Eli’s essay entitled “Natural Nostalgia” placed second in the nation in the junior prose category. He also received a check for $100. Eli graduated from Kirbyville Middle School in May and will attend Branson High School this fall.
For more information about this contest, please follow my blog to see my next post, “Contest #6 that Works for My Students: Outdoor Writers Association Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards.”
Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.
Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean.
Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.
Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.
If this post made you think click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more about my ELA classes. I’m a big fan of student writing contests, authentic writing, PBL and more. Thanks for reading!
Here’s what else I do to help students find writing topics they care about and then start writing
part 2 of 4
I know from teaching middle school (6-8) ELA for a few years that, in order for students to be passionate about their writing, they must first have a topic that they care about. When they care, they won’t mind taking the time to struggle to get their ideas expressed effectively. They’ll persevere through the thinking and writing (and rethinking and rewriting) that inevitably happens when they are truly engaged and committed to their ideas. In a previous post, I listed three ways I help my students find topics they care about. Here they are:
1) I give them lots of choices. If they don’t like any of the fifty or more prompts I offer, they can write about their own idea.
2) I regularly assign slice-of-life essays about the ordinary moments of life that, while small, reveal our humanity and common experiences.
3) I simply give students time to think.
The fourth thing I do to help students find a good topic is this: I let them talk.
Nothing builds enthusiasm as much as inviting students to share their ideas, connections, and memories. Writing ideas bubble up around the room as others share their experiences. I carry a dry erase marker on me at all times so I can rush over to the whiteboard and jot down a random idea like “snowboard life lesson thing” for Gwen or “spaghetti disaster” for Casey.
Usually, after they’ve talked for a while (about 15-25 minutes), I’ll notice students here and there pulling out pen and paper to start writing. I use that as my guide. I make a quick announcement that it’s time to start writing. I invite them to grab a clipboard and find a spot on the floor around the room or at a table where they can be productive. Many choose to stay at their desks. If they sit with a buddy, they must still be productive.
Then I turn off the fluorescent lights and flip on the white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It creates an inviting glow that signals it’s time to settle in for writing.
Those kids who pulled out their paper first to write will usually be my star students. Because I know those kids can easily dive right into writing, I make sure to keep an eye on those who may need help getting started. I let everyone know it’s okay if nothing gets written down that day, but the goal for the next is to have a semblance of an idea at the beginning of class. And then I let those strugglers stare at the wall some more. I pour out the patience.
One of the most introspective pieces ever composed in my classes was written by a student who stared at the wall for most of the class period. At first, I thought Joe was just biding his time, but when I checked with him, he told me he just couldn’t think of anything. So I let him stare.
The next day, he rushed into class with a sheet of notebook paper covered on both sides with some wonderful personal thinking about being young, making choices, and about how it can actually feel bewildering to have so many options in life. A truly interesting piece with ideas I never expected this student to harbor. In fact, I still keep a copy in my “Why I Teach” binder. Rereading it reminds me that I should be patient when discussion doesn’t ignite everyone’s imagination right away. Some kids just need more time to think.
The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me to catch that post! Thanks for reading!
I attended Branson Tech Institute, an educational technology conference, July 17-18 at Branson High School. The Branson School District extended invitations to attend the conference to area schools, including my district, Kirbyville R-VI. (Thanks to my district for paying my registration fee!)
About a dozen different classes were offered during each of nine sessions. Classes were categorized into grade level and subject areas. The district also provided a single link on Google drive for the presentation materials, handouts and links from all the sessions. A gold mine! Here’s a list and brief description of the sessions I chose to attend.
Chromebook Cart Management: This was a refresher course presented by Branson faculty member Kim Good. It showed me ways to keep my own computer cart organized in my classroom. Good news! My school already does what she recommended!
Google Forms: Quizzes, Data Collection & More: Presenter and Branson teacher Courtney Brown taught the basics of Google Forms. Even though I have attended other classes on Forms, I still don’t use it regularly in my classroom. However, I feel that this will change this year. I will be having students complete one on the first or second day of school this year. I’ll use it to give me an update on students’ writing style and interests, and home Internet access.
Curating Great Resources for ELA: Presenter Melody Alms taught this course on internet resources specifically for teaching ELA. My biggest take-away: CommonLit.org, a fantastic site for fiction and nonfiction literacy resources. So much to discover!
Twitter for Beginners: Even though I have started to more actively use Twitter this summer, this session taught by Katie Kensinger taught me some basics that I just didn’t know. By the way, I only have one Twitter account (many teachers have both personal and professional accounts). My Twitter account includes shares from this blog and my personal writing blog; my profile includes links to both blogs. I only tweet about topics related to my writing and teaching.
Social Media in the Classroom: This course focused on the use of Instagram in the classroom. Branson teacher Sarah Yocum shared her private class Instagram account and procedures. Very interesting. I had toyed with this idea previously this summer based on an Instagram post made by a former student. Read about that here. As a result, I have started my own private account for my ELA classes at Kirbyville Middle School. You can see my first four posts in the sidebar of this blog. I envision posting photos for writing prompts, writing tips, class photos (with parent permission, of course).
Parents, students, and my Kirbyville colleagues may request to follow the account; however, I don’t follow anyone in return. Students must have a parental permission form signed before they can follow the account.
Because not all students have Instagram (especially in middle school), students won’t “have to have” access for assignments; the class Instagram will be supplemental. Posts that must be seen for an assignment will be on the smartboard in class or given on a handout. This will be just a new way to interact with students in a medium they are comfortable with.
EdPuzzle: This class taught about a free interactive site that allows the teacher to select a video and then edit it, thereby tailoring it to their instruction. The program also contains analytical tools to evaluate student progress and mastery. While I found this very valuable, it seemed to require more time to learn than I am willing to invest at this time.
ESL — Modified and Meaningful Instructions with Technology: This class was focused for literacy coaches and provided a wealth of information and resources that I need occasionally as I interact and teach students for whom English is their second language. I wish I had learned this material about two years ago when a Spanish-speaking student who knew no English entered my classroom. Biggest takeaway: We must provide our ESL students with the common speech alternatives to academic terms, even going so far as providing them English vocab tip sheets for them to access when doing assignments and tests. For example, there are many synonyms that are helpful to know when we talk about addition in math class. Some of these are how many altogether, sum, plus, add it up, and others.
GoFormative: This session discussed the use of this tool that evaluates learning of all students. Found at goformative.com, this site lets teachers create instant quizzes over videos and material you select to teach. I could possibly use this for reading comprehension checks and vocabulary lessons.
Green Screen and Stop Motion: Taught by Paula Bronn and Kari Houston, this class gave teachers the basics of incorporating dynamic and exciting presentation options for kids. I can see kids producing professional presentations from exotic locales (based on the images they find to project on the screen). The possibilities are really endless and it’s hard to wrap my mind around all that could be achieved with this tool. Added bonus of this session: I learned I don’t actually need a green screen. Green paper will suffice. The only hardware I would need would be an Ipad and a tripod. They even showed us how to make stop-motion videos with claymation and Lego figures. Here’s the main site I would check out first: Doink.
Poster Sessions: On Tuesday morning of the event, all sessions hosted a table in the commons area. Each attendee was given a card to have initialed by the presenter at each table. One goal of the poster sessions was to get the initials of 15 presenters to win a door prize (I won a drawstring backpack). However, the biggest goal of the poster sessions was simply to give attendees a chance to gather information on sessions that they didn’t actually take a class for, due to time constraints. Smart idea and very beneficial!
To conclude, my greatest takeaway from the entire conference is to make sure that technology propels a student’s education forward. Technology is an incredible gift, IF teachers use it intelligently, effectively and efficiently.
In other words, technology doesn’t always win against tried-and-true tools such as pen and paper, but being informed about technology’s benefits and potential uses does help me connect better with my students who have lived their entire lives surrounded by it.
Yesterday I met for about an hour with Leslie Wyman, the managing director of the White River Valley Historical Society based in Forsyth, Missouri. I had contacted her last week by email to inquire whether there were any projects for which my students could provide basic research and/or writing.
I really didn’t know what I would find out, or even if there would be any opportunities for my students. In her reply email, however, she told me that several ideas came to mind! Wow, I thought, this is exciting!
So we met and talked about one idea in particular, which sounds very promising. I’m pondering the idea a bit further and hope to meet with her again next week to ask her a few more questions so we can, together, design a “real world” project for my seventh-graders.
Since 2014, The New York Times has sponsored an opinion-editorial contest on its Learning Network site. Last spring, all of my seventh-graders submitted entries for their chance to win. This contest engaged my students, especially because they knew they were writing for The New York Times.
Age Range: This contest is open to students aged 13-19.
Topic or Prompt: Students may write on any topic they wish. If they have trouble finding a topic, give them this list published by the Times. Consider narrowing it down first, since the size of the list can be overwhelming. Also, depending on the age of your students, skim through the list to eliminate any topics that aren’t age-appropriate. Some of the topics are too mature for my middle schoolers. Some sample topics from recent years include Is Social Media Making Us More Narcissistic? Another one: Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?
For a complete list of 2017 winners with links to the top ten, go here. Copy off a few of the winning essays to use as mentor texts.
Best Thing To Me About This Contest:
The clout of writing for the Times makes this contest special. My students hold this newspaper that’s been in publication for 162 years in high esteem and like knowing their writing may receive recognition from it.
Skills Addressed: Students must state their argument and support it efficiently with background information, examples, evidence, and counter-arguments. As for evidence, at least two sources must be used; one of those must be from the Times.
Click here for a rubric that shows what the judges are looking for. We discussed the rubric in class and used it as a checklist during peer response. I also used it during grading.
Share these tips from the editors with your students. Here’s one the editors offer: “Start strong. Grab our attention in the first few sentences, but don’t take too long to state your argument.”
Length: 450 words or less. This is about concision. Students learn to make every word absolutely necessary to the argument.
Deadline: Early April. Check back here in early 2018 for next year’s date.
Prizes: This year, 128 winners were chosen out of nearly 8,000 entries. This includes 10 top winners, 15 runners-up, 45 honorable mentions, and 58 writers whose essays survived to the third round. Winning essays are published on the Learning Network site.
The Unexpected Bonus: Students enter their essays online themselves here. This makes it super easy to submit entries. Students also must enter their sources in the online form. Examples are given so students format citations correctly.
For more information: Click here for complete rules.
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I drove the twenty minutes to my classroom today to . . . start. There’s always a day or two (or three) before the big day when we’re required to return to school for in-service training. On days like today, when I’m often working alone, I just begin. Here’s what I did, with the help of my husband for the heavy lifting:
returned all the furniture that had been moved to one side of my classroom by maintenance staff to its approximate place in the room
untangled a giant wad of electrical and computer cords that had also been moved
connected my computer back to its dock
set up the sound system
tested the speakers; played Ed Sheeran for a sound check; yep… sounds good
tested my smartboard
connected the document camera
put the desks into loose rows that will probably change before it all begins
helped a new teacher across the hall begin to get settled
made a mental note to purchase an oil diffuser like the one used by the same new teacher
rearranged my small black bookshelves
put the carpet down
uncovered the big bookshelves
stared inside my closet. (But that’s all I did because it’s packed too tightly. Once I start unpacking it, there will be no going back.)
put some new stickers in my sticker drawer. (Never underestimate the value of a sticker.)
resolved to buy a new poster or two for my big poster wall
looked at some boxes of supplies and books I requisitioned last spring
decided to leave those boxes for another day
Now, I’m off to start a draft about Contest #4 That Works for My Students. Look for it tomorrow! Here’s a post about Contest #3. I love using writing contests in my ELA teaching.
If you enjoyed this post, click like and leave a comment. Follow my blog to catch that Contest #4 post! Thanks for reading.