Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Hiatus

I'll be on hiatus for awhile, as I'm out of town for the holidays, which will be followed up by a move to a new state! Busy busy time.

One piece of business: if you left a comment and were interested in seeing the original trial mock-up for Odysseus, email rflute71 at

In the meantime, fellow teachers, put your feet up and the red pens DOWN. You deserve a break. Enjoy every minute of this holiday season, however you choose to celebrate (my personal favorite involves LOTS of tasty food and sweets). Have a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

I'll see you in 2010. :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First Round of Goodbyes

Thursday I gave my peer mentor (aka Teacher Assistant) her early graduation gift and a little Christmas present (gift cards to Target and Barnes & Noble respectively) with a little thank you card. She is a true gem, and I wish her all the best. I know we're not supposed to give presents to our students, but our relationship is obviously a little different than my other classes. She gave me a little hug and thanked me ("You're going to make me cry!" she said).

Friday was going away party day and boy did the kids bring in some yummy goodies! Besides the yummy food, we played plenty of games infused with a little nostalgia. First period gave me a little card; third period shared a "remember us" video one girl had made - she even went to some fellow teachers and got them to say a few words - made me positively misty; fourth period I played a round of spoons and watched the whole class play Apples to Apples together (I took a picture for posterity); fifth period I got out early on a round of spoons and then played Apples to Apples, FINALLY winning one green apple card (but even then the sweet girl gave it to me out of pity!); and sixth period I watched some rounds of spades and Apples to Apples and tried to stay away from the food.

It was great to have some fun with them. I'm going to miss these little punks. I know I've been cutting a little loose with them the past week or so, partly because that always happens around the end of the semester and partly because I just want to have fun with them.

Monday we'll finish watching Dead Poet's Society (we started pieces of it this week in First and Fourth periods) and have midterms. Then it's goodbye for real.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looky there!

Ask Why, Not How - Part 2 was accepted to EduCarnival this week. Hooray! I haven't ever looked into submitting for that because I thought all the articles were mostly meta-pedagogy. But apparently I can make the cut? Neat! (ok, so clearly I don't usually read all the entries...I spend too much time on the computer already and don't usually read ALL the articles.)

Clix wants to remind all teacher readers:
You can submit an article to the next issue of EduCarnival v2 by using the handy-dandy carnival submission form. Past carnivals and future scheduled editions can be found on the blog carnival index page.

I'll be keeping these links someplace safe for future entries. You should, too!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What exactly does a mirco-biologist look like?

My desktop wallpaper is one of my favorite photos from our wedding. Usually I have a powerpoint presentation up in front of it, but occasionally I have to transition to something else on-screen. Students have gotten a few glimpses of the photo, and I still get compliments on it. Sweet kids.

Yesterday, though, one student asked me after class:
"Mrs. P, is your husband a micro-biologist?"
"Oh. Or a geneticist? Maybe a doctor."
", Student-of-Many-Questions. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason. He just...looks like a microbiologist or a doctor or...something." Student-of-Many-Questions paused in front of the photo (still on-screen), crossed one arm across his chest and rested his chin on the other hand in thoughtful contemplation. (I kid you not. What's perhaps scarier is that this a normal, natural pose for him).
"Hm," he said, and turned on his heel, leaving me to now ponder the picture.

So that's what a microbiologist looks like, eh?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ask Why, Not How - Part 2

Your kiddos have now worked with the thesis and seem to have a pretty good handle on it. You've practiced a sufficient bit, with peer reviewing, editing, etc. and each time you practice, more and more of them are producing solid thesis statements that coherently meet the criteria. Fabulous. But we don't write thesis statements to just leave them, do we? Now they gotta prove it.

This was difficult for my students, though I'm not sure why. They are already familiar with the theory of a thesis - it guides your paper and sets out what you intend to prove. But when they would write about the literature, they just gave me plot summaries. They weren't going back and LOOKING at their thesis statements and saying "OK, I have to give an example of Direction 1. It is..."

Thus, I developed the Literary Analysis Breakdown. I took 2 good student responses from our Animal Farm test, and wrote up a worksheet/activity that has them evaluate the information and break down the steps of an analysis, finalizing the lesson with the synthesis of their own literary analysis paragraphs.

Materials: Copies of Literary Analysis Breakdown, one for each pair of students; highlighters of various colors; pens/pencils
  1. Tell students that this lesson is set up in Parts - which they will see on the worksheet. Inform them that you are going to go through the parts as a class. They are NOT to go on to part II until you tell them to do so.
  2. Have students divide into partners, pass out worksheet and highlighters (2 different colors).
  3. Read directions to Part I - remind students that they are to do that for BOTH paragraphs. This takes them about 5 minutes.
  4. Go over Part I as a class.
  5. Read directions to Part II - again, remind students they do this for BOTH paragraphs. This also takes about 5 minutes.
  6. Go over Part II as a class.
  7. Read directions to Part III. Discuss Part III by talking about the fact that everything is supposed to relate back to the thesis - always always always trying to prove the thesis. Not only are you pulling your examples from your thesis, but they must be examples with a purpose. Do not just choose something that's has to be ironic in some relation to the universal idea.
  8. Segue into Part IV in your waxing poetic about Part III: Therefore, those examples must be SPECIFIC. Do NOT assume your reader knows anything (I love to play this up - they like to hear me expound prolifically that I know nothing, they know everything). If you're playing "connect the dots," you don't want to leave it up to your reader to connect your dots - they might mess it up. YOU draw all the lines for your reader and tell him/her what to think. Leave no dots unconnected.
  9. Read directions to Part IV. Teacher answer - up to you on how specific you think the examples are. In A, most of my classes agreed that the examples were specific. In B, most classes agreed that both directions were not specific enough.
  10. Part V - Synthesis! You can have them write it on a fresh sheet of paper or on the back. We wrote ours on the back of the worksheet. I had them copy the thesis, just to make sure they got that extra practice. Depending on how much time it took to talk about each part, they had about 10 minutes at the end of class to write the paragraph. It was their ticket out the door.

Not to toot my own horn, but honestly, the little light bulbs were going on (or blazing more brightly) like CRAZY after this activity. They "got it" for sure.

You may ask, why only a paragraph? Why not an essay? A couple reasons:
  • Practical: I only have 50 minutes in a class period. I don't want to sacrifice 2 days to test-taking, so for the sake of time: a paragraph.
  • Writing Skills: It forces them to be concise. In their essays, if they don't know what to write, they just start blathering on and on, mostly just giving me plot. They feel like they have to use up the space, but they don't really know how to. A short paragraph - and I emphasize no more than 10 sentences - forces them to pare down the language and content to what is MOST important.
  • Building Blocks: The paragraph is a good foundation. After all, what is the standard 5-paragraph essay except MORE examples? If they know how to give me solid examples with specific language, they can easily just add more examples to a given idea, right?
There's my Ask Why, Not How approach. Any questions?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Those Puritan schoolmarms were rough

Belated Thanksgiving present from me to you. I'm sure the Pilgrims had pdfs and research papers at the first Thanksgiving, right? Yeah it's a holiday, but I bet those little Pilgrim punks still had schoolwork to do.

More student samples! (first set here)

Zodiac Killer - Detective Log
Charles Manson - Interview

Anastasia - Newspaper/Journal
Black Dahlia - First Person Short Story

Flying Dutchman - Captain's Log
Bermuda Triangle - Journal

Harry Thaw/Stanford White - Diary
Rasputin - Memo

Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson - Interview

Bigtfoot - Journal/Report

Yeah, it's a lot. I wanted to show you a range of formats. You can see why I think reading their research papers is FUN!!

p.s. sorry for the delay

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a wonderful, restful break. Because goodness knows, you deserve it. You can also be thankful for more student samples to come this week! I scanned them as PDFs...but didn't mark the originals because I wanted you to have a clean copy to read. You might see where I'm going with this - as such, student names are still on the papers and I can't censor them on the PDF. I'm now working around that and intend to share more samples this week. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ask Why, Not How - Part 1

Building a better literary analysis? With 10th graders?! Yes, indeedy. My number one goal last year was to get my students to really write literary analyses. It was my goal to have them ask "why" not "how" about literary devices, moving towards seeing how a literary device contributes to the whole work.

To my discredit, I don't think I really hit this full force until the second semester; then I began to truly see lightbulbs not only flicker but burn brightly. I was sorry I didn't start it earlier, but I do believe that by the end of the year, they had the critical thinking skills to send them into 11th grade with exceptional momentum. This year, then, I resolved to introduce the idea at the beginning of the year so that even if they weren't totally ready for it, it was something that we could continually hit upon. It is my hope, then, by the end of the school year, ALL of them have a full capability and are even further along than my kids last year (a girl can dream, can't she?).

One tool from the summer AP Conference I have definitely utilized is a formula for writing thesis statements, provided by John R. Williamson (our amazing presenter). The formula is awesome --challenging, but it works.

I introduce the formula via powerpoint presentation, and we've worked with the formula since August. I printed the formula on a poster and had it laminated. It is on the wall and will remain there all year long - yes, even during tests - as a constant reminder. I want them to use it and look at it. The more reinforcement, the better!
Note on the powerpoint's lesson - We had read "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker for homework and came to class ready to talk about it. I had a short sample AP test reading taken from an article about trains & style/functionality. They read it then followed the directions in the powerpoint. When we discussed which train is a more accurate representation of each character, I kept saying "Tell me how you know from the text. Read it to me" I continually made them go back to the text and pull out passages to reinforce their point. They gave me strange looks at first ((What do you mean, Mrs.P? Are my vague qualifiers not good enough?)) but began to "get it" and even help one another find the support s/he needed. Once they got the hang of that, we moved on to the thesis statement steps.

I have also recently given them this "Thesis Manual" I will let them use on future tests (wishing I had done that at the beginning of the year). Some of the weaker students were forgetting what acceptable "directions" were. I continually use the term "literary devices" and I even have a poster in my room that lists your basic literary devices (conflict/setting/characterization/etc). But somehow they were still just pulling non-literary devices as directions (ex: in Animal Farm, they were using "Communism", "bravery", "power" as directions).

I'm starting you like I did my students...first lesson on creating thesis statements. Practice that for homework and when we come back, we'll learn how to develop a literary analysis from that thesis.

Extra Notes
  • The formula I present here is amended for 10th graders, per John's recommendation. If you have 9th graders, he recommends just getting them to steps 1, 2, 3. If you have 11th or 12th grade, there is an additional step - 5. a Qualifier (in order to...).
  • John also warned us: do NOT show them an example of a thesis statement from this formula. Give them the steps, give them the pieces, but do NOT model it. They get intimidated and think they can't do it. They can. Will their first attempts be poor? Absolutely. That's why I wanted to do this at the beginning of the year -- we now have all year to practice. We spent a few days bringing in practice thesis statements, looking at fellow classmates' statements and editing/revising as a class.
  • To start, I make them write the formula IN ORDER. Once they have that down, they can play around with the order. But if they try to play with the order too early, they confuse themselves and lose parts of the formula.
  • I recommend teaching this after you've talked about determining theme. Theme is usually Step 4 - Universal Idea.
  • This is also a good time to talk about talking about literature in the present tense - remember "Claim" (step 3) needs to be in present tense!
source: John R. Williamson; photo source: Netream

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanks :)

Thanks for the support & advice. Just so you know, it's been on my mind all weekend - telling the kids - and I think I'm going to do it Monday just to get it over with. I'm not sure why I think it will go so badly. I do worry that they'll "check out" but that's their dumb mistake if they do - I'm still their teacher until the end of the semester, so I'll still be taking grades!!

It's just that their "good behavior" party will also end up being my going-away party.

Thanks for the support :) They've got a test tomorrow, so I'll just break the news after the test, maybe 5-10 minutes before the end of class.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Breaking the news...

So, friends and fellow teachers, I come to you again for some counsel.

We have recently found out that my husband received a job offer! Hooray! He has been searching since April, and it's a position he's excited about, so this is all been quite a thrilling time for him.

However, it is in a different state. And they want him to start December 1. We cannot afford to live in 2 places at once, so I'm finishing the semester here and then leaving to join him in New State. It absolutely breaks my heart to leave my kids mid-year. I find it ironic that, out of all the years I make it a goal to be more personable with my students (and thus more attached), I have to leave them mid-year. I. hate. it. Trust me, I've shed a few tears over this, and had to choke them back again as I told my principal this afternoon that I'd be leaving at the end of the semester.

I hate that someone else will be there to administer the state test to them in May. I hate that s/he won't know what we've already covered (actually, I plan on leaving a little letter just saying "This is what we've covered and what I had intended to get to in the 2nd semester." Not sure if that's overstepping boundaries, but I thought it might be helpful for someone coming in mid-year. At least s/he's not stepping into a total void, ya know?)

There's also the wonderful people I've met at school - other fabulous teachers who have become friends, not just colleagues. I'm afraid of going to a new school in an area I don't know and creating a new curriculum...but mostly, I keep going back to the kids. I want to see them finish out the year. I want to see how they grow between now and May. I want to know what they get on their state tests - in the switch-over, with anything get forgotten or left behind? Will they be prepared? (Will another teacher perceive them to be well-prepared?) (and perhaps just as selfishly: will they love this new teacher and forget all about me?) I knew when this time came that it would be difficult to leave. Three years in a school makes you put down roots. I especially hate that it's in the middle of the year; there's a natural closure to the end of school in May. Everyone's expecting it. This...well, it just sucks. But that's life.

So... how do I break the news to them? And when? I of course don't want to wait too long. But I'm not sure what will happen if I tell them "too early" when we still have 4 weeks left to go. I'm not sure how or when to have that conversation. I can't imagine telling them and then saying, "OK, well let's get out your notebooks and..." At the moment, I'm considering telling them just before Thanksgiving break; I'm thinking that will give them time to digest, recoup, and come back ready to work. But maybe that's chicken of me? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free samples

Clix requested some student samples, and I am more than happy to show 'em off (by the way, I'm reading drafts of my kids' papers this year: love 'em! Excited to get more, brag-worthy papers)

Here are two, taken from my advanced honors class. So, keep in mind that yes, these are advanced students. But honestly, my standard kids' papers weren't so far from these. Not as strong a command of dialogue, but still very creative & fun.

Sample #1 - Topic: Werewolves

Sample #2 - Topic: Winchester Mansion

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I found Waldo!

I still have not yet found that woman's website. I have asked a couple colleagues and will let you know as soon as I find out!

By the way, as I hunt for this, it makes me absolutely sick to see how many research/term paper sellers are out there. I wonder what circle of hell Dante would have reserved for their special kind of sleaze. With the used-car salesmen perhaps?

This is a fun activity we do to start the unit; it gets them thinking about the perspective of another person.
Materials: Copies of Where's Waldo? laminated pages

1. Explain to students that the idea of this activity is to practice telling a story from another person's perspective (natural to your creative-fiction writers, but not-so-natural for others).
2. They are to take a spread from a Where's Waldo? book and select a character from it. It may not be Waldo and it MUST be from a 2-page spread (when you start to tear books out of the pages, the backs of the 2-page spreads will have 2 different sides on the back...they sometimes try to choose those sides, but that's too easy!)
3. Then they are to write a paragraph from that person's perspective (5 minutes). What do they see/hear/smell/taste/feel? What got them there? Why are they there and what are they doing? It should be written in first-person, as they are supposed to become that character in their writing.
4. After 5 minutes is up, they must pass their paragraph and layout to another set of partners. The partners should read the paragraph and try to figure out who the person is. Usually the paragraphs are good enough that students find the character in 1-2 minutes.
5. Divide students into groups of 3/partners. Give each set of students a copy of the Where's Waldo? layout and let 'em go!
6. Do another round if you have time! (More than 2 gets a bit dull, though)

They LOVE this!! I don't grade the paragraphs but I do love to look at them because the descriptions/characters they create are hilarious! While you gather up materials, set students to a good closure activity: ask them to jot down what really helped them figure out which character they were looking for. When we start drafting, I remind them to think back to this activity-- don't just give facts and dates but give me what the person said, thought, felt, and sensed.

Not doing a creative research paper? This is strategy adaptable for teaching point-of-view (have another group re-write the paragraph as second person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient) or for practicing descriptive writing, too!

p.s. this is also great for introducing kids to the timeless character of Waldo. I was shocked that some didn't know who he was. They loved him by the end of it, though!

source: A fellow awesome teacher whose name I can't find!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mission: Impossible

A FUN research paper? Surely, that must be an oxymoron.

But actually, my class has just embarked upon one of my favorite parts of the year: our research paper. And I'll tell you why.

1. The topics for their research papers are interesting & fun. They have some famous mystery to uncover. The list is about 50 items long and we're always adding to it. Topics range from Stonehenge, Bigfoot, and UFOs to Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and Patty Hearst's Kidnapping. We've got myths, legends, the supernatural, and unsolved crimes. The kids truly love it. Every year it's interesting to see which ones are the most popular. My first y ear, the monsters and other supernatural were very popular. This year the crimes are especially popular. They dig into the research diligently because they honestly want to know more about the topic.

2. It is not an essay. When they actually write their paper, it is a creative account of their research. How's that? They can present it in any format EXCEPT an essay: short story, letters, journals, police reports, interviews, play, movie script, magazine article, newspaper article... the possibilities are fairly endless but those are the basics. Examples: I'm studying Stonehenge and I decide the most likely explanation is an ancient place of worship. I decide to write a short story, but then I have to choose my perspective. Will I write it from the perspective of: a teenager living in that culture, a religious official building it, an archeologist on site, or myself? They use their research to create a fictional story and then weave the facts into it. It makes the research paper SO much more interesting to read, and it prevents them from all sounding the same. Plagiarism is much more easily spotted, too.

They have a lot of questions at first, because it's unusual. Mostly they're not sure how they're going to put the facts in the paper. But I show them student samples (that helps) and once we start working, they get it. I even tell some of them to write the story first, then go back and figure out where you can plug in your notes & knowledge. There are also some introductory days where I do little things to help them prepare for this new approach. I think this is ideal for any grade level, but if I were to do it with 11th & 12th graders, I would also do some sort of formal research paper, so they are equipped with that formal analysis skill as well. It probably is best for grades 7th-10th.

Now, I haven't posted any of my resources here because a colleague of mine shared this with me, and she got it from a conference. The woman who presented it at that conference has a website; I don't have her name here with me, but when I get it, I'll post the link. I'm hoping she has links & documents there you can hunt through.

So, what do you think? It's different from the traditional research paper, that's for sure. And I promise you: it is so fun. And who ever thought you could say THAT about a research paper?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

parents in education? oh my!

I think I've decided that, at the very least, I'll be posting once a week on Saturdays.

I found an article this morning that relates to the last post about longer school years. Ultimately before we can truly talk school reform, we need to put our money where our mouth is and make education a budgetary priority. Everyone has an opinion about how schools should work but no one wants to give them the money apparently. Prime example: Hawaii schools are shortening the school week to save money because they suffered in a recent state budget cut.

There's a slew of issues here, but let me start by saying this ABCNews article made me want to throw a pineapple at Russ Whitehurst
" 'One could imagine letting teachers go, reducing staff, and increasing class size and retaining the best performing teachers,' said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings."
Seriously?! So between these two options to save on budget:
A. Increasing class size and overworking what teachers are left (on a salary that already underappreciates them)
B. Reducing school days but maintaining current class sizes and teacher retention
he believes that option A is better? OK, so I've loaded it with contentious word choice. Still, the issue is there.

Part of the problem with American education is that there aren't enough teachers to go around as it is; if we could reduce class sizes all over the country, we would increase the quality of our education automatically. Research shows that class size makes a difference in learning - smaller classes have a more positive impact on learning. Doesn't it make sense then, Mr. Whitehurst, that teachers -- trained professionals -- could make better use of a four day week in the quality of student learning because class sizes would be smaller? By keeping the number of days but doubling class sizes, there is no guarantee - perhaps there is not even a chance - that the extra days would make up for the overcrowded classroom. I can also just about guarantee you would begin to lose more teachers, who would burnout at a faster rate from being severely overworked and underpaid. Both of those - overworked and underpaid - are already true, which is why the teaching profession has difficulty retaining and recruiting workers. But that's just a symptom of the larger problem. Good teachers - and really, why are you hiring & continuing to pay teachers who aren't? - can make use of a four day week and make it meaningful. It is much harder to do that with a doubled class size.

So that got me all riled up.

In my opinion, teachers can still make four-day weeks work. Is it tough? Do you have to give up some things you REALLY want to do? Of course. As I said before, I could probably teach 365 days a year and still come up with things I wish we could do. So, that's a given that there's never enough time. But could I make four days a week work? Yes. It would involve sending some work home on Friday - probably more than usual - but they have an extra day to do it.

Honestly, here's the silver lining I see: This is forcing parents to get involved in education. And in more than just "You didn't give my Johnny an A!" or "My Jane would NEVER do that!" This energy could be directed in a genuine way that can lead to healthy education reform. Furlough Fridays are a great example. My response as a teacher would be to send a letter home that said this: "If you are concerned about Your Child losing education time, here is a small review packet of work covering what we've done this week. You and Child can go over this at home this weekend. Child will be ready for Monday and on top of his game! Yes, I know you still have a job on Friday. But I know his education is important to you and you and Child will find time." (of course, I'd like to add "We're all making sacrifices during this difficult time, and I know you will do your part. At least your salary is still the same." But I think that would just be bitter)

Can you imagine?! Engaging parents to actually get involved in teaching their own children?! I'm getting giddy just thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

talk, shmalk

I've suffered from Writer's Block...and I haven't been practicing what I preach and writing through it anyway!

There's been more talk recently about upping the number of days we go to school here in the good ol' USofA, by our favorite spokesman, Arne Duncan. The motivating factor is that we're falling behind other countries, especially in math; one obvious difference between US & European schools is the number of days we go to school. Apparently very few countries go fewer than 200 days a year now, whereas 180 is the national norm.

First and foremost, I need to do more digging into this issue. My gut reaction, however, are these two thoughts:

A. Fine...but will you finally pay teachers what we deserve?
B. Quantity is not equivalent to Quality

Are there days I wish I had more time? Absolutely. This unit is one of them - we sped through Animal Farm which, in my opinion, is a shame. We'll come back to it in our persuasive unit with a focus on propaganda. Other things have been scheduled for the end of October, however, so we zipped through it. But (stop me if you've heard this one) I wasn't able to do many of the fun activities I like to do with Animal Farm . Even if we attended school 365 days, I would probably still be singing that tune; ultimately, teachers will ALWAYS feel like we don't have enough time.

Although if parents stepped in and did THEIR jobs, we could actually spend more time on curriculum and then maybe...well, anyway. You get the idea. Preachin' to the choir. I need to do more research, but that's my gut reaction to the talk them boys is giving up in the big house.

What do you think? Will more in-school days make US students more competitive internationally?

(source: picture courtesy of Eric Rice)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our lucky winner!

Hm, well that was hard! haha Soooo our winner is...

Elizabeth! Congrats! To answer your question, I chose this book for a variety of reasons. One is that I felt like it had a lot of layers to it. I think I could easily re-read it in a few years and see new things in it and be able to repeat that process for years. I liked the voice of the narrator -- it was simple and real, yet riddled with imagery. It's thoughtful and loving and honest. The father reminded me of Atticus Finch (aka Gregory Peck), and who doesn't love Atticus?! I wanted to speed through the ending, the tension was so thick, but I made myself read slowly and not skip ahead. I wanted to do it justice! Ultimately, it just made the strongest impact on me. I closed that book and breathed, "Wow." It was just great.

I hope I haven't built it up too much, now! ha! I hope you can enjoy it. Although I might hold is hostage, making it necessary for you to come visit in order to retrieve your winnings.

But that was fun, y'all (yeah, I said it). I would definitely want to repeat this next summer, if you can stick around that long. I promise to read the books faster next time. Thanks for the suggestions! Maybe we can do this again sometime.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another free book?! Ye, gods!

Whew, where have I been? you've been waiting on pins & needles for this moment: without further ado, I will finally wrap up that summer reading contest! You all suggested books for me to read, and read 'em I did! I enjoyed picking up some books I would never have heard of otherwise. Feel free to friend me on if you haven't done so already.

Here are my oh so brilliant observations on each book:

1. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld (since 2 people suggested this to me, I added it on to the top 5)
2. Marked - P.C. Cast
3. The View from Saturday - E.L. Konigsburg
4. Peace Like A River - Leif Enger
5. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
6. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke

I really enjoyed all of the books and had a hard time picking a favorite for the giveaway. But as I narrowed down the list, this one just REALLY stood out to me. Mostly, I think, because it's one that I probably wouldn't have picked up at all, but was just completely blown away by as I read. And it was *drumroll*...

Peace like a River by Leif Enger! A big thanks to cupcake for the suggestion. And I have a lovely hardback copy for a lucky winner. How will you get it? Read on, oh Impatient One.

We're just wrapping up Antigone in class, and when checking my online database (, I realized there was a fun online quiz I had forgotten! Maybe I can get a homework assignment out of it this week. Have I shown you this before? I stole this idea from a co-worker: online personality quizzes! The kids are taking them all the time on Facebook/Myspace, anyway...why not tap into something academic? You can make any kind of quiz yourself and it can take awhile, but it lasts.
So here's the deal.

You take the quiz and comment. From your comments, I will select a random winner. Contest open until 11:59pm pacific time Monday.

Oedipus Personality Quiz

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bragging Rights

I am SO proud of this door - and I didn't do any of it!

Every year for homecoming there's a door decorating contest. Usually I lose track of time and don't have a door done on time. I usually had some talented or half-motivated kids working on it, so it was okay, but they didn't get very excited about it. This year, however, my first period REALLY got excited/motivated, and I had two great artists and two great scrapbookers.

My artists got a picture of the dog and drew it by hand (yeah - no transparency - just using a picture to free-hand/sketch it!!) and then my two scrapbooker girls cut all the background paper & letters & added the bowl. Picture doesn't do the dog justice (copied from a Tom & Jerry still).

I have seen a lot of kids stare at it as they walk down the hallway, point it out, and comment. Love! So proud of my kiddos. :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can I please teach?

One word: Homecoming

Over the past two weeks, 4 out of 5 weekly planning periods are spent on homecoming or class officer events. I've barely had enough time to give my lesson plans proper attention. Gah!

And they marvel at the teacher burnout rate? Riiiiight.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crisis of Conscience

I feel awful. Mentally awful. I am so tired and stressed from all these random stupid scenarios that keep popping up regarding homecoming or class officer elections. I just want to find something quiet and low-key for the next two weeks. My deepest, darkest desire is to just throw in a movie for the next two weeks. I want to just give them grammar worksheets and demand quiet for the next two weeks. Please?

I feel awful, and I feel awful I'm giving a grammar worksheet tomorrow.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Irony, Take two - Post #45

Excuse my neglect; I spent most of my days at school last week. Let's not talk about the day I didn't get home until 7pm. Let's talk about irony, instead.

The first day we discuss irony, I like to explain to the kids that first and foremost, they have probably heard the term irony frequently applied incorrectly. Evidence #1: "Ironic" by Alanis Morisette. But I won't bother breaking that down; Matt Sturges has already done that. Still, we mention it. I also mention a real-life example of a friend remarking how "ironic" it was that Usain Bolt's last name was...well, Bolt. "Do we expect Mr. Fisher here [pointing out a student in class] to actually be a fisherman?" They laughed at this and agreed that no, that wouldn't be ironic, either. Basically, our society has started to use irony as a synonym for "coincidence" or even "hypocrisy." So, I remind them, there has to be some kind of established expectation for irony, and that we have to consider, "What is this author saying by going against our expectation?"

Materials: Good Morning, Vietnam (cued), Monty Python & the Search for the Holy Grail (cued), PPT irony review

This lesson's foundational activity is taken from Reading in the Dark: Using Film As a Tool in the English Classroom by John Golden. If you don't have it, I highly recommend getting a copy. Many states now have a media/non-text analysis standard in their curriculum, and this gives you excellent ways to teach film and use portions of it effectively (NOT just throw in a DVD of a book you just read).

1. I procure a 5(ish) minute clip from Good Morning, Vietnam. Using the questions from the powerpoint, I instigate a class discussion/analysis of the clip with sound and without.

2. This class question-and-discovery takes most of the class period. After the Vietnam clip, I give several examples of irony to
A. refresh their memories on the different types of irony; and
B. give them examples to help them answer the questions "How does X irony help the story? Why would an author use it?"

This allows us to talk about the different kinds of irony at more than just the "identify" level. I want them to consider Why verbal irony versus situational versus dramatic?

Good Morning, Vietnam
is rated R but the clip shown is very brief and has no elements above PG (maybe PG-13), so you can probably get that one little clip approved. Have fun!

source: Reading in the Dark by John Golden

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Isn't it ironic? - Post #44

Since we're on a skills focus roll (two activities with tone), the next fun skills analysis was for irony. That's another tricky one. I'll break this down into the two ways I've taught this. The first I present today is a more basic hunt & find approach to irony. With my standard classes, students still needed to practice identifying what irony looked like and differentiate between the three types.

Objective: Students will differentiate between the different types of irony and be able to identify them in text or other media.
Materials: Mrs. Doubtfire, Napoleon Dynamite, episode of The Office ("Women's Appreciation"), "Circle of Friends" by Phil Ochs, irony powerpoint notes, irony viewing & listening charts

I used two videos for this; use your judgment as to whether you do both or just one or maybe a different video entirely (and if you do, share with us your idea!).

Day 1
1. Review the 3 types of irony (my powerpoint is here) for clarity
2. Prepare the Napoleon Dynamite clip and handout the "Irony Viewing Guide" (#1) - it's from the end of the movie, where Napoleon performs a dance for his friend Pedro's campaign. Give the brief background on the character of Napoleon (school outcast, etc.).
3. Pause and the end of his performance and ask how do we EXPECT students to react? (write responses on guide). Hit play, watch students' reaction, and make note.
3. Prepare The Office clip. Warning: this episode might be too risque for your teens - you know your kids & your school, so do what's right for you. It starts with one character getting flashed in the parking lot, and Michael takes it to ridiculous extremes (of course), wanting to have girl talk & discuss "women's issues." There is some discussion of sex, but you can edit/fastforward as necessary...or find another episode. It IS a show on prime-time national television, so if your school is okay with that, there's your safety net.
4. Watch the appropriate clips for dramatic irony (Dwight & the sketch; Michael's phone call & Jan) and situational irony (mall lunch "girl talk" with Michael). Complete the appropriate boxes on the Irony Viewing Guide and discuss.
5. Listen to the song "Circle of Friends." Have students flip over their "Viewing Guide" to the back, where you have made copies of the lyrics.
6. Talk about the verbal irony the students chose to circle and discuss the final question: why would the musician say the opposite of what he means?

Day 2
The second video activity would be a second day. Honestly, this probably isn't necessary on top of the first day of video clips, but I was determined that those kids were going to KNOW irony! Plus it was a fun little break.

1. Handout Irony Viewing Guide #2. This is slightly less guided. Students will be expected to find examples on their own as they watch. Reinforce that you will not be pointing it out for them.
2. Watch the first 30-40 minutes of Mrs. Doubtfire (skip over the intro segment with Robin Williams at the studio. Long & not necessary for our purposes). The movie is rated PG but there are 2 instances (off the top of my head) of language. Other than that, though, fairly unobjectionable. I'm pretty sure that within the first 40 minutes (post-studio scene), there is at least 1 example of each irony.
3. Discuss after the showing what students chose to put in the boxes & whether or not they are good examples of irony.

1. Powerpoint Irony Notes
2. Irony Viewing Guide (Day 1)
3. Irony Viewing Chart (Day 2)
*my server allows one download per 24 hours so if it rejects you, try again tomorrow :) Sorry for the inconvenience!

source: my own creations. "Circle of Friends" was an idea I believe I got from another website but can't remember where...correct me if you know!

Friday, August 28, 2009

YA-Lit Challenge

*updated September 17*
I stumbled across a wonderful book blog (J.Kaye's Book Blog) that is currently running a YA-Lit Book Challenge! I figured this was somewhat related to my previous own Recommend-Me-This contest, so I thought it would be fun to join his crew of readers. You can join, too :)

I'll post my reads & reviews (via Goodreads links) here. Since I love YA Lit anyway, it won't take long to get this list past 12 books. Even if it's the "2009" challenge, I'm assuming I can't just list all the YA Lit I've read since Jan 2009. I'll start with my most recent conquests:

1. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
2. Marked - P.C. Cast
3. The View from Saturday - E.L. Konigsburg
4. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart
5. Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America - Jim Murphy
6. Peace Like A River - Leif Enger
7. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
8. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
9. Betrayed - P.C. & Kristin Cast
10. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey - Trenton Lee Stewart
11. Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
12. The Face on the Milk Carton - Caroline B. Cooney

as of Sept 17, challenge officially "met"...but there's still plenty more to come!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's a hit! - #43

Now here's something that's fun for the whole family - er, classroom (repeat after me: my classroom is NOT my home. my school is NOT my family).

So last post I mentioned a fun activity to teach tone with three songs. I promised you another lesson with technology, right? And thus I deliver: teaching tone with movie trailers. In my pursuit for fun/interesting tone activities, I followed Google here and here. And I'm so glad I did! Both suggest students viewing a movie trailer with a list of tone words in front of them, and select words that describe the tone. Then you play a second trailer - a "Recut" version of the original. These are apparently gaining in popularity; it means that someone has edited a new "trailer" for the video that appears to give it a new spin - like Mary Poppins as a horror film. So fun! We used Mary Poppins but I also procured copies of Sleepless in Seattle. If you find any other good movie trailers & recuts, do share. I found a list of tone words online that I liked and gave them copies to keep.

And if you're worried about getting YouTube access at school, I have more good news: there are methods to download videos! Yes! (ok, so if you already knew, why didn't you tell me!) I went to and Both are very easy. Just follow their steps, save to a disk, and take it to class. Another colleague shared Tubesock with me - apparently that you need to purchase & download, but it looks like it is more advanced, so if you plan to do a lot of gleaning from YouTube, you might find it worth the investment.

We had a lot of fun with this today. After we finished looking at the videos (very quick), I then took the idea of skits from this blog. In addition to the four tones she suggested (sarcastic, concerned, skeptical, and curious), I added dismay, enraged, and critical. They always want to be funny with their skits so sometimes they branched into sarcastic when they had critical but overall they got it and definitely had fun. Gotta love those days.

source: JustRead! blog, Teaching Tone AC article, BrightHub,photo by monicaandjoe

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Persnickety Tone - #42

Note: TONE, not mood. Do you have difficulty teaching this? I've never really talked about it at length before (I know, for shame), so I can't tell if I have difficulty teaching it. I anticipate a challenge, though, simply because it's a more subtle literary device.

The first obstacle I've encountered, though, has been just finding a lesson plan that focuses on tone and NOT mood. There are many lesson plans that use the terms interchangeably! I find this surprising since these are English teachers who probably have the same background as I do (English major, English Praxis, etc.). Still, there are English teachers with poor grammar, so I suppose it's possible that tone & mood can throw even the professionals for a loop.

In my hunt for some tone help, I stumbled across 2 fun lessons that I am eager to try! What's even better is that both incorporate technology, so they're a great little boost for your repertoire. The first involves the analysis of three songs: Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero," Chad Kroeger's "Hero," and Mariah Carey's "Hero."

Curious? Go here to see what "sb" does with them!

I love that she was able to find 3 songs with a similar subject/topic but 3 different tones. Do you have any other songs that you think you could do this with? Hm...

Who can beat me in this game? Go! Find me three songs with 3 different tones but similar subjects! I'm off to peruse my ITunes library to see if I can fulfill my own challenge.

source: "sb" from TX

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reading as fast as I can! ....#41

In case you were wondering, I have procured most of the recommended books! Those that I don't actually have in my possession at the moment are on hold at the library. In fact, one just came in this afternoon, so I'll be picking that up this week. So far, I've read 3. I'm going to have a hard time picking my favorite! You can see my Goodreads reviews for the three thus far...

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld

Marked - P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

The View from Saturday - E.L. Konigsburg

...stay tuned!!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

and the winner is...

First contest submission entries are closed and now time to announce the winner!

Good gosh, y'all! You sure do love recommending some books, don'tcha?

Now, I am taking at least one suggestion from each person - probably just the first you mention, to speed up the process. I'll let ya know what I think of 'em and when I'm done, I'll have another contest to give away a copy of my favorite out of the books YOU suggested! Fun, huh?

Since y'all were so gracious in recommending some of your favorite books to me, my first giveaway is one of my favorite YA books from my recent reads. So now onto the winner!

Using a random number generator to select from comments #1-5, our first winner is...
#4, Cupcake!! Congrats, cupcake! :)

cupcake, choose one of the following books as your prize. Then email me ( with your choice & address. I'll get it into the mail to you ASAP!

Your choices are...
Book of 1000 Days by Shannon Hale

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Thanks for playing, everyone! Make sure you check back in for my 2nd giveaway!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Suggestions 5...4...

After a little consultation with myself, I'm adding another giveaway - I'll giveaway a book BEFORE I read your suggestions and one book AFTER I read. In order to enter this "contest," you have to make ONE book suggestion for my list. Confused? Scroll back one post

I will close suggestions at 12pm PST Sunday.

So, make those suggestions and enter yourself for my FREE book giveaway - to be announced tomorrow at the conclusion. But remember, only those who have participated (i.e. left a comment with a book suggestion!) will be eligible for the giveaway. So, lay it on me!

And hey, feel free to pass this along as good news to any friends who might want a book ;)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Well, I'm the only one here -- #38

"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

You better be. We can only assume you're the only one out there.

I've spent the past 2 weeks devoring new literature like my library membership is going to expire*. I am unashamed to say that I love Young Adult (YA) fiction - I read it partially to get recommendations for my students, but I also just plain ol' like it. I guess because there's an element of predictability there. I know that (a good) YA book will deal with deep or heavy conflicts, but in a sensitive, usually hopeful way (how cruel would it be to leave emotional hormonal teenagers with no hope?!) and in a focused, subtle-but-not-too-inconspicuous manner. Yes, there's the stereotype of the clueless adults and EMOtastic protagonists to deal with, but once you accept some of those facets as genre staples, it's really quite delightful. It also doesn't hurt that the reading style allows me to zip through them. I love the thrill of a new read.

And if you like bossing people around**, here's your chance. Post a comment telling me the title of one book you think I should read next...and I'll do it. Just make sure to give me the title & author, so there aren't any mixups!
Now, for the FAQ:

"Do you have any stipulations?"
Just one: a recommended book you think I could also recommend to my students (i.e. do not tell me to read the newest Danielle Steele or classic Charles Dickens. Ain't happenin', homefry.).

"Does the book have to be YA lit?" No, not at all! I am fortunate in that I have advanced students so many are venturing into the foray of adult literature, for example: Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Anthony Burgess, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks. I would simply like to be able to recommend this book comfortably to a 15 year old and/or place it on my classroom shelf.

"But, does it have to be a book I've read?" Nope! Is there a book you've been meaning to read but haven't gotten to? A book you've heard a lot about? A book you are uncertain about reading and need a guinea pig test subject? That's fine! I'll share a brief review over whatever books I end up reading, so I can help ya out a bit, if any of the above is applicable.

"What if you've read it before?" I have no problem re-reading books. You can usually find something new the 2nd time around. If you're worried about it, though, you can check out my "read" list on to just double check. sure to check in again
because I'm going to do a FUN contest/giveaway
in regards to the books I've read.

Now, in all seriousness, this next little game ain't gonna work unless you lurkers de-lurk, stop in briefly and agoraphobically, then run home. So, take a deep breath...and hit comment. Otherwise, I'm the only one talkin' to me!

*note: for you non-bibliophiles, that is sarcasm. public library memberships are free and do not expire.
**note: this is also ironic. you are a teacher. i already know you like to boss people around.

photo source: / CC BY-NC 2.0

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Room exhaustion - Post #37

Do you have to pack up your room at the end of the school year? Some schools do, some don't. Ours does because they have to wax the floors. I know it's one of the more frustrating aspects of returning to school - we have these crazy, chaotic rooms but we're stuck in Beginning of the Year Logistical Meetings all day. Another one of those times that teachers have to come in on their personal time because a teacher workday doesn't actually,

I finally hit up my room today to assess the damage. Not too bad, actually. While 2 bookshelves were on the opposite sides of the room than they needed to be, the custodians at least tried to put my desks into rows when they returned them after waxing. Isn't that nice? Unfortunately pointless, though, because I ended up having to shove them to the side and create an aisle to draaaagggg my desk up to the front after playing the "Parallel Parking with 3 Stiff Wheels" game with my computer/TV stand. Still, a nice gesture.

So, I pushed & pulled & realigned & shifted things into place in my room. It's a different setup - I used to have my desk at the back, but now I have it in a front corner. It really opens up the back of the room for moving around, so that's a positive improvement. All in all, I spent a good 2-3 hours at school, moving furniture & unpacking. There's still a few details to work out, but they can wait until next week. Two former students (who are now the field commanders for marching band, huzzah!) stopped by. I felt bad because I was on the phone and would have liked to chat w/ them, but I was in the midst of explaining to my husband the details of my hellacious doctor's appointment that morning. I plan to go out of my way tomorrow to stop by the school and visit band practice. Just to remind them that I still like them...and maybe even miss 'em a little.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's your nightmare? - Post #36

I've been consciously trying to put aside all thoughts about returning to school in T-minus 9 days, because every time I start thinking about one thing, it's as though I've opened a floodgate and a wave of thoughts sweeps me off my feet. Unfortunately, my subconscious hasn't quite gotten that memo. Over the past 2 weeks, I've had more than a couple teacher nightmares. Many other veteran teachers assure me that this common, but that isn't quite a warm & fuzzy thought.

One of the more stressful dreams I had was one in which the whole day went fine - I had honors classes 4 out of 5, until (of course) 6th period, which was unexpectedly a standard class. Naturally, as the last class of the day, it was chock full of the most behaviorally-unmanageable kids I'd ever had. There were only about 4 Meek & Milds in there - everyone else had ADD or ADHD and was bouncing off the walls. They were all students I'd had before, too, so I was dealing with:
A. the bafflement of why they were in 10th grade English again, and
B. frustrated rage that they wouldn't behave.
For about 45 minutes (note: the entire class period), I ran around just telling each kid to sit down...SIT down....sit DOWN....SIT DOWN!SHUTUP!SITDOWN!!! *insert scream of agony* The bell rang and I gave them what'fer, informing them that we will NOT have another day like today, because God bless 'em, there's 4 kids in here who are good & want to read and BY GOLLY I WILL TEACH THEM. My nerves were positively knotted when I woke. It took about 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises before I recovered.

Dream #2 was similar in that it started out okay: it was the first day of school and my first period was absolutely angelic. The bell rang, I dismissed them, and then...and then *insert music of Dread* second period began, and ohmygoodness. I didn't have one empty seat, which was a problem, because I had 30 desks. Some of you overcrowded teachers may scoff, but 28 is about the limit to my room and still be able to move around - teacher or student. So, I was side-shuffling my way around the room, stopping at each desk and asking the student to sit quietly. Of course, it was useless; again, I felt my patience & nerves wind up like a taut violin string - one more turn and I'd snap. To add insult to injury, Competent Assistant Principal (CAP)#1 was sitting at my desk for an evaluation! I begin seething inwardly. How dare they pull an observation on the first day! What are they thinking!?

A minute later, a student in the back begins talking, so I meander in the direction, channeling Steven Seagal -- out for justice, if you will. I lean over and say in my most threatening growl, "If you utter one more word, I'll have you out of this room and into The Office before you can blink." Imagine my surprise when I look up to meet the eyes of CAP#1 AND CAP #2, who were the source of the chatting. They held my eyes for just a moment before bursting into laughter and apologizing for the noise. I blush to the tips of my fingernails and murmur a half-laugh/half-apology and back away slowly. I remember thinking, "Well, at least they like me and can take a joke..." I return to the front of the room, cringing, and silently cursing them again for choosing today of all the days that are holy to evaluate me.
Man. I have do some deep breathing exercises after just recounting those horrors. But, since they're supposed to be common to all teachers, c'mon, spill. What are some of your more vivid or memorable teacher nightmares?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Votes - Post #35

Thanks to those who gave me feedback & voted! I like to hear other thoughts and know I'm not alone in my ideas. It's not that I'm the only teacher at my school NOT giving out a cell phone's just that there are a few teachers I respect/want to respect who do, and I feel a bit conflicted about it. But besides that, I like to engage in debates/discussions!

So, thanks again for your comments & feedback. I loved hearing from you. Overall, it seemed that most people (53%) felt the way I did - no way should you be giving out your personal cell phone number. 30% said that maybe sometimes it's okay, but only for special circumstances. 7% thought it was okay, no strings attached, and 7% explained their conflicted thoughts in a comment. I still have the poll up, in case people stumble across my blog between now & the end of the month, but there hasn't been much activity on the poll lately, so I thought I'd talk about results.

I mentioned Facebook & Myspace in my post also, which in retrospect, would be a topic on its own. If you don't remember my opinion on them, you can probably guess, just based on how I feel about cell phones! As one reader pointed on in her comment (thanks, Kellea!), you can't always control how other people will handle your information. You don't know how they will interpret it, and you don't know how they will share it.

So, fellow teachers, I just want to remind you: even if you think you are being careful, consider how someone else might use the information who ISN'T being careful. As I used to yell out to my little brother when he was going on a date, "MAKE SMART CHOICES!"

Are you interested in hearing what others think about additional education "hot button" issues? Let me know!

*edit 8/16/09* By the time the poll closed on July 31, a few more votes came in but the percentages didn't change drastically. 52% said no way, no how; 31% said maybe, for a team; 0 said ok with phone but not texting; 10% said sure, no strings attached; 5% said their opinion different & would explain in the comments.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How personal is too personal? - #34

How much of a personal relationship with students is TOO personal?

Your mind probably jumps to those very obvious lines that were crossed by Mary Kay LeTourneu and others who join her ill-reputed ranks. Let's just assume that a sexual relationship with a minor is TOO personal. I'm not talking about sexual relationships. I'm talking more along the lines of blurring the lines of mentor & friend.

In classes and other pedagogical conferences, I've heard encouragement that teachers should share some of their personal lives with students. They will respect you if they can see you as a real person instead of a robot or just an echo of authority. Though I've heard that encouragement - and thinking back to being a student, I remember enjoying learning more about my teacher - I'll admit upfront that I don't get personal enough with my students.

In my professional, as well as personal life, I'm fairly private. I'm rather reserved and don't make a lot overt offerings of personal info; if someone asks me about my life, I'm willing to open up, but until I really get to know ya, I'll just take a quiet backseat. In my classroom, then, I don't know that I am able to push those natural personal boundaries. Because I prefer to be private, I don't naturally extend those personal questions to students, and I'm somewhat reserved in my answers to their personal questions. Additionally, the reminder is ever present in my mind that I'm their teacher, not their friend. Sometimes, I don't want to know what goes on in their personal lives -- very often, I look at them differently because of it (sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not). There's some things I don't want to know; likewise, there's some things that I don't need to know.

Still, I need to be better about engaging them personally. I am aware of my personal inhibitions, so I need to be more purposeful in overcoming them.

But then I question, how much is too much? Yes, we should be accessible to students for consultations or help. Most of us have school email addresses that students & parents could contact with questions or information. But that's a professional email address. Would you give out your personal cell phone number? There are some teachers at my school who give students their cell phone numbers and will allow students to text questions about schoolwork (I presume that's all there is). Some other teachers may need those students' cell numbers if the teacher is also a coach who may need extra points of contact. What about Facebook & Myspace? I've seen some teachers who befriend students on Facebook once the student is no longer in his/her class. I'm still uncomfortable with that. I don't want my students to see the goofy pictures/videos I take with friends/family. They already know I'm crazy, but they also need to know I'm professional. Teens like to categorize & label their world - in general, they have difficulty with "Gray" areas. Which means the pressure is on the teacher to maintain a firm line between student & teacher...and I think teachers make it more difficult on yourself, as a teacher, when you begin blurring that line. Or at least re-drawing it.

Or am I just being over-cautious & paranoid?

What do you think: where's the line? Would you give a student your personal cell phone number and allow them to text/call you?

What do you think? How much personal information/contact is too much?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Workshop & Grammar in Context - #33

I'm a Dreamer commented that she was curious as to what I did to teach grammar in context.

Let me just say, I am NOT an expert at this and do not pretend to be. Last year was my first attempt, and I wasn't entirely by-the-book. No matter, I am not disheartened. AP Conference has given me hope and determination to do a little better this year. If you have suggestions or recommendations to add to my mad methods, leave a comment!

Writing Workshop
What I did: I implemented writing workshop for the first time last year, and basically followed Ralph Fletcher's format in his Writing Workshop guide, but we only had time for once a week. I had to establish a "due date" periodically, otherwise students would just play around/dilly-dally on their pieces. After a piece was checked off as "published," students put it in their writing workshop folder; this folder stayed in my room and held copies of current drafts and published works (I didn't make them keep the rough drafts once they were done with the published work...just too much paper). At the end of the year, they chose their favorite pieces to put in a portfolio. For each piece, students wrote a short reflection discussing the process of that piece. They also had to write me a one-page reflection on the portfolio as a whole, which were wonderful to read -- and I'll get to that later. This was perhaps my favorite project ever because by the time I receivved the portfolio, I had read everything in it (except for the reflections). I basically graded whether or not the pieces were there and whether it was professionally/creatively put together. Piece'a cake!

What will change: After the AP Conference, I wondered if I needed to talk about the different modes of writing more (expository, persuasive, etc.). They are familiar with them, but mostly with persuasive and narrative. Last year, they could write on anything in WW. They wrote fiction, nonfiction, letters, editorials, poetry (oh, friends, the bad poetry I read!)-- nearly any form was fair game. But if they need to know more about the different modes, I might need to structure writing workshop more, dictating specific forms. Instead of "work on whatever you want and I'll check for a published piece in 6 weeks," it might have to be "work on your persuasive piece and we'll check it for the next 3-6 weeks." The former option has the freedom of choice, and students work at their own pace (good & bad). The latter ensures that we're all working at the same pace and people are getting "the steps," but they wouldn't have as much freedom in selecting the form. I can't decide right now.

What I did: Confession: I wasn't great about grammar-in-context. I intended to teach grammar mini-lessons each Friday, then have students go back into their journals and find a piece they could edit for that grammar focus. just fell by the wayside, and I fell back on grammar drilling worksheets. I can't remember why I stopped...maybe I was pressed for time a couple days, I don't know. I just did. By the end of the year, I would teach a mini-lesson, giving a worksheet (or do an activity), and then say, "When you're done with that worksheet, you may start working on your writing workshop piece. Think about [That Grammar Concept] while you write and revise today." Obviously, just saying it isn't enough!

What will change: This year, I'm going to be much more intentional about grammar-in-context. I'll give them a prompt/freewrite for about 5-10 minutes, then do a grammar mini-lesson, followed by going back to their prompt/freewrite and editing it for that grammar. Either that or do the mini-lesson first and then the freewrite. I want to do more throughout the week with that grammar, too: maybe do a written response on something, then give it to someone else to edit for the most recent grammar structure. It means I need to do more SHORT writings in class, so that's a change, too. I feel really hopeful about this change.

Too much grading?
If you think writing workshop/grammar-in-context means more grading of writings, I want to say: NO. Do not think you have to grade every activity. They may want you to, but remind them that you're doing this for practice so they can learn. Just because it's not graded doesn't mean it isn't a valuable experience. If you do grade a writing, grade it only on the things you've taught! Sounds simple, but often we grade them on EVERYTHING in a paper -- break that habit and focus on a few things. Tell them ahead of time you're focusing on only commas and subject-verb agreement and then grade only on those. It's so tempting to mark up the other mechanics, but don't. (Confession: I still circle spelling or typos, but I don't take points for it)

If you've never done Writing Workshop or taught grammar-in-context, I hope I haven't intimidated you. It might be a change from what you're used to, but I promise it's worth it. Remember those reflections students had to write in their end-of-the-year portfolio? A considerable number of my students remarked in the overall portfolio reflection that they didn't think writing would be fun, they thought it would be hard (you've heard it all)....but ultimately they were pleasantly surprised because they ENJOYED this writing process, and it was cool to see works take shape. Reading those wonderful affirmations made all the headaches worth it. Basically, I want to encourage you: even if you're scared to do it, even if you don't go by-the-book, even if you mess up or make's okay. Be daring. Do it. It CAN (and will) be worth it!

And if you've done any of this and have suggestions/recommendations of any kind, please share!

sources: Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson, Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher, AP Conference Facilitator John Williamson

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Goal Setting - #32

Summer is a nice way to relax, but I doubt that teachers ever really stop thinking about the next school year. I've already had several school dreams (one in which my 6th period had ALL of my Most Misbehaving Students (and some I just heard about) ever. I literally woke up in a cold sweat).

Last year I set several goals for myself that I think I accomplished. Some had to fall by the wayside because I had too many goals. I outlined a few in my last post.

But what about you? What's on your "to-do" list for the upcoming year?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Final Installments & Goals - #31

Ah, I'm too lazy to re-post the final installments of my trip, so if you are interested in seeing the non-teacher side of me doing fun things, here are the concluding sagas:

On the Road Again: Van Gogh West, Young Man!

On the Road Again: We forgot the flowers!

I was out of town last week for an AP Conference, which was not only fun but also inspiring and challenging (in a good way). I teach 10th grade, as you know, so it was a bit intimidating. Sometimes I had to remind myself that some of the skills we discussed were intended for 11th graders--our facilitator didn't expect 10th grade to grasp it. He really challenged me to incorporate more nonfiction into my curriculum (and he gave us some great resources, so I have someplace to start!) and to speed things up a bit. I spend WAY too long on pieces (plays/novels/etc) because I'm trying to teach/address EVERYTHING in that one piece. I cannot do that. I need to accept the fact that there are just some things that we won't be able to "get to" or talk about, maybe because it's over their heads or it's not crucial to the skill-set I'm trying to teach.

So, those are a few goals this year (I'm a little worried I'm overwhelming myself with too many, but we'll see what gets dropped once the year starts):
  • call on every student each class period - mark in the grade book if I've called on them
  • read at least one nonfiction contextual piece for every unit
  • spend no more than 2 weeks (MAYBE 3) on a novel or unit
  • add Life of Pi to curriculum
  • MORE grammar-in-context - I tried last year but wasn't entirely successful. But now I have a new plan.
Honestly, the time issue worries me most; I never INTEND for a novel/unit to take 4-6 weeks, it just happens when we lose class time for pep rallies, homecoming, in-school plays & shows, etc. We have all kinds of things that go on throughout the year that make us lose class time. That will be the biggest struggle, I fear.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Information You May or May Not Want to Know - #30

So, where were we? Ah, yes...

Though the Gs were early risers, they let us sleep as long as we needed Friday morning. Once both Matt and I were up & stumbling about, Mr. Gmade us a delicious breakfast (we were so spoiled!) to send us on our way. T & her mom wanted to take us to Estes Park, which was one of the most beautiful 20-minute drives I've ever taken! We got such fabulous pictures because we took T's adorable little VW convertible bug. This first shot is of The Narrows - pretty much exactly what you'd imagine from the name: sheer mountain cliffs astride a narrow, windy mountain road.

First stop was the breathtaking Stanley Hotel.

I was amazed at the landscape - it looks like it "belongs" in some Victorian seaside town. But here it is, balanced high in the Rockies, transporting you back to the turn of the 20th century. This may sound cheesy, but I felt so inspired here, all through Colorado. It's been a long time since those gears whirred in my head & creative heart; oh, that delicious itch to write! I loved this wild and open landscape - it sparks the imagination with its endless possibilities.

Enough waxing poetic. We wandered around Estes Park, poking into cute shops and enjoying the atmosphere of the mountain town before going to a delicious dinner. I texted hubby with the "warning" that I had found our next mountain getaway. It will probably be some years, but this quaint, romantic mountain town was exactly what I'd hoped for in our first anniversary. I really hope to go back some day.

The Gs had tantalized us with the possibility of seeing wild animals that day: bighorn sheep on The Narrows, and elk in Estes Park. After dinner, we wandered around with our dessert - caramel apples - and went "elk hunting." The Gs had warned us that elk will charge (as I suspected) and that many people will get too close to take pictures, etc. So we knew that when we found one, we should keep our distance! We finally found two males, so of course we had to stop & take pictures. We stopped about 75 yards away from the (very high and fast) river (the elk were on the other bank) so we felt pretty safe. Pictures at this distance were poor - too far for a steady zoom and the light was bad. Not good enough for Matt, so he wandered closer...and closer...and closer...until he was pretty much right on the bank. T and I called out words of caution, even though Mrs. G expressed doubts that the elk would cross the river...

and then the larger of the two bulls stepped into the water!

"Maattttt!" T and I called again, our voices considerably more anxious this time. Matt, likely rolling his eyes, didn't retreat. He snapped a couple more pictures but mostly stared down the elk in a moment of true oneness with nature. Or perhaps just taunting. The bull eyed us and stepped in a little further...and a little further...

but ultimately decided a scrawny white boy wasn't worth forging the river. (he so would have failed OregonTrail) *phew*

We headed home to an awesome light show - in the distance we could see a lightning storm and had a perfect view of each finger of electricity. We popped in a movie when we got back home. I'm surprised I managed to stay awake, actually! When the movie ended, however, it was definitely bedtime. We'd had a fantastic day off, but we had to hit the road again Saturday morning. Our next goal was Reno or mid-Nevada.

Stay tuned: Can you enhance your cultural art experience on a cross-country road trip? Find out in our next episode, "Van Gogh West, Young Man!"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

In which you learn MORE about me - #29

Don't ask me why I number the posts. I just like knowing how far I've come.

The other reason I've been remiss in posting (well, besides the fact that it's summer and I'm taking advantage of not thinking about lesson plans, etc.) is that I took a cross-country road trip with my brother (seen in the past post, graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy). His new station is in CA, and he needed a buddy for the road trip, so I volunteered. All in all, I was gone for about a week.

Gosh, where do I begin? I might have to do this in installments, so you're not overwhelmed.

Matt arrived on Wednesday evening. We promptly took him to a late dinner at Demos's of course. Matt was sufficiently impressed, as all our guests to Demos's are. Oh, I'm salivating just thinking about their rolls & juicy steaks now. Thankfully we managed to finagle Matt into staying the night here.

Matt and I hit the road early Thursday morning - 5:30am. I took over driving, since he had driven on his own all day Wednesday. Our goal was to hit up some friends in Colorado: Taylor is a classmate/'09 graduate of Matt's and had graciously offered us beds in which to crash. A lofty goal for our first day of driving, yes, but a late arrival and time to rest sounded better than stopping somewhere in between, paying for a hotel room, getting to CO & spending just an hour or so before hitting the road again. So, Destination: Colorado commenced Thursday morning. We had to stop in KY to get Matt's oil changed. We arrived at 8am and were back on the road at 8:45 - fantastic!

Sadly, Matt did not tell me that he intended to get pictures of all the state signs. So, when we hit KY, we were stuck behind 2 giant trucks. Lame! The same happened for IN...actually, for that one, he was eating and unprepared (hey, I tried to warn him this time). The countryside didn't seem to be much to speak of. My first photo op was this little friend:

Hooray! I was driving & Matt was asleep, so with my wrists propped on the steering wheel, this was the best I could do. Hi, Arch!

And we continued on through St. Louis (there was some crazy traffic going on there. not my favorite city by-pass, seeing as we kinda went THROUGH the city instead of skirting it)...on to the rest of the Show-Me State (Missouri, for you unknowing) and into Kansas.

If you're road-tripping, here's some valuable knowledge about that great state which inspired a band name:

OK, so I don't want to hurt Kansas's feelings, because part of my deep-seated begrudgery might stem from the fact that we had been driving a long time. And we were ready to be done (I was still driving at this point. I wanted to.). But Kansas...well, she just didn't know when to quit. Miles and miles stretched before us. One field/pasture after another.

I will say one thing: we got to see our first wind farm up close & THAT was pretty rockin. I had NO IDEA how big those turbines are. Holy smokes. Do NOT want to meet those in a dark alley late at night in Hong Kong. Oh yeah, and Kansas had some fabulous sky:

I'm still a little bummed that we didn't at least get a picture of the sign advertising the world's largest prairie dog. It was too late to stop in and see it (this is about 8:00 I think), but the sign would have been nice for posterity. So, I record it here. We could have stopped to see that AND a 6-legged steer. Yeah. Chew on THAT.

Finally, Kansas came to an end, and we were VERY happy to see the sign for Colorado. It was pretty dark at that point, so no way did a picture come out. Booo. Taylor & her family welcomed us with open arms at 12:50am (well, okay, just she & her mom were awake); they graciously let us crawl into bed and sleep to our hearts' contents Friday morning. Matt & I had already discussed taking the day off on Friday and spending some time sight-seeing with Taylor & family. BOY, am I glad we did. Colorado is a state that could make me like being land-locked. And with that, I leave you.

Next installment: Adventures in Colorado! in which we answer the question: Did or did not Matt get charged by a wild elk? Stay tuned!