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Monday, May 30, 2016

Reflecting with Google Forms

The end of the school year is quickly approaching, and no major milestone is complete without a little reflection!

This year I embarked on the Great Paperless Quest of 2016, which is just a goofy way of saying that I hate dealing with paper. I've tried to approach everything this year through a paperless (or at least as-paperless-as-possible) lens, so when it came time for the obligatory end-of-year reflection activity, I naturally turned to my trusty friend Google Forms.

I compiled a list of questions for my students to fill out via Forms, which prompts them to reflect on their year while also providing me with valuable insight from all different perspectives. I encouraged my students to be honest while writing their responses and reminded them that they don't have to include their names (but many of them did, which was lovely).

In the end, I have a spreadsheet that is equal parts hilarious, interesting and insightful -- complete with some really great tips for next year and those weird things only middle schoolers would say (such as describing ELA with the adjectives "chunky" and "tasty"). 

Here are the questions I included this year:
- What was your favorite unit in language arts this year? Why?
- What was your least favorite unit in language arts this year? Why? What changes could make it better?
- What was your favorite part of this class? Why?
- What was the most challenging part of language arts for you this year? Why?
- What is one thing you've learned in this class? 
- In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements: reading or writing? Please explain your thinking.
- What is one thing you've accomplished this year that you're particularly proud of? (Doesn't have to be ELA related)
- As a teacher, is there anything I could have done differently to help you or make your experience in this class better? Please explain. (*I was nervous to include this question but I'm so glad I did. The responses were honest and so thoughtful.)
- What advice would you give to students who will be in this class next year? 
- Describe your experience in language arts this year using three adjectives.
- Final thoughts (optional)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Super Hero Week

I feel that people always have some preconceived notion about middle school. They are smelly. They are rude. And they are too old for themed units. While the first two may be true occasionally, I have found that my students LOVE themed units when they are used as a treat and break from the normal routine.

Last year, around winter break, my 8th graders asked me if we could do some fun stuff like watch some Marvel movies. I told them that we would only get to do superhero stuff if it was in conjunction with some math lessons. I truly did not expect the positive reaction I received from the students!! Them immediately began thinking of ideas and ways that math could tie into superheroes. They practically planned out the entire Super Hero Week with me just finalizing their plans! And that is how our 1st annual Super Hero Week was born.

The students loved the 2014-2015 Super Hero Week so much that they began planning this year's Super Hero Week as soon as the last finished. We held this year's Super Hero Week last week as a break since we finished our state assessments the week before. It was a huge success again this year and will become an annual staple in my classroom from now on.

To prepare for Super Hero Week, we went up to the school on Sunday to decorate. My darling husband assisted with the decorating since he is almost a foot taller than I am. He is a trooper!! We had everything ready to go for Monday morning so that it was a surprise for my students.

These signs are in my hallway leading up to my room. "The fate of...the world...RESTS..."

"In your hands."

A peek into my classroom...

On Monday, we did a lesson involving the Flash. I wish that I had done better at taking pictures of the students doing the lessons. We went outside and clocked each student running a marked distance on the sidewalk. When we filled up our time boxes, we went back inside and calculated the mean, median, mode, and range of their times.

On Tuesday, we did a Wonder Woman logic puzzle. I used the summer logic puzzle created by Lindsay Perro found here. It was tough for my resource students to figure out, but I ended up with one student diving the puzzle by the end of the day. However, they all enjoyed getting to think outside of the box and do something different. 

On Wednesday, we used Batman as our theme. The students had a Batman bouncy ball that they had to bounce and hit targets with. Each student got to bounce twice. We kept record of how many targets they hit with their two bounces. Once all of the boxes were filled, we went back to the classroom and calculated our percent of accuracy. Using that percentage, they then had to figure out how many time Batman expects to hit his target if he threw it 150 times.

My darling husband made these awesome Batman targets for us to use.

 Every student got a chance to bounce the ball towards the targets.

The students on the side were in charge of catching the balls so they would not bounce down the hallway.

Even my principal got in on the action!!

On Thursday, we deviated from the superhero idea a bit and used the Joker as our theme. Each student had a whiteboard to complete the math problems on. If you got the answer correct, you stepped a pace forward. If the Joker caught up to you because you got too many wrong, then you were out. If you beat the Joker to the bat cave, then you were safe. Those that made it to the bat cave in time got to have a reward at the end of the day.

On Friday, we made Aquaman baggie ice cream. The kids were enjoying themselves so much that I forgot to take pictures. The students has to measure out all of the ingredients after calculating how much we would need from the original recipe. From there, we took the ice cream outside in baggies to shake. When the ice cream was ready, we poured into ciups and I let the student pick out toppings to put on.

This was his favorite phrase this school year in math.

If you are unsure of what to do in you classroom after state assessments, think about doing a themed week. It is a lot of work and prep, but the students truly enjoy it. It is such a nice break for them after the weeks of stress they have been through right before that. It also ensures students are on their best behavior because they are not allowed to participate in ice cream on Friday if they misbehaved anytime in my room that week. 

What are some things you implement in your own classroom after state assessments?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Make the Days Count!

We're counting down to the last day of school, but how about we make the days count instead?

We're all counting down the days until summer break, but what about making the days count?  When I asked my students what that might mean, they said making the days worth it.  So then I asked what would you suggest?
This is what they came up with:

I asked the students how we could make our last days of school count!  This is what they came up with...
I asked the students how we could make our last days of school count!  This is what they came up with...

I asked the students how we could make our last days of school count!  This is what they came up with...
I thought many of these ideas were spectacular!  So as soon as our tests are done, I'm going to make 
the days count with THEIR ideas!  

I envision a great service project where we can combine several of the ideas listed above.  How can we help kids this summer?  Perhaps we can spread the word about the free summer programs and free lunch program in our area by making some posters.  And maybe we can make them outside using some poster paint.  

Whatever we do, we'll be filling our days with things that matter and hopefully that will make all the difference!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, May 16, 2016

End of Year Activities

Hi there everyone!  I'm Lyndsey, from Lit with Lyns!  The light at the end of the tunnel... We've entered the countdown to that beautiful time we call, SUMMER VACATION!!!  I never thought the day would get here!  Year after year I find myself scrounging for ways to keep my students engaged in these final days--something to keep them from bouncing off the walls-- or at least keep their bounce to a minimum. 

This year, as we're moving more and more close into a paperless (or somewhat paperless) classroom, I decided to create an End of Year Student Reflection for the Google Drive. The End of Year Student Reflection is a great way to give students the opportunity to reflect on their year, as well as to provide feedback on what they liked and didn’t like in both specific classes and school in general.
For those of you who aren't open to do this digitally, I also have a printable version of this activity, which can be found here.
With both of these, students have the opportunity to think about what they liked, what they would like to do have done better, what they hope to accomplish in the future, etc. This also gives them a little break from the day to day school work that they're used to, which also helps them to enjoy what they are doing. 

We would love to hear about your end of the year activities!  Share your ideas in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Year-end Self Assessments

Assess much?!  

Of course you do!  Formative, summative, state testing, completing student progress this time of year, you are probably feeling rather "assessed out."

However, there is one more assessment you that will provide you with a wealth of information about yourself, your students, and how you can improve your teaching:  self-assessments.

We assess our students, the state or another standardized test assesses our students, but what about allowing them to assess themselves?  Middle school students (as we are so keenly aware) have opinions!  And they appreciate the opportunity to express them.  When you provide your students with a chance to step back and honestly look at what they've accomplished this year, they will discover that they actually did learn something this year!

Looking Back

I set aside a class period to allow students to reflect on what they've accomplished this year.  Begin with a class brainstorming session.  What were the big concepts they learned?  What writing assignments or projects did they complete?  What goals did students work toward?  What special skills did they focus on this year?  What new technology did they learn or use?  What review games or activities did you use?  Encourage students to refer to their planners to jog their memories -- and create a big list on your board.  (It is helpful if you create your own list ahead of time to help them remember!)

If your students kept portfolios or journals, give them time to look through their work.  One year, I had a student hold up a paper that she'd written at the beginning of the year and exclaim, "I can't believe I wrote that!"  She could see that her writing skills had improved!

Once you have your list and students have looked through journals or portfolios, provide them with a list of questions.  You can use the questions I've created in my free year-end resource, or you can create your own list.  I wanted my questions to be positive, so I stayed away from questions like "What did you like the least?" (Why are those the questions that are always so easy to answer?!)

Why This Works

1.  Students respond really well to this.  You think you might get some unkind comments since it's anonymous, but students appreciate the opportunity to give you an opinion.  This is especially nice for the quiet students who may never complain or compliment. This is a way for all students to speak their minds. 

2.  Students can stop and look at how they've grown.  This little activity provides a wealth of self-confidence -- like my student who couldn't believe the difference between her writing at the beginning and end of the year.

3.  This helps me plan for the next year.  We can usually tell when an assignment is a bomb or the students really hate something, but we often don't know what they enjoyed.  

4.  The list you will create during the brainstorming session alone will give you a tremendous boost.  Take a picture of it and send it home to parents in a year-end email!  Your students worked hard this year! Share that picture with your administrators as well, and save it to share for next year's "meet the teacher" night!  

What's Next?

You probably have done your own self-evaluations in preparation of teacher evaluations with your administrator.  Consider completing your own year end self-assessment that is for your eyes only.  You can use the one I have in my free year-end resource if you like, or just take out a sheet of paper and write down what went well this year and what you'd like to change next year.  

Tuck that self-eval in your desk or planning book -- or somewhere else you'll find next fall when you return to your classroom.  It's like sending a message to your future self!!

Plato said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."  And certainly, both students and educators will benefit by taking time to examine what we've done, how we've grown, and where we can improve.   

Enjoy the last few weeks of school, and don't forget to learn from this year!

Happiness always♥

Monday, May 9, 2016

GO Paperless Test Review

Hey all!  This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm going to share how I prepare for state testing without making the dreadful copies.  Our district is currently out on spring break (yay!).  Once we go back to school, we only have a week before testing begins.  Before the break started, I was trying to plan for how my students would review and decided that this year, we were going to do it online.  At my school, we use Google Classroom, but there are many programs that can be used if you don't have this (Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, etc.).

There were several areas I want to review with my ELA students, so I decided I would use task cards that cover the following:  main idea, story elements, figurative language, point of view, and certain areas of grammar.  In order to ensure that each student gets an adequate opportunity to cover each of these areas, I'm going to put the kids in groups.  Within their groups, they will "virtually rotate" through stations (they won't physically rotate, but once their group completes the activity/station, then they will move on to the next activity/station).  I uploaded each activity to Google Slides (which you can do too, if you create a Google account).  Once I have created each group activity, I will "share" it with the students by clicking on the blue "share" button at the top, right side of the screen.  Again, if you use other programs, such as Edmodo, you can do the same sort of practice.

I have also created a similar activity for the Google Drive that I recently posted on Teachers Pay Teachers.  My ELA Test Prep Task Cards for Google Drive can be found here.  See a preview of this below:

I would love to hear what you're doing to get your students ready for the end of year testing!  Please share in the comments!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How to Create A Simple + Effective Summer Reading Program

I've gotta ask. How many of us just assign a summer reading book, have the kids read it, give them a little test/quiz when we get back to school, and then forget about the book for the rest of the year?

I'd say there's quite a few of us out there.

Hey. I was even guilty of doing that my first TWO years of teaching.

But then I got to thinking about how I could utilize summer reading assignments as a way to get a strong grasp on where my students stood in their writing. Yep. Using summer reading to assess students' writing. 

So here's how you can implement a strong summer reading program at your school.

1. Pick a book the kids will like. Seriously.
2. Assign an essential question (kind of like a final essay question for the book). You can read more about how to create your own essential question HERE.
3. Have your students write an essay over the summer answering this essential question.
4. Said essay is due the second day of school.

Now. Guess who gets to see where their students' writing stands before having to wait 2-3 weeks into the school year? YOU DO! Granted, some students might have had help with their essays, it still gives you a decent read on where they are.

*I'm a mean teacher, so I also like to assign an in-class essay in response to a second essential question from the summer reading book. This second writing assessment really gives me a peek into their writing skills because it's all written in the classroom.*

I've included a screenshot below to one of my past summer reading assignments, so maybe you can create something similar this summer!

Best of luck. And hang in there. You're sooooooo close!