Middle School ELA Schedule (Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Year-Long Pacing)

I think one of the most frequently asked questions I get is about my schedule. The questions range from my daily, weekly, monthly, and year long schedules, so I thought I would answer some of those questions here.

Teaching a Books and Movies Elective Class

Hey friends, 

If you follow me on instragram, you know that I teach an elective class called, "Books and Movies." Every time I post about it, I get a ton of questions (which is totally understandable, because I think it's a teacher's dream to teach a class like this). I finally got around to talking about it. 

I don't think I have super mind-blowing information on how I teach it (just a fair warning) but I do love to tell others about how this class works. 

Question One: How did you create this class? 
A: I didn't ha! My current school is a public charter school. We have seven class periods a day and our seventh period of the day is when all of our middle schoolers (6th, 7th, and 8th) take an elective class, while our SPED, Rti, and Gifted kids go to Academic Support and Enrichment classes.  

Question Two: Who gets to take the class?
A: Students used to be able to choose which electives they could take. That meant that 6th, 7th, and 8th graders would all be in a class together. The benefit was that kids could choose. The downside to this (even though I never experienced it) was that when you have 6th and 8th graders in a class together it annoys the crap out of 8th graders because of the maturity levels. 

There also wasn't a good mix anyway because 8th graders got first dibs, so they would all tend to be in the same elective anyway, while 6th graders were placed wherever they would fit. So now it is a strictly 6th grade elective and we choose the electives for each grade. 

Question Three: How does the schedule look for your electives?
A: Again, teachers used to see kids every day for a semester, and then would switch with another class at second semester. This was done, when kids picked one elective first semester, and another elective second semester. Since we went to our new schedule. We currently have two class in each grade level of 6th, 7th, and 8th. 

Now we have an A/B schedule where I see my A class on Monday, my B class on Tuesday, My A class on Wednesday... and so on. This goes on all year long, and the other 6th grade elective is a science/weather elective. 

Just for curiosity sake, 7th grade electives are applied math and science (or sometimes nutrition/health) and Triple A (First-Aid, CPR type stuff). While in 8th grade, they have STEM and Creative Writing. 

Question Four: How do you read the books?
A: I know that the previous teacher of the class would ask the kids how much they wanted to read, and then they would spent most of the class time reading. 

The elementary teacher in me struggled with that. I was worried that some kids would want to keep reading but would have to stop based on what the class chose, while other kids would never get done and would have homework or just wouldn't read. 

I also knew that by middle school, read aloud can become a thing of the past, so I committed to either having the audiobooks for us to listen to or I just read them aloud. 

During this time, some kids do read ahead (I kind of encourage it if they ask). When they finish the book, but we're still reading, they usually just start the next book in the series and just block out the audio or my voice. If it's not in a series, then they just read a different book. The types of kids who do this are your big readers so it's easy for them to do this and it doesn't disrupt other kids who haven't read the book yet. 

Question Five: How do you pick the books? 
A: This was a bit of a learning curve for me, especially with 6th grade. I have started the last two year with Holes, because it's one of my favorites, it's a good length, and the movie is pretty well done. After that I would let them pick, but this is what I've learned about 6th graders: They pick books based on the "cool" factor. Meaning, they want young adults type books, but don't really realize the commitment they're making. 

Every year, my kids choose The Maze Runner, and every year it about kills me. I LOVE The Maze Runner, but it doesn't lend itself to this type of class. First of all, it's LONG, and it take a long time to build up to the good parts. For 6th graders, it's just hard as a read aloud. The Hunger Games was also as challenging for the same reasons. Both are great books, but for now, I don't think they will be options. 

That being said, I try to find high interest books in the 100-250 page range. Because I see them every other day, this allows us to get through the books in a timely manner, it keeps their interest, and allows us to get through more books. 

These are the books we have read and how it went:
  • Holes: Always a winner. Usually everyone's favorite. 
  • Freak the Mighty: Another favorite. The book is quick, engaging, and relatable to them. The movie is pretty good too. It's also my favorite which ups the engagement factor for them.  The movie is called The Mighty
  • The BFG: My 6th graders didn't LOVE it. It was just a little too babyish for them, but they did like the movie. 
  • The Maze Runner: They loved it at the end and they love the movie, but it takes FOREVER.
  • The Hunger Games: Exactly the same as The Mazer Runner. I also went on maternity leave right in the middle and the long term sub was kind of disastrous, so I don't think that helpedI'd be willing to try again though. 
  • Number the Stars. Loved it. They loved learning about the true story it's based on. It's a quick and easy read. The movie isn't exactly from the book, but it's a movie about the Danish Resistance. It's called Miracle at Midnight
  • Bridge to Terabithia: In general, they liked it. It was a quick easy read and the movie is good. 
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: In any other scenario this book would have been too long for them, but it's my favorite so we do a lot of fun stuff with it. Most ended up loving it and the movie. 
  • The Lorax: This is my favorite picture to read with them. It's great for their age group. 
  • Horton Hears a Who: I had a few days to kill at the end of the year and this was another good one. They loved it too. 
  • The Polar Express: If I'm being honest, this wasn't a favorite. I think they liked that they got to read a picture book around Christmas time, and then watch the movie, but it's not as appealing to 6th graders as some other picture books. 
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: English teachers across the world may hate me, but I think the short story is super weird and confusing haha. But the movie is great so we loved this one too. 

These are some books I have class sets of that I want to read with them or at least have the option of: 
  • The Giver: I love this books and really want to add it to the mix next year. I also have a class set of them. 
  • The Outsiders: I actually don't like this for 6th grade. I think it's a perfect 8th grade book and this year I read it with my 8th graders to teach narratives. I won't be able to do that anymore because we are going to a four-day week, but I do have a class set of them. 
  • Akeela and the Bee: I've never had a desire to read this one with them (not for any particular reason haha). But the book was written after the movie so it might be a good one. 
  • Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life: I don't have a class set of this book but have you read it?! OMG it's nothing like you would expect and it's so freaking good. This is next on my list to get a class set of. 

Question Six: What does a class period look during a books and movies class?  
A: This is actually the most asked question. I seriously keep it as simple as possible. My goal of the class is to expose them to books, for them to enjoy reading, and for them to be able to hopefully see that the book is always better. 

The only time the schedule below really changes is when we watch the movie, and depending on the length we just spend two-three full class periods watching the movie. Afterwords, I don't even have to say anything. They seriously just talk about all the differences themselves, so I don't beat it to death with a worksheet or Venn diagram, because they're discussions are natural and authentic anyway.  

This is the daily schedule. 

I just use the Bell Ringers that I created for my 6th graders when I taught 6th grade ELA at my previous school. I don't worry about them getting every single bell ringer because I see them every other day. So one week, my A class will get Monday, Wednesday, Friday bell ringers, while my B class will get Tuesday and Thursday. But the next week it switches, so it all works out. Here is a blog post on how I make bell ringers work in my classes. 

Question Seven: What resources do you use?  
A: Like I said, I keep it really simple while we are reading a novel. I really don't believe in worksheets or even novel studies. When I taught 5th and 6th, I created my own reading units that essentially used books as a way to teach the standards. I was never trying to teach the book. I wanted to teach the kids. I use the same philosophy in books and movies. 

So I just use my own reading units. While we are reading, I might pause and ask one or two comprehension questions. Then when we finish I will ask them the interpretive question, we will have a discussion about it, and then they will write a reading response based on our discussion. 

Being the last hour of the day, I usually just grade it right then and there, and tell them it's their ticket out the door. I never have issues with kids not finishing, and they know if they do a crappy job, I will make them go back (no they can't just take the bad grade and leave) and make it better. 

These are the units I have done that work perfectly with books and movies. If you are trying to make this a class and need it to be more standards-based, the nice thing about all these units is that they are 100% aligned to the Common Core.  

If we have a book that I want to teach, then I work on creating a unit and questions to go with it as we go, so some are half-finished because I was trying to make them us as we went. 

You can select any unit to check them out on my TPT store

Well I hope that answers all of your questions. Feel free to ask any more you have and I can add the information to this post! 


The Four Day School Week

Hey friends!

So you're either here because you're like, "WHAT?! There's such thing as a four-day school week?" or "I've heard of it but I want to know more!" Or maybe neither haha. Either way, I've been wanting to blog about this pretty much all year, but I've been waiting for a couple of reasons.

First. I've actually blogged about this before in this blog post (disclaimer: I was a blogging and teaching rookie so read it with a totally different lens).

Second. My current school is a charter school in a pretty large district. Our large district we're a part of is on a 4-day week. I actually applied for this job thinking this school was four-day (surprise! it wasn't haha). But I also really wanted to work at this school, and when I applied I was already working at a school that was  five days.

Third. My current school had been working on going to a 4-day week for the upcoming school year. Our school had a calendar committee that researched, surveyed, discussed, and then researched some more on the benefits of four-day school weeks. They pushed for it all year (I was on it for a brief stint, but went on maternity leave so I really can't take too much credit). Anyway, I was waiting to see if it would pass before I blogged about it.

IT PASSED a few weeks ago and I am pumped! But I am always shocked at the questions, concerns, and all around shock that comes with four-day school weeks and wanted to answer as many of those questions here.

So, a little background on four-day school weeks.

Four-day school weeks are actually pretty common in rural communities because of their ties to farming and families needing their children to help work on the farms an extra day. Some of those are old traditions that just never changed.

Rural communities also often have families that need to travel farther for school and the four-day week was implemented to help take a day of travel off for families, busses, and even teachers who traveled long-distances.

More recently, four-day school weeks have been becoming more and more common as schools need to cut costs and one day less at school can save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

And even more recently, rural (but not as rural as the past) have been going to four-day weeks to retain teachers. Smaller districts compete with city districts or small rural towns struggle to get teachers to remain in their districts because they can't compete with raises, benefits, etc. One way to try and retain those teachers is implementing a four-day week.

A little background on me with four-day school weeks

My first charter school that I taught at was a four-day school week, while the rest of the district was a five-day school week (with the exception of one other school in the district that was a public school that focused on math/science on Fridays. They were a four-day school week, while Fridays their school had a math and science center that all schools could visit and utilize).

Some things that might surprise you:
  1. We consistently had the second highest test scores in the district, and second only to (you guessed it) the other four-day school in the district.
  2. I worked at that four-day school for three years and never took a day off. Not because I was crazy, but because I could schedule anything I needed for Friday afternoons. Fridays are also the day most staff members tend to take their days in five day schools, because it's just easiest. I never had to do that. 
  3. Teachers still had to go to school on Fridays for 1/2 days. We worked 8:30 -12:30 on Fridays. I actually LOVED it. I got SO MUCH done. As a first year teacher, it was life-changing. Most 4-day schools don't do this, but ours did. 
  4. Now that I have taught in two different five day schools, I can tell you, without a doubt, that I had WAY more instructional time when I taught in a four-day school. 
    1. We had all PLC meetings, RtI meetings, staff meetings, and SpEd student annuals and staffings on Fridays. I NEVER had to get pulled out of my classroom for a meeting. I didn't even know that was a thing until I went to a five-day school. My first year in a five day school, I had almost 13 kids with IEPs, so that meant 13 hours that I was pulled out of my class just for those meetings. Don't even get me started on all the other stuff I got pulled out for. 
  1. Teachers never felt like they were trying to squeeze a bunch of curriculum into a shorter time. We often heard from other district teachers how they felt like they never had enough time, but we pretty much never felt that way. We obviously felt the crunch during testing, but nothing like I felt when I taught in a five-day school. 
  2. We actually were in school a normal length of time. We started in mid August and got out in mid May. The five days schools I've been at actually have longer school year calendars. My first four-day school went 8:00am-3:40pm. The school I teach at now will be 7:30-3:05 in elementary and 7:30-3:25 in the middle and high schools. 
Some things that might not surprise you: 
  1. We really didn't have that many behavior issues. There are other factors that could have been at play, but a lot of research and administrators will tell you that Fridays are the worst for behavior.
  2. We also had pretty good attendance. I never had kids that were gone all the time and I never knew about the concept of missing work for tons of absent kids, because it just didn't happen too often.
  3. Teacher and student burn out was far less of an issue then at five day schools. Teachers still moved away and we obviously had to fill positions, but we didn't have much teacher turnover. 

I'm just going to make this list of benefits as fast as possible. 
  1. Increased attendance (for students and teachers). 
  2. Better teacher morale.
  3. Better student morale. 
  4. Well rested students. 
  5. More time to work on homework. 
  6. More plan and prep time. 
  7. Less interrupted instructional time. 
  8. More consistent schedule every week (all our professional development days, teacher work days, meetings, etc. are all done on Fridays). We don't get many other holidays off, so you almost always have four-days of instructional teaching every single week. 
  9. Better teacher retention. 
  10. More money savings. This is often the biggest reason schools go to this four day week. It can be hundreds of thousand of dollars for larger schools districts with one less days of buses and utilities. 

Like I was saying in the beginning of this post, my current school was the only school in our district that wasn't a four-day school, so our calendar committee decided to push for it this year (for a variety of reasons). 

I may have been naive to think that everyone would love the idea of a 4-day school, but people are actually pretty against it at first. 

But here's a super crazy fact: In general, parents and families are about 50-50 when schools decide to try to go to a four-day. Half are for it and half are against it. BUT, after one year of being four-day schools, satisfactions surveys show that 90%-95% of families are satisfied with the switch. Basically, once you get people over the change, they will be satisfied, you just have to convict them to switch first haha. 

Anyway, here are the most often and questions and most often expressed concerns to the switch to four-day, along with the answers to those questions. Most of these answers are based off of research or 4-day school experience. 

Question One: What about families who work full time? What are they supposed to do on Fridays?

This is a question that so many families like to bring up. I get it. I really do, BUT (I am not trying to offend anyone-- just trying to speak facts here) school is not meant to be a daycare facility. Just because families work, doesn't mean they think of school like that, but we're not there just to offer free daycare. We're there to teach your kids. 

On a related note, most schools get out in the 2:30-4:00pm range, while most people who work full time don't get done at these times. They usually already have that figured out, and Friday becomes another one of those things to figure out. Also, most communities that implement four-day weeks work hard to come up with solutions for families that simply have no other alternatives. 

Question Two: How do you fit five days of curriculum into four days. 

Real talk. I HATE this question, because I think it shows SO MUCH about what is wrong with education and mandated curriculum programs and companies. 

We are not just supposed to cover as much as possible in a school year. That achieves NOTHING. Good teaching is good teaching. It's about going deeper, not wider. Decisions occasionally have to be made about what you will and won't teach, but in general, you don't really have to change much. 

You might have to get a little more creative. For example, when I taught 5th grade at the four-day school, I taught the measurement standards all year long during our math warm-up and the other four units as units throughout the year. 

Also, like I stated before, by having Fridays off, your instructional time is sacred, and you actually end up feeling like you have more. 

Question Three: Is this really best for kids?

Again, I kind of hate this question, because I think it's another one of those questions that show that people just don't understand or value teacher opinions. But YES, it is totally best for kids. They are well-rested, their teachers aren't burnt out, they have more time for homework, and all around school moral is better. 

I still see why big districts with large free and reduced lunch populations would struggle with a four-day school week, because of the concerns about kids eating. Again, larger districts that do this, often rally as a community to support those families. 

Question Four: Are the kids just going to have way more homework to compensate for the missed time?

Sorry, but I think if the answer to that was yes, then that would just be bad teaching. I might be biased because I feel pretty strongly about not giving homework, and I teach middle school ELA. I want my kids to read every night, and I encourage that, but the only type of homework that would get added on in a four-day week would be stuff we should be teaching or busy work and neither of those should be homework. So no, homework shouldn't increase. 

Question Five: If families don't want it at their school, why would the school still do it? 

Originally, I thought this was only an applicable question for our small school, but recently a large district in the Denver area went to a four-day school for a couple of reasons and many of the community members were upset. They felt that the school district hadn't consulted them, BUT I have to disagree. 

That same district had been trying for years to pass a bond for more money The community had continually not voted to pass the bonds that would raise their taxes, thus continually underfunding the schools in their district. When the community won't support the needs of the school, then the schools have to do what they have to do in order to give students and teachers what they need. In that sense, the community had been consulted, but wouldn't pass the bonds that would allow for the funds that the school needed. 

Essentially, the school district was left with ew choices if they wanted to be able to compete with neighboring districts and keep up enrollment, and also importantly, keep up teacher retention 

Genre Posters Book Covers

If you have seen my Genre Posters in my classroom, these are the book covers I used to create them.