Meaningful Assignments for Students Serving In-School Suspension

I always hate the assignments I send with students when they serve ISS.  I hate everything about ISS.  Obviously, when students are fighting or behaving extremely disrespectfully, they need to be removed from class.  But once he/she is taken to ISS, I despise gathering work for the student to do all day because I know I’m going to do a terrible job of doing so.

I always end up feeling guilty for the work I send.  I know I should have already prepared packets of work, but planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit.  So I end up grabbing workbooks and textbooks.  I spend about two minutes looking for things that will take this student a long time to complete.  Then I slap a few post-it notes with pages numbers to complete.  The entire time, I’m thinking, “This is such pointless work.”

These are the students who need the most support and I’m sending pointless work for them to do right after they’ve had a serious altercation with another student or teacher.  I always feel guilty, but I feel like I have no options because I only have a few minutes to find work because I’m in the middle of class.  The work also has to keep the student busy for a day without requiring too much effort from the ISS teacher who already has a million other things to do.

These are the students I’ve kept in mind as I’ve written over 200 passages about famous athletes.  As I research athletes like Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Usain Bolt, I look for stories about times they’ve made mistakes and how they overcame them.  When Kevin Durant was in high school, one of his basketball coaches was murdered.  Kevin was really upset because this coach was like a father to him.  Kevin’s performance on the court suffered because he started disrespecting opponents and hogging the ball.  Then Kevin realized his old coach would not want him to play like that.  Kevin stopped doing those things and his play improved.  The students who are sitting in ISS need to realize that huge celebrities like Kevin Durant make mistakes just like them.  Our students need to read stories of successful people who learn from mistakes and are determined never to make the same mistake twice.  Now, Kevin Durant is one of the most respected players in the NBA.

When I write these passages, I also include stories of how hard these athletes have worked to achieve success.  I describe how these athletes have put in years and years of insanely hard work to be successful.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady was growing up, he hated that his sisters were better athletes than him.  He was determined to do whatever it took to be the best athlete in his family.  Now he is one of the greatest quarterbacks in American football history!  Here are some passages where the headline shows you the focus of the passage.

Meaningful work for ISS

I’ve written three sets of passages about most athletes.  For example, my set about LeBron James and Michael Jordan includes paired texts about their childhood, pro sports career, and charity work.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Each set of paired texts includes a quiz.  There’s also a writing prompt that ties all the passages together.  The first page, which you can give to the ISS teacher, explains which two passages go together.  Answer keys are also provided.  You can print a few copies of each set to have in a file folder for those times when you have to immediately send work for ISS.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Some teachers have told me the work for ISS should be boring busy-work, which I totally disagree with.  The punishment for the student should come in the form of isolation from his/her peers, not pointless assignments.

In addition to classroom teachers, I encourage ISS teachers to try a few of my paired texts. A few ISS teachers have left feedback on my paired texts saying they were helpful when kids in ISS finished the assignments sent by the classroom teacher.  They are also helpful when the student’s classroom teacher is unable to send work on time.

Click any of the images below to see all the paired texts I have available in my TpT store.  I’ve written passages on more than 70 athletes who compete in a variety of sports, so I’m sure you’ll find topics that will interest your students.  I also have passages written on a variety of reading levels to help you meet the needs of your students.

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 5-6Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 3-4

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 1-2

Feel free to email me at keithgeswein@keithgeswein.com or leave feedback in my TpT store to let me know how these work for you.  Thank you for the 5,236,823 things you do for your students every day!

Inspirational African Americans Your Students Need to Learn More About

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman

I taught third grade at an international school in China for four years.  Most of my students were Korean children whose parents worked in China.  Our big project every year was a wax museum presentation, where students would dress up as famous people and stand like wax statues, speaking only when people walked up to them.  EVERY YEAR, I had several boys ask to be Martin Luther King and several girls ask to be Harriet Tubman.  It was so cool to see my Korean students in China be so inspired by these two!

During my ten years of teaching the US, I tried to keep as many books about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman in my classroom library because my students loved reading about them.  It was a no-brainer for me to write informational texts about them.  I think it’s great for students to see how hard these two worked to help African Americans.  It’s also cool for students to compare the way they worked — Tubman often worked in secret to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, while Dr. King wanted most of his actions to be made publicly.  This leads to some excellent class discussions about how two completely different techniques can be used to achieve the same goal.

Here’s what my paired texts about MLK and Harriet Tubman look like.  Click the image to see the product in my TpT store.  From there you can download a preview to see more of this or purchase the set for $4.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

 

Edmonia Lewis (sculptor) and Garrett Morgan (inventor)

These two should receive more attention.  Edmonia Lewis is the first African-American woman whose sculptures received international recognition.  She attended college in 1859 to study art, but she had to leave before earning her degree because she was accused of crimes she didn’t commit.  Then she had to break into a profession that was dominated by white men.  She refused to take no for an answer and eventually found someone to mentor her.  She made a sculpture that helped her earn enough money to move to Rome.  But my favorite fact about Edmonia is how she carved her own marble sculptures in Rome.  Most other sculptors who worked in Italy made a model, then hired locals to do the physically-demanding job of carving the sculpture into the marble.  BUT NOT EDMONIA!!!  Even though she was about four feet tall, she refused to hire help because she didn’t want anyone to question the validity of her work.  Edmonia’s sculptures featured characteristics of her African-American and Native-American (Chippewa) heritage.  Kids who love art will be inspired by her story!

Garrett Morgan invented things that saved lives.  He saw problems, then invented things to solve them.  He noticed the firefighters sometimes died from suffocation when they entered buildings full of smoke.  So he invented the first gas mask in 1912 that allowed firefighters to breathe in smoky buildings.  This invention helped him rescue miners who were trapped in a tunnel in Cleveland in 1916.  Garrett’s gas mask helped him breathe long enough to rescue two men who were trapped.  A few years later, he witnessed a terrible car accident at an intersection in Cleveland.  So he invented a traffic signal that included a “warning” signal to give people time to slow down before the signal turned red.  It’s why traffic lights today have the yellow light.  Garrett’s story will inspire students who have a passion for creating things that help people.

Click the image below to see my paired texts about Lewis and Morgan.

 

Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles:  Olympic gold-medal gymnasts

Simone Biles dominated gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics like no one else has ever done before.  But in 2011, she missed making the US team by one spot.  She made the US team the next year, but she was a year too young to compete in the 2012 Olympics.  So that meant she was going to have to train for four years to compete in the Olympics.  Instead of getting discouraged, Simone got to work — and she did so with an amazing attitude.  Her story is a perfect example of how to handle disappointment and how years of hard work can pay off in incredible ways.

Gabby Douglas is one of the few US gymnasts to compete in two Olympics.  She became a superstar when she won the all-around at the 2012 Olympics.  She was disappointed that she didn’t win any individual gold medals in 2016, but she was more disappointed at all the criticism she received.  For some reason, Gabby has been the focus of lots of unfair, hurtful criticism on social media during both Olympics.  Some reporters in Rio seemed more interested in getting her reaction to mean tweets than asking about her gymnastics routines.  But I hope you show your students this quote from Gabby because it sets such a powerful example of how to respond to people who criticize you:

“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character.  Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble?  I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympic team.  It’s been an amazing experience.  It’s been teaching me a lot.”

My paired texts about Gabby and Simone are FREE!  Click the image below to download this free item.

Inspirational paired texts about African Americans

 

LeBron James and Michael Jordan (NBA)

When LeBron James was young, he moved a lot and was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money.  I think it’s powerful for young people who are living in a similar situation to realize they can grow up to be successful.  Sports played a huge role in stabilizing LeBron’s life when he was young.  When he started playing football and basketball, he met lots of awesome people who were great role models for him.  Maybe you have students who are in a similar situation…maybe sports can be the positive thing they need in their life, just like LeBron when he was young.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but he didn’t make his high-school varsity team his sophomore year.  Lots of kids know that story, but it’s important for your students to read about his failed attempt at playing Major League Baseball.  Michael abruptly retired from the NBA in 1993 at the peak of his career.  He then tried out for the Chicago White Sox because he has always loved baseball.  But he wasn’t very good.  He spent his brief baseball career in the minor leagues, where he didn’t hit very well.  It was so strange to see one of the greatest athletes ever struggle so mightily on the baseball field.  Michael retired from baseball in 1995 and returned to the NBA.   It’s great for your students to read about one of the world’s greatest athletes TRYING something new, FAILING, then returning to DOMINATE the NBA!

Click the image below to see more of my paired texts about LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

I hope your students will learn a lot by reading about these inspirational people!

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Students can learn so much more from novels than test-prep passages.  I know you’re under a ton of pressure to get students to pass multiple-choice reading tests.  But I hope you will find time this year to read awesome novels, like Esperanza Rising.  In addition to teaching reading skills, your students can learn to face challenging situations instead of giving up.

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a wonderful story of a young girl whose life changes dramatically after a terrible tragedy.  The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, does a beautiful job of developing characters that students feel an immediate connection with.  This can really help your students develop a growth mindset.  I’ve taught so many students whose first instinct is to quit when faced with a challenging situation.  I hope you teach your students that challenging school assignments can help them grow academically.  Facing difficult situations in life can help them grow as a person.  We all know students are far more likely to remember these ideas from characters they connect with during a story as opposed to us lecturing them.  So here are three ways you can use the characters and events of Esperanza Rising to foster a growth mindset with your students.

 1.  You can learn a lot about yourself during difficult situations

Chapter one paints Esperanza as a nice, but spoiled, rich girl.  Her father is a wealthy land-owner.  Esperanza spends time with her father in the fields but never has to actually do any of the work.  She has servants attending to her every need.  She lives in a beautiful home and has very nice things.  Esperanza has a wonderful, loving family.  But that all changes when her father is murdered. Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave everything behind and flee to the United States.

Esperanza’s new home in California is tiny and dirty.  She is thrust into a new life where she has to do many chores that servants had always done for her.  Esperanza is miserable.  Her father has just died.  She is living in a strange place.  She is going to have to work in a way that she’s never worked before.  It would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

Things get worse for Esperanza before they get better.  One of her first chores is to sweep, and she fails because she’s never had to sweep before.  Other girls laugh at Esperanza’s inability to perform such a simple task.  She refuses to leave the house for a day because she is so humiliated.  Later, she has to take care of babies.  She feeds them plums, not knowing this would give the babies an upset stomach.  She also burns food that she cooks.  She has given these tasks an honest effort, but has failed.  Again, it would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

But Esperanza decides to ignore the taunts of others and continue cleaning.  She continues looking after the babies.  She continues cooking.  Day, after day, after day.  SLOWLY, Esperanza learns how to accomplish these tasks.  I emphasize the word SLOWLY with my students to help them realize success does not happen overnight, as Esperanza finds out.

Later, Esperanza’s mother gets really sick.  She has to stay in the hospital for several months.  Now, Esperanza is forced to work in the fields.  Esperanza promises her mom to take care of the family.  I tell my students that Esperanza is probably not the best field worker, but she does well enough to keep her job and provide a little bit of money that her family needs to survive while her mother is sick.

The book ends one year after her father died.  During that year, Esperanza has done things she never thought she could do.  I have the students reread chapter one and think, “Would Esperanza have ever dreamed she could accomplish these things (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, farming, etc.) just a year earlier?”

Also, kids need to realize that there are times when life will be challenging.  But it is possible to come out of these challenging situations a stronger person.  Emphasize to your students that Esperanza went from a spoiled, helpless girl to a strong, determined woman who provided for her family – all in one year.

This is awesome for students who are adapting to a new school, city, or country.  You can say:

“I know it’s hard adjusting to life in this new school/city/country.  Remember Esperanza.  She fought through lots of challenging situations and after a year, she started to feel better about her new home.”

2.  Accept help

When Esperanza arrived in California, a young girl named Isabel greeted her.  Isabel was in awe of Esperanza.  Isabel had heard all about Esperanza’s extravagant life in Mexico before her father died.  Esperanza, on the other hand, looked down on Isabel for being poor.  Esperanza saw Isabel’s meager home and possessions.  She wondered how Isabel could be so happy with so little.

SLOWLY, Esperanza realizes that Isabel is a kind girl.  Esperanza also realizes that Isabel knows how to do things like clean and babysit.  So Esperanza drops her ego and asks Isabel to teach her how to sweep and take care of babies, even though she thought Isabel was beneath her.  Isabel is a huge help as Esperanza starts to learn how to tackle the day-to-day chores of her new life.  Esperanza eventually becomes friends with Isabella.

This is an outstanding reminder to students that everyone needs to accept help.  It’s also a good reminder that the people we look down upon may be the ones who can help us the most.

Tell a student:

“I know you’re struggling to learn this science vocabulary.  And I know you’re not getting along with (insert name or names of students), but I think the two of you could help each other learn this vocabulary and do well on your quiz.  Remember how Esperanza accepted help from Isabel.  I think (name of student) could help you just like Isabel helped Esperanza.”

3.  Remember the things you have to be thankful for

Esperanza hears her mother singing a few hours after they arrive at their new home in California.  Esperanza is furious.  How can her mother possibly be singing during such a terrible time?   They have gone from living in luxury to living in poverty in a very short time.  But Mama tells Esperanza to focus on what they do have.  They have each other.  They have a place to live.  They have people there who can help them.  And Mama has a job.  Mama reminds Esperanza that Abuelita would want her to make the best of her new life instead of dwelling on all the negatives.  Mama is not saying their new life is going to be easy.  But she reminds her daughter they still have a lot to be thankful for.

In my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught many kids who have a difficult time focusing on the positives.  This story of Mama singing is great for students to think about during challenges they face.  Students need to know that it’s ok to get discouraged during challenging times.  Don’t tell students that they have to be positive, happy, cheerful people 24/7.  But Mama’s attitude helps kids remember that it’s possible to find a little bit of joy even during the gloomiest of situations.

Tell a student: 

“Sure you’re struggling with this math problem.  It’s really hard and that’s no fun.  But think about Esperanza’s mom when they first arrived in California.  Remember you have people around you who are here to help.  Look at this as a chance to grow and learn perseverance.”

I really hope you can read Esperanza Rising with your students.  You can use the story’s characters and events to teach reading skills, but the life lessons your students can learn are even more powerful.  These three ideas can start some discussions with your students, but there are many more ways this book can help your students develop a growth mindset.  I have also developed several activities for each chapter so you don’t have to worry about planning activities.  Click the image below for more info.

Enjoy this book with your students and remind them of these characters throughout the year.

Esperanza Rising Novel Study

 

Your Students Need to Read About Steph Curry’s Childhood

Steph Curry is doing things that no other basketball player has ever done.  More importantly, Steph is an excellent role model for young people to look up to.  Lots of kids wear his #30 jersey, which is great that they look up to an outstanding person.  But whenever I see a kid wearing a Steph Curry jersey, I want to ask, “Did you know Steph worked so hard on his shooting in middle school that he sometimes cried?!”  Or, “Do you realize Steph’s mother made him miss games if he forgot to do his chores?!”  Also, “Isn’t cool that a player as talented as Steph always asked his coaches how he could improve?!”  I have a feeling that these kids’ parents would not approve of a creepy stranger running up to their kid and asking these random questions.  So instead, I’ll write about three of the many life lessons your students can learn by reading about Steph’s life.

Lessons from Steph Curry's life

Success requires an insane amount of work.

Steph’s father, Dell, was an excellent NBA player.  When Steph was in middle school, Dell noticed his son’s shot was too easy to block.  So he spent an entire summer teaching Steph new shooting techniques.  And Dell didn’t teach him in a cozy NBA gym — Dell took Steph to the goal he shot at growing up.  When Dell was a kid, his dad nailed a goal to a telephone pole in their yard.  Dell’s father used a thick, steel rim.  So you had to shoot the ball perfectly through the hoop to score — there were no forgiving bounces with that rim!  And if you missed, you had to run far to retrieve the ball.  Steph said, “It was make it or chase it out there.”

So Steph spent hours that summer relearning how to shoot.  His grandmother remembers seeing Steph take lots of shots with tears in his eyes.  It had to be an incredibly frustrating experience for Steph, who was already a good shooter. Imagine running after the ball every time your shot isn’t perfect.  Imagine how tired he must have been!  There must have been times when Steph doubted himself.  There were probably a few times when Steph wanted to quit, especially since that was such an unfair goal to shoot on.  But Steph always dragged himself to the goal every day to learn from his father.

What a powerful story to tell your students!  Next time a kid feels like giving up, remind them that even Steph Curry felt so discouraged about his shooting skills in middle school that he cried.  But no matter what, he didn’t give up.

I also think this story shows the importance of challenging yourself.  I love that he spent an entire summer shooting on a goal that required a perfect shot to score.  Steph said making shots during games was much easier after spending so much time shooting at his dad’s old goal.

Steph realized no one owed him anything

Steph’s father was a really good NBA player for 16 years.  Steph was alive for most of his father’s NBA career.  Steph got to attend lots of NBA games.  He got to play basketball on fancy NBA practice courts.  He met lots of famous players.  It would have been easy for Steph to think that he was better than everyone else. But Steph realized that if he wanted to become an NBA player like his dad, he was going to have to put in a tremendous amount of work.  He did not want to be automatically handed a spot on a basketball team just because of who his dad was.  Steph always listened to his dad’s advice, but he wanted to earn success, not just be handed it.

Steph also worked hard in school.  He tried his best to do what his parents and teachers told him to do.  When he didn’t do his chores at home, Steph’s mom made him miss basketball games as punishment.  Steph always loved basketball while he was growing up, but he realized that getting a good education was just as important.  I love that even though Steph’s dad was famous, he remained humble, respectful, and hard-working.

Use your talents to make the world a better place

Steph is one of the best shooters in basketball history.  He made 402 three-pointers during the 2015-2016 season.  The next closest player had 276.  Steph has always been a good shooter.  When he was in college at Davidson, he started donating money to Nothing But Nets, which is a program that delivers bed nets to areas of Africa that have problems with malaria.  Steph was sad when he read that a child in Africa dies from malaria every 60 seconds.  He stepped up his giving when he got to the NBA, agreeing to donate enough money for three bed nets for every three-pointer he makes.

So, who will students most likely listen to:  Me telling them why it’s important to work hard, or these stories about Steph Curry persevering?  I’ve written a set of paired texts about Steph and Kobe Bryant that have more stories like these.  I was very impressed with Steph and Kobe as I researched them.  In addition to teaching reading skills with these paired texts, you can teach important life lessons as well!

Steph Curry Kobe Bryant Paired Texts

 

Teaching Growth Mindset With Wonder

Wonder is my favorite book to read with fifth graders! Students’ reactions during key moments are priceless. They pound their desks with frustration about Julian. They cheer when August wins an award at the end. Since students get so hooked on this book, my primary focus is to use the events in Wonder to teach important growth mindset principles. I teach many reading standards while we read this book, but I feel like those are secondary to the valuable life lessons kids can learn from the characters and events in Wonder.

Teaching Growth Mindset Using Wonder

1. Life is full of bad days, but I can get through them.

I’ve taught so many students who get extremely discouraged when tough things happen at school. I hate when students get a couple of assignments returned with low grades, then immediately want to stop working. I feel bad for kids who get teased and feel like they will never make friends. When these things happen, I remind students about August. He wanted to quit school several times during the story. August felt incredible pain when he overheard mean things said by his best friend, Jack. August’s classmates would not touch him because they said he had “the plague.” August experienced so many challenging days! But he bravely marched to school every day and tried his best. Slowly (important word there), August’s classmates realized he had a great sense of humor. They saw the amazing way he handled the hurtful things people did to him. By the end of the book, August earned the respect of his classmates and teachers. He won an incredible award. He had several good friends. For the first time in his life, he didn’t think about his appearance. It took an entire school year to reap these rewards, so it’s a good thing August continued going to Beecher Prep, even on days he didn’t feel like it.

2. I will have arguments with my friends. But I will work hard to resolve these differences. Friendships with good people are worth it.

I love the story of Via and Miranda. I also love how students clap when Via invites Miranda over to her house after the play. I know students have arguments with their friends. I also know that I am probably the last person they would talk to about these arguments. So I periodically remind students about Via and Miranda. These two drift apart once ninth grade starts without ever having a big fight. Via feels awkward around her old friend because Miranda looks different and talks about different things. Miranda feels awkward around Via because she feels like Via is judging her. The girls never discuss these things, and as a result, they spend most of the school year avoiding each other. But during the school play, Miranda makes a huge sacrifice for Via and her family. After the play, Via realizes what Miranda has done and invites her over. Both girls realize how much they have missed each other. So I remind students that good friends are worth fighting for. Don’t allow unresolved issues to allow you to drift apart from a good friend.

3. I will think about the way I treat others.

Even the most reserved students show anger at the way Julian treats August. They can’t believe that Julian says rude things to August the very first time they meet. Kids can’t believe Julian would treat such a kind, funny boy like August so terribly. All kids realize that August’s appearance is no reason for Julian to say such horrible things to him. I remind students of their realization throughout the book. But eventually, I make the kids accept the harsh fact that they have probably treated someone badly at some point in their life. I ask them to reflect on that memory, and on Julian’s actions toward August. As fifth graders prepare for middle school, I remind them not to join a crowd of people who are teasing someone who is different. I remind them of their outrage over Julian as to why.

If you haven’t read Wonder with your students, I hope you will find a way to work it into your lesson plans. I know it’s challenging teaching novels because there are not always a lot of materials to use. So I hope these ideas have given you a few things to work with. There are MANY more events in Wonder that teach your students growth mindset. I’ve put together over 100 pages of activities that will help your kids connect with the incredible characters in Wonder.

Wonder Novel Study Unit