Happy New Year from Ms. Mushroom

Well, now that 2011 is water under the bridge (or over the dam, however you prefer to interpret this bit of visual imagery) I think it’s a good time for some reflection before I dive into the rest of the school year.  We still have another week of vacation (lucky ducks!!), but I decided to go to school today and tackle the mess I left back in December.  Boy, was I glad I did, because my classroom was a disaster. When I was beginning to do some lesson planning, I picked a new textbook out of a student’s desk to look at the next unit.  I found, apart from some nasty graffiti and the student’s Facebook moniker, a friendly note written in four colors of highlighter on a piece of binder paper.  Among other things it commented that “Ms. Mushroom is boring.  This movie is boring too.”  Hm.  I know kids have nicknames for their teachers, but I never knew I had one.  Ms. Mushroom, really? I don’t even like fungi.  I stapled that note to the wall next to my desk, just to keep me humble.  Besides, someone will probably be horrified to see it there and I’ll learn more about my name.

I spent the day cleaning and renovating things, planning for the next semester.  Well, for the first two weeks of the semester.  The first thing I did was download and print the next Benchmark exam, because no matter what curriculum I use, I will have to give that test to my students.    That’s right, the grade level benchmark must be given to all students in the grade, regardless of their current grade level of mastery.

The Benchmark assessments were all redone this year.  I was supposed to be part of the committee, to speak for the English Learners, but the meeting was the week after my mom passed away and I was not able to be there.  More’s the pity where the benchmarks are concerned, because I think they are now about right for a college student, not a seventh grade English Learner or Special Needs student.  The upcoming test is 29 pages long, and has 66 questions.  And I thought the last one was bad with 52 questions.  And it was bad, really hard questions and indecipherable poetry, even though we hadn’t even done the poetry unit yet.  I have yet to look at this one, but just the length alone is enough to melt any seventh-grader’s gumption.  So there’s that.

I also looked over the Pacing Guide (since it will be too soon to jump right into the new curriculum I mentioned in the last post), and we are to be doing poetry for the first couple of weeks of the quarter.  I spent some time deciding how to teach that, and am pretty energized about the possibilities.  I’m going to use a combination of poetry and song lyrics, and try to make it more interesting than it has been in the past.  Some of the poetry in the book is great, but some of it is kind of, oh, boring, or dumb.  To me, anyway; so this year I’m going to improvise, making sure everything I pick addresses the necessary elements of poetry while also catching the interest of a twelve-year-old.  Once I have them chosen and put in a little booklet, I’ll come back and tell you what I chose, in case you’re interested.

I decided to re-begin the year with a little more organized schedule.  I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’m going to try this:  Monday we will set the learning objectives for the week (two grammar things and a reading goal of some sort).  We’ll have a grammar lesson and introduce whatever literature we’re reading this week.  Tuesday, we begin with a shared Science/English vocabulary word of the week, and then will spend the rest of the period with the literature (or poetry, informational text, etc.) of the week.  Wednesday, another grammar lesson and the ending of the literature.  On Thursday we will do literacy centers to review or augment the week’s learning objectives.  Friday (short day) we’ll finish with an assessment, our weekly work packets and some free reading.  To some of you this may sound simplistic, and I suppose it is.  However, if I can do something this collected I’ll feel pretty great, and I think the students will be more successful than they are currently.

Do I sound like I’m struggling to re-find my sanity in the classroom?  I suppose I am.  I always look for new and better ways to do things about this time of year.  I’m keeping them simple this year – maybe we’ll have a great second half of the year.   Hope all is well with you in this new year.  This is Ms. Mushroom here, over and out.

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