A Young Prince – Summer Unit for 8th Graders

We are at the halfway point through our summer school session 🎉

I decided to develop a unit around the theme “What makes a hero?” and selected the book Black Panther: A Young Prince by Ronald A. Smith. This Bookshop list is most of the books I read to consider as well as the nonfiction books I’m pulling short texts from. The Shuri novel would have also been a great choice, but it wasn’t out in paperback at the time we needed to order.

I’m working our 8th graders headed to 9th grade in the fall. We have class 4 days a week for 4 weeks. I see each class for about 85 minutes each day. Students were invited to attend who struggled over the course of the school year for a variety of reasons.

This was my plan for a daily schedule

  • Attendance question and POP (pause – own it – practice) check in (5 minutes)
  • Patterns of Power Mentor Sentence (10-15 minutes)
  • Read Aloud or connected text (15 -20 minutes)
  • Brain Yoga (creative thinking) writing exercise (5-10 minutes)
  • Reading Mini-Lesson (10-20 minutes)
  • Reading (20-30 minutes)

The reading ended up taking 30-40 minutes, so now I either combine the mini-lesson with the read aloud, or I skip one of those parts.

For attendance questions I’m using silly would you rather questions. I could quickly take attendance using the seating chart, but this gives me a way to learn a little bit about each kid each day. I like some of the ones on this list or this list.

The POP check in comes from Everyday SEL. There are lots of ways to do it. I just have students use hand signals to indicate how they’re feeling in that moment.

We use blue = sick, sad, tired; green = ready to learn; yellow = lots of energy but it feels more positive in your body (hyped, excited); red = energy but it doesn’t feel as positive (angry, frustrated)

After the check in – I play music for 2-3 minutes and students select one of the practices. For summer school, we practiced one each day for the first four days. For the next three weeks they can select the one that’s right for them in that moment.

We currently use box breathing, write and rip, gratitude practice (students write something they are grateful for on a sticky note and post it in the room), shake it out, kindness meditation, or they can sit quietly and let their mind wander.

For mentor sentences, I am using lessons 4.1 and 4.3 from the new Patterns of Power, Grades 6-8 book. 4.1 went really well. I was really impressed by the imitations the students wrote, and their apply sentences demonstrated understanding of the focus phrase. I am excited to help our junior high teachers implement this teaching strategy this school year.

For Brain Yoga I am using the cards from Jason Reynold’s new game. I’m really using it as an idea to celebrate the kids’ ideas and honor their creativity. I did adapt it to pull four cards that they can choose 2-4 of them to combine. A lot of them have negative associations with taking risks like that in school, so whatever they come up with is a win for me! I’ve already loved to see their confidence grow over the first two weeks. Last week I also introduced the option to write a short story using Story Cubes for those who just never got into the Brain Yoga. So, now they have options and that’s working really well.

Before summer school started, we met with a 9th grade representative from our high school to see what skill we should really focus on. They recommended theme and using text evidence.

So far, the mini-lessons have focused on going from theme topic to theme. For example, we read Invisible Boy as a read aloud. If a topic there is friendship, what is the author trying to say about friendship? We’ve also talked about focusing on what we can learn from the characters. If characters give advice or if characters are behaving a certain way that we can take a lesson from that. I also very briefly introduce the Notice and Note fiction signposts because about a third of the students have had me in class before and are familiar with them.

Another activity that was successful was looking at short excerpts (about one page) about real people. Students highlighted evidence in the story that could support if that person was a hero or not. We then looked at our working definitions for “what makes a hero?” do decide if we needed to edit the definition at all. It was a great way for students to pull text evidence out and connect it to the essential question. I’m planning to do at least one more of those, but this time I’ll also have the students annotate on the excerpt as to why that quote makes that person a hero.

Overall, I think things are moving along pretty well. I have a few goals:

  1. Keep things on track so we have finished the book by the end of summer school in two weeks.
  2. Stay positive and encourage the students as much as possible.
  3. Practice reading and writing skills.

..and I think we’re meeting them right now! I’ll check in again when we’re wrapped up in two weeks.

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