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Fishbowls and Pokerchips

Everyone English teacher knows about Fishbowl Discussions and Socratic Seminars.  If they go well, you may feel like you are Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (yes, I am dating myself).  If they go badly (and believe me, they can), you may feel like you chose the wrong career.  In a fishbowl discussion, I noticed that many students get nervous when they are on the inside having the discussion and half of the class is staring at them.  I also noticed how much some of them struggle to find something meaningful to say.  When put on the spot, they sometimes struggle to come up with a good question to ask.  Sometimes it seems so serious and awkward. I mean, isn't being in middle school awkward enough? We've all been there!

So, while driving home from school  one day, I got an idea. We are reading The Giver, and we're five chapters in. It was the perfect time for a juicy discussion. That week I made one of my stations, a question station.  Students were given a handout with fi…
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Reflecting on a Tragedy in my City

Last Saturday morning,  two sets of parents said goodbye to their beloved children.  One of them headed off to dance practice at Mission Hills High School. The other, was likely attending baseball practice at that same school.    At approximately 11:00 a.m. these same two sets of parents received the worst news they will ever receive.  For one parent, it was the news that their beautiful daughter, Lauren, had been struck by a car while walking on the sidewalk. She died on the scene. She had been walking back to the school after heading to 7-11 for a quick snack during a break in dance practice.  For the other parent, it was the news that their son had been involved in a car accident--an accident resulting in a fatality.   Lauren was a senior, just weeks away from graduation. She has a twin sister.   The driver,  a sixteen-year-old and baseball player  at that same school.  Since hearing this news, I have been experienced such an overwhelming sense of sadness and fear.  I imagine these…

Time to Reflect

This is the time of year when I am already planning for next year.  What went well?  What didn't?  How can I make next year even better than this year?  I find myself being pretty critical of myself.  My goals this year were to give no homework and provide more feedback to students AS they worked, rather than waiting until they turned in an assignment for a grade.  I wanted to make more connections my students, create a student-friendly environment, and make every student feel love and respected.  Finally, I changed my policies and accepted all late work with no penalty and allowed students to redo/retake any assignment or quiz for a higher grade.  Here is what I learned:

1) No Homework-My students loved this (94.5% according to my survey).  I found that I had to rethink everything I did in class to make this work.  I incorporated stations, which helped tremendously.  The most challenging aspect was trying to get all of the reading of novels completed in class, but we did it!  Acco…

Walking Dead Words, Stupid Simile Shuffle, and Stellar Simile Smack Down

I have been having a blast with my creative writing students. This semester I am trying some activities I did not do with my last semester kiddos.  First, we had a Stupid Simile Shuffle. We discussed cliches, connotation of words, and what makes a good simile.  For example, I asked, "Why does it work to say that her teeth were as yellow as corn but not that her lovely dress was as yellow as corn?" Then,  I found a list of horrible similes taken from student writing and cut them into small strips.   There were definitely some doozies. Students had to mill about the room reading their stupid simile to a partner and each partner and to explain why the simile was stupid and didn't work!  Here is a link to the ones I used.  Seldom do I use examples of bad writing to share with my students when teaching them how to write, but I couldn't resist sharing these, and it was evident by their laughter that they enjoyed hearing them. 

Afterwards, students returned to their seats t…

Passion Projects

I have been reading quite a bit about Genius Hour and Twenty Time the past few years.  I have been wanting to try it with my students,  but quite honestly, I was scared.  How would I monitor what students were doing?  How would I grade them? How would I help them be successful? I decided to quit worrying and jump in.  
I have been trying so hard this year to take the emphasis OFF grades and points and on learning and engagement. It has taken awhile, but I think my students are finally getting it.  I introduced the idea of Passion Projects to my students in December.  The main requirement is that they were passionate about their topic and had a desire to find out something new about that topic.  I also emphasized that the journey was more important than the final product.  How else would I encourage students to take risks?
Because I use stations in my classroom, it was easy to carve out a time for students to work on their projects in class.  Although I do not assign homework students we…

Making Stations Work

I've posted a few times about my efforts to incorporate stations in my classroom this year. Inspired by Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning and one of the amazing educators I follow on Twitter, I want to create more opportunities to interact with my students and provide them with feedback AS they are working.  Overall, it has gone well.  However, one difficulty I have encountered is how to inform students of what they are expected to do at each station.  I thought that posting detailed instructions on my blog would be the best way.  WRONG!  I found that students often struggled to navigate back and forth between the various pages they might be visiting on their Chromebooks.  Also, some stations didn't even require a Chromebook, so it was kind of a pain for them to have to log in and find the instructions.  I thought back to what Alice Keeler, author of Ditch that Homework and Twitter Tweeter extraordinaire once said, "Slapping something online doesn't make it be…

These Kids are Magical

Last week in my Creative Writing class, I introduced the idea of writing parodies of songs.  My students immediately got excited. I showed them "Word Crimes" by Weird Al and another one about algebra set to Toto's "Africa".  That's all they needed.  Within seconds, they were humming, singing, and writing. I could have gone to the gym, and they wouldn't have known I was gone!  My students know me well enough to know that I want them to take risks.  If something doesn't "turn out" they way they had hoped, big deal.  There are many other opportunities to create a masterpiece. 

Students managed to write their songs within a block period and a half.  This included practice time, as well as typing and printing their lyrics.  Then, each group shared a link to the Karaoke version with me on a Google doc. That way it was ready to play when it was their turn to perform.


After the performances (I had tears in my eyes), I had students complete a Google …