Loch Alsh - reflection

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Wow it is unbelievable that the 1st Quarter Progress notes are being passed out to students on Monday!  Inspite of what has been happening with me at home, school has gone on and my students continue to show up expecting to be taught.

I just want to brag about my three 7th grade English Language Arts classes to the world!!! They are a mixed variety of abilities, maturity and behaviors, but they are all getting along (mostly), engaged in learning and a general pleasure to be around.
I know that it has only been four weeks of school, but this has the potential to be one of, if not the best bunch of students that I have ever had the privilege of teaching.  They have already done more than I would have thought possible and have done it with a great attitude (or as great as 12 & 13 year olds can have).
The daily routine is becoming, well more routine.  The students know what to expect and approximately when to expect it.  They understand the classroom expectations and seem to have adapted well to them.  I think that the check-in time is helping them know what is going on around school, in class and I just started this week to have everyone give a quick thumbs-up/down on how their day is going.  This gives me a quick idea of who is having a good or bad day (the students have been very honest about that), which allows me to focus on those having a bad day a little more or let them have a little extra space to get themselves together, whichever they need more.
One thing that I have noticed is that no student has had to use the Safe Haven area in my classroom yet this year (last year it was used almost daily after I established it).  I believe that they like the idea that it is available to them if they need the time or space, but have not had the need in class yet and they haven’t abused its purpose (being a safety valve).  Even when I suggested to a couple of students to use it, they chose not to and participated in the classroom activities.
The student engagement and positive behaviors with my 7th graders has been exceptional in all classes, sure they like to fool around, goof off and do silly things but the things they are doing are age appropriate and when they occur have been easily redirected to more positive behaviors.  I believe that the students do enjoy using to warm-up and work on their vocabulary/grammar a bit (I just have to see how it translates over to their actual work now), most have significantly increased the amounts they are earning since the first week.  I do have to find other alternatives, so that it does not get “old hat” and boring to the students.
I am really impressed with how well the Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) is going.  Most of the students are actually reading, based on the quality of the daily reading log entries.  We increased the amount of time from 10 to 12 minutes this week and I plan to increase it to 15 minutes next week and believe that that will be about it for a while.  Getting many of these students to sit still and read for this amount of time without complaining too much or while playing a video game, is something I am very proud of them doing.
I think that letting them use headphones to listen to music while reading if they want to and having the countdown timer to let them know how much time is left helps a lot also, they don’t seem to feel as overwhelmed with how long they have to read – there is a definite end in sight. I do have a couple of students who may be picture surfing more than reading and I plan to work with them on that this week.
On Monday we learned how to upload a document created in Pages or Open Office to Google Docs using the Paper Airplane reflections as the student’s source document. There were a lot of glitches with Google Docs properly uploading these documents even after re-saving them into a .doc format, so that is something that I will have to look closer at to ensure that we can do it quickly and easily in the classroom.  All the students are using Google Docs and seem to really like it.
I know that I love gDocs and can’t imagine not being able to use it in the classroom it is such an asset to our class.  I don’t like that Google took away the ability to use it in an offline mode, because when we lost the internet for an hour a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t use it and had to use a Desktop based word processor instead, which was a pain when the upload didn’t work easily.  Plus a few of my students don’t have internet at home and have to go through the upload pain in the butt routine to get their documents to gDcos.
Starting on Tuesday we started reading the book Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix which is part of the 7th Grade General Curriculum.  I introduced the book and we discussed what it would be like to a third child when only two children were allowed by the law.  I am using the book as a Read-aloud and discuss as we go to help develop reading fluency and comprehension skills.  We got through Ch-3 on Thursday and did a daily log on each chapter of the book after reading it.  We used a single shared document in Google Docs for all students to write their log entry, while it is projected on the screen.  That way everyone is seeing what and how much the other students are writing instead of only the teacher and we are going back and publicly editing the entries (while editing one student’s I am seeing other students correcting similar mistakes before we get to them).  Comparing Ch-3 entries to Ch-1 I can see a definite improvement in their work and the amount they are writing – from my point of view it seems as though the students are taking more time/pride in their work now that everyone is seeing what they are writing.  Next week will be learning how to make an electronic poster using a slide show (gDocs or Keynote) – sorry not ready for Glogster or other ones yet with everything that has been going on.
On Friday I was only in for 1/2 of the day due to a medical appointment, but when I got in the Substitute teacher gave me nothing but great feedback on my Blocks 1 and 2 behaviors and work ethic.  I was very proud of my kids, because last year, my classes didn’t get those kind of reviews from the substitutes and I actually had subs that refused to work with those classes.  So this is a complete 180 from last year and I love being able to feel that I can go to a training or medical appointment without my student’s behaviors becoming completely negative for a sub.
During block 3 we did the weekly reading assessment with a small twist, I modified the NECAP test instructions to fit my weekly reading assessment.  I did this to get students used to the pace and expectations of those Standardized Tests.  It caused some significant anxiety for a couple of students initially because they cannot receive any assistance on reading of the text, questions or answers, they have to do it without any assistance at all, but they acclimated to it and I believe/hope it will make the NECAP testing less surprising or stressful for them when we start on October 4th.  We will do the weekly reading assessment again next Friday for all the blocks using the modified NECAP instructions to help prepare them for the assessment.
As I said the first quarter Progress Notes will be passed out Monday and everyone passed easily.  I am very impressed with my students work ethic, mostly positive behaviors, but most of all their willingness to let me help them learn.
Yes I am bragging about my three classes and the students I have in them, they are a great bunch of kids and I am really looking forward to working with them the rest of this year.  Now that it seems as though my family medical issues have reached a tolerable level, hopefully I will be able to devote more positive energy to my classes.
This could be a great year!

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