Six ways to motivate middle schoolers

rick“When it comes to fostering cognitive perseverance, carrots and sticks don’t work,” writes Rick Wormeli in the September issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership. Access his article, “Motivating Young Adolescents,” for six effective motivational approaches (as well as the “Top 12 Demotivators”).

Add comment October 27th, 2014

New to middle school? Help is here!

MiddleWeb recently recorded a webinar for new teachers (and teachers new to the middle grades). The 90-minute session, featuring Rick Wormeli (Metaphors & Analogies, Day One and Beyond), Heather Wolpert-Gawron (‘Tween Crayons and Curfews), and EdWeek contributor Elizabeth Stein, is now available for viewing/listening online, along with slides, chat transcript, handouts, articles, and other downloadable resources.

Add comment August 20th, 2012

Guest blog post: Read-alouds in sixth grade

Sarah Mulhern is a sixth-grade language arts teacher and the blogger behind The Reading Zone. In this guest blog post she talks about how she uses “Mock Newbery Awards” to get her tweens excited about reading and she explains why read-alouds are not just for younger students.

When I tell people that I read aloud to my sixth grade students daily I get some strange looks.  I also get a lot of questions, mostly along the lines of, “How do you know they are even listening?  Kids that age don’t care about hearing a book read out loud.  They think that’s for babies!”

I usually react by biting my tongue for a moment, to ensure that I don’t lash out at the offending party.  After taking a few deep breaths I calmly explain that my students may feel the same way at the beginning of the year but the evaluations they complete at the end of the year rate read-alouds as one of the top three experiences of their sixth grade year. It’s the number one way I turn my students on to reading! Inevitably, this conversation leads to how I get my students to buy into read-alouds when they are “too old” to be read to.  Well, that’s simple:  Mock Newbery.

I begin each school year with a Mock Newbery.  I explain to my students in the first week of school that we will be reading and enjoying a variety of novels as part of our daily read aloud.  I tell them that while these novels will be very different- various genres, authors, and topics- they will all have one thing in common.  Each book we share as a class from September to January will be eligible for the Newbery Medal that is awarded by the American Library Association in January. Tween and teens love competition and the Mock Newbery builds community while letting students work towards a common goal- predicting Newbery Medal and Honor winners for the current year.

I spend most of the summer scouring the blogosphere for books that are receiving a lot of Newbery buzz. I look at starred reviews in School Library Journal, Kirkus, and other industry magazines. I look for books that bloggers are talking about and praising.  I read these books myself and decide on the first book we will share as a class.  I continue reading books through the fall, looking for the books we will share in October, November, and December.  I don’t always read the same books with all four classes and will sometimes choose books based on class needs and class personalities.  But no matter what, we chart the books we read on our Mock Newbery bulletin board.

Our bulletin board is a focal point in our classroom.  I post the cover of each book we read together. When different classes read different books this serves as an advertisement for a variety of new books, above and beyond any book talks I do in class.  Throughout the school year we refer to the books we have read together and the bulletin board serves as a visual reminder of our shared reading for my visual learners.

After winter break my classes do a brief unit on the history of the Newbery Award and the criteria for awarding the medal.  After studying the criteria for a few days each student writes a short essay supporting the book they think deserves the Newbery, according to the criteria.  It’s a great exercise in critical thinking and writing about reading and the students get really into it.  We have heated debates about the merits of each book we read and students get very heated when supporting their personal favorite!

But the best part of our Mock Newbery read aloud time is when we sit down together in January and watch the live webcast of the awards.  Last year my students were on the edge of the seats and some even jumped for joy when their favorites won the medal or an honor.   But I’m fairly certain nothing will beat a class full of students turning to me after cheering for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and exclaiming, “We knew it would be eligible! We knew it!”  This was a class of once-dormant readers who were now experts on the Newbery criteria and were prepared to defend to their death that The Graveyard Book was eligible for a Newbery despite the fact that the fourth chapter was previously published as a short story.

That is the reason I share read-alouds with my tweens. That moment alone makes it worth the time and energy I spend on choosing books and sharing them with my students.

2 comments June 28th, 2010

Poetry Friday: Inside Out

This week’s poem comes from middle-school teacher Linda Baie from Colorado. Linda teaches at The Logan School for Creative Learning in Denver, an independent school for gifted learners. She facilitates all subjects, mostly on an individual basis, with some whole-group work.

There is still time to submit a poem for our Poetry Friday contest. Write a poem about your teaching life and send it to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com by Sept. 1.

Inside Out
(teaching middle school)

I’m trying to learn about you
from the inside out.
Yet the layers
(some say like onions)
keep me tearful.

And it’s so hard
To peel them all away.
If you could only wiggle
a little,
And loosen the layers—
giving me a chance.
I’d stop scraping on the outside
Maybe bruising you
Without knowing.
And I could move right on to the
Inside—and out.

3 comments August 21st, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Tweens and procedures

Tweens are unique creatures. Not yet teenagers but no longer kids, they usually pose a special challenge for teachers. In his book Writing Through the Tween Years, author Bruce Morgan describes how he and his colleagues celebrate tweens’ unique voices during writing instruction. In this week’s Quick Tip, Bruce shares some practical advice on how he keeps his classroom running smoothly with the help of tweens. After reading this excerpt, leave a comment about what kinds of procedures or rituals you use to keep your classroom in order.

Procedures

Established classroom procedures allow me to teach effectively. As we start the year, the students and I chart procedures for everything we do, from going to the bathroom to sharpening pencils. Before we embark on anything, we review the procedures relating to that activity. For example, we read the chart posted above the hallway door about expectations before going to lunch. As we begin the writing block, we review expectations for use of time, procedures for setting up a conference, conference length, location of supplies, and what to do when you’re finished with a piece of writing.

We never think of all the things that will require procedures before we start a new year, so the first couple of weeks, any time we see something that might become a management issue, I add it to a list of concerns to be brought up in a whole-class meeting. It’s surprising what we forget.

For example, instead of being shocked or going ballistic when a student gets up during read-aloud to throw away a snack wrapper, I add it to a list of procedures we need to revise. Delegating as many responsibilities in the room as possible not only gives the kids responsibility for running the room, it also frees me to interact with kids and be available to them. I assign jobs every month or two because I want to give them time to get accustomed to the job. I also let them speak to the class when there are issues related to the performance of their respective jobs.

Examples of students’ jobs and responsibilities are:

– Botanist: water and care for plants.
– Food-Service Manager: take lunch count, give attendance to teacher, bring lunch basket to the lunchroom.
– Supply Manager: stock writing cabinets and put sticky notes on teacher’s desk when supplies are low.
– Librarian: organize the library during Roto-Rooter time and talk to the class when there are issues.

The students’ responsibilities include taking action when things are not running smoothly. When the class starts getting lax with caring for our library, the class librarians raise the issue with the rest of the class and ask for help. When kids are forgetting to check in for their lunch choice, the class food-service managers voice their frustration, and so on.

Students have a role and have a vested interest in classroom structures and procedures. Tweens love the responsibility of running the room, and I love to turn over control to them. Anything that takes me away from teaching (e.g., taking lunch count, stocking the writing supplies, keeping the schedule of who will share writing) can be turned over to the kids. Taking the time to establish procedures at the beginning of the school year is important. Rushing through procedures and processes to get to the content will cost dearly because you have to spend bits of time here and there all year going over procedures. Moving on before procedures are internalized will require constantly reinforcing routines instead of teaching; both teachers and students suffer when instructional time is spent reinforcing procedures and putting out fires. And it tends to make us cranky.

It’s important to be aware that some kids feel more comfortable running the room, my life, and the world and have little time to be a kid. One year, Tracey, who had to get her three younger brothers up, dressed, fed, and on the bus, was so involved in running the room that I had to put limits on her. I finally put her in charge of the school calendar on my desk, and that was all she was allowed to do.

Tracey would remind me of upcoming meetings, as well as add assemblies and appointments as the school announcements were made in the morning. As payment for her time that year, she received Scholastic Book Order vouchers. It was the only year I actually made it to all the school assemblies. Not once that year did I wonder why the school was so quiet, only to realize later that we had missed a Jump Rope for Heart assembly.

Procedures

– keep a sense of predictability and order.
–  prevent wasting time on activities that don’t contribute to learning.
– contribute to a sense of community by delegating and sharing responsibilities.
– prevent small needless irritations and keep the atmosphere pleasant.

1 comment July 14th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Bringing tweens back to books

In Naked Reading author Teri Lesesne draws on her extensive experience as a teacher and consultant to examine ways that educators can help stoke kids’ — especially tweens’ — interest in books. In the first three chapters of her book she discusses the reasons some tweens are turned off from reading. In Chapter 4 she moves on to offer some remedies. She uses the acronym TARGET to describe the six elements that are essential in helping kids become excited about books: Trust, Access, Response, Guidance, Enthusiasm, and Tween-appeal. In this week’s Quick Tip, Teri talks about Trust.

First and foremost, our students need to know that they can trust us when it comes to books. They can trust that we know them well enough and we know where they are developmentally. Only then can we successfully recommend books that will excite and motivate them to read. I discuss the development of students in Chapter 1. At the beginning of the school year, it might be a good idea to give students a brief survey to get to know them and their reading habits better. While surveying instruments are available from a variety of sources, I prefer to construct my own— something short that will not fatigue the students or increase the time it will take me to go through them all quickly (and, as a bonus, students will not resent having to fill out one more form for me). Consider giving students a checklist of different genres and formats to see if your classroom (and, for that matter, the school) library meets their expressed interests.

I suggest beginning with this quick and easy checklist and then moving on to more elaborate questionnaires and surveys as the year progresses. A second step in this process, then, could be to give students a checklist to assess their attitudes toward books and reading. There are already-published instruments, such as the Estes Scale, that can be used for this step; however, it is also a simple matter to construct one for your classroom’s use. Begin with a series of statements about books and reading that are both positive and negative. Sample statements might include:
In my spare time I enjoy reading.
I spend my own money on books.
Reading when I don’t have to is a waste of time.
I don’t see the need to read outside of school.

Students respond to these statements using a Likert scale, with responses ranging from Strongly Agree to Agree to No Opinion to Disagree to Strongly Disagree. How students respond to each item nets a score from 1 to 5. For example, students who strongly agree to the first two statements that are positive in nature would receive a score of 5 points for each one. Likewise, if they respond with strongly disagree to the second two negatively worded statements; they would also receive 5 points each.

On the other hand, students who disagreed with the first two statements and agreed with the second set would receive one point for each of the four statements. Thus, the score of someone with a positive attitude would score a total of 20 points on the four statements; students with less positive attitudes would score lower. Again, you can easily construct such a scale and use it with your students or select from other, already established attitudinal scales.

Once you know more about reading habits, interests, and attitudes, you can begin to plan which books will become part of the classroom library. Note that this kind of evaluation needs to be done for all classes and each year, since students and their interests change over time. When I first began asking my students about the books they preferred to read, romance was the number one response from girls while boys preferred fantasy as their top choice. While fantasy and romance still appear on the final tallies, many girls now read fantasy (though boys have not picked up the romance novel as a favorite), and the popularity of graphic novels, manga, and anime has increased dramatically. A few years ago, I would not have included these categories on the checklist, nor would novels in verse (as distinguished from poetry) have appeared a decade ago. Fads come and go in terms of books. For years, I could not keep enough copies of Sweet Valley High on the shelves for my female readers. Ditto Goosebumps and Choose Your Own Adventure some years later. Now those have been replaced by other series such as the Lemony Snicket books.

Our students also have to trust that we do not have ulterior motives in recommending books that we are not attempting to “teach” them something as a result of their reading. One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, with illustrations by Peter Parnall. The narrator talks about the importance of finding your own special rock and the rules you must follow if the rock is to be truly special. I love this book for its simple yet elegant rhythms, for the incredibly awe-inspiring artwork done in earth tones, and for the beautiful allegory it presents me, as a lover of books. Each semester I open classes in children’s literature with a read-aloud of this remarkable book and then proceed to explain the allegory I develop from Baylor’s rules. The rock is the foundation if you will, of a literacy-rich classroom. The rules for finding the perfect rock, for finding the right book, still apply. One of the rules is “always sniff your rock.” Kids have a better sense of smell and can tell a rock’s origin from sniffing. This rule I liken to those kids who can smell a lesson coming a mile away.

I still remember his name after more than twenty years: Lionel. He handed back a book I had suggested with an expression that only a twelve-year-old can carry off successfully. “Oh,” he sneered, “this is one of those books that’s supposed to teach me something, huh? No thanks.” The book was one that talked about becoming a better student. Lionel was struggling in my class, and I innocently thought a book about how to study more effectively might kill two birds with one stone. Not so.

I learned two important lessons. First, do not try to find books that address problems students might be having in class. This process, called bibliotherapy, can have disastrous consequences. After my daughter died a few years ago, well-meaning teachers encouraged my grandchildren, Natalie, Cali, and Corrie, to read books where a main character died. What those kids did not want was to be reminded of their loss. Instead, what they needed was to find some relief from their sadness. We read books with gentle good humor, happy to find a reason to laugh. It has only been recently, some four years after their mother’s death, that the girls are reading books like The Afterlife by Gary Soto and The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher.

The second lesson is just as important: as teachers we have to be careful about how much we use books for instructional purposes. It is perfectly fine to study a few short stories, poems, a play, and even a novel as a group in order to learn about the critical attributes of genres, the elements of fiction, or the author’s voice and style. If every single book a student reads has to become part of a lesson, however, students will soon learn to dislike books, even those written specifically for them and for pleasure reading. Too many worksheets can also kill. Too many questions turn reading into just another lesson. Donald Graves once remarked that if we grade all the writing our kids are producing we are not doing enough writing with our classes. I think the same is true for books and reading. If we have a follow-up to every book, every read-aloud, every booktalk, we are not doing much to motivate readers. Think about it this way: after you read a book, what do you want to do? Do you sometimes just want to move on to the next book? Certainly you do not rush out to make a diorama to take to your colleagues at school. You probably do not write an official book report. Instead, sometimes it is sufficient to simply move on.

Let’s think about allowing the same freedom to our students. It will go a long way in developing the trust. Chapter 5 offers some suggestions for assessing the reading of your students. Finally, students must trust that we will not shy away from tough subjects and challenging books but, rather, provide books that present as much of the truth as possible. For instance, as I am writing this, a novel entitled Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis is making headlines due to its content. Basically, this novel centers on a party given by a group of teens where oral sex will be performed. It is an intense book that is frank in its presentation of sexual scenarios, so frank that most bookstore chains are refusing to carry the book. Now if I were a middle school teacher, I may not have this controversial book as part of my classroom collection. But I would know of the book, would have read it, and would be able to offer an assessment of it to students and parents.

Rainbow Party is an extreme case. It might not be the classic that Forever has proven to be. But it does I think indicate how we need to approach books of a controversial nature. As a teacher, Go Ask Alice was always a part of my classroom collection. I do not think most of my students were experimenting with drugs, but I do think that most of them were curious about the subject. Go Ask Alice afforded them the chance to examine the subject safely within the confines of a book.

Add comment April 21st, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Living Books

If you are tired of hearing, “I don’t know what to write!” in your writing workshop, then this week’s Quick Tip is for you. Bruce Morgan, author of Writing Through the Tween Years introduced Living Books to his writing class. Students record their observations about a pretty sunset, the first snow of the season, or whatever else happens in their lives in their Living Books. “The Living Books store our observations of and responses to life,” writes Bruce.

Introducing Living Books

I recommend taking some time to introduce Living Books to the class. I show the kids examples of the type of empty journal they should get. Hindley (1996) emphasizes that the books should be very special so the writing is housed in something that signifies its importance. Beautiful blank books can be found at Wal-Mart, at grocery stores, and at bookstores. I set a deadline a couple of weeks away and write a letter about bringing in their blank books and send it home.

Many kids cannot afford a fancy writers’ notebook so I purchase a lot of large composition notebooks. So the books will be special, the students create covers to reflect their personalities. Clear packing tape secures the covers to the composition notebooks and protects them from being torn.

When I introduce Living Books, the kids are not allowed to write in their books right away. Each day for two weeks, I model what entries should look like. To keep them from thinking these are diaries, I keep making mention of that fact. This writing will be vital, and it is to be cherished. These books will be much more than diaries; they will be life logs.

Before the kids begin their Living Books, I want them to see as many different people modeling writing as possible. For example, my model writing topics include the first days of the new year, the heat that wouldn’t let go of Colorado, wildflowers, and the sunsets smeared with orange and red as a result of forest fires. To show the kids a different model, Dawn and I have traded classes. Dawn verbally processes as she writes, talking about the purpose and the motivation behind her writing. Dawn wrote about baseball, her passion, and about the exploits of her two sons as they pursued college baseball. Our principal came in to write with us. She wrote about her parents’ upcoming fiftieth wedding anniversary, about her son’s going to college, and about her daughter’s being part of the Castle Rock Police Department junior officers division.

The kids are soon itching to write in their Living Books, but I’ll have none of that. I use reverse psychology, knowing that if they don’t get to begin right away, they will be overjoyed about writing when they do get the chance. After a couple of weeks of building suspense, they can begin to write entries, but on notebook paper, not in their Living Books. These entries I collect because I want to gradually release control to the kids by providing examples of what I am looking for from the kids, in addition to the examples they saw written by adults.

Following the gradual release of responsibility model, I begin turning over the sharing to selected kids based on the entries that have been collected the previous day. I choose selections that illustrate observations about life, that show incredible detail, that note something important—not entries that sound like a diary. I am sure to choose a lot of entries from reluctant writers because, honestly, they have some of the best reflections.

Sometimes from these writers come simple, unexpected, profound thoughts. There is a conscious effort to make sure it isn’t only the “good writers” who are asked to share. Finally, the class has permission to write in the Living Books. It is incredible. The tone is reverent. The classroom is silent as we write, then when kids are directed to take a minute to jot down any other ideas they don’t want to forget, the classroom bursts into noise. I encourage them to capture the moment before it is lost. They have a brief chance to get the essence of their experience on paper. Many kids return to an entry made the previous the day because it is an important idea that needs exploration.

Living Books Day by Day

When the hubbub of gathering and trivial tasks is behind us, we meet in the Oval Office, our Living Books in hand, and sit in a circle. I open by framing our learning and purpose for the day, then give a gentle reminder of the purpose of our Living Books: “Good morning. I’m so glad you’re here. We have a very busy day. Today as you begin to write in your Living Books, let me remind you of their importance. This is a place for your life observations, a place to store the parts of you that make you you. This is not a place for random doodling unless there is a purpose to those illustrations. I want you to be able to revisit your life as an adult and see what you thought about as a ten-year-old. This is to be a reminder of who you are, who you were. This is important. It’s our place to plant seeds and grow new topics, and I want you to take this seriously.

I don’t know about you, but today I will have to spend at least some of my time writing about our Valentine’s Day party on Friday. I want to remember the look on Jazmin’s face when she had the icing on her nose, and I don’t want to forget how cool Nick’s box was that looked like Sponge Bob because Sponge Bob is so popular right now, but won’t be later. It’ll be something you will remember from your childhood. I also want to write about the snow this weekend, how absolutely soft and beautiful it was. It was something I don’t want to forget, so I need to get it down before I lose it.”

The comments about what the teacher might write about usually gets the wheels turning in the kids’ heads for their writing. The Living Books are for their eyes only. I never collect these books, never assess them, never evaluate them. This is their free writing time, their time to experiment in a nonthreatening way. This is the place for incomplete thoughts and sentences, for illustrations of the sunset and of the snow on our first field trip, for sketches of their Halloween costumes.

Sometimes it’s necessary to intervene and redirect the kids. A couple of months ago, I noticed many of the kids doodling in their books, those weird line doodles all kids do. I reinforced for a week that the illustrations in their books should support the text, and that illustrations need text to explain the significance of the piece and the event that precipitated the need to illustrate something. I review the purpose of the Living Book and why we’re spending the time on them.

On crazy days like Valentine’s Day or before special events, on those days when the kids are distracted and off task, I circulate and give feedback. The kids sometimes need a reminder that we take this seriously, that it is not an option to write nothing. If they have nothing to write about, they write about having nothing to write about. Sometimes I have to jog their memories, to remind them of the countless stories they tell as they enter the classroom in the morning.

Each day we write from ten to twenty minutes. Then we share. It’s a consistent procedure in the room. Sometimes I ask for volunteers to share their writing. Other days I ask to hear from people who haven’t shared for a while. Sometimes we do a Whip Around: students select one line from anywhere in their own Living Books to share, and we whip around the circle, each student quickly sharing one line.

Other days, we look for trends. Students reread their recent entries or read their entire Living Books to see if there are trends, if there are recurrent themes that could be explored. I realized through my own book that many of my passages were about stress. It was shocking to see how much of my writing was about the stress I’d been feeling while trying to keep up, trying to get paperwork finished and grading done. It was a wake-up call to see that I was wasting so much of my professional life being stressed.

Trends in third and fourth graders’ writing are:
* Cartoons
* Sleepovers
* Birthday presents
* Classroom events
* Family events, vacations
* Brothers and sisters
Trends in sixth graders’ writing are:
* Conflicts with friends
* Issues of fitting in, not knowing their place in life
* Girls and boys
* Dating
* Friends at the Rec Center
* Fears and anxiety about going middle school

The amount of poetry written in Living Books might be surprising. It shouldn’t be shocking, though, because they are a safe place to write.

Bruce later discusses how to use Living Books for coming up with new writing topics. Find out more about his book, Writing Through the Tween Years, and preview the first chapter online.

Add comment March 31st, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Create a snazzy bulletin board

Rick Wormeli’s book, Day One and Beyond, is a sort of survival guide for middle-level teachers. He tackles all the nitty-gritty practical issues that all teachers face: how set up a grade book, what to do if there is only one computer in a classroom, and how to get students’ attention. In this week’s Quick Tip, Rick offers some advice on creating bulletin boards that not only decorate the classroom, but also engage students.

The Disney Company has two requirements for all rides at its amusement parks: they must be a good show and tell a good story. People will come if you have both. It’s the same for our classroom walls. The “good show” part refers to the attractiveness of the bulletin board. Is our bulletin board enticing? Do folks want to be near it? Does the bulletin board draw their eyes? Does it create uriosity? Those of you blessed with a gene for graphic art design will find this sort of thing easy to achieve. The rest of us mild-mannered, Clark-Kent, stick-figure artists have to work at it.

A few suggestions: Have more than one color as your background. I often run out of fadeless or mural paper and have left only scraps. Arranging these in a patchwork mosaic, cutting edges so there are soft curves or harsh, jagged edges, makes for a great background. So does a whole background of wrapping paper—as long as it’s not too “busy.” Consider going 3-D with your bulletin boards—have objects, labels, or important concepts jut out from the bulletin board. Velcro works well for this. You can also hang items from the ceiling just in front of the board, or build mini shelves into the bulletin board to hold display items. Attach small tape or CD players to bulletin boards to offer an auditory component to the visual experience. I’ve used recordings of famous speeches, sections of text, poetry, radio dramas, definitions, debates, music, stories, and “What to Notice” scripts over the years.

The “good story” aspect is expressed in many different ways. This is your bulletin board’s content. One of the most compelling elements for young adolescents is seeing their own names, their classmates’ names, or their own culture on the bulletin board. If possible, create interest by using the students’ names, their work, and/or their community in whatever’s being presented—you’ll get crowds. For example, when presenting grammatical concepts, use sample sentences about students or the local sports team. When presenting the proper diet and exercise program for good health, display the typical daily menu of one of your students (with permission, of course) along with his or her picture and magazine cutouts of sample foods from the menu. When presenting math concepts, incorporate elements from a currently hot movie: “Check Out the Endeavour’s Trajectory and Rate of Descent in Ben Affleck’s Armageddon III.” When presenting something about the Great Depression, grab students’ attention with phrases from television commercials or cultural icons: “Wuzzup?! I’ll tell you wuzzup: Fear and Financial Ruin!” or “Scrounging for ketchup and handouts at McDonald’s?”

The best bulletin boards cause observers to think about the topics presented: “How did Pythagoras get his hypotenuse?” “What would happen if you traveled back in time and caused the death of your grandfather before he ever met your grandmother?” “Is that any way to treat a maggot?” “Do warriors cry?” (This was a topic question for our study of the novel Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals.) According to Socrates, we have to create a sense of wonder before any thinking occurs. We can create wonder and offer substance with bulletin boards.

Beth Huddleston offers advice for new middle school teachers: Instructional bulletin boards should emphasize only one to three points. Color, simplicity, and something that connects to the world
of the middle schooler are also important for getting their attention. I have used pictures of students in our classroom or a three dimensional of Harry Potter on a broom. I find that students love to create the bulletin boards themselves. They also like to see their work displayed. Two rules for myself: (1) When students are creating a board, let them present a plan first and offer guidance in a positive way; (2) Always receive permission from a student to display her or his work or picture. Self-concept is a major point with this age.

As much fun and substance as these bulletin boards might offer, it’s important to take them down and replace them with fresh ones periodically. Bulletin boards that are up for more than a month lose their impact—they blend into the general clutter of a room and no one references them.

Their staleness permeates the room, too, making everything a bit less compelling, even your dynamic instruction. Don’t waste something so powerful; keep those boards changing. If you’re too busy to design and change them, ask your students to take responsibility for them. What they do to
create an interesting and accurate bulletin board on a given topic will teach them more about that topic than a lot of other activities would. An added benefit—they have ownership. They’ll give the bulletin board more attention while it’s on display.

One last idea: Bulletin boards don’t have to be on your classroom walls. How about on your ceiling? I’m serious—we’re talking total immersion into our subjects. When students get bored, lean back, and look away from you and to the ceiling, they’ll find themselves surrounded by the concepts.
How about having them taped out on the classroom floor? How about bulletin boards in hallways, in the library, and in the cafeteria? We’re limited only by our imaginations.

Add comment March 10th, 2009


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