Learning Lab: A Scope & Sequence

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I’ve tried for years to find a scope and sequence that works well for reading and writing. Unlike math, which can be taught in a linear fashion, reading and writing skills don’t necessarily have to be taught in any order. That is a benefit, but it can also be tricky for setting up a scope and sequence for the year. After five years of teaching an ELA block, I think I might have found something that will work well with my teaching style.

This will be the first year using this scope and sequence, but I have high hopes. It is designed in a way that makes it “flexible”. (That seems to be my buzz word this year, since I’ve also started flexible seating.) There are so many changes from year to year, student to student, that I was constantly revamping my system. This design allows for adaptability to the ever-changing initiatives, standards, students, curriculum, and more.

So let me explain what I like to call my “Learning Lab”. Essentially it is an online database of my lessons for the whole year. It is generic enough to be used with any texts and topics (since those seem to change frequently). Here’s how it works.

Home Pages

This is the home page. Think of it kind of like a dashboard. Every lesson and practice activity can be accessed from here. Let me give a brief overview of each button.

  • Introduction: Beginning of the year lessons such as expectations, routines, and getting-to-know-you activities.
  • Prepare: Pre-reading STEM activities organized by theme.
  • Read 1: Procedures for reading any given text the first time through.
  • Read 2: Procedures for reading the text a second time, editable close-read questions, and a schedule for small-group, differentiated instruction.
  • Discuss: Lead a Socratic Seminar, Town Hall Debate, or Literature Circle for the given text. Mini-lessons included for a variety of speaking and listening skills.
  • Practice Literature: A compilation of instant feedback / self-checking practice activities for every literature skill (on and off-line). Practice can be personalized and assigned based on individual student needs. Each skill also has a quick assessment students can take when they are ready to prove they can do the skill.
  • Create: Lessons for a year-long STEM passion project that is trans-disciplinary. Students follow the design process to brainstorm and research real-world problems, create and implement a plan for a community-service project, collect and analyze data, and finally present their impact and reflections during a big end-of-the-year celebration. Each step of the project includes a writing component students do individually first, and then come to a team consensus. I like to call this project #AgentsOfChange.
  • Practice Language: A compilation of instant feedback / self-checking practice activities for every language skill (on and off-line). Practice can be personalized and assigned based on individual student needs. To prove they have mastered the skill, students apply it to a current piece of writing (from their passion project).
  • Collaborate: During what I like to call our “Collaboratory”,  students get together with their team to share their independently written ideas. The team discusses and then comes to a consensus. Time is given for students to actually send, create, and do the next step of their passion project. For example, sending the final email, making a phone call, or recording an advertisement.
  • Write: Since all the writing so far up to this point has been for authentic, real-world audiences, this writing time is just for fun. Students engage in creative writing prompts. Currently for this part, we are using the Gateway Writing and Lucy Calkins programs.
  • Choose: In order for students to understand the importance of reading and writing, I think it is imperative we give them ample time to actually read and write. During this pseudo “workshop” students can choose to read, write, catch up, or select another appropriate option.
  • Listen: Every year I try to weave in time for a read-aloud. If there are ever days where we finish early, I select this button and choose a listening activity for students to do while I read to them.
  • Take a Break: Our brains need a break every ten or fifteen minutes. These activities include a variety of Kagan cooperative learning structures, brain breaks, team builders, class builders, and more. These structures can be used in conjunction with any content or can be used just for fun.

As you can see, the Learning Lab is flexible. My goal is to work through the cycle in a two-week time period. Any advice, thoughts, or suggestions? Soon, I’ll be writing more detailed posts about each button. Stay tuned!

 

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Flexible Seating: My Middle School Classroom

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Last school year, I began the journey of switching to flexible seating. If you aren’t sure what flexible seating is, or where to begin the prcess, I’d recommend reading this blog post. 

Now that it’s August, the back-to-school season has begun. I’ve been busy this summer, collecting all the furniture needed for my flexible-seating classroom. I’m excited to share the (almost) finished product. Check it out!

Badge Boards: Allowing More Time for what Matters Most

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As a teacher, my biggest wish is more time.

More time to meet with students one on one. More time to fine tune lessons to specific students’ needs. More time to look at data and really use it to drive decisions. More time to build relationships with my students.

I might have found a solution. Thanks to a random Twitter Chat I participated in (still learning how to do those), I was introduced to something called “Gamification”, or similarly “Game-Based Learning”.

Essentially, it’s using games to engage students in activities online and off. The ideas is to pose questions as challenges or quests. Students practice skills and are rewarded with different levels, badges, special items, a class currency, etc. If you’d like to learn more about gamification or game-based learning here are some great sites to check out:

Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going

The Difference between Gamification and Game-Based Learning

After reading and researching, I’ve come up with the idea of what I like to call “Badge Boards”. While the majority of my students are working independently (or collaboratively) within this Badge Board site, I am free to pull small groups, conference with students, but most importantly… HAVE MORE TIME!

The beauty of using Badge Boards is that my students are engaged in fun, game-like activities that are personalized (and differentiated) to meet their own learning needs.

So what are Badge Boards? Let me show you. But, please keep in mind these resources are still in their early stages. They’re a work in progress. They’re subject to changes. They still require work.

Here is the home screen with a brief overview of Badge Boards.

Badge Boards

On the left, students can navigate to the table of contents for all the literature skill badges, language skill badges, discussion skill badges, and behavior badges. Here are the different badges available for each subject area. (Badges are based on Missouri standards and skills for sixth graders.)

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Badge Boards (2)

Badge Boards (5)

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When students click on a button, it will take them to a list of available challenges. Students have a choice of which challenges they’d like to do. They can choose to work independently or with a small team. The challenges are differentiated to include a variety of learning styles as well as different levels of difficulty.

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Here are some examples of various challenges. Some challenges are online games or tutorials that give immediate feedback. Not all challenges will require a computer, though. My goal for blended learning this year is to use technology as much as possible, but that isn’t always realistic. Some challenges will be comprised of completing task cards, or other classwork that has an immediate feedback component. My plan is to keep adding activities as the year progresses. Hopefully, I can recruit my ELA colleagues to contribute some of their activities.

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Once students have submitted proof of three completed challenges, they can request a master-level badge. For my higher learners, they can complete five challenges and request an expert-level badge. I don’t have the request form created yet, but it will be a Google Form since our district uses G Suite products. Here are some examples of what the badges will look like:

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Master Level Badge (three successful challenges)

Badge Design Gallery (1)

Expert Level Badge (five successful challenges)

Student badges will be on display in our Google Classroom. That way, students can view each other’s badges, but their privacy will still be protected. Each student will have his or her own Google Slideshow with the front page you see below, and then a new slide for each new badge he or she earns throughout the year.

My Badges

Notice the XP. For each master badge the student earns, he or she will receive 5 XP (experience) points. Expert badges will result in 10 XP. For positive behavior in class, students can be awarded random XP at the teacher’s discretion. This will be part of my behavior management plan this year. Whenever students are working with the Badge Boards, they have an opportunity to trade in XP for classroom rewards such as leave class early, work with a partner, bring snacks to class, etc.

Another goal is to have a class leaderboard in place for the top ten students with the highest amount of XP. Since students can earn XP for both academic and behavioral acheivements, my hope is that the top ten isn’t all just high achievers. I want to reward students who improve and put forth effort as well.

Hopefully my journey into blended learning this year will be a success. I think that utilizing this Badge Board system will provide me the time it takes to work with students in a small group setting. I think the students will be more engaged since they have the opportunity to choose their own activities. It will take a lot of work to build the Badge Board challenges, but I am more than ready to begin.

Badge Boards

Gallery of Badge Designs

Do you use something similar to Badge Boards? I’d love suggestions from others! If there are any other middle school ELA teachers wanting to collaborate with me on the challenges, I would love help adding activities. Please comment below with your thoughts.

 

STEM: What is it? Why do it?

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Last summer, I learned about STEM through a few Discovery Education workshops. It was a lot of information, a lot of ideas, and all a bit overwhelming. But when the request went out for STEM Innovators in our district, I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to put my learning into practice. And it was! With each additional workshop and one-on-one training session with my STEM coach, I became more comfortable with STEM. I was energized enough to take everything to the next level.

So what is STEM?

To me, STEM education involves learning activities that are rooted in real world problems. The learning activities still address state standards, but also develop students’ 21st century skills, or the 4 C’s: communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Students follow the engineering process to ask questions, imagine possibilities, plan solutions, create prototypes, test their ideas, make improvements based on feedback, and finally share their learning. The activities stretch across the curriculum, covering big ideas that go beyond the classroom.

What STEM is to me

Sketchnotes on what STEM is to me.

What about the arts? What about ELA?

Well, an critical component of STEM education are the 4 C’s, two of those being creativity and communication. Creating new things is an integral part of the STEM process. Students design, build, make, and turn their ideas into reality. Communication is also a key part of STEM. That’s why I have no problem integrating STEM into my own ELA classroom. I also like to think of the engineering design process similar to the writing process. Students plan (prewrite), they create (draft), they test and improve (revise and edit), and finally share their work (publish).

Why try it?

For starters, the rewards of STEM were definitely worth any risks! Being a STEM innovator this year has had many positive benefits, but I think the most important impact is that I’ve shifted the learning to my students. They are the ones communicating more, solving problems, working collaboratively, and creating things beyond my expectations. STEM has taught me to take a step back and become a facilitator of student learning. STEM is a perfect umbrella for inquiry learning, problem based learning, constructivist teaching, and cooperative learning. It ties everything together into something meaningful. I think students are more engaged when they see real world connections, more willing to try when they see it’s okay to fail sometimes, and more active participants when they can make their own decisions about their learning within different projects.

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How being a STEM Innovator has benefited me as an educator.

What are your thoughts on STEM?

Poetry Project Part 2: Choosing a Topic

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If you don’t already know a little bit about my poetry project, I’d suggest reading a general overview here. Before students choose a topic, I introduce the project first.

Choosing a Topic

Since poetry is so near and dear to the soul, I wanted to make sure students were allowed a choice of topics. In order to do that, students needed a list of topics to choose from, therefore… another paper chat! This time, I had students brainstorm possible poem topics. I gave them these prompts on different posters:

  1. What makes you angry or upset?
  2. What worries you? What are you scared or afraid of?
  3. What makes you sad?
  4. What do you love?
  5. What do you find beautiful?

Once we finished “chatting”, I handed out the Topic Proposal Paragraph handout. I told them we already came up with ideas on the posters, so they did not have to fill out the column on the right. (I included it as an alternate activity for brainstorming other than the paper chat.) Poetry Project Part 2- Topic Proposal Paragraph.jpg

I told the students to think carefully when narrowing down their topic choices! It is a lot easier to write about a topic that you are passionate and know a lot about.

Topic Proposal Paragraph

In sixth grade, we are still focusing a lot on improving our paragraphs, so I provided an example for students to use as a guide. I had them write two paragraphs using the template on the back, one about their first choice and one about their second choice. 

Poetry Project Part 2: Topic Proposal Paragraph Example

Afterwards, I collected the paragraphs and sorted students into teams of 3 to 5. I quickly realized that some students chose topics that no one else was interested in, or I had a lot of students choosing the same topics. Here are some suggestions for those issues:

  • If there are no matches for a student’s first or second choice, I offered the student a choice: work independently or choose a different topic. Although…
  • I tried to avoid groups of one or two in case of absences. (Collaboration is a huge part of the project.)
  • Groups of 5 worked fine enough, however, it was hard for them to share resources at times.
  • For popular topics such as bullying, I broke up students into several smaller groups which seemed to work pretty well. (I had three groups of three).

Next up in my Poetry Project series, I’ll explain how teams met and began the next step of the design process… imagining! In the meantime, stay tuned!

Here are the resources for my Poetry Project Part 2:

Poetry Project Part 2 – Lesson Plan (Google Slides)

Poetry Project Part 2- Topic Proposal Paragraph (PDF handout)

Poetry Project Part 2

Poetry Project Part 1: Introducing the Project

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If you don’t already know a little bit about my poetry project, I’d suggest reading a general overview here.

Where to begin?

Part of STEM is understanding the design process. Most of my projects follow the same sequence of steps, the first being to ask8f2522dbc4ec7c57fcd4ca80a2b7fe9f_picture-engineering-design-process-clipart_831-642

Ask. Define the problem.

With this project, the problem is figuring out how students can use powerful language to inspire others. I introduce this problem through an Introduction Letter I copy and send home with students. First, we read it together in class. It outlines the task, the process, and the standards that will be covered. Poetry Project Part 1- Introduction Letter

The next step is to acknowledge the common misconception with students that powerful language is not just in poetry. However, poetry is the easiest and most common place to find powerful language. Poetry Project Part 1

After discussing that for a few minutes, I have students do a paper chat. If you’ve never done one before, I highly recommend it. I learned about this strategy from my Discovery Ed STEM coach.Poetry Project Part 1 (1)

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For this activity, I had students walk around the room for about ten minutes, reading and writing their answers to questions such as:

  1. How can language be powerful?
  2. Why does language need to be powerful?
  3. Who uses powerful language?
  4. Where is powerful language found?
  5. What specific things (devices and techniques) make language powerful?

After returning to their seats, we discussed their ideas for each question. A lot of students made the connection to advertising, commercials, political speeches, etc. Being in middle school, most of my students were able to name at least a few of the devices uses (imagery, symbolism, similes, metaphors, etc.) On a side note, one of my classes is co-taught with several students below grade-level. I did provide that class with some scaffolding in the form of giving a few examples and writing them down on each poster before we began the paper chat. That seemed to help immensely.

Poetry Project Part 1: ExamplesOnce students watched one or two, I had them record some observations on a piece of paper as an exit ticket. They told me what the poet did to make the poem “powerful”. To challenge the students (eventually I did this for all my classes), I had them divide the paper into four and categorize their observations into the following sections:

Sound Devices:

What do you hear? (rhyme, music, alliteration, volume, rhythm, etc.)

Word Choice:

What is being said? (similes, metaphors, imagery, hyperbole, etc.)

Presentation:

What do you see? (visuals, camera angle, words, font, colors, gestures, etc.)

Organization:

How does it begin and end? (introduce with a title, pausing between stanzas, ends with a challenge as music fades, etc.)

Because of time, we usually end up watching only a few poems the first day. Later on, the other examples are used as part of our warm up on work days (I’ll explain those in my next few posts.) In the meantime, stay tuned!

Here are the resources for my Poetry Project Part 1:

Poetry Project Part 1 – Lesson Plan (Google Slides)

Poetry Project Part 1- Introduction Letter (PPT handout)

Next up, Poetry Project Part 2: Choosing a Topic

Poetry Project Part 1

This includes an introduction letter, a paper chat activity, and example videos to kick start the project.

Poetry Project 2017: Collaborative Multimedia Poems

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What is powerful language? How can it be used to inspire people?

Those were the two questions students investigated during this year’s poetry project. Back in January, I introduced the project and students were charged with a task:

TASK: Work collaboratively in a small group to create and present a multimedia poem that (1) creatively uses a combination of poetic devices and persuasive techniques and (2) effectively expresses an emotional or deep-felt message.

Spending one or two days a week since then, students completed the following process.

  1. Choose a meaningful message or topic. Form teams around similar topics. Share topic proposal paragraphs. Explain evaluation. Show examples for inspiration. 
  2. Work collaboratively to list and prioritize tasks to complete project.
  3. Research sound devices, word choice, presentation techniques, and other poetic devices using some Poetry Project Resources
  4. Plan, write, revise, and edit using this Planning & Drafting Template
  5. Publish final poem using student choice of technology.
  6. Finally, share with a live audience at our poetry premiere.

IT. WAS. AMAZING!

Check out some of our finished poems! (More to be added soon.)

The Kindness Project This group used iMovie and some very creative visuals.The Kindness Project.png

Change This group used movement to creatively illustrate their poem. Change.png

Beauty This group also used iMovie to showcase their excellent word choice.Beauty

Taking Chances This group included an interview with our school resource officer.Taking Chances

Risk This group used an iPad and a stop motion app to capture their hand-drawn visuals.Risk

Climate Change Rap Using the green screen, this group introduced and concluded their poem as a news report, complete with a special appearance by Mr. Earth.  Climate Change Rap.png

Animal Cruelty This group went to a local animal shelter to film their own footage.Animal Cruelty.png

Music This group used WeVideo and had passionate, fluent speaking voices.Music

Loss This group used the DoInk app with the green screen. They even included bloopers.Loss

Dance This group included sound effects… themselves tap dancing.Dance

Animal Cruelty This group used a variety of settings and facts about their topic. Animal Cruelty

Bullying This group had some great word choice! Bullying

Bullying This group had some creative combinations of sound devices and presentation techniques. Bullying.png

Friends Using iMovie, this group included great word choice. Friends

Those were only a few of the published poems. If you’d like to see more, visit my YouTube channel here.

Yes, this project took time, but the results were well worth it. Students were able to:

  • Conduct research projects using several sources to answer an essential question.
  • Engage in collaborative discussion, building on others’ ideas and expressing own ideas clearly
  • Follow rules for discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles
  • Produce a clear and coherent poem in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience
  • Develop and strengthen poem by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, personification, imagery, and hyperbole in a poem
  • Use specific word choice to illustrate the theme, mood, and tone of a poem
  • Synthesize information and present it in different formats
  • Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations
  • Present poem using appropriate eye contact, volume, and clear pronunciation

This summer, I plan on writing more about the process and posting a mini-series for those who might want to try this collaborative multimedia poetry project.

First, up: Poetry Project Part 1: Where to Begin