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Teaching Gatsby


Most English teachers would consider what I’m about to say sacrilegious: I didn’t like reading The Great Gatsby in high school, and for many years I didn’t enjoy teaching it. However, I have changed my mind. I’m getting a better appreciation for the novel as I try to make it more relevant and comprehensible for my high school juniors. Here are some of the things that I’ve done to make it a better experience for my students (and me):

Get Students Out of Their Seats

There aren’t too many opportunities for students to walk around in English classes so to get my students engaged and thinking about the book, I start with a text evidence anticipation activity. I’ve typed thirty sentences from the book, which I have cut and laminated. On the first day of the reading, I give at least one sentence to each student. Then I tell them they will become “detectives” and collect nine other sentences. They walk around the classroom and share their sentences with each other, writing them down on a handout. Afterwards, they return to their seats, review the “evidence” they’ve gathered, and make predictions for what the book may be about. We have whole-class discussion of their ideas.

Close Reading of the First Page

Because my students often struggle with the language and style of the text, I distribute a copy of the first page and ask them to read it closely. They are directed to look for clues about the narrator and then to make inferences about him in the margins. I model with a think aloud in the first line, noting that the narrator says “in my younger and more vulnerable years.” I explain to the students that this helps me know he is speaking from an older age and plans to share his wisdom.


Reading Checks

Obviously, students won’t understand The Great Gatsby, if they aren’t reading. For that reason, I use the free version of Socrative to give short reading quizzes at the beginning of class. I create three - five multiple choice or true/false question for basic recall of the reading, and students can respond on their phones or computers. I can easily download reports with student responses to help me know which students are doing their reading or struggling with their comprehension.

Numbered Heads

While students are still at the beginning of the novel, I often lead the discussion. Frequently, I use a group activity called “numbered heads." I assign groups of four - five students and ask them to respond to the same questions from the assigned chapters. They work together to answer the questions but are required to respond individually through “numbered heads.”

Roundtable Discussion

As student confidence with their reading increases, I turn the  the discussion over to them through my roundtable discussion. Recently I used this format to help students discuss chapters five and six. First, students completed a quick-write activity to warm them up for discussion. Then they reviewed a rubric and set goals for the discussion. Next, they met with partners to rehearse their ideas. During the rehearsal, they shared the work they did to prepare for discussion (a handout with notes, quotes, and vocabulary) and their quick writes. After sharing with partners, we moved the desks into "inside and outside" circles. The inside circle discussed the book first while the outside circle listened. While the outside circle listened, they took notes on what they heard. Finally, after both groups had been in the inside circle (I usually rotate after 10 – 15 minutes), they returned to their seats and wrote a reflection. 


Accident InvestigationAfter reading chapter 7, I  will engage students in close reading of the car accident that killed Myrtle Wilson. In this activity, students assume roles (CSI Unit Worker, Medical Examiner, Police Officer, Witness, Prosecutor, and Newspaper Reporter) as they reread and review text evidence for the accident. After summarizing the accident evidence, students are also expected to read information about the laws for driving while impaired. They determine who should be charged with crimes and what charges should be filed, writing rationales for their decisions.  

The Finale

Instead of a traditional test, I assign a hybrid essay that incorporates elements of narrative writing, expository writing, and literary analysis for their summative assessment. Basically, each student selects a character and writes an essay in first person point of view; they have to support their inferences and comments with text evidence. To increase the rigor, I also ask students to include a paragraph explaining how their characters are connected to a theme.

For added fun, we celebrate with a Roaring 20’s party, where students role-play their characters and interview one another. Sometimes I also invite an administrator to stop by or students from other classes. 
It creates great memories. 

What do you do to make teaching The Great Gatsby a success?  Please share in the comments below.

Pique Student Interest with Banned Books


It’s true that many teens are notoriously rebellious and can be difficult to teach at times. However, a strategic teacher can tap into their desire to question authority and pique their interest in reading by using challenged books. These books capitalize on their desire to learn about controversial topics. This is especially true when motivating students to read classics and books from the cannon.

For instance, when I use literature circles in my classroom, I often tease students to read a novel, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I tell them that it has often been banned in schools for vulgar language and mature topics. I also tell them that the protagonist, Holden Caufield, has a defiant attitude and immediately gets expelled from school at the start of the novel. This usually grabs their attention, and they often choose Salinger’s book for their group's reading.

Banned Books Week, from September 24 - 30, is an

excellent time to introduce some ofthese commonly challenged books. There are myriad resources to help you excite teens in their reading of these books. Best of all, taking advantage of the contestable content of these books is an excellent motivator at the beginning of a novel unit.

Do you want to get your students engaged in Banned Book Week? Here are some activities that you may be interested in:

Rebel Readers on Twitter
During Banned Books Week 2017, the American Library Association (ALA) is hosting a contest for people to tweet against censorship. They will be awarding prizes each day throughout the week.

Stand for the Banned
In another promotion from the ALA, readers create YouTube videos and read excerpts from challenged books to declare their support for freedom of speech.

Make a Display
Have your students create displays that educate their classmates about banned books. You can find ideas at the link above.




Collaborate with Your Media Center
Recently, I asked my media center specialist to introduce my students to banned books.  She created an engaging activity in which students walked around the room looking at books that had been challenged over the years.  First, they counted how many of these books they had read, and next they chose two to research.  They searched for information on why the selected books had been challenged.  Finally, they shared their results and were amazed.  All of them were shocked that the Harry Potter series was on the list!




Should This Book Be Banned?

Here is a quick and easy activity your students can do to connect argument writing to their reading of a challenged book. This argument writing prompt teaches students to brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for a claim about a banned book. 

You can extend their learning with this book rationale activity, too.  First, students research why their banned books have
been challenged, and then they search for text examples showing the books' educational value.  For fun, they can make bookmarks after they write their rationales.

Want more information for teaching about censorship? You may want to check out the resources below:
Freedom to Read Foundation
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center

Gather more ideas from these other teacher bloggers here:

Ways to Incorporate Lessons on Banned Books

What do you do with banned books in your classroom? Please share in the comments below.


Classroom Transformation

This week we start school (many of you  returned weeks ago) and I’m going to meet my new students. In preparation, I’ve tried to make my classroom inviting to them (but also conducive to learning). In fact, inspired by Pinterest (sometimes a curse) I started transforming my classroom  a few days early because I have a large classroom to set up.

I’m certainly not complaining, though, because it took nine years for me to get my amazing classroom. For many years, I was on a cart and “floated” into other teachers’ classrooms. Fortunately, as I set up my room, I had help from my niece and teacher intern. However, two challenges remained, including decorating on a teacher-friendly budget and making it appropriate for high school students. But with hard work and creativity, my classroom is now ready to go!


Here's what my classroom looked like when I first returned. (We pack everything at the end of the year so the custodians could clean the floors.)

And here's my classroom transformation!

This wall includes fun displays, part of my classroom library, and the crates where I collect student assignments.

Here I've taken book covers and laminated them to make a hanging banner in the corner of my classroom.


For my seating arrangement, I have students facing towards the front in small diagonal and vertical rows.  This facilitates discussion.

This bulletin board was inspired by a picture that I found on Pinterest.  With the help of my teacher intern, we added inspirational quotes so students will be empowered to achieve success.

Above my book shelves, I display students projects that I've kept over the years.  I'm proud of them and love displaying their hard work!

What do you do to make your classroom an inviting environment?  Please share your ideas in the comments below!


Back to School Stress? 5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself!




It’s that time of year again.

Teachers and students are headed back to school after a relaxing summer, which can cause their stress levels to sky-rocket. During the summer, you may have enjoyed waking up without an alarm clock, drinking your morning coffee at a leisurely pace, and spending quality time with friends and family.

It can be difficult to transition to the hectic pace of the school year, so it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself as you head back to school. Here are a few suggestions for self-care and some ways that I try to shift back into the school routine calmly.

Stay Active

1. During the summer, I am much better at getting exercise and going to the gym than during the school year. I’ve been taking spin and yoga classes throughout this summer. However, once the school year starts and I can’t exercise in the morning, it’s much harder for me to get to the gym. So, I find that just getting outdoors after school and taking long walks to the end of my road refreshes me and helps me burn some calories.

Other options include taking a bike ride, kayaking, or paddle boarding (if you live near the water). Not only do these activities help improve your energy, but there is the added benefit of getting vitamin D from the sunshine. 


Here's the view at the end of my street.
TLC

2. When teachers and students return to school, it’s easy to get consumed with work. For me, I work long days and I often have evening events at school during the first months back. It makes it hard to relax, so in the past I would neglect myself. That only made me grumpy and my work more tedious – not good qualities for a teacher.

Consequently, now I try to treat myself to a few indulgences. I may get a pedicure, read a book for pleasure, or enjoy a delicious dessert. These gifts to myself help cheer me up when I’m sad that summer is over. Make sure you pamper yourself, too!

Get Sleep

3. When switching from my summer schedule back to a school routine, it’s important to make sure I get enough sleep. In the summer when the days are longer, I go to bed later at night. But with the early mornings of the school year, I have to make sure I go to bed earlier, so I start winding down after dinner. This may mean that I need to turn off my cell phone or walk away from the television. Without those distractions, I can often go to bed by ten on a school night and get my full eight hours of sleep.

You should try to do the same. Don’t grade papers in bed or bring your laptop into the bedroom. And make sure to give yourself time to listen to some soothing music or take a bath before you go to sleep.

Continue Summer Hobbies

4. In the summer, I tend a small garden of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. I make sure to water and prune the plants, and I enjoy the reward of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, with my busy school schedule I often forget to do these things. As a result, I need to make a conscious effort to check my garden in the early autumn. That in turn, reminds me to cook and eat healthy. If you have summer hobbies, hopefully you can continue to enjoy them also.

Say "No"

5.  This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in my 20 years of teaching. Of course, it’s still hard to say “no” to the many requests made of me by administrators, students, and other teachers during the school year. Whether it’s attending the talent show, chaperoning a dance, or teaching an after-school program, there is always more that people want me to do!
No doubt, I enjoy attending some of these events, but if I don’t say “no” I won’t have any time left over to take care of myself. New teachers especially need to heed this advice because they will often be inundated with requests for help. Please stand up for yourself and set some boundaries!

Teachers are so generous with their time that they are often inattentive to their own physical and mental health. But the truth is that by sacrificing your health, you end up being able to give less of yourself. Overtired and burnt-out teachers are irritable, lethargic, and frequently ill. They certainly can’t help their students when they’re in this condition. So by helping yourself, you’re helping others.

I’ve shared some ways that I care for myself. What do you do for yourself? Please share in the comments below.



Tips and Tricks for Digital Learning



This year my students will finally have laptops, and I’m going to incorporate more digital learning in my instruction. Since I’m new to the 1:1 classroom, I asked other teachers for help on how to manage technology so that it will be meaningful for my students. I’ve shared their advice (and one tip of my own) with you, too!

Google Classroom
Google Classroom has become a game changer in my class! This platform has made managing and organizing my assignments a MUCH easier process. Google Classroom is a part of Google Apps for Education and can be used by anyone with a personal Google account. One of the things I love most... students can use from any location that has internet access, AND each assignment that they complete automatically saves to the student's Google Drive! This means no more missing or lost assignments! The same goes for the teacher, as well!

With each class that is created, a folder is also created in your Google Drive. This is where you will find every single assignment that you have assigned your students through Google Classroom. You’ll have endless access to their work, with no chance of losing it! I like to get my students

acquainted with Google Classroom right off the bat, so during the first couple days of school I show them a short video I made called, "Google Classroom Tutorial for Students." The video shows students how to access and use the program. Feel free to use it to introduce Google Classroom to your students! Lit with Lyns

Speech-to-Text
Just a few years ago, I couldn’t find easy to use and affordable speech-to-text software for a student who was physically unable to type her research paper. I contacted that same student two years later just before she began a college English course to tell her about the FREE Voice Typing feature that had been added to Google docs. We were both thrilled about this feature that makes typing as simple as talking to a friend. 


Before beginning, make sure that the microphone is on and working. Then, look for “Voice Typing…” about halfway down the Tools menu at the top of a Google docs page. You’ll see the black microphone image indicating that the microphone is not recording, but when recording starts, it turns to the red image. I've found that the microphone built into most
computers is adequate, but if it has a noisy internal fan or if the student is working in an area with a lot of talking or noise, you may wish to use an inexpensive external plug-in microphone. One distinct bonus about Voice Typing is that this feature allows students to use the keyboard while speaking or if they stop talking to think, making it easy to jump from talking to typing and back again without having to stop the microphone. Students can learn to use their voices to make a quick deletion, go to the next line, make the font bold, add a period or comma, or do a myriad of formatting and editing tasks--or they can just move the cursor to the desired spot and make changes with their keyboard or mouse as they usually would. Click here to access a list of Voice Typing commands.

Another plus is that students can download the free Google Docs apps to their cell phones (Android or Apple). Since phone microphones were designed to easily pick up voices and interpret them correctly, speaking into a phone produces very accurate results. Google Docs is cloud based, allowing

students to move seamlessly between computers, laptops, and cell phones, and all of their work is stored safely on one document. In addition to those students who have physical challenges that make typing on a traditional keyboard difficult or impossible, I've also found this feature to be incredibly helpful for students who have dysgraphia or those who struggle with idea generation, staring at a blank page, stuck, unable to come up with a single word. Many students who can't figure out what to write or how to begin, find that speaking their ideas is much easier and far less intimidating than writing on paper. Maryann from Secondary Strategies

Revision History
When I began Google Classroom, I quickly found that I could check group work participation. Group work haunts me because I dislike assigning grades to students who do not earn that grade, and perhaps underscoring a student who deserves more. I ask students their experience with group work and even have students complete an evaluation on their partners. Parents and administrators normally want more than other students' ideas, and I'm not entirely confident deciding grades on this component.

Now when I assign group work, students must sign in on their own computer - in their own Google account. When students complete a Google presentation (for example), I can see in

the revision history - which student modified what.

This stipulation is clearly listed in my syllabus and on group work assignments. This encourages all students to participate, and I can fairly grade the projects. Parents and administrators know that this is a requirement, and I have this component on my rubrics as well. 
Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom


Flipped Classroom
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began flipping my classroom was to assume my students would know how to “read” an instructional video. Sure, they are surrounded by technology both at home and at school, but they typically approach those visual texts from a different angle -- one that is based on an entertainment factor, not a analytical or retention one. I quickly learned that in order to help my students succeed with this innovative approach to learning, I

needed to provide some scaffolding for academic-style visual texts. Whether teachers are creating flipped lessons or simply asking students to independently watch video clips to supplement existing instruction, we must give them the tools they need to succeed. Teaching visual literacy is critical, especially with the increased emphasis on digitally-oriented classrooms. Providing best-practice tips and modeling through think-alouds are the most beneficial ways to manage this issue. You can read more about how I approach visual literacy instruction and the specific lesson format I use on my blog. Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

Virtual Open House
It’s the start of another school year. Your classroom looks perfect. Your bulletin boards look amazing. The desks are clean and your textbooks are all neatly stacked where they belong. You love your students this school year and are so excited to meet their parents and families, especially for them to see your classroom! This is the time to try a virtual open house. Back to School Night finally comes and unfortunately, you only see five, maybe six families show up (I've experienced this). You are left feeling disappointed and sad. Your feelings are not about you. Your feelings of disappointment are a result of knowing your students' families missed out on what you had planned. Here is a solution. Teachers can easily create a Virtual Back to School Night - or virtual open house - to send to the families that were unable to attend.

Back to School Night is usually held towards the end of the first month of school. You will want to create your virtual open house video before the actual open house- maybe closer to the beginning of school. Why? Your classroom will still look

perfectly put together and in place within the first few weeks.
You don’t need any fancy recording device. Your phone or tablet’s video app works perfectly. If you want a different app, iMovie™ works well too. Find a friend or colleague who is willing to record you. Or if you feel uncomfortable about being watched and wish to record yourself, you can set up a tripod or even use one of those crazy selfie-sticks! Weird, yes, but effective.
Now that you have your classroom set up, your outfit picked out and your video recorder set up perfectly, it's time to record! Here is a quick checklist of items you’ll want to cover in your virtual open house: 1. Introduction (about you and how to contact you) 2. The specifics of your syllabus 3. Grading policy 4. Classroom management procedures 5. Tour of the classroom (seating, where absent work can be found, classroom library, bulletin boards, student work, etc.)

Want to learn more helpful tips on how to pull this off? This can be done in ten minutes. I have the answers for teachers in an easy-to-follow visual tutorial and step-by-step video loaded with reminders, pictures, and ways you can reach the families of your students. Your school community's engagements and connections will go to the next level if you explore the use of video as a way of communicating with families. I hope you give it a try! Your virtual open house will be a hit. Danielle from Study All Knight

Blended Classroom
In my 1:1 classroom, we use many useful apps, add-ons, and extensions. I talked about some great ones for productivity

and differentiation here. I don’t waste any time introducing these tools to students--we practice using them all right away. During the first week of school, I have students complete an activity that enables them to become familiar with tech tools and with one another. They complete a series of small tasks about themselves and their summer vacations using apps, add-ons, and extensions. They share the final product with the class in Google Classroom, and then the class completes a scavenger hunt with the final product. You can preview the activity here. It’s a fun way to knock out all types of introduction. Leah Cleary

Socrative
Need instant feedback on whether your students understand
the concepts you’re teaching? Use the Socrative app for formative assessment. Typically, I use the multiple choice and exit ticket options, but there are other choices such as true/false, short answer and a game called “space race”, too. The app is free and the teacher makes her account and quizzes, which can be used multiple times. Since these are for formative assessment, I limit my multiple questions to five. This year I made several Socrative quizzes after my students read and analyzed Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Speech on Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Teachers are given options as to whether they want students to use their names or to be anonymous. Often, I project the results live while the students are responding to the questions. After everyone has finished with the quiz, I can simply look at the results and provide further instruction on any questions that a significant percentage of students responded to incorrectly. I can also download the reports. Best of all, it’s easy to use from a smart phone or iPad, too, if your students don’t have access to computers. OCBeachTeacher


Do you have tricks or tips for digital learning in your classroom?  Please share them in the comments below!




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