When Enough is Enough!

From the article: http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/story/_/id/12182194/california-girls-high-school-basketball-coach-suspended-two-games-161-2-win

I just read about the girls high school basketball team in California winning a game by the score of 161-2.  The score was 104-1 at halftime!  The coach left his starters in the game for the first 3 quarters.  He also ran a full-court press until the beginning of the 4th quarter.  The organization overseeing the league where these high schools play has now suspended the coach for “running up the score.”

Hats off to these officials for making this statement about sportsmanship.  This coach apparently approached the coach from the losing team prior to the start of the game and implied that he new his group of girls clearly outmatched the team they were playing.  He basically said he would play his girls hard in the beginning and use this game as a tune up for a more difficult game later in the week.  However, he never seemed to follow through with that.  It appears to me that he truly sent his girls onto the court for the purpose of demoralizing the other team.  All I can do is shake my head when I read that the losing team NEVER made a basket (they made 1 free throw in the first half and another in the second).  I can envision the losing team rarely, if ever, getting the ball past half court…ever.  What lesson is being taught about how to win?  We always hear about the importance of learning how to lose and how to accept a loss, but what about the importance of “winning with grace.”

Poetry Time

I’ve always found teaching poetry difficult when it comes to middle schoolers.  It’s not only the “Standard” or the “Collab” students who tend to turn up their noses at the mere mentioning of Frost or Dickinson or Hughes.  Even those who excel in school look for shortcuts and view the study of poetry much the same as a bad cold.  Many simply tell themselves they will suffer through it and sit back to wait for it to be over.  I’ve tried very hard this year to showcase the connection between poetry and modern music.  I’ve also mixed in student-created poetry with poetry analysis from both classical and non-classical poems.  In some instances, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see students take a more in-depth look at the lyrics to a favorite song and find a deeper understanding over words that merely toe-tapping material before.

I was surprised today when students received an assignment geared towards providing a measure of where they were after most of a week spent on the subject of poetry.  This was somewhat of a “performance task” where students were analyzing found poems using a graphic organizer I previously synthesized from a couple of different sources and creating an original.   Students would then share one of their “found” poems and their original poem in a “poetry slam” or “coffee house” setting. Students were given a deadline of this coming Friday.  As students began collecting their thoughts and started looking for poems using multiple sources, I received my first indication that there may be some “push-back”.  In the written “Poetry Share Project” guidelines, it states that the poems have to be a minimum of 10 lines.  Quite a few students asked if they could use poems they found that were less than ten lines long.

On “Poetry Slam” Day, (the day students shared at least 1 poem they found and another they wrote), I was pleasantly surprised to see how many truly took this assignment to heart.  While some were lacking that certain “depth” you tend to see in personal poetry, others clearly used poetry and an opportunity to truly express themselves and how they felt.  It was uplifting to see one student share in the sorrow she felt towards her parents’ divorce, or the joy one found for merely being on a baseball field.  (It was also clear that students overwhelmingly enjoy the works of Shel Silverstein as MANY analyzed his poems).

Utopian Society Creation Project

Recently, my Adv/Hon class completed an assignment where they were to create a “Utopian Society”.  This performance task was given after reading the novel The Giver.  These were the instructions:

What is the system you set up in the world? Describe:
 Your system of laws, rules, and punishments
 Your system of how people are educated
 Your system for finding and choosing leaders, and how the government runs
 Your social system & how people raise families, and find enjoyment
Those four things will be the biggest part of your planning. But you can also think of city plans, music,
sports, and anything else you want to.
What will the final project look like?
It has to include lots of information about how your world works…
• It might be a poster, with pictures and text.
• It might be a story or diary entry, as long as it tells all of the information above.
• Be creative, as well as informative. You need the information and content; the style is up to you.
• You will present your project orally to the class in a creative way.

Students were allowed to work in groups of no more than 4.  While they were given SOME class time to put together their documentation and presentations, most sought out additional time (some got together after school at a group member’s house). 

While they were not told to do so (or even given the hint to do so) most groups incorporated different aspects from the novel into their newly created societies.  I was extremely please at the depth that most groups went into when determining their community’s law structure (and punishment for breaking laws), the formation of government, and the way jobs would be distributed.  Groups really worked well together and were quite creative.  While many chose to put together traditional Power Point displays to share out their info, groups also included videos and animations.  One group chose to write a “diary” from the perspective of different people living in their community which came across as well-thought-out and authentic. 

Bookless Libraries: A Skyping Session with Texas



Recently, our Media Specialist, Sarah Severs approached me with an offer to Skype with a librarian in San Antonio, Texas.  The new public library there, Bibliotech, has the distinction of being the country’s first public library to go “book-less.”  The idea was that I would include my 7th grade advanced/honors language arts class would be part of the cross-country conversation.

A Natural Connection to Research

I immediately realized that in order for my students to be active participants in the conversation, they needed to develop a sense of ownership and truly believe their input to be valuable, they needed to become knowledgeable.  This allowed me to make the research process they worked on earlier in the year much more real and practical now.  Using their internet searching skills, students easily found information on the specific library as well as other places who were considering going the same route as Bibliotech.  As they read, they developed questions that were leading and higher order.  At first, they simply recorded any and all questions with little regard to wording.  Students then got in groups and chose the ones they felt were best.  Then, as a class, we worked on editing the best questions and students volunteered to ask the questions during the interview.

Fieldtrip To Texas

Catarina Velasquez, Community Relations Liaison for the library, first lead us on a guided, virtual fieldtrip of the facilities.  We immediately noticed the enormous amount of open space (obviously due to the lack of bookshelves).  We were all very impressed with this immaculate facility.  It was apparent San Antonio spared little expense as everything seemed to be done on a much grander scale.  It’s certainly not your mother’s library!  From the interactive 40 inch touchscreen monitors that are set up for younger children to the gaming area complete with multiple x-box consoles to the computer lab boasting 28 inch monitors attached to 48 Macs that allow the user to switch between Apple’s operating system and Windows.  Of course, as Ms. Velasquez continued her tour, many students were still stuck on the idea of being able to play video games at the library!

A Look Into the Future

As we were debriefing, students and teachers alike began to toss around the ways in which we could incorporated some of the amenities into our school media centers.  One thing getting lots of attention was the ability to “check out” books without an actual trip to the library, something our local public library now incorporates.  Overwhelmingly, the conclusion was reached that whatever path we follow, much thought and consideration should be placed on remember that not everyone learns in the same way.  Many students shared they still enjoy the “comfort” of reading a book the traditional way and they would not want that option to be completely taken away.  I have to agree, although there are many benefits of going partially digital as well.

Co-Teaching Blahs

Co-teaching, in its very basic definition, can be defined to mean a true sharing of all aspects of teaching a particular class in which two certified teachers are assigned.  However, many view this differently and, over my 11 years of teaching these classes, this method has taken on many different forms.  It takes a special relationship between two teacher to make this work the way it “should”.  It is not a simple undertaken and both teachers have to take ownership.  The regular education teacher must be willing to let go of their “authority” and surrender some of the control that teachers who teach alone in other classes typically have.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done.  Good co-teaching, like most things, takes times.  There are many trials and errors; many things that you attempt that simply don’t work.  In many cases, it’s a “trial by fire” and each situation is different.  Teachers who teach together have to find that “balance” and work hard to develop a working relationship built on trust and respect.  Again, this is not always easy.  Often times, teachers don’t have the willingness to SHARE.  I don’t mean that in a negative way, necessarily.  Again, some possess the personality that is conducive to working on a constant, scheduled basis.  Others, find this as too much added stress and simply have moments when they shut down and isolate themselves from their teaching partner.  It becomes so very important that school administration must strive to seek out those who work well with others in all facets of managing a classroom and match them with special education teachers who are prepared to share the responsibilities in a classroom.

Booktalk Project

For the 2nd and 3rd 9-weeks, we asked students to create a “Booktalk” based on a book they read outside of class.  For my Adv./Hon class, students were required to read a biography/autobiography (which was approved by the teacher).  Students were given a “checklist” (posted to Blackboard) that gave the requirements.  Students were given the option of choosing the way they wanted to share the information.  Students could do a traditional “book report”, create a video, do a podcast, develop a Prezi, Glogster page, animation, or something they find (with approval).  As long as all of the information was shown, they could use it!

The idea behind this is to create a “reason” for students to read recreationally, as many tend to be reluctant readers.

Some things of note regarding this assignment:

  • Student participation increased dramatically during the 3rd 9-weeks
  • The number of students bringing books to us for approval that didn’t meet criteria (many of these were less than 50 total pages) decreased
  • The most reluctant readers continue to struggle with this assignment.  Despite input and help offered, there was often an excuse when time was given in class to work on this.  (“forgetting their book at home” and having technology issues were common excuses)
  • Students were more willing to try different types of technology as a means of “presenting” their project during the 3rd 9-weeks than the 2nd.
  • My Adv/Hon class did a good job of finding biographies of people that were not stereotypical of the interests of most 7th graders.  They took great pleasure in this.

Finally, by requiring students to post their project on their blog, it made their blogs more realistic. 

Newsela (Newsela.com)

One of my favorite things about working at Burley Middle School is the way the teachers share information, strategies, lesson plans…..anything they come across they find success with in their classrooms. 

Recently, a teacher mentioned the website Newsela.com.  Brian and I decided to give it a trial run in our classes.  This website posts news articles from reputable news agencies which are “kid-friendly” and, along with many articles, students can take a “quiz” (consisting of 4 multiple choice questions aligned pretty well with our standards).  A very nice feature of this website allows the teacher to choose the lexile level of both the article AND the quiz questions.  It scores each quiz and provides a layout of all student work.  

After using the program and hearing from students, we have used it regularly.  Instead of making it a routine homework assignment as other teachers have, we have used it exclusively as a do-now assignment.This program has been very valuable.  It promotes reading for reading’s sake and the site does a wonderful job of providing articles that can be a little challenging but also appeal to the interests of students.

We have had many occasions where we were able to use Newsela articles as part of extended class activities which included class discussion, philosophical chair-type activities, and short research assignments using the internet. 

Newsela also has created multiple “teachable moments” by showing students how being persistent, being willing to re-read, and reading the questions closely makes a huge difference.  We have seem many reluctant readers make huge strides in not only their scores, but in their attitudes regarding reading!