Posted in classroom, reflection, teaching practice

Sweet Summer Time – A Year in Review

It’s officially summer break, and this teacher is so happy. I just finished (read survived) my second year teaching – yay! While this year was easier having the experience, it certainly had its challenges. Our district opened a new school, and I was part of the inaugural team. This not only meant a new team, but a new building, new admins, new curriculum opportunities, hundreds of new families, and kiddos that have never been in our district, following our rules and procedures. Next year (my third year), will certainly be easier since we will have indoctrinated the students and families to our ways.

Reflecting on my year, though, the newness of the school is not what stands out in my mind. Yes, I think the newness made us all feel more like a family, creating something together. And the kids sure got a kick out of all of “the firsts.” They got to be the first to play on the playground, the first to sit in their desks, many were the first to use their textbooks and classroom novels, the first to sit in the classrooms, scuff up the floors, sticker up the lockers, and bring laughter to the halls. But what really stands out to me are all of the experiences that I got to share with my students. Having finished my masters in December, I had buckets full of newfound time that I could dedicate to creating more engaging lessons. I discovered that creating a fun name for an activity is sometimes all it takes to turn a boring, run of the mill worksheet into the most anticipated day of the week, month, or even semester. We did two big activity days that the kids were talking about up to the last day of school: Review Olympics and Escape Room.

The first, “Review Olympics,” was a day of games meant to review concepts before our unit test. I stole activities and worksheets from other days, things I knew the kids had enjoyed and learned from, modified them for the current content, and told the kiddos we would be competing for The Olympics. They got together in teams of 4 and picked a team name, and then it was off to the games. The key to making every student participate, I found, was telling them that their team would be disqualified if not every student participated. I would not disqualify the team from every game, just the game they were lacking participation. While this sounds extremely harsh, I found that students were more likely to pull their lagging teammates along with the added incentive. Oh, and I also had real prizes that I picked up from the Target Dollar Spot (slime, fun erasers, notebooks, locker mirrors).

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Four students completing the vocabulary sort. These ladies worked so well as a team!

The activities, while involving a TON of prep (thank you to my kind, eager, helpful students for cutting and sorting many sentences and game pieces), were an easy and fun way to check for student understanding. They also allowed me to help students/groups one on one who were struggling with the content. The main activities I used were:

  1. Definition sort (seen above) – give students definitions of literary terms and words; they must then sort the words with the correct definition
  2. Part of Speech People Hunt (Kagan Strategy) – Part of Speech Search Sample
  3. Figurative Language Four (8) Corners – Due to the large number of “corners” and the congested room, each team sent a representative to the front. The representatives stood with their backs to the wall, could not run, shove, or otherwise impede the travel of the other participants. I read an example of figurative language and they went to the appropriate label. This was really fun to watch their brains work, especially on the idiom/hyperbole examples.
  4. Quizizz – This was an independent game. Each person must complete the quizizz (and then I could see their data for later remediation/support), but the team with the single highest score won the points. This helped to give the early finishers something to do. Since it was still essentially a team competition, they wanted to make sure that all players do well. If you haven’t created quizizz before, you need to. They are super easy, and the kids like them more than kahoot. (and they have fun memes!)
  5. Narrative Writing Grading – Because 6th graders get tested on narrative writing, I wanted to incorporate a narrative writing activity into the ACT Aspire Games. I gave students a writing sample and asked them to give it a grade. They used a rubric and collectively came up with a grade. The key for judging this activity was to give students a clear guideline to follow. I asked my students to, following the rubric, give the author 3 things he/she did well and 4 things he/she needs to improve upon.

I definitely plan on hosting the Review Olympics again next year. I need to be better at saving my supplies so that I don’t have to recreate them every games. But I honestly cannot think of a more engaging activity in my classroom.

What do you do in your classroom to review? What is the most engaging activity you lead this past year?

Posted in classroom, reflection

100 Days Smarter

Last week we celebrated the 100th Day of School. It seems crazy that I have already spent 100 days with these precious kiddos. Last year, a new teacher, every day seemed to be a struggle. I was still in school myself and was constantly overwhelmed by the demands that every teacher faces – lesson planning, grading, parent contact, after school duties, IEP/504 meetings, and the incredible amount of paperwork on top of the class time with my 6th and 8th graders. This year, I have figured out my system. I am no longer in school (yay!) and I have a plethora of plans and methods at my finger tips. Yes, I still have the endless planning, grading, and (groan) paperwork, but I look at it all through new eyes. “I have done this before,” I tell myself. “I know the material,” I tell myself. “I know these kids,” I tell myself. And now, reflecting on the 100 days that have passed, I am no longer giving myself a pep talk, I actually do know what I am doing.

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To celebrate the 100 Days of School, my students and I wrote limericks. We are neck deep in our poetry unit, finishing up this coming week actually, and my students have been creating their own poetry portfolios. The week of the 100 Days of School fell on our limerick week, and so what better way to share our memories than to write about them. This lesson was not very well planned. Honestly, I just told the kiddos to pick a memory and go. There was no modeling, no strict instructions. (“Write about the first week!” “Cut your paper in half!” “You can only draw one picture!” “You must use colors!”) I have a strong belief in student led learning, and so this activity was completely student driven. Some drew beautiful illustrations, while others wrote in pencil on their construction paper. The only 3 requirements I gave – it must be a limerick, it must be about school, and it must be on construction paper. My students even created the bulletin board. I was a bit upset that not every one of the 80 poems fit, but look at how beautiful our 100 days of memories turned out!20170202_171139

 

Posted in classroom

Family

Well, school starts tomorrow. Until 7:45 tomorrow, I think I’ll still have to convince myself that last year’s group of students have really grown up, that they really won’t be sitting in front of my eager eyed and ready to learn. It is true, they do become your own. You love each one of them. At this moment I have 75 kids. Tomorrow I add another 89.

Posted in classroom

Back to School

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The transition has been rough on this girl, too.

Guys, I forgot how exhausting the beginning of the school year is; I have literally been in bed by 8:30 every day this week. On top of that, my classroom is still a wreck, and classes start on Monday! With us starting a new school, there are so many things that we all still need to work out, and our team has been working together non stop to hammer out the crucial details, sometimes to ad nauseam. But once Monday comes, it will all be worth it. These 6th grade babies – grown ups – will walk through our doors, and we will get to geek out over books, grammar (yes, I love to geek out over grammar!), writing, and everything else school.

 

Since I can’t show you my beautiful Reading Rainbow classroom yet because it is still a massive work in progress, I will gift you with my list of excitements for the year.

  • Classroom Economy, complete with job chart, classroom store, and specially designed money courtesy of my wonderful hubby
  • Book Club – what started out as just another thing on the never ending list of teacher obligations has quickly turned into a fun adventure searching for fun titles to share with my rambunctious group of 6th graders
  • Parking Lot to house all of the off topic, irrelevant, or lengthy questions for us to get to later
  • “Ketchup Binder” to house daily notes, extra handouts, and announcements for absent students
  • Classroom Fridge – because every teacher needs teacher snacks, and even better, it has a separate freezer for popsicles or Ben and Jerry’s!