Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Using Common Core to Motivate ELA Students Beyond the Classroom

The Common Core standards we use in our English classes definitely give some freedom when it comes to the books we choose to teach and the creative approaches teachers can take when trying to motivate students inside and outside the classroom. 

This past year, I was moved to 11th grade English (which gave me the same students for a third year in a row). One of the positives to that is I knew the students' strengths and weaknesses and was able to create meaningful lessons that gave them the skills they need to succeed now and in the future. This post is dedicated to one of the units I tried. 

When most people think about English classes, they immediately think about the "classics". But, that doesn't always hold everyone's attention and the common core doesn't require teachers to just teach the same books that have been taught for years. There is a lot of flexibility. So, I asked myself, what types of books do adults read in their careers and how can I prepare these students for life outside of high school? 

I didn't have to look very far past the nightstands in my house to find some ideas. I created a list of potential books I would have students choose for their leadership/personal growth literature circle. I bought most of these books used online. 
The initial list: 
The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Drive by Daniel Pink
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

Students created reading calendars at the beginning of the unit. They all had 12 days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) in which they had to have a chunk of reading complete when they entered the room. For about 30 minutes of each Tuesday and Thursday, literature discussions took place. Each student in each group had a different role for the reading assignment that was due that day. They all also filled out a response log for each reading assignment. Students took turns discussing the important points/quotes/stories they found in each reading selection. At the end of each literature circle discussion day, they were encouraged to highlight some of the features of the book they would like to include in their final project. Two weeks (two days per week) at the end of the unit were dedicated to working on final projects. 

I gave the students a lot of flexibility when it came to the final project. The only thing they couldn't do was Google Slides or PowerPoint. 

I had students creating audio and video podcasts, writing blogs, creating children's stories related to the content of their book, doing live Twitter feed presentations, creating board games, crossword puzzles, etc. 

I can't even explain the impact this unit had on these students. The ownership these groups took with their books and the content was amazing. Students saw the purpose in their reading and made more connections with the readings than I could have ever imagined. 

Purpose statement for the whole unit along with common core standards: 

The success of this unit, led me to one of the most powerful lessons I have experienced in my classroom throughout the past 12 years. 

See the next post discussing the impact of Strengths Finder 2.0 in a classroom of juniors. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Read Aloud for High School Students

“But I don’t like to read.” “Reading is boring.” “Is there going to be a test on this book?” Phrases like these were becoming all too common in my high school classroom. I realized a love for literature was often missing in students within this age group. Not all students, but a lot of them. I tried to find answers as to where, when, and how this happened. Was it having to read too many books for programs like Accelerated Reading? Was it because they didn’t know how to pick a book that caught their specific interest? The list of possibilities continued. Until I stopped and looked at my own children. Why do my kids like books? This simple question brought out the answer to my problem.
Parents and elementary teachers are reminded over and over about the importance of reading out loud to their children/students. And chances are, as adults we remember those books that our elementary teachers read out loud to us. I specifically remember The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pippy Longstocking, along with many others. There is something about the read aloud that brings the story to life and helps developing readers become invested in literature.
Now think about how many books were read to us as teenagers. Probably very few, if any. As a teenager we are supposed to know how to read. And 99% of the time, students do understand the words they are reading. However, through my own investigation, I found that students truly forgot HOW to read.
Reading had became a job. They lifelessly scanned the pages, trying to find answers. The books they did like to read didn’t provide much of a moral lesson or were just about vampires and supernatural creatures. And whenever they read out loud, the emotion was completely gone.  I knew I had to reteach them HOW to read, so they could expand their love for literature. And the best way to do that, was reading out loud to them. I had to show them how to use emotion in reading to bring the story to life.
I realized the read aloud was the answer to my problem when I started reading Never Fall Down, written by Patricia McCormick. This book is a biographical novel about a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. As a young boy, Arn became a victim of the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide. (I personally had never learned about the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s. Very few of my students had either.) I read about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each of my 10th grade classes. I told them that there wasn’t going to be a test over this; I just wanted them to listen and participate in our discussions. Simple as that. At the end of the first week, I thought about what I observed in these classes. Almost every day, the students were disappointed when I shut the book. They begged to read just a little bit more. While I was reading, every student’s eyes were on me. They all, even my most struggling students, had so many opinions about the book and the situation the main character found himself in. The same reaction happened daily for the almost two months it took us to finish it.
At the end of the book I gave the students a chance to write a letter to the Arn Chorn-Pond or to just jot down a little reflection about the book. Almost all of the students wrote page-long letters about how moved they were by the book. They were recalling specific details that even I had forgotten. They even influenced the World History teacher to discuss other genocides in the world. And further evidence came when I saw other biographical novels in the hands of my students.
And chances are, if you ask those students to tell you one thing they remember about my class, it will be that book. Giving up 5-10 minutes of my class for a couple of months was the most beneficial thing I could have done for those kids. They not only learned an important event in history, but also learned how powerful a book can be if they allow themselves to bring it to life.
So as we get ready to go back to school, remember that high school students do have that love for literature that our younger students have. We might just have to show them how to find it again. Try the read aloud. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.

***Update on July 17, 2017***

I continue to believe in reading out loud to high school students, and after teaching a junior high class this year, found that they loved it just as much. I thought I would update this post with some other books I have found to be amazing read alouds for junior high and high school classrooms.

Junior High:
*Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
This is a story of a young girl that has severe cerebral palsy and is nonverbal. It is told from her point of view as she struggles to show the world her intelligence. The students absolutely loved this book. We had great talks about empathy during this read aloud.

*Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold
This story is told from Hannah Goslar, Anne Frank's best friend from childhood. It relives the day Hannah thought Anne and her family had run away and tells of Hannah's journey through the Holocaust (which involves seeing Anne in a concentration camp late in the war).
This story was great for my 7th graders that were learning about the Holocaust in their ELA class.

*Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers' Edition by Saroo Brierley
I just read this book and will definitely read it to my 7th grade enrichment class this school year. It was such a captivating story that will help my students realize all of the dangers a lot of young children face in other countries.

*Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly
This is another book I picked up this summer with the read aloud in mind. It did not disappoint. The students love listening to nonfiction, and this story is so important to the history of our nation.

High School:
*Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick: This story is described above. (There is some language I altered while reading out loud, and because of the harsh conditions, I would use this book for 10th grade and above.)

*Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
I read this story to 9th and 10th graders. They were able to make a lot of connections to the things they were learning in their American history class. This was a captivating story that really provided some cross-curricular discussions.

*I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers' Edition) by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick
This book could be used for either junior high or high school. I used it for 8th and 9th graders. The young readers' edition keeps the kids interest and shows them the importance of education and standing up for what you believe.

Monday, February 16, 2015

#Love Teaching Week

Last week was #Love Teaching Week...A week dedicated to showcasing the positives about teaching. The media does a great job showing many of the negatives that come along with teaching, but rarely highlights the reasons we went into this profession to start with. 

Don't get me wrong, this career is difficult and definitely has its challenges. There have been times in my ten years of teaching that I have questioned my career choice and contemplated starting over in a new career. There have been many times that I have felt quilty about working outside of the home in a career that demands so much of my time at home too.  However, whenever I am having my doubts, something always happens to remind me that I am making a difference. 

For instance, as I thought about all the little things I could share for #LoveTeaching this week on social media, I realized that I can find something positive about my job every single day. 

I noticed, in this one-week time frame, that what really makes me love teaching the most is the connection I can make with these students on a daily basis. I can make a difference in their lives. Here is a list of some things that have happened in one week of teaching.

I love teaching because...

* After sharing a chapter from Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome, written by Brad Montague and Robby Novak, the kids in one of my classes were so moved by the message, they broke out into an applause. This reminded me that there are so many students out there that are moved by the idea to treat people more awesome. The line that ended the chapter was,  "Maybe our goal as people shouldn't be to become a celebrity, but to live in a way that makes everyone around us feel celebrated." If I can help these students understand that their actions make a difference and if I can show them that I celebrate them and believe in them, then I am doing the job I set out to do.

* A senior from the school I used to teach at contacted me to tell me that he got accepted at the college of his choice. Why did he contact me? Because he knew I would want to know. These moments in teaching are so important because it tells me that I have made a connection with a student. They know that I care about them and want them to succeed in life. 

* After school (on the last day of the school-week), two students came and asked me to take a picture with them. We were wearing the new shirts our group, Here 2 Make a Change (H2MC), had made. They are helping to spread a positive message throughout our school and community. To see students go out of their way to make a positive impact shows me that with a little reinforcement through me, these students feel comfortable about making a difference. 

* Over the weekend, I opened my email to find a letter written by a freshman in high school. This student took time out of her weekend to send me a message about the impact I have had on her and how much she respects me. It is times like these that make every negative thing about teaching just disappear. These moments keep teachers going for a very long time. 

* Last week, I went to my mailbox in the school office to find a hand-written note from a student facing something that could potentially keep him out of school for a long time. While reading this letter, tears filled my eyes. This student knew I saw potential in him and thanked me for believing in him; he was very sad to say that this letter might be his last good-bye.  This letter reminded me that my teaching can impact all students. Just showing students you believe in them, care about them, and want them to succeed will carry them through some of their toughest moments. 

* While reading a nonfiction piece about refugees, students in every one of my classes shared their concerns and talked about ways people throughout the world could offer help. These moments give me so much hope. High school students often get stereotyped as the "Me Generation". I see on a daily basis that there are so many students that just want to do something to help others, even if it doesn't get them anything. Not all students fit this stereotype...

These moments are just a few that stick out from the week. Like I said before, there is always something, every day, that reminds me why I love teaching.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pride Tickets

Our school has implemented new parking requirements this year. To help promote the rules, I made these tickets for the administration to place on the students' cars that were following the rules. This was a great way to reward the students that were doing what they were supposed to be doing, as opposed to just providing negative reinforcement to the students that weren't following the rules. 

Students turned in the tickets the following day and were rewarded with a treat. 

I am planning on changing the wording on the tickets to use for positive behavior in my classroom as well. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

High School Classroom Decorations

My new classroom: 
I continued to use my past Twitter theme. I also added a Facebook bulletin board that highlights the theme and essential questions each grade level will focus on this year in our literature. I added pictures of the authors and books we will read at the beginning of the year in the status update section. I will continue to add authors as the year progresses. 

All of the Twitter posts run around the top of the classroom. I used recite.com to create the quote images. The kids love the styles. 

The bulletin board at the front of the room has an Instagram theme. I will post pictures of the students and allow them to bring in pictures to post on the board. 

I filled in empty spaces with posters I made on bulletin board paper. I found most of the poster quotes from Pinterest. 

Here is a list of the quotes I used for the Twitter theme...
“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
“Even in darkness, it is possible to create light.”

“It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
 @Oscar Wilde

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 
Mark Twain

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” 

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” 
@Henry Ford

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Attitude Poster

Saw a picture of this poster on Facebook today. It will fit perfectly in my classroom. I just wrote the message with a Sharpie on a piece of colored bulletin board paper. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

ACT Reward Cards and Treats

90 cookies, 45 cupcakes, and 40 brownies later, I have enough rewards for my Juniors taking the ACT test tomorrow. To determine which treat is their reward, I made these simple scratch-off reward cards. 

I found an ACT logo and copied it 9 times on a document. Underneath each logo, I typed, Congratulations! You put forth 100% effort today. Thank you for your time and commitment.
Reveal your reward below:

I wrote brownie, cookie, and cupcake on the sheets of paper. I covered the name of the treat with contact paper. 

Then I made a mixture of 2 parts gray paint and 1 part Dawn dish soup. I painted over the contact paper. 

Here are the treats...

When the students are done testing, they will each get a card. Then they will scratch off the paint to reveal their "reward".