Have you heard of Newsela? Maybe you already use it in your classroom, or maybe you’ve heard me discuss how I have used it with my intervention classes. Whether you’re brand new to it, or you’ve been using it for years, you might like to take a look at this comprehensive online tutorial I created called “Using Newsela Like a Pro.”
This tutorial will show you how to use Newsela to target reading strategies through text annotation, writing prompts, guided text reading, reading with a purpose, and text sets.
Well folks, I have officially been Lucy-Calk-i-fied. I am now a converted, true believer.
I spent my 2nd week of summer at a Writing Workshop retreat held in Verona, Wisconsin by Wisconsin Education Innovations. For 3 days, we learned about Mini-lessons, conferring with students, teaching points, positive language, student ownership, independence, assessment, and every single awesome thing you have every wanted for your students.
The best part is, nothing was incredibly new or earth-shattering. I didn’t hear a single buzz word or idea that I haven’t heard of (or even tried!) before. The Teacher’s College methods just happens to provide a very systematic scope and sequence, as well as a flexible structure to follow. Truly, they were all things I’ve already been doing in my classroom, but without consistency or structure.
I’ll never be a believer in canned programs, so I was glad to learn that this method has so much room for flexibility and personalization. When you say you are “doing Writing Workshop”, to me that means making a commitment to keep your teaching points brief and do-able (10 minutes or under), provide the students with most of the hour to work (40 minutes daily), to confer daily with students and give them immediate, positive, and doable feedback that they can work on right away, and to closely monitor student progress in order to personalize their education. I especially loved the positive language component of our workshop discussions.
Writing Workshop doesn’t mean everything is spelled out for us, and any monkey could teach this class. It will still take an incredibly amount of knowledge and teacher craft to design mini-lessons, choose reading materials for your particular students, know best literacy practices, guide students to become strong readers and writers, and pace your lessons appropriately.
The best analogy I can give you is that Writing Workshop provides you with the ‘kitchen’, but you need to know your patrons, choose the recipe, select the ingredients, and learn to wield the tools effectively.
By the end of the workshop, I left with an excitement to get back to the classroom and try this out. I’m perhaps most excited about the daily conferences with students. This is what was missing in my curriculum. Conferring with students will allow me to personalize their education and differentiate for individual strengths and needs.
I also left the conference with a huge wish list of books. I just can’t decide which ones to buy first!
Well, we are down to the last 9 days of school. I know, oh do I know, how tempting it is to fill in those last few weeks with ‘fluff’ and ‘fun stuff.’ But I was having none of that this year. I wanted to end the year strong. I noticed that we had not made time for argumentative writing this year, and I know how critically important that is in 8th grade (and… life), so I developed a 9-week quick tour of the argumentative genre. Believe it or not, I think my students appreciate this. I am not having the mutiny I expected, and everyone seems fairly engaged and productive :: knocks on wood::
I began by presenting a menu of options to each of my 4 classes and allowing them to choose their top 2 or 3 topics. I do have one advanced English class, and I gave them the option of “genetically modified babies,” which I did not offer to my other classes. Here were their options:
Cell phones in school
Physical Education class in school
Junk food in school
Changing the legal driving age
Legally assisted suicide
I had all topics pre-approved by the principal, and I did a few quick searched on my own to determine if there was enough credible and student-friendly material available on the internet for them. As you can see from the picture above, the top picks in each class were legally assisted suicide and cell phones in school.
The first step was teaching my students what evidence is (FEAST-ExO) and how to appropriately perform a google search to get some background information on their topic. I gave each small group a post it and asked them to post 5 indisputable facts about their topic that they found in their research. Then, I had each small group generate sub-questions that they still wondered about their topic, divvy up the questions to group members, and perform further research to add to the posters. This gave us a good foundation of knowledge about the topic before proceeding.
Following the internet research, I had the class generate a list of stakeholders in the topics and then assign each student to a stakeholder position (e.g. doctor, parent). They then created a mini profile on their stakeholder including name, age, occupation, stakes, etc. Their favorite part was drawing their stakeholder’s likeness 🙂
Our next steps were to investigate and practice writing claims, which culminated with them writing a claim for their own stakeholder based on his/her most logical position on the topic. Over the weekend, they gathered evidence their stakeholder would use to construct their argument.
This week, they will be engaging in an online threaded discussion on Google Classroom, posing as their stakeholder and defending their claim with credible and logical evidence. The final activity will be a collaborative one – they will work together to generate a solution or compromise for their topic. They will have to submit a detailed explanation of the compromise, including pros and cons.
Does this seem like a lot for a 13 year old? Not my 7th graders 🙂 They are doing fantastically. For some of my struggling students, I did offer assistance such as printed research for them to highlight and use. In general, though, I’ve been mostly hands-off and allowing them to explore this genre as independently as possible. I’ll be sure to report back once we have finished the unit to let you know how it went!
We have now finished our Online Threaded Discussions, which went very well (done on Google Classroom). Having them do much of the legwork up front, researching and familiarizing themselves with the topic and evidence, was the most useful strategy. They came prepared to discuss! Below are some snapshots of their online discussions.
At the beginning of the semester, I decided that I needed a reading bulletin board to celebrate catching my students reading. I wanted to fill my room with positive images of students filling their hearts and their brains. The initial blank board looked like this:
The hashtag at the top reads #wmsreads. Note: This was never posted on actual social media – this is for my classroom use only.
I added about 2 – 3 photos each week. The students REALLY looked forward to seeing their pictures appear on the wall! I began by catching candids, but after a while, students came up with their own ideas and asked to pose for pictures. By the end, students were taking their own pictures and submitting them to me for approval and printing.
All in all, it was a very fun activity, and it helped spread a positive message about reading being ‘cool’ 😉
Here is the final product. And wouldn’t you know, the very DAY that I finish the board, Instagram went and changed their logo on me? Oh well, I like this one and I will keep it up for a long time!
I have a Teacher Challenge for you. Yes you! When is the last time you used manipulatives in your classroom? If you don’t teach elementary math or science, then you probably rarely use them. But the students LOVE them, and they increase their engagement, communication, and learning! That is why I am challenging you to find a way to use manipulatives in your next unit of learning.
A manipulative is a physical tool for teaching. They are things that we can physically touch, rearrange, alter, and, well… manipulate. Manipulatives can include blocks, money, puzzles, or any tool that you give your student to use to explore a concept or skill.
I love using manipulatives because the students love DOING. They are engaging with learning through listening, speaking, and movement all at once. Students can explore tough concepts and find new ways to express their learning besides traditional reading and writing. This is a great way to differentiate for various student populations as well.
Let me share some examples of how i used manipulatives recently in my 7th grade Language Arts classroom. During a novel unit on The Giver by Lois Lowry, I wanted my students to practice vocabulary words as well as demonstrate their reading comprehension in some non-traditional ways.
Character Ranking Manipulative
This activity is designed to (formatively) assess Reading Comprehension and engage students in a deeper discussion of the novel. I had my students get in partners and cut out tiles with all of the main characters’ names on them. Then, I gave them various tasks for reordering the character tiles based on their knowledge of the character. For example, I had them rank/rearrange based on the following traits:
youngest to oldest
least to most authority
least to most likable
unintelligent to intelligent
ignorant to wise
shy to outgoing
deceptive to honest
happiest to saddest
I wasn’t looking for any one right answer (except for #1!), but rather wanted to encourage my students to discuss, challenge one another, and delve deeper into their understanding of the characters and their roles in the novel. I’m always shocked at the wonderful ideas and interpretations they share with the class. It also provided a great opportunity for teaching various concepts such as authority, wisdom, ignorance, and deception.
We did a fair amount of vocabulary instruction in class, so this activity was simply for reviewing. I created a blank pyramid (you can buy one here in my TpT store if you’d like), and filled it in with the words/definitions we have been studying. Then, in partners, I had my students cut them apart, mix them up, and attempt to recreate the pyramid. We did this for several days, attempting to get faster each day. They started requesting this activity because they enjoyed it so much!
A few tips on using manipulatives:
I keep a bucket of scissors in my classroom for this purpose
You only really need one set per class, but you can also have one set per student so they can take it home and practice on their own
Save all your business envelopes from the spam you get in your mail. They are FREE and great for storing your manipulatives!
I was very excited to introduce this new bulletin board in my room. Each of my 126 students got their own spot on the train, and I provided post-its and a set of guidelines.
It took only 4 DAYS to fill the train. Kids were flocking to my room to fill it out, including students I don’t even have in class! They were thrilled. I especially loved watching the more shy or quiet students meander by and slyly try to check out their spot, and then watch their face light up when they realize someone left them a compliment. It was the highlight of my year!
Below are some of my favorite entries on the train:
Obviously we need to work on your/you’re, but what a fun tradition! I plan to leave it up for 2 weeks, then let them take home their post-its. Then we will clear the board and start all over again!
And I was only deaf in one of my ears! 2 weeks ago, a nasty sinus and ear infection turned into a ruptured ear drum, which – if you aren’t aware firsthand – is incredibly painful. Teachers, take care of yourself if you are ill, and have so much sympathy for our littles when they complain of ear pain. It is horrendous!
My ruptured eardrum left me deaf in my right ear for 2 weeks. In fact, my hearing isn’t back to 100% yet, but it started slowly improving yesterday. Your first thought might be, as mine would have been a month ago, “Well, at least she could hear out of her one good ear!” This is an uninformed way of thinking and does not completely capture the impossible challenge of carrying on with life with partial deafness. I can’t emphasize this enough – being deaf in 50% of my ears reduced my ability to communicate by 80%.
My students needed constant reminders that I was not functioning at 100%. They quickly forgot and got frustrated when I couldn’t understand or respond to them.
Prior to this experience, I had heard of disabilities such as audio processing disorder, and I never fully understood it. I still may not fully understand it, but I have gained much more respect and understanding for the struggles associated with processing information aurally. Below is a list of everyday experiences that were altered for me during my short-term disability.
I could not judge the direction of sound.
This is huge. People / students would be calling my name, but I couldn’t tell where to look. Students would be talking out of turn, but I didn’t know who to discipline. Sounds were coming from various rooms of my house, but I didn’t know which. This will drive you insane. I felt like a chicken, constantly jerking my head in every direction erratically trying to identify the source of a sound. I can see how this would lead to attention deficit issues.
I could not judge volume
Without two working ears, it is difficult to judge volume. This included my own volume (no more private conversations, and having to repeat yourself if you were too quiet), and the volume of my students (I couldn’t tell when we were getting out of control, so I often lost control of my students.). I had to rely on others to give me constant feedback on volume.
I needed to make eye contact.
To have a simple conversation, it was necessary to look the speaker in the eye. This allowed me to focus on them (while attempting to ignore the surrounding environment) and to try to read their lips. Unfortunately, young students quickly forget your needs, and they often talk to you from feet away without looking at you. And I believe several got frustrated when they thought I was ignoring them when, in reality, I had no idea they were speaking to me.
I could not separate specific sounds from the ambient sounds.
When I would go to pick up my daughter at daycare, and the workers were trying to talk to me about her day, all I could hear was a sea of babies crying. I couldn’t pick out what the daycare worker was saying to me. You can imagine how this went in my classroom. During work time, a student would ask me a question, but all I could hear was a sea of everyone’s conversations. As I told my class, it sounded like the Peanut’s mom, “Waaahmp Waaaaahmp.” Impossible.
I felt completely lonely and isolated.
One-on-one in a quiet room, I could easily have a conversation with one person. However, this is not life. I went to lunch with my coworkers, and I missed key words and therefore could not follow the conversation. It was like playing Madlibs where every 5th word was deleted. I mostly just nodded and smiled, but had no idea. I went to a birthday party and tried to hold a conversation with several people – nope. I don’t want to be that person who is constantly asking, “What? Can you say that again?” I know that is annoying. So I suffered in silence.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
Along with feeling isolated and alone, you also quickly realize that you missing out on so many whispers and inside jokes and subtle conversations. Everyone is smiling or laughing, and you’re not sure why. You are on the outside looking in.
I no longer watched TV or listened to the radio.
I know Close Captioning exists, but after a long hard day of teaching, that can be pretty taxing on a brain that isn’t used to it. It wasn’t worth it to me, so I just sat in silence. Pretty sad!
I couldn’t hear my alarm clock or my baby cry at night.
If I accidentally rolled over and buried my good ear in my pillow, I was COMPLETELY deaf. I couldn’t hear the baby monitor or my phone alerts. As you can imagine, this was very problematic!
I felt like I had short-term ADD.
When you spend all of your energy deciphering the words people are saying instead of trying to comprehend them, this is very similar to how our young readers spend all of their energy decoding words on the page instead of trying to comprehend the message. What you get is a fragmented sense of the meaning of things. My brain couldn’t handle the overload, and it felt very fragmented. I found myself focusing on minutia instead of the big picture. It was very frustrating!
I was completely exhausted every night.
It’s worth repeating. Partial deafness, for me, meant a full-on assault to my brain and my ability to function and comprehend. Life was incredibly taxing. I have a new appreciation and understanding for our students who are hard of hearing, deaf, or who struggle with audio processing disorder.
In the future, if I had a student with any of these concerns, I would alter my behaviors in the following ways: always make eye contact, provide written instructions, keep the classroom environment quiet and focused, re-voice student questions and comments, allow them to work in small groups / pairs in a separate quiet environment, provide extra time and frequently check for understanding, provide a quiet place for socializing during lunch or recess if they would like, and generally offer as much patience and compassion as I can muster.
Here I am at the ENT after being told my ear has healed and I should get my hearing back within 2 weeks!
I would love to hear your feedback if you or anyone you know have ever experienced partial or temporary hearing loss.
Tomorrow is Dr. Seuss’s birthday AND Read Across America Day! We have big plans to celebrate in 7th grade.
Today, we read a biography about Dr. Seuss and answered some text-based questions. I purchased this activity from BusyBeeInGradeThre. I added an additional activity for my students – highlighting with a purpose. I gave them 3 different colored highlighters and 3 different reading purposes, and I asked them to highlight accordingly. This really made them think about their purpose, rather than just painting the entire page, which is NOT useful! (IF this is the kind of activity that interests you, here is another product that hits this goal)
Then, I made a Dr. Seuss themed bookmark for my students, which they cut out and colored. (Want your own? Download for free here: Dr. Seuss Bookmark).
Tomorrow will be a full Free Reading Day. We have checked out a big, plush room in the building (usually used for teacher meetings), and I invited students to bring in snacks, pillows, and blankets. We are just going to lounge around and read ALL HOUR! Yippeee!!
What are your big plans for Read Across America Day? Can’t wait!
I am writing this post in hopes of helping any other teachers who happen upon my blog and are looking for advice about returning to work after a maternity leave. It is an anxious, emotional time, and I hope I can help ease your transition by sharing about my experience.
At the beginning of this year, I missed the first 12 weeks because I was out on maternity leave. This means I didn’t get to set up my room or meet my students until we were well into the school year. On top of all that, it was a new position for me, so I really had NO idea what I was coming back to. A new grade, a new age level, new material, new room, new everything. It was a lot to take in.
Luckily for me, I had an amazing substitute teacher who made everything so helpful and efficient for me. Additionally, my district gave us 3 overlap days where we were both in the room – that helped with the transition immensely. On the first day, I simply introduced myself to each class and sat in the back to observe the atmosphere. By the second day, he was still teaching, but I became a support in the room, traveling amongst the students and asking questions, listening, and assisting. By the third day, I was leading the lesson while he supported. On the fourth day, I was all alone but feeling confident.
My first day, waiting for my students to arrive.
Throughout this post, I have shared my personal choices and experiences, including what worked well for us and what is (and continues to be) a struggle. Feel free to ask questions or share your own experience in the comments – I’d love to learn and do better!
My husband and I chose to leave our daughter in a daycare center while we work. I know there are many different options for childcare, and people tend to turn up their nose when we say we chose a daycare. However, I chose to focus on the positives of daycare: my daughter will be cared for by certified staff, there will always be multiple adults on hand, she will be exposed to learning activities and many different kinds of people (and germs!), and she will be socialized for school.
Leading up to the first day of daycare, I took my daughter to the center a few times and just sat in the infant room with her. I did this so we could both get use to the atmosphere and the people. It gave me a chance to observe the routines and to ask a lot of questions. The staff said they didn’t mind (I hope they meant it!) and even encouraged me to come as many times as it took to feel comfortable. And each time I came in, I brought in more supplies for her drawer (diapers, wipes, outfits, creams, pacifiers, etc.) so that I wouldn’t be burdened with that ask on the first, hectic day. By the way that’s a big theme in my life – prepare, plan, do things in small chunks, and get it done before a deadline.
At first, sitting in the room was terrifying. There were babies crying and so much activity. I felt I had made a huge mistake. I wanted to quit my job and stay home forever. But then I got a hold of myself (and my crazy postpartum emotions) and became more settled with the idea the more I visited and self-talked. Everything would be okay. This is a good thing for everyone – mom and baby.
It is a very strange feeling to leave your child in the hands of someone else, all so you can go to your classroom and take care of other people’s babies. But this is my calling.
I have to tell you that I am so grateful that my husband does the drop-off each morning. If I had to do it, I would always arrive at work a total basket case (that’s if I would actually able to detach myself from my daughter and leave the daycare building). I do the pick-up, and it is definitely the best part of my day.
A big tip I have for you: Do NOT call in the middle of the day to see how your child is doing. I fell into this trap on my first day back, because I wanted to make sure my daughter was doing well on her first day, too. I couldn’t even make it through the phone call without crying. For me, it is best to just keep busy and let the professionals do their job. I had to have faith that if they needed me for anything, they would contact me.
The First Day
The first day – okay week – is THE hardest. People mean well, but everyone will ask you trigger questions like, “What’s it like to be back?” and “Who has your daughter?” and my favorite, “How was it leaving your daughter today?” I cried each time someone asked me any of these questions. Hormones, man. I sat in the bathroom and cried during passing time. It was hard. When the bell rang at 3:05, all you could see was a big blur behind me as I bee-lined it to the parking lot and attempted to follow all traffic laws on my way to pick her up from daycare. It will get easier. REPEAT: It will get easier. Everyone told me that, but I had to experience it for myself. Now I take my time leaving. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands before I leave work (because I won’t get a chance when we get home!).
Focus on your job and why you are there. Try not to think about your baby. You need to stay in the moment. Your baby is in good hands, and you are needed here, now, to take care of these babies. It will be okay, and it will get easier!
I have lots of routines to help me get through life, and this should be no different. I quickly figured out a routine that worked for all of us to help make the nights and mornings go as smoothly as possible. This is survival, people!
Each night, I put my daughter to bed around 6:30pm. Then, I immediately wash and reset the bottles for the next day and pack them in her lunch bag in the fridge. I add any notes or supplies she may need right in the bag so it is ready to go. I pair up all of her clothes when I wash them on the weekend so her outfits are ready to grab-and-go in the mornings:
For myself, I also make my lunch, set out my clothes, and take a shower. I used to take 1 to 1.5 hours to get ready in the morning (let’s be honest, I used to putz. I checked my email, did some house work, etc. Not anymore!). Now, I can get ready in 20 minutes flat. This is important, because you don’t know how your morning will go. Will she be sick, sad, or needy? Will you just NEED a cuddle? Be ready for anything. Preparing the night before is essential to having a smooth morning.
After I’ve gotten all of her things and my things ready, I spend about 20 minutes TOPS straightening up before bed, because it makes me feel good. Then I tackle my nightly chore from the next section (Housework and Errands), and I’m done.
For my own sanity, I attempt to go to bed as close to my daughter as possible. My goal is to be asleep by 10pm, and my alarm is set for 6am. This way, I am lucky to get 8 hours of sleep between all of the night feedings and wake ups. You have to preserve your sleep! Make it a priority. Skip all non-essential things and just S.L.E.E.P. It is how you survive being a teacher and a parent – two incredibly draining and demanding jobs.
Housework and Errands
I have also had to adjust the way I run our house. I used to do almost everything on the weekends – cooking, cleaning, and chores. Now, however, I want to covet that as family time (and down time). To that end, I have made a schedule where I do a little bit every day, like the old adage of eating an elephant. I also try to run short errands right before I pick up my daughter from daycare. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where I will take her on the errands, but right now it’s easier to do this way and just leave her in daycare an extra half hour.
Also RE: Amazon Prime / Amazon Mom: JUST DO IT. Seriously. It makes your life so much easier.
Here is an example of our weekly schedule, designed to free up our weekend time (Do I actually get to all of these things? No, but I do try):
Vacuum / mop
Clean out fridge and microwave
Saturday & Sunday
We have tried to make grocery shopping a family activity, as well. My daughter really likes all the sensory experiences of a grocery store.
During weekend nap times, I cook. This is how I SURVIVE, people. I make all of our lunches on the weekend so they are ready to grab-and-go. I also try to make a casserole or dinner for the evenings. But honestly, I usually don’t have time for dinner and just skip it (oops). This preparation saves a huge amount of time and money throughout the week.
Grading and Working At Home
What I have to say about this is short and sweet: FORGET ABOUT IT. You will no longer do any schoolwork at home. Oh, you’ll have good intentions. You’ll bring home a bag full of things to do, emails to check, etc. But you won’t do it. Nope. You’re exhausted, and you miss your baby. My best advice is what I have learned to do – do not leave work until you have done everything that MUST be done by tomorrow. Emphasis on must – you do have to stop and leave at some point. Maybe you can finish grading those papers tomorrow? Prioritize. Just don’t bring it home. It will sit in your bag / car and it will haunt you.
As a new parent, I find that I have a new perspective on my role as teacher. I have done a lot better job of communicating with parents, now. I also try my best to include them on as many decisions as possible. I always thought I was doing a good job with this, but now I see that I could do even better. Even though my students are ‘grown up’ 11-year-olds, their parents still like to hear nice things and be kept involved. At this age, many parents begin to start distancing themselves from the school in hopes of encouraging and allowing more independence from their children. I do my best to respect that, but also see that information is always welcomed.
As a new parent, I also see that I have so much more empathy and patience for my students. I love them all, each one, but now I also see them as someone’s baby. Everyone is someone’s baby!
You will be awesome
This is what you were born to do. You will rock it!
I was so fortunate to be allowed to spend a day at the 2016 WSRA convention this year. It was incredibly energizing and inspiring! I feel that every teacher should attempt to make it to a convention at least once a year to be reenergized and infused with exciting new ideas to try in the classroom. I got to meet several famous authors and researchers, and I felt like a total fangirl. I also came back with a plethora of ideas to share with my colleagues.
I’ll get straight to the point and share with you my top 5 take-aways from the day.
I need to buy these books ASAP
Limit Teacher Talk to 1/3 of your instructional time
In an excellent session by Cris Tovani, she explained her Student Engagement Model and how she limits her Teacher Talk to only 1/3 of the time. The remaining time is students ‘doing’ – practicing, exploring, and producing. That’s difficult for the die-hard lecturers amongst us, but it is a necessary shift for so many critical reasons!
Breaking the Vocabulary Code
One of my favorite sessions by far was “Scaffolding Complex Text to Maximize Student Learning” by Mecca Sadler and Natalie Bourn. I got so many excellent ideas for incorporating more deep-thinking vocabulary activities into my lessons.
A few ideas I want to try immediately are the Vocabulary Triangle and the Image Explanation
For the Vocabulary Triangle, you invite students to place a different vocabulary word they are working on at each of the triangle points (tell them to choose the hardest word, the easiest word, and a medium word). Then, on the connecting lines, they need to write a sentence that explains how the two words are related.
For the Image Explanation, you present students with an interesting image and ask them which of their vocabulary words it is related to. THIS IMAGE REPRESENTS ____ BECAUSE _____ There is no one right answer, and you can discover evidence of their processing by listening to the connections they make. For example, let’s say my students are working on the following words:
And then I present them with this image:
You can see how they could use nearly any of our vocabulary words to complete the idea “This image represents ____ because ____.” I can’t wait to try this idea out! The presenters said this activity would also make a great assessment tool as well. Real life application!
So long, Venn Diagrams
From the same presentation by Sadler and Bourn, I learned about using a Y shape instead of a Venn Diagram for comparing and contrasting. The legs at the top can be for contrasting two items, and the stem at the bottom is for comparing what they have in common. The added bonus of this shape is it reminds us to ask, “why?” at the end. As in, why did the author(s) make the choices they made? I plan to use this idea next week to compare several dystopian fiction stories that my students read.
There you have my highlights of the convention! Not to mention seeing a lot of wonderful friends and colleagues. I look forward to the 2017 Convention!