Thursday, May 26, 2016

End of the Year Activities

I might be a freak, but I actually don't look forward to the end of the school year. I enjoy coming to work everyday and teaching my students, hearing about something they did outside of school that was amazing and I genuinely get excited to start a new book or topic of study. So when I think about the end of the year, I get a little sad. I figure the only way to combat my sadness is to reflect on the school year with the students and take note of all the wonderful things that happened throughout the year and start to evaluate what will stay the same and what will change for next year.

Here are a Few Ideas to Get You Through the End of YOUR School Year 

Student Report Cards Grades 3-6 (Free)
This is a cool idea I found off of Teacher Pay Teachers that ended up being a lot of fun and I have started to look forward to it when the last quarter hits each year. This activity is an opportunity for students to write YOU a report card! I think this is a great way for students to let you know what worked and what didn't work. You never know, you might learn something new about yourself and your teaching!

Student Brochures and Writing Prompt (Versions for Grades 1-6) $3
I love this idea because it allows for students to use their creativity and writing skills! The teacher prints the template for the brochure (modified versions for Grades 1-6) and students reflect on their year. Each brochure asks students to think about their favorite book from the school year, their favorite writing activity, what they will miss the most from the grade they are in and what they look forward to for next year. This also comes with a writing activity where students organize a letter for upcoming students. There is a graphic organizer and letter writing paper for grades 1-3 and grades 3-6. This activity is a lot of fun and has you partly prepared for the first day of school next year!

Students Reflect with a Letter to the Teacher (Free)
When discussing student growth with a colleague, it was brought to my attention that it would be helpful to have students not only reflect on their academic growth, but their social growth as well. So, I created a graphic organizer that allows students to reflect on themselves as learners, as friends and who they are as a person. This graphic organizer asks students to identify 1-3 ways in which they grew academically and socially. There is a second page that helps students develop each idea and then ultimately write a letter to the teacher explaining how the grade they are in has impacted them. This makes for a really thoughtful and meaningful activity towards the end of the year. 

I hope that some of these ideas have helped you plan the last few weeks of the school year with your students. Leave a comment and tell me what has helped you make the most of your end of the school year!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Courage for Beginners - A Middle School (or soon-to-be) Must Read!

As I start to plan for next school year, I am thinking about my very first unit which reflects Responsive Classroom in a lot of different ways. I spend the majority of the first 6 weeks of school focusing on building community, assessing my students' abilities and bringing the class together with common goals and rules that we all agree on. I mostly do this through Reading and hands-on activities.

In the past, I used the book, Wonder by RJ Palacio as a read aloud and stayed away from whole group Literature Circles. However, after my third year here, I am starting to see that my new 5th grade students could definitely handle a whole class Literature Circle and I am thinking about implementing one next school year in September. Now.. the question I need to answer is, which book do I use? Well... I think I have answered that question.

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington is one that, after some consideration, I've decided to use. This book is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. It is told from the point of view of Mysti, a student who is starting her seventh grade year. She has a very interesting personality and a unique sense of humor. I think her voice throughout this story is what makes it so fabulous and fun to read! She and her friend Anibal were best friends for years. The one thing that bonds them the most is the fact that they both are somewhat ashamed of something that takes place at home (it is implied in the story that Anibal's family is poor and we learn early on that Mysti's mom has a condition which makes her afraid to leave the house). Both Anibal and Mysti are not a part of the "in crowd" which also creates a strong bond between the two. Right before school starts for these seventh graders, Anibal declares that he is going to do an experiment and would like Mysti's help. All she has to do, he says, is to not talk to him at school. Mysti goes along with it and after denying what seems obvious to everyone else, she starts to question her friendship with Anibal. There are other characters brought into the story to remind readers of what a true friend looks like and the fact that how we treat each other reflects the kind of person we are. In the meantime, because of a head injury at the beginning of the story, Mysti's father is left in a coma at the hospital. Because Mysti's mom refuses to leave the house, Mysti is forced to play the role of her father and left trying to solve problems such as, what to eat when there is no food and no adult in the house who can go to the grocery store. This book is one where students have laughed out loud, but also gotten very upset with some of the characters and his/her decisions. I've witnessed kids talk about these characters are real people and often bring them up again in conversation long after the book has ended. It is definitely a story that sticks with you even after the last chapter.

To help guide the lessons and discussions, I created an  Interactive Notebook. This is for students to complete independently after the Literature Circle discussion so that I can check their understanding and to encourage them to think deeply about the story. Because it is hands-on and engaging, students will not feel like it is a typical assessment even though it does allow me to evaluate their level of understanding. I included discussion questions with each section that will help guide the Literature Circle which also creates a checklist that I can use to track students throughout the discussion. At the end of the story, I have students complete a Character Map specifically for Mysti as a fun way to reflect on who she is as a person/character!