Movin’ On Up

Good morning!

It’s a great and glorious day. Number one, it’s the last day before our Spring Break – woohoo!! But, even better than that…the unveiling of our secret project!

http://www.morningsideduo.com

Yup. Our own domain. We’re super pumped, and cannot wait to make our new home even more fantastic than it already is. After doing some reflecting, we realized that we want our blog to shift focus a bit. We love teaching, but we really want to focus on our reading lives and sharing what we – and our students – are reading. We hope you will join us over on our new site!

Happy reading!
Jenny and Megan

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Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Hi all!

Jenny and I have been doing some plotting and planning, and are making some changes/updates to our blog. 🙂 Once everything is set, we’ll have some exciting things to share with you. Stay tuned! 🙂

Megan

April Showers

Has it really been a month (okay fine…almost 2) since our last post? Dang. 

Needless to say, things have been pretty crazy. We’ve been juggling curriculum, teaching, tackling the groundwork for making a district change to standards based grading, assessing our kids, planning, figuring out next year’s plan, “real” life outside of school…you know, the usual stuff. 

While I adore spring (at least, from what I remember I do…still not sure if it’s going to actually be a season this year…), it is also a fairly chaotic time of the year. The end of the year is so close, but there’s so much to do before that point. We’re busting it to make sure our plans are keeping our kids engaged and with us, while still hitting the standards we need to hit. That’s the one good thing about the crummy weather – this would be so much harder if it was sunshiny and beautiful outside. 

On our teacher work day back in January, we planned out the rest of this year. Or so we thought. While we did get a lot of it done, we wound up making some switches and modifications to things. Here’s what we’ve been up to, and what’s ahead for us and our crew:

  • February: nonfiction text features leading into a book club unit centered on historical fiction and nonfiction texts, which then led into the students’ research projects 
  • March: close reading and Socratic seminar
  • April: poetry (hooray for National Poetry Month!) with some writing skills snuck in (hello conclusions!)
  • May: argument writing
  • June: wrapping it up – the kids are done June 10

The biggest shift from our planning day came with our March/April plans. When we were planning February, we wound up accidentally condensing our unit before we had planned to. It all worked out okay, but that meant trying to figure out what in the world to do in March and April. After our dystopian unit earlier this year, we knew that we were going to take our kids to see Divergent. That, and a conversation we overheard amongst our students, sparked our March idea.

We practiced close reading with different lenses in preparation for doing a Socratic seminar. Of course, we also had to teach the seminar skills. The topic of the seminar? Comparing and contrasting Tris and Katniss. The kids did a fantastic job with it, and we’re excited to do more seminars in the future.

After pushing them pretty hard in February and March, and knowing we have spring break interrupting April, we were on the hunt for something fun that would let the kids be creative while still teaching them the concepts they need to know. Enter Jenny’s brilliant idea of National Poetry Month. We’re three days in, and the kids seem to be enjoying it. They were a little intimidated at first, but the comfort level is definitely increasing. It will be fun to see them grow in terms of their writing skills throughout the month.

And then…it will be off into argument! I’m excited, and I think our kids are going to LOVE it. They’re a pretty opinionated group. 🙂

~Megan

Everything’s Changin’

Whew! This is a marathon week: 2 nights of parent-teacher conferences – enough the drain even the most energetic teacher. I love the opportunity to chat with parents about their child though – it’s invaluable time.

We have started up with reader’s conferences again this week, and I must say – it feels good to chat with kids about their reading again. Even though I’m sometimes intimidated by conferencing, I am loving having renewed this practice. Attending WSRA gave me lots of ideas on things to talk with kids about. We’re starting out with just touching base in regards to current reading, what’s on their reading radar, and changes they’ve seen in themselves since September in regards to reading.

Oh. My. Goodness. Talking to these kids about the changes they’re seeing in themselves has been the most refreshing, renewing, rejuvenating thing for me. Hearing my kids say things like:

  • “I read 10 times more at home!”
  • “20 minutes of reading at home isn’t enough – it HAS to be more!”
  • “I’m actually finding books I like because you help me.”
  • “I feel like I’m more confident in my reading.”
  • “I read so much more than I ever have before.”

Seriously. How do these things not just melt your heart? This is all I ever want for my students: for them to find their reading fire and burn it brightly. I’m seeing that happen – in the conversations with me, their peers, other teachers – kids are talking about their reading, passing books to each other, thinking about their next books. Heaven, I tell you. Heaven.

We’re in the midst of our mini-research unit. Students selected their topics and wrote their essential questions yesterday and today, and have started scouring for sources and information. They’ll be doing something different this year – writing an abstract at the end of this week explaining their questions and what sources they are using for their final product.

What is their final product? A newspaper/magazine spread. Our job is to narrow down and decide how we’re going to have students actually create this. Once we figure it out, we’ll share with you.

~Megan

Teaching = Learning

I’m stealing Jenny’s blogging day. 🙂 It turns out, our whole “let’s make a schedule for blogging so we can be more regular in our posting!” idea isn’t necessarily panning out the way we were hoping. But, we have been posting more, so that’s a plus for all parties involved, right?

Last week was a short work week for me, due to being incredibly lucky and being our building’s department representative at the WSRA conference. I left Wednesday after school with another co-worker, and was able to attend all three days of the conference. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to have this amazing opportunity.

After settling in Wednesday night and heading over to register, Thursday morning I was set and ready to roll. Our key note speaker was Sonia Nieto, who spoke about the importance of social justice in the classroom, and being advocates for all of our students. After learning from Sonia, I was off to a session with Jeff Wilhelm on teaching argument writing. Last school year, we did a book study on this topic, so I wanted to continue to learn how to be more effective in teaching this concept. The session flew by, and I learned a TON. I have lots of great ideas that I can’t wait to try out – we’ll be sure to let you know what they are when we try them out.

Then, my afternoon sessions dealt with student writing conferences with Carl Anderson, then I was back with Jeff listening to him speak about “Reading Unbound.” Carl was fantastic. I walked away with some great pointers to make my writing conferences much more effective and more impactful for my students. Jeff’s afternoon session centered around the idea of choice reading in the classroom, and what students learn and the deep thinking they do about social and political issues as they’re reading things like Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, romance novels, and other things that some people look at as “trash.” I was internally fist-pumping during this whole session because this is what Jenny and I have going on in our classrooms! #winning 🙂

Friday I was jittery with excited nerves: I was going to 2 sessions with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels!! Our key note speaker was Lester Laminack, and he was AMAZING. Seriously, I have ideas for an entire post devoted to the things he spoke about. Stay tuned.

Before my afternoon with Smokey, I attended a reading workshop session with Frank Serafini. This was affirmation of previous learning, and I got some great tips on how to incorporate more technology into some of our structures. Then, we hit up the exhibit hall. I came upon the Heinemann booth, and the heavens opened and angels started singing. Seriously, I could have purchased one of every single title they had. But I limited myself to these treasures:

 

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Harvey Daniels’ lit circle mini-lesson book is PHENOMENAL. If you don’t own it, go buy it. Right now. Seriously. Chris Lehman is fantastic (Falling in Love with Close Reading – see above. You NEED this book.), and I’ve been wanting this book of his for awhile. Then, Carl Anderson’s book on conferring with writers – after attending his session, I decided I NEEDED this book.

After checking out the rest of the exhibits, I headed into the ballroom for Smokey’s sessions. I was *that girl* who sat front and center. (In case you’ve missed it, I’m kind of a nerd.) His first session focused on reading carefully and ways we can help our students tackle and be successful with text through scaffolding. He shared some startling statistics about the Common Core as well. Definitely left me pondering these standards in a new way. His second session was about written conversations – these will be happening in our classrooms this week. Such a powerful tool that embraces students’ desires to share with each other, and provides a springboard to collaborative discussions.

Needless to say, my brain is spinning and churning with TONS of new information and strategies. I now need to go back through my notes and make some lists of things I want to try out and incorporate into our lessons. Whew. 

Oh! And I was able to meet and chat with Wisconsin author Angie Stanton. She is so sweet, and I am hoping to set up an author visit for later this school year with her. She gave me a free book, and I purchased another one of her titles. I blew through both, and can’t wait to get them into the hands of some of my students. 🙂

Have a fabulous week!
~Megan

“Obliviate”

Well, our historical fiction and nonfiction book clubs are up and running.  Any given day there are things that excite me, amaze me, and shock me when it comes to my students, their reading lives, and their learning.  Today, I was shocked.

I had a sub yesterday so Megan bore the brunt of set up of the book clubs.  We thought for ease of sub plans (and sanity), our mini-lesson portion of the class would be activating student’s prior knowledge through the use of the trusty old K-W-L chart.  Students would talk through with their book clubs the things they knew about the time period of their books and things they’re hoping to learn.  This would be followed by independent reading and the reading response section of class would be spent discussing things learned.  Sounds easy, right? 

I’ve been teaching for 11 years.  All 11 years have been spent with 7th graders (with a few random years of 8th graders thrown in for good measure).  I COMPLETELY understand that middle school students tend to not remember things they were taught – like it’s erased from their memory with a wave of the wand and the “obliviate” charm.  However, when Megan told me that the vast majority of our students “claimed” they did not know what a K-W-L chart was and that they had seen nothing like it before, I was shocked.  Like, knock me on my hinder kind of shocked.  {insert sigh here}

Like I said, I understand the memory of a middle school student, so what they do and do not remember from past years doesn’t ruffle my feathers too much.  The K-W-L chart is just one of a few examples from this school year, and there’s part of me that is starting to wonder… are we focusing too intently on the “fun” and the “hands on” activities that we’ve forgotten about the foundations?  So, our mission (and we choose to accept it), is to be cognizant of the foundations, help our students activate as much prior (and future) knowledge as possible, and still make it “fun.”  🙂  Happy Tuesday!

The Best Laid Plans

Happy Friday!

During our planning-palooza last Friday, I was all excited – for several reasons. 1, we did a lot of work and accomplished a lot of great things. 2, we set a blogging schedule. Jenny will write Sundays, and I will write Wednesdays. 

See what day it is? Yeah. #bloggingfail

See, here’s the thing. Sometimes, even the plans that we spend time hashing out and laboring over and trashing and replanning don’t happen the way we thought. Story of the week this week. The only thing you can do is pick up your exploded brain-bits, stuff them back in your head, and modify. You have to be flexible. Like a rubber band.

With our two cold days (there was much shaking of my fist at Polar Vortex, Part II, trust me), we had to do some rearranging of the calendar we so carefully laid out last week. This meant shuffling things a bit in order to allow us to still start our book clubs on Monday.

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Our choices for this round of clubs.

The story of our lives this week was reading. Jenny and I each had 6-7 books to read so we could book talk them to our kids before they filled out their ballots with their top choices. Now, I LOVE reading, don’t get me wrong, but even this had me figuring out where I could steal reading minutes to make this happen. 

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My stack of books. Lucky for me, I’ve already read 2.

My life was consumed with reading. And I have to say, I read some AMAZING books this past week. I love history and historical fiction, so this round of clubs is right up my nerdy alley. I’m excited for our kids to dive into their choices this next week and start sampling some of the phenomenal options we have for them. Hopefully, it will open their reading tastes a bit to something new. Not many of my kids choose to read nonfiction, nor historical fiction (trust me, my heart cries at this). 

This week was also very exciting in another way.

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From left: my principal, representative from the Meemic Foundation, superintendent, me, director of curriculum, and assistant principal.

Several months ago, I applied for a grant through the Meemic Foundation to help purchase more books for our classroom library. I found just before Christmas break that I won! It’s hard to say who is more excited – my students or me. 🙂 Yesterday, a representative from the foundation came to do a formal check presentation. It was very exciting to be handed that big check. This next week, we’ll be working on making our shopping list with the hopes of ordering our books by Valentine’s Day. Amazon, here we come!!

This weekend, Jenny and I have to make our book club groups and plan out our mini-lessons for this unit. We’re going to be focusing on independent reading skills (more on that later) and vocabulary skills. It’s going to be a great weekend!

~Megan