My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This blog is a log of our learning experiences, mine and the students'... HOME - SEE ALL POSTS . Check out the LiveBinder to see what other teachers are doing during their Genius Hour time!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Parents in the Middle School ELA Classroom

What would you do if you were not afraid?

This question was posed by our new superintendent on Opening Day in August. Our principal then shared it again later that same day, and I heard it again in our ELA department meeting. In the last three years, I've tried so many things in my class (getting wheels on our tables, Genius Hour, the Cardboard Challenge, letting students decide so many things during our days, painting the tables with whiteboard paint, using iPads for whatever we could, trying to go paperless...), that I hadn't really thought I could answer that question when it came to education.

During our third annual Cardboard Challenge, however, I spoke to a parent (why do parents of my students scare me?!), and she mentioned that parents "don't really get invited into the classroom" after their children reach 6th grade. Hmm... THAT would be frightening! Inviting parents in? Why? For what reason could parents come into our ELA classes? Over Thanksgiving break, I made the decision to just TRY it. Here's what I did...

I decided parents could come in to give a book talk or read a picture book. I checked out the calendar. I created a Sign Up Genius site that included a "how to" on giving book talks, and all the possible time slots available. I posted it on our class Weebly. I added the invite to my two-week update email home to parents. And then...
I waited.

All good things come to those who wait... It's been so very good!

Responses have started coming in... Here are our results from January:
From January 13th - January 30th - only HALF a month of school, we've had the following visits:
     Book Talk - Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay*
                       - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
                       - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
     Picture Books - A Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams
                             - When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
                             - There Is a Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I have created a playlist of the parent book talks and have put them on our class Weebly. As for the picture books, you just have to be there to enjoy them! For the most recent, Mrs. L. asked the class if they'd read other books by the same author, and then even read it together with her daughter - just the way they used to at home!

It was so much fun to watch, that we had to recreate it with more students. In February, we have a grandmother coming in to read The Sweetest Fig, and in March we may have an author (parent connection) Skype with us to give a book talk on his own book!
*Bonus: Mrs. J. donated Sarah's Key to our classroom library, and a student is already reading it!

Am I still afraid of having parents come in? Absolutely!
Will I continue to have parents join us? Of course I will!
So... what's stopping you? What would YOU do if you were not afraid?
Let's step out (and stay out for awhile) of our comfort zones and face our fears!

Want to see more of what we're doing? Follow @KirrClass for updates!

Quick Tip #11 - Reluctant Readers

"Picture Books" - NOT!

Hook those reluctant readers with books such as these...
Note: Not all photos from Humans of New York are appropriate for all audiences.

Full Text

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stellar Surveys

This is a "How-To" post for students.

You want answers to your questions. Should gum be allowed in schools? Is knuckle-cracking bad for you? What flavor cake do you like best? Which material should I use to make hats? Would you purchase my creation? What should I practice drawing? It's time to create a stellar survey!

Five Tips to Creating Stellar Surveys
1. Design your survey first. What is your goal? What do you feel you NEED to know in order to guide your research? Do you want to include opinion questions? Questions on a scale of 1-10 (with explanations of which is which)? True/False? Multiple choice? Rankings? Open-ended? How long or short should it be to keep the attention of the people responding? How can you word each question to ensure an honest answer? This step is a TON of work! Done right, it will pay off when you start seeing responses.
2. Use a Google form or a site such as Survey Monkey. This way, you can easily access respondents answers in a pre-made spreadsheet. You can also share these results with others, with one link. The best reason to use a Google form or Survey Monkey is that it's easy to share - through email, Twitter, on your blog, on your class website, or on this Survey Central document. The more results you get, the more accurate your research. Click here for Google form directions.
3. Do not make every question "required." You will turn off many possible participants if you do.
4. Include a question about age. Use age ranges, such as 5-10, 11-15, 16-20, etc. This way, you can organize responses to fit your needs.
5. Leave room for the unexpected. If you are using multiple choice, consider using "other" or "none of the above" as a choice.

If you use another tip, please let me know in the comments, and I'll add it to this list!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Survey Central

Calling all teachers of Genius Hour / 20% Time / Passion Projects!!

Problem: Getting answers to your students' surveys...
Solution: A survey CLEARINGHOUSE!

Why didn't we think of this before? I've created "Survey Central" - a place where teachers can add their students' surveys, and ask their own students to view other surveys and help their peers.

"View only?" Can't edit this document?
     Simply ask for permission by clicking "share" and then "request access." I didn't make it editable by anyone, as we want surveys that are appropriate for all students, without spammers adding who-knows-what.

The first survey was one I saw on the #geniushour hashtag this morning - that's how they get seen. Please continue to share your students' surveys to the hashtag on Twitter, and add them to this document. Then be considerate and tweet out the survey link as well - so other students can benefit and get data for their research. Let's continue to try to create life-long learners!

Share this post with students for tips on HOW to create stellar surveys.

Kudos to Mr. Kirr for generating the name of this clearinghouse document!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

From my meager list of 79 books read in 2014 (my personal challenge was 73) - my favorites...

A Book ALL Educators Should Read:
     Choice Words by Peter Johnston
          This is, hands down, the BEST book I've read for my profession. I couldn't stop reading it once I started. Everyone who works with children should read this treasure. Ever since I found out about how teachers shame students (even without being conscious of it), I've been more aware of what words I use. This book will hopefully help me convey the message to students that they truly DO matter. Their actions, words, choices... all of it matters, and we are all on the same journey - together. If you work with children, and you care about them READ THIS BOOK. This coming year, I will try to use these ideas with adults, as well...! (Quick tip blog post on how to use this book when giving feedback on writing...)

Books My Seventh Graders Should Read:
     The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
          Well, the girls should read this one, at least... I was hooked from the first two pages. I purchased this book thinking of high schoolers' 20% projects... The impact from this project was nationwide. The writing wasn't the very best, but it wasn't written by a writer - it was written by a young lady who wanted to change stereotypes, and help young teen females. I will recommend this to young ladies - I think any young lady could handle the message, as it is stated often and in various forms.

     The Hate List by Jennifer Brown
          Okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but eighth, and definitely in high school... Mature? Yes. So many issues were brought up from this story of a school shooting - I think the author covered most of them. Not in too much depth (or I'd be crying the entire time), but enough to make you think about every aspect of your behavior and the behavior of others. It's a great reminder that EVERY person has a story. Get to know it.

Reluctant Reader (7th grade):
     The Running Dream by Wendelin VanDraanen
          LOVED it! So glad a group of 7th grade girls recommended it to me. It's on our Rebecca Caudill list this year, and we used it for our all-school summer read. Everything in it is totally appropriated, and it has powerful messages. I'd recommend this to any sports freak and anyone who has difficulty with something in his/her life. It teaches the message of "one day at a time..."

     Memory Boy by Will Weaver
          I put this one off for a bit too long, I think. It grabbed me from the beginning, and since it was an easy read, I enjoyed breezing through the action mixed in with flashbacks of weeks before the volcano had erupted... I will suggest this to students who have fierce memories, and ones who liked Hatchet.

Graphic Novel:
     Page By Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
          I really enjoyed this quick read, and I understood it! (I'm not a big GN fan.) I have the perfect student for this book - one that doesn't know who she is, and is constantly battling herself inside her head. Things don't always go her way and either she thinks it's all her fault, or she blames her mom for everything. There are three instances of language (that really don't need to be in there to make it effective! UGH!) that make this book "young adult." A 7th grader might not catch what they mean and gloss over them (I hope).

Historical Fiction:
     Fallout by Todd Strasser
          What if? What if your family was the one to build the bomb shelter - with enough supplies for your family ONLY - and six other people decided to join you on the day the bomb was dropped? This story kept me reading. I didn't like the way every other chapter was from a different time (in the shelter, then three days prior), but it came together nicely. Some mature parts.

     The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin
          I'm glad I read this sports mystery, even though I really don't care for sports or mystery books! this book has it all - the dangers of racism, justice, murder, policemen-gone-bad, court, prejudices, history... I liked how it had almost an adult book feel to it. (Our local library has it in the YA and adult sections.) I'm glad it ended how it did - sort of a happy ending, and sort of not. The very end was predictable, but not all that happened in between. Good thought-provoking book. I'll have to figure out who the right kind of person is who'll want to read this one... Favorite quote - "How you act on the court is how you'll act off the court."

     Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
          Thank you, Yvette, for this great gift for our classroom! I engulfed this one and it will have a place of honor on our shelves. (Some content may be too mature for 7th grade.)
          Page after page is decorated with humans - each one has a story. Do you know it, or do you pretend to know it? With seventh graders judging 1,000,000 ways to Sunday, this is the perfect book to share with them.

     Seraphina's Promise by Ann Burg
          I thought this book about Seraphina's promise to herself (and to her baby brother who had passed) was very sweet. Filled with Haitian Creole phrases and melodramatic rhythm, this book written in prose was the perfect companion to me on my snow/cold day off of school. I don't know if you can count it as historical fiction, but it does include the earthquake Haiti suffered in 2010. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes books in prose, quick reads, and who appreciates all they have. I have some very simple quotes from this book that say a ton about life.

Science Fiction:
     Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
          Woah. This book sucked me in from the first page. Being a teen of the 80s and a video gamer (alas, I've tamed that addiction), I loved the premise of this book. I know just what 8th graders need to read it, too! There was one sexually-mature page, and quite a bit of foul language, but I was able to overlook those and see the point of the story - get out and ENJOY this world!!

     Unbroken, by Laura Hillanbrand
          I started this book a couple of years ago, and loaned it out when I was at chapter five - about 30 pages in. I picked it up again and finished it in three days. I don't know what to say except that I doubt I will ever read another book like it. The fact that Louis Zamperini actually came away unbroken and lived with unbridled effervescence until this year is astounding. Stellar role model and inspiration... We're heading to see the movie for New Year's Eve tonight - I hope they do it justice.

I Can't Believe I Kept Reading It:
     Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
           Actually, I didn't read this entire book this year... It took me two years to finish! As my ears got red and I felt I had to hide while reading this book, I can't believe I actually finished it! I don't know what to think about it, but I'm glad I read this book I've only heard whispered about! ("Didn't you have to read Lolita in college?" Nope!)

You're Next:
     What were your favorites of 2014? Please leave yours in the comments so we all have more great books to devour! Here's to 2015!

Saturday, December 13, 2014