It’s so much more than 6th grade. It’s so much more than Language Arts. One can consume all the knowledge in the universe but what good is that if one cannot create? Read more about what we value at Durham Academy Middle School ~
There are many things I could have become besides a teacher. My four years at UNC Chapel Hill included many starts down various paths including international business, psychology, dental school with an Air Force career, then business school, and finally ending at Peabody Hall in the school of education. As I share with my students, I get to do all of these “careers” as a teacher. I get to learn something new every day. Everyone is on their own path and traveling at their own pace. Sometimes I get to see a moment unfold right before my eyes and more often I hear about that moment years down the road. I am constantly reflecting, asking curious questions, and holding expectations high hoping the leap or extra effort students take brings them confidence and a belief that they are capable of more than they ever realized. Read one 6th grader’s thoughts about how she’s grown as a lifelong learner this year.
During this year of 6th grade Language Arts, I had so much fun learning how to do many new things through our Language Arts class. I definitely felt like I was being challenged in Language Arts, yet the class was still manageable. I feel like I have improved so much from the beginning of the year to now, but I still have so much that I can work on in the future. Here are some of the things I did this year.
I feel like I have gotten a chance to read so much more than I have in previous years because we got to start each class by reading silently. I really enjoyed having that time where I could just focus on what I was reading. I also enjoyed the fact that we got to choose what books we wanted to read because it made reading so much more fun for me when I had the option to read the kind of books that I liked. However, I do need to work on challenging myself in the books that I choose to read and work on expanding the genres of the books I read. I have read 41 books this year and I read an average of 10 books each quarter. Right now, I am currently reading the book Everlasting by Angie Frazier, and I think this book is really different than some of the books I have recently read. I like the sense of adventure it has, which is different from the past books I have read, and there are many plot twists and cliffhangers which keep me interested in the book. In class, we just finished reading the Westing Game, which was a very detailed and complex mystery that was fascinating to read about as the story unfolded. Now in class, we have started reading a book called Call it Courage, and although we just started, I like how the book takes place in a very interesting setting, which is an island in Polynesia. Throughout this year, I have really built and developed a love for reading.
Another thing that I have improved in this year is my vocabulary since we worked used Membean to learn new words. Since we have done a lot of Membean this year as homework and taken many Membean Quizzes, I feel like I have not only expanded my vocabulary but have learned how to incorporate the new words I am learning into my writing. I am still on level two with Membean, and have learned 201 out of the 299 words this year, and although I think I am doing Membean at a relatively slow pace, I really wanted to focus on my accuracy and truly learning the new words. I really like some of the words I have learned, such as implicit or memorandum because I think it is really interesting when I learn the meanings of words that I have heard before in my everyday life.
This year, something new that I have never done before is writing a blog. I think it is such a fun thing to get to write our own blog posts that can be put on the internet for everyone to view. Writing a blog post is one of the things that has really improved my writing because we get to write about things that we care about. Writing on a blog also gives me an opportunity to show some of my personality in my writing. By the third quarter, I had written thirteen blog posts, and currently, at the end of the year, I have written sixteen blog posts. Another fun thing about having blogs is that we can comment on our classmates’ blogs and receive feedback on our own blog posts. One of my favorite blog posts that I have written this year is the one about our Hero Books. I really enjoyed writing about our Hero Books, because I was writing about something that meant a lot to me. There was also so much detail that I was able to include about the process of making our Hero Books. I think our blog posts have really helped me grow and improve as a writer. Here is the link to my blog. http://23mayahd.edublogs.org
One of the other areas where I really grew in Language Arts is grammar. Before I came into 6th grade, I had really struggled with grammar. However, throughout this year, by using iXL, I feel like I was able to improve so much. I have completed all 68 total sections in the 6th grade level of iXL, and am working on the 7th-grade level now. I have answered 5,900 questions in iXL, and I have really spent a lot of extra time trying to improve my grammar. One of the things that I learned doing iXL that was most helpful was learning about commas. Using commas have always been difficult for me because I did not know how to use them or where to put them. After completing the comma section in iXL, I will now be able to use my knowledge about commas in all of my future writing. I have not only learned a lot about grammar but have come to actually enjoy doing iXL and getting to learn all the rules of grammar.
I also had practice setting goals for myself this year by using a calendar in Evernote to keep track of my daily goal. What we did every month was set a monthly goal that we would complete every day. This was definitely a new experience for me because I never really had committed to a written goal like this. I also thought it was cool to have a visual of our progress on a calendar to be able to see how consistently we are completing our goals. One of the goals I am proud that I accomplished was practicing piano for an hour every day. I am proud of this because, at the end of the month, I could really see how much progress I was able to make through the month. I learned from this experience that I can do almost anything if I have the persistence to be able to commit to doing whatever I want to do.
Another thing that is similar to setting goals for ourselves is writing a Life List. At the beginning of the year, we wrote a list of things that we wanted to accomplish in our lifetime or a Life List. Later in the year, we looked at our Life Lists again to see whether we had finished any of our goals for our life. For me, I accomplished only one thing on my Life List which was to read ten classic books. I think this is because a lot of my goals on my Life List were much more long term, and many of them I will not be able to accomplish until later on in my life. However, another one of my goals was to travel to Europe, and I will be able to accomplish that goal this summer because my family is traveling to England. Our Life Lists have really helped give me perspective about what I want to do with my life, and what I can do now to reach my long term goals for my life.
Some of my favorite and most memorable things that we have done this year include our Hero Book Project and reading the Westing Game. One of my favorite things about doing our Hero Book Project was working with the artist Peg Gignoux and learning about so many different art techniques. I really enjoyed getting our books displayed in Frank Gallery, and getting to share the stories of our heroes with other people. I also learned a lot about my hero, who was my dad and became closer to him. By writing about my Hero, I got to be creative in making my book, and I got to write about someone I care about. The Westing Game was one of my favorite novels that we have read in class this year. I really enjoyed the whole plot of the story, and reading and taking notes as the mystery unfolded. The book was very complex, and at times it was difficult to try to pay attention to every detail, but all the details made the book so much more interesting because I could look back upon the book and realize that a lot of the details in the book came together to form the answer to the mystery. It was also fun to draw all the characters in the book in order to get a better visualization of what every character looked like. In Language Arts this year, we really have done so many fun things that I learned so much from doing.
I also faced some challenges in Language Arts this year, and one of the most difficult things we did this year was the Westing Game. Since the book required taking such detailed notes and paying so much attention to every possible clue in the book, I really had to take the time to read everything very carefully. However, despite these challenges I have gained more confidence in myself and my writing abilities through this year. One of the specific things that I feel more confident about is writing nonfiction essays about factual things. Before this year, I do not think I had that much practice writing nonfiction, but throughout this year, I really got the chance to practice writing about what is happening in my life, and about other people. I know that in my future, I will have to write more nonfiction, and the confidence I have gained through writing this year will benefit me in the future.
Despite learning so much this year, there are some things that I would have liked to do differently. Next year, I hope that in class, we will get the chance to watch more movies in class because I really enjoyed watching videos and movies that were related to what we were learning. For me, watching those things was a really helpful way for me to learn. Next year, I do hope to spend slightly less time reading silently in class, because for me, it is easier to concentrate on reading when I am reading at home alone. I also feel like it would have been better for me if I could have the chance to use that time silently reading to be able to get more work done. However, I still think that I do enjoy getting the time to read in class, and I also like the freedom to choose what books I read. This freedom has also helped me enjoy reading more, and also helps me read faster.
I also learned from this year about how it is best for me to learn, and I think one of the things I have improved on this year is with attention. I have really learned about different things that help me focus, such as taking stretch breaks periodically while working. I know that for me, it can be hard to continually focus for long periods of time. I also learned that it is harder for me to accomplish things when I do not want to do them as much, however, I can still finish them. One of the more effective learning strategies for me is to be able to visually see examples of what I am going to do, since I believe I am more of a visual learner, and it is harder for me to do things based on just oral instructions. I can also help improve my performance in class work and homework if I try to tune out other distractions, and although that is hard for me, I know it is something that I do need to work on.
Overall, throughout my 6th grade year in Language Arts, I feel like I have really been able to grow and improve as a person. I have not only developed many new skills but have had fun doing it. I did many things this year that I never thought I would be able to do and have had so much fun learning how to do new things through all the projects and activities we did this year. This year has been especially impactful on my life, because I have truly developed a love for learning, and that is something I will have for the rest of my life.
What did you read this summer? Sixth graders at Durham Academy Middle School chose one of Frances O’Roark Dowell’s many books to read this summer. The first book I read of hers was Dovey Coe. It is set in Boone, a place I have been many times before. I wanted to read that book because it sounded like it would be about a strong female character mixed with a murder mystery. The way the characters talked in the story made me feel like I was not only going back in time, but also right there with the locals. Read Dovey Coe to find out if Dovey is innocent or not.
The next book I chose to read a few summers ago was Shooting the Moon. The two main reasons I chose this book was my love of photography and the fact that my dad was also in Vietnam. When we listened to Frances O’Roark Dowell share with us yesterday, she too is an Army brat. She, like me, had to move every couple of years, leaving things behind, forcing me to make new friends, and letting some things go forever.
Adults often ask us what we want to be when we grow up. Frances had many things she was interested in or passionate about like drawing cartoons and writing poetry. She even thought about going in to law like her father because she liked to argue. Frances taught at the university level. Following that, she moved to the mountains and pursued her passion. During the day she cleaned houses and she wrote during her free time. Then the story went in a drawer. Life went on.
With the help of a friend, an editor, and many mornings spent writing and writing, Frances now has many books published for young children to adults to read.
When we discussed all of the books we read this summer, we discovered that most of her books are realistic or historical fiction, they are often told in first person, and the main themes are family and friendship. Frances writes about things we can all relate to in some way. One of her new books will be about basketball. If you could choose the topic of her next book, what would it be?
My grandfather, Dr. Ralph Cummings, was a farmer from Reidsville, North Carolina. He graduated first in his class at Reidsville High School in 1928. Growing up, he was my grandfather of course, but I always knew he was known for his contribution to the Green Revolution that fed millions of people worldwide. He made the connection between what some North Carolina farmers were facing with what developing countries were up against. He had a vision.
He went from Raleigh, North Carolina to Peru and then developed a system that made it possible to grow crops during the monsoon season while working with the Rockefeller Foundation in India. My grandfather “arranged the first import of high-yielding wheat varieties (developed by his colleague, Dr. Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for that contribution) which transformed India’s agriculture.” Perspectives The year I was born, he returned to NC State as a professor before heading the international crop research institutes in the Philippines and India. ICRISAT My grandfather received the International Agricultural Service Award from the American Society of Agronomy and the 1988 Presidential End Hunger Award from USAID.
I always wanted to do what he did. I was not sure how, but I wanted to use my knowledge or strengths to change lives. I do not have a green thumb as much as he tried to share his back yard garden expertise. However, even the smallest of acts make a difference. At Durham Academy, we are fortunate to be able to spend time giving back to our community. Yesterday we traveled almost an hour to a field in Fuquay Varina to glean sweet potatoes. The students were told that this practice is thousands of years old. Food was left behind for those who perhaps needed it most. Much of what we see in grocery stores has to be a perfect size or shape. Food is food.
We spent almost two hours searching for delicious sweet potatoes that would be trucked to several local churches and a food bank in Durham, NC. One potato, the size of the one pictured above, can feed two people. It takes a team of dedicated volunteers and community members to make this happen. We are grateful to the Society of St. Andrew for creating this opportunity for young and old to give back. http://endhunger.org/ I am not leading an institute like my grandfather, but I am modeling what learning and giving back can do for not only yourself but your neighbor and the world ~ one decision and one person at a time. What will you decide to do with your time and talent today?
Photos by Patti Donnelly
Each year we begin a journey of connection, reflection, and heartfelt moments. What I love most about teaching Language Arts to 6th graders is learning with them. A close second is how we can experience reading, writing, speaking, technology, and creativity every single day. Our Hero project is all of that and more.
We return from winter break and begin thinking about a hero. It has to be someone we know and value in our life. As we are brainstorming heroic traits and interview questions, the handmade book making process begins with local artist, Peg Gignoux. The first session is a collaborative effort to paint and pattern as much paper as possible.
Folding a big, white piece of paper is harder than it seems. There are several steps involving some technical spatial skills.
Piece by piece, we trust that the from layering random colors, a work of art will emerge. There is no prototype to copy or pencils to sketch. There are scissors, glue, and our memory of a meaningful moment with our hero.
Now we have to decide how to cut the portal to our heroic scene.
Peg giving her sage advice
The last step is attaching the front and back cover and gluing in the story.
Once the books were dry and pressed, Peg displayed them at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As if the experience wasn’t exciting enough at this point, last Wednesday we came together as a community to share our stories at the gallery. Many heroes walked in not knowing they were the one being honored. Emotions were high and smiles broad.
Sister honoring brother
Daughter honoring mother
Son honoring dad
Friends sharing a forever moment
Moments of pure joy!
Thank you Peg! You are our hero!
How do you improve your writing? Write. Seems so simple. We hear authors, teachers, and parents share this sage advice. Like anything, practice makes permanent. In 6th grade Language Arts we blog. In other words, we write about experiences in school and in our community. A key part of this process is reflection.
In my 25 years in education, I have seen a transition. When students write on paper, it provides valuable information for me as a teacher. Not only can I peruse the content, the grammar, and mechanics, I can also see how hard a student presses on the pencil or how they use the space on the paper. Whether they ask it out loud or not, there is the inevitable question, “How many sentences do I have to write?”
When we blog, we are learning foundational skills, but we are also treading in new and open waters. What we write is now visible to the world. This is often referred to as an “authentic audience” in educational circles. When students write with digital tools, I cannot analyze the handwriting, but even with spell check, there are spelling errors in first drafts. Writing is one of the most complex skills for students as it combines language, memory, sequencing, attention, and motor skills. In addition, learning a new process with multiple steps for drafting and publishing online is a journey in itself.
I have only been blogging for a few years with my middle school students. I cannot express the thrill and the “YES” moment we experienced when I asked them to read their first post and then read a more recent blog post. Initially, instead of noticing the difference in length or the improvement in handwriting, which is what students usually observe when comparing drafts on paper, they noticed what we want them to see. Smiles widened, eyes sparkled, and pride burst from their chests when they realized that they had become better writers. They improved their craft. This was not about the final product. They noticed how they improved the PROCESS of writing. An added bonus is that they discovered that all of our talk about how to comment online really matters. In other words, specific, meaningful feedback feels very different than “Nice job!”
Last year in 6th grade, Lana wrote a piece titled, Blog Post Progression. She reflected on this experience of looking back at her learning process. She writes, “Recently, I scrolled through all of my blog posts, down to my first one. To be honest, it was rough. I actually started to laugh. I misplaced and omitted commas and made a small handful of other grammar and writing mistakes. I realized how much I have learned throughout the year and how much my writing skills have improved.”
Throughout the year in 6th grade Language Arts, we learn how we learn. We talk about strategies, resources, and what works best for each of us as individuals. Lana writes, “Throughout this process, I learned quite a bit about my peers and myself. I discovered that I actually prefer to write on paper. This is because when I write up a report on a piece of paper or in a notebook, I do not have the risk of the document accidentally getting deleted or getting lost in the midst of my computer or iPad while when I handwrite an assignment, it is my responsibility to protect and not lose it. Some of my peers, though, prefer technology and use cloud-based apps so they do not lose their work.”
Lana concludes, “Despite my favoritism of pen and paper, the blog experience has been a great one. It’s exciting to see my name on the homepage, but even better to see how much my work has improved since the beginning of the year. The blog has helped me become a better writer and I am so glad that Mrs. Donnelly introduced our class to it!”
Lana’s writing experience has come full circle. She indeed has an authentic audience, the world. Her reflection is now published in the March 2015 issue of JAAL, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy is a peer-reviewed academic journal published eight times per year by Wiley-Blackwell. It is currently edited by Margaret Carmody Hagood and Emily Neil Skinner (College of Charleston). Click here for more information about JAAL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/%28ISSN%291936-2706/homepage/ProductInformation.html
To reference the links shared in Lana’s article please visit:
Keep writing and reflecting. Keep learning.
This year’s 6th graders are currently working on their ideas worth sharing. We want to congratulate our own Durham Academy 7th grader, Casey Carrow, who shared “What is Happening to Trees?” last year in our Language Arts class. Casey believed in a cause, took action, and shared her idea with the world. Please take a moment to watch and comment on Casey’s talk here: http://blog.ed.ted.com/2015/02/20/ted-ed-club-friday-3/
We began the year with Camp Cheerio in western, North Carolina where we explored, challenged ourselves, and pushed limits. On the last day of school, facilitators from Triangle Training Center came to do some collaborative closing activities with our advisory groups. Most of you are a little taller, a whole lot smarter, and of course all of you are ready for summer!
Remember that practice makes permanent and when things are tough, smile and say, “How fascinating!” Spend some time this summer reading what YOU want to read, write down your crazy ideas, add to your Life List, and try something new. Most importantly, enjoy being in the moment with those you love. Finally, take time to be still and see what you notice.