Friday, April 3, 2015

make your own MAP test

Hey, we're making our own MAP test questions!
What's a better than preparing for the MAP test, than using practice questions as mentor questions to write our own questions using our own reading books?
Sharing the Google Docs and commenting on each other's questions and answers is a great opportunity to collaborate and learn about other books, too.
We will be ready for the MAP test! And our kids will do great! 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Last week we began our study of poetry with a simple discussion focused on four questions:
1. What do you already know about poetry?
2. What do you like about poetry?
3. What do you dislike about poetry?
4. How can learning change our thinking about poetry?
Students discussed these questions at their team tables, and then after some time shared their answers with the whole class. I took notes on the board (see pictures for each class below) to gather this information as our starting point for our study of poetry. As we study poetry--learning about elements of poetry, reading lots of poetry, analyzing poetry, comparing/contrasting poems--it will be interesting to see how (if at all) the answers to these questions may change. That reflection won't come until the end of the quarter though, so stay tuned. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

iReady Reading Test

Thursday and Friday of this week we spent time working at different stations that would hopefully help students more closely and tightly connect the learning we've done throughout the first semester. There were four stations at which students used the computers and four stations at which students either read or worked through scenarios in discussions.

I like the idea of reinforcing learning, with something like a review, but I also really like the idea of stations, to allow students quick opportunities to connect different learning objectives. All of these stations dealt with reading skills, but different skills. On the computer, there was: comparing/ contrasting fictional passage elements presented in print and video, citing textual evidence in nonfiction, prefix vocabulary practice, and determining methods to go about finding answers in various texts. Away from the computers, there was: silent reading time, two different scenarios analyzing author purpose and character motivation, and then conferencing about previous test scores.

I feel good about how this went, but would like to better prepare students for the mindset and attitude necessary to get the most out of the experience, without having a teacher standing over their shoulder telling them what to do. To help students achieve a mindset where they understand learning takes place better without me, amongst their peers, would provide better learning opportunities in the stations. At least that's my thinking. 

I'm thinking I'll do stations at least two more times this year. It's not easy to plan or prepare for, but hopefully the more we do it the bigger the benefit will be. We shall see. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hour of Code

The class participated in the Hour of Code on Monday, December 8th. It seems like the entire world was also participating at the same time, since the internet was (basically) broken, but it was still a lot of fun. Several of the online tutorials and learning games were overwhelmed with traffic, which means we couldn't get them to work, but we did get to do some pretty fun stuff. 

Below are some pictures of students coding throughout the day. My greatest learning "take-away" was that immediate feedback was helpful, but the "games" forced me/us to identify our mistakes and then to make revisions if we wanted to proceed, or advance, in the game. The code was the method by which we could advance. As a teacher, I loved the immediacy of the feedback, and the opportunity for revision. Honestly, I'm not great at getting feedback quickly to my students, especially with writing, but I try to do it well. I do, however, emphasize revision just about every class period, because I believe in it wholeheartedly. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Canvas Discussion Feedback

Yesterday we participated in our first full-class discussion on Canvas/SPS Online. We used Fantastic Mr. Fox and our learning regarding fictional stories and literary elements as the prompts for the discussions, and things went well. But that doesn't mean we can't improve our practice in school discussions. 

The first bit of feedback that I must offer is the picture above. Whenever I find myself in a new situation, I often quote this saying to myself. It's a great statement because it applies to everyone in basically every situation. This picture was taken by my father when visiting, I think, Yosemite National Park. He visited a very nice lodge, and this sign was posted. But I think it can also apply to school, and even our Canvas discussions. 

So, whenever you're using Canvas/SPS Online, please remember to conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with the intended use. Canvas/SPS Online was created as an online learning management system, for Springfield School students to engage in meaningful learning online. So, let's make sure our time spent on Canvas/SPS Online is educational in nature. 

If we keep that in mind, then I'm sure our discussions will become rich opportunities for us to think, write, and interact in new ways. I can't wait to see. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014


On Wednesday, we spent some time in class talking, discussing, observing, and hopefully learning about paragraphing. It was a fun lesson for me, as a teacher, and I thankfully got lots of good feedback from students as well. I took some pictures of the notes, of which two are below. 

We started thinking about what teachers tell students about paragraphing. That's listed in the top picture in blue. Students came up with things like: must be 5 sentences, must indent, essays must be 5 paragraphs, and in some classes students pointed out the names of different paragraphs--opening or introduction, closing or conclusion, and body in the middle. It was nice to hear that students remembered some of what they've been taught, even if it doesn't always make it to the page or I don't agree with it. 

Then I asked the students to guess how many paragraphs might be on any random page in a "normal" text (what a librarian might call a chapter book maybe, either fiction or nonfiction). Those numbers are in the top picture, in the grid on the left. Then I had the students turn to a random page and count the number of paragraphs. I didn't keep that list of numbers, but you can see that the average was a bit higher than their original guess. We then did the same for nonfiction articles--their guesses are the second column and the article counts are the far right. The averages are significantly different, which is exactly what I wanted the students to see.

After we made these observations, we needed to try to answer some questions, so we could learn from the texts and apply that learning to our own writing. So I basically just asked the question: why? Why are there more paragraphs in fiction than we originally thought? Why are there so many paragraphs in a nonfiction text? This led to another question--how do we know there's a new paragraph?

The answers were all based on observations from students, and I'm super proud of them. The class went well, and lots of focused discussion took place. Meaningful questions were raised, and observations from our books led us to some answers. But the answers are not right/wrong or black/white. The answers could apply in one situation, but not in another. And that makes me happy as a teacher, because it means the students are understanding that there are nuances to writing based on the situation, which is likewise based on the audience and purpose. Did I say it was a good day?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


From a September 10th Freewriting Reflection:
If you were to score this piece of writing for the writing skill and thoughtfulness it shows, what score would you give it, and why?
Two Student Answers:
1 - "I would give  myself a 3 out of 5 because it might not be clear to some, and I usually don't see some things I need to correct."
2 - "I would give it a 5/10. I just wrote not caring what I wrote." 

I chose to showcase these two student responses for the self-awareness that they display. Eighth graders that display this level of self-awareness are well on their way to achieving their goals, because they have the ability to accurately assess their situation. Much too many eighth graders inaccurately assess their ability in everything, including school-specific skills like organization, study habits, or content specific knowledge.

Beyond self-awareness though, each student makes a great "writing" connection in their respective responses.

The first student is aware that he doesn't "see" the things that he may need to correct, as a writer. I'm so glad that this is pointed out. Understanding what to look for, and how to see what you're looking for, is a skill that I still work on in my writing. Further, understanding that a writer can't "see" everything (that's why professional, paid writers have editors!), is important for students AND teachers. In class, we've been working on sentence level writing skills that incorporate using proper internal and end punctuation, with a proficiency in interchanging phrases and clauses to build a variety of sentence structures.

The second student is aware that caring about what you write usually has an affect upon the score that a writing will earn. This student gives himself (yes, it's a guy) a failing score. Hopefully the self-awareness mentioned earlier is rooted in a causal connection: not caring about your writing = bad writing. So what's the first step to improving writing? Caring about what you write. How do I get students to care about what they write? Give them choice. Give them time. Talk to them to help them find things they care about. I try all these things. It takes time, but it's valuable time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

the beginning of a new year

A new school year has begun, and we've started with a flourish. We've started using the computers and the technology tools available to us on the first day, and have made use of them when possible.

Please use this website often to access the 8th grade team website, the Pleasant View Middle School homepage and the Library homepage, as well as Google, SPS Online/Canvas, and eSchool Plus--all of which are available on the right sidebar.

Let me know if you have questions or concerns. My contact information is available on the "Contact Information" button above.

Finally, each day the activities that we work through will be available on the "Assignments" button above. These lists only include bare descriptions, but wherever possible, I'll also include links to documents or other resources that could be used to complete the learning activity.

Let's work together to make sure this is a productive, enjoyable school year.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

End of Year Reflections

There is some wise sayings about how we learn from our experiences. But instead of simply learning from our experiences, what some people call our mistakes, John Dewey, a famous education thinker and writer, once said, "We don't learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience."

So, as we come to the end of the school year, we will do some reflecting on our experiences. It's a good thing to do. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

you only get one shot

Sorry I can't be there in class Monday or Tuesday, but I'll be back for Wednesday and the Reading Performance Series Testing. I'm in New Orleans, with my family. My father, who the picture is taken with, has been in the hospital since Tuesday night, so I drove down here to be with him.

Ms. Hagood is a wonderful sub, and as long as the computers and technology work, everything will go well. Do your best as you reflect upon how things have gone for Reading this year, so that you can prepare yourself to do well on the test on Wednesday. And remember that all Library books are due tomorrow.