May 2016 - Room 213

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Whether you've already finished your school year, or like me you have a few weeks left with the kids, it's always good to start planning for the end -- of next year.  I know we still have to get to the light at the end of this tunnel, but for most of us we've already set those plans in motion. Right now we're doing our best to keep them in the seats and focused as we race to finish curriculum and prepare our students for final assessments.

However, it's always a good idea to make some notes and plans for next year before we head off for the summer.  Here's what I do that works for me, some tips and tricks that allow me to walk across the finish line rather than drag myself across it:

1. Plan to stop "teaching" long before the kids are done.  This doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be learning new material, but they should be the ones doing most of the work. It's time for them to show me what they know and to practice their skills. On a typical May day in my room, you'll see students working together in groups, discussing what they think is important in the text they are studying.  Or they will be working independently as they conduct research or work on or revise their writing/project. By this point, they are well aware of my expectations and the routine of the classroom.  They are quite used to gathering together to discuss the notes they've made on their reading, and have been given the feedback and tools they need to write and research; because I've worked on making them independent readers, writers and thinkers, I can wander around the room, guiding them, rather than putting on a teacher-directed show every day -- which is much less tiring.

2.  Use an inquiry or multi-genre project as a final assessment. By their very nature, these projects require students to think and work independently, and are an excellent way to measure their ability to think critically.  These projects take a little upfront planning from you.  You can check out how I use an inquiry approach on this blog post.

3.  Do some backward design. If you'd like to be a facilitator rather than a "sage on the stage" at the end of your semester, you need to figure out what skills your students will need to be independent. And it's important to reflect on this now, while it's fresh in your mind.  Spend some time thinking about what would prevent your current classes from working independently; what skills are they lacking?  Make a list of what they can and can't do; then, spend some time planning for what skills you need to develop at the beginning of the semester. If you'd like, you can download some organizers to help you with this HERE.   Not sure where to start?  I've got several blog posts that focus on how I build these skills: Getting your students to dig deeper, Now that's a good question, Essay writing: Removing the mystery, and Close reading and student responsibility.

4. Finish with a lot of speaking assignments. That way, when you are at your most tired, you can mark on the spot, rather than take home another pile of papers.  Again, you can't do this without some planning and skill building, so you need to build in opportunities for students to learn these skills throughout the semester.  Start small with low risk situations, so they can build their confidence for end of the term assessments.  I have some blog posts to help you with this too: Get more engagement with a no-hands policy, Speaking and listening as part of the pre-writing processTweaking my socratic seminar, Speaking & listening and teaching on the fly.

5. Plan for movement. I'm a bit of a broken record when it comes to this point, but for me it's one of the most important things we can do for our students.  I try to incorporate movement in every class and for me (and my students), it makes all the difference in the world for their engagement and learning. Here's some more info on how I get my kids out of their seats: Ten simple ways to get your students moving and learning, Learning stations: one of my favourites from 2015, Gallery walks for critical thinking, Chart paper, post-its and formative assessment.

6. Take your class outside--but keep them working.  It's hot. Everyone wants to be anywhere but school (including you), but the work still needs to get done.  Make some plans for ways you can go outside and keep your students focused.  Here's some ideas from me: Open the walls of your classroom.

How do you plan for the end of the year?


Mother's & Father's Day Writing Assignment for Teens

Elementary students get to make cards and crafts and gifts for their parents and guardians during this time of year.  Most mothers and fathers have a stash of these from their little darlings, but as their children grow older, the stash gets smaller.

Older students can make cards too; they still love to cut and paste and create.  Problem is, we often are short for time, especially at the end of a semester when that clock is ticking loudly in our ears.  So why not try an assignment that can tick off two boxes at once: inspire students to do something nice for their parents/guardians and work on their ELA skills at the same time?

I read an article on the internet this morning and, while it's too late for mother's day, students could use it for father's day -- or even a post-mother's day assignment.

The article, in The Washington Post is called "The kitchen effort that Mom will love and won’t cost you a dime". (Now, we're going to ignore the sexist overtones of this concept, and focus on the multi-genre, multi-skill nature of this idea).  The article is an example of expository writing, and Bonnie S. Benwick, the author, uses question-ing, parallelism and quotes from authority, all things we want our students to master.

Here is how I would use the it:

1. Have students read the article and ask them to identify the author's purpose and the techniques she uses to achieve the purpose.  I'd ask them to notice what the writer does, and hope that they identify the techniques I mentioned above.

2. Get students to brainstorm some things they could do to help out a parent or guardian.  Then, they would write a draft for a short expository piece like Benwick's.  I would also ask them to incorporate some of the techniques used in her article.

3. Finally, I would ask them to turn their draft into a multi-genre good copy: along with fine-tuning their writing, they will set it up like the mentor text, with photos (or videos) and links to related ideas.   For example, they might find a youtube video on how to spread mulch or how to cook a certain meal.  They could include links to recipes they think a parent might enjoy, or books they would like to read.
They should also quote an authority, and illustrate their understanding of how to embed quotes properly. If you want to add another ELA skill to this assignment, you could have them present their final copy to the class, or even better, have them report back to the class, explaining how they actually did the task for their loved one.

I'm excited to try this out, not only because it looks fun, but also because it will be a good practice opportunity for my students who will be doing a major multi-genre project at the end of the semester.

Do you have a favourite activity that you use with your teens for mother's or father's day? Please share in the comments!



If you follow me, you know I went a little station crazy this year.  My students loved them, so I just kept making more, with every new thing we did. I now have quite a collection of station titles, task cards and task sheets, and they were starting to spill out everywhere.

When I was at Staples copying my latest batch of task cards for To Kill a Mockingbird, I decided to go looking for something to help me keep it all together.

I grabbed a binder, some sheet protectors and some clear plastic pages designed to hold 4 x 6 photos. Today, I dug out my collection of stuff and very quickly had it all put away and organized.  I was very pleased with myself!  My room looks cleaner and now I have very easy access to all of my learning stations.

One tip: to keep the task cards all neat and tidy inside the plastic, I used a paper clip to both hold them together and to clip them to the plastic.  Everything stays in place just so that way.

In the cases where I had task sheets to go with particular stations, I put the title, the task cards and the sheets all together in one sheet protector. That way, it's all organized and ready to go for next time. So, if you've been using learning stations and have been a bit unorganized like me, I hope this can help you get your act together too!
 If you'd like to check out my collection of learning stations, you can do so HERE.


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