Monthly Archives: May 2012

Have you gotten your students to assess your teaching yet?

I posted a challenge for you a while back. In case you missed it, I suggested that you ask your students to give you some feedback on your teaching before the end of the year. This is the original blog post: End of the Year Challenge for the Teacher

There are lots of different ways to do this, however, I like to keep it simple. I ask my students to give me three things that I did a good job of, or generally positive comments about me and/or my teaching AND one thing that I could try to improve on for next year.

Well, I would never ask you to do something that I wasn’t going to do myself. So, just the other day, I had my students assess me and my teaching. As always, it was VERY worthwhile and I got lots of helpful feedback for next year. I thought I’d share just a few of these comments with you and remind you to take up the challenge to have your student assess you, if you haven’t done so already. As I said in the original post, you will be putting yourself “out there” when you take on this challenge. Students could try to hurt your feelings, however, I have found that they do take the task seriously for the most part, because I stress that it’s really about me being able to do a better job next year.

I gave my students some ideas to start off with about comments that would be helpful and those that would just be hurtful OR simply not helpful. “Too much homework” would not necessarily be helpful. I asked students to give a possible solution if they had a problem with how things were done this year, rather than just complaining about what they may not have liked. This way, they had to really think about what they were going to write before they wrote it. If they had a problem with how something was taught, this was the time and place to say so, however, I also was asking for a suggestion for how I could have done it differently – again focussing on me trying to improve things for next year.

Here’s what some of my students had to say. You’ll see from some of the comments, why I keep putting myself out there, year after year. It’s always worth it.

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Lessons From The Middle, middle school lessons blog, feedback for the teacher


Of course I love the comments that give me the warm fuzzies – especially at this grade level and after a very challenge-filled year. Some students put that there wasn’t anything that they could think of for me to improve – not true…but nice to hear:)  

I also got some great suggestions from my students: More in-class breaks, offering scheduled after school help for all subjects – not just Math, providing more time to rehearse presentations and giving more options for students who don’t like to talk in front of the class, switch from binders to scribblers to be more organized…etc… It was also quite clear that they appreciated the Social Studies and Math projects and games that I worked so hard on this year. I’ll definitely continue with those next year.

So, it’s time. Take on the challenge. As long as your students are still in front of you, it’s not too late. Be brave. Keep an open mind. And of course, let me know how it goes!

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Professional Development: A Summer Reading Challenge

It was such a beautiful day here today – just felt like summer! We’re so close to the end now…I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve had quite a year! I won’t get into all of the gory details, but I am definitely looking forward to a bit of a break. We were in the paper quite a bit this year for different reasons and that will continue on for the next while. This is the most recent news story about my school, but it really is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s been going on this year. More details about that later, perhaps.

So believe me when I say, I know how busy and stressed everyone can be – especially at this time of year. We’re all looking at our curriculum documents, making sure (perhaps hoping) that we’ve covered everything…We’re looking at our students – wondering where they will finally finish in terms of placement or promotion into the next grade. It’s a hectic time, I realize. That being said, I have a challenge for you, because I know you’re up for it!

I believe in being a life-long learner. So, every summer, I find the time to read at least one professional book. I’m still on the lookout for what I’ll read this summer, so if you have any suggestions – please let me know! I find, that I have NO time to read much in the way of professional resources during the school year. However, over the summer, I can always find some time at the beach or on a lazy, rainy afternoon to do some reading to improve my practice. I always find lots of strategies, ideas and suggestions that I highlight and make mental notes of that I can use in my classroom the following year. Yes, it is the summer and we all need time off. But I find that when I don’t have the usual stresses of the classroom, picking up a professional resource is more of a pleasure than a pain, because I’m choosing to read it!

My challenge to you, is to find  a professional book to read this summer. Before you run out and buy anything, I suggest checking with the resource department at your school. Chances are, that your resource teachers will have some professional books available that might be right up your alley. Maybe you even have a book in mind right now, something that you’ve been wanting to read, but haven’t gotten around to.

Of course, you need to take the beginning of your summer break to just breathe! Once you’ve gotten some relaxation in – mid-break…let’s say…I challenge you to pick up that professional resource and be one of the “life-long learners” that we encourage our students to be.

Below are some of the books that I’ve read in the last couple of years. If you have no idea what to read – any of these would be good places to start. It really depends on where you are in your career and what you’d like to know more about, or personally work on.

I LOVED each of these books for different reasons. Good luck with finding a book that you’re excited to read this summer and accepting my “challenge”. I bet a lot of you already do this anyway…not much of a challenge for you folks;)

“Motivating Students Who Don’t Care”

This is a quick read, at only 65 pages. It offers 5 main processes for motivating students and reasons why they may be unmotivated in the first place. A great read for those of us who teach middle school especially, where motivation can be a real issue.

“Start Where They Are”

This is a book that I’ve read MULTIPLE times and plan to pick up again this summer. It is the go-to book for doable, differentiation strategies for middle school.

“The First Days of School”

This is a classic for teachers, new and seasoned. It’s full of strategies and ideas to get organized for those first days of the school year, which makes it the perfect summer read.

So, once your year is officially done, take some time for yourself and when you’re ready, pull out that book and enjoy! Please let me know what books you plan to read or are reading, and what you think of them!

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Incorporating Physical Activity into Your Classroom: My First Guest Blogger!

This is so exciting! I’m thrilled to welcome Neil, Lessons From The Middle’s first guest blogger. Neil is from the UK. He’s been teaching for two years, at the primary level. He has a passion for physical activity and recently started a blog focussing on physical activity and outdoor education. He practises what he preaches – he’s worked as a camp councillor and is a canoeing instructor. Although Neil teaches in the primary grades, his message is one for all teachers of all grades and subject levels.


We all know the stats: Approximately a third of children in the US, Canada and the UK are obese.  Children are getting fatter and may not live as long as their parents. I don’t want to dwell on the problem, but what is our role as educators to find a solution? Children spend around 6 hours a day at school and a lot of that time can be spent being pretty inactive. So I think as the olympics loom on the horizon, it’s a good time to start to talk to our classes about their lifestyle. What if every teacher spent an extra 5 minutes a week of our class time being active? Wouldn’t that make our children’s lives a bit less sedentary? I think that over time, it could start to make a nation fitter and healthier.

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Healthy living should be like English – a subject that spans the curriculum and an area that every teacher has an obligation to teach well, no matter what their subject specialty. I’m not going to suggest that children should be constantly active in the classroom. There are lots of times when a calm quiet approach is the best way to get our learning across. But there are also those moments in a classroom, when we have a few minutes to spare or when the class appears restless, that using an active approach would enhance our teaching and the children’s enjoyment. So I wanted to share a few ideas to make your lessons full of beans.


An active few minutes:
I apologise if I’m preaching to the converted, but I find in the busy world of teaching – it’s always good to have the occasional reminder. So here are a few ideas for those quick breaks in the middle of your lessons to refocus children’s concentration. Action games are the best place to start. Games like Simon Says, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes can be adapted and put to good use in the younger grades. Music can work well depending on the dynamic of your class. You can simply play some music for 1 minute and just get your class to dance. Displaying songs with actions like the Cha, Cha Slide on your whiteboard is another option. Another idea is to lead some actions yourself and get the children to copy. I like to play the game where I repeat an action four times and then switch to a different action. But whatever action I am doing, the children have to repeat the action that I did previously.

Lessons From The Middle, physical activity in the classroomRelay Race:
If your lesson includes any kind of matching activity, then why not turn it into a relay race? Place all of the items at one end of a hall or outdoor space and the children have to run and collect each item one at a time. While this is happening the other children in the group can be matching. This is a good way to involve everyone in group work and helps to stop one child from taking over.

Dictation Race:
I have a lot of children in my class who have English as a second language and this next idea is a way of teaching language structure, as well as getting your class more active. Pick a short paragraph of information from your lesson. It could be a science definition or a poetic verse that you would like them to learn, about 6 lines or so should be enough. Then, photocopy it for each group. You’ll need a bit of room, so you’ll either have to take your class outside or clear some tables. Place the photocopied text at one end of the room and split the children into groups at the other end with some blank paper and pens. This is basically another form of a relay race – the children have to run to the other end of the classroom and memorize one line of text, then they run back and write it down. It doesn’t sound too tricky, right? Well, the catch is that the copied text must be perfect. So, no spelling mistakes and no incorrect punctuation. You can award points for the first team to finish and for the most accurate copy.

Fruit Salad:
Name everyone in your class as a type of fruit: Bananas, strawberries, pineapples and mangos. Then, when your class need to stretch their legs you say the name of the fruit. If you said “Strawberry” everyone who was named that fruit would swap places with the other children who were strawberries. If you feel brave shout “Fruit salad” and everyone has to swap seats.

This classic game is a good way to summarise a topic or to get children to explain different concepts. Get each table to think of a key word or concept from your lesson. Then, they have to act it out while the rest of the class have to guess what the word or idea is. This is a good way to get children thinking and moving.

So next week, try to include 5 minutes of activity in your lessons. Here are a few more exercise ideas, if you need them.

Neil @


Again, I’d like to thank Neil for his guest blog post. Please visit his new blog: Outdoor and Adventurous.

I totally agree with adding more physical and/or outdoor activities to our classrooms when we can. Although it can be a challenge – especially in Canada in the winter;) It’s important! Just the other day, we were doing a writing activity in class and it was such a nice afternoon that I took my class outside to write. We took a five-minute walk from class to a sunny spot outside, and also enjoyed some fresh air!

As you get up in the older grades, you have to be a little more creative, I think, to get the kids active. There are issues with self-consciousness, and space as the kids get physically bigger. That being said, I think we’ve all looked at our classes and thought – you just need to get up and move around! So, take Neil’s advice and try to add just five minutes of movement into your class. Trust me, your students will appreciate it – especially at this time of the year! And, I know what you’re thinking…but there are lots of simple ways to get them back into their seats when the activity is over. It’s like anything else – a routine to be taught. Well done Neil!

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Want to be a Guest Blogger?

If you would like to write a guest post for Lessons From The Middle, I’d love to have you! Please, send me an email with your post attached. It should be about education, either for all grades OR the middle grades. Please be sure to include where you’re currently teaching, 3 interesting things about yourself and how long you’ve been teaching, so that I can introduce you to my readers. You can also email me with any questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom?

I know that we all do it when we can – offering different options for assignments, differential seating plans, the opportunity to work alone or within a group, the choice of reading this novel or that novel: Differentiation! We do it all of the time – probably without much thought.

I’m just starting a new chapter in Social Studies and I’m taking a different approach. I asked the students ahead of time, what they’d rather do: Create a collage, write a letter, draw a map, perform a role play, draw to represent something, make a game…and so on. I also asked them if they’d rather work alone, with a partner or a group. The information that I got back was SO helpful!

What I did, was go through my current Social Studies chapter. I broke the chapter down into tiny pieces. There were 3 students who wanted to make a map and three significant maps in this chapter: BOOM! Group 1. Three others wanted to do a collage – there is a section on the “Metis” that totally lends itself to a collage: BOOM! Group 2. There is a section on Louis Riel which is quite appropriate for a role play…and so on.

Each group, pair or individual has a small section of the text that they are responsible for. Modified students are in groups and so have had help with reading the text. They also are completing a small part of a larger task and so it builds in success for them.

Students will all present their small pieces, in order, thus “teaching” us the chapter. There are 2 groups creating games for the chapter and so when we play these – they’ll also be built-in opportunities to assess. I’ll be using a rubric to assess the groups’ basic understanding and knowledge of their section as well as what they are presenting – role play, drawing etc. Based on their piece and their oral explanation, I’ll be able to assign a mark. Reading strategies are at play here as well, as we’ve been working on summarizing in LA most recently. I feel like I’m killing two birds with one stone!

I’ll also be requiring students to assess themselves on how they worked in their group and how their group members worked. Finally, the students will all have to write a reflection based on what they learned in the chapter – not only from their “section” but from the other students’ presentations.

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We all enjoy having some choice!

I hope to post updates and pictures as they’re available on this little project. The kids are fairly excited about it (we just started it today) and they can be a difficult group to impress. I think giving them so much choice in what they’d be doing, as well as assigning just a small chunk of material were both smart choices on my part. The assessment is the part that is giving me the most grief because of the wide range of “products” that students are working on. However, I plan to focus on their oral presentation/explanation of the piece as well as the piece itself. The reflection will also tell me a lot about how deeply they understand the information.

What have I been doing, you may ask, while they’ve been busily “teaching themselves”? I’ve been circulating, facilitating, working with individual students who need clarification and listening to my students talk about the material. Today was great! We’ll see how “on task” everyone is tomorrow!

Lessons from the middle, canadian teacher blog, middle school lessons

Teacher Appreciation Jackpot – Thanks for your participation!

The Teacher Appreciation Jackpot was a great success this year!

The event is now closed and products have been returned to their regular prices. If you missed the Jackpot, don’t worry. For the next 2 days – May 7th and 8th the Teacher Appreciation Sale is still on at TeachersPayTeachers and you can get 10 -28% off of all products! Head on over so that you don’t miss out!


Fractions, Percents and Decimals Math Centers and Quiz Grades 6-8

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I’ve got a BIG announcement!

Okay, so I am like a bad child. I’ve got a BIG secret to tell you! Big! Huge! But I’m not supposed to say anything…yet….Oh but it’s so sweet! I really want to tell you! But I can’t…

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Deep breath….

I’m super excited because of this gigantic announcement, although I really can’t let you in on the secret until tomorrow. I just had to give you a heads-up!

You’ve GOT to come back tomorrow so that I can fill you in on the big news. Unless you guess what the big news is! Hmm… what could it be?

So…Predictions??? Guesses?

Make sure that you check back tomorrow so that I can fill you in on this HUGE announcement that’s sure to make all of you wonderful teachers happy. You really don’t want to miss out! I promise!

Lessons from the middle, canadian teacher blog, middle school lessons