July 2016 - Room 213

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Back to School, a Sale AND a Giveaway!

If you're like me, you have mixed feelings about back to school: you're excited to be back in  the classroom again, but are dreading all of the grading and prepping that happens after hours. Developing engaging lessons takes time, time that you could be using for so many other things. That's why it's incredibly awesome that educators can turn to Teachers Pay Teachers to buy not only lessons for their classes, but more importantly, some time to spend on other things - like taking care of themselves.

You can do this AND save some money on Monday and  Tuesday, August 1st - 2nd, during the Teachers Pay Teachers back to school sale. It's a great time to stock up on some things that can lessen your load, make life easier, and maybe ensure that you don't spend every evening the first few weeks of school passed out on the couch.

I'm excited to announce that I'll be giving away a $10 TpT gift card AND a $20 shopping spree in my store.  However, because I'd like to share the TpT love, I'm going to give the same thing to one of your friends. But here's the catch: I'd like you to give it to someone, a friend or a colleague, that you've been trying to convince to check out TpT for awhile, someone that you know could benefit from some inspiration or just the break that a lesson plan from a teacher author can give them.

To enter, I'd like you to do a few things:

1. Go to my Facebook page, follow me, then like and share the post about this giveaway.
2. Do the same on Instagram and tag a teacher that you think would like to enter too.

The winner will be announced on my Facebook page on the morning of Tuesday, August second.  Good luck!

Young Adult Novel GIVEAWAY

A key component of a successful Reader's Workshop is a full classroom library with lots and lots of selection.  That's the part that can make it difficult when you don't have the cash to stock one.  Last year I wrote a post with suggestions about how you can do this cheaply, with used books, etc., but I know it's oh-so-fun to get new ones as well.

I'm excited to announce that I will be giving away $100 worth of YA novels from Amazon to one purchaser of my Reader's Workshop Bundle!  If you have purchased the bundle any time from July 25th to August 5th, you can enter to win.
Win $100 of YA novels for your classroom library!

If you have already purchased the bundle - or after you do - just go to this Google Form. It asks you to supply the username you use for your TpT purchases, as well as your email address--which I will use only to contact you if you are the lucky winner!  Once I choose a winner, I will contact him/her to  get the wish list of books, which must be young adult novels, as the purpose of this giveaway is to help a secondary English teacher stock a classroom library.  

Good luck!

Four School Supplies You Must Have

Secondary teachers: what do you think when you see all those classroom decor pics on Pinterest? Do you look with envy at all of the cute and awesome primary classrooms? Or do you roll your eyes and thank goodness you teach older kids? I'm very glad to be with the big kids, but I still believe that it's important to create a classroom environment that's fun to be in.

Secondary English teachers: are you organizing your classroom? There's only four things you really need!

However, this post is not about how I decorate my classroom (even though I do love to make it look nice and cosy). This post is not going to put down those lovely Pinterest-worthy classrooms either (which is why I've included the pics of my own room); it's about the fact that you don't have to spend lots of time and money on decorating your classroom if you don't want to. It's ok.  Release yourself from Pinterest stress and envy, because I truly believe that you only need four very inexpensive things to create a dynamic environment that focuses on real learning and critical thinking: chart paper, piles of post-it notes, masking tape and markers.  That's it!

Secondary English teachers: there are only four things you must have to create a learning environment1. Post-its: I use these almost daily.  I ask students to supply their own, to mark important passages in their texts, but then I use the stash in my desk for critical thinking and collaboration exercises.  I will often place two or three on each desk before class starts and then ask students to write an idea or a quote on them, something that relates to what we will work on during that class. For example, I might ask them to find a quote that illustrates an important characteristic of someone in the novel we are reading. Then, I'll put them in pairs or groups to work with the information. You can read about some activities I did with post-its HERE and HERE.

2. Chart Paper: You've already seen uses for chart paper above, but I use it in other ways as well. It's perfect, of course, for creating anchor charts for your students to reference, and it's also perfect for any type of group work.  Once groups are assembled, I dole out the chart paper, asking them to summarize their conclusions or ideas on the paper, after they've had a good discussion. Then, I either have them do informal presentations at the end of class or we just put the paper on the walls and refer to it when we have a full class discussion.

3. Markers: The markers have an obvious use: for filling the chart paper! I keep them in a bin and either pass them out to the groups as they begin their discussions, or put the bin somewhere central so students can pick them up on their own. I usually have to encourage them to write large enough so the class can read what they write, and to jot down ideas in a way that's easy for the reader to understand the group's thought process.

4. Masking Tape: This is also pretty obvious: I use it to adhere the chart paper to the walls. Often, when I plan collaborative work, I will post the chart paper on the walls throughout the classroom, so students will have to do their work standing up -- something I do a lot to keep them awake and moving around.  Gallery walks after group work are another way to not only get them moving, but also to encourage greater exploration of topics.

There you have it: you don't have to spend a fortune on decorative stuff for your room, or spend hours getting it set up.  There is nothing wrong with that at all; we just have to remember that our real focus is not creating something pretty, but an environment that fosters critical thinking and real learning.

Have an awesome time preparing for your school year!


Getting Ready for Back to School

There is nothing faster than a teacher's summer vacation.  We just head giddily out the doors of our classrooms and then, before we know it, we're back in, setting up our bulletin boards and planning our first day and week activities.

If you're a high school teacher like me, the first day is fast and furious. We're giving out lockers and schedules and whatever forms the admin has decided we must add this year.  On top of all that, we need to introduce our courses to our new students while setting the tone for what's to come. It's exhausting just thinking about it!

Today, I'd like to share some ideas for ways you can handle all of this in a way that will keep you organized and will make your students excited to meet you on the first day.

Get ready for back to school and use an engaging way to get to know your students.
Call me crazy, but I like to put a whole lot more effort into my students than all the administrivia. It's the first day of a whole semester where these students will become "my kids". Many will spend more time with me than they do with their parents every day. Because of this, I want the day to be a special one, one that is more than me droning on at the front of the room about my syllabus and my rules and regulations.  If it's last period in the day, my students will have sat in three other classes already, listening to three other teachers drone on about the same stuff -- just after coming back from two months of vacation!  Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

Last year I used this free getting to know you activity, and it worked really well, but this year I'm kicking it up a notch. After a successful year of using learning stations in my classroom (and a customer request), I decided to create some stations that will get the first day jobs done in a far more effective and interesting manner.

One station focuses on the syllabus in a way that makes it more likely they might actually read it! One option at this station has them answer questions after reading a copy of it; the other has them use this sheet (and another) to create their own version of the information.

Other stations have students talking with and getting to know each other, as well as giving you some information that will help you get to know them.

My favourite stations, though, are the Classroom Expectations and the Making Suggestions Stations. These allow students to have a voice in the creation of a classroom code of conduct and to make suggestions for the class, based on activities and assignments they've enjoyed in the past.

At the end of the period, the students will still come away with all of the same information that they would have if I'd been in droning mode.  They will have had a chance to move and talk and think, and I will have been walking around among groups, chatting and getting to know them better. Sounds like a great plan to me!

OK.  As much as I'd like to ignore the adminsirivia, I can't and neither can you.  However, you can do a few things to not only keep it all organized, but also spend less time on it with your students.

We always have multiple forms to give our homeroom students: schedules, demographic info, technology consent forms, etc. I used to pass these out one at a time, but now, the day before, I make make a pile for each student, with each form stapled together.  This serves two purposes: I only have to pass one thing to each student and, because they are all stapled together, they can hand the pile to their parent or guardian to get signed at once - and hopefully return them back to me intact. You can also add a little incentive to this task: return the forms tomorrow and you get a candy treat!

Another thing I do to save time - usually later in the first week - is open a new mail message and have students come to my desk one at a time to type in their (or their parent's email address). After class, I will type up a welcome message to send to everyone, with a link to my digital syllabus and class website.

I hope some of these ideas will save you time and help you have an amazing start to your semester! If you have any tips to share, please do so in the comments!


Reader's & Writer's Workshop in High School

The greatest change I ever made in my classroom was the switch to a workshop approach.  Actually, it was the way I started, but I took a detour into the traditional for quite a while.

During my teacher training, I was introduced to Nanci Atwell; In the Middle was the textbook my forward-thinking prof had chosen, and she championed the workshop approach (this was 1990, and quite radical at the time!).

When I started teaching, I used Atwell as my guide, but then, like so many of us, I got swept up by the "should do's" that other teachers and the Department were "recommending". For quite a few years, I did the traditional thing, rolling out the curriculum in a pretty systematic way. I always did my best to make my lessons fun and meaningful, but it was still tightly controlled by me. In a lot of ways, it worked.

However, I knew that my students would be more engaged - and still learn the skills and content they needed to learn - if I went back to my roots.  I started to make some changes, doing more independent reading and writing - but they were still add-ons, things I did when I had time and cut when I did not.

And then, a feisty young teacher took the reigns as Curriculum Consultant at our Department of Education, and things changed.  She bought every teacher a copy of Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them and Book Love.  She bought piles of hot YA fiction for our classroom libraries.  She rewrote curriculum and recommended reader's and writer's workshop, rather than full class novel study. It was a wonderful thing.

However, it's not easy to flip that switch, especially if you've been using a traditional approach for most of your career.  I'm a part-time instructional coach at my school, and I know it's been very hard for some of our teachers to completely dive into workshops for reading and writing. It's a great thing to dive into, though, because it allows our students more choice, more voice, and a much greater chance that they will engage and learn.

Last fall I wrote a number of blog posts about how reader's workshop worked in my classroom.  This time, I'm going to add writer's workshop to the mix (remember, I'm an old dog; I couldn't do it all at once!), so you can look forward to lots of posts about my planning and implementation. In the mean time, please leave any questions or concerns you have about workshop in the secondary classroom in the comments section; I'll try my best to answer them, either here or in another post.

You can also check out the new products that I've added to my store, ones that will be integral to my writer's workshop this fall: The Writer's Notebook for Secondary Students, and Short Mentor Texts for Secondary Writing.

Would you like to get some support as you plan a workshop approach in your secondary classroom? Join my Facebook group, Secondary Reader's & Writer's Workshop Support. Send me your email to room213custom@gmail.com, or search this link. 


The Best Resource Ever!

I created this guidebook to stop the questions:  

"Mrs. C, what do you mean by close reading?" 
"Where do you put the citation?"
"Do I have do use a citation when it's all my words?"
"What do you mean by topic sentence?"

Now there is nothing wrong with those questions.  I love questions.  I just don't love ones that the students should know the answer to. 

Previously, I would give them lots of handouts -and they would just shove them into their binders in some mindless, disorganized way.  It was so much easier for them to ask me than to search for the handout. 

Now, I surprise them with this guidebook.  They come to the class on assembly day to find the sheets all spread out, ready to put together.  They are quite intrigued to see what I'm up to.  Once the book is complete they are so excited, not only 'cause it looks pretty cool, but because it's so easy to use. In fact, I've taught kids two years later, and they still have the guidebook with them. You know it's a good one when teenagers hold on to it! And, it's getting even better: I'm working on a digital version for Google Classroom. We only have the Chromebooks sometimes, so I think I'll give mine both. 

What's your best resource ever?  


Planning for Back to School

Before we get to that back to school business: CONGRATULATIONS to Kim Roberts, winner of the $25 gift card! I loved hearing from all of you about suggested blog posts and I have a list of ones that I will work on throughout the school year.
Get ready for back to school: ideas and strategies for planning your best year yet!

I was thinking a lot this morning about my upcoming school year and the things I'd like to rearrange and try.  Luckily, I still have six weeks to do so, but I know that many of you are nearing the end of your vacation and are starting to plan for back to school.  I'd love to help you do that, and so I've assembled some of my posts that focus on starting the year, as well as on strategies that are great to use all semester long.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

I hope I've given you some food for thought, and most importantly, some help as you plan for the upcoming school year.  Good luck and keep recharging as long as you can!

Calling all IB English HL teachers!

I told someone the other day that if Teachers Pay Teachers had been around when I started teaching IB first, I would have saved myself hours of anguish. After teaching for almost twenty years, I had my schtick down pat: I knew my texts like the back of my hand and had all kinds of lessons to use.

And then came the International Baccalaureate program. I had to learn eight new texts, wrap my head around the "IB way", and prepare to get my kids ready to be assessed in high stakes final exams marked by an outside marker.  The last point was the most stressful.  Other than IB, we have no externally assessed exams, so I felt great pressure to "get it right" for my students.  We kept telling our first class of IB students that they weren't Guinea pigs, that we knew what we were doing...but we were lying!

All of this preparation on my part was going on as I taught my other classes; it was like being a first year teacher all over again: coming home and spending hours on the weekends and evenings just to stay ahead. We've all done it as a rookie, but it's much harder to do when you're a vet, used to being confident in what you are doing.

Which leads me to my point: I would love to help someone else who's been in my situation.  What kinds of resources do you wish you had? We all teach different texts, but I'm sure I could come up with some generic lessons that could be applied to multiple texts. If you have any ideas or suggestions for products or blog posts, please leave them HERE on this google form.


This post is in answer to a question from a reader: when you have a large class, how do you maintain order with all of those teenagers moving around the room? Good question!
Movement & collaboration: how do you maintain control?

I know I don't have all of the answers, but here's what works for me when I use movement and collaboration in my classroom:

1. The key to all classroom management is laying the ground work from day one. 

Spend some time this summer thinking about your lines in the sand: what will you put up with and what is out of the question when it comes to student behaviours?  Go into your room ready to be firm, fair and consistent, and make sure you establish routines and expectations during the first few weeks of school. Then, when it's time to get them up and moving during station work, gallery walks or any group collaboration, they will know your expectations and hopeful be ready to meet them.  I've written another blog post about classroom management tips that give more detail on this--check that out HERE.

2. Decide what noise level you are comfortable with and stick to it:  

English teachers: how do you maintain order when the activity has your kids up and moving? Click to find out what Room 213 does when her students are collaborating.
When I was younger, I used to worry if my class was too noisy, because people would think it was out of control.  Experience has given me more confidence, but more importantly, it has taught me that learning can be noisy.  In fact, a classroom of engaged kids, talking it out, is a classroom where the learning sparks are flying. (Of course, there are times when students need quiet to think, and you should schedule quiet time as well).  When kids are moving about or doing group work, there will be noise, but sometimes they will get too loud --usually this is a sign that they are off topic.  Make sure that when they are moving around that you are too.  Drop by each group of students to observe or participate in the conversation. Make sure they are on topic and if they aren't guide them back. When they know that you are going to stop by, they are less likely to lose focus, so resist the urge to grade papers while they are working!

3.  Make it clear that if they abuse their moving and/or collaboration time, they will lose it.  

Kids love the chance to work together and/or to get up and move.  If they know that they will lose that opportunity, they are much more likely to behave.  I have had classes that didn't focus or that got too noisy.  I would give them warnings during class and/or at the end of an unsuccessful one. Then, if the next time didn't go well, we went back to seventy-five minutes of quiet seat work for a week.  They soon got the message that I meant what I said.  I would then try shorter periods of "noisy" work to let them earn back the privilege.  For most classes, this will work.

4. The set up of your classroom may need to be adjusted.  
I have my classroom set up with the desks in a double horseshoe, with lots of space in the middle and
front. This allows room to move and it's also pretty easy to move the desks into groups for them to work.  I took this picture one day when they all left the room for a walk and talk (that's a great strategy to use when they need to dig deeply into a problem or idea, but don't use it until they know the routine and you trust that they will stay focused when they leave the room!)

When I do learning stations, the desks get pulled together to create the required number of stations, and then students just move clockwise around the room.  When we do gallery walks or any  kind of group collaboration, I tape chart paper to the walls around the room so they have to work standing up.  When this happens, we just push the back row of desks toward the front row.  The students have done it so often, that they know the routine and will usually do it themselves without asking, when I start putting the paper on the walls.

5. Let your admin know what you're doing and why:
If you are worried about what other teachers or admin will think of the noise in your room, explain to them what you're doing and how important you think moving and talking is to the learning process. After you have the routine established, invite them in to see what's happening. Before you know it, other teachers will start adopting the practice, and your halls may look like ours do, with students out talking and walking and learning.

Just take the chance.  Give it a try.  If it doesn't work the first time, adapt and try again.  Good luck and please post any ideas or concerns you have in the comments!

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It's time for an update.  I've been wanting to change the look of my blog, to make it look a little more grown up. I'm still tweaking and playing around, but so far, I'm happy with the new look.

To celebrate, I'm going to give away a $25 gift certificate to TpT.  To enter, you just need to fill out this Google Form.  Good luck and I hope you are doing lots of summer relaxing!

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