Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


When the Network Betrays Us…

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on June 3, 2013
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No internet? The network is down? How am I going to print the worksheets I spent hours creating last night for today’s lesson? How will I give the online assessment I planned? What in the world will I do with my students for 90 minutes? How am I going to keep them engaged?

Some days, progress comes to a screeching halt. As a language arts teacher, I have to take step back, pull open the file cabinet, and switch gears. Technology is an amazing tool, but it can’t become the only tool used when teaching because it doesn’t always work. When the panic begins to rise in my throat because I’ve lost my connection, here are a few things I turn to for help:

1) Picture books for narrative writing.  I have a collection of picture books I keep in my classroom now that my own children have grown beyond that age. My favorites are the “Carl” books by Alexandra Day. I usually put students in groups of 3 or 4 and give each group one picture book. As a team, they must “read” the book and write the story that goes along with the pictures. It’s always interesting to listen as they share their interpretations of the pictures and elaborate on them as they write their version of the story.

2) Engage in some team competition. Postpone the lesson planned for the day and have a little friendly rivalry in the classroom. Two of my favorite go-to games are Lingo Bingo and Horrible Homonyms. The kids enjoy them, even while practicing skills they will see on the state tests. Having a Jeopardy game saved can also provide a great review day when the internet isn’t cooperating. This can be used with literary terms, concepts from a recent novel unit, or any other information you want to review.

3) Act up! One great thing about a language arts classroom, there are always plenty of books around. Sometimes I divide my students into small groups and give each one a short story or a folktale. They have to read the story, decide who will play each part, and then act it out for the class. With little preparation and practice time available, the performances can sometimes be quite entertaining.

4) Round-robin writing using pictures. My students love this activity and always beg for time at the end of class to share what has been written. I usually divide students into groups of 4 and give each student in the group a picture from a magazine (I keep a folder full of them in my file cabinet and reuse them every year). Each student begins writing the story of what is happening in his or her picture. After 5 minutes, I tell them to pass their picture and story clockwise. Each student then reads the beginning of the story he or she receives and continues writing it until time is called to pass it on again. Usually the students strive to write the most outlandish stories they can, and the results are normally hilarious.

5) Get out the marker boards. You remember them, right? Mine are simply plain white paper that I laminated. Hand one to a student or a small group of students with an Expo marker and they are immediately more engaged in the examples or questions I’m presenting. Even though my laptop won’t connect to the printer, it will still connect to the projector in my room. Instead of having my students circle the correct letter on worksheets I created, I can project each item on the whiteboard or Smartboard and have them answer on the marker boards. I benefit from instant feedback plus I won’t have a big pile of papers to grade at the end of the day.

Technology certainly makes our lives easier when it works, but don’t let it ruin your day when it doesn’t. Be creative and innovative. Your students will probably enjoy switching gears for a day.

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What Should We Read Next?

cheese

Recently, I planned to begin a new novel unit with my students, which always leads to a question:

What should we read?

Many people probably think it’s not a big deal, choosing a novel. Just pick one, right? There are so many available even when you narrow it down to books appropriate for my eighth grade students. It should be simple to pick something that would interest the majority of the students. (I’m not naive enough to think I’ll ever interest all of them.)

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every year I have to consider what my students’ lives entail. While some students might benefit from reading about someone else sharing their problems, others might feel overwhelmed having to face such personal issues in the school setting. It’s a fine line to tiptoe, wanting to take advantage of literature without causing distress for my students.

A novel that focuses on the theme of survival from abuse or neglect? Some years I can’t teach it because of the level of abuse a current student may have endured.

A teenage character whose father is an alcoholic? Maybe not a good choice.

Murder? I’ve even had to make my decision based on that.

Suicide? Always a touchy subject for this age.

In addition to the emotional issues, I have to weigh the religious, racial, and political climate of my students and their families. Will a parent feel as if I’m trying to shove my beliefs down their child’s throat if I teach a novel with Christian characters? They might though I doubt if we read something with Jewish characters anyone would think I’m trying to convert the kids to Judaism.

The factors to consider are endless. The novel I’m currently teaching was a last-minute choice based on a conversation I had with the guidance counselor. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer was not a good choice for this year, so we’re reading I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier instead.  (If someone in my class is in witness protection, there is no way for me to be aware of it, so I’m hoping it’s a safe choice.)

Obviously, trying to choose which novel to read pales in comparison to the horrifying situations in my students’ lives. I hate that I have to consider issues such as abuse and suicide. I repeatedly count my blessings and those of my whole family knowing what these young adults deal with every day. I pray they can all rise above the trauma in their lives and find success (along with a love of reading!) in my classroom and beyond.

Recipe for an 8th Grade Writer

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 2, 2013
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photo (3)

Ingredients:

1 unit on sentence structure, end punctuation, and comma usage (This is not optional. They do not remember from previous years. Ditto for all ingredients.)

1 unit on verb tense, subject verb agreement, pronoun antecedent agreement, plurals and possessives, homophones, and double negatives

1 unit on capitalization and spelling

1 unit on narrowing and focusing on topic

1 unit on elaboration and details as main idea support

1 unit on effective introductions and conclusions

1 unit on sentence variety, point of view, tone, and voice

1 unit on purpose and audience

1 unit on organizational structures

1 unit on advanced vocabulary and figurative language usage

Steps:

1) Mix ingredients one at a time into a slouching, uninterested, unmotivated 14-year-old student.

2) Add additional amounts of any of the above ingredients as needed for desired outcome.

3) Pray. A lot.


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