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Effective Book Clubs in the Middle School ELA Classroom

 Book clubs used to scare the bejeezus out of me.  Even way back when I was in college, book clubs were widely taught as one of the most effective ways to teach reading, but you had to make sure you did “this”, and don’t forget about “that”, and if you truly want to be effective, you must show up in full costume with a choreographed tap dance with the autograph of a celebrity to share.  I mean, perhaps that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but when you are just getting started all the information and strategies to implement can seem just as overwhelming. 

So, after 15 years of running middle school book clubs and making all the mistakes, here are my top 6 tips to cut out all of the noise to deliver effective book clubs in your middle school ELA classroom.

Don’t begin a book club until later on in the school year.

Book clubs take structure, routine, and trust from the teacher.  All of these things are built over time...

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5 Ways to Promote Independent Reading in Middle School

reading motivation Sep 02, 2021

5 Ways to Promote Independent Reading that will Forster a Love for Reading in Middle School

I remember getting in so much trouble as a middle school student for lying to my mom about not reading the book I was assigned for class.  I mean, I felt really bad about lying, but SHEESH, that book was boring!  I don’t remember a single lesson learned from the book...except not to lie to my momma.  The funny thing is, I ended up having that book passed down to me from a mentor for my personal library when I became a teacher, and do you know what?  In 15 years of teaching, not one single student checked out that book.  Not one.  What does that teach me when I look back on that fateful lie?  It wasn’t high-interest and wasn’t appealing to me, so no wonder I avoided it at all costs!

As a teacher though, I get it.  My middle school LA teacher might have had limited resources and this was the only set of books that were an option. ...

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5 Ways to Spend Less Time Grading

time savers Aug 26, 2021

Picture it.  You get home on a Friday afternoon from a long week teaching away in the classroom.  You’re met at the door by your puppy/kitty/kids/significant other/roommate/friend telling you all about the fun weekend ahead of you.  You have a ton of plans to help you disconnect from school, to relax, and to have some great “me time”.  You get started with dinner out and then a cozy movie at home.  Saturday is full of adventure, and you have a fun night out with family and/or friends.  Sunday, you have a lazy morning, you do what you need to do to recharge, you plan your meals for the week, you get some cleaning done, take a bubble bath, then head to bed early, fully ready to tackle next week in the classroom.

Sounds wonderful, right?  Truly though, how often does that EVER happen for a teacher?? Like, never.  That’s why we have to “picture it”...we don’t know what it looks like! *Cue cry laugh* Many...

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5 Ways to Spend Less Time Lesson Planning

time savers Aug 19, 2021

If I’m being honest with you, which I am, I’d have to tell you that teaching almost killed me.  Ok, so not literally, but most definitely figuratively.  Why did no one tell us the incredible amounts of time we would spend planning our lessons?  For me, I was so overwhelmed and stressed that if I did not find a way to spend less time lesson planning, I wasn’t going to be able to continue in the profession.

In my mind, giving up on my career wasn’t an option, so I spent one summer researching and preparing for ways to save time as a teacher.  I knew that lesson planning and grading were the areas in which I needed to make major adjustments to protect my sanity.  

Here are the 5 Ways to Spend Less Time Lesson Planning:

1. Spend time at the beginning of the school year getting organized.

I spent a lot of time on the couch during the summer planning out how I would introduce, practice, and master all the standards.  Then, when it...

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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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