Though it’s not the end of the school year, the New Year is always a time for both reflection and looking ahead. I’m excited to share a few insights I’ve gained teaching my 7th and 8th-graders. So here goes . . . Be sure to check out all the posts in the link-up for tips and encouragement from secondary teachers!
1. A Teaching Strategy I Gained
This year, I was lucky enough to attend a one-day conference with “Smokey” Harvey Daniels, who you may know as the author of some terrific books with non-fiction articles and active reading strategies. Part of the session focused on a “written discussion” strategy that was a great take-away for me. Smokey stressed the fact that our students love communicating with each other in writing, as evidenced by their love of texting, Facebook posting, tweeting, and even note-passing! He presented a strategy in which students write letters to each other to express themselves on a topic we provide.
The activity works best when students have just experienced something noteworthy, such as a field trip or guest speaker, the climax or ending in a class novel study, the culmination of a research project, etc. Students work in a group of four (can be modified to partners), each with a sheet of notebook paper. The activity begins with a question posed by the teacher, to which students respond in writing for say, three minutes (or you can set it for longer). The question might be “What did you enjoy most about the field trip?” or “How did the research assignment process go for you?” or “In what ways do you think the main character acted like a hero?” When students finish, they pass their writing clockwise, and then they read what that student wrote. Then they must respond, or answer, that student. Again you give the time limit. Now a student is “discussing” the topic with another student, but the class is silent! And . . . authentic writing is taking place! The papers are passed again and students read both entries and then “answer” with their own thoughts and insights. Teachers need to always call time to keep the structure, papers are passed silently, and students add their comments until the letters get back to the original sender. The original sender then gets to read all the responses written from their original entry. The students enjoy this activity! They love reading what others have to say in response to their initial thoughts on the topic, and how other kids piggy-back off their ideas. Even the reluctant writers and more introverted students are motivated, and no one gets left out of the discussion.
I have to admit, I was getting VERY tired of seeing students make the same errors when constructing sentences. You know the stuff of which I speak: run on sentences, sentence fragments, inconsistent verb tense, and the dreaded repetitive wording. Using my Task Cards for Better Writing as stations, my students were able to work collaboratively to analyze, discuss, and re-write twenty different examples displayed on colorful task cards for each of these topics. The targeted practice these stations provided really helped the majority of my writers to finally GET IT! As I walked around, it was so refreshing to hear them talking about how the sentence should be fixed to eliminate the repetitive wording, how a particular verb needed to be changed for consistency, how the “run-on” needed to be written as two separate sentences, ETC.! I just knew the task cards would yield some great results and they did. (I set up two other stations with students working on word lists with vocabulary activities for a total of six stations to rotate through.) My students now have a much greater awareness of these types of common writing pitfalls and I’m finally noticing improvement when they write.
3. A Work/Life Balance Realization
I’m a person who finds it hard to “let go” of an unsettling situation that may arise during the school day, and thus, find myself contemplating such issues on my ride home from school. It might be a parent conference, a failing student, a behavior issue, a new mandate, the sudden need to modify a lesson, you name it, it’s going through my head. I tell myself, End it, and I do, but a little while later my mind is back on the same topic! That’s why, whether I’m tired or not, I know I need to GET TO THE GYM and do some cardio to let my stress out. Though it is a pain to squeeze in this time, once I’m there, it really feels invigorating to be in an environment different from school or home, just doing something for me. Moving to my favorite tunes instantly transforms my mindset, the “teacher worries” float away, and I actually do some creative thinking! I know I can’t get there every day, but I try hard to maintain my goal of every-other day and I’m happy for that balance.
I’ve enjoyed writing this post for Secondary Sara’s Blog Hop! Many thanks and enjoy all the great tips from Secondary Teachers.