Archive | April, 2019

How we roll

30 Apr

Once a month, my teaching partner and I sit down and formally plan out the upcoming month. We sit down together every day to talk over the day and eat second breakfast but this is our most formal of meetings.

As we sat to plan May, we realized how close the end of the year really is, so we decided to plan June as well, since it had only two weeks of school.  There was so much we still wanted to do – and we couldn’t make it fit. Outdoor School (ODS) had been moved  to June 4-7, taking out almost a week. We’d scheduled speeches for the week before ODS. We could wedge things in, but they’d start before and end, rather awkwardly, after ODS. we felt frustrated.

“What if we scrap it all?” I asked. “We could move the speeches to the last week of school and then plan backwards.” This was a radical concept for us. We always started on the first of a month and planned forward, knowing what we didn’t accomplish could spill into the next month. But there were no next months for us this time around. And so we boldly took the plunge.

And it worked. We are planned through June.

We always know our monthly plans are subject to change, but we have a roadmap in place and can face any detours because that’s how we roll.

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This week’s book talks 4/22-26

26 Apr

Monday

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

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Tuesday

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson

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Thursday

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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Friday

Obsessed: A Memoir of my Life with OCD by Allison Britz

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Plan B

23 Apr

This morning I should be on a bus, headed to outdoor school for four days and three nights. The sixth graders from the other three halls in my building are going. Alas, Green Hall is staying behind.

Two Saturdays ago we got a text saying the main lodge at the camp we were supposed to attend had burned to the ground.  Most of last week was spent waiting to find out if we could go to another camp this week or if we’d go a different week. The kids had tones of questions.

If we don’t go this year, can we go as seventh graders?

When will they tell us?

What happens at school if we don’t go?

If we don’t go to Outdoor School, do we still have to come to school?

Their agony was ended Thursday when we were – finally – told we would not go the same week as the other sixth graders, we’d go June 4-7, the second last week of school.

Action and consequence. The kids were relieved, but the teachers and admins started scrambling. Schedules had to be created for a rotation through Specialists. My team decided that we’d toss out the schedule on Wednesday and have kids rotate through camp like activities and have a picnic lunch outside along with a massive game of Capture the flag. It won’t be quite the same, but it will be a good placeholder until the real this comes around.

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Pay Attention, Readers!

22 Apr

Some books are just fun to read aloud. There is a clear definition of tone when certain characters talk. There might be humor, or sarcasm. There is a theme or series of events that capture the interest of the audience.

Read aloud is one of my favorite parts of my day. I often joke that teaching is performance art, but reading out loud truly is. You will know this if you have ever listened to a poorly read audiobook.

Last week, I started reading aloud Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt and the kids and I are hooked.

The main character, Carter Jones, talks in long run-on sentences and I think the kids like seeing how long I can go without taking a breath. The Butler speaks in very proper English. I wish my English accent were better, but I get the point across. And even though everyone in the book is very white, my majority minority class is hooked because of the witty battle of wills between Carter and The Butler, but also because of the way cricket is woven throughout. Cricket in the sense of the precursor to baseball. I have kids who actually know about cricket. This might be the book I use as the first read aloud of next year.

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Publisher’s Summary: Carter Jones is astonished early one morning when he finds a real English butler, bowler hat and all, on the doorstep—one who stays to help the Jones family, which is a little bit broken.

In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler’s notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.

This week’s book talks 4/15-19

19 Apr

What a crazy week!

The lodge at the camp where we are supposed to attend Outdoor School next week burned down and I, along with my students and their families, have been stressed about what will happen. We are suppose to leave Tuesday, and we are still in limbo, wondering what will happen.

To relieve tension, I shared some new books. New books always make me feel better.

Monday

The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith

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Tuesday

Pay Attention, carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

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Wednesday

Disaster Strikes! by Jeffrey Kluger

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Thursday

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon

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Friday

The Girls of Firefly Cabin by Cynthia Ellingsen

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Welcome to Middle School, Andrew Smith

18 Apr

A few years ago, an Andrew Smith novel,  Stick, stirred up some news when it was banned in our district. Teachers, parents, students stood up and spoke up because, although the panel had decided to keep it, an assistant superintendent overruled the panel’s decision. The book got to stay. The assistant superintendent left shortly afterwards, following another controversy.

I have long loved Andrew Smith’s books, especially Winger and Stand-Off. In fact, I think Winger  might have been my first Andrew Smith book. Needless to say, I was delighted to discover that he was writing a book for middle schoolers, and I awaited it patiently. I picked up an ARC at ALA in January and I finally read it. It might be my next read aloud with my classes.

It is called The Size of the Truth and it tells the story of Sam Abernathy, a character from Stand-Off. You don’t need to have read Winger and Stand-Off  to read The Size of the Truth – in fact, you shouldn’t. They are written for Young adult audiences. I don’t have them in my classroom library, but I hope my kids read them someday, when they are in high school.   But The Size of the Truth  contains all the humor, quirks and honesty of Winger and Stand-Off,  and takes hold of your heart in the same way.

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Publisher’s Summary: When he was four years old, Sam Abernathy was trapped at the bottom of a well for three days, where he was teased by a smart-aleck armadillo named Bartleby. Since then, his parents plan every move he makes.

But Sam doesn’t like their plans. He doesn’t want to go to MIT. And he doesn’t want to skip two grades, being stuck in the eighth grade as an eleven-year-old with James Jenkins, the boy he’s sure pushed him into the well in the first place. He wants to be a chef. And he’s going to start by entering the first annual Blue Creek Days Colonel Jenkins Macaroni and Cheese Cook-Off.

That is, if he can survive eighth grade, and figure out the size of the truth that has slipped Sam’s memory for seven years.

Be quiet, we’re testing!

16 Apr

As much as I loathe standardized testing, I take it very seriously.

I post messages on the board reminding students to bring their fully charged Chromebook, but leave their phones behind. I put a box of kleenex on each table so students have no need to get up and wander to get one. I faithfully read the script everyday. I wear my serious face.

It was the fourth and final day of testing and students had just logged on. I was sitting in front of my computer, having clicked “approve” for most students and awaiting the last few who were still jumping through the log-in hoops. The room was silent as it should be. A few phones and smart watches sat in the testing box beside me. All was well – and then it happened.

A tiny squeaky little fart.

It happened at the table to my immediate right. You could see the eyes of everyone at the table grow large. They looked from one to another. A student at the adjacent table whipped their head around. The rest of the room sat in oblivious silence – a silence that hung in the air for a millisecond – until I made eye contact with a student.

We started to giggle. I tried to maintain my serious testing face, but the harder I tried the greater I failed. Before too long, I was laughing harder than any one – a silent body shaking laugh I was trying to control because this was a serious testing day. I closed my eyes. I squeezed them tight in an effort to get myself under control. I scooted my chair back so I would look at the floor when I finally opened my eyes.

Gradually, my laughter ebbed. Once more I was in control, a serious test proctor.

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