Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Teaching Seventh graders is intense!

Last year was my first year dealing with the end of the year with seventh graders, the last year in our elementary system.  I mean I had taught them creative writing and French but hadn't been a grade seven classroom teacher.  One reason being that I didn't want to deal with all this transition "stuff".  I also loved teaching grade six.  I loved the Social Studies.  I could handle the math.  I just loved the age level-the beginnings of thinking more widely and the last year of real childhood.  Strangely when I went job hunting, after being a consultant, there were a lot of six/seven splits (no one usually wants a split of course and many people don't want grade seven).

Those of you who have followed my blog knew that it was quite a year but having ten grade sixes kept the energy a bit different plus I only had five girls of my 17 grade sevens so that made an energy difference as well.

This year I have a straight seven with 12 girls and 17 boys.  And it's been interesting.  And those 12 girls pack a punch!  They speak to Rotary clubs, they go on the radio.  They run assemblies.  They build schools in India...  Last year when it came time for our Grade Seven Assembly, I couldn't quite imagine the class doing valedictorian speeches.  The ones who liked to write hated speaking out loud.  I ended up using all their writing to create a  choral reading of everything and everyone they wanted to thank and they all did it together in the assembly.  This year they are all writing speeches and this afternoon we are going to hear them and choose who will speak for the class.  And as I write this I am getting an idea of another choral poem... hmm...

There is so much energy to contain.  I have to say I love my first periods when they actually get lost in their reading and I do get some peace!  In all my frustrations at times, I can assure you that this is a class that loves to read.  But this time of the year there is a lot of emotion as these kids get ready to leave their small elementary school (many of been here since kindergarten) to go off to high school.  Our grade sevens are going to 11 different high schools-some will be the only one of their friends going to their new schools so that it's both scary and exciting.  At this age your friends are everything so it isn't easy although they are wanting to go to the next step.

Yesterday they talked about their favorite places at the school and went there for a few minutes and wrote and drew about them.  This is my last "teaching day" this week.  Tomorrow we are off to Playland and Friday downtown for a graduation lunch and wander (well okay, try wandering with 53 kids).

Monday afternoon we had a great time with one of my students' dads who did print making with them.   Yesterday after school many were involved in a flash mob with their Me to We club at a Metrotown .  We have all been fascinated with the flash mob phenomenon so that they loved finally getting to do this.  It is so hard for me to imagine our school without our wonderful teacher-librarian who once again made magic happen.

This is kind of my meditation before I go off to school this morning...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back in the classroom (or the post I was doing before the riot...)

The end is near and I never seem to be ready to quit teaching although it isn't easy this time of the year and especially when your students know that they only have a couple more weeks of being grade sevens before they go off to high school.

There has been lots of excitement from the big Me to We assembly(that I blogged about) to Bike to School Week culminating in a Bikers' Breakfast, the District Track Meet and finally, our first Writers' Festival with children from kindergarten to seventh grade all sharing their writing.  This week finished off with our Sports Day. Our Sports Day had a literary theme and wouldn't you know my station was, "Captain Underpants!"

As you know, my class loves projects.  My last project was called Giant Steps.  I had decided to read the class the book, Small Steps , one of my favorites, by Louis Sacher .  This story tells how Armpit, one of the "graduates" of the detention centre described in Holes, decides to turn his life around by taking five small steps that become the plot of the novel.   There is no way I am going to finish it but that's okay.

Then I had discovered the book, Giant Steps to Save the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee with illustrations by Sean Quales.  Before reading or even seeing the book, my students had to research and do presentations about the people that are the focus of this book.  The kids had 10 days to work on this and not much class time to do so, but all the projects were ready on time.  Needless to say, Van and Steven built a model of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.  Each group did a different person or in one case, a group of people, so that it was interesting for the students to learn about each other's research.  The presentations were very good with students having learned how to talk to their presentations and not generally duplicate information.  Here's Jane and Meili's prezi on Jean-Michel Basquiat.

After they had finished the presentations, I read them the book, Giant Steps to Save the World,which they loved, especially the illustrations.  I also made them a copy of the poem and they did response booklets about it.  I let them think about the steps they had taken and the steps they want to take in the future.

I really enjoyed this project and I think the students did as well.  I have enclosed more detail on a page for you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Stanley Cup Riot

I had my class write about the Wednesday evening this morning.  They had appeared at school yesterday all dressed in Canuck colours and some in Canuck shirts all excited about the game (especially since I had promised them a homework free night long ago if the Canucks won the Stanley Cup).  They gave in today dejected about the loss but far more disappointed by what happened after the game.  They all wrote about it and it was probably, on the whole,some of  the best writing I have seen this year.
As many of you know I have a very multicultural classroom, most of my students' parents have immigrated from other countries, but the pride in their city and the love of their hockey team is strong.  And we had had so many peaceful evenings through the series and last year during the Olympics, this came as a shock to us all.
This is the work of one of my students...

Stanley Cup Chaos

         Wednesday, June 16th, was the final game in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The game was to be held in Vancouver to decide the winner of the Stanley Cup; the contending teams were the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. Sadly for Vancouver fans, the final score was 4-0, for the Bruins.

         You would have thought that the fans would have just gone home, disappointed but accepting defeat. Many did, but others instead chose to take their anger out on their beautiful city. Things such as cars were set on fire, and many Canuck fans were drunk. It was very hard for police to keep this under control. My grandma actually had friends over for the hockey game who were unable to get home due to the chaos.

         We are all very disappointed and ashamed that our fans would do this. It caused much destruction to our city and made Vancouver look bad. The people who have done this have not displayed good sportsmanship at all.

         Now, people are trying to identify the troublemakers using the photos taken that night, and by using various social networking sited. All I can say is, I hope these people are found and are rightfully punished. If our fans are acting like this, then maybe they never deserved to see a Canucks' victory at all.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Not yet released-reading advance copies rather than tackling report cards...

I was quite sad I wasn't able to go to the International Reading Association conference in Orlando this year and I have to admit one reason I love to go to these conferences is due to the books.  I always have to bring a large empty suitcase because I always come home with literally pounds of books.  I love those free advance copies.  There have been times I have felt a bit overwhelmed by all those books but I love reading books that are new and free!

Since I couldn't go my friend, Donna collected, and her husband transported the books that she thought my students might like.  Now since I am supposed to be working on report cards and I have a reading addiction I managed to read four of these books this week!  So stay tuned for some short reviews! 

The first book I read was Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tibbetts and illustrated by Laura Parks.  Patterson, a very popular adult writer, also enjoys writing for children.  He actually has a rather neat website as well dedicated to making kids readers for life, so you have to like that, even though I swore at one point I wasn't reading any more of his adult suspense novels-too gritty for me.  I think kids will like this partly due to the great comic illustrations supposingly done by Rafe, the hero's best silent friend, Leo.  Leo begins a new middle school as a sixth grader and decides to break a few rules.  Although it is humorous, it also is poignant.  It reminded me of one of the boys in my class so that he was the first person to whom I lent the book.

Flawless by Lara Chapman was my next read.  This is a YA version of the famous Cyrano  Bergerac story.  I can not help but think of movies such as Roxanne and The Truth about Cats and Dogs that also picked up this theme.  Anyway Sarah's mom is a news anchorwoman who had a nose job and thinks her daughter should have one too.  Sarah is resistant but is rather haunted by her large nose.  She and her perfect best friend meet the new boy in their senior class.  Both are attracted to him but Kristen calls it first and Sarah doesn't think he can possibly be interested in her so doesn't tell Kristen her feelings.  Before she knows it, Kristen convinces Sarah to help her message him for her etc.  Kristen's beautiful but isn't very intellectual.  It's a book with of course a good moral  and I know that it will definitely appeal to my girls. 

Now for a total change of pace I moved on to Now is the Time for Running by South African writer, Michael Williams.  I loved this book!  It takes us into the world of Deo and his older brain damaged brother, Innocent.  They live in a village in Zimbabwe with their mother and grandfather, their father having disappeared long ago to a job in South Africa.  Deo loves soccer and despite tough living conditions has a happy life until Robert Mugabe's soldiers come and basically murder anyone in the village they can find and Deo and Innocent flee.  Their odyssey teachers the reader much about conditions in Zimbabwe and the lives of refugees.  In Johannesburg, things really take a tragic turn.  But like the best books for young adults this one has hope as after he flees once again and feels suicidal, eventually Deo's skills are discovered and he finds himself on the South African street soccer national team. 

I feel as a teacher of middle school students, it is so important that they learn about the world, and books like this really give them a picture.  The fact that the main character has such a love of soccer just as many of them do, really gives them a connection.  I also really love, as will other readers, his brother, Innocent.  A must read!!!

Well, once again, there seem to be many YA books dwelling with the supernatural.  I don't think Vampires are quite as popular as they once were but...  Last year I ended up learning about Pixies from writer, Carrie Jones in her book, Need.  I really did enjoy that story  set in Maine.  This time she has a new book, After Obsession, co-written with Steven Wedel.  Again in this book, two teenagers, Aimee and her friend, Courtney's cousin Alan (who has just moved to town from Oklahoma) battle a demon who is trying to take over Courtenay.  Aimee is haunted by dreams and the spirit of her dead mom but has a healing touch.  Alan brings his interest in and knowledge of Native American spiritualism to the cause.  Carrie Jones has a light touch and this book is more engaging than you might think.  I also like how she and Wedel have written the book with Carrie being the voice of Aimee and Wedel, the voice of Alan. 

Now back to thinking about report cards...