Teach it Tuesday: Language Arts Gems

This is going to be a quick post to give a few ideas on some of my favourite activities for language arts right now:

Partner Reading

I started doing this activity last year with a novel study and it has become one of my favourites. It is so simple but allows for some great opportunities! I pair kids up (we have AB partner magnets with their names so that’s quickest for me to do in the morning after attendance) and they read the assigned chapters out loud to each other switching at the paragraph or page, their choice.

Things I love about it:

  • The sound of 15 kids reading out loud (but quietly) at the same time!
  • How easy it is to just read with a partner that you don’t know well (I’ve noticed much easier than having a discussion at the middle school level)
  • The ability to poke my head in and listen to kids read – for assessment or enjoyment!

Beginning, Middle, End Writing

Reluctant writer writing away

This activity is originally from 6+1 Traits of Writing but I’ve adapted it a bit to fit with in class and tutoring. For one of the students that I tutor, this is the only activity that I’ve done where he has willingly sat down and wrote almost a page! Basically you just give students the beginning, middle, and end of the story and they fill in the rest.

Things I love about it:

  • It allows for creativity without that feeling of being totally lost in options that can come with creative writing
  • It can be adapted to different interests and situations (for tutoring we threw in the dogs name – always a hit!)
  • This activity can easily be accessed by students of different ability levels as a quick write with guidance
  • I think already having the ending there takes away the pressure of getting your story to the end and helps students write

Quote and Note

I’ve written about this one before (here) but it continues to be a favourite! I haven’t been able to get as in depth into this one this year due to time constraints but it has still been rather effective after a lot of scaffolding to get them to the right spot.

Things I love about it:

  • The concept is simple for students to understand but the writing you get can be really in depth
  • Again, it allows students to access at what level they are at
  • It really helps me to get a good idea of students comprehension of the novel we are reading

What are some of your classroom favourites these days?

Meaghan

Things Liz Gilbert Says

Elizabeth Gilbert’s most recent masterpiece, Big Magic, was a gift to myself for Christmas.  The other day I finally reached Big Magic in my rather extensive reading pile and my goodness am I ever glad this book was buried so deep in the line up because Liz’s words are speaking straight to my soul right now.  It’s like the magic piece of Big Magic was waiting until the very most wonderful moment read it.  Last week I hit a low point in my teaching.  I did a lot of reading, writing, playing and singing over the weekend.  On Monday I walked into my classroom literally a changed person.  These words have revamped my view on my craft (teaching) and have helped turn my perspective from bleak and desperate to uplifted and inspired.

“So try saying this: I enjoy my creativity.  And when you say it, be sure to actually mean it. For one thing, it will freak people out.  I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days.  It’s such a gangster move because hardly anybody ever dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist.  So say it.  Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.” p. 118-119

I do believe teaching is a creative art.  At least the teaching I like to do is.

bigmagic1

This one above hit me hard.  Never enough time? Umm…yep.  Never enough resources?  Hello.  Support?  I’m actually pretty well supported, but rewards?  I’m fairly certain in my last post I hinted at the thanklessness that can run rampant in this job.

bigmagic2

And then there’s this!  Managing oneself between those glorious moments of success and good feelings.  It’s easy to get caught up in the mess of teaching.  It’s easy to feel helpless and lost and completely frustrated.  Studies show that new teachers are often pushed to the point of exhaustion so that they give up entirely within the first five years.  So how am I managing between those bright moments?  Last week one might say I wasn’t managing at all.  I really really needed this quote.

If you feel like you need a little creativity boost in your craft, I highly suggest Big Magic.  It’s easy to read, astoundingly hilarious (I’ve had several “legit LOL” moments), and, as Liz Gilbert can only be, bluntly wise.  Check it out!

bigmagic3

Peace and Love,

Karley

Imperfect

Meaghan and I are often on the same page about most things, so it comes as no surprise that her post from the other day convinced me to write down my own thoughts around the similar topic.  Yes, we work hard.  Yes, we plan and implement really cool and unique learning opportunities in our respective classrooms.  Yes, we blog about all the hard work and cool stuff we do.  And yes, we rarely post about the fails we encounter, the letdowns we experience and the downright “I give up” moments that are actually very common.

Lately I’ve been feeling somewhat sub par about this whole teaching thing.  Thoughts like, “What am I even doing?”, “Who do I think I am?” and “Why am I even trying?” filter in and out of my mind on the daily when I’m at school.  Some days I feel like I probably won’t make it to the next academic block without losing it.  Other days I resort to the most lame lessons and worksheets because I’m at my wits end and can’t think of anything better to do.  Some days I wonder if all my hard work and effort is even worth it, because the rewards are few are far between.  I think this is called survival mode.  Since November I have mostly been teaching in “survival mode”.  I do work at two of the most at risk, high needs schools in our district so even situations like students not having food to eat are part of my daily routine and it breaks my heart.  I have given my lunch to students more than once since I started back to work in November.

This job is so much more than most people think.

Recently I have been having a lot of success with my students in science!  I have been photocopying two or three pages from a textbook that is not at grade level and creating my own “worksheet” compiled of a few vocabulary words and one or two questions on the topic (right now it’s the earth’s crust).  Two weeks in a row I have had all my students complete their science tasks in class and get good marks on their work.  Two weeks in a row I have had all my students sit silently, pencils in hand and work for fifteen uninterrupted minutes.  Two weeks in a row I have literally cheered (in my head) because my class is doing work and handing it in and getting the answers right.  While some of my students are able to go above and beyond with their academic work, this below grade level “information gathering” stuff is where the majority of my class is at in science right now.  Differentiating lessons and assignments is a mountain of a task and I am basically plodding one foot in front of the other, trying to make it work for every single person.  However, right now we are all finding success in science, and being successful feels good.  So this is how we’re tackling it right now.  But I wish we could do more…

This job is so hard.  I can’t meet the needs of all my students.

I am struggling in a big way being a part-time teacher.  I compare myself constantly to the teacher I was two years ago working full-time in a different at-risk, high needs grade 8 class.  Two years ago I worked twelve hours a day, six days a week and it still wasn’t enough.  Two years ago I cried on average twice a week over some situation or other that was related to my job.  Two years ago I spent all my own money on my students and my classroom because I didn’t know that classroom funds even existed.  Two years ago I didn’t have a child of my own, so I can no longer be the teacher I was then.

The hardest part for me this year has been the disconnect working part-time provides.  I am completely, 100% on throughout Monday and Tuesday.  On Wednesday and Thursday I catch my breath and then on Friday I’m back at it.  From Wednesday through Friday I miss out on the activities at one school, while Monday through Thursday I miss out on the activities at my other school.  I’m kind of like a glorified TOC doing the work of a full-time classroom teacher.  I knew this going into the year because people warned me it would be this way.  I’m having a hard time this year because connections with students are more challenging when you’re their teacher only one or two days a week.  Making connections is where I excel within the realm of teaching – it is my greatest strength – but this year I feel like I am so bad at it. It’s easy for me to say, “Oh, I don’t even care” this year…

But I do care.

Meaghan and I, we have our extreme weaknesses in teaching.  Yes, we post all the good things (all of them!)  But we shy away from publicly sharing the tough, hard stuff because it’s exhausting, because we are exhausted, and because putting it on the internet makes us vulnerable.  This week you’ve got a dose of our low, negative selves.  We hope you can understand our realness shining through our words and reflections.  Thanks for lending your support; we know you’ve all been in this exact same position at least once or twice!

Karley

There’s always a lesson

First off, Happy New Year! Karley and I have resolved to be more consistent with our blogging in this new year so hopefully you are ready to hear from us more regularly. For the past few years I have decided to choose a word instead of New Year’s Resolutions as I find it easier to have a word to focus on throughout the year and from there I build short term goals. This year my word is fulfillment. I intend to seek fulfillment in a variety of aspects of my life, both personally and professionally. 

We often hear about how our blog portrays us with words like “exceptional” or “inspiring” and, although I’d love to think of these words as the truth, the real truth is that our blog is often just the highlights of our teaching. If everyone shared their highlights, you would see that we are one part of a huge group of educators who work hard, have successes and failures, and do their best for their students each day.  We try to make a conscious effort to be vulnerable and share our failures alongside our triumphs, but as we are both positive people there always seems to be a focus on the good. (I realize this is mostly not a bad thing and also, it’s often difficult to share the negative due to confidentiality reasons). We want to make sure that our blog stays “real.” So today I have a post about the real stuff – the tough stuff!

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, learning and growing professionally since the New Year started. This past week and a half has been difficult in many ways that I cannot share on here, but just know that it has been one of the most difficult teaching periods of my past four years. I have spent a lot of time second guessing myself on everything from the smallest of conversations to the core of my teaching beliefs. Each day has become a test to myself to put that smile on in the morning and make a connection with a student, to just breathe, and to practice patience, kindness, and empathy.

Why me? Why now?

These thoughts have been at the forefront of my mind. I care about my students deeply, I work very hard, I plan carefully, I volunteer, I help out – I try. I try SO hard. “Why me? Why now?” Last week I did a lot of venting and a lot of crying about the situations I was in. I was attempting to problem solve but I was feeling hurt and not thinking clearly. I ended the week feeling fed up and frustrated.

This week I have been on the search for the lesson, because I truly believe there is always a lesson in it. All this week I’ve been thinking of the lessons that I’ve been learning…

  1. It is important to communicate clearly
  2. I need to let things go
  3. I will always need the support of friends, family and colleagues in my life.

All of these lessons are important but all of them are also lessons I’ve learned at other times in my life…

What is different this time? What lesson am I learning now?

Today it hit me – This is a job, this is not my whole life. This is the lesson I think I was meant to learn. Teaching has always been so important to me and I’m not saying that it isn’t anymore. My students will always be “my kids.” I will still think about the best way to support student learning while I’m trying to fall asleep. I will spend my own time on professional development, my own money on my classroom, and I will never stop the endless “teacher talk” with friends during evenings and weekends.

But what I have learnt is that I can have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at school and I can come home and have a great evening. I can go have a killer workout. I can have a meaningful conversation with my partner. I can watch a movie that makes me laugh or cry or both. I can read a book for pleasure. I can meet a friend for coffee. I can plan my wedding.

enough

This may seem obvious to some of you, in fact I hope it does! But for me, it used to be that a bad day at school meant coming home, re-hashing every detail, playing out every possible scenario for the next day. A bad lesson would mean spending hours researching new ways to teach a concept or to re-vamp my whole unit plan.

I chose a job that I love. I chose a career that I care about. I find my work meaningful.

But at the end of the day, it’s still a job and there’s more to life than that.

Meaghan

Online Math Game!

Hey everyone!

I know, I know, Meaghan and I have both been entirely neglecting our blog lately.  We both have busy lives right now, perhaps busier than ever before!  I may have created a New Year resolution around the concept of “keeping things simple”…another blog post for another time.

For now I’d like to share with you all the online math game that has completely captured the hearts and minds of my grade 7 students.  I am incredibly grateful to a colleague at my grade 8 school for sharing this resource with me.  I just tried this math game last block with my grade 7s and it was hands down the best block of math I’ve ever experienced as a teacher…and I did nothing.

The game is called Prodigy Game and you can access it HERE. Prodigy Game requires the teacher (or parent) to create an account to work from – this process literally took me less than five minutes.  After I created my account I printed off the three step directions for my students so that they had very easy, clear instruction on how to join my account and create their own avatars in order to play.  My students’ process of logging in and creating their avatars was super high energy and fun!  When I was setting up my teacher account I chose the math curriculum prescribed by the game because our BC curriculum is not an option; however, the standard grade 7 math curriculum seemed to work well for my class and we didn’t run in to any issues with questions being too hard or frustrating to accomplish.

My students spent the entire math block (around 45 minutes) playing Prodigy Game in the computer lab.  I witnessed fist pumps when questions were answered correctly, I heard exchanges of, “When you get enough points make sure you buy the pony!” and I even experienced a face to face mini refresh lesson on lowest common denominators.  This game is golden, you guys.  And free.  And so incredibly easy to use.

For me, I think the best part is that now that we have worked in Prodigy Game for a block of time I can go in to my teacher account and see where my students excelled and struggled.  I can see which questions and curricular content is specifically challenging for them.  I can also (this is the coolest part) create my own assignments for either my whole class or individual students and have the students complete my assignments in game playing format.  I especially love this feature because it means I can create lessons for my most struggling learners and they still get to be part of my class and participate in the exact same game as every other student.

This game is genius!  I caught one of our special ed teachers in the hall after math and exploded with excitement while telling her all about this game.  She promptly high-fived me and told me to send her the link, but I already had – ha!

Our math block finished today with one student asking this question as he walked out the door…”Mrs. Alleyn, so…can I log in at home and keep playing this math game?”

My reply: Heck YES!

Try it out with your class or your own children and let us know what you think!

Karley