Sharing Writing Publicly

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing is when your work is shared publicly. I’m most proud of my writing pieces that have been published in print and online, mostly because it means people besides myself have access to it. Students get the same excitement and pride when their work is shared publicly.

Making time and space for students to share their work is just as important as the work itself. Teaching students how to critique work and how to accept criticism is a life skill they will certainly utilize as they transform into adulthood. In middle school, a time when character development is critical, it is especially meaningful when teachers offer guidance and activities that allow students to become well-rounded individuals.

I’ve used Linda Christensen’s “Read-Around” activity for years (from this book, which is like my teaching bible) and it’s always proven to be a success with students. While I tailor it to my students’ needs each year, I find that with consistent implementation, students, 1.) Find more pleasure in writing; 2.) Learn how to give meaningful feedback; 3.) Learn how to accept feedback that is critical of their work.

A student reading her work during a read-around
A student reading her work during a read-around

My current class had their first read-around last week. I always have students move the desks and put chairs in a circle. This promotes positive classroom community and also ensures that the speaker and audience can see/hear everyone.

I create a rubric so that students are able to critique their peers’ work. It also holds them accountable for actively participating and listening. Since this was our first read-around, the rubric was rather basic, asking students to list one “glow” (something the author did well) and one “grow” (something the author could improve).

Students give feedback on a rubric
Students give feedback on a rubric

Prior to the read-around, we discussed examples of exemplar and non-exemplar “glows” and “grows.” For instance, saying a paper is “good” is not very helpful to the writer; saying their use of statistics helps to persuade readers is a better and more specific “glow.”

Since this was our first read-around, I had students volunteer to read their essays – no pressure! I tell students that my expectation is that everyone reads out loud in a read-around this year. I realize that for some students, public speaking is scary, so I never force them to read aloud at a given time, but I continue to enforce my expectation that they do it at least once and they always rise to meet it. What I’ve found is that with consistent implementation of read-arounds, these students will eventually become comfortable and feel that the space is safe enough for them to face their fear without pressure.

How do you allow students to share their work?

The Power of Peer Editing

“Yessssss!!! OMG, I’ve been waiting for this!”

Comments like the ones above are what I heard when I announced that we were at the peer editing station where students check for conventions. Red pens in hand, they could not wait to tear apart edit their peer’s paper.

It’s natural to get some (tiny) enjoyment out of correcting others’ mistakes, and if you’re a tweenager, the high is likely 100x greater than if you’re a teacher who corrects grammar for a living.

While students generally enjoy the act of peer editing, I have yet to find a flawless way to go about the process. Although this year, I think I am very close.

I had been thinking about using peer station activities and purchased this one from TpT. However, after looking it over, I realized that it may need to be scaffolded for my students. Luckily, my co-teacher shared a peer editing station she used in the past. With a few tweaks, it ended up being a great introduction to peer editing!

 

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Peer editing in action!

Of course, being the first time I used stations for peer editing, there were some kinks that need to be ironed out for next time.

  • Rotating. I had students (not papers) rotate and we all did the same station at the same time. In the future, I hope to have different tables be different stations, but for the sake of going over criteria and setting norms, it worked quite well, although it appeared messy.
  • Skill/Knowledge Level: Some students were confused about thesis statements. They didn’t know what to look for. This let me know that in our next piece of writing, I need to make thesis statements a focus.

What worked well?

  • Green/Red pens. I had students use green pens to fix errors in capitalization, since that was a skill we had just studied. Red pens were used for other grammar errors. Next time, I will provide a list of editing symbols because even though we do a Daily Edit using the symbols each day, some students were a bit fuzzy on the symbols.
  • Reading different papers. In the past, students read one paper. With stations, they were able to read five different papers, which allowed them to see many writing styles, which will (hopefully) help them in the future!

How does peer editing work in your classroom? Let me know in the comments!

To (Exit) Ticket or Not to (Exit) Ticket

Exit tickets. In some ways, this method of checking for understanding is a no-brainer. As teachers, we obviously want to know if our students have mastered the skills in the day’s lesson. A short informal assessment, or exit ticket, at the end of class often lets teachers know who mastered the objective and who needs further instruction.

HOWEVER…

I’ve struggled (for years) to fit exit tickets into my ELA lesson plan. Sure, some days it works, especially if we are focused on one skill (main idea, for instance). However, in literature, we are often discussing many skills at once. Sometimes we are engaged in literature circle and class discussions where many inquiries are taking place. Still, I’m supposed to choose one skill for my students to “master?!”

In my opinion, the discussion of literature cannot be “mastered.” Discussions about text, characters, motivations, and the like should be organic, especially when the students are middle-school age and older and discussing novels. While there is often a great deal of scaffolding during these discussions, oftentimes, the outcomes are not what I anticipated, as students will often bring up points that are not necessarily connected to the day’s objective. Instead of discouraging their discussion and swaying it in the direction of the day’s objective, I let it flow organically. Wouldn’t you dislike it if someone tried to moderate your discussion of books?!

Despite my love/hate relationship with exit tickets, I have found some unique, open-ended ways to incorporate them into my ELA class. One such way is through the use of Twitter posts. I found this gem in one of my weekend Pinterest binges and the students love it. There are sentence starters about the day’s lesson, such as:

  • Something I learned today…
  • I didn’t know…
  • A question I have is…

I display these “tweets” on a bulletin board for all students to see. It also gives me easy access to answer student questions about the lessons!

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Do I do this every day with every class? Nope! Honestly, it takes a good portion of time to do, so doing it every day is not feasible. However, I try to do it a couple of times a week with different classes. Already, one student asked when his class was going to “tweet” after seeing the board of tweets!

Other versions of this could be to have all students write responses to a question or finish a sentence starter on a post-it, then have them post their notes to a designated space.

How do exit tickets work in your classroom?

Reading Logs

I’ve used a myriad of reading logs throughout my years of teaching, most of which went by the wayside and were eventually “deep-sixed” into the recycling bin.

In order to cultivate a classroom of readers, I knew that this year had to be different. I wanted to allow students to reflect on their reading and to hear what their peers were reading. I also wanted the reading log to be purposeful and not seem like “busy-work” to students.

reading-logs

The reading log I use (adapted from this reading log) asks students to create a reading goal for when they want to finish the book. I tell my students that if they do not reach their goal, it’s okay; however, I also want them to experience how amazing it feels to reach your goal. Already, many students have finished their book before their intended goal and they are super excited, proclaiming “I’m finished!!!” Having only been in school three weeks, seeing students finish one or two books so early in the school year makes me smile 🙂

I modeled how to fill out the reading log on the first day I showed it to students. The log requires students to add up the total number of pages they read each day. This was confusing for some of my lower-level learners, so extra modeling may be needed. After about 15 minutes of reading, I give students about four minutes to circle a sentence starter and write their reactions. They circle a different sentence starter for each day.

Afterwards, I allow two students to share what they wrote. This serves as a mini book-talk and I walk around the room Vanna White style showcasing their book. At the end of the week, students fill out the goal reflection portion on the back of the log. They add up the total number of pages read that week, which usually results in some students shocking themselves by how much they’ve read!

There is also a space for their grade (each day is worth 5 points) and teacher feedback. I tell my students the reading log should be an easy 100% as long as they follow directions, as I grade based upon thoughtfulness and completeness.

As the year progresses, I will likely change the sentence starters and make them more advanced. I may also increase the response length from 3-5 sentences to 5-7 sentences.

Keeping routines consistent is key for middle school students and the reading log is a fantastic way to hold students accountable for their learning!

Do you use reading logs? What do you find useful and effective with your students?

Library Battles

I’m two weeks into the school year and so far, it’s pretty great. For the first time ever, it feels as if I have my sh*t together. This is likely because I began planning and working on my classroom in late July. People who think teachers spend their summers relaxing should know that a teacher’s idea of “relaxing” is organizing his/her library for the upcoming school year. And laminating. Definitely laminating.

One of my goals this year was to have a library that looked and felt inviting. To accomplish this, I did a few things:

1.) Labeled my books by genre/theme. Looking for books has never been easier when I have theme-coded bins. All of my Goosebumps books are in one place and if students want to read books about Middle School, there’s a bin for that. I recently added a LGBT book bin and plan to add a Scary Stories/Halloween in the coming week.

2.) Comfy Chairs. I acquired a gently used rug, a few bean-bags, a moon chair and a funky, multi-colored lamp. I have a rotation of students who read in the library daily so everyone gets a turn. Students are not only excited about the books they are reading, but they learn that reading is a pleasurable act.

While my Type-A library organizing has completely changed the vibe of silent reading time in my classes, I also attribute that to allowing students to read books regardless of book levels. In the past, my students were so focused on their book level and would be scared to stray from it. This meant they were possibly not reading the books they wanted to read, all because the book was not exactly a DRA 40, for instance.

When I told my students they could read books based on their interest, some of them actually cheered. I explained that sometimes they may be interested in a book that, once they begin reading, they find is too difficult. At that point, they can make a mature decision to choose another book. I highlighted the fact that I sometimes have to change my book after reading the first few chapters because it doesn’t hold my interest or it’s too difficult. Some real-life advice and the power of choice with middle schoolers is key.

Of course, I also step-in if I see a student who needs some guidance in this area, but for the most part, my students are really enjoying reading silently. In fact, many of them will ask me to get their books so they can read during times that are not SR times. If you’re a teacher, you know how HUGE this is (and when they ask, I of course, say “Yes,” while beaming a smile ear-to-ear!)

Speaking of books of interest, as stated above, I recently created a LGBT book bin. I read along with my students and was reading George. I gave a quick book talk about it (we also do this every day – more to come in a later post) and students were immediately calling “dibs” on the book when I finished. So I went home that night and ordered a good amount of LGBT books from Amazon. When they arrived a few days later, students were literally running to the LGBT book bin and proclaiming the book they wanted to read when they finished their current book. One student spied a book in the bin she desperately wanted to read, so she told me that she made a goal to finish her current book by Friday. Friday afternoon, she bounced up to me and proclaimed, “I’m finished!” Can I get a new book?”

So what are these books my students are fighting over? Here’s a list of few:

1.) George by: Alex Gino

A book about a fifth grade boy, George, who identifies as a girl.

george-book

2.) Being Jazz by: Jazz Jennings

My students saw this book and immediately knew who Jazz was. Little did I know, she has a television show! This is a great high-interest non-fiction read.

being-jazz-my-life-as-a-transgender-teen-hardcover-book_1000

 

3.) Totally Joe by: James Howe

Joe comes to grips with his sexuality and questions gender roles in this middle grades book about being gay.

 

joe

What books have your students fighting battles in the library? Share in the comments!

*Many of my library’s books and furniture were generously donated through DonorsChoose projects.

Up next on the blog: Pictures of my library and how I’m using bookmarks to help students track their reading.

  • Book talks and reading logs

 

 

How did I live without TpT?

TeachrsPayTeachers is perhaps the most brilliant idea ever. Until I discovered this gem, I constantly re-invented the wheel each year. I created all of my own handouts. I worked furiously from the time I arrived home from school until about 10:00pm getting lessons prepared for the next day.

Obviously, this cycle led to burn-out come November and the bulk of my paycheck going toward nightly purchases of wine (because lesson planning without wine is just absurd).

'I need five weekly lesson plan books. Not only do I tend to overplan, but I feel more comfortable with contingency plans.'

Because I value my work-life balance each more with every passing year, I end up spending a good amount of money on TpT. I also wonder how the teachers who create the items on TpT have time to do so…

When I first started using TpT, I felt like a cheater. Was I taking the easy way out, not making my own materials? Did this make me “less-than,” the fact that I just clicked “purchase” and had my next day’s lessons downloaded in an instant?

Clearly, I got over those feelings rather quickly. I also realized that while many of the items on TpT do not need to be modified, most do. So while I still spend a good portion of my time tweaking my purchases, it’s way less than the amount of time I used to spend. And that is everything.

Here are some of my favorite TpT purchases. What are yours?

1.) Peer Editing Stations and Rotations. I have tried a myriad of peer editing tools, most of which are confusing and mediocre at best. I love this station idea and I plan to use it this year.

2.) Writing No-Prep Printables. I use these as mini-lessons and then give quizzes over the skills. Since I teach reading, writing, vocabulary, etc., these practice and assess handouts correlate nicely with whatever writing piece students are working on. Also, I just love Lovin’ Lit’s TpT store – check it out!

3.) Back to School ToolKit. This download is filled with lots of great stuff. I use the classroom sign-out sheet all year and the textbook tracker is a great way to keep track of those class novels. Lots of great first week activities that the kids really get into!

Let me know your favorites in the comments!