I did ask advice from two other like-minded teachers about my idea - and decided that building a group spider web that could be mounted on the ceiling/wall should probably wait for later. Then, in a mildewy box of multi-colored photocopies, I found a complete run of Puzzles, with Solutions. Think outside the box mini-mysteries. Better than a web! I whipped up a Keynote with slides for 8 of the puzzles - two easy ones for think-aloud discussion (projected), and enough to keep middle schoolers in one section from informing the next class... So, not only do I have a sponge for introducing the idea of group inquiry/reading and discussion/writing, but I have a good use of my Polyvision board (once it gets up and running), etc. And there are lots and lots of puzzles in the toolkit. Enough for at least September, which will bring us into a whole new level of writing-land.
I also ran across this blog post: My Alternative to Daily Oral Language. If you are an LA teacher, you know that DOA means providing a GUM (Grammar - Usage - Mechanics) challenge at the beginning of class, generally in the form of an incorrect sentence/group of words that needs to be corrected individually or in groups. As a technique in the middle school classroom, it is a short-blast, short-lived technique (I use it for a grammar skills reminder before testing). Conversely, the strategy proposed puts the burden of generating the daily "Question" onto the students. I will push this a little further with a Harvey/Daniels idea called "Silent Conversation," which generates written responses that have a group-building and inquiry component. This, it seems to me, is long-lived solution.
What is the purpose? To dive right into a classroom conversation about the importance of group practice, method, group input, questions, etc.
- What are we focusing on today?
- How are we going to go about it?
- What do we already know about working toward this goal?
- What do we need to know? What do we need to improve?
- How do groups solve problems?
- What makes for good groups? What gets in the way?
- What do we already know (using the daily Puzzle and summer reading - oh yes, there is that accountability too)
- What we want to know? What does Mrs. Mac want you to know (that would be Settings)
- How can we pull from a reading selection what we need to know?
- How can a group explore what it wants and needs to know?
And more than enough for the first two classes of the year... Part of the 2nd class will be a visit to the Library. My students will be reading at home, at night, in bed (or on the bus or sofa or floor or hideout or kitchen stool), every day. A book (or a Kindle, or an e-Reader), please.
What I think will happen, really, is that it will take me 30 (of 60) minutes to play a name game, decompress each group, talk about supplies, get some HW (buying supplies, writing some questions for classmates) written in the Agenda, and present our Contract (my take on expectations). So 30 minutes of group work is the target : a good target for middle school!