Everything I needed to know about middle school I learned from Dr. Seuss. For decades, this beloved educator has both comforted and inspired me in ways that have extended beyond my personal life and into my classroom. Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel had a way of turning the most simple phrases into life lessons, and somewhere along the way, showed us that magic can be found around any corner -- and often times within ourselves. I've chosen my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes to illustrate how these basic words of wisdom can inspire any classroom.
"The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go!"(Classroom Libraries)
A well stocked library is a must for any classroom. I've found that simple changes such as colorful contact paper can invite even the most reluctant reader! Bookshelves should offer a wide variety of genres that appeal to middle school students. In my library, the bottom shelf is home to the non-fiction selections, which should be a staple due to the requirements of the common core standards. They are also labeled by Lexile levels that progress from 500 to 1,000 allowing students to easily find books at their reading level, while encouraging a smoother transition towards reaching grade level benchmarks.
For confidence building and goal setting, I also have a "Scholastic Reading Counts" challenge chart that tracks student progress throughout the school year. A simple point system is the perfect way to recognize student accomplishments. This activity culminates with an awards ceremony in June recognizing the SRC Reading Excellence Trophy winner, as well as those who participated.
"A person's a person, no matter how small."(Behavior Contract)
The behavior contract you create in September should set the tone for the rest of the school year. I suggest limiting your list to no more than five explicit rules that leave no room for interpretation. A good first assignment would be to have students and their parents sign your behavior contract after reading it over together. Remember that consistency is key! Do not create consequences that you are not willing to enforce.
"Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now! It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how."(Organization)
During my first year of teaching I was shocked by how many students lacked basic social skill development, and was surprised by those who would constantly take things off of my desk or their peers without asking. A quick way to remedy this problem is to create a section of the room devoted to high need classroom materials that are solely for student use. At the beginning of the year I buy in bulk all of the supplies that students need, and let them know that when they run out, I will not be replacing them. I am proud to say that it has been the perfect solution, and I have seen marked gains in student preparedness from implementing this one simple rule.
"How did it get so late so soon?"(Homework Policy)
Getting students to turn in their homework is a problem with which most middle school teachers struggle. In my district we have an "after school guided study" program that I make mandatory for those who come in without their completed assignments. They are also given a ticket that must be signed by the cooperating teacher who staples it to the assignment, and turns in the work for them. The results have been phenomenal. Since no one wants to stay after school, at least 85 percent of my students come prepared. In the future, I am dedicating a blog devoted to strategies that increase homework completion along with how to incorporate digital tools for posting assignments, such as Edmodo.
"Only YOU can control your future. You can get help from your teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room." (Independence, Motivation, Confidence Building)
How do you motivate a middle schooler? You motivate by giving them the tools to succeed independently. A DAILY STUDENT TRACKING FORM is ideal for self-evaluation. After each class my students must assess their performance in the areas of homework completion, behavior, and classroom preparedness. Those who complete these tasks with proficiency receive "Cardinal Cash" (after our school mascot the Randolph cardinal) on which they write their names. These are then put into a container and on Fridays I draw a name and a prize is awarded. The prize is anything from ice cream coupons in the cafeteria to free homework passes. This monitoring procedure occurs for 4-6 weeks and then is removed once students display skill mastery. At the beginning of the year students can earn these bonus bucks by participating in class and contributing to classroom discussions. This promotes risk-taking, and an opportunity for students who normally are hesitant to become actively engaged in the lesson.
"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the person who reads" (Writing Station)
My writing station is filled with rubrics, student exemplars, and journals that focus on the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham. I leave my journal there as well for student reference. This is great Writer's Workshop conferencing area as it is both inspirational and promotes creativity. A great anchor activity for those who are not conferencing is a monthly Writer's Bingo. This is perfect for eliminating "down time" which can lead to off task behaviors.
Here is a classroom video tour for a more in-depth look at my classroom.
"You're off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so....get on your way!"