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As a reading and writing teacher with 54 minute class periods, I am always looking for ways to authentically integrate reading and writing, especially through mentor texts.

With March Madness in full swing and state testing around the corner, I wanted to do a lesson with my students that I could connect to basketball, but also review poetry.  I did some Googling (is that even a verb) and came across Dear Basketball written by Kobe Bryant.

Dear Basketball is a letter Bryant wrote in 2015 to announce his retirement from basketball.  He does an amazing job of describing in detail what basketball has meant to him throughout his career.  I knew that my students would enjoy and be able to relate to this poem whether or not they loved basketball themselves because of the amount of passion that Bryant put into his writing.  I also knew that many of my students might not even know who Bryant is, which lead to me looking for a video of the poem being read.

We started off the lesson with a simple show of hands.  "Raise your hand if you who Kobe Bryant is."  I had the students that raised their hands share a fact or tidbit about him with the class.  Next, I passed out the poem and the students watched the video while following along with the poem as it was read.  (I know that there is some extra dialogue in the video, but it really seemed to help my students make connections.  With the music, narration, and visuals of the video, several students were in awe.  I think this video is a MUST.)  Students then had the opportunity to turn and talk with a peer about their immediate reaction.  I also had them think about the how video/media elements added to the way that they reacted to it. (To be honest, we talked about the poem for a while because the students had so much they wanted to talk about and also relate to their passions.)  I noticed how the kids wanted to share their own passions, so I thought we could use it as a mentor text for them to write about their own passions.

The students used Dear Basketball as a mentor text by mimicking the writer's craft that Kobe used in his poem. For example:

Dear Teaching, 

From the moment
I stepped into a classroom
for the first time
I knew I had found my calling.

They did an amazing job not only because they had an example to look at, but also because they were writing about something near and dear to them.

Here are some of my student examples:

  My students continue to amaze me with what they are capable of every day. 

Hello out there!  If anyone still follows and read my blog...  I could give you a list of excuses as to why I haven't blogged, but I won't.  I just haven't made time for it. Period.  I am hoping to get better at that because I feel like I have so many great ideas to share.

I have to admit this critical activity was put together by myself so that I would be able to get through the first week back to school after winter break.  Being in junior high, we have semester tests the second week we come back from break.  I knew I couldn't start a new topic, but wanted the students to do some review before their semester test. 

Enough rambling & onto the activity....

I was looking at Facebook and had seen that someone posted the link to The Year 2015 in Pictures from The New York Times.  It piqued my interest because the first picture that came up was beautifully taken.  I started looking through them and was learning about events that I never knew had happened.  A light bulb came on in my head. 

Here is step by step what I had my students do to complete this activity...

I used my Elmo to show the students how to set up their note taking sheets.  I didn't really tell what we were doing, jut tried to get it all laid out.  Here are some pictures of what the note taking sheet looked like. 
 This is what the individual sections looked like.
Here is the sheet as a whole.
I have also put one you can print off in the 2015 in Photos FREEBIE in my TPT store.
I pulled up the website and showed the students how they could navigate by month.  I told them that for my example I had picked a spring month.  I pulled up my example date.  As a class, we looked at the photo and read the caption.  We also inferred what we thought the cause might be.  (FYI - They were way off.)  I showed them how I used the date and important details from the caption to Google the event.  We talked about what we could infer would happen because of the event.  We also discussed the main idea and evaluated the photo the author had chosen.  When we had finished out discussion, I showed them my example page that I had completed. 
Next, we went to the computer lab so that the students could explore the site and pick pictures/dates that caught their eye.  I also had them make sure that they would be able to Google a cause and infer an effect for the event.  (Some of the events will just not work for the activity.)
I gave the students 2 class period, so 2 hours to Google the events and get all of their information and thought onto their paper. (I know having students take notes on paper seems like an extra step, but I wanted them to be able to process the information that they were getting.  It also helped make their sentences and answers more refined.)

Last but not least, the student input all of their information into the template I provided.  All answers had to be in complete, original sentences.  I also told them to make sure that they were well thought out answers-I would be asking them about them later and they would need to be knowledgeable about what they put. 
This is the template that we used.  It can be found in my 2015 in Photos FREEBIE in my TPT store.
Here are several examples of the amazing work that my students turned in.  If you think this might be a little challenging for your students, you could have them do it in groups or as a warm-up for a whole class activity.

I have to say that I didn't have any students complaining.  They were all into the assignment and even asked if I could find another one like it for them to do.  I'll have to keep that on my mind....

2015 in Photos - A Critical Thinking Activity

So, I totally have mixed feelings about this months currently... I LOVE my girl Farley, but it is also August, which mean school is right around the corner.  I have had an amazing summer, so I really can't complain too much.  Any-who... lets get to Currently!
Listening:  I am way too happy that I am back at my house and enjoying some peace and quiet.  I have had people working in the back of my house all week.  I appreciate them being here, but sometimes you just need a little peace & quite, right?

Loving:  I have also spent the last 2 days getting to hang out with some of my favorite #htxteachers.  They made my weekend.  Between going to an Astros game to bowling, we had a blast.  Every time we get together I know I will leave with a smile on my face and a full heart.  If there are hangouts or meet-ups in your area, DO IT!
Thinking/Wanting:  Around Memorial Day, the addition to my house got flooded in the big storms we had in the Houston area.  My house has been in disarray since. I am so glad that they finished yesterday.  Now all I have left to do is clean and move the furniture back.  It will definitely be getting done soon.  I am ready to have my living room back. :)

Needing:  I have started prepping for back to school.  From making and printing word walls to typing out my scope and sequence for the year.  I feel as if the summer has gotten away from me.  I'll get it all done... I hope!
Theme in a Snap! - ELA Everyday
B2S RAK:  I know that the first few days and even weeks back to school are tough.  Information overload really gets to me.  I plan on emailing or giving my fellow teachers positive notes.  A little goes a long way... as long as its genuine! :)
Enough of my rambling... Head over and check out Currently!

Today I will sharing with you several big ideas that resonated with me while reading this section of Unshakeable.  I must say that this chapter is one that will definitely be something that I look back over this school year.  It is something that I find myself forgetting to do and I believe it is extremely important in any classroom or even life in general.
When I read through the section, I kept having glimpses back to last year and thinking - WOW, I missed that.  I know that I am a good teacher, but this section was life changing for me.
Let me give you an example:
Last year was my first time teaching 8th grade.  I was totally out of my element.  The students and curriculum were new and scary to me.  (8th graders are a different breed-just fyi.) At the beginning of the year I felt like I needed to prove myself.  The principal had asked me to moved up to her campus because she had heard great thing about me.  This put a lot of weight on my shoulders because I pride myself in the job that I do.  Was I focused on my students or was I focused on how well I was completing my job each day? To be honest, I was focusing on how well I was doing my job.  Thankfully I snapped out of that pretty quickly, like within a month, I started to get back to my usual self.  
Now you ask... why all of this rambling?
 Get to the point, Sandy! 
I wasn't focusing my attention where it was needed.  I worried about too many things and had too much on my plate.  As teachers, if we are in the present with our students, we will be much more patient and will be much more productive.
It also made me realize how high my standards are set for the students in my classroom.  Am I saying that I need to lower my standards? Heck no! I do need to make sure that I am a cheerleader for my students no matter how small the accomplishment.  As teachers, we usually focus on the bigger picture or the light-bulb moment for our students.  I challenge you to really take the time to look deeper and find more things your students accomplish.  All students love praise no matter how small - this will help push them to achieve more.
Lastly, always be willing to deviate from your lesson plans.  Yes, I know I have a state test my students are expected to pass, but I would be happy to have a conversation that facilitates their love of reading too.  Some of the most memorable things that students learn are those that are authentic.  You CAN'T find them on the lesson plans.  They happen through purposeful conversation.  Am I saying to get off topic? Nope, you are the teacher and you know when it has gone too far left.  Just know that you don't always have to follow the lesson plan.  :)
What are something you do in your classroom or help you be more truly present and look for those light-bulb moment?  Truly challenge yourself to try these things next year in your class.  I'd love for you to come back and share what you discover.
Check out Chrissy's blog for the next section of Unshakeable!
Also, today is the last day of my birthday giveaway... click the image to take you to the previous post where you can find all the details!

I am very passionate about the next section of Unshakeable that I get to discuss with you today.

"That Student"
As educators, I know that you understand what I mean when I say "that student". 
I have had several of "that student" in one class at a time. 
I have been know to be able to build rapport with "that student".
And I have to admit that "that student" is the one that I've learned the most from in my 10 years of teaching.
"That student" is the one that I will have grown the closest with by the end of the school year.
If I'm around town, "that student" will run up to me and say hi or give me a big hug, even after being out of my class for several years.
1.  You, as the teacher, are the one who is in control of the climate in your classroom.  The way you handle situations, no matter how big or small, will determine how your students respond and react then and in the future. I'm not going to lie and say that I was always the best teacher at handling things thrown at me.  Are there times that I have raised my voice? Yes! Are there time that I went back and forth with a student and let them have all the power? Or course!  It happens to the best of us.  Every year that I have taught has helped me learn how to control the climate of my classroom better.  I now know that if they come in dragging, I might have to be overenthusiastic to reel them in.  Or if they come back from lunch a touch to active, I am the calming effect.  This also goes along with how you react to "that child".  If you react with anger, you will get anger back, but a lot of times if you react with love--they will learn that you care about them. Just know that you have that control.  You are the thermometer of your class!
2.  Get to know every student.  Yes, even "that student".  Often "that student" is the one that would benefit from it the most.  Am I saying spend all of your time getting to know "that student" and not the others? No way! I am saying get to know all of your students- like, dislikes, hobbies, their triggers, etc. If you do this, you will be able to understand why they choose to do certain things, but you will also build a better relationship with them. I say hi every child, whether they belong to me (are in my class) or not.  I want them to know that I notice them, that they are important, and that someone cares.  I am often drawn to "that student" because I want to know more about their triggers and what they care about.  If I know these 2 things, there time in my class will be much easier for me.  I can stop something that might trigger them or even teach them a coping strategy for the next time.  If I know they accelerate in sports, you bet I will be on the sideline cheering them on. I can see some of you shaking your heads-no, not EVERY game or event - I don't necessarily have to stay the entire time.  I need to make sure they know I am there supporting them. This has been a game changer for me.
3.  Redirect and reteach instead of punishing.  This should be common sense to most of us, but I knew I needed to add it to my list.  If a student make a mistake or a bad choice, you do not always have to punish them.  Shocking.. I know!  Often if you review the procedures/rules and have them practice them, the problem can easily be fixed.  And woohoo- NO discipline referral!! Will this work every time. No!  Will this work for severe in fractions of rules, like fighting, cursing, etc? NO WAY!! Use it wisely.  I have been thanked by assistant principals for not writing my kids up for every little thing.  I probably have a lower discipline referral rate than most teachers I have worked with.  Is it because I get all the "good kids"? Nope.  Its because I heed the advice I just gave you.  Even though I teach 8th grade, my students will make bad choices occasionally. Most of the time I can redirect their attention back to where it should be OR I can reteach the procedure that is in place.  Most of the time "that student" will get it after a handful of times.  Does it always get corrected that quickly? No way! But every student if different.  I also firmly believe this has helped me build rapport because I handle it in my classroom instead off giving the responsibility to someone else.  (I have written up discipline referrals, but that is after redirecting/reteaching, conferencing with them, and conferencing with their parent.) 
Hopefully, you will be able to take my top 3 thing to remember and apply them to your class next year.  They work with all students and not just "that student".
Do you have any tips or trips that you use with "that student"? Comment and leave them below... I am always looking for new tips and tricks to add to my teaching.
Tomorrow, I will be back with the next section of
Unshakeable - be truly present & look for the light bulb moments.  And it is going to be good... see ya then!

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