Week 37 is over, and there are only 2 weeks of school left! Plus, the day of the Walkathon is finally here!
1. Walkathon – Our school holds a Walkathon each year to model and encourage community and selflessness among our middle school students. Each year, we pledge and raise money for important charities such as Hunger Task Force or Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. This year, we are raising money in honor of a very important person – our beloved custodian, Joe. Joe was diagnosed with cancer this year, and that hit home for the students and staff. He is such a bright, cheerful, helpful person, and it was devastating to see him struggling. He left us for a while to seek treatment at the Cancer Treatment Center of Illinois, and upon his return, he was greeted with the colorful sign on the left. It says “Helping Hands for a Helping Man.” For our Walkathon, we elected to raise funds for the Cancer Treatment Center relief fund for families – it provides financial assistance for non-medical needs (i.e. mortgage, utilities, gas, childcare, etc.). We donate in Joe’s name, since Joe is all about the spirit of paying it forward and helping any and all in need. Today is the big event – a 2 hour Walkathon! On the right, you can see Joe being interviewed by WISN Channel 12. His story has touched so many and continues to inspire others.
2. Walkathon T-shirt – So I live for these Walkathon T-shirts, and I can’t wait to get our new one every year. I have a collection of 7 now. SEVEN! I especially love this year’s, of course, since it brings a tear to my eye. In addition to the pledges students collect, the sale of t-shirts also helps to raise funds for our donation to the Cancer Treatment Center. Altogether we are projected to collect about $5,000 this year. We already passed the $4,000 mark yesterday, so finger’s crossed that we make it to our goal!
3. Morning Runs – Speaking of walking, I got up at 5am every day this week to start my day with a run. It’s very peaceful, quiet, and cool – perfect for running. Yes it is hard to get up that early, but if I get right out of bed and go, my brain doesn’t fully awaken until half way in when it’s too late to turn back. It has really made a great improvement in my mood and my energy levels. I love that I can head straight home from work, too, without having to workout at the end of the day. I will certainly continue this new habit as long as it is light out in the mornings.
4. Finishing Spite Fences – We have officially finished the novel, all 21 chapters. The final assignment was to create a “Theme Page” or a “One Word” Page in Book Creator. Above is a sampling of their great work. They really have impressed me this year – great ideas and lots of growth!
5. Countdown – Only 8 days left! Well 8.5 for the students, 10 for me. But still – only 2 more Mondays! w00t!
So how was your week? Are you still in the classroom, like me, or did you start your summer yet? Either way, I hope you’re having a great Friday!
Have you read the novel Spite Fences? I didn’t think so. It is a wonderful novel for 8th through *9th graders, but it is so often overlooked! (*Note: Scholastic says that this novel is geared for 6-8th grade interest levels, but I disagree based on the content and figurative language). I have been teaching this novel unit for the past 7 years, and I always see a tremendous amount of growth in my students – I just love this unit, and it is the perfect way to end our 8th grade year! We find so many ways to make cross-curricular connections between Language Arts and Social Studies with this unit.
The novel is about a 13-year old girl named Maggie Pugh who lives in a small Georgian town in the 1960s. She is poor, white, and the victim of abuse from her mother and next-door neighbor. She is at the age where she begins to notice things – facilitated by the gift of a camera to help her ‘see the world’ – and she questions the segregation and customs in her town. Because this novel is historical fiction, it is filled with references to important Civil Rights Era people and events. Since Maggie is a very bright young girl, and also a bit of a tomboy, my students don’t view this as a ‘girl’ book – in fact, my boys really love it and demonstrate much growth in their critical evaluation skills while reading/discussing this novel.
The magic of this novel is that it is the perfect piece to help students begin to discover figurative language. Spite Fences is rife with challenging language and thought-provoking questions about morals and real-world conflicts. It investigates important themes of human rights, dignity, faith, coming of age, and staying true to one’s beliefs. My students become outraged by many of the events, and we have very lively classroom discussions. There are so many subtle hints and hidden treasures that only a discerning, critical reader will catch. When I point out that the ‘fence’ represents oh-so-much-more than just a wooden structure, and that it is 6 feet tall, made of pine (::cough:: casket ::cough::) the students are mesmerized by the layers of depth and meaning.
My only lament is that this novel is no longer in print, but can be purchased second-hand or as an ebook. I still have paperback copies that I plan to use until they fall apart!
I have posted this unit in my Teachers pay Teachers store to share, since I firmly believe it is the perfect novel to use with your 8th and 9th grade students to prepare them for more challenging contemporary literature. I’ve made the reading response worksheets so that a student could even guide themselves through the novel – it would be a great option for an independent reader or a homeschooler as well. The unit spans 2 months, which is an entire quarter in my curriculum. The unit includes a prior knowledge activity – a movie guide for the film “A Time for Justice.”
This powerful 1994 documentary brings the Civil Rights movement to life and helps set the stage for this historical fiction. The best part is – you can order this kit (DVD + Lesson Plans) for FREE!
The Spite Fences Unit also includes a chapter-by-chapter reading guide with questions that range in type and complexity from inference to critical thinking, multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and open-ended short answer questions. This unit is great for end of the year test prep by providing students with a wide range of possible reading response questions. An answer key is included.
While reading the novel, my students also complete a fun reading response project. They create an Altered Book (or Scrapbook) that includes 9 ‘pages’ or installations. What we do is find some old hardcover books to repurpose by glueing or writing new things into the pages.
These Altered Book page assignments are designed to illicit deep thinking and writing that require students to find evidence and dig deeper into the topics and themes of the novel (following Common Core language for text-based discussion). Each ‘page’ has a pre-writing, brainstorming page to help students collect their thoughts. Here are some examples of their work:
This entire Spite Fences Unit includes:
* Welcome letter with lesson plan outline
* Enduring Understandings and Common Core State Standards
* “A Time for Justice” documentary movie guide with answer key to help build prior knowledge
* Reading Guide with answer key
* Altered Book Project with samples, rubric, and planning pages
If you are interested in purchasing this unit, click here!
I can’t wait for 4th quarter to start our final unit of the year – my favorite!
A real challenge in middle school is getting an increasingly large group of apathetic students excited about reading. I don’t mean to say ALL of my students – I definitely have some voracious readers – but there is always a hefty, vocal group that seems proud to proclaim indignantly, “I don’t read.” Well, harumpf. What’s a teacher to do with that kind of attitude? I understand that as an English Language Arts teacher, it is my job to get students excited about reading. Confetti, cartwheels, iPhone giveaways – whatever it takes! Okay not really. I’m not a performer, I’m not rich, and I don’t work miracles. I do my best to give students authentic, fun, motivating reasons to pick up a book (aaaaaand actually read/finish it). Of course I have to give a nod to my favorite teacher-author, Kelly Gallagher, who writes about just this topic in his book Reading Reasons. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!
One of the ways I try to motivate students to read is through my DVD Case / Movie Poster project. It is a project with reading, writing, language, expression, and art – a great way to hit multiple Common Core standards at once. This project has lots of elements that get kids excited: technology, critical thinking, creative writing, photography/images, and the critical elements of publication and display. Here is a glimpse of the final project, which is explained in more detail below:
You are looking at the display cases in the front lobby of our middle school. Each and every student got a chance to have their final DVD case (or movie poster) on display for the entire school. In addition, my students got some one-on-one time with 6th and 7th graders to share their project. They read their summary and review quotes on the back, explained the layout and image choices, and answered any questions their audience had – all in hopes of inspiring the student to go and read the book for themselves.
Here is a closer look at a DVD project:
And a collage of my students’ work:
Students begin by selecting an interesting book (can either be a novel or a biography) that is at their appropriate reading level. I introduce this project about 6-8 weeks ahead of time to get students enough warning to finish the book.
After reading the book, students will write what I call a ‘Review Quote’ (a book teaser summary that discusses the theme/message) to promote the book. To do this, we look at the backs of many books, even visit http://www.rottentomatoes.com and http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews to get a feel for the rich language of a teaser/review.
Next, the students will create either a DVD Case or a Movie Poster to promote the book through images as well as words. They really love this part, and I’m not just saying that. Rarely do I hit the money with a project where every single student is working, but this is it. And everyone is working at his/her own pace and area of expertise – artists, techies, writers; they all find their niche and even help one another.
On the day where I introduce the project, I bring in dozens of DVD covers and movie posters for students to view. We discuss similarities and conventions such as the size of the font, placement, purpose of images, etc.
After introducing the project, I wind up giving students 3-4 more days of in-class work time. Now that students have their own iPads, I may cut down this time and expect them to do more homework. On the 5th day, we do the printing and final touches, such as laminating the movie posters or putting the DVD covers in to the cases (I bought 100 from Amazon for about 25 cents each, totally worth it!). The 6th day is for presentations.
I am excited to do this project with the iPads this year, because students can actually go out and take their own photographs. Their goal is to match the mood of the book through color, layout, font, and images. They really do quite a bit of critical thinking with this project.
One of the only problems I have run into is that if their book has already been made into a movie, some students rely very heavily on the movie images. I had to make a rule outlawing this. The results were great, as this ultimately pushed students to be original and dig deeper into their own interpretation of the book.
Something that I learned last year, and will be repeating this year, is that some students like to make their own movie poster / DVD case from scratch, and others need a template to get started. Here is a template I created in Pages for the DVD Case. Students can ‘drag and drop’ their own images:
The final product can be displayed in your classroom, hallway displays, or as part of a gallery in which you promote the books to other students. The Library Media instructor at our school asked if she could display them in our Library, too!
If you want to purchase and download my DVD case / Movie Poster unit from TpT, the following items are included: * Common Core Standards for grades 8-12 including English Language Arts and Literacy in All Subjects * Suggestions for modifying and differentiating this lesson for students at all levels, from heavy support needed to extension ideas. * Essential Questions * Rubric * Project Description Student Handout * Sample Writing ‘Review Quotes’ with “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry * 2 Sample DVD Cases with “Peak” by Roland Smith, and “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore * 1 Sample Movie Poster * Word Spectrum – ‘interesting’ to ‘boring’ – 65 synonyms students can incorporate into their writing * 5 Pages of detailed lesson plans and teacher tips including guided writing, peer review, modeling, small and whole group discussion.
I loved teaching this unit and collaborating with our school’s Art and 21st Century teachers. We found that this unit hits on a LOT of Common Core Standards and curricular goals, which was a huge plus! By working together, we strengthened student learning and participation. Students have told me that this was their favorite project all year!