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Standarized Tests Made Tolerable

During lunch one day, a colleague and I were discussing our standardized test in Arizona. We were discussing how we just worked our students so hard preparing for the AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards). Kara Rosales and I both agreed that we wanted to bring some excitement to our campus about AIMS. These were our goals:
• Form a committee-we named it GPA (Greenway Promotes Aims)
• Find a fundraiser so we could provide each student with a bottled water, granola bar, and a peppermint for each day of the test (water and smell of peppermint awakens the brain)
• Poster contest for the students. The posters would have to say something positive about AIMS. Winners would receive $30-1st place; $20-2nd place; $10-3rd place.
• Fun Day: a day of activity that would be enjoyable for our students and for our faculty.
• A theme for our AIMS

First, we put out an email inviting 8 other faculty members to join us on this committee. We took the first 8 that responded. Next, we held our first meeting and told them of our goals. Two of our members, Cristal Bradley and Ralph Carnesi, took on the job of coming up with a theme. They also decided that all of the directions during the AIMS testing would be read by Ralph and televised in every classroom. I contacted Jamba Juice and they came onto our campus once or twice a month for our fundraiser. Our committee would help Jamba set up each time and collect the money.

So first semester was spent raising money, trying to collect donations, and planning for Fun Day.

We continued raising money second semester and finalizing our plans. Cristal and Ralph decided Harry Potter would be our theme. Cristal wrote out a script and asked certain teachers to perform. She then had some students video tape us performing our parts. The week before the AIMS, we purchased all the snacks. That week all the posters were collected and judged. The prizes were given out. All the posters were then hung around campus to help motivate the students. Each day one of the pre-taped videos was shown to all the students. Fun Day was held the Friday before AIMS. On that day we had the following:
• Each team participated in a variety of activities: basketball, volleyball, kickball, track, team awards, and motivational speech by our principal.
• Popsicles handed out during lunch
• A Harry Potter look-a-like contest was held
• The video taped teachers all dressed up like their Harry Potter character and walked around at lunch
• Streamers and balloons were hung around the lunch pavilion

The students and faculty all loved Fun Day. The next week the AIMS directions were read at the same time and shown on the television in each room.

We were proud of our accomplishments as a committee-we felt like we improved the climate of our campus regarding AIMS. We were just a small part of the success on our campus. All of our teachers worked so hard getting the students prepared. We will not find out officially until next week if we passed or not but GPA will continue this year. I will let you know our goals and how we plan to achieve success again this year. Be thinking about how you can improve your school’s atmosphere as you prepare for your standardized test.

Teaching Vocabulary: New and Improved

Thanks to listening to Dr. Kate Kinsella and attending a couple of workshops through my district, I decided to improve my method for teaching vocabulary.

First: I had each student bring a 70 page notebook. Here are the steps for each word:

• Write the word. Example: communicate
• Have them repeat the word with you. “Say the word communicate”.
• Write some forms of the word. Example: communication, communicated, communicating. Have them
add these words to their notebook.
• Have them tell their neighbor what they think the word means. Call on 2-3 for their answers.
• Write a definition on the board. Have them either copy it or rewrite it in their own words.
• With their neighbor, have them write a sentence using the word. Call on people to give their sentence.
Write a few of these on the board so they can write more than one sentence in their notebooks.
Example: I communicate with my son by texting.
• Have them draw a picture of the word. They will have to label their pictures and even add a speech
bubble so you can make sure they understand the word.
• For the word communicate, we even listed the ways people communicate: by phone, texting, emailing,
talking, sign language, etc.
• When students are talking together, encourage them to use complete sentences. For example: “I think
the word communicate means…….”.

This process takes longer to teach the vocabulary but when I reviewed with them, they seemed to have had a better understanding of the word than they did last year. For their vocabulary test, I will write the 10 words on the board and they will have to write the word, write their definition, and either write a sentence using that word or draw a picture of that word. I’ll let you know if the test shows an improvement over last year. If you have any other suggestions, please post them for everyone to read.

Building Community Within Your Classroom

Community Builders are engaging activities that help students get started listening and speaking with one another. Ideally, they should be used at the beginning of the school year to build familiarity and a sense of community. The first two came from the Scholastic Read 180 Resources For Differentiated Instruction. I don't remember where I heard the third suggestion. I heard about it this summer while watching television. Maybe it was on Oprah!

1st activity: All About Me Interview
1. Make multiple copies of the All About Me Interview
2. Have students work with a partner.
3. Designate one student in each pair as the interviewer and give that student the interview form.
4. Have interviewers write their partners' names at the top of the page and then their own names.
5. Explain that the interviewer will ask questions based on the categories on the chart. For example: How
may people are there in our family? The interviewer then would record the answer in the box labeled
6. When all the boxes have been filled in, have partners switch roles. Distribute an interview form to the
new interviewer.
7. When completed, ask each interviewer to tell the rest of the class two things about the person
8. Repeat the activity at another time with different pairs.

Download imlookingforsomeone.doc

Download all_about_me_interview.doc

2nd Activity: I'm Looking For Someone Who.....

1. Copy and distribute I'm Looking For Someone Who....
2. Model how to read an item listed in the Category column and write the answer in the My Favorite column. For example, My favorite animal is a tiger. Write tiger in the My Favorite column.
3. Then have students fill in the entire My Favorite column with their own preferences.
4. Explain to students that they will now try to find other students in class who share the same favorite items as they do. Model how students might approach one another to find out their preferences.
5. Have students record the names of the students who share the same interest in the last column.
6. Ask them to determine the student with whom they share the most interests.

3rd activity: I am.....

I used large sheets of paper and had my students write I am....across the top. They chose 2 different colors of markers. They wrote I am in one color and the second part in a different color. For example, I wrote I am in black and a teacher in red. They each wrote 4-6 I am's and the last I am was for their name. My last one was I am Mrs. Blair. So mine looked like this:

I am.....

I am a teacher.
I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am a chocolate fanatic!
I am a Gram.
I am a sister.
I am a reader.
I am Mrs. Blair.

I hope your class enjoys these activities.

Tour Sandra's Middle School Classroom

Sandra Blair taught elementary school for 16 years before moving to Phoenix, AZ. She never dreamed she would teach middle school, but loves seeing her 7th and 8th grade students become fluent readers using the Read 180 program. Learn More.

Ready or Not, It's Time!

The new school year is here for many of us. Where did the summer go? The store's shelves are filled with new school supplies. If you are like me, you have been taking advantage of the sales so you can stock your cabinets. It's time to put up new posters, bulletin boards, and new air fresheners.  I just try to make sure my room looks clean, neat, and smells good. I do like to hang motivational posters, etc. that might make a difference to at least one of my students.

I just finished reading the book Fires in the Middle School Bathroom:Advice to Teachers from Middle Schoolers by Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers. The book provides an insight into how middle school students think, feel and learn. Most of the material was gathered from 40 students in five cities. I found it very interesting.

I try to remember that my students (especially my 7th graders) are nervous about coming to middle school. They are not use to changing classes, having 6 different teachers and NO RECESS. These are some of the issues I try to cover the first week:
      1. discuss the class and school rules
      2. make sure the rules are posted in the room
      3. get correct phone number and address for each student
      4. discuss homework expectations
      5. discuss what they will be doing in my class each day

As you go back to your school and to the mandatory district workshops and meetings and the hundred other things that are thrown at us, try to relax and make it your goal that this will be your best teaching year you have ever had! Here are some suggestions:
      1.  treat all students equally and fairly
      2.  make a difference in someone's life
      3.  mentor a new teacher
      4.  encourage an experienced teacher
      5.  concentrate on the positive aspects of your school
      6.  learn something new (a new language, computer skills, the tango)
      7.  become a better listener 

I hope everyone has a successful and exciting year!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Sandra's Middle School Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.