Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Symbol Cymbals!

     This year my eighth-grade students are reading Audacity, by Melanie Crowder, and we are looking at the many symbols presented in the novel.  Of course, symbolism's subtlety can cause middle-school students confusion and frustration, so this year I decided to teach symbols with the most un-subtle thing I could find:  CYMBALS!  I borrowed a pair of the finest cymbals from our school's band director (conveniently my husband) and waited for class to start.  As the eighth-graders filed into the room, the shiny cymbals immediately caught their attention.  
     "I want to play the cymbals!"
     "No, I actually know how to play them!  Can I play them?"
     "She gets to play them all the time!  This is my only chance!  I want to play the cymbals!"
     After the initial commotion, the students settled down, eyes fixed on the cymbals at the front of the room.  I explained that the students would be taking turns playing our symbol cymbals, and I chose a student to take the first turn (next time, I will probably use an app to randomly select students).  The student stood at the front of the room as I read from our novel aloud.  During the first class, I asked the symbol cymbal player to clash the cymbals each time he heard something that may be a symbol.  Finding the symbol seemed to put the cymbal player "on the spot" more than he wanted, which was ironic since he wanted to clash loud metal disks together with all of his might and with a classroom full of peers watching.  Still, I decided I needed to adjust for the next group.  For them I put a symbol cymbal player at the front of the room, but had the class find symbols.  Each time they found a symbol and explained its meaning, the cymbal player got to clash the cymbals, and another classmate was able to take his or her place.  This was extra motivation for the class to find a symbol and its meaning, because the more symbols they found, the higher their chance was of getting a turn at playing the cymbals up front.  
     The cymbals probably would not have worked before my students understood what symbolism meant, but my students' problem was not a lack of understanding -- they simply did not notice the symbols because they were not actively searching for them.  Our symbol cymbals helped to draw attention to the symbols as they read, and that was exactly what my kids needed.  
     How do you make symbolism obvious for your students?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Classroom Reveal, 2016

Two weeks into the school year, I have finally surfaced to take a quick breath before delving back into the craziness that is back-to-school season.  I love my job and my students and my classes, but the schedule has been hectic!  I'm learning new curriculum, new programs, new faces, and new names -- all in ten periods per day.  Thankfully, I have been blessed with a beautiful classroom (that mysteriously smells like cinnamon ALL THE TIME), and when the last cars pull away at the end of the day, I can sit in my classroom, play every harp station Pandora has to offer, smell the sweet cinnamon, and get my work done in an almost calming environment.  I'm excited to share this space with you today!

Drum roll . . .

Hello!  I found my desk decor at Hobby Lobby, along with these little rugs that cover up the annoying cords sprawled all over the carpet.  I got two dorm room cubby organizers from Walmart to put on the counter behind me, and that is where I sort my ingoing/outgoing paperwork!  

 This is one of my favorite parts of my classroom!  I found these marquee READ letters at Hobby Lobby, and I made the paper fans on the wall with patterned scrapbooking paper.  My classroom already had these beautiful bookcases and books, and my students choose their independent reading selections from the classroom library!
 My students turn in any paper assignments in these letter trays from Office Depot.  I put a colored binder clip on each letter tray so the students remember where to place their work.  These colors coordinate with the hand-back folders (pictured below).

My grader and I hand back papers in these bins.  Each kid has a folder with his/hername on it, and the students stow their interactive notebooks here when they aren't using them!

I have two bins full of craft supplies for my students, and they used these to personalize their interactive notebooks (I decorated mine first as an example).  I also have a pencil box with glue, scissors, colored pencils, and crayons on each table group in case students leave these at home.

 I have one comfy chair in my classroom, and to win the privilege of sitting in that chair, students have to win a fun challenge related to literature.  For the first week, the chair challenge was to match all of the 7th/8th teachers to their favorite books.  It was a big hit!

 Remember the fast-paced schedule I mentioned?  It is CRAZY.  I think the short class periods are good for middle school attention spans, but I feel like I'm spinning in circles all day long.  I'm slowly starting to acclimate to the ten-period days, and I think I might like them in the long run.  We'll see how it goes!

 I thought this verse was perfect for a middle school classroom.  Hobby Lobby to the rescue again!

 This one too. :)

We had an open house during the second week of school.  I printed out my syllabus, and I splurged on color ink.  I love how they turned out! (Although my first draft said that the students should check the "grade boo" regularly -- very embarrassing!)

 I found this mouse pad on Zazzle!

This bulletin board has fast-food-themed reading strategies students can use during their independent reading time.  I also put up some matching bookmarks, and the kids have already used all of them!  (You can find both the posters and the bookmarks in my TpT store.)

After a couple of weeks of classes, the tables are covered in scissors, books, and glue.  My floors constantly have sticky notes littered across the carpets.  But I love my classroom, and I am so happy to be teaching middle school literature this year!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

It's Lit (erature) Bulletin Board

After meetings and more meetings and meetings about more meetings, I finally had a chance to really work on my classroom today.  Hooray!  I got my class lists, labeled like crazy, got my revised class lists, re-labeled like crazy, and put up a bulletin board I have been anticipating for months!  This bulletin board took a little planning, but was overall a simple and fun task.  Here's how it happened:

1.  During the many meetings, I asked the other teachers in my building to tell me the names of their favorite books.

2.  I searched on Google images for the covers of their favorite books and copied them into a document.

3.  I found all of the staff photos on the school's website, and copied the teachers' pictures into the document with the book covers.

4.  I accidentally printed the document to a building across campus, and when I got there, it had printed double-sided. :(

5.  I re-copied the pages and cut out the book covers and staff photos.

6.  I wrote "IT'S LITERATURE!" in a huge Kimberly Geswein font (KG Second Chances Solid and KG Second Chances Sketch).  I made the "It's Lit" stand out, which made me feel quite clever because my students used that phrase in every other sentence last year!

 7.  I typed a page that says, "Match your teachers with their favorite books!"  I printed this a bit more successfully.

8.  I painstakingly cut out every letter, cover, and photo because I still have not purchased a Cameo Silhouette for my classroom.  (Fingers are crossed for my birthday next month!)

8.  I stapled it all to the board.  Ta da!

It's Lit (erature) Bulletin Board for Middle School English -- Match your teachers to their favorite books!
Can you guess which book is my favorite!?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My Happy Grading Stamp

Hi, my name is Olivia, and I am a red-pen-aholic.  Give me an error-ridden essay and a red pen, and I will make that paper bleed.  My desk looks like the Boston Massacre, and so does every event program, church bulletin, or other piece of print that dares to come my way.  Unfortunately, my inky addiction can hurt those closest to me, including my innocent, well-meaning students.  I know that students need affirmation and positive feedback, but when time is limited, it’s easy to get caught in the pen’s crimson grasp and forget to leave words of encouragement.  This year I ordered a happy yellow stamp to pump up the positive in my feedback.  It says, “You Just Made My Day! –Mrs. Gold,” and while I know this is only a start, I know that I will look for any excuse to stamp my message because it is so bright and cheery!  

 Here’s to hoping my hyper-sensitivity to good work will help me write more meaningful feedback, as well.  What are some fun ways you have found to leave positive feedback?   

Monday, July 25, 2016

Surviving Teacher Orientation

Today marks the beginning of a brand-new school year at a brand-new-to-me school with a brand-new-to-me job.  This year I will teach seventh and eighth grade reading to one hundred and fifty unsuspecting middle schoolers, and I plan to enjoy it thoroughly.  Of all the high school grades, I've always liked teaching freshmen best, and I figure seventh and eighth graders are just extra freshman-y.  Right?

But before the kids show up, we have teacher orientation, which started today.  I knew it might be a long day for those of us not particularly enraptured with blood-borne pathogen statistics and dismemberment insurance policies, so I made this BINGO game pictured below:

Somewhere on Pinterest, I remembered seeing teachers who did this for their school's faculty meetings, and it definitely did keep things interesting.  I gave a copy to my sister-in-law (who also has a brand-new-to-her teaching job) and kept the other copy for myself.  Unfortunately, I failed BINGO miserably because we did not see any new teachers using gel pens and we did hear an educational rap from the mic.  And let me tell you, I didn't think anything could get more awkward than an educational rap about reporting abuse, but then it did when we watched a video of kids hugging each others' knees as they ran in circles, and we were asked to do the same.  Sometimes I wonder what non-teachers do in their meetings.  Like sit?  And talk?  I really cannot even imagine.

How do the rest of you teachers make the time pass during long meetings?  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Washi and the Novel

It's that time of the year again -- the time of year when a big brown box shows up in the front office, packed to the brim with copies of new-smelling novels for my freshman English class.  This year I decided to try something new with my teacher copy because after the first two class periods of our To Kill a Mockingbird unit, I was already driving myself crazy with the constant flipping back and forth, back and forth . . . trying to find students' questions, their favorite quotes, and the wonderful points they brought up in class.  I can easily use bookmarks to hold the place of my favorite quotes and insights, but I thought it might be helpful to find a more subtle way to mark each chapter of the book for future reference.  I have quite the stash of washi tape in my craft collection, so I lined the first page of each chapter with a variety of tapes.  I can now easily flip through the chapters with ease, and I am in love with the new look!

 I first cut a piece of washi tape long enough for the page, then pressed it down and folded it over to the other side.  I let the fold extend about 1/16" from the edge of the page so my fingers can easily find each chapter.  I also love the way this makes the pages look when the book is closed.
Have any other fun ways to section off a book in style?  I would love to hear all about them in the comments!