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4 Ways to Provide Continual Student Critique and Feedback

project based learning Jul 29, 2021

Ok.  By now, you might be thinking, “Yeah, this all seems great, but how IN THE WORLD do I manage all of this??”  I get it.  It can be overwhelming to think about how to implement authentic projects that showcase student voice, choice, and research all while assessing standards and skills. Shew! Am I right?

Well, the last key to project based learning in a middle school language arts classroom is continued feedback and critique of student ideas which helps to solve this problem!  

The successful implementation of this key will help you to manage project based learning by:

  1. Allowing you to direct students in their research throughout the unit,
  2. Ensuring that students are on the right track throughout,
  3. Encouraging but also redirecting student ideas, and (possibly most importantly)
  4. Allowing you to develop a good idea of how students are doing for assessment (AND EASE OF GRADING!)

So, how do you incorporate continual feedback and critique of student...

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3 Strategies to Give Students Voice and Choice in the Classroom

project based learning Jul 22, 2021

I will never forget the faculty meeting that completely changed the way I would teach forever. My admin would like for that statement to mean they provided such terrific professional development value that I was inspired to change the world all because of their stellar leadership. That’s not what happened.

Our state had just adopted new ELA standards and this particular faculty meeting was supposed to teach me how to use them. I arrived at 8:30, large coffee, notebook, planbook, and multi-color felt-tip pens in hand, ready to tackle some new standards!  We had already been informed that the standards were hefty, but not too terribly different from what we were already using.  The hardest part was supposed to be their new structure, and we’d have to learn how to navigate them.

This is one of those meme worthy, expectation vs. reality moments.  My expectation=learning how to navigate the new structure, then collaboration with my colleagues on how to...

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How to Promote Curiosity in the Classroom

project based learning Jul 15, 2021

You’re here again for the third post in our series on project based learning! You must really be dedicated to learning how to make project-based learning work for you in your classroom.  If you are new here and you want to catch up, you can do that here and here.

A google search of “strategies to promote curiosity in the classroom” will result in several blog posts with lists of one-off strategies you can try in your classroom to promote curiosity.  While none of them are bad, they are not complete. Just like we don’t limit our use of texts written by and with protagonists of color and with different cultures and ethnicities to a designated month in the school year, we don’t promote curiosity with one-off strategies.  Just like culturally diverse texts are important to be integrated into every corner of our classroom to be most effective, the same is true of promoting curiosity.  That is why project-based learning is so important;...

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Engaging and Authentic Projects for the Middle School ELA Classroom

project based learning Jul 09, 2021

You came back!  I’m glad you’re here to dig deeper into what it means to have a project-based learning classroom. If you’re new here, welcome!  We’re glad to have you!  This is blog-post 2 in a series dedicated to the project-based learning classroom.  If you need to catch up, you can do that here.

I remember back to my middle school days.  My focus was solely my friends, like the majority of middle school students everywhere.  School, to me, was a necessary evil.  Looking back, now as a teacher myself, I can pretty much pin-point why I felt this way.  Three of the five projects that stand out to me the most were: a binder of the periodic elements, a poster of the 3rd Amendment of the Constitution, and a novel in a can.  I remember all of these projects because I disliked them so much.  They took so much of my time and I thought they were incredibly pointless.  (OK, part of my middle school attitude might...

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5 Keys to Project-Based Learning

You’ve heard it for years now, “Your students should be involved in project-based learning for ultimate success.”  They keep telling you that without really showing you how!  I mean, what does project-based learning really mean?  What does a project-based learning classroom look like?  Does it mean that after every unit, you assign a project choice-board or a fun activity that gets your students out of their seat?  I mean, that sounds pretty good and students get results, soooo…?

Not exactly.  Then, what is a project-based classroom?  I’m going to rip the band-aid off and give you the honest truth...for most classrooms, it means rethinking our units from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach.  In the middle school language arts classroom, you utilize a student-centered approach to reading units where students explore a topic through questioning and research throughout the entire unit....

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Do Teachers Really Get The Summer Off?

Uncategorized Jun 17, 2021

Does this question not absolutely drive you up the dang wall??  It always comes from a well-meaning lad who has absolutely no idea what it takes to be a teacher.  No. Clue. 

Or, it sometimes it truly comes from a jerk who is just expressing jealousy about having to report to a 9-5 when they'd rather be at home.  Either way, we always reply simply with a list of the things a teacher must do throughout the summer to ensure a seamless start to the school year.  

The problem with this thinking though, is teachers truly need a break!  We NEED to have some time off in the summer because we go nonstop for 10 months straight...the summer is our time to rejuvenate...the sun is our power source!  So, I know it is not engrained in us to be able to take the whole summer off, but our mindset needs to focus on taking a breather from school so that we can be recharged and ready to rock a new school year in August.

So, here are five trips to truly take a...

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2021 Summer Reading List for Middle School Students

middle school novels May 19, 2021

Give me a hands up right now if you are one EXHAUSTED teacher.  Teaching through a pandemic is certainly not for the faint of heart.  Some of us “got to stay home” (don’t you just want to punch the person who phrases 100% virtual learning like this) while others had to juggle a hybrid model because doing two jobs at once is a piece-of-cake, and some of us were in-person but maintaining masks, social distancing, cleaning...all the things to keep these little darlings safe.  I’d venture to say that we are even more tired at this point in the year than we were in our first year of teaching! (Sorry first year teachers...I promise, this isn’t normal!)

As I started thinking (dreading) putting together the summer reading assignment for my students, it dawned on me:  they are dreading RECEIVING the summer reading assignment just as much as I am dreading giving it.  They are exhausted too, and who could blame them?  Many of us have...

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How to Teach Theme in a Middle School Classroom


Teaching theme in middle school seems to stump teachers and rightfully so.  Theme is a concept that requires deep thinking; a skill middle school students are developing but have not yet mastered. So, how can you teach theme in a way that students will understand and retain the information?

First, begin by teaching the difference between topic and theme.

Students are bombarded with the idea that topics are themes.  Everything from "theme" parties to sadly, teachers who misunderstood the difference between the two.  How do you combat this?

I begin with helping students plan a "theme" birthday part.  They have free reign over all aspects of the expenses spared!  Once they have planned every detail from the venue, to the guest attire, to the food, to the decorations, we talk about how this is JUST the beginning of theme and that actually the "theme" of Hawaiian (a party theme for example) is actually a topic.

Check out my FREE party planning lesson...

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How to Take that BORING Class Novel you HAVE to Read and Make it a Text Students Crave!

We've all been there.  It doesn't matter how great your resources are or how much time and effort you put into creating an engaging unit...if it is a less-desirable text, many students just WILL NOT get into it.  What's a teacher to do??  I mean, it's not like your school has tons of money to purchase new class sets of novels...and you certainly don't either.  

This is what I did to engage students when they just did not like the text we had to read:

Let me give you a little back story.  For 12 years, I read Paula Fox's Slave Dancer.  The story is rich in figurative language, imagery, advanced vocabulary, character development and examples of developing mood and tone.  It really is a beautifully written text that provides valuable teaching opportunities.  

The problem though is this:

I can make learning about figurative language engaging.  

I can make learning about mood and tone engaging.

I can make learning...

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Top 5 Spooky Short Stories for Halloween and the Literary Elements and Skills to Teach with Them!

Uncategorized Sep 28, 2020

Stuck on how to introduce your Spooky Story unit?  I'd love to share how I start mine!

Spooky Story Beginning Lesson Plan

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Halloween Spooky Stories HAVE to be my favorite units of the year!!  All the suspense and mysteries left unknown just make me (and my students) so excited!  Below are my students' and my favorite spooky stories to read during the scariest month of the year and the literary elements and skills to be taught with them.

"The Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe

This is a story of a deranged caretaker who labels himself as mad.  Every night for a week, he stalks the old man in his sleep and is convinced the old man's eye is evil.  He kills the old man on the 8th night and thinks he is successful until his mental illness takes over and the "heart beat" of the old man drives him completely mad, and he confesses to the murder.

Literary elements to cover-


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