Tuesday, July 17, 2018

3 Reasons to Embrace Socratic Seminar

Socratic Seminar is such a powerful tool to use with your students.  Once you teach them a few rules about how to engage with each other, you will love the thinking that comes out of your students' heads.  I love the way it gets kids thinking about and discussing text!

Give students a passage to read a few days ahead of time with the explicit direction that it must be completely read or else they don't get to participate in the discussion.  You can give them questions to think about or with some instruction, have them come up with questions that require text evidence.

On the day of the Socratic Seminar, we review that students should talk like they're having a conversation.  They don't raise hands and they don't wait for someone to tell them when to speak.  They respectfully wait for someone to finish speaking before speaking; sometimes two or more people will speak at the same time and we discuss what to do, and then we're pretty much ready to go.

In the beginning, students will wait for you to start them.  I sit in the circle with them and stay quiet.  Eventually, someone gets uncomfortable and starts the discussion. Then, watch your students go!

Why give up all the control and let students lead the discussion?

#1 - Kids get to to hear other kids process out loud
The power of kids learning from kids shouldn't be underestimated.  I am stunned at how much students appreciate hearing other kids think aloud.  Hearing someone take a stand, and then watching that person's viewpoint change because of new evidence presented by someone else - that's powerful stuff!  And you see kids nodding their heads in agreement, so you know they're on board with this new information, too.

#2 - Collaboration builds confidence
Many students say they look at text differently after these discussions.  There are nuances they notice now that they didn't before.  They feel less intimidated about answering questions in class because, especially after a Seminar, they see how much they can add on to each others' ideas and how safe that kind of collaboration feels.

#3 - You want them digging into the text, right?
Observe the discussion as one student stops, eyes racing up and down the paper to find the exact text evidence wanted.  Suddenly, someone else who is searching finds it, and now everyone is paying closer attention to text, and even marking it as they listen to others' points of view.  You will see attention to detail that you don't always see.

And the best part?  Students will tell you, in one way or another, that while it's helpful to learn from you, it makes so much more of an impact when they learn from each other.

Give it a try!  There are lots of wonderful resources out there to get you started.  One of the best ones I found is here.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Take a Shelfie: House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Have you ever done something that you thought would help someone?  Only the thing you did went all wrong?  Maybe, because you hadn't really thought it through.  Maybe because it was impulsive and stupid?  And now you regret it so, so, so much?

That's the circumstance that got Timothy on house arrest in the book by the same name by K.A. Holt.  Timothy's not a bad kid; he just made a stupid decision and he can't even tell you what he was thinking about when he did it.

In this novel-in-verse, written in 1st person, you learn about everything that changed when Levi, his little brother was born.  Levi, who couldn't breathe and needed a tracheotomy.  Levi, whose father couldn't handle this new life and left the family.  Levi, who needed nurses to care for him while his mother worked.  Levi, whom Timothy tried to hate.  But how can you hate a little baby?

This fast-paced book is filled with the dramatic realities that a new baby with physical needs places on a family.  Especially a family reeling from their father/husband leaving.  Timothy needs to keep a journal, required by the court, and that's where you learn what he's thinking and how hard he's trying to help out.  Even when it means stealing someone's wallet.

You can find my novel study guide for this book on TpT.

If you want to read my review of the book Restart, click here.

You can find the link to the book on amazon below.  (I am an amazon affiliate, so if you purchase the book through me, I earn a couple of pennies.)

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Take A Shelfie: Restart by Gordon Korman

If you could make yourself over - starting from scratch - what would you change about yourself?

That's the underlying premise of this Gordon Korman novel, except that Chase doesn't get a choice.  He falls off the roof.  In addition to a concussion and a separated left shoulder, he's got amnesia.

Which means he doesn't remember what a jerk he used to be.  How he, and his two best friends, Bear and Aaron, used to terrorize the entire school using their football-playing skills against any weaker students.  As he learns about his previous behavior, the "new" Chase is horrified, but understandingly, finds few people who trust that he's changed for the long term.

Especially Shoshona Weber, whose twin brother Joel is now attending a boarding school, having suffered horribly at the hands of Chase and his cronies the previous year.  Until she and Chase start working together on a video project for a national competition.

Although there is a happier ending, the characters don't get there without some struggles, rejection, and self-doubt.  There are just enough twists and turns in the plot and in character development to make this book interesting to both boys and girls.  With the exception of Chase's father who felt a little one-dimensional to me (which made his change at the end less convincing) the other characters are pretty believable.

I think your upper elementary and middle grade students will enjoy this book!  If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  (I am an amazon affiliate, so if you purchase the book through this link, I earn a few pennies.)

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

3 reasons to use Project Based Learning in your classroom

The enthusiasm.  When your students are excitedly chattering about what they're working on.  When you take them to the Makerspace.  When they listen to song lyrics.  When they give each other suggestions about how to improve their projects.  When they're laying on the floor, coloring on posters.  When they listen to an expert talk about the things they need to consider.  When they're totally engrossed in what they're doing.

Those are the first thoughts that come to my head when I think about Project Based Learning.  This past year, I gave my students a project that I wasn't sure how they'd feel about.  It was poetry, after all, and you know how most 6th graders feel about poetry.

At first.


This is the biggie.  You introduce the concepts.  You give them the background knowledge.  You make sure they understand the parameters.  And how to use the graphic organizers.  And then you set them free.  Prepare to be blown away!  Students will go into creative mode and give you more than you'd expect, in ways you wouldn't expect.

I let my students use song lyrics as part of their "My Life in Poetry" project (coming soon to TpT!)  They had to use at least one poem.  Most wrote their own.  One student sang.

Jaw on floor.

Critical Thinking

Students gave me a similar reaction to mythology.  "I like Percy Jackson but that's it."  

"I don't like myths or fables."

Really?  What if you could write your own?  

Guidelines, parameters, and graphic organizers later, they presented their original nature myths to the class.  Some were in costume.  Others created the god/goddess/supernatural creature.  Some created movies and others acted them out.

You know how some kids feel about writing?  Most had created a myth that developed their plot line, had character development, and resolved the conflict in a way that made sense.  Well done by them!  My myth project is on TpT.

Collaboration and Engagement

As every teacher knows, students working in groups can be a joy or a frustration.  We let 82 students pick 1 or 2 partners to work on the creation, design, menu planning, history of, and food preparation for their restaurant.  
The students hosted a Restaurant Fair that allowed them to provide bite-sized tastes of food - and showcase their work - to their parents, administrators, teachers, and friends.  You can find that project here.

Play around a little with PBL projects.  You don't need to do anything massive, you can just tip your toes in the water.  There are lots of ideas floating around on Pinterest, Facebook, and on TpT.

Have a great week!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Subtle (and not so subtle) racism in our classrooms

Roseann Barr made the news a few weeks ago by comparing an African-American woman to a monkey.  That got me thinking about the kinds of things we hear and correct, or hear and let go in our classrooms.  How should we respond to them?

 We were walking off a field, having just finished a game of kickball.  A young boy went to pick up his sweatshirt, but someone accidentally stepped on it.  "Oh great, now my sweatshirt's been stepped on by a fag" he muttered.

I hesitated.  It was almost the end of school year.  Should I ruin his day? 
But what about the kid for whom the comment was intended?

And so I pulled him aside.  "I heard a comment you made a few minutes ago."  He looked up and said, "Yeah, that wasn't a good word to choose."  He admitted his mistake. 
Was that enough?

"You know," I said, "You talk a lot about God and honor, and I know Scouting is an important part of your life."  At this, the tears started to flow.  "I'm not yelling at you, but I am telling you that as a kid who honors these values, that word is disgusting.  It has no place in your vocabulary.  Please stop using it.  I know you have a lot to deal with right now (he's had a recent traumatic experience) and you're allowed to feel angry, really angry.  But even with that, this word has no place coming out of your mouth."

Talking to him reminded me of this well-known story:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, 
"It made a difference for that one.” 

The conversations have to be had, whether at the beginning, the middle or the end of the school year.  Let's turn our students into citizens we would be proud of!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

End of the Year Sales on TpT!

It's the final sale of the 2017-2018 school year for those of us in North America.  Get what you need for the end of this year.  Stock up on next year.  And buy a few fun fonts and some great clip art along the way.  If you're like me, before you know it, you've spent way more money than you thought you would....

Click on the picture to go to my store.

P.S.  Special thanks to CrunchyMom for creating the banner!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five books your 6th (and 7th and 8th) graders will love!

"Noooo!  Don't stop!" 

Music to my ears.  

I try to make time - about ten minutes - at the end of every class to read aloud to my students.  I mix up genres, read different books to each of my three classes, and sometimes, when I don't get to read a book aloud, I talk about it so that it gets read and passed around by some of my 6th graders.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

I had to smile when the younger brother of one of my former students came into my classroom on the first day of school and asked, "When can I check out Michael Vey?  My brother said that was the best book ever!"

I've read this book for the last three or four years and it never fails to engage even the most reluctant readers.  Michael has electric powers, which he needs to keep secret.  But he's small, and he gets bullied a fair amount, and so it's hard to keep his temper under wraps.  One particularly fateful day, he blows up when some bullies try to pants him and he shocks them.  That should keep them from bothering him again, right?  True.  Except that someone saw him do it.

A very popular girl.  Who might have some secrets of her own.

The first few chapters take place at a high school in Idaho, but from there, Michael, Taylor, Ostin, Jack, and Wade take on the impossible.  This is pure David and Goliath with some good science fiction thrown in.  With both male and female protagonists and antagonists, this fast-paced ride will be greatly enjoyed!  This book is the first in a series of seven.

The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle

I found this book in the library a few weeks ago and was drawn in by the title.  Before I knew it, still standing where I found it, I was several chapters in.

Mason Buttle is a kid who struggles mightily in school and thinks of himself as pretty stupid.  He had a best friend, Benny Kilmartin, but Benny died a year ago.

In Mason's family's apple orchard.  Climbing out of the tree fort that he and Mason had built.

Lieutenant Bird shows up at Mason's house on a regular basis, but Mason's already told him everything he knows.  And he doesn't understand why the police officer keeps stopping by for more information.  Mason's already told him everything that happened.

A new boy moves into the neighborhood (shades of Freak the Mighty here.) Calvin is tiny, smart, and curious.  As he and Mason become friends and endure the bullying of neighborhood boys, they decide to create their own safe space, in an old root cellar.

But one day, Calvin goes missing.  And Mason finds himself in more hot water than he'd every imagined.

I think what I loved most about this book was how honest and true Mason's voice was.  Written in first person, I felt like I could see and understand everything Mason was trying to come to grips with.  This is a heartbreaking, lovely book about a resilient kid with more talents than he realizes!


I had seen movie trailers for this book a few years ago, and while it sounded really interesting, I just wasn't sure I could stomach the visuals.  

The book grabs you in the gut!  A defiant child, Louie Zamperini stole, broke into houses, and got into regular fights.  Upon the advice of his brother, he channels his energy into something more positive, and begins to run.  He was fast enough to compete in the 1940 Olympics in Berlin.  When the United States entered World War II, Louie joined the Air Force, becoming a bombadier flying missions over the Pacific Ocean.  On the day his plane had mechanical failure and crashed into the ocean, only he and two others survived, on a raft.  A raft that floated in the ocean for a month and a half.  Dealing with leaping sharks, starvation, and thirst, he was beside himself when he eventually drifted toward a nearby island.

Where the worst horror he could imagine came true.  

Zamperini became a Prisoner of War at  several Japanese war camps; at the final one, an evil prison guard especially seemed bent on breaking him.  With guts, a strength that he pulled up from somewhere, and a sense of humor, he survived.

This book is not an easy read, although it is hard to put down!  (I read the Young Adult version.)


I loved that this book was told in verse.  And that it was told in first person, so you could get into Grace's head.  It is eye-opening for students to read, as they learn about how Missus and Master treat Grace, who begins working in the big house.  

Grace knows the difference between right and wrong, and she knows their treatment is wrong.  But she's promised Uncle Jim and Mama that she'll keep her head down and do her job.  That gets increasingly harder to do, until one day, Grace speaks up.

And puts herself and her family into great danger.

So great that they need to run away that night.  Facing wild animals and slave traders is only part of the battle.  Not knowing whether they will get to safety is the other.  Based on true stories of slaves who fled into the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina, this was another book that was hard to put down!  I bought it, and it hasn't sat on my shelves for more than a day or two before another student begins reading it.


This book, like Unbroken, has a movie tie-in, and is a Young Reader's Edition.  I saw trailers for this one, too, and found it interesting, but just never got around to watching it.  When I saw the book at the bookstore one day, I decided to give it a try.

Oh my!  

Saroo is a five-year old boy growing up in poverty in India, with his mother, two other brothers and a younger sister.  It wasn't uncommon there for children to play alone, or for him to be left at home to watch his younger sister while his mother worked.

One day, wanting to be around his older brother more, the two go to a neighboring town, where Guddu tells Saroo to wait for him at the train station.  Nothing about this was unusual.  Saroo had done this many times before.  Tired, he fell asleep, but when he woke up later in the day, he had no idea where his brother was.  Thinking he might have boarded the train, Saroo got on, and inadvertently traveled across the country, ending up in Calcutta.  

Barely able to speak, at age five, he survived for several weeks before he was taken to an orphanage where, after several months, he was adopted by an Australian couple.  He grew up in a wonderful home, but never lost the desire to find his family.

And so he does, 25 years later; studying Google Maps satellite images for hours at a time for months and years, he eventually finds familiar scenery.  And learns that his name was really Sheru, and the area he thought he was from, Ginestlay, was actually Ganesh Talai.

You get so caught up in Saroo's quest, and as a mom, I had my heart in my throat as he navigated his way around the country.  As a five year old!  His adoptive parents are wonderful, and with mixed feelings, support Saroo's journey to India to reconnect with his biological family.