Archive for the ‘8th grade’ Category

Student Engagement

This was a comment I posted in response to a blog post you can read here

I just finished my 3rd yr teaching 8th grade Language Arts and have found that finding the balance between engagement and relevance is tricky. The 8th grade team completed our first Expeditionary Learning Unit (See what that means here: and found that engagement was very high. It involved student choice and a fair amount of self-directed work by the students. They produced some of the best work I’ve seen so far from 8th graders (you can see the work here:

I always ask myself questions before beginning a project, why am I doing this: How does it meet my teaching goals? Can the students do what I’m asking them to do, have I done enough to make sure they have the skills required to complete the task? (I will often ask students this question outright when introducing a project – “Does this sound doable? Is what I’m asking you do a reasonable request?” Of course kids don’t always know what they don’t know but it’s a good place to start assessing what they need to know collaboratively.
And secondly (and I think the point of your post) do the students know why we are doing this and will they care? My goal this year was to make sure the students knew why I assigned the work I did, I think it made a difference.

The engagement that we saw in the Expedition was a result of the students personal connection to the work – one student remarked that she felt like the work she was doing was meaningful, and could make a difference. This is why so many students worked so hard.
Of course some kids did need a modified process, that will always be the case; so no, I don’t think it’s a cop-out to think that.

I think that reflecting on lessons and figuring out what went wrong (and what went right) by ourselves and with colleagues is the best thing we can do as teachers to improve our craft.


The poetry of 8th grade

The students made this slide show collaboratively using Gdocs, each of them took one of the poems they wrote and created a slide to add to the show! The fact that this would be made public was motivational to many students. Once the district is fully transitioned to Google Apps then this project will be much easier.

This time I created a Google Presentation Doc and put a link to it on the Language Arts site. I had students create the slide first in Keynote (they all have Macbooks thanks to MLTI) and then realized that Gdocs only allow PowerPoint slides to be imported. Luckily Keynote allows you to save a presentation as a .PPT and then students were able to import their slide into the class presentation. This conversion and importing left its mark on some student’s work, odd characters, missing images and so on. Next time I will have them sign in to GApps, create a slide and import that slide, or just create a slide within the group presentation – to be honest I don’t know why I didn’t do that to begin with. . . lesson learned.

To see the 8th grade poetry book click here: If clicking doesn’t seem to work copy and paste the address.


When you’re done come back and leave me a comment about what you thought. I’ll pass them on to the kids.

First day of 2010-11 school year

It is rapidly approaching. I see tweets and blog posts everywhere about teachers and students who have already begun the school year. This will be my third year as an 8th grade English teacher (I’m trying to shift the vocabulary at my middle school to call it English in 8th grade instead of Language Arts, even though LA is a more appropriate title -I haven’t told anyone about my plans yet. More on this as it develops) and I am PSYCHED!  As a third year teacher I feel pretty confident in the content and can really work on my delivery and integration of technology, especially collaborative technology.

The word in the district is that we’ll be set up with Google for Education this year – I’ve been hoping, mentioning this since I started, along with some of my colleagues. This means Google docs – can I go paperless this year? I think that I’ll certainly use less. The blog helped with this goal and Google apps will further it. It will also fit nicely in with my belief that learning is collaborative – real-time collaboration is so effective. The class wiki is good (I use Wetpaint) but real-time collaboration can be tricky when people start saving and exiting the editing tools.

The other exciting thing that is happening in the 8th grade is Expeditionary Learning. You can read this previous entry about how this new model unfolded. We have done the bulk of the planning for a Spring expedition that is modeled after one we saw at King Middle School called Truth and Consequence. The team is on board, the administration is on board, and I’m certain that the students will be on board. I will be blogging about the process once we start in February.

There is also construction going on at the school. We recently changed from a 6-8 school to a 4-8 school and construction should be finished by February break (hey that’s when we’re kicking off our expedition, good unplanned timing!). The hallway to the new addition is going between 8th grade social studies room and 6th grade math room. These two rooms were gutted over the summer. A permanent wall was erected between my room and the SS room where before there was a movable wall. Most of my room is covered in dust and everything is smooshed against the opposite wall. This does have a plus side though, I can put things against this wall now. I think I will change the set up of my room and put the SmartBoard against this new room and make a horseshoe seating arrangement (I didn’t have the space for that before and had seating pods).

I’d love to hear about what you are going to do this year. Trying something new? Changing how you teach a lesson? Let me know!

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Still making connections

So the scene is the end of the day during study hall. One student starts talking about a movie she saw that had ‘Lennie’ in it. I realize she means John Malkovich eventually. She calls him that because he played Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Then, another, very excited, student comes up and says ‘I was feeding my hamster and realized I was feeding him alfalfa, just like Lennie talks about feeding the rabbits’. I was really impressed that he made that connection and was so pumped to share it. It means that he was not only paying attention but that it made enough of an impression on him to make that connection while at home. All I could do was smile.

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Dealing with the mantra of “I don’t care”

I sent a student to the office today. Well, I gave them the choice to follow directions or go to the office, they picked the office. What the student did doesn’t really matter, that I was told that I am ‘pathetic’ doesn’t bother me, and having the student tell me that they don’t like me and hasn’t all year doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the mantra of ‘I don’t care’ that I was up against.

  • I don’t care that my comments about the performers were rude,
  • I don’t care if I get in trouble,
  • I don’t care about filling out a behavior slip,
  • I don’t care about not being able to go on the last field trips,
  • I don’t care if I end up in Juvenile or not,
  • I don’t care about my life.

BAM!TKOI’m out.

I like to think of myself as someone who is not intimidating and easy to talk to and a good listener and non-judgmental, and open to everyone’s perspective. When a student has a good point, even if I don’t agree with it, or it may not be expressed appropriately, I acknowledge the validity of their thoughts. So when someone just shuts down it I get stymied at first.

I did my best; I provided examples of times when it seemed like the student did care. I talked about how choices, especially in the years to come, will directly affect their life. I made the case for not juvie vs. juvie and spoke about how I know people who experienced that and that this student did not want that. Eventually I admitted that I couldn’t make anyone care, and that I hoped that something to care about was found and that the move (hey wait. . . ) would provide a chance to find something to care about.

It could be that this was all a way of distancing themselves from everything to make leaving easier. Part of me hopes that this is the case. What scares me is the kids that aren’t moving away that I hear this from, and there are too many. The apathy is staggering. If you read my paper, Visual Literacy + Textual Literacy = Students Learning, Enjoying, and Making Meaning in regards to what they are Reading, then you know that if we can get kids interested then most of our challenges with behavior and buy-in and achievement would become moot.

So, if anyone has any advice about how to break kids out of the “I don’t care” frame of mind, or deal with that as an answer to everything, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share it.  I do care, and it saddens me to see someone shut down like that and not be open when someone (that’s me!) is trying to help.

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A new model

I convinced my 8th grade colleagues, and the administration, that King Middle School‘s model of Expeditionary Learning (EL) is worth looking into and emulating. We visited the school yesterday and everyone is really fired up about it. I think that we’ll do our first expedition next year!

I am familiar with King because I interned there for 13 weeks while completing the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine. (While at King, I taught the Laurie Halse Anderson‘s novel, Speak. You can learn more about that work here.)

If you aren’t familiar with Expeditionary Learning, it follows Outward Bound principles. An Expedition can be many things but at its center is careful planning, an authentic task, an authentic product, and an authentic audience. Notice the focus on authenticity; this drives both student and teacher to excellence. When you know that the public is going to see your work you are more likely to do what needs to be done and a bit more to make sure it is quality.  King’s website has examples of past and current Expeditions and products.

The culture of the school is amazing. We had two 8th grade students give us a tour of the school. Everybody, staff and students, was polite and helpful and excited for us to be there. Teachers waved us into their classrooms and were happy to talk to us. Even more impressive was that while there were 5 new adults in the room who were taking the teacher’s attention away, the students continued working quietly and without issue. We stopped a couple different students in the halls to ask questions and they were thoughtful, well spoken, and happy to help.

Everyone knows that integrating academic disciplines leads to higher student involvement, buy-in, and achievement. Everyone wants each student to be challenged appropriately to do their best, to learn and improve. Expeditionary learning combines all the things that we know about what is best for students and fits them all together. Instead of individual pieces, we have a cohesive whole. Differentiation within an Expedition becomes much easier. I think that it lessens the stigma that still surrounds ‘difference’, especially at the middle school. There is a great deal of structured independence embedded within this model, people work at different paces and perhaps in a different order. This means that it is no longer obvious that one student is doing something different than the rest of the kids. Traditional schools have kids move from class to class, subject to subject with no connections between. But think about it, if each class is working on a piece of a larger puzzle school starts to make more sense, the disconnect between classes is healed and, paired with the authenticity of the learning, students begin to discover the joys of learning and exploration and want to share what they know with others. It makes our job as a teacher more enjoyable and easier – the principal of King, Mike McCarthy, said during our meeting “Engagement trumps discipline.”  This is absolutely true, if kids are interested then they are not going to be a behavior problem.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this. I hope that the Administration continues to be fired up about it, that the school board will go see King’s “Celebration of Learning” and that Kittery can follow the shining example of King Middle.

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Teaching “Lord of the Flies” by Golding (part 1?)

[Click image to enlarge, click again to enlarge further.]

This is a reproduction of the poster that hangs in my classroom that I made using photos I took using my cell phone and the SmartBoard Notebook program. I sent the photos to my email, edited them with Picasa, and arranged them on in Notebook and then saved it as a jpeg file.

The students made themselves a bookmark with this information on it with space to take notes as they read William Golding‘s novel, Lord of the Flies. This is to help/guide/remind them to use it. The poster in the class is on chart paper and has plenty of room to take notes. As  you can see I spent a bit of time on this to make it look all fancy and such.

This is a great novel and the students really get into it. I keep telling them “If you were on the island, you would be the oldest kids there – remember that as you are reading.” It is also a great book to discuss symbolism; a concept that most of them are really just now developmentally able to grasp.

We’re not too far into the novel yet, they were assigned through chapter four for this Friday. The discussions have already been pretty good, especially as we looked at the opening of chapter three and talk about the change we see in Jack, how much time may have passed based on the clues given, and the conflict over priorities that is becoming evident.

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