Tee Shirt Book Reports & Other Pin-spiration

Today my students brought their summer reading book reports on a tee shirt. The idea I found on Pinterest earlier this summer and cataloged with my “Must Use This” pin board. The shirts that my students designed were amazing.

The requirements of the assignment included the title and an image that represents the book on the front of the tee shirt. On the back, students were to write a summary about the book and include key quotes. I had students wear the shirts to class and then they each shared a 1-2 minute book talk about their book. I said fill up the canvas any which way they design: sharpies, paint, rhinestones, iron-ons. The outcomes were truly creative and unique.

We have decided to auction the tee shirts online in October and use the money raised to donate to the non-profit organization Give More Hugs. GMH strives to bring basic school supplies and resources to schools in need around the world. The auction link will be posted soon.

The concept for the tee shirt book report originated from The Polka Dotty Place Blog and Teaching My Friends blog. Even though both these blogs are elementary school level, my middle school students LOVED the project.

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#EdcampLI’s Rigor, Wonder, and Book Love

Saturday was amazing.  I attended #EdcampLI held at the Willet’s Road School in Roslyn Heights, Long Island and left energized and excited to go back to school on Monday. Some common threads addressed by the workshop leaders and attendees included: engagement, relevancy, growth mindset, and connections.

If you do not know much about EdCamps, they are anti-conferences or a choose your own professional development opportunity tied into one. Teachers and administrators show up to an Edcamp and can either lead a session or attend sessions presented by a host of educational experts. By educational experts I mean current teachers, administrators, authors, educational consultants and more. Edcamps are no to low cost and allow attendees to attend the workshops and discussions that are most meaningful to them. These unconferences are a great way to meet like-minded colleagues who are looking to improve and learn from one another.

Throughout the day I participated in four workshops, talked with a ton of people, tweeted nonstop, and made lots of connections. The two workshops left a lasting impression on me were Carol Varsalona and Blanca E. Duarte‘s interactive presentation Discovering Wonder: Increasing Student Engagement with Curiosity and Awe and JoEllen McCarthy‘s Book Love: New Titles, Tools and Tweeting to Energize All Readers & Writers!

Here are some sticking points:

Invite vigor and engagement into your classroom with wonder and passion.

To create WONDER in your classroom:

Redesign the literacy landscape — think outside of the box and create a classroom that promotes inquiry and excitement right when they walk in the door. It is not just about what you are doing in your classroom but also how your classroom is set up and looks. You want your classroom to be inviting and pleasing to one’s eyes.

Never stop learning. Use websites like Wonderopolis, Google Cultural Institute, Google Wonder Projects, Google Art Projects, and How Stuff Works with your students.

Check out and download Scholastic’s Open a World of Possible ebook that is filled with amazing essays written by authors, educators, and celebrities about their love of reading the role that books play in their lives.

Pair and Layer Texts

If you do not already follow The Nerdy Book Club on Twitter and the blog, then you should!

Here is one last secret that I will to share. I am currently in the process of organizing EdcampMville at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY for K-12 educators and also those in Higher Education this upcoming Spring 2015. The idea is to bridge educators of all grade levels and content areas together for a day of conversation, collaboration, and connecting. I will be sharing a lot more about this endeavor over the next few months. If you are interested in participating, please contact me.

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Sign Along the Dotted Line: Grading Contracts in the Classroom

Grading is tricky and as much as I would love to throw away all numerical and letter grades in my classroom, it is not a reality in the school where I currently teach. I envy those teachers who have created successful classrooms without grades like Pernilles Ripp author of the blog, BloggingThrough the Fourth Dimension. But until the opportunity arises in my district to eliminate those numbers and letters that are loaded with emotions, expectations, judgements, and measurement limitations, I have turned to contract grading as a way to balance my own concerns about the grading dilemma.

What is contract grading?

Think of a grading contract a clear set of guidelines. Students need to complete all the requirements in order to earn a possible grade. I allow my students to contract for an A or a B. Nothing less. The contract offers multiple opportunities for students to earn a specific grade, there is no “one shot grading.” Students are working throughout the marking period to earn the grade. Students determine how much effort they wish to put into the class and take responsibility for their own work. Individuals must meet a minimum of the requirements of the assignments as defined by the rubric. There are no letter or numerical grades for the specific requirements. Thus students’ grades are based on effort and achievement of meeting standards. I tell my students their efforts and participation have real effects on their own and other students’ abilities to learn and develop in class. 

Each marking period, 40% of my students’ grade in English 8 is based on the grading contract below.

Thus, 40% of a students’ grade is based on their own conscientious efforts and participation.  The criteria for each potential grade is directly tied to how much the student wishes to participate and how hard s/he is willing to work. 

Here are some elements of the current grading contract I have in place:

Characteristics of “B” Quality Work in English 8

  • Be fully prepared every day so that you can engage with the work of that day. Have all assigned reading and writing completed according to the specifications of the assignment and available at the beginning of the class period.
  • Bring a writing utensil and your Interactive Reading Journal to class every day.
  • Actively engage in a positive manner to class and group discussions:  pay close attention to what others are saying; respond respectfully and thoughtfully to others’ ideas; and be willing to offer input on a regular basis.
  • Be on time consistently.
  • Turn in all formal and informal assignments at the appropriate time and meet all the criteria for the assignment.
  • Maintain a neat and legible Interactive Reading Journal.
  • Read an Outside Reading (OSR) book each quarter and complete a project on the book. 
  • Complete a Genius Hour Project that positively impacts the community each semester and share your final product with the class

Characteristics of “A” Quality Work in English 8

Students will complete all the components of the “B” Quality Work and in addition,

  • Make revisions on formative & summative writing assessments – extending or changing the thinking or organization – not just touching up or editing minor errors.
  • Volunteer to participate in a Going Global* collaborative project  – come to x-period twice a month to complete a small project in collaboration with students around the world. *Going Global is a closed networking site through the Japan Society that allows teachers and students to interact, collaborate, and share ideas beyond our classroom walls.
  • Read an additional OSR book each quarter and participate in twitter book chats about the additional text.
  • Publish the Genius Hour Project  in a TED-style reflective presentation on the entire experience  

 

 

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25 Ways to Tell Your Students They Are Great

As another school year begins, I continue to brainstorm ways to give my students positive reinforcement. Below is a list of 25 ways to tell my students they are awesome and what they did is great. If you have additional ideas please post them in the comment section of this blog.

1. Super job!

2. Gold metal performance!

3. WOW!

4. Keep up the terrific work!

5. Intelligence strikes again!

6. Splendid Success!

7. You’re amazing!

8. First class all the way!

9. Unforgettable!

10. Unbelievably well done!

11. I admire what you’ve done!

12. You’re destined for greatness!

13. You always do your best!

14. You’ve exceeded my expectations!

15. Exemplary!

16. You really met the challenge!

17. Nothing is impossible for you!

18. Do it again!

19. Positively peak performance!

20. Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me!

21. Marvelous contribution!

22. Nice going!

23. You just keep getting better!

24. Exceptional!

25. You’re an inspiration to others!

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Alternative Book Reports to Promote Literature Rich Classrooms

What are our objectives when using literature in the classroom and curriculum?

To help you people find books that will be meaningful to them.

To help young people develop the habits of good readers – active readers – who make meaning of words on the page and take an active stance while reading.

Emphasize gender-fair and multicultural resources and the attitudes, interests, problems, and opportunities of young adults in contemporary society.

This summer I have gone on a young adult book binge and I am currently rethinking some of the book assessments that I offer to my students. I believe that teachers need to be interacting with young adult literature on a regular basis to explore current publications, revisit favorites, and discover new and renewed ways to connect young readers with books.  I strongly feel that teachers need to create options for students in assignments and culminating assessments. Projects should promote authentic learning and writing for real purposes.

Below are three different book assessments I have had my middle school students complete in lieu of a test to show me their reading and understanding of an independent reading text.

1. Bookseller’s Day – Hold a bookseller’s day in your classroom where each student will try and sell their independent reading book in a book talk and display. Students create a “pitch” to review and promote their book to whole class. Props, costumes, and music are encouraged and visual aids might include posters, book jackets of your own design, stickers, bookmarks, business cards, or postcards. Students prepare a  brief summary of the book, a book review, and if the book has been made into a movie, compare and contrast the book and the film.

2. Author’s Study allows students with a favorite author to complete an author’s study project. Students write a report or create a presentation that offers key biographical information about the author, genre of writing, key quotes from the author about their writing life and craft, pictures of the author and images of book covers. Students can create an annotated bibliography of the books the author has published and a one page reflection about how this writer inspired or influenced them.

3. Book Reviews – To help students dig deeper in reflection about a book he or she has read – and to avoid surface plot retelling that comes with traditional book report assignments – book reviews found in newspapers and magazines are an authentic method for evaluating a text. I often give my students guidelines for writing book reviews. Paragraph 1 offers a brief summary of the plot in 2-4 sentences with an attention grabber in the first sentence. Paragraph 2 addressed whether or not the reviewer recommends the book with reasons to back up his or her opinions. Paragraph 3 – When the book is finished, what stays with you?

Looking for more project ideas, I have written in previous posts about video projects and technology based projects to do with students as alternative book reports and assessments.

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Designing Writing Assignments and Prompts

I just finished Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Close Reading and Writing From Sources (IRA, 2014) and there are so many great ideas for teaching reading, writing, and discussion in the classroom. The last chapter addressed designing an effect writing assignment or prompt to foster precise writing and critical thinking. The authors state the basic components of a writing assignment or prompt are:

1. The Topic

2. The Audience

3. The Rhetorical Structure or Genre to be Produced

Students should be able to determine the following when a writing prompt is clear and simply stated:

What is my purpose for writing this pieces?

Who is my audience?

What is the task?

Fisher and Frey cite The Literacy Design Collaborative for effective prefabricated task templates for teachers to customize. For example, the following argumentation task template invites students to compare two conditions:

[Insert question] After reading _____________ (literature or informational texts), write a/an __________ (essay or substitute) that compares _______________ (content) and argues ___________ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. 

[Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you address the question and argue_______(content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Analysis)

It is important to remember that the writing assignment or prompt should not be an afterthought, rather all reading and discussion tasks should be aligned with the culminating task so students can engage in critical inquiry and investigation throughout the unit. The Common Core Learning Standards have drawn teachers’ attention to how to read closely. At the same time, teachers need to develop strong text-dependent questions that guide students’ thinking while their reading closely and write using evidence from the text they’ve read to show their reading and writing capabilities. 

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Asking the Right Questions to Promote Learning & Understanding

There are two types of questioning that teachers employ in the classroom:

Low-level questions tap students’ knowledge. These are the recall questions that address basic knowledge and comprehension of terms, facts, names, and events.

High-level questions require students to expand their thinking and relate to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These questions typically begin with How and Why. 

Both types of questions are necessary and important. Professor of Education, Dr. R. Ouyang states, “The primary issue is not to be rigid in defining question levels but rather to ask questions at a level appropriate for the learner and learning activities.”

To be effective in the classroom, the questions teachers ask students must be adjusted to fit the needs of the students. 

Prompting is one technique when a student does not answer a question or gives an incorrect response. Prompting questions use hints and clues to aid students in answering questions or to assist them in correcting an initial original question with clues or hints.

When a student’s reply is correct but insufficient because it lacks depth, the teacher can ask Probing questions to initiate the student to think more thoroughly about the initial response. Probing can ask follow up questions such as, “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you tell us more about . . ” or “How does this connect?”

Wait time is always something teachers ponder and can be a powerful question technique. Students need time to think. If teachers wait 3 seconds or longer for the answer to a question, the quality of students’ responses increases.

Here are some other questioning guidelines:

1. Ask clear questions. Ask something in simple, clear language that students can understand. 

2. Ask your questions before designating a respondent. Ask a question. Wait for the class to think about it, and then ask someone for an answer. 

3. Ask questions that match your lesson objectives

4. Distribute questions about the class fairly.

5. Ask one question at a time

As teachers we need to set the stage for meaningful discussions and model our questions so that students can exchange information and ideas with one another, not just for the sake of the teacher or a grade. 

 

 

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Interactive Reading Foldables for Dystopian Fiction

This past month I have been working to put together the interactive reading foldables I created this spring for my students when teaching a unit on dystopian fiction. My students self selected one of three dystopian texts: Neil Shusterman’s Unwind, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. The students then broke into literature circles based on their literature choices and met twice a week to address specific aspects in their text. The other days of week we all met together to address larger concepts within the dystopian genre.

I have bundled together five lessons and interactive reading foldables specific to dystopian fiction and they are available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers. The five lessons include:

1. Definitions of Dystopia

2. Characteristics of a Dystopian Society

3. Types of Dystopian Control

4. Characteristics of a Dystopian Protagonist

5. Rebellion, Revolt, and Revolution within Dystopias

As an added bonus, I am posting an additional lesson on Rebellion, Revolt, and Revolution within Dystopian Fiction below. This lesson plan with all the materials will be available ONLY for the next five days.  The lesson includes an interactive foldable, an activity utilizing QR Codes to access images and movies connecting the concepts of rebellion and revolution to history, current events, and popular culture and requires students to apply what they know about their dystopian fiction to their understanding of rebellion and revolution.

To print out a copy of the lesson plan and materials CLICK HERE.

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Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.


 

 

 

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Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

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