I have not noticed much talk about standards in the middle school classroom. In many elementary schools I have been in the teachers have the standards written out and often objectives are on the board for students to see. This was not the case in the middle school I was observing. While observing in a social studies room I asked how planning around standards was handled. The teacher showed me the standards that he had to work on. He showed me that their district took the standards and blended them together to concentrate on just a few main groups. There were about 6 things that he needed to work on with each class. This was very different to the elementary classroom where there are multiple standards to work on for each subject. I really liked the idea of blending the standards to have only a few benchmarks to focus on. This seems like it would make instruction planning easier. You could also do a few weeks of addressing one benchmark and then spend the next few weeks working on another benchmark.
Today I was able to see the way my teacher sets up each of her lessons. The format she uses for her lessons is called backwards design. This means that she does a large amount of frontloading for each lesson. She gives the students lots of background information about what they are going to read about. The students receive excessive information on the setting and events' going on during the time period the story is set in. Then the students read the story. As they read they answer several comprehension and higher order thinking questions about each chapter. When they are finished reading, in the middle of the lesson, she gives a test on comprehension, vocabulary, and relating to text. After the test the students do the final part of the lesson which is a larger final project. Some examples of these final projects include making a cookbook, holding a Socratic seminar, or making a political cartoon. This design allows for students to realize the test isn't the end all of a lesson, a deeper understanding and thinking deeply about the text is the ultimate goal of the lesson.
While at practicum this week I had the amazing opportunity to watch a Socratic seminar that was run as a fish bowl. This sounds quite strange to someone whom has never seen a classroom in which these practices were in place. When a discussion is run in a fish bowl it means that there are two circles of students. An inner circle (the ones having the conversation) and an outer circle (the ones observing the conversation), thus creating a fishbowl effect in which some students are being observed from the outside. The socratic seminar component means that the students prepare answers and discussion points before coming to class. The students we observed had just completed reading the book The Chosen, a story following two Jewish boys growing up in the United States in the late 1930's. The students were given four questions relating to the book earlier in the week. The students did not know if they would be in the sacratic seminar run on Thursday or Friday and they also did not know which 2 of the main components of the program is developing a school wide acronym that highlights the important aspects of the program. The acronym at Nicollet is F.I.R.E. a four questions would be asked during their seminar. Ms.Christy selected half the class to go Thursday and we were able to observe the entire conversation. The students who were selected to have the conversation made up the inside of the fishbowl, and the other half of the class sat in a circle behind them. The students observing were each given one student to assess during the conversation. They were to write down how many times the student they were observing talked, what they said when they spoke, and any other observations they saw. Each time a student spoke they were given one point. For full credit a student needed to talk 5 times. This really kept the conversation moving. The students also had a very good conversation, because they did not need to answer the question asked. They could elaborate on something someone said or they could ask follow up questions. I was really impressed with the conversation I saw happening. The teacher only asked the question and then sad nothing else until half way through the period when she interjected with the second question. The students talked the entire period and I feel that all of them had a deeper understanding of the text because of the conversation.
The positive behavior intervention system (PBIS) is a program that schools implement to help promote positive behaviors in their school while deterring students from problem behaviors. This program is in its second year at Nicollet Junior High. The entire process of implementing the program takes 3-5 years. There are several components of the program designed to explicitly teach appropriate behaviors, reinforce these behaviors, and in doing this deterring students from problem behaviors. One of thecommon saying is to display your Nicollet FIRE. The F stands for focus, the I is for integrity, the r is for responsibility, and the e is for excellence. You can find this acronym all around the school and each of the students and staff know what it means. These four words describe how everyone should be acting at all times in the school. Another component of the program is charts all around the school highlighting how to display Nicollet FIRE in different areas of the school. It has guidelines for how to act in the gym, in the hall, in the cafeteria, and in the classroom. Whenever a student is caught displaying their Nicollet FIRE they receive a FIRE ticket. The FIRE tickets can be used to purchase items from the FIRE store. The program seems to be having great success at Nicollet, the program really has helped create a great learning environment.
I had the opportunity to attend a staff development meeting on Thursday December 9th at Nicollet Junior High. The topic of the meeting was differentiation. There are a group of teachers designated to present topics at these meetings to educate the other teachers. They have been having a series of meetings on the different facets of differentiation and the one I attended was about grouping. In the meeting I learned that there are 3 different types of groups. Informal groups just meet for a few minutes possibly at the beginning or end of class to do a quick check in. Formal groups meet for longer periods of time; they could possibly work together for a class period or even a few class periods. The third kind of group is a base group. Base groups are long term groups that meet sometimes for a whole year to work together. I also learned that there are 3 main ways to group students. You can group students by readiness. This would mean analyzing how ready a student is to take on the task and group them with students in such a way that all the students can be successful. You could also group students based on interests, this is especially successful if you need them to work together to come up with an idea for a project. The final way to group students is based on their learning profile. Grouping by learning profile would be very helpful if students are expected to work together to fill out a study guide or study for a test. The final thing I took away from the meeting was a quote. It read, "Purposefully group students based on likeness rather than difference." I found this to be very insightful, because often we think we should group students with differences together so that they can help each other. This is not a bad idea but I now realize the benefits of grouping on likeness also.
As a reader I really enjoyed reading the book Rules by Cynthia Lord. The book allows you to see the world through the eyes of 12 year old Catherine. Catherine has a brother with autism, best friend who is spending her summer in California, a family whom she feels is always asking a lot of her, and hopefully a new friend in the neighbor who has just moved in next door. Catherine loves her brother but at times becomes frustrated by his actions. To help teacher her brother how to act Catherine is constantly keeping a list of rules to guide him. The rules add a bit of humor and help the reader relate to the story. While I read I kept reminiscing to things I felt or things that had happened to me when I was in middle school years ago. Some of my favorite rules include: "If you don't have the words you need borrow someone else's" "Sometimes things work out, but don't count on it." "Sometimes people laugh when they like you, but sometimes they laugh to hurt you." "Saying you'll do something means you have to do it- unless you have a very good excuse." This book about learning important life lessons sprinkled with humor is a very enjoyable and insightful read.
As a teacher I also really enjoyed reading the book. I think that middle school students would really be able to relate to the main character. Even if they do not have a brother with autism or a budding friendship with a boy in a wheelchair they can relate to the confusion and sometimes awkwardness of being in middle school. Many times in the book you can sense how torn Catherine is, a common feeling for many during adolescences. A simple trip to the beach leaves her torn between a more childish swimsuit she can play in and a bikini which she thinks looks better but does not fit her properly. She also is constantly torn between wanting to spend time without her brother and feeling bad every time she makes him mad. I think it would be comforting for my students to read a story which makes them realize they are not the only ones who think their family is abnormal and feeling torn or conflicted inside is a common thing. I also could not help but think about the great journaling activities that could be done to supplement the book. A journal with their own list of rules or higher order thinking questions around shared experiences with the main character. The book overall has a great message and would be great for students to read independently or as a whole class.
Another class I was able to observe this week in junior high was the students of color honors literature class. I think this is a very great class that I have not seen offered in any other elementary or middle schools. It is a great way to form community and give the students of color a place in which they can feel part of a community. My cooperating teacher stated that it helped form friendships between students that helped keep them motivated in other school subjects. The literature that is read in the class comes from many different cultures. Currently they are reading Nervous Conditions. A great piece of literature detailing a girls life as she grows up in Rhodesia. All of the students had a lot to say and were passionate about what they were reading. I could tell that a safe place had been created in which all the students felt accepted and like they had something to contribute to the conversation. The students seemed very excited to be in the class and I could tell they all really liked the class and the book choices. I think the students enjoy the class that much more because they are reading literature that they can relate with. In many mainstream classes the perspective of the white man is the dominant perspective, but these students have the chance to be in a classroom in which the minority voice is present. . They also offer a students of color social studies class that I hope to observe. I would love to see what the curriculum looks like for that class and if the same history is told or if they teach from a different viewpoint as well. If I have the opportunity to teach in middle school one day I would definitely push for a class like this to be offered.
While at my junior high placement today I had the wonderful opportunity of observing in an "Avid"classroom. Avid is a program that is designed to help students who normally may not have the chance to go to college. The program has been around for 30 years and may be started in the fourth grade but this is the first year Avid was introduced to the 7th and 8th graders at the junior high I am placed in. Avid is designed with a certain student in mind, those students who are underrepresented in college classrooms. This includes first generation college students and ethnic minorities. There are many requirements. Initially teachers referred students who met the previous criteria and whose grades fell in the middle, those students with B, C or even D grades. Once the students had been selected they were brought in with their parents and told about the program. The students then had to apply to the program and go through an interview process to get into the program. Once selected for the program the students had to sign a contracting. There are many terms to the contract including getting at least C's or higher and doing 2 hours of homework each night. The students also take an elective class which is the Avid class I observed. In this class on Tuesdays and Thursdays they work collaboratively on questions they have from other class. This is what I observed and it was amazing. The students all had two questions to present to their small group. They would take turns presenting one question at a time and the other group members would guide the presenter to the right answer. The group members did not just tell the answer, they asked the presenter questions until the presenter was able to come up with a correct answer on their own. One question a girl in the group I observed had was, "What is cyanobacteria?" Her group members asked, "Do you know what bacteria is?" "Do you know what cyano means?" The questions were great and soon the presenter had an answer to her question. On the other days the students work on organizational skills, learn how to take Cornell notes, and talk about college. The students shared some of their feelings about the program with us and all of them enjoy it and are excited to be there. Ninety-two percent of the students in the Avid program end up going to college. It is a great research based program and I feel fortunate that I got to observe that kind of learning in action.
Entering a junior high setting after working in an elementary school since August was quite exciting. Junior high was very different from any elementary school and it even had a different feel from middle schools I had been in. The fact that this school is all 7th, 8th and 9th graders made it have more of a high school feeling. They all seemed to know where they were going and did not take much extra interest in any of the adults present. This was a stark difference from elementary school in which all of the students want to talk to the teachers and are very excited by new adults in the room. The junior high students did very well following the set up routines. Besides a few students who trickled in right at the bell, the majority of the students were sitting in their desks by the time the bell rang. Another thing that struck me as interesting was how dynamic all of the student's lives were. Elementary students also have very dynamic lives but these junior high students have complicated social lives, mixed in with varying family lives, and extra-curricular activities, on top of the fact that they are reaching a pivotal time in making sure they are well prepared for high school and college. Our cooperating teacher told us about students who had boyfriend problems that were effecting their grades, she told us about students who are practically raising families on their own, she talked about students who had recently moved to the country and had not spent any time prior to middle school in a structured school setting. Despite all the circumstances the students were brilliant. They were very good at higher order thinking and while looking at their work I realized they all had very insightful thoughts and were able to see the bigger picture of things. It was great to see how different these students were in comparison to the elementary students I had been working with.
Here is the first TEST entry in my blog. Tomorrow I begin my middle school practicum experience. Feeling a little anxious and nervous but excited!