We started the year off with gigantic classes, and that lasted for two weeks so very little was accomplished during that time. Definitely nothing that is on the pacing guide. The kids bonded and I sort of stood there and flapped my hands in the air. Oh, and I bonded with a few parents. The ones I suspect I’ll be speaking with frequently this year.
We’ve worked on working collaboratively, and that is going pretty well – but that’s not such a huge challenge. My students always like to talk. It’s just been a matter of making them talk to who I want them to talk to rather than who they want to talk to – that kid that I’ve strategically placed on the other side of the classroom.
We finally got the classes down to a reasonable size, and I began our carefully designed unit on bullying. Because bullying happens a lot at middle school and we are all presenting a united front to educate and eliminate. Articles, songs, videos…we used them to teach strategies like “Say, Mean, Matter,” “Think aloud,” Cornell notetaking, two-column dialogue journals, and “Partner Grids.” That was good, and when it was time to stop, I did, even though I had more to offer. Now I do a bullying activity only on Fridays, just to keep the awareness going.
We read the first story on our list (“Seventh Grade,” by Gary Soto) and a good time was had by all. They liked it, and participated in the reading and discussing of it. Then we read our next story, “Thank you, Ma’am,” by Langston Hughes. That was a good one too. Except I started it off with a partner collaboration about a time when you did something you knew was wrong. The kids did well on that one. The principal not so much. She watched the lesson and suggested that next time I give the kids sentence starters for the questions and answers so they could practice using capital letters and ending punctuation. She missed the point completely. (I like the idea of sentence starters for discussions – a lot. But this was not about capital letters and punctuation. It was about critical thinking. Not bubbleable. Right.)
We did our two days Science/ELA lesson study. That was very cool and occasioned two days out of the classroom. No teaching happened for my students, because my sub plans were fillers, not teaching events. It’s hard when you don’t know who your sub will be. Last year I had a good one but this year she seems to be off the grid. She probably got a job. So, there went a couple more days.
This was followed by the advent of CELDT testing. That has been a distraction for all of us. We took two days of class time for it, and then another two days of their being called out for individual tests by the district testers. Check off another week. And this “quarter” was only eight weeks long. Yep, that’s the end of this quarter.
Here, to end with a little gift, are a couple of things that are working well for me so far:
1. Seating charts. I decided to change them randomly (supposedly, only the best friends always end up on opposite sides of the room) every two weeks. The first time I did it using index cards on the desks, very grown up. The kids went into such a frenzy of changing them before I came in from greeting them at the door, that one kid actually got socked in the jaw and the socker didn’t even know she’d hit him. Now I write their names on the desks with Sharpie. Ooh, they were shocked by that. “You wrote on the desks with SHARPIE??!???” (It comes off easily if you write over it with a white-board pen and then wipe it off with a Clorox cleaning cloth.) They now count on a new seating chart every two weeks. They only moved the tables once. I squelched that in a big way. I mean, really – like they didn’t think I’d notice?
2. Weekly packets of work. This was my daughter’s idea. We use a cover sheet (her design) on which the students list all of their work for the week, along with their point value. On the bottom of the page is space for a reflective paragraph which is required if they are to earn full (10) points for the packet cover. There is also a line for “sticker points.” Whenever I notice someone being especially on task or doing exceptional (for the) work, I put a little sticker on their paper. The stickers are worth 2 extra credit points, to be added into their grade at the end of the quarter. I was a little worried they’d lose their work before Friday so I created a file drawer with folders for each student where they can store it until it’s time to turn it in. This procedure is so great. They are more organized, and my grades are completely caught up at least every week or so. At first Friday was a complete packet-making frenzy that took a whole period to complete. Now they have the hang of it and it only takes about half the time. I’m looking for it to go even more quickly as we continue.
That’s it for now. I have high hopes for Quarter Two, and as always, I’ll keep you posted. My goal this time is to implement bi-weekly Literacy Centers. They will love that, I hope. You’ll read about it here, you can count on that!