sure my curriculum and activities are completely aligned and that my students will be able to complete those skills outlined in the standards.  Luckily for me, my school district employs an Instructional Coach... and SHE IS AMAZING.  She loves organization just as much as I do and created binders like this for each English Teacher for each core course (English I, English II, English III).

Here is the cover... pretty, pretty

She made tabs for everything we need for complete Common Core organization.  School calendar, Quarter Outlook, Quarter Breakdowns of Standards and Texts, as well as tabs for aligned assessments.

This is what the "Quarter Outlook" looks like.  We teach based on a particular theme each quarter, so it gives space for the theme and then the titles we will be teaching based on those themes.  I put the number of weeks that text should take... just to make sure my pacing doesn't get too off.

The next thing she had us do was break down the CCSS into the 4 quarters.  We didn't assign them anywhere beyond just which quarter we will hit them.  Breaking the standards into smaller chunks has been a lifesaver so far in planning for alignment.

Finally, we divided the standards into each unit for the quarters.  This fancy little graphic organizer helps us divide up the Concepts (the fun ELA stuff we all get excited about), Skills (how the students will show those concepts -- AKA verbs), and the Blooms level of each.  Breaking these down helped me to understand the standards better AND make sure there is a range of Bloom's levels in each unit.

Sorry for the sideways picture... I'm not as computer literate as I pretend to be.

Here are some "detail" pictures of those organizers...

Finally, the last couple tabs.  All the assessments I design that are aligned correctly will go here.  This will aid in backwards planning, since the end goal will already be designed and easily accessible.  Plus, it's just best practice.

This whole idea is pretty easily adaptable... and like I said... it's saving my life and my sanity.