My 7th grade Language Arts / Literature 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!

Saturday, April 19, 2014


I am writing my first "blog tour" post! Thank you for this opportunity, Jen Vincent & Meenoo Rami!

On this tour, readers of THRIVE: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami are giving their own thoughts about what struck them from this book. I will do the same, and yet, from a different angle.

I know THRIVE will be very beneficial for new teachers, or teachers who are in a slump and need a boost. I got the most out of chapter five - "Empower Your Students." This has been my focus this year, and I want to look at THRIVE through this lens. How could the ideas in Meenoo Rami's book apply to my students? I will be handing this helpful book to a teacher who feels she or he needs to be reinvigorated, but I'm going to use this book to my advantage to help me empower my students even more. I'm going to look at each chapter through the eyes of my students. How can I empower my students even more by sharing tips for teachers in this gem of a book?

Turn to Mentors
     My question: How can my 7th graders turn to mentors?
     Find one teacher who you can turn to when you need assistance - or find multiple teachers you can turn to for different reasons. Have on hand friends who can do the same. Who do you go to when you need to vent your frustrations? Who do you go to when you can't understand your homework? Who do you go to when you need fashion advice? ;-) If you are missing someone in your life who can help you with a question you have, ask around. Use your friends and teachers to find that next resource - that next connection. In turn, make sure you are showing thanks and help in ways you know how. Share with these mentors your own genius - your own unique skills.

Join and Build Networks
     My question: How can my 7th graders join and build networks?
     Do you want to get better at what you love? Start blogging about your passions. Connecting with others who have the same passions will help you access knowledge, create knowledge, and share your own knowledge. Another way to connect is through Your Sphere - a safe place to share your skills with others and even help the world be a little better. From there, you can #Choose2Matter! The best person to help you build a network for helping others - Angela Maiers“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson. You can do this by joining and building networks with others who want to make this world a better place.

Keep Your Work Intellectually Challenging
     My question: How can my 7th graders (who are bored because our work is "too easy") keep their work intellectually challenging?
     You're not "getting anything" out of your classes? It's time to learn on your own. Let's face it - you are not likely to be interested in EVERY class you take, but know that you CAN become more interested (and thus, more invested) in each class by pursuing what you want to know about the subject. Finished with the homework from the most boring class in the world? Time to look for resources related to that topic that will challenge you. Don't want to learn about the different types of rocks? Research WHY knowing these types of rocks is important. Research the rock that might lie beneath the grass in your yard. Is it okay to have these rocks there, or should they be taken out in order for you to have a lush lawn? You can diagram sentences in your sleep? Give yourself a speech by someone famous to try to diagram. What makes this speech so special - can you figure it out from the patterns in the sentences? If you're a big reader, how do the structure of the sentences your favorite author uses make it such great writing?

Listen to Yourself
     My question: I currently try to encourage this with my students all the time, but what else can I do?
     For the student who "plays school..." You get good grades, and keep your mouth shut, yet you're not happy. You just want to move on. If you are silent, you become disconnected from your work and could be wasting precious minutes of your life. It's time to listen to yourself.
     What's the matter?
     Are you bored during school? Let the teacher know. Ask for help as to what can challenge you in class.
     Are you scared or worried about something? Confide in a trusted friend or teacher. See what they know about this anxiety of yours. There are others who have the same fears and worries. Speak up when you believe it will benefit you or your friends/classmates.
     Goethe was right when he wrote, "Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." (p69) Let others know what you're all about - let them know your insecurities and your strengths, and make those connections that will last you a lifetime.

Empower Your Students
     My question: I try to do this for my students, but how can I encourage them to empower themselves?
     There are "no good books to read?" WRITE one!  Class is boring? Ask the teacher why what he/she is teaching should be important to you! School announcements aren't exciting? Make one yourself and show them how it's done! Eighth grade teachers aren't going to give you Genius Hour time? Convince them through a video, letter with signatures, help from the principal, or even going to the school board with the benefits of such time in school! Things aren't right?? MAKE THEM RIGHT! YOU can be the change. As Kid President (aka Robby Novak) asks, "What will YOU create that will make the world more awesome?"

Let's use THRIVE: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami to empower teachers and students alike!

Please visit the other blogs on this tour to learn more about how you can use this book in your life...

THRIVE - by Meenoo Rami - Blog Tour 2014
Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts
Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy
Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.
Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone
Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)
Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent
Beth Shaum Use Your Outside Voice
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Troy Hicks at Hickstro
Joy Kirr at Genius Hour
Tara Smith at The Teaching Life
Antero Garcia at The American Crawl
John Spencer at Education Rethink
Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg at Unleashing Readers

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Blackout Poetry

They say to first try yourself those activities you want your students to try...

April is National Poetry Month, and one idea that's been floating around to encourage children who dismiss poetry as being for "writers," is blackout poetry. You'll need a newspaper or a discarded book.

Blackout Poetry is shown quickly in this video:

Jason Stephenson & Lesley Mosher are encouraging everyone to take part in Blackout Poetry Week, which is April 7-11th this year. Since I might suggest it to my students, I thought I'd try it out myself first. It's tough, but an interesting process occurs in your head. Here are my results - I was thinking of the blog post I wrote a little over a year ago about challenging the status quo...

I kept changing my mind, but here's what it says...

"Breaking new ground often means breaking the rules." (Daily Herald, 3/29/14, Section 6)

Safe had gone.
Special plan...
Adjustment in attitudes would be a challenge.
Slow... new vision... goal... enormous project.
To give St(udents!) - 7s (7th grade!) - new power.

(Ultimate meaning - I had a plan to give the seventh graders more power over their learning. It was dazzling. Let's toast!!)
Not the best, I know, but I can only get better!!

It's in my lap as I write this, and I still smell the fumes. But I haven't "colored" like this in a long time, and my head was spinning the entire time (10-15 min?), changing what I thought was important, trying to see a line I could use...

Check out how to get you and/or your students involved in this post by Jason:
     Blackout Poetry
and this one by Lesley:
     Blackout Poetry

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Follow Fridays

Since my first days on Twitter, I always wondered about the #FF hashtag. "Follow Fridays" ? What did that mean?

I've since come to know that it means (in simple terms) "You should be following this person."

I could never get on this trend. I have thought of it every Friday, as I see so many #FF tweets, but I can't bring myself to tweet out any! And here's my reason (excuse?): There are SO MANY educators I'd like to see people listen to... I can't choose just a few for tweets! Lame excuse? Maybe. But it's something I haven't done, and I'm okay with that. It's not that I don't find #FF tweets to be useful (I find myself following many of the suggested people) or humbling (I am always humbled when my name is tagged on one); it's just that this is not how I choose to spend my time tweeting.

So how have I shown my appreciation for other educators on Twitter? I've sent thank yous for small things during the week, or DMs saying how much I appreciated such-and-such, and I leave myriad comments on people's posts, to let them know I appreciate them sharing their thoughts.

I found out this past Friday that others also feel overwhelmed with the amount of thanks we feel we need to provide on Twitter. I received a "thank you" tweet from Jon Harper... "Thank you for being so positive and encouraging all the time. I am certain those around you feel it often." WOW. I felt proud of myself. I'm so glad that's what Jon sees in what I tweet. I'm happy that it comes through, as this is what I strive for. And you know what? His thoughtful thank you makes me want to be even more positive and encouraging.

I wondered what brought this on. So I checked his tweets...

Oh. My. He couldn't do #FF either! So he decided to do his own version of giving gratitude...

Jon has done this before, in this post about Seth Berg. I co-created The Power of Appreciation blog because I was inspired by another grateful man, Rik Rowe. Jon was the fourth one to take us up on posting a thank you letter to someone he admired. And now he's got me thinking (always - check out his blog!)... I've been stuck in my thinking for a couple of years regarding #FFs, and haven't looked for alternatives. I cannot jump on the #FF wagon, but I CAN do something as Jon has done. I can try a version of "Thankful Thursdays."

I've looked at the hashtags... #TT doesn't work. I don't know what it stands for, but there's too much profanity on that hashtag for me to feel like I can use it. #ThTh doesn't work, either - I learned that it stands for "too hot to handle." So... no problem. No need to use a hashtag. Just do what Jon has modeled for us. If you think others should follow that person (no doubt, right?!), tag the tweet with the hashtag where you think others would find him or her (#elachat, #mschat, #scichat, etc.).

Thank someone you know. In a blog post, in 140 characters, in a written letter, in a phone call, in person...

My next step? Do this with people I actually work with in my school on a more consistent basis. Thank you, Jon, for this push - for being a role model for us all!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What's the value in Frozen Marbles?

A respected Twitter colleague of mine wrote a post last week titled, “Be Careful of Genius Hour.” As soon as I read it, I realized that the comments section wasn't the place for my thoughts on this close-to-my-heart subject...

If I could put Laura’s post into a question, it might be “During Genius Hour time, are students learning something valuable?” This has been asked before, in a different way, in Denise  Krebs’ post here - “Must the Students?” - Must the students be able to explain why their project is worth learning? (Check out the comments on that one - and add your own!) I love that this question is still being asked, as it is one that many teachers, parents, and administration ask. Let’s keep this conversation going.

I sometimes think some of my students' projects are not "valuable." However, here is where I find the value in doing something such as baking brownies (which, for us, is done at home) or playing Minecraft...

Collaboration, cooperation, social skills… if they are working with friends
  • Getting prepared
  • Following directions
  • Perseverance / Stamina / Determination
  • Follow through (cleaning up, whether they succeeded or failed)
  • Doing what they love and being proud to share that with others
How to make baking brownies “more valuable...” Ask this student try 4 different recipes, and create one of his/her own have a taste test with 5 different recipes, one being his or her own learn how to decorate the brownies in various ways learn how to shape the brownies so it makes a design make brownies to sell for a specific purpose/charity start a blog with dessert recipes he/she has tried and modified

How to make playing Minecraft “more valuable…” Ask this student build something to scale - such as their school or a monument in town add to their 3D model something new that isn’t in the original - something they think should be there (something to make this place even better) create a tutorial on how to build in Minecraft create a video when they are finished with one aspect, to show what they are learning along the way ask other students what they’d like to see from a Minecraft project (I have a student who is making a roller coaster quiz game in Minecraft - if you get an answer wrong, you get ejected! I have no clue how he’s doing this…!)

ALWAYS ALWAYS ask, “How could you have done better?” and “What would you change if there was a ‘next time?’” and “How have you grown with this experience?” or “How will this experience help you in life?” I believe the reflection piece is necessary for more learning to occur the next time. I have students fill out this reflection form (adapted from Denise Krebs’ form on the wiki) every time they share what they’ve done / learned with the class. Not every project is something I would deem “valuable.” I’m not in seventh grade either.  I like coming to school. I find time to do what I love there and at home. Do your students?

Any project can be a learning experience. It may not be up to par with what we think constitutes valuable class time, but ask yourself this…
  • Is the student engaged?
  • Does the student feel like he matters?
  • Does the student want to come back to school the next day?
  • And something that helps with the rest of your week: Do you know your student better?
Here’s a photo from the latest quick presentation from a student of mine… “Frozen Marbles” she called it. She filled up balloons with water and froze them on a tray in the freezer at school. The next week, she and her friends peeled the balloons off of the ice. Here is the result:

She was intrigued by the design inside of the ice. She wondered what she could DO with the frozen marbles. Where is she going next? She’s going to try a bunch of quick experiments and video tape them. Her final presentation will be a video of all she has tried, including their successes and failures, and what she's learned. Is this valuable? She’s engaged in learning - on her own. When she presented her findings on this tiny project, the rest of the class was rapt, making her feel important. She wants to keep learning, and to try more difficult experiments. I get to learn more and more about her each week.

I obviously don’t have all the answers. I'm still learning, along with my students. Please, let’s keep this conversation going so we can help each other help our students become life-long learners...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Does Reading Actually Change the Brain?

This is a short close-reading activity we tried in our 7th grade ELA classes…

We had just finished reading a difficult article (“Demystifying the Adolescent Brain”) that we used in conjunction with Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science. We had finished writing our polished piece, as well. It was time for a change. To transition back to fiction for a bit, we found this article, “Does Reading Actually Change the Brain?” and decided to use it for a quick activity.

We had four steps to this activity. Here were the instructions for each step:
1. Read silently. Jot down at least two questions you have after reading this selection.

2. Read aloud - Jot down any more questions you may have while your teacher reads this aloud.

3. Choose one - Choose one of your questions to put on the sticky notes. You will be asking this question to your group.

4. In groups - Person whose first initial of his/her last name closest to Z goes first. That person puts his/her sticky note on the sheet of paper, as he/she is asking it of the group. While the group helps him/her with an answer, he/she writes down notes that reflect the group’s answers/discussion. Continue going around the group discussing questions.

Before you peek at what the students came up with, try this yourself. It makes a difference if you actually try what you ask of your students. Go on… this post will wait.

Questions students created - check out how there were only a few literal questions, mostly inferential questions, and some critical thinking questions thrown in for good measure (and quality discussions):

Are the results different for a less interesting book?
Why did they read in the evening?
Does gender matter?
Why do your favorite novels affect more of your brain?
Why does reading a novel “change” your brain?
What does “shadow activity” mean?
Does the genre/type of the book affect how much or how little your brain changes?
How does the brain “connect” to the story?
What is a protagonist?
How long does this brain activity last? Is it possible to tell?
How old are the patients?
In fMRI scans, can they actually read your mind?
Would a different story have a different effect on your brain?
Do all books do that?
Would a picture book have the same effect?
Why does reading define a person?
Does how long it takes you to read the book matter?
How does this affect your life?
Why didn’t the neural changes have immediate reactions?
Does this happen with every book or only the ones you’re interested in?
Can a novel about negativity make someone negative?
Does it matter if it is a short story or novel?
Why did they only use 21 students?

What I loved about this activity… It was one period long (40 min). I did not teach - students taught and learned from each other. Students were engaged in talking about what THEY wanted to know from the text. Students had to go back to the text again and again to find answers or prove their theories. When they were finished, I could see who didn’t seem to understand the basics, and who could have gone further with this material in some fashion. The article was engaging, and non threatening, as they had one time reading it independently, and another with me reading it aloud.

How I might modify this activity… I could have had the question with the most discussion and disagreement from each group up on the board, voted on one as a class, and held a fishbowl discussion. I might try to teach them how to take discussion notes first, as I noticed that some notes were verbatim what they said, and some were one-word responses. Some were a bit immature, as well, but that taught me that I needed to make the rounds to more groups!

This close-reading activity was inspired by a day of professional development given by my district. Yes, indeed - some district-initiated PD is worth it, and for that I am grateful!

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Don't Do Countdowns

"Five more days!"
"This is the last Tuesday until break!"
"Remember, only three days left!"
"One more wake up!"

I don't do countdowns.
In fact, I can't stand them.
I can't believe I used to join in countdowns with my students.. or worse yet - LEAD them.

Don't get me wrong - At times, I countdown - IN MY HEAD. I do not celebrate countdowns in front of students. If I'm having a particularly tough week, I may get excited that Friday is coming. I also get excited when there's a great professional development in sight (see the countdown calendar to the right of this blog). However, you won't find me making a calendar, crossing off dates, taking numbers down, or saying anything to students about the end of a school week, quarter, or year.

What's wrong with a little "celebration?"
     Some students actually look forward to school. YES. Hooray for them!
     Some students would rather be at school than at home, for various reasons.
     I'd like students to think that I actually LIKE being there with them. (Of course - I DO!)

I'm tired of countdowns that signal the end of a school week.

That being said, there are nine more days until I get to see my students once more!

I am excited to come back to school refreshed, and ready to make our days COUNT.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

If Only

I have met Amy one time - we were presenting at IATE, thanks to Fremd High School English teachers! And then I hear... she's writing a book. A BOOK! Well, isn't everybody?

That's the thing. The answer is NO. I am not. My husband is not. I know nine seventh graders who are writing a book, and I know teachers who've written professional books, but I don't know any other adult who is writing a fiction book.

I started watching her tweets more closely (she's on my "met face-to-face" list on Tweet Deck), and sure enough, it was going to be published in March! So I watched even more closely... surely I could get an ARC, yes? After all, I followed AJ Pine when she was AMY Pine! ;-)

YES! I received an electronic copy in my email last week, and immediately uploaded it to my iPad. I finished it today (during ISATs), and wrote a quick review of If Only on GoodReads here. Since this blog is about what I've learned, however, I'm going that route...

What I've learned about myself, writing, and reading...
     * From line one, I knew this book was NOT for my seventh graders!
     * This was the first book I've read on my iPad. I'm a paper person. However, I learned I was okay with bookmarking a page in the middle of a chapter... This does NOT happen when I read paper books.
     * I realized it's okay to read a romance every now and then! (Especially when Noah is in it!)
     * I have a feeling Amy went through the Scotland adventure herself - she knew so much of what she was writing. We start by writing what we know, right? She also threw in 80s and 90s references - I caught a few, and found I connected more with her when she threw in lines from mine and my husband's favorite movie (I'm not spoiling it - you'll have to read it yourself - even the lines on the last page hit home for me)!
     * I found myself looking at sentence structure, seeing vocabulary I loved, and recognizing character traits and patterns of speech more than I ever have. Was I wondering what I would write for a review? No. I was wondering how I could write like this. I was wondering how people come up with stories. I was wondering how authors come up with believable characters.
     * I stayed on the lookout for good quotes - we have a "literary graffiti" ceiling in room 239. Here's one of my favorites:  I'm suddenly aware that my lack of success in the male/female relationship department might have something to do with my preference for boys made from words. (p94)
     * I was reminded that I am illiterate when it comes to "Literature" (with a capital L). I don't know the books (or even movies) Jordan (the main character - and I'm sure Amy, too) is in love with. I have added the movie (I don't think I'd understand the book!) "A Room With a View" to my list, and even one of Shakespeare's works...... I've got some work ahead of me. I'm still working through one of the quotes at the beginning of one of the sections of If Only...
     * I was inspired. I would like to say I was inspired to write my own novel...... It's not that I don't consider myself a writer (sigh...I still really don't), but I have often wondered... What would I write about? I don't consider myself creative. I'm pretty good at copying what others do, but I'm not great at coming up with ideas on my own. And a story? HAH! I have never even written a short story. That doesn't mean I can't... It means I must try. If I expect my students to try, I need to try, as well. Ugh.
     * I wondered how many books or short stories Amy has written.... How many times has she "failed?" How many edits has she made? How many times has she felt her writing was "not good enough?" I wonder if she'll Skype with my writers' group some day this year???  (Go ahead, Amy - please answer in the comments!)
     * I realized once again that we bring our background to what we read. My husband and I are on page 31, and again on page 331... In fact, I had to read a few parts aloud to him...

And my last thought for tonight...
     * If you know the author, but the book is written well, you will forget that that person read it, and just be swept up in it...


Embrace is excited to be announcing the release of Amy Pine’s If Only, which readers are already raving about!  Plus you can pick up If Only on sale for just $.99 right now.

 On Sale: March 24, 2014

About If Only:

Sometimes it takes crossing an ocean to figure out where you belong.

It's been two years since twenty-year-old Jordan had a boyfriend—which means it's been forever since she, well, you know. But now she’s off to spend her junior year in Aberdeen, Scotland, the perfect place to stop waiting for Mr. Right and just enjoy Mr. Right Now.

Sexy, sweet (and possible player) Griffin may be her perfect, no-strings-attached match. He’s fun, gorgeous, and makes her laugh. So why can’t she stop thinking about Noah who, minutes after being trapped together outside the train’s loo, kisses Jordan like she’s never been kissed before? Never mind his impossible blue eyes, his weathered, annotated copy of The Great Gatsby (total English-major porn)…oh, and his girlfriend.

Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Aberdeen is supposed to be about fun rather than waiting for life to happen. But E. M. Forster, Shakespeare, and mistletoe on Valentine’s Day make her reconsider what love is and how far she’s willing to go for the right guy.
Find If Only Online:

Find A.J. Online:

If Only Swag Pack -An “I love you from here to Scotland” print, Ahava pendent, A pack each of Much Ado about Nothing and A Room With a View confetti, Much Ado about Nothing travel mug and A Room With a View Blu-ray (a $25 Amazon gift card will be substituted if winner is outside the US).                      a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fishbowl Discussions

We should have started these types of discussions back in September or October, but I'm so very glad we're starting now. I needed to get my reflections down on how "fishbowl discussions" went in my 7th grade ELA classes this week. Why are we trying these? Because the 7th grade ELA team of teachers knows that to get students doing most of the work is how they learn. We want to keep them engaged in the lesson by being able to share their ideas, and we want to help them be able to listen to and learn from one another.

Day 1:  I began by asking, "What are the components of a good discussion?" I then asked WHY we have discussions. Their answers were as follows: To figure out answers to questions, to practice listening, to get other's viewpoints, to learn something new, to share what we know.
     Next, we watched the first 6 minutes of Paul Bogush's fishbowl discussion video. Students asked, "Are we going to do this?" Yup! We then practiced moving the tables and chairs - I feel that since I pointed it out during the video that they would be moving their own tables, they rose to the challenge. Since I wanted an easy discussion first, we read a scenario* (here are some we may use in the future), and asked for our first volunteers. Reviewed "rules," and started discussing. I kept notes on who talked, and who chose to stay in the background. With 7-10 minutes left to spare, we moved the tables and chairs back and I asked students to suggest how to incorporate more people into the discussion.

Student suggestions -
     * When you're done speaking, you can get out of the discussion without someone being waiting to come in. That way there's an open invitation of an empty seat.
     * You can join just to ask one question if you'd like.
     * You can encourage someone to come in for you - make a suggestion to someone.
     * You can give your question or idea to a friend and he or she can come in for you.

My observations -
     * I love how my three classes moved the tables differently. I gave my first class too many directions, I realized, after my second class went right to it without my help. Their middle table formation was different than the first class, and my last class had a different outer circle formation. Let the students to figure it out!
     * My first class (the quiet, compliant class) was still quiet, but they listened well to each other, and responded positively to each other.  One thing they did not do - disagree. It almost seemed as if they were too nice. (Is that possible?) There wasn't much dissension.
     * My second class (the tech-loving, opinion sharing class) was very disappointed to see their discussion end. I heard one student on his way out say, "I like this. We actually have a chance to get a word in." I did notice that a handful were in the fishbowl more often than others, and they started to get frustrated with each other near the end, repeating what they'd said prior.
     * My third class (the after-lunch exuberant class) was the most active - jumping in and out and in and out like a whirlwind! However, it was the same few students throughout, and they didn't respond "bounce ideas off each other" like they said they had listed in their "components of a good discussion."

My changes for the next session -
     * Ask block 3/4 how to get more students involved, and show them how they can nicely disagree.
     * Limit students in block 5/6 to two times in the circle, saying two solid ideas each time.
     * Create small handout of response starters for them to use so they begin listening to each other. (I also put these in the fishbowl for block 5/6.)

Day 2: We have a question of the day in the back of the room. Students' names are on individual magnets, and they move their names over under the answer to the question. This day's question was, "On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think our fishbowl discussion went yesterday?" They answered as they came in.
We then looked at our ideas from the day before so they could see what they did well and on what they could improve, and asked the question again. Each class seemed determined to do better than the first discussion. Students had a few suggestions that they were willing to try, and I was excited to see how each class could improve.
     We first voted on a scenario from two choices. We read, moved the tables and chairs (oh so quickly this time!), and students were in the middle, ready to go. There was an added job today, however. I asked students to take notes on what other students said - anything that surprised them, made them think deeper, etc.
     With 10 minutes left to spare, we moved the tables and chairs back and I asked students to share with me what they wrote down. I projected these quotes on the board, and showed them how we will be using our notes to write about the experience (during tomorrow's scenario). I asked for a quick "thumbs up, middle, or down" as to how well we did today - and celebrated with them their progress.

My observations -
     * Thank goodness for wheels on my tables. Students were quick to figure out what tables go where.
     * The same amount of students participated in my first class, but one was different than yesterday. They also disagreed more often, but still in a respectful way.
     * More students in block 5/6 were able to participate! It seemed as if they were choosing their words carefully, as well, as they didn't want to leave the circle too quickly.
     * My last class made me laugh - they used the response starters to the hilt! They sounded sarcastic, but it did encourage them to listen more to each other. One student pulled out a line from our last huge unit about neuroscience - "How old is he (the "new kid" in the scenario we read)? He's in high school? Well, then we know his brain isn't fully developed yet!" I was cracking up!

My changes for the next session -
     * Make sure students on the outside of the circle are sitting two to a table only. At times there were three, and that seemed to encourage whispers.
     * I will NOT give the class a time limit that they can see - I did this for my last class and it backfired. They stopped talking early, and asked that they not know how many minutes they had until they only had two minutes left. Done.
     * Make sure, for tomorrow, each student is ready to take notes on what their classmates say. This was difficult for many today. I'm glad we tried it with no pressure of a prompt first, and I'm glad I'm not grading their prompt they'll turn in tomorrow.

Day 3: Our question in the back of the room was the same.
We first celebrated what we did well the day before, and then suggested goals for the day. I shared my goal - students taking notes on what their classmates were saying. Before we read today, I asked students to write about success. "What does success mean to you? What does it mean to be successful?" Students had 10 minutes, and wrote a full page on average. We then read Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Success."  Then the discussions began.
     After discussions, I asked students to add to their writing, using the text, comments from their classmates, and their own reflections.  My prompt when they began writing - Explain how the text or the discussion changed their thinking.

Student suggestions -
     * Drop the poem. They wanted to have the discussion based on their writing, not on the poem.
     * One said that if we grade them on their participation, more will go in the middle.
     * My middle class likes the new rule of going in only two times.

My observations -
     * Students wrote (before the discussion) for a long time... some wanted more than 10 minutes.
     * Students were eager to move the tables, and did so very quickly.
     * Two students went into the circle and did not say anything. They were finally tapped out, and did not resist.
     * I found it very hard to not "rein in" my middle class, as they got off topic once (I popped in to say, "Let's remember our focus"), and right before I was ready to pop in again, they came back on topic themselves.
     * When the sub for our teaching assistant asked a question from outside of the circle, the students near him quietly explained that he could "tap in" if he wanted to talk.
     * My last class really focused just on the lines in the poem, and finally got so frustrated with it they asked me if they had to discuss it. I said, "Go ahead and discuss 'success.'"
     * Students who were listening had a lot to write after the discussion. Students who were not in the middle or did not listen had a very difficult time writing more than one or two sentences.

My changes for next session -
     * Let students discuss their own writing first, then add the poem when they've run out of steam.
     * Let students know how many times they've been in a discussion so far (0/3, 1/3, 2/3, 3/3) so they know I'm aware. If they have been in 0/3, give them pointers on the bottom of a note so they feel that they can jump in. (I created this document for now, but can modify later.)
     * Keep asking students to reflect on what went well, and on what they can improve. They're so good at this, and it seems to give them focus when they begin a new session.
     * I've created a self-reflection sheet, as well (which will probably work better than me giving them the notes I wrote about above).
     * Give students a goal of TWO quotes that they will use in their writing after the discussion.
     * Give any substitute the directions for fish bowl discussions. ;-)

Student quotes I wrote down regarding "success" (from all three classes) -
     "...depends on your goal in life."
     "If you are NOT successful, you learn more from failing."
     "It's not what others want you to do; it's different for everyone."
     "...friends, family, and education..."
     "...who you surround yourself with..."
     "If you hate yourself, are you not successful?"
     "It's how you feel about yourself - what makes you happy."
     "It's giving back..."
     "...doing the right thing..."
     "...helping others... bubbling with excitement..."
     "Success is hard work."
     "...if I tried my hardest... be patient..."
     "...persistence - don't be a quitter..."
     "You've succeeded if you have friends that are there for you."
     "Success is something YOU determine."
     "You have to keep elevating it... want to be superior to others..."
     "...make your way up there with smaller goals..."
     "You don't feel like you've successfully completed something if no one knows about it."
     " long as you do something that helps others..."
     "You might have to miss out on things..."
     "Do what is important to you."
     "Live in the present."
     "Only you can say that you've succeeded."

Oh, be still my heart. I love it when seventh graders make sense... Scroll down on this page to see some of their writing.

We will continue to add to this writing regarding success - after we read, analyze, and have more discussions regarding the first two chapters of Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.

* We have read two scenarios provided by Michael Smith - co-author of Fresh Takes on Teaching: Literary Elements - He had come to our school to share some great ideas!