Archive for March, 2013

April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day

Click here to preview or purchase at TpTThe Major League Baseball season is underway, which seems a trivial point in the broad scheme of academics. Yet were it not for Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color-barrier, education in America might look alarmingly different.

When I was growing up, I was a sports fanatic. By then, professional sports had already been integrated, so it was easy for me–as Dr. King would say--to judge a man by his character rather than the color of his skin. The grit and tenacity of Matty Alou on the baseball diamond and Terry Metcalf on the gridiron made them my heroes and helped teach me to be “color-blind.” But the fact that Alou and Metcalf were out there at all was the direct result of Jackie Robinson’s own grit and determination.

There was never any doubt that Robinson had the talent to play in the Major Leagues. The issue was whether or not he’d have the character necessary to withstand the racist slurs and physical violence that followed him everywhere he went, both on and off the ballfield. Imagine what would have happened had Jackie responded in kind, perhaps taking a swing at a white player who’d deliberately spiked him, or kicking dirt at an umpire who refused to call a fair game. He would have been quickly drummed out of baseball. Integration of all our institutions, including education, would have been delayed for decades.

No doubt you have a crop of kids in your classroom who idolize professional athletes. Whether black, white, or striped (as Pee Wee Reese is quoted as saying), learning about Jackie Robinson will help them judge their fellow man by his character just as they judge their sports heroes by their grit.

April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day, the day every Major League player wears number 42 in Jackie’s honor. The league doesn’t celebrate it because Jackie was a great player, but because of the importance and difficulty of Jackie’s accomplishment. It’s a great time to enact How Jackie Saved the World. Kids consistently tell me it’s one of their absolute favorites to perform. I’m confident your students—especially your young sports fans—will enjoy it as well. You can preview and/or purchase it from TeachersPayTeachers by clicking here. You can also listen to some of my students performing it by following this link.

Happy directing!


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60% Off E-books

All three of my Scholastic titles are on sale this week at Scholastic Teacher Express for just $5 each. That’s 60% off. Pick up Super Sentences and Perfect Paragraphs, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, and Symbols of America for just $5 each. Scholastic’s search engine is cumbersome, so be sure to follow the direct links by clicking on the title in this post. Thanks!

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Are Your Students Paying Enough Taxes?

cover incredible silverRight after Spring Break is when many teachers implement The Checkbook Project in their classrooms, so this week I’m foregoing my usual spiel about reader’s theater to instead offer some checkbook tips.

If you’re not familiar with The Checkbook Project, it’s a classroom incentive program, a behavioral management system, and a math-heavy financial literacy unit all rolled together. It’s completely free, kids love it, and it’s relatively easy to manage.  In my classroom we kick-started our economy three weeks ago by giving each student a $50 “Spring Stimulus.”  Already I have kids aspiring to be slumlords. “Mr. Lewis, can I buy that desk at the back of the classroom and charge kids a bunch of money to sit there?” asked one student. Another wanted to know when she can take out a mortgage, and a third was already asking about a business license.  Still others are already borrowing money from their friends just to make rent.

You can download The Checkbook Project by following this link. Once you do, the following tips will get you off to a good start.

1. Provide help with tax reports.  Though not as complicated as the Form 1040 you and I file each April, completing the Friday Tax Report (a key element to the program) is initially challenging for the students. Be sure to file taxes at the end of the very first first week, allow extra time (45-60 minutes), have extra adults on hand if you can, and use a simple 10% tax rate. Once kids get used to filing, you be able to file every other week, you’ll only have to assist your neediest kids, and you’ll be able to raise the tax rate to more complex figures like 17.86%. Their moans and groans will spark a great discussion about how taxes in the real world pay for things like schools, police protection, and sewers.

2. Don’t be too generous. Keep your rewards low and your penalties high. I hand out a $5 bonus for a quiet class, but a $10 fine for a noisy one. I start the project paying fifty cents per percentage points on tests, gradually raising the rate of pay as the trimester continues.  For example, if a student gets a 70% (the minimum) on a vocabulary exam, I pay out $35. I raise the rate when I need to increase motivation, but I also decrease it when students are accumulating too great a stash in their checkbook.

3. Charge for everything. You want to strike a balance between student income and expenses. If the balance in their checkbook is growing too rapidly, you’re paying out too much or not charging for things you should.  I charge for pencils, snacks, special seating privileges, having to reprint homework, leaving chairs untucked, messy desks, and more.  I have a yoga ball in my room students can rent for a day at a time. When it’s in high demand, I charge thirty bucks or more—and all I have to do is say the words, “Deduct $30 from your checkbook.”

4. Phase-in other elements. In Week One we learn how to keep track of our income and expenses and complete our first tax report.  At the end of Week Two the kids begin renting their desks.  During Week Three I let them begin selling their own items at auction. I wait until weeks Four and Five to let them mortgage their desks, open businesses, and apply for classroom jobs.

5. Don’t be in a hurry to raise desk rent.  “Should I buy or rent?” You’ll want kids to wrestle with this question when you begin offering mortgages, but if rents are already excessive, your entire class will become “desk owners” too quickly. One of the richest “teachable moments” is when half the class—the desk owners—have burned their mortgages, while the other half are subject to ever increasing rents.

6. Collect checkbooks every Friday.  Doing so makes the student feel more accountable about keeping accurate entries. The only record keeping I do is to write down each student’s ending balance on Friday’s.  In so doing I’m able to spot oddities. I can also quickly skim through questionable accounts.  When I find one, I usually make an example of him or her with a full audit (and some hefty tax penalties).

For more on The Checkbook Project, visit and click on The Checkbook Project tab. You’ll find more tips and all the forms you need to make the project a hit with your parents, students, and admins. And in case you came here today looking for information on great Read Aloud Plays, please take a few minutes to explore my site, and my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.  Happy directing!

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Are You Among the 39%?

SCOPE-031113-The Secret Soldier by Mack LewisAccording to an annual survey performed by Met Life, job satisfaction among teachers is just 39%–the lowest level in twenty-five years. It means six out of ten teachers are dissatisfied with their jobs. Six out of ten would quit and do something else if they could. Says one expert, it’s “a perfect storm of Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluations, and state accountability systems.” Another says teachers “are operating in an environment of public discourse that focuses on blame.”

But what I want to focus on is the 39%. Despite merit pay schemes, evaluations based on student test scores, and yet another massive (and some say unnecessary) school reform, 39% of us say we still like our jobs. Why?

There are, of course, a gillion factors, but I know one thing that helps keep me happy is the inclusion of Read Aloud Plays in my instruction. Here’s why:

Read Aloud Plays are fun. Where else can kids meet standards by popping out of a crate, holding aloft a “still-pulsing heart,” or pouring confetti over someone’s head?  Crazy, inspiring, and magical things happen when working with plays.

Read Aloud Plays are easy to use. Simply select the plays you want, assign parts, and start meeting around your kidney-shaped table two or three times a week. Because there’s no need to spend hours wading through a complicated teacher’s edition, read aloud plays makes my job do-able.

Read Aloud Plays can be integrated with other subjects. Plays such as Sitting Down for Dr. King get kids actively engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. Fly Me to the Moon takes them to space. And The Secret Soldier (which appears in the March 11 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine) puts them on Bunker Hill. The wide variety of plays available makes teaching other subjects more interesting.

Read Aloud Plays create a tangible product. I’ve found no end of pleasure in recording movies and podcasts to post on our classroom webpage—and the kids have found no end of pleasure in sharing them with family and friends.

Read Aloud Plays meet the Standards. The CCSs justify using Read Aloud Plays by making reference to drama as a required literary form. In fact, “drama” appears 47 times in the Standards, giving me license to toss aside the textbook.

Read Aloud Plays make teaching a little less tough. For me, perhaps it’s just enough to keep me in that 39%.

Happy directing!

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