Treading Water

I am currently being serenaded by the sounds of students typing away on their final paper for our dystopian unit. Music to my ears? Almost. A sign of focused, determined students? Without a doubt. The kids are really working hard on this assignment, which with our modified standards-based grading, will be the equivalent of four test grades. I’m incredibly proud of them, as this was a huge undertaking. We broke it down for them into sections, and introduced one section at a time, which made the task more manageable for them (at least, that’s what it seems like to me, the casual observer).

Their paper is due tomorrow, and with the deadline brings the start of our next unit: narrative writing. You may want to look out your window, because pigs may actually be flying. Why? We are planned out through this week!!! This is very exciting, and it’s the first time it’s happened this year. I’m hoping we can use this momentum to keep propelling us forward. It’s nice to not feel that “WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY?!?!?!” in the morning.

Personally, I had a little bit of a freak-out last week. It was one of those moments where I was thinking about everything I have to do this year (Teacher Effectiveness, building goals, district goals, PDP for re-certification…plus, oh yeah, that wedding thing that’s happening in SIX MONTHS) and I hit overload. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to go down to my principal, share my freak-out, and get direction/feedback on what to prioritize. That conversation was immensely helpful. I’m feeling a bit better, although the PDP piece is kind of like a dark cloud hanging over my head. It will all get done, and all will be well.

Also…Thanksgiving is two weeks away…how and when did that happen??




We have jumped into our dystopian book club unit! Originally, our plan was to essentially replicate what we did last year because of the success we had with it. However, we had some realizations that made us make some revisions.

One, our students are October seventh graders and not April seventh graders. Believe it or not, there’s a big difference between the two. We didn’t feel that they were quite ready for full-on book discussion “days” at this point – which is okay, because they haven’t been taught those skills yet. With this realization, we knew that we had to make a change. Instead of having 2 discussion days per week, they are discussing daily for about 5-10 minutes. The routine goes something like this: group discussion based on the previous day’s mini-lesson; new mini-lesson; apply mini-lesson while reading. It seems to be going okay thus far.

Two, we didn’t want to scare our kids by going full-on Seilahria. Last year, we covered our bulletin boards with black plastic tablecloths, took down non-essential posters/decorations, and made our classrooms look very dystopian. We enforced our newly imposed classroom rules on them, rewarded students with “dystopian dollars” that they could redeem for a variety of privileges (that we had taken away), and “punished” students by having them wipe desks/pick up trash from the floor/etc. This year, we introduced the rules, but that’s about it. As we reflect, we realize that part of the reason kids were so involved in this unit last year was because of all those extra things we did. So, I anticipate re-instating dystopia in a more full-scale way next year.

Three, our kids needed to find their reading “spark.” Many of these kiddos are reluctant readers, and our hope was for dystopia to get them reading. For some of them, it has done just that. However, the question we’re asking right now is: Is this too early in the year? There is a lot of maturing that happens each year in middle school, and this may be a unit that needs to happen later because of that. 

Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that the unit isn’t going well – it is! It’s just…different this year, which is to be expected. Right now, the job is to keep them excited about their books, while figuring out how to make it even better next year.


Doggie Paddling

It’s October. Which is kind of crazy, because I’m not entirely sure where September went. This school year is very different from years past – for a variety of reasons. More days than not, Jenny and I feel like we’re just barely keeping our heads above the water. The stress level is definitely high, but knowing that what we’re doing is what is best for our students is getting us through.

One of the new things we took on this year as a district is attempting to implement Curriculum Companion, which is a scope and sequence for teaching the Common Core Standards. We’re finding that the timing we originally planned was way off, which is due to us also taking on the workshop model. There are routines and expectations that need to be taught and practiced, which is what filled the majority of September. We needed our seventh graders to be on the MorningsideDuo train – and that is taking some time.

Now that we have those routines, procedures, and expectations down (well, for the most part anyway), we were able to dive in to some of our planned content. We’re starting our year with a focus on dystopian literature – a huge passion for both Jenny and I. This week, we worked on objective summaries with the short stories “The Lottery” and “Harrison Bergeron.” Kids are begging us for some stories with sunshine and unicorns that poop butterflies (their words, not ours!). 🙂 They are starting to make the connections to characteristics of dystopian societies, which is awesome! We can’t wait to launch our book club unit on them.

The book club unit is going to be awesome, and it’s what our kids need. Our students this year are largely reluctant readers, and seeing the results of the unit last year has us hoping that dystopia will help light their reading fires.

While we wait for that unit launch, we are continuing to work on Fisher-izing our classrooms, conference with students about their reading, work with Curriculum Companion, and keep our own heads on straight.