You guys… Thanksgiving is only 6 days away! Less than a week! The excitement!!! With Week 12 behind us, I feel like the next month or so is just going to fly by! Before you know it, it will be time for the holiday break. Even though the days are growing cold and short, I still enjoy keeping up my High Five for Friday tradition to focus on the important highlights.
1. Vocabulary Loop Game – I was inspired by some elementary vocabulary loop activities I found on TpT and Pinterest, so I began searching for an 8th grade version. When I didn’t find one, I made my own! I have 35 laminated cards with vocabulary words we will encounter this year. Each student gets one card (some may get two depending on class size). As the first student reads out the definition on his/her card, the class listens to see if they have the matching vocabulary word. Then, the winner readers his/her definition, and so forth. The last card loops back to the first card. Sorry if that sounds confusing! The goal is to play this frequently and to beat our class record each time. I plan to add clear instructions and make this available on TpT soon (UPDATE: It is now posted here). We played it this week, and the students said it was both fun AND helpful!
2. 28th Amendment– This past week, I had my Social Studies class split into small groups and research/propose a potential 28th Amendment to our Constitution. Their class presentations included 3 pieces of evidence and an explanation of how the proposed amendment connects to the principles of our constitution. After a rigorous day of debating and voting, the class reached consensus on our new 28th Amendment: Legalize Gay Marriage. I was very proud of my wise, hard-working, respectful class!
3. Holiday Change Drive Update – We are continuing our school wide change drive to provide a holiday donation and gifts to the local Ronald McDonald house. The jugs are right outside my classroom, and I get to see students walking by all day long dropping their change in. It is so heartwarming to see! In case you are wondering, the girls are totally winning right now 😉
4. Book vs. Movie – This past week, we read “Battleground” by Stephen King, then watched the movie version (from Nightmares and Dreamscapes on TNT, which I purchased on Amazon). I had my students make a T-chart of all the differences they noted. Afterward, we discussed this handout that I made regarding reasons a director would make changes from the original text version (CCSS RL8.7 – click for this free download.). The students told me they had always wondered why there were differences, and they enjoyed trying to figure out the logical reasoning behind them (besides just assuming the director just ‘felt like it’).
5. First Snowfall– Most of the United States is under a cold snap and has received some snowfall this week. Wisconsin, of course, did not escape this fate. We have only an inch or so, but it is freeeeeezing (literally! it’s less than 10 degrees)! I just hate being cold. Dear Elsa, I do NOT want to build a snowman! I’ve even had to break out sweaters for the dogs. To highlight a silver lining, I will say that I do enjoy my winter fashion, from sweaters and boots to scarves and hats. I am also looking forward to a bit of a thaw coming up, as I was told we might return to the 40s soon.
Only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving! Well 1 and a half, really. Actually 7 and a half work days. But who’s counting? ME! We haven’t had a day off yet this year, and I’m so excited! More on my love of Thanksgiving later. For now, let’s celebrate making it through Week 11 with class and grace 🙂 I hope you all had a fabulous week as well!
1. Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser – For the holidays, my middle school has elected to run a change drive to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. Instead of the typically grade war, we’ve made it into a gender war this year! The winning gender will get to choose our next spirit day. Half of the money we raise will be a cash donation, and the other half will be used to purchase necessities on the house wish list. This is the best kind of school activity to do around the holidays! The fundraiser will go until early December, giving us a whole month. Prepare to be amazed and what we can do, from our family to theirs 🙂
2. Learning LLI– This week I am getting serious about learning the Leveled Literacy Instruction system. I am preparing to begin interventions with a small group in the next week or so. LLI is totally new to me. If you have any words of advice or encouragement, I’d love to hear from you!
3. U.S. Government – This week, we began learning about the U.S. Government in my Social Studies class. I always find it fascinating, and we do our best to explore how these issues (Amendments, principles, etc.) are still applicable today. So far this week we have done the Bill of Rights Activity, the Checks and Balances Activity, and the Preamble Activity from my TpT store.
4. Parent Teacher Conferences – We held two evening conferences this week: Tuesday and Thursday right after work until 6:30pm. I’m wiped out! As much as I might complain about staying late at work, I do enjoy conferences and meeting parents. I have student-led conferences where they report on their own progress, questions, goals, and needs. It helps that they have a portfolio that they keep in my room with all their work and my feedback.
5. Hot Chocolate 15K Chicago – This past weekend, my sister, cousin, and I participated in the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago. Such a fun race! At the end, you get a Finisher’s Mug filled with hot chocolate, hot fudge, a banana, mini pretzels, crackers, and a Rice Krispie treat for dipping! It was so exhilarating to run through the streets of Chicago in the early morning, like we owned the town. Everyone was so kind and encouraging, and the race was run very smoothly. Apart from freezing our buns off in the windy city (weather app said it felt like 35 degrees with wind!), I have zero complaints or regrets. If this race comes to your town, go for it!
Happy End to Week 10! We’ve survived the start of Daylight Savings AND the end of First Quarter. It’s been a rough ride, people are tired and crabby, but High Five for Fridays is all about celebrating the silver linings 🙂 I hope you had a great week, and I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
1. Charles – This week, we read “Charles,” a short story by Shirley Jackson. It’s an adorable, humorous story that any student can appreciate. I love the twists and turns in Shirley Jackson’s work, and I find them very appealing to middle school students. If you haven’t read “The Lottery,” it’s definitely a must read. We have such great conversations after reading that story!
2. QRI-5 – This week, I ran a professional development workshop for our language arts department on how to administer and score the QRI. I’ve been using it for years to identify struggling readers and develop intervention plans, and I’ve come up with several tips and shortcuts. I think it’s an important tool to provide us with qualitative information – beyond just numbers and test scores – on how our students are reading and what we can do to help them progress.
3. SLO – I did it. I submitted my SLO and my PPG this year. Death by acronyms, right? SLO (Student Learning Objective), PPG (Professional Practice Goals), EEP (Educator Effectiveness Plan), and whatever else they can think up for us. This submit screen was pretty scary. All year we’ve been told, “For the love of pete, don’t hit submit!” Then the admins said, “For the love of humanity, hit submit, now!” So much tension. But it’s done for now!
4. Daylight Savings– I’m not a fan of Daylight Savings. It really messes with my brain and my sense of well-being. However, I have enjoyed seeing the sun in the mornings on my way to work. It reminds me that I am truly a morning person. It’s so beautiful and peaceful and quiet.
5. It’s Coming…. I went to Target and the Mall this week, and they are both already set up for Christmas. I know that sends some people into a homicidal rage, but this year I am choosing to embrace it (what can ya do?). I even bought some wrapping paper at Target and wrapped my first couple of presents. I’ve been making and planning for this Christmas since last Christmas. Second only to Thanksgiving, I think it’s the best holiday! I love giving gifts – it completes me 🙂
1. Dia de los Muertos – This past week in Spanish class, students have been researching The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and on Thursday, we took a field trip to see the movie The Book of Life. I really enjoyed the film! So much color, lots of humor, great soundtrack – I would recommend it!
2. New Scaffolding Technique – I’m trying something new to help my students with reading comprehension. As you know, teachers have a few options for differentiating a learning activity for varied learners – alter the product or the process. In the past, when I’ve wanted to do a reading activity, I might find two different texts at different levels (one on grade level and one below grade level) so that everyone has a ‘right fit’ text. This year, I decided there might be a simpler way to achieve the same result, and I can have all of my students reading the same text (boosting confidence and raising expectations). I decided to take the text we are reading and create some hints or notes along the side – just for my students reading below grade level. These notes might be a quick summary, a key point from a section, or putting the text in simpler words. In this way, everyone can access the key ideas from the text. The notes don’t tell the whole story, but they help to clarify some tricker parts of the text. I’m excited to try this and see how it goes!
3. Scholarship Letters – We have finished our Scholarship Letters this week. I really liked using Google drive to write and edit the final products. I could check in on my students at any time, leave them comments, and see their progress. They enjoyed this unit, too, and I can tell they are very proud of their final products. Many of them asked me if they could mail them to the real schools when they are done. Yeah!
4. Reading– This week I am reading Prized by Caragh O’Brien. One of my students is also reading it, and we like to compare notes and discuss during passing time. It is pretty interesting to learn about a matriarchal society, and I enjoy the puzzles and trying to solve the mystery illness that is affecting the entire town. I like it less than the first book, Birthmarked, because I miss the strong female lead who cared more about her morals, family, and her calling as a caretaker and midwife than this new, transformed character who is caught up in a self-described “love square.” Nevertheless, it is a compelling read and I look forward to unlocking the mysteries.
5. Cutest Costumes – Aren’t my guys cute? Rocket went as a Rocketdog and Ruffy went as a Rufferee. I know I’m biased, but I think they are the cutest dogs EVER. I love them 🙂
How was your week? I’d love to hear about it! Happy Halloween!
Week 8 is a thing of the past, wahoo! I’m excited that we are launching rockets outside this afternoon for science class. I hope to have pictures up next week!
1. New Seats – “New Seats Day” is a middle schooler’s most hated or favorite day ever, depending on how everything shakes out. I give my students new seats every 2 weeks. We do a lot of partner talk and small group discussions, so I like to keep things fresh and interesting by always getting new partner arrangements. As I told my students on the first day, it doesn’t matter whether you love your seat or hate your seat – it WILL change in 10 days. My seating policy has not only cut down on the excessive complaining and repeated requests (more like begging), but it has really been a benefit to student learning and discussion. Fortunately, I have a computer program (Infinite Campus) that randomly generates new seating charts, which really makes things easier on me. Since it’s random, I also don’t have to put any thought into it, and I always reserve the right to ‘rearrange’ if things just aren’t working (or comply with IEP requests for preferential seating).
2. Common Core Flip Book– I purchased this flip book online. It’s really fantastic! Yes, I do realize that the CCSS are all available for free online, but having this resource at my fingertips has been very handy. I would recommend it!
3. Breakup Letter– We are finally up to the Declaration of Independence with my Social Studies class. As a warm-up at the beginning of class, I read them this note that I said I ‘found’ yesterday in my classroom. My class is pretty bright, and they knew something was up. I asked them why I might be reading it, and they eventually deduced that it was from the American Colonies to Great Britain. We did a close reading of two key sentences, and I asked them which historic events it could be referring to. Neat activity!
4. Standards Based Grading Scale – I’ve been researching and drafting a Standards Based Grading Scale that we could adopt as an entire school. This is my draft so far. A good friend encouraged me to add the 2.5, since so many students seem to fall in that chasm between apprentice and master – I agree. I’m going to try it out for a while and see how it works. I like the language a lot better than “Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Minimal,” which often doesn’t mean much to students. This language is borrowed from history, literary lore, role-playing games, and video-gaming, which hits closer to home for my students.
5. Annual Pumpkin Carving – For the past 4 or so years, we have made it an annual event to carve pumpkins with very dear friends of ours. We find cool patterns online, print them out for free, and have a blast making a mess. Mine is Jack Skellington on the right 🙂 Evil smile! Do you recognize Toothless from ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and the Hitchhiking ghost from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld?
How was your week? I hope you are making the most of October, as it is coming to a close quickly! Enjoy the weather, food, and creature comforts of fall!
Happy Week 7 and High Five For Friday! I had a great week, and I hope you did, too!
1. Sonday – I spent 2 days this week being trained in the Sonday System. I am so glad that we have decided to adopt this system at our school. We currently run two interventions for reading skills and strategies – Leveled Literacy Instruction and Read180 – but we needed a program that would address gaps in foundational reading skills like decoding and fluency. You wouldn’t expect to have students at the middle school level who don’t know all of the sight words or who are unable to decode words, but our need for this program has been growing over the years. I love the touch-spell approach, and I knew I was hooked when the instructor showed us the ‘b’ and ‘d’ cards. In the Sonday system, students are taught for the letter ‘b’ that “the bat comes before the ball.” Notice the number one starts at the top, making a bat (stick), and then a ball (circle)? Now compare this to the ‘d.’ Students are taught “c comes before d,” just as the letters appear in the alphabet. See how the ‘d’ starts by making a ‘c’ first, then the stick? This is brilliant! For our students who confuse these letters, such as students with dyslexia, this is a perfect way to differentiate between the sounds and to cement them into muscle memory. As with all elements of the Sonday system, everything has a visual component (look at the letter), kinesthetic component (trace the bumpy letter with two fingers), and an auditory component (“bat before ball” or “c before d”) to encourage multi-sensory learning. I am very excited that we have adopted this system and I just know it is going to be a major game-changer for so many students!
2. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World – In Social Studies, we are wrapping up our unit on Colonial America in preparation for learning about the American Revolution. We rounded out the chapter by studying the Battles of Lexington & Concord, then watching the famous Schoolhouse Rock video to review for the exam tomorrow. Doesn’t it just blow your mind that students are still watching, enjoying, and learning from these videos after so many decades? I just love Schoolhouse Rock!
3. Tachistoscope – Do you use highlighting strips in your classroom? I have a handful of middle schoolers who really benefit from using these. They use them as bookmarks, then turn them on their side to help them stay on track when reading their book. This helps with focus and eye-tracking. I learned this week that the technical name for these highlight strips is ‘tachistoscope.’ So there – enjoy that million-dollar word! I purchased these on Amazon, link here.
4. Pumpkin Farm – I took my niece and nephew to the pumpkin farm last weekend. Such fun! My ambitious nephew first picked out a pumpkin that weighed about 30-40 pounds. It was huge and lovely, and he wanted it so bad! I told him he could have it if he could carry it to the car. He opted for the one in his lap instead 🙂 And my little niece, how sweet is she? I absolutely adore these children.
5.Food! – I tried to keep things simple this week. I made some zoodles with my spiralizer, which I topped with tomato sauce (sugar and additive free) and shrimp for lunches. For breakfast, we had Egg Muffins, and for dessert, I slightly modified the Chocolate Hazelnut Energy Bars from foodie teen (I eliminated the maple syrup and chocolate, and I reduced the amount of coconut oil to 1/4 cup. Then I rolled the mixture into balls instead of bars for quick/easy snacking). I also got a great idea from a friend to put quick oatmeal, a pinch of salt, and freeze-dried fruits in a mason jar. All I have to do is add a cup of hot water and let it sit for a few minutes and voila – oatmeal to go! I know oatmeal is not strict paleo, but I have no problems with it and have chosen to incorporate it back into my diet now after a year off of it.
I hope you have had a wonderful week and that you are getting ready for a fun and spooooky Halloween soon! I’ll be making costumes this week and next to get ready. I’d love to hear about your week in the comments below!
Did you survive the Blood Moon? Did you know that Mercury is in Retrograde (whatever that means…)? It’s that time of year for things to start getting spooooooky! Thankfully ::knockonwood:: my students have been great, and we haven’t had any catastrophes during Week 6! Below, I share some highlights of the week:
1. Bullying Awareness – October is Bullying Awareness month. On Monday the 6th, we had a ‘Blue Out’ to bring awareness. We also had a PBIS lesson in which we watched this video and discussed the impact of our actions (positive and negative). Our students have signed a pledge to stop bullying, and the pledges have completely covered our walls in positivity and inspiration!
2. Contest Winners – This week, our Guess the Reader Winners received their self-selected book prizes. Oh the looks on their faces (which you can’t see), when I handed them a brand new book to keep! They were very happy campers 🙂
3. Google Doc Editing – Something I am doing this year that I simply LOVE is using Google Docs for student writing assignments. They simply share it with me, and we can edit it as we go. No more waiting to hand it in and get feedback – the students get feedback right away while they are in the writing process. This also cuts down on saving, emailing, and creating new files – who needs all that? The students love this and it’s so fantastic. I could just kiss these iPads! (But I won’t. Ew, germs).
4. Fall Colors – My husband is a pilot, and we spent our Sunday morning flying around Southeast Wisconsin to enjoy the beautiful fall colors. They are not quite at their peak yet, but it was so enjoyable nonetheless.
5. What I’m Reading – I’m almost done with Birthmarked, and I’ve already got the next book, Prized, in my queue ready to go. Hopelessly addicted! All I can say is that it’s all about the suspense – I feel so left in the dark, and I’m so curious to figure out what’s going on here. Great series!
On an unrelated, entirely personal note, I’ve started running to prepare for the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago on November 9th (one month away, ack!). I’m so anxious about this and I am training very hard. At my current pace, it will take me 2.5 hours to finish the 15K; I don’t really care, as long as I actually finish. With my new shoes I just purchased, I can run 4 miles without feeling too terrible. I hope I can build up enough endurance and stamina by then!
And just like that, it’s October! We’ve been back to school for 5 weeks now, wow!
1. October – I enjoyed decorating my classroom for October. One can never have too many pumpkins, amiright?
2. I don’t read – I finally snapped this week. I’ve been so sick of students (AND parents! AND colleagues!) telling me, “I don’t read” with this brazen nonchalance, as if it’s a badge of honor or something to laugh or bond over. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I stole ideas from this article, added several of my own ideas, and I created a full 12-page Keynote presentation entitled, “My reactions to people who proudly proclaim, ‘I don’t read.’ ” If you’d like to see the full presentation, you can download it by clicking here: I don’t read (c) Kristen Dembroski
3. noredink – I had all of my students create an account and log into my virtual ‘classroom’ on noredink this week. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a wonderful FREE website where you can assign grammar homework and quizzes. Right now, my classes are learning about action and linking verbs. They really love this website because it gives you immediate feedback. It also tailors each sentence to student interests (based on a quick interest inventory when signing up). Check it out!
4. Birthmarked – This past week, I’ve been reading Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien. And when I say ‘reading,’ what I really mean is ‘spending every single minute insatiably consuming.’ This is a very interesting read! The main character, Gaia, is entrancing, strong, clever, deeply caring, and easy to fall in love with. And the story is a complete mystery! I find myself fumbling for words as I try to even describe the plot to anyone. I don’t know what to say, because I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on myself! I started reading it because I saw several of my students with it, and now I find that I can’t wait to see them at school to ask them what they think.
5. Pumpkin Spice – Everyone is completely gaga and obsessed with pumpkin spice, THE flavor of fall. The thing is, I don’t drink coffee (yeah, I know, I’m weird). So instead, I’ve been finding ways to enjoy the flavor in other foods. For example, I give you: Pumpkin Spice Cookies! I’ve also made pumpkin spice pancakes, which are just phenomenal. Canned pumpkin, plus a dash of pumpkin pie spice, are staples ’round this kitchen, and it’s pretty easy to substitute them in many of your favorite baked recipes. Very filling, tasty, and oh-so-appropriate for the lovely season of colors and change.
How was your week? I hope you are enjoying the changing colors! My husband showed me this Fall Color Report website that indicates where the colors are at their peak in Wisconsin. We are adventuring out this weekend to enjoy them for ourselves!
It just so happens that today is Homecoming. The energy is palpable in our middle school hallways! Our district high school is just across the street, and we are invited to participate in events such as the Homecoming Parade and school spirit day. Everyone is very excited (and maaaaaybe struggling to focus on schoolwork?) What a great end to Week 4! Here are a few more highlights from the week:
1. Guess the Reader Revealed! Our contest has come to an end, so I switched up the Guess the Reader board to reveal the answers. I gotta say, the students have actually had a lot of fun with this mystery game. The 4 winners have selected books from their respective wish lists, and I will order and deliver them by next week.
2. Workshop Folders – Each of my students has a hanging file folder to keep their writing pieces and other important documents. This week, I gave each student a manila folder and invited them to decorate it with anything at all about reading and/or writing. They could choose favorite books, authors, quotes, characters, genres, etc. Even kids who claimed, “But I don’t read” had plenty of ideas for decorating their own workshop folders. I think they turned out great. At the end of the year, they will take their folders home with them and, hopefully, on to their freshman year of high school across the street.
3. The False Prince – I finished reading The False Prince this week. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but it was an interesting read. At times, it was quite predictable and felt a bit forced, but somewhere around the last third of the book, new twists were revealed that kept the plot fresh. It was hard to feel close to the main character, Sage, who reveals very little about himself. He is mischievous, cunning, secretive, and manipulative, but also sympathetic, loyal, and honorable. If you enjoy reading mysteries about royals / aristocracy, this may be your new book!
4. Colonial Occupations – In my social studies class, we are currently researching the 13 colonies. After completing a research report on a colony, my students generated a list of occupations from the early 1700s (based on the resources and needs of each colony). Next, I had each student select an occupation and do another brief report. Finally, I am having the students look for connections between the colonies and the occupations to illustrate that every job is important, and everyone relies on each other. Noting how interconnected everything is will help them to understand the deep and lasting impact of taxation without representation and the events leading up to the American Revolution.
5. On Wisconsin! My husband and I had a great time on Saturday at the Badger game. It was very nostalgic for us as alumni – especially for my husband who played in the marching band. Of course we won, then marched down E. Johnson with the marching band, visited State Street for a bite to eat, and enjoyed genuine ice cream from the Chocolate Shoppe! How have 9 years passed already since we left Madison?
I hope you have a fantastic week, and I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Oh boy, Week 3 felt like it was 9 days long. I think this is always a hard week every year. I consider weeks 1 and 2 the ‘honeymoon’ weeks where everyone is bringing their best. By Week 3, however, the students are progressively more tired and receiving increasingly longer and more challenging assignments in all of their classes. They have gotten over the shiny sparkle of going back to school. We’re not “Back to School,” anymore – this is life for the next 37 weeks. As we accept our fate and embrace the routine of things, we must also celebrate the many highlights of the week!
1. Guess the Reader – My favorite highlight of the week has been the “Guess the Reader” contest going on throughout the school. The students are sneakily trying to figure out who is behind each book by asking us totally not obvious questions and trying to get sneak peeks at our hands. I’ll announce a winner on Monday, and the winner will be invited to choose a brand new book from their wish lists.
2. Timeline – I am teaching Social Studies again this year. We will cover content from the founding of the 13 colonies up through the War on Terror and everything in between. I decided to post a classroom timeline to help my students get a sense of how events relate to one another chronologically. So far, this has been very helpful. My plan is to take a moment after finishing each chapter to have my students vote on an image that could symbolically represent that chapter as well as to decide where the image should be placed on the timeline.
3. AIMSWeb – I was trained in AIMSWeb this week. It is an assessment and tracking tool created by Pearson publishing. As an interventionist, I will use this tool to provide weekly probes to my students and track their progress toward becoming ‘on grade level.’ The training was a full 7 hours and included practice with a training module. I completely understand that this tool is necessary and I accept that this is the direction we must head as an educational community, however I still have several reservations about AIMSWeb. My main reservation has to do with the assessment tools themselves. To track reading progress, AIMSWeb provides a reading fluency measure (a running record) and another component called Maze to assess ‘comprehension.’ Maze provides students with a cloze passage in which every 7th word is missing and students must choose between the options to decide which word makes the most sense. I do not believe this to be an accurate or comprehensive measure of reading comprehension, nor does it align with any common core standards and expectations for what constitutes reading comprehension. What is Maze testing, exactly? Grammar? Vocabulary? There is so much more to comprehension. What about locating evidence in the text? Making inferences? Analysis, compare and contrast, or critique? I hope that educators and administrators will use AIMSWeb data as one of several tools to track student progress and make any high stakes decisions about a student’s education.
4. Classroom Mantra – “Why are you here?” On Wednesday, I was very moved by Alicia Keys’ advice she shared on my morning commute radio program. Every hour, everywhere, she asks herself about her purpose. It’s a simple question that can mean so many things. I decided to put the mantra on my classroom door for myself and for my students. Why are you here today? What do you hope to accomplish? What is your purpose on this planet?
5. Graze – I am LOVING having a Graze subscription this year. I so look forward to it every Tuesday. I log on to my account and let them know how I liked each snack, which helps them to send me more of the snacks I will like. They are healthy, filling, and tasty, with the bonus of being a surprise and not the same boring things I always buy. Loving it!
How was your week? I’d love to hear in the comments below!