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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting to know you: Super Empowered Student

In addition to getting to know my students during the first week of school, I wanted my new kids to get to know themselves. I know some kids are always going to be quiet (I was one of them), and I want those students, in particular, to understand that they have a voice in my classroom, that they have something to contribute. I also hate seeing kids get stuck in a rut from one year to the next. Once I moved from teaching seventh grade to eighth grade, I realized how important it was for every student to be granted a fresh start full of new opportunities. So a lesson I was given this summer jumped out at me as a great way to communicate this to my incoming students. 

One of the activities I received from  AVID Summer Institute Culturally Relevant Teaching session I attended is Super Student. Super Student allows kids to examine what empowerment means, discuss people of various groups whom we empower, then find their own personal empowerment. We then use those ideas to create our super hero versions of ourselves: SuperYOU. 

I provided the kids with two separate super hero templates, plus gave my artistic students the opportunity to create their own from scratch. My new students were instructed to pick five skills or tools that they have or use in real life, then magnify those into super powers. For example, I use my super power of engagement strategies to draw my students into lessons without them ever realizing that they are actually learning (insert evil laugh here). They then had to write a short paragraph describing their skills/traits, providing me with an opportunity to formatively assess their writing skills. 

Here are some examples of what they came up with: 

Initially, many of the kids had a hard time getting started with their super heroes. They struggled to find qualities with which they are empowered. It didn't take too long, though. I only spent two days on this in class, and every student ended up with a SuperYOU. 

At the end of the week, I asked what their favorite activity had been. Many choose the Super Student: 

I looked through most of these assignments at the nail salon while my daughter got her mani/pedi. A woman sat down next to me, peeking at my papers.

"Do you teach first grade?" she asked. 

"No," I giggled. "I teach eighth graders."

I am not sure if the woman was simply shocked or disgusted, but her reaction was far from positive either way. Unlike her, I am very proud of the personal empowerment that my new students discovered about myself, and I cannot wait to use this lesson again in future years. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Community Building Activity: Hands On

Tomorrow is the first day of school with my 2015-2016 students. I will have 118 (at last count) new bodies in my classroom, some of whom I know a bit better than others. Some I do not know at all, as we have had many students transfer in from other junior highs, districts, cities, and states. 

With so much newness, it is important for everyone to get to know one another. It is my responsibility to build a healthy and safe classroom community. Our first assignment is going to be an introductory activity called Hands On, another  steal from the AVID Culturally Relevant Training I attended this summer (see Poker Time seating/grouping strategy)

We will be hanging the hands in the hallway to show everyone that we are going to work together. When this year's parents come in Thursday night to meet the teachers, I want them to see that we have been building a community from day one. I am a big preacher about my classroom being accepting of all people, regardless of any type of differences, and the Hands On activity is just one way to begin expressing that. 

In addition, my students will be reading, writing, listening, and speaking with this lesson, all of which are essential components of both English language arts and English language learner instruction. 

There is another, more secret reason that I am using this as my first day lesson. How many of you are still preaching procedures, expectations, rules, consequences, and the like on day one? How does your mouth and throat feel by the end of the day? It took me ten years to realize that coming home with a sore throat was not the way to start my school year, so I stopped that a few years ago. The kids will listen to me a little bit, but for the most part, I get to walk around, monitor, listen, and smile (yes, I smile before December). 

How will you build a safe and welcoming classroom environment?