Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Creative Classroom Celebrates Women's History Month

Maya Angelou once said, “How important it is for use to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”  Since 1987, we have celebrated the immense contributions and achievements of women throughout the month of March. Women’s History Month is a chance to not only celebrate a diverse group of women but to also educate others, especially our students, on the impact that these women have had on the history of our country and society. 

So how can you create meaningful opportunities for students to learn more about the roles and importance of women throughout March when you have a limited amount of time that you can devote in your classroom? It may seem like an impossible feat, but I can assure you that there are quite a few creative ways to balance the demands of your curriculum with celebrating Women’s History Month. 

Create A Women's History Month Bulletin Board

This is the Women's History Month Interactive Bulletin Board that I created for my own classroom! If you'd like this kit to create your own bulletin board, click here.

Create a bulletin board in your classroom that contain images, quotes, or other important information about specific women. You could select a group of women that is specific to your subject matter like famous female authors in ELA or female scientist throughout history in your science classroom. Often times, I will use this bulletin board not only as a way to brighten up my classroom, but also as another learning opportunity for my students. One way that I do this is by including higher order thinking questions for each image or quote that is on the bulletin board. Students are given these questions on a handout and they have the entire month to complete this assignment. It makes a perfect early finishers activity or extension activity that gives students extra practice in a variety of skills like analysis, making connections, and other critical thinking skills.

Another idea would be to let your students create products for a Women's History Month bulletin board. This is the ultimate way to give your students ownership in their own learning. One option would be to have your students select one woman who inspires them or is important to them. Students will create a mini poster that includes a photo, brief biography, and a short explanation of why this woman inspires them. You can use these posters to create multiple bulletin boards that display students' work and will allow your students to learn about a variety of important women.

Bell Ringers = Pique Students’ Curiosity + Practice Critical Thinking Skills

Bell Ringers are a simple and effective way to not only pique students’ interest on a topic, but to also ensure that students are still practicing critical thinking skills while learning more about that topic. In my opinion, it is one of the most effective ways to introduce students to concepts and get them thinking about topics when your time is limited. In my classroom, I normally devote 8-10 minutes for a bell ringer activity. This includes time for students to answer questions and time for discussion. 

During Women’s History Month, the bell ringers focus on a diverse group of women and a variety of higher order thinking questions. Each day my students are introduced to one woman. They learn about the her accomplishments through an infographic that contains a photo, background information and/or a quote. Students must use that information to answer a text-based higher order thinking question. When creating my bell ringers, I try to include a mixture of well-known women like Harriet Beecher Stowe or Rosa Parks and women that the majority of my students will not easily recognize like Indira Gandhi or Dr. Mary Walker. In addition,  I also include a variety of questions that students must answer to give students multiple opportunities to practice a variety of skills. My favorite question types to include are inferences, making connections, analyzing quotes, and supporting a position/idea. 

Each year I am constantly amazed at the responses and feedback that I get from my students.  The level of student engagement during these bell ringers is astounding at times. There are moments that you could hear a pin drop, which is definitely not always the case in a middle school classroom. The level of engagement can also be seen through my students’ writing and class discussions. It’s always so refreshing and often times enlightening to hear my students’ perspectives on different quotes and accomplishments. I love the way they can view a situation or quote in a brand new way that I had never considered before. 

If this sounds like something you would like to try out in your own classroom, I have created a small sampling of bell ringers that I have used in my own classroom. These bell ringers are also a part of a larger resource that is available in my store.

Click here to grab your FREE week’s worth of Women’s History Month Bell Ringers. 

What are your favorite ways to celebrate Women's History Month in your classroom? Leave your suggestions in the comments below to win a Women's History Month product of your choice from my store!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Celebrate Valentine's Day in ELA Without Sacrificing Content

One of the hardest things about being an English teacher in this fast paced world is being able to take time to celebrate holidays or special events in your classroom without sacrificing content.  It can be a struggle to balance the demands of your curriculum and the need to venture off script sometimes. While analysis and critical thinking are extremely important skills for students to master, let’s face it sometimes they need opportunities to think creatively and express their learning in a way that doesn’t require them to cite textual evidence every few minutes. Thinking creatively doesn’t mean that students won’t be thinking critically and showing their understanding of a concept or skill. 

Here are just a few suggestions on how to celebrate Valentine's Day with your students in ELA without veering too far from your curriculum:

1. Collaborative Poetry: If you are in the middle of a poetry unit, let your students take a break from analyzing figurative language and digging deeper into the poem itself. While creating a poem can be a daunting challenge for students, it becomes a much easier task when students are allowed to work together and bounce ideas off of each other. I always find it so interesting to listen to the brainstorming and discussions that students have as they work together to create their poem. 

If you are looking to add another degree of fun to this project, create a list of topics on sticky notes or scraps of paper. Fold the paper and place them in a cup or bucket. Let each group select a topic from the cup and tell them to keep their paper folded until everyone has had a chance to pick. Once all groups have selected a topic, explain that each group is responsible for creating a poem that is based on the topic they have selected. Here are some of the example topics I have included before: "A dog who is in love with the pug next door", "Asking out the most popular girl in school",  and "Teenage Girl's Dream Date".

2. Literary Love Letters: We all have our favorite characters or stories who have had an impact on our own lives. Wouldn't it be nice if you were able to express your love for these characters and stories? Valentine's Day is the perfect day to give your students a chance to write a letter to a character, story, or author that explains why this particular person or piece of literature has impacted their lives. It is not only a great way to get students thinking and writing creatively, but it can also be used as a tool to assess your students' writing abilities and offer academic feedback to your students.

Don't have time to create your own activity? Well, you are in luck! You can find the Literary Love Letters: Creative Writing Task in my TPT store. This unit includes everything that you will need to implement this activity in your own classroom. It also includes differentiated options and editable features that allow you to meet the needs of your individual student needs.  

3. DIY Valentine Cards-Literary Love Edition: One of my fondest memories of celebrating Valentine's Day when I was in school was giving and receiving Valentine cards from my classmates. There was something magical about trying to pick out the perfect cards to give to your friends and the excitement of seeing the cards that they had picked out for you. I'd venture to say that regardless of how old your students are that Valentine cards remain a focal point of this holiday for them too. 

Why not combine this timeless tradition with literature? A DIY Valentine Cards activity that is based on a favorite literary character or a recent story that students have read in class is the perfect solution to celebrate Valentine's Day without veering away from content. In this activity, students can create at least one Valentine that is related to a character or story. In addition to creating the Valentine, students can write a short explanation that explains the message behind their Valentine or how it relates to a certain character or story. 

Interested in having students create their own Valentine Cards? Click here to download the FREE resource, DIY Valentine Cards: Literary Love Edition.

4. Short Story Ideas: If you really don't want to stray from your curriculum at all while celebrating Valentine's Day, there's even an option for that. Find a short story that focuses on relationships, love, or that may  have an anti-love theme. My suggestion would be to read a short story like "The Chaser" by John Collier. This thought-provoking tales centers around Alan Austen and his desire to buy a love potion to win over the love of his life. The events in this story beg readers to ponder the question "Can money really buy love?".

"The Chaser" can be used to teach a wide variety of skills from main idea to making inferences to argumentative writing. It all depends upon the amount of time that you want to devote to instruction and the level of your students. For my 6th graders, we use our normal close reading strategies to tackle this text. During the first read, students are responsible for reading to answer the question, "OMG! What Happened!?!". This helps them practice writing summaries of what they have read and also allows me to see who gets the story and who may need more assistance going forward. During our second read, students dig deeper to analyze Alan Austen and his motivations. Students use this information to decide whether they think that Alan is truly in love with Diana or if he is simply obsessed with her. It is always quite entertaining to read my students' stances on this particular topic. The wisdom of middle school students can be quite enlightening. 

Do you have any other suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day that I haven't mentioned? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Kindness Matters: Motivational Cards for Students and Teachers

From the beginning of my teaching career, promoting kindness and positivity in my classroom has been a top priority for a few reasons. I wanted my students to feel comfortable and to know that I am one of their biggest champions and cheerleaders. In addition, I  wanted to create a classroom community where students are not afraid to be themselves or make mistakes. I wanted my students to know that even though things may get tough or seem impossible that working hard and giving their best effort was appreciated. I wanted my students to embrace the philosophy that it's okay to make a mistake and that every success, no matter how big or small, should be celebrated. 

In the past, I have used a variety of methods to recognize my students and promote positivity. Here are photos of two of my favorite ways that I have used to instill kindness and encouragement into my classroom community and the inspiration behind my newest idea.
A few years ago, I discovered an amazing idea while browsing Pinterest. Student Shout-Outs are a simple tool to allow students to recognize their classmates. At our school, teachers are allowed to recognize students with Bulldog Brag Reports and I thought that this would work perfectly with that reward system. I created all the resources that I would need to implement this system and introduced it to students on the first day of the new school year. Students were allowed to grab shout-out slips at the beginning or end of class to recognize their classmates. At the end of each week, I selected one entry to be the "Student Shout-Out of the Week". That student would get a small prize while all the other entries would get Bulldog Bucks. On Monday, I would hand out the shout-outs to any students that had received them. It was so heartwarming to not only read the kind words that students wrote to one another, but to also see the reactions and smiles from the students who received a shout out.

Another way that I have used to encourage kindness and positivity with my students is through personal notes. Many years ago, I created teacher post cards and had them printed at Vistaprint. These post cards were used to encourage students who were struggling in my class and to recognize student growth and successes. Although it can take quite a bit of time to write these notes to my students, it was definitely time well spent once I would see the reactions of my students. Their smiles, happy responses, and hugs are one of the thing that made teaching such a rewarding job. 

This brings me to my newest idea to promote kindness and positivity in the classroom. Since I have experienced success with both of these tools, I contemplated how I could combine them to create an even better strategy.  The result of my brainstorming was the creation of Kindness Matters: Motivational Cards for Students and Teachers. Each motivational card contains an inspiring quote or words of wisdom that are easily relatable to both students and teachers. There are a variety of ways that these cards can be used to not only recognize or inspire students and teachers, but also allow students to spread kindness and encourage others.

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Here are a few ways that you can start using these cards in your own classrooms today:

Idea #1: Print out these cards on cardstock and laminate them.  Use the laminated cards to create a bulletin board or classroom display.

• Idea #2: Print out these cards and keep them in your desk until needed. If you see a student or colleague who looks like they need a dose of encouragement and positivity, hand them out to those students or teachers.

• Idea #3: Print out these cards and use the blank side to write an inspiring notes to students or teachers. 

• Idea #4: Print out these cards and keep them in a place that is accessible to your students. Explain the purpose of these cards and set expectations for students to use them. Encourage your students to write notes that recognize or inspire their classmates or teachers.

Do you have any other ideas on how these cards can be used to promote kindness and positivity in your classroom and school? Leave them in the comments below.

Thank you to Darlene from ELA Buffett and Pam from Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting this awesome blog hop that celebrates #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Check out the other blog posts from the Secondary Teacher-Authors below.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Save Your Sanity Before Winter Break with Student Reflection Activities

The few weeks between the end of Thanksgiving break and the start of Winter Break can feel like an eternity. Students begin to get restless with each passing day as they dream of their extended days off of school; however, the majority of teachers are wishing for those days to go by just as quickly. It can be a challenge to keep students engaged and motivated throughout these few weeks and can often lead to losing quite a bit of your sanity in the process. 

Student Self-Reflections: Mid-Year Check

A few year ago, when I first implemented student data folders into my classroom, I knew that before we left for Winter Break that I wanted my students to do some type of mid-year reflection on their progress. It would not only help them to think about their successes, but to also focus on the areas that they still needed to work on during the second half of the school year. The students' self-reflections would not only help them to realize their area of focus, but the reflections would also help give me more insight into my student's thought process on their progress. 

I created a self-reflection guide that focused on three aspects:

• student success stories/memories

• areas for improvement

• setting a long-term goal for the second half of the school year.

Since this was the first time that I was implementing it with my students and given the fact that I gave it to them on a Monday during our last week of school before Winter Break, I was bracing for struggles and how to handle students who did not take the activity seriously. I had my speech already prepared to give to any student who was less than thrilled or didn't seem interested in the self-reflection, but I was pleasantly surprised when I encountered very little resistant during Core 1. Once I explained to students the WHY behind this activity and how it was important to our ongoing growth process, the majority of them eagerly began their self-reflections. This trend continued through the rest of my classes that day.

As I sat down to read the self-reflections from my students, I was amazed at the level of thinking that the majority of them had done. For many students, they had identified the same strengths and weaknesses that I had already identified throughout my daily tracking. I made sure to let them know this in the feedback that I wrote on each reflection. Even though leaving written feedback on the self-reflections took quite a bit of time, I felt that it was necessary to let my students know that I had read their reflections and that I took what they had written seriously. The last thing you want students to feel is that they completed something this important for it to just be tossed aside or filed away.

Getting Feedback from My Students

I was not even halfway through the student self-reflections when I had an idea. If my students did such a great job at self-assessing their own progress and next steps, what else could I learn from them to help myself grow as a classroom teacher? Winter Break was always a time where I would rest and enjoy the holidays with my family, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I would spent a good deal of my time off thinking about school and what I could do differently during the second half of the year. Usually this consisted of me reflecting on what I thought worked and didn't work; however, I never really thought of asking my students' opinions.

After I had finished going through the student reflections, my next task was to create some type of survey or activity that my students could complete to give me feedback about their experiences in my classroom during the first half of the school year. In order to do that, I needed to figure out what information did I want to get from my students. In addition, it needed to be a concise and simple activity like the self-reflections that way it would be easy to keep students engaged. As I brainstormed for the student survey, I settled on these four things being the most important information that my students could give me:

• A favorite lesson (this would allow me to identify trends among student responses and identify what made these lessons a success with students)

• A least favorite lesson (this would allow me to identify trends and identify what caused these lessons to not be popular or favorable with students)

• The specific things that we did in class that students felt helped them to grow and be successful

• The specific things that students felt could be revamped or improved

Just like when my students completed their self-reflections on their own progress, I made sure that I thoroughly explained WHY the Mid-Year Reflections survey was important and how I would use it to help reflect on my own teaching practices. I let my students know that I would be using their advice and responses to help identify those things that worked and that they liked during the first half of the school year and those things that they didn't like or feel like helped them. In addition, I stressed the importance of them being honest and to not be afraid of hurting my feelings. One of the most important aspects of this activity was that I did not require my students to put their names on these activities. I did not want them to feel like I would hold them accountable or become upset with them when they gave me their honest feedback and reactions to my class. Making these surveys anonymous is one of the most important factors in helping this activity be successful for both students and teachers.

To say that this activity was a real eye-opener for me is a complete understatement. Any skepticism that I had on how serious my students would take this activity vanished after glancing through the surveys from my morning classes. Not only did this activity verify some of my own thoughts on what the best moments or things about my class were, but it also gave me valuable insight into some things that I needed to adjust within my classroom instruction. For example, many of my students felt like their opinions were valued in my class and that they felt comfortable with sharing them; however, they didn't feel like they had enough opportunities to discuss their opinions and thoughts with more than their shoulder partner or group partners. Without this activity, I probably would not have even thought to reflect on this aspect of my classroom instruction.

As I was going through all of the student surveys, I took a sheet of paper and created a T-Chart to record the most important information and the repeated things that my students wrote down. By the time I was finished, both sides of my list were filled with helpful and insightful suggestions from my students. During Winter Break when I met with my co-teacher to map out a long range game plan for the second half of the school year, we used that list to help us brainstorm how we could incorporate student ideas into our lessons and what skills or strategies that we needed to continue using. It made things so much easier when we were planning to not only use our own reflections and experiences but also our students' wise words.

 The level of success that we experienced during the second half of the school year by utilizing our students' suggestions and giving them more ownership of their own learning was incredible. Not only did student engagement become less of a problem, but behavior issues decreased and our students experienced gradual but consistent growth. To say that this activity was a game-changer in my classroom is an understatement. It is the main reason that I have incorporated this activity at Winter Break and at the end of the school year.

Take the leap and give your students an opportunity to not only reflect on their own learning and growth, but to also provide you with meaningful feedback about your classroom instruction. I hope that you find as much success with this activity with your students!

Click here to grab your FREE copy!

You will get the following resources in this freebie:

• Student Self-Reflection Activity: Reflecting on my Journey

• Teacher Model for Student Self-Reflection

• Mid-Year Reflections: Student Reflection Survey

• Mid-Year Reflections: Letter to My Teacher

 Don't Miss This Exciting News!

Head on over to Mud and Ink Teaching's blog to read some fabulous advice to save your sanity!

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching for allowing me to co-host this amazing blog hop with her!

The 12 Days of December

Don't forget to click here to visit The 12 Days of December Blog Hop website for a chance to read all of the other valuable tips and advice from over 20 Secondary Teacher-Authors.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Engage and Motivate Students with Argumentative Writing Lessons: "The Best of the Best" from The Creative Classroom

When I first began teaching in 2008, I was hired to teach 6th-8th grade Literacy Enrichment for students who struggled in ELA. There was no set curriculum for this elective class and I was given complete creative control over what lessons I taught. As a brand new teacher, one would think that the idea of three separate preps with absolutely no curriculum resources would be completely overwhelming; however, I was elated that I would be able to introduce my students to some of my favorite authors, historical events, and real life learning opportunities. It felt like every dream I had about teaching had come true!

What I quickly realized was that my students struggled immensely with writing, which led to  many of them either too embarrassed to put their thoughts into words or simply refusing to complete the assignment. I knew that I had to come up with a solution that would not only get my students interested and engaged in the content but would also allow them to experience success, which would help to motivate them. It wasn’t very difficult to come up with an idea to try in my classes. 

Introducing My Students to Argumentative Writing

If you have ever taught middle school students, it doesn’t take long to realize that they are very opinionated and have no problem sharing their opinions with you. In fact, many of them not only loved to share their opinions, but would openly let others know when and why they disagreed with a differing opinion on any subject. I used this bit of knowledge to my advantage when I decided to introduce my students to argumentative writing. 

I used three simple questions at the beginning of class to get my students curious and interested in the concept of argumentative writing. Once my students realized that I was going to teach them how to create ways to share their opinions on real world issues that were supported with evidence that people could not dismiss as simply being a teenager’s opinion they were hooked. 

I had achieved my first goal, but I also knew that creating and supporting arguments would be a difficult task for many of them to successfully complete. My students needed a trial run in creating arguments that I could use to identify trends in writing and individual student weaknesses to ensure that my future classroom instruction would be purposeful. For our first attempt, my students read an article from Scholastic Magazine entitled “You Danger”, which dealt with the debate on whether Youtube should be responsible for the repercussions of the dangerous videos that users post on the website. After we finished reading the article, my students engaged in the best whole group discussion that I had heard in my classroom all school year. They were using evidence from the article and their own personal experiences to support their opinions on who was to blame for the dangerous videos. I knew that they could verbally express themselves using the text  and personal experiences, but could they translate that into their writing?  

As I predicted, many of my students struggled with creating a strong one paragraph argumentative response. The majority were able to state their position successfully and more than half of them were able to pull at least one relevant piece of text evidence to support their position, but very few of them were able to make connections or explain how their text evidence supported their position. I decided that since so many of them struggled with the one paragraph response that I needed to put on the brakes and find a strategy that would fix the issues my students were having.

Creating a New Game Plan

Our school had been using the Better Answers Writing Strategy as a pre-writing tool to help students craft writing responses, but it was simply not helping my students with their arguments. They needed something that was more defined and broken down into smaller pieces. The PEEL Writing Strategy was just what my students needed! It closely resembles Better Answers, but it breaks the middle part into two pieces: evidence and explanation. I created a teacher model for the PEEL organizer and used it to introduce this pre-writing tool to my students. As I monitored student’s progress during their independent work time, there was an immediate difference in the quality of work. The breakdown of PEEL made writing expectations more clear for students and they were able to see the difference between a piece of evidence and explanations. There were still many issues that needed to be addressed before my students were ready to write a multi-paragraph response on their own, but I noticed an overall improvement in their revised argumentative response. The majority of responses were developed more with 2-3 pieces of relevant text evidence and attempts at explaining why that evidence was important. I made sure that when I was leaving feedback on their revised responses that I highlighted and praised them for their growth and improved writing more than focusing on the mistakes that were still present. I needed them to know that I was proud of the growth and effort that they had put in and that we would work together as a team to grow even more.

Using Differentiation and Strategic Grouping Strategies 

Another bonus of having my students first write a short argumentative response was that I was able to create differentiated resources for their multi-paragraph writing tasks that would help address the specific problems that I discovered. One modification that I made was simply reducing the amount of evidence and paragraphs that needed to be included in their argumentative writing responses for my lowest students. I also utilized the Opinion-Proof Strategy that made it easier for my students who were struggling to identify relevant text evidence to support their position. The Opinion-Proof Organizer gave my students a position on the debate they were researching and required the students to find relevant evidence to support the opinion. I modified this strategy to include a third column that required students to explain how their piece of evidence supported the position. This third column really helped students evaluate their evidence and figure out if it was the best piece of evidence to help prove that their position was correct.

In addition to the modifications that I made to the multi-paragraph argumentative writing resources, I also used the information that I gathered from the one paragraph responses to create effective grouping structures in my classroom. On the first day of the argumentative writing tasks, I grouped students based on how well they did on their one paragraph argument. This grouping structure made it much easier to effectively monitor and facilitate learning. After the first day, I used the student work from that class period to determine grouping structures. Each group had a specific purpose based on what I saw in the student work. For the students who did not struggle during the previous lesson, they were grouped together and allowed to work independently at their own pace. If there were students who struggled with one aspect that could be fixed with written academic feedback, I grouped them together and made sure that I touched base with them at one point or another during work time. For the students who struggled and needed more guidance, I grouped them together based on what they specifically struggled with in the previous class period. These students would either work in a small group with me where I could closely monitor their progress and provide immediate feedback or we worked on a mini-lesson intervention that was designed to address the problem. It did take quite a bit of time and prep to analyze student work, create groups, and an intervention plan each day, but the success that I saw was definitely worth it. Not only did my class run much smoother because everything was organized and done ahead of time, but I saw the growth and successes that were happening each day with my students. 

Reflections & "The Best of the Best" 

The work that I did with my students that first year helped to not only give my students a solid foundation of writing skills, but it also helped shape me as a teacher. It taught me that learning is not an overnight process with immediate success, but a never-ending process that contains many obstacles and even more successes. I had the necessary tools and experience to create learning opportunities that would help all my students feel successful and experience growth.  I just needed to be patient and determined to do what was needed to help my students’ reach their full potential. In addition, I learned to never stop looking for that one strategy or resource that could be just what you need to turn things around for your students. Throughout the years, I  have continuously revised my argumentative writing units to include new strategies like the Double Entry Journal to help students research, modifying the Four Square Organizer strategy to include elements of the PEEL Writing Strategy, or having my students take more ownership by analyzing writing prompts and writing samples to create their own criteria for success.

It was through these trial and error learning experiences that I came to create my favorite product line, the Common Core News Debate series. Each performance task in this product line is filled with research-based, classroom-tested reading and writing strategies that will help students and teachers experience success throughout each task. I have included not only the differentiated resources that I have used to meet the different learning needs of my own students, but also the teacher models and resources that I used in my own classroom to demonstrate expectations and the thinking required to complete these tasks. In addition, each task focuses on a real world issue that is extremely relevant to middle and high school students. The topics range from school uniforms and homework to later school start times and video game violence. There are plenty of topics that will surely get your students excited to share their positions on these relevant issues. Another added benefit of this product line is that teachers have two types of writing compositions that they can introduce to their students:  the traditional multi-paragraph essay or an argumentative letter.
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You can learn more specific information and see product previews for individual products in the Common Core News Debate product line by clicking here to visit my store, The Creative Classroom on TPT. Head on over there on November 1-2 to save 20% off ALL argumentative writing products!

While you are visiting The Creative Classroom, be sure to download your FREE copy of my newest resource, Become a Writing Expert: Guide to Analyze Prompts and Writing Samples! This classroom-tested tool will help guide students as they deconstruct their writing prompt to identify what the prompt is asking them to do and allow students to analyze strong and weak writing samples to record the characteristics of both. After students complete these two steps, they will then be able to create their own criteria for an exemplar writing response. This tool will be an immense help during Task #1 of any Common Core News Debate Units.

Thank you for stopping by to read all about how my own classroom experience with engaging my students and helping them be successful through argumentative writing lessons helped inspire me to create "The Best of the Best" argumentative writing resources. Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a TPT gift card and check out the other amazing blogs from Secondary ELA Teacher-Authors as they share their "Best of the Best"!

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop: The Creative Classroom Shares Tricks & Tips

As an ELA teacher teacher, one of my favorite times of the school year is October. Not only is it the point of the year where you finally feel like you are settled in and have routines finally figured out, but it’s also the time of the year that I get to introduce my students to some of my favorite authors and spooky short stories! While my excitement always grew over thoughts of introducing a new group of students to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, W.W. Jacobs, and Ray Bradbury, a slight nervousness also crept in when I thought about how complex these texts can be for both proficient and struggling readers. What could I do to help bridge the gap and help my students to successfully navigate these stories? 

Searching For the PERFECT Audio Version...Does It Even Exist?

Obviously, I knew that I would incorporate close reading strategies to help my students tackle these stories. In my classroom, our first read was always focused on answering the question “OMG! What happened?!?” so that I could see which students got the gist of the story and which students were struggling to comprehend the big picture. In addition,  the majority of the time we would listen to an audio version of the story during our first read while students had a copy of the text in front of them.  I always tried to find the most interesting audio version that I could because let’s face it no one, including me, wants to listen to a monotone voice tell a story let alone one as thrilling and suspenseful as “The Cask of Amontillado” or “Monkey’s Paw”. 

In September 2013 as I was preparing for my upcoming unit, I was browsing through the audiobooks on iTunes and listened to several previews that bored me to tears. It seemed like my mission to find an engaging audio version for “The Cask of Amontillado” was going to be unsuccessful until I clicked on an audiobook entitled “Nightmares on Congress Street, Part IV” by Rocky Coast Radio Theater. Within seconds of hitting play on the preview button, I knew that I had found a winner! Everything about this recording, from the intense and spooky music to the performance of the actors, was perfect. It’s like the stories that I loved so much had truly come to life. Once I purchased the file, I sat mesmerized as I listened to both “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Monkey’s Paw”. What was even better than how these actors brought these tales to life was the fact that they did not change the source material and make any major deviations from the original text. Talk about an English teacher’s dream come true!

Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe + Rocky Coast Radio Theatre = HUGE Success

I was so excited for the first day of reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and letting my students hear the radio theater audio version of the story for the first time. As it began playing and the mysterious music began playing, my students started looking around and I saw smiles already on some of their faces. By the time that we had got to out first stopping point in the story, I knew that I had found a winner. Each time I asked a question, there were tons of volunteers who wanted to answer my question or ask one of their own. Many of the students kept begging to start the story again. The level of student engagement and enthusiasm was absolutely unbelievable and it remained that way throughout the entire first read of the short story. This trend continued through every class that I taught that day and I could not wait to read through my students’ exit tickets to see their answers to “OMG! What Happened!?!”.  Normally, when I shifted through the exit tickets after a first read, there was a good majority of students who were not only struggling with the big picture, but they had difficulty even piecing together small parts of the story; however, I began to notice that about half of my students were able to give me a general summary of “This guy Montressor was mad at Fortunato and decided to brick him into a wall to get back at him” or “The narrator is crazy because he killed Fortunato just because he was jealous of them”. Even my struggling readers, many of whom were my SPED students, were able to piece certain scenes together and show the smallest glimpse of comprehending this difficult text. My inclusion co-teacher and I were simply amazed by how big of a difference the radio theater audio had made in our student’s comprehension level. The excitement and progress that my students had made on day one continued throughout the entire unit.  

This positive learning experience was an eye-opener to the power of engaging audio versions of literature. I set a goal for myself that no matter how long it may take me or how many different Google searches I had to do that I would do everything I could to find the most entertaining and student friendly audio files that I could. Not only would it help break up the monotony of reading the same story six times a day, but it would also motivate my students into becoming better readers.  You are in luck because I'm about to share links to my favorite audio versions of some amazing short stories.

Here are just a few of my FAVORITE audio versions for some spooky short stories:

I hope that these audio versions help transform your short story units and engage your students!

Secondary ELA TPT Halloween SALE

Once you've finished checking out all these awesome blog posts head on over to my TPT store to save 20% off ALL Spooky Short Story resources on October 16th and October 17th! 

Don't forget to check out the other Secondary ELA Teacher-Authors' blog posts to get more tips and tricks to make this Halloween the best year yet!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Restoring Hope: Love For Louisiana Teachers Fundraiser

On August 11th, 2016, a stationary weather system resulted in torrential downpours with upwards of two feet of rain that devastated several parishes across South Louisiana. The extreme amount of rainwater, close to 7.1 trillion gallons of water, caused rivers, lake, and other bodies of water to reach and exceed flood stages in the following days. In the blink of an eye, the water began rising and encroaching upon not just areas that typically flood, but the flooding waters found their way to places that had never even had the threat of flooding before. The widespread devastation of the rising water quickly destroyed countless homes, businesses, and schools.

As the water began to recede and people were allowed into the areas that were flooded, the full extent of the damage was visible. For many people, they lost an entire lifetime of memories and personal treasures. While the loss of personal property and people's livelihood were tragic, an equally tragic loss was the impact that the flood waters had on area schools. There are over 30 schools, both public and private, across several parishes that suffered significant water damage to their campuses. Livingston Parish alone had 15 public schools that suffered water damage with at least 8 schools that experienced extensive damage that will take months to repair. While the school buildings will have to be repaired to be safe for students and staff to return, this work will be done and funded through the individual school systems, but what can be done to help the individual teachers replace their classroom materials, personal items, and everything else that made their classrooms whole?

I'm pleased to announce that I have joined forces with an amazing group of Teacher Authors from Teachers Pay Teachers to create a fundraiser, Restoring Hope: Love for Louisiana Teachers. The core team behind Restoring Hope is comprised of Kristen from Teacher Playground, Andrea from This Literacy Life, Shannon from OCD in First, and Stephanie from The Creative Classroom. We came together and created the fundraiser as a way to help our fellow Louisiana teachers rise up and rebuild their classrooms. Our fundraiser has been made possible by the generous donations that we have received from 90+ TPT sellers that include high-quality products ranging from Kindergarten to High School. In total, there are six product bundles available and four donation options. The TPT store will go live on Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 and will remain open for at least 30 days. You can click the banner below to visit our store and support Louisiana teachers by buying product bundles or simply donating money to the fundraiser.

Where will we be donating the proceeds raised from the fundraiser?

One of the biggest pieces of this fundraiser was trying to decide where we would donate the money we raised for Louisiana teachers to ensure that it would be fairly and equally distributed to those in need.100% of the proceeds that are made through our TPT store will be donated to the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana's Disaster Relief Fund. This organization is donating 100% of all money that they receive to public and private schools teachers who lost some or all of their classroom materials due to the flooding.

Our team knew that we wanted to say THANK YOU to all of the amazing teachers who have supported our fundraiser by purchasing a bundle or donating money. Shannon from Blogs Fit For A Queen has graciously donated a FREE BLOG DESIGN. When you purchase one of the bundles from the Restoring Hope: Love for Louisiana Teachers TPT Store, you can enter for a chance to win! All you have to do is complete the form that is attached in the product bundle or donation page by October 15th, 2016.

We would like to take this opportunity to send out a huge THANK YOU to our sponsors who have donated resources to the fundraiser bundles. Without your help and generosity, none of this would have been possible.