Monday, February 3, 2014

On the Cusp

This is my second year teaching 8th grade and I feel like the name of my blog has come under scrutiny. One thing that I've noticed about 8th graders is that they are much more high school than 6th, or even 7th, grade. My colleagues in the 6th and 7th grades are consistently remarking on how much the kids have grown up and matured since their time with them. I see this as well, even over the course of the year. The middle schoolers I meet in August are freshman before May. This is a huge growth year for adolescents and it makes running a successful classroom library quite tricky in an 8th grade classroom. For example, my students are obsessed with John Green right now and I don't think there's any way to argue that John Green is a middle grades writer. He's brilliant and funny and he writes YA. They are also in love with Laurie Halse Anderson, and while some of my struggling students have been immersed in CHAINS and FORGE, most of them have clasped onto SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, with THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY having a giant waitlist. These are not middle grade titles, but my kids adore them. This makes me concerned for any potential justification I may have to make as to why a title is in my classroom library, but more than anything, I see my students becoming readers and that is what is most important. This is also where you have to be very on top of what your students are reading, particularly if they got it from your library. I work in a very conservative district and this is a real concern for me. However, for the most part, I think the voraciousness with which my students are reading has been seen as a welcome change and I am always quick to tell a student when I'm not sure that they are ready for a title. Usually, being in 8th grade, this just makes them want to read it more. But it allows me to have that conversation with them, telling them that there may be some content in the book that they struggle with, but that they need to not get hung up on particulars and focus on the bigger picture. Trusting kids makes them want to be trustworthy. All of that to say, I'm not so sure that Middle Grade Reads is quite the proper title for my blog at this point, because most of what my students are begging for is YA. Those of you who teach 8th grade, have you noticed the same thing in your classroom? How do you handle it?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sharing: Locomotive

LocomotiveLocomotive by Brian Floca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book takes you on a turn of the century cross-country trek by train. Told in second person as a passenger of the train, you are overloaded with gorgeous page after page, filled with well-researched information.
This book was visually stunning. I could have looked at the intricate illustrations for hours.
I also learned so many neat facts (I like to collect those), like how engineers had a lever that would release sand onto the track if a train was having trouble getting enough traction to move forward.
This is wonderful informational picture book for the upper-elementary set, or anyone who loves trains.
Personal note:I tried to read it to my 4 year old and he lost interest about half way through, but my 10 year old loved it.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Argument Paragraph Unit

           Coming back from Christmas break has put instruction in my classroom into Argument mode! We began our Argument Paragraph Unit after returning. In the 8th grade, we are largely modeling our units on the MAISA units that are shared at the previous link and so far they seem to be working really well. The first semester, I was trying to mash together bits and pieces from a million different books by Heinemann (my all-time favorite professional publisher) and was really struggling to get cohesiveness and any type of fluency. So I spent the larger part of two months really scouring the internet to try and find a curriculum that I could base myself off of. I surprised myself this year by learning that I really need some kind of foundation to go off of, before I felt comfortable enough to really be creative with my lesson planning.
            So far the students seem to get the idea of a debatable claim and evidence, but they are having loads of trouble with commentary. I got some ideas for how to supplement that concept through some of the brilliant educators I work with and follow on Twitter. First, we're going to try the Slip or Trip activity, to really get students thinking about why commentary is needed to show how evidence supports a claim. Then, we are going to try the Write Around Text-on-Text method, as described at the link by Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian). This should help students be able to build off of one another's ideas as well as the text itself to figure out how the pieces of argument all fit together.
           I will do my best to start updating here much more frequently and share how this unit is progressing.