Thursday, January 30, 2014

Teaching Poetry to Middle Schoolers

Me (in my most excited, I love teaching voice): "We're starting poetry next week!!"

{insert student groans}

Them (in their bored, disinterested voices): "We hate poetry.  It's stupid! It's SOOOOOO hard!"

Me (taking my excited voice up a notch):  You'll love it!  I promise!!

{insert skeptical looks and eye rolls} do I get my students to love {like/tolerate} poetry?

I let them take control of the lessons.  I am simply a facilitator posing debatable questions to poems they have read.  The students discuss the answers with each other {NOT ME} constantly referring back to the poem to support their answers!

Through the process, they organically understand theme, mood, author's purpose, etc without me beating them over the head with it!!

How it works...
1.  Introduce your poet.  Do a web hunt, have a guest speaker, watch a video. Whatever you need to do to get the students to understand who the poet was/is.

2.  Introduce and work with vocabulary from the poem.  I have my students look up the words, draw cartoons to go with each word, and perform actions to go with each meaning.

3.  Sit your students around one table {or a lot of tables pushed together.  We do our seminars in the school library}

Read the poem and annotate/jot.  I tell them it may be hard and they may have to read it more than once to get an understanding.  Let them know that is ok and normal!

4.  Pose debatable questions to the group.  The questions should be open ended...not yes/no.

5.   Give a writing prompt to go along with the poem.

We might spend a week on one poem and author, but that is OK!  They really understand {and dare I say} the poem at the end of the week.  They will ask you if you can do seminars everyday, all day!!! 
Quality over quantity.

Has anyone else used the seminar method to teach poetry?  

If you would like an example of a poetry seminar lesson plan, click here

Happy teaching,

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why I Teach Novels

I am a huge fan of teaching novels in the language arts classroom.  When I hear rumblings of doing away with novels in the middle school classroom and replacing the time with chapter excerpts and passages, it makes my heart sad.

I remember my third grade teacher read aloud Island of the Blue Dolphins and I was mesmerized!! I looked forward to the next day's lesson......I daydreamed about what would happen to the characters....I wanted to read other books by the same author...I learned to love reading.

Isn't that what teaching reading is all about?  To get them to LOVE want to do it on their own?!?  I don't sit down at night after the kids have gone to bed and just read excerpts of novels.  I read books that engage me, that I love, that I just can't put down.

If we can get students to love what they are reading, then they will read.  The more they read, the more proficient they will become.  Stamina will be built, comprehension will happen, and natural readers will be born.

Currently, I am in the planning process for two new novels to read with my seventh grade students.  I can't wait to share what we're going to do with these amazing is sure to be exciting!  Until then...

Happy Teaching,

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Increasing Motivation: The Effort Meter

Does anyone have those classes that are super hard to motivate?  The ones where the idea of a zero is not scary and reason enough to to the work.  I do... {insert heavy sigh}

I have tried several motivational strategies (tickets, rewards, praise, punishment) for those students who would just not do their work.

In a moment of frustration {and slight craziness}, I stomped to the white board and announced 7 people did their homework last night and promptly wrote it really big in red expo marker.

Then I announced we were going to do a little math lesson.  We counted how many students were in the class, 31, and I wrote it under the seven.  As a class we talked about how to find a percentage and I had the students figure out what percentage of students did their homework last night.

 Just 23%.

They were honestly shocked.

I kept the number on the board and told them we were going to see if we could increase the number the next time we had homework.  And they did.  Thus, The Effort Meter* was born.

 What do you do to increase student motivation in your classroom?

Happy Teaching,

*It's called The Effort Meter because I got tired of students saying they were not getting close to 100% turn in rate because they weren't "The Smart Class."  I tell them over and over it has nothing to do with what they have coined "smart" and has everything to do with effort.


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