Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Create a calm classroom oasis in the chaotic testing month of May

April showers might bring Mayflowers, as the old pun states, but in today's classrooms, May blossoms with  a garden variety of testing, from Advanced Placement to End of Year, or Standards of Learning exams, or whatever name your. school district calls its tests.  Oh, yes, Make-Up Test Days also add rain on teachers' lesson plans, blurring their day's goals.  To add to the question, "How do we keep students on-task and working until the  'School's out for the summer" bell rings, most teachers are required to give-you know this to be true- a final exam!

With an individual novel study, teachers can guarantee that they are offering calm learning oases that will keep students on task as well as wanting to learn. This plan also requires them to be responsible for their assigned work. Best of all, it leaves the chaos out in the hall behind the closed classroom door.

Literary Analysis-MAKING the MOST of TIME  succeeds during those weeks when classes meet fewer times or have a number of scheduled interruptions to learning, such as extended testing periods. It is perfect for May because each day, many students may be absent due to testing, making teaching to the whole group difficult. In my district, the country-wide A.P. exams take up the first two weeks of May. On the day following the last exam, the state's Standards of Learning exams begin. They last until the end of the month and are followed by make-up days, which are crucial for seniors need another chance to pass, a graduation requirement. Teaching becomes catch as catch can for five weeks, creating stress for teachers and students. MAKING the MOST OF TIME keeps students on the Learning Train.

Here are a few suggestions that expand on the How to teach part of the Teacher Notes, the first page after the product cover. The Who, What, When, Where are self-explanatory. Teachers can read them and adjust the goals to their students' skills and abilities.

1. Hand out these packets a week or so before the testing schedule starts.  Not only will this give students the opportunity to choose the book they want to read for this project, and to start reading, but also it allows teachers time to ensure that every student understands the criteria, requirements and time table for this project before they start missing class because of scheduled tests.
2. Explain the parameters for the required books.  My first requirement is that they be novels or narrative nonfiction, like Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. No How-To books, biographies, autobiographies, series of essays, memoirs or collection of poems are allowed.  Also, I set a minimum length of around 200 pages. Zora Neale Hurston's, Their Eyes Were Watching God is required for seniors and it's 184 ,pages, so I set the minimum page limit around there.
3. To keep the choices simple, for a class of 25 students, I select four each of 7-8 novels from the school's book room that I would love the kids to read but didn't have a chance to teach during the year.  To not infringe on my colleagues' literary territories and their grade levels, though, I keep to the level(s) that I am teaching that year- freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors. I limit my selection to four of each title as I didn't want more than than that number of students to read the same novel.
4. If any of the students  are truly apathetic about the choices, teachers may allow them to choose the novel they would rather read, with parental permission, of course. Although  I really try to enthuse students about those that I chose,  my main objective is to try to turn those students I haven't reached, yet into literature lovers. As James Patterson said,

5. The last four bullet points under this section of the Teacher Notes  depend on each teacher's school testing calendar, how many of the assignments in this packet teachers want to include, and the skills and abilities of their students as well as the responsibility for independent work their students practice..
These next few images reveal the student directions, the first pages of the various activities and the project rubric.

Pages 3, 4 and 5 detail the directions.  It works well if teachers read these aloud while students follow, pausing for questions, answers, clarification when necessary.

Student Direction (3)Student Direction (4)

Student Directions (5)
Page 6 is where students jot down the notes they took while reading.

Notes Handout (6)

Page 7 and 8 show the Plot Chart and activity
Plot Chart (7)Plot Activity (8)

Page 9, 10 and 11 are for students' Quote Journals.  Because all of the pages follow the same format, I included only page 9.
Quote Journals (9)

Page 12 is for the Theme segment of this project.
Theme Activity (12)

Page 13 is the all-important Grading Rubric.
Rubric (13)

The key element to the beauty of this unit is that students create their schedules for completing the work after the teacher sets the Due Date. The May calendar that each teacher hands out to the class should show that every day the class will either read for half of the period, or work on the packets for half of the period. The other half of the period the whole class will either work on a facet of writing or will be divided into groups to discuss various aspects of the chosen novels. For the latter activity, the groups should be comprised of students who have each read a different novel. suggestion: change the groups every day so students encounter a wide range of viewpoints and analytic thought.

Each student designs his/her own schedule for the first half of the period, showing whether he/she will be reading or working on packet assignments.  Teachers choose the second half of the period activity, depending on how many students are present that day, and how many are absent due to testing.

By managing their class time wisely, students will only have to complete the typing and compilation of the required activities at home right before the final packets are due. They should bind all of the components of their packet together in some way - a folder with pockets is best.

Teaching time won’t be interrupted and chaotic because of testing, when this unit plan becomes students' May learning keystone. Its effectiveness stems from dual factors - students hold the ownership for what they are learning and when they are learning. 

More details to aid you as you make May bloom with reading, writing and thinking are included in the course description or this unit. ($)

And you, my teacher friends, will appreciate the fact that your students are challenging themselves intellectually with these substantive activities as they increase their reading comprehension, and their higher level thinking and writing skills with and no loss of learning continuity. 

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every May Day,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Great Sites! Enjoy A Double Hit of Teaching Propositions

Sometimes, usually on rainy Thursdays - like today,  I can spend hours skimming through my favorite Internet sites for next week's teaching inspiration and find nothing to turn my rain-induced mental frown upside down.

Other times, my surfing strikes my Enthusiasm Jackpot Bell. One of the items that makes my Creative Muse clunk me on my brain and exclaim, "Need inspiration? Check these out for ideas!" isn't even in the Lesson Up! category...until now.

But before I get to it, I just have to talk about this huge Home Run  Planning Double,

Inspiration Ball #1 - Simply Novel's 2016 Spring Catalog.
This catalog is 22 pages of ELA teacher-planning nirvana. Kristen Bowers has long been recognized for her excellent secondary ELA material on her Simply Novel website and in her TpT store Simply Novel Secondary Solutions.    She created this catalog to showcase the abundance of awesome products offered by other ELA Sellers in their TpT stores..Pre-K-2 teachers should browse the
incredible offerings on pages 4-6; Grades 2-5 teachers will find fantastic material on pages 7-10; pages 11-13 offer exciting lessons to those who lead Grades 3-6; teachers in the Grades 6-12 range will sigh blissfully as they peruse pages 3, and pages 14-19; educators whose concentration is Grades 9-12 will find pages 20 & 21 the equivalent of a teacher candy store, and Special Ed teachers' eyes will glow when they see page 12. 

Every product links to its own page in the teacher seller's TpT store. If you want to check out a Seller's complete Store, each ad has a store link for that, too.  Finally, you will find a Seller Index on page 22..

As if this isn't enough to bring out the sunshine, a lucky teacher will win a Flash Drive  full of  ELA plans. Check out the information on the top of page 16, and then click on the Red Arrow in the ad for this cornucopia of Freebies.This offer ends on 7/1/2016.
Simply Novel Freebies Flash Drive
Inspiration Ball #1 - Amazing Geologist Photographic Bonanza
All of these images are from Amazing Geologist photos

Yesterday, a friend put this picture on Facebook. It knocked the breath out of me, and then followed that reaction by constantly pinging my brain with teaching ideas. The first brain flash I had was to make it my Screen Saver, so I did. My second was to wonder if Chris McCandless from Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer) would have trekked off to Alaska if he came upon this magnificence, Would Meursault from Albert Camus' The Stranger have held onto his existential, "The world is random, chaotic and absurd," views if he gazed upon this design? Those are just two thoughts that I'd mention to my students as I shared these images during their reading.
Paria Mountains

And then I clicked onto this incredible picture by Ruth Hager offering a close-up of some petrified wood in the Crystal Forest, a part of the Petrified Forest National Park. Now, I'd love Chico's to create one of their flowing-sleeved ponchos with this design.   But what item of clothing would Janie from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God want using this colorful motif? I can't even imagine what kind of firestorm would occur if a character from The Crucible (Arthur Miller) showed up in Salem strutting this colorful skirt.
Petrified Forest National Park
This Elephant Rock formation in New Zealand makes my mind conjure up a mythological  story for its existence, Was this elephant turned into a rock for defying the GREAT PACHYDERM?
and, I wonder if this rockin' breakfast plate is a relic from  a volcanic eruption, and was discovered by a future geologist searching for the Great American Lost Diner.
Any of the multitude of, "WOW!" photos in this link could be used as 
  1. Mental stretches for Warm-Up or Closure time
  2. Story Starters
  3. Poetry Generators
  4. Descriptive writing topics
  5. What If ?writings. For example how would a Setting, Plot or a Character from a novel be affected if the author had included the actual place or object in one of the pictures in the novel students were reading? Maybe the picture would set a different Tone/atmosphere, or the location/object would be a major Symbol or the basis for the Theme.
  6. Inspiration for a personal essay for college applications, or
  7. Stimulus for a song, or a movie or a play or a painting.
Surely, this smoky quartz from the Haramosh Mountains in Pakistan conjures up images of a futuristic city in a dystopian novel, (imagine it without the hand).
Take a moment and flip through these images, and let them spark your Lesson Idea Muse or jumpstart a brainstorming session with your colleagues. Hopefully  these images will offer you some terrific lesson ideas for the following weeks.

To truly save your weekends for the rest of your school year, be sure to check out Kristen Bower's Simply Novel Spring Catalog. Just go to Simply Novel and click on the blue-backed ELA Products Galore *Brand New Catalog* picture like the one I shared in this post.

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every Day,