Monday, December 10, 2012

You had to know this was coming

I've finished my degree, and I walk on Saturday.  It was a stressful ride, but I am so proud of myself for completing it.

This past month has been one of contemplation.  In the heart of rushing to meet a deadline, I was also looking to the future, at what happens after I finish.  It's looking less & less likely that I will have a position at any level, high school or college.  It's just the market is right now.  I get it.

As a result, I intend to "close" this blog.  I won't delete it completely, as I think it's still a source for other teachers out there.  I get a lot of hits on my poetry songs, symbolism, and mock trial entries, so I want to leave those for people who might find them useful.  I had hopes for this blog: connecting with other teachers, cataloging favorite lessons for myself or colleagues, brainstorming learning activities...and I think I could have kept it up if I had remained in a classroom.  Outside of it, I just lost the motivation to keep posting, even though I had a (short) backlog of possible lessons to include.  I still consider myself "a teacher" and may be able to get back into the classroom one day.  But life is going in a different direction right now.

I guess it's like a casual friendship -- it was good for the time, but it couldn't last forever.  Blogger and I have gone separate ways.  For other personal reasons, I will also limit my online presence in general, reading fewer (if any) blogs.  It's been a treat to get to know other teachers with great stories and experiences to learn from.  But the time has come.

Keep it real.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Final update

I presented my thesis on Thursday, and it went quite well.  Of the few professors who showed up, they all seemed quite engaged with the idea.  At any rate, there was certainly a fair bit of scholarly discussion after my presentation.  My advisor complimented me on my presentation and encouraged me to bring it to a conference.  Will do!  That is currently next on my agenda; I have submitted to a few conferences for consideration.  Though the idea mildly terrifies me, I do hope to add a conference to my CV soon.

I hope to continue more YA research and get a few publications to my name -- we'll see.  The final list of YA texts I either cited or referenced:

  1. Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.
  2. Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Speak-Penguin, 1999. Print.
  3. Anderson, M.T. Feed.  Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2002. Print.
  4. Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Razorbill, 2007. Print.
  5. Chambers, Aidan. Postcards from No Man’s Land. New York: Speak-Penguin, 1999. Print.
  6. Chbosky, Stephen.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTVBooks/PocketBooks-Simon&Schuster, 1999. Print.
  7. Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York, Scholastic P, 2008. Print.
  8. Dowd, Siobhan. Bog Child. New York: David Fickling Books, 2008. Print.
  9. Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books, 2005. Print.
  10. Green, John and David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson. New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2010. Print.
  11. Hopkins, Ellen. Crank. New York: Simon Pulse-Simon&Schuster, 2004. Print.
  12. ---. Impulse. New York: Margaret K. McElderry-Simon&Schuster, 2007. Print.
  13. Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last. New York: Simon&Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003. Print.
  14. Lockhart, E. The Boyfriend List. New York: Delacorte Press, 2005. Print.
  15. Marchetta, Melina. Jellicoe Road. New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2006. Print.
  16. Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: HarperTempest-HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
  17. Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books-HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
  18. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books-Scholastic P, 1997. Print.
  19. Spinelli, Jerry. Stargirl. New York: Alfred  A. Knopf, 2000. Print.
  20. Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. New York: Simon Pulse, 2005. Print.
  21. Wiess, Laura. Such a Pretty Girl. New York: MTVBooks/Pocket Books, 2007. Print.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Update on my update

Last time I brought you a brief update of my thesis & YAL applied thus far.  The list has grown considerably!  Monster and John Green are my primary go-tos, but I've tried to include a nice broad sampling.  So far, my Works Consulted looks like this:

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak.
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. 
Dowd, Siobhan. Bog Child
Green, John and David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
Hopkins, Ellen. Crank. 
Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse.
Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last. 
Marchetta, Melina. Jellicoe Road.
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent.
Spinelli, Jerry. Stargirl.
Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies.
Wiess, Laura. Such a Pretty Girl.

Some of them are actually on my Works Cited; some others are just referred to as representing a certain characteristic/theme/ideology.  I finished Jellicoe Road (which was fantastic. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it!) and then managed to squeeze a reading of Divergent in there last week (LOVE, by the way!).  I still want to try and read Ship Breaker by the end of Thanksgiving break and see if I can squeeze it in the paper.  It has been so fun to talk about these great texts.  I'm encouraged by the fact that when I tell people what my topic is, they are all genuinely interested and curious.  They get this look where I can see the idea strikes them as unusual...but that there's something there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thesis update

I'm working on my thesis, due at the end of this semester (crazy!), and I get to incorporate young adult literature as I try to legitimize it using Romantic principles.  It's been so fun digging into some great YA lit again.  Sometimes, when I get enough distance, I would start to doubt whether or not I am just a little blinded.  Is there really YA good enough for this or am I just wishing there were?  As I crack open these books and dive into them again, I breathe a sigh of relief to realize there definitely is.  So far I've used:

Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers

and there will be more to come!  I'm reading Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (a long time coming) in hopes of applying that as well.  I'd also like to finish Ship Breaker, Tamar, and/or House of the Scorpion to work them in, too.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You Don't Learn That in School

Fellow teacher friends, have you listened to the most recent episode of "This American Life"?  It is 474 "Back to School."  And it is fascinating.  I almost avoided it because I get tired of all the various reports that point fingers and just get plain tiresome.  But this was a little different; they asked what schools should teach, starting the trail by comparing success/consistency of people who dropped out in HS compared to those who got their GED compared to those who graduated with a traditional diploma.

In short, it presents a study that suggests that a greater predictor of success are not cognitive skills but non-cognitive; skills like self-regulation/discipline, resourcefulness, responsibility, ambition, resilience, etc., traits more old school educators might call "character."

We've heard that poverty is a greater predictor of success than teachers or classroom resources.  Teachers have struggled to make politicians understand that there are so many issues outside of the classroom that influence a student's achievement.  But what some of the scientists/psychologists in this realm now suggest that it is really the stresses associated with poverty that cause the greatest developmental harm to a child.  The show explains the issue cogently, and it is truly fascinating.  Now, I admit, I have always found the study of stress interesting, I think because it is such a mental thing that manifests itself in such very physical ways.  So, tying that into school & learning...well, it just makes complete sense to me.  And (Ira Glass even states this at one point) some of the studies actually confirm a very common sense principle: parenting makes a significant difference.

This program is fascinating and gives me hope that scientists & psychologists are finally providing educators with research that supports ideas we've suspected or even promoted for years.  People like to throw around research studies, so it's my hope that policy-makers will latch onto this and stop taking pressure off teachers and start finding ways to support those parents and students who need it.  However, the research in this program is also heartbreaking because it proves that (as the system is now) most traditional teachers just won't be able to do as much as they wish they could for those in-need students.  It's not impossible, but with the current system, teachers don't generally get the right amount of time/tools/curriculum to nurture these non-cognitive skills in students.  But I'm hopeful that we could see that change.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

pinterest follow-up

A reader asked which program I would use for the end-class-automatic-music-cue.  Turns out, if you have a PC, you already have a program that can do this!  It's called the Task Scheduler.  I've never used it myself, and it's not as pretty as a user-friendly gadget someone might make for an alarm, but it does the trick.

I cannot find the directions I followed the first time I discovered this handy program, but this one might be even better for our purposes: Set Computer to Play Music Automatically at a Certain Time

Where you select what "program" you want to begin at a certain time, just select whichever music file you want as your cue.  At the appointed time, it will automatically begin playing the file with whichever is your computer's default music player.  Perfect!  If you want it to last for a minute or so, you can schedule it to stop at a certain time, too.  I would recommend saving your cue of choice as a separate mp3 that you have trimmed to the appropriate time, but if you don't have a program that can do that, it's not necessary.

So, there you go!  Now, we just have to figure out what kind of music to use.  Any ideas?

p.s. Any Mac users know of a similar program?  Or is there just an app for that?

Friday, August 3, 2012

This is my Pinterest

Playing music to induce certain behaviors in the classroom isn't a new concept, so it's a little sad that it has taken me this long to think about setting up a classroom computer to set off the cues automatically.  A friend posted an edu-advice-question on her FB feed recently, and she shared that she already used a musical cue for packing up at the end of class; she sets up a timer each day to go off at the appropriate times.  This is one of those ForeheadSlap moments -- why didn't I think of that?  I often had problems with getting to the end of class, usually because I over-estimated what we could accomplish in a given class period.  I was always watching the clock, trying to gauge when it was time to wrap up.  By setting a little musical timer, it's a great cue for both the students AND me.  It would also ensure that I had enough time to wrap-up/set-up for the next class period, rather than rushing to get ready for next period since I didn't manage my time effectively in the previous one.  You know how that goes.  Or maybe you don't, because you are an absolutely awesome time manager.

So, I'm making a note of this for myself to keep in mind for when I do return to the classroom. 

Question:  I do wonder "What kind of music?"  Because if it's too familiar/catchy, kids are likely to sing along, which usually negates the whole "transition quickly/quietly" goal of using musical cues.  But if it's too cheesy, kids may not buy in.  If you use musical cues in your classroom, tell me how you do it!

Monday, July 2, 2012


As you can tell, I have a hard time updating this thing.  I've toyed around with closing it, or at least admitting that the gig is up. And I can't definitively say that it isn't.  I finish my master's program this upcoming fall and after that...who knows?  I've considered returning to secondary school or trying my hand at taking an adjunct position at a local university.  But I'm not married to either option.

If I continue on in secondary school capacity, I could easily pick this back up again, sharing favorite lesson plan ideas or activities. But if I don't, I may retire it.  I'll still be a presence on others' blogs, reading & commenting, but I don't know if I'll be able to maintain my own.

I am definitely more of a Type A personality, so not having a definite plan for life after December is a little strange.  Not as unsettling as I might expect, although that may change when December actually gets here.  So, just like my life, my blog is currently in limbo!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Thanks for your suggestions on the YA critics!  It's nice to have some help.  My advisor is great but admitted he knows very little about the YA spectrum of my project, so for that I will largely be on my own.  That just makes it all the more exciting.  I am currently doing some research for the adolescent lit class this semester, but I keep getting a bit sidetracked in thinking of it through the lens of my thesis.  Oops.

The only danger is getting lost in the John Green videos.  The man is awesome; his talent and passion are seriously inspiring.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

With our powers combined...

OK, folks, so I'm really REALLY excited about my final thesis project, in which I plan to use Wordsworth's defense of  Lyrical Ballads in comparison to legitimizations of young adult literature.  Wordsworth managed to make space for himself in the canon; can YAL do the same, especially if it exhibits some of the traits Wordsworth presents?

I spoke with my advisor today who gave me the greenlight, and in the course of our discussion, he asked what I knew about the current defenses of YAL.  I talked a little bit about what I've seen so far; fortunately, they ARE out there, I am far from the first.  We talked about how it would make it even more compelling if there were YA authors who had done the same as Wordsworth did, with direct defenses of YAL legitimacy.  I do know that current YA authors are out there and talking about the genre and arguing for its acceptance as mature texts.

 I know it...I just...don't know where I've seen all of it.  I came up with a list of authors that I can either recall seeing commentary from or who are just particularly outspoken: Neil Gaiman, Chris Crutcher, and John Green (but where are my lady-authors, yo??).

SO!  My faithful YA-loving crew, have you seen anything from current YA authors in which they discuss critical reception to YA Lit or argue for its legitimacy?  Do tell!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Just so long as they don't all become little Mansons

Here's a thesis question:

Why is it that students are drawn to the creepy, horrifying, disturbing, and just generally dark topics?  I guess it's true for all of us to some extent in our lives.  But it seems more so during adolescence; if you want to get kids interested in a topic, just tell them something gross or disturbing about it.  My own research paper experience confirms this: the topics that were usually selected first were those having to do with serial killers and unsolved murders/crimes.  Guys Lit Wire's review today touched on this, too.  Are your punks just as drawn to the darker side of life as mine have been?   Any thoughts on why that might be?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Maybe I'll runaway

Can I have just one more day for spring break?  No? 

Back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Time Has Come for Another Teacher Movie

A few weeks ago, I encountered a trailer for a new Adrien Brody film, Detachment.  This is different from the trailer I saw, which made it look a little more similar to Dangerous Minds - tough teacher trying to reach hardened students; that old story.  This one looks like the film will focus more on Brody's character and his apparently mysterious past.

In all honesty, I usually avoid teacher movies because I can't suspend my disbelief adequately.  This one intrigues me.  Perhaps because I like the premise - that the teacher has just as much going on in his own personal life as some of the students do, if we could only bridge those gaps.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Do what I tell you or do what I say

The Nearby Progressive County is opening its third early college academy next fall (and don't I wish I were finishing my graduate degree this May!); this newest will even be gender segregated.  The other two are held on nearby college campuses, and this third is vying for a position on another local campus, though it isn't set in stone yet.

I applaud the efforts we make for those students who are advanced.  In addition to the early-college academies, NPC also has several competitive charter schools.  As best I can tell, Nearby Progressive County has a more-than-decent selection for those students who are academically gifted or competitive.  My question is, what are we doing for those students who aren't academic super-stars, who actually don't like school all that much, and would be much happier earning a GED and getting into the working world earlier?

I recall during my brief years teaching in a rural school that there were a good number of students who - by the age of 16 or 17 - were done.  They already had jobs and were happier out of school working independently on something that interested them.  When we removed the GED track from counting towards graduation rates, we did our students a disservice.  Because, of course, that meant schools would stop alternative tracks and force those dissatisfied students back into the traditional classroom, just so the school had appropriate "graduation rates" (let's not even talk about all the other inflated numbers and corner-cutting that comes from this fabulous statistic).  Could we set up a special program for those students who want out at 16 but may want to return in 5-10 years when they are curious about more options or can maturely handle the self-discipline required?  Could we develop some special program which would be easy to access and allow them to pick up where they left off?  Of course, we could -- I just wish we would.

I just think the current traditional system does nothing to teach those students to appreciate learning.  In fact, we're teaching them to hate it: it's a drudgery you get out of the way the first 18 years and then can do whatever you want after that.  We're gradually adding some alternatives to the traditional school model, and I'm glad of that.  But I think we might be overlooking the students who really need something different.  We need to stop alleging that there is ONE acceptable path to prove your worth.  I suspect we're caught in a moment of circularity: we don't offer multiple paths because colleges accept this particular diploma; therefore, if students do later want the option of college, they're stuck.  So, we'll just stick with what we've got.

I say balderdash.  If the system shifts and offers more options, colleges will figure it out.  They will want the students, if only for reporting academic diversity and (more importantly) that student's tuition fees.  They will evaluate the new options and set their own standards for what they will accept.  Germany and Finland are both countries I think of as models who offer a variety of secondary education choices for adolescent students, and their universities have made adjustments & allowances in what comprehensive exams/degrees they accept.  Colleges will figure it out.

There are many things wrong with the current education system.  That's a "duh."  For me, this would probably be a priority on my education wishlist.  Can we please give these kids some options?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

stop the voices

How do you handle educational chatter?  Politicians, bureaucracy,  rhetoric...I just can't always deal with it.  When I was working, I mostly kept my head down and kept my attention on the kids & my lessons.  Now I hear all that hot air, and I have a harder time grappling with it.  Mostly I try to ignore it (as healthy as that may be).  Because if I think about it too much, I get absolutely distraught and wonder whether I really do want to return to the mainstream HS classroom.  I despair over the state of education, and I begin brainstorming ways to "have my cake & eat it too" when it comes to possible teaching positions.

How do you deal with it?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review Games - Catch Phrase & Taboo

On their own, Catch Phrase and Taboo are already pretty great word games; they really make students reach outside of their common vocabulary and think creatively to express an idea or concept.  I'd often bring in my own copies of these on "educational celebration" days to help justify the day.  Because every day is a day for learning, right?

You could adapt these to your classroom subject matter.  I have to admit, this is not something I got a chance to do, so I can't say for sure how well it worked.  But I planned to!

Catch Phrase would be a little less time intensive, since if you were to make Taboo cards, you'd need to come up with a list of words that can't be used for each one.  So let's stick with Catch Phrase for now...

You could take any unit -- well, okay, this probably works best with a  literary unit.  If someone  has an idea to adapt it for grammar, enlighten us!  I'm not that creative at the moment.  So, literary unit.  Make cards listing names, ideas, etc. from the unit you're reviewing.  That comprises your prep.

Split students into teams of at least two -- you might need to have simultaneous games going on in the room, depending on your size.  I'm guessing that this wouldn't work well with teams bigger than 8 people, max.  Get yourself a timer -- if you have a version of Catch Phrase, just bring in your own and use it as a timer (and for goodness sake, if you don't have a version of Catch Phrase yet, just go get one.  For shame); the timer is set to random intervals, which just shakes things up a bit. 

Set the cards in the middle.  Form the two teams into a circle; each student should be next to members from the other team.  Start the timer.  On a turn, a student must get his team to guess the word on the card.  The prompter cannot say "rhymes with...," "starts with the letter...," or gesture.  The prompter cannot say any part of the word until one of his team members says it (i.e. if you're trying to get a team mate to say "Boo Radley" and they've already said "Boo," the prompter is now free to say his name also.)  Once the team guesses the word, the student should say "Yes!" (or you can choose some other victory cue) so that the next player knows to draw a card and begin the process all over again.  Keep going around the circle until the timer buzzes.  When time runs out, whoever is currently playing loses that round and the OTHER team gets a point.  For example, Kyle on Team B is trying to get his team to say "onomatopoeia" before the timer buzzes.  It goes off, but his team has not guessed correctly yet.  Team A now receives a point.  Start the timer and begin again (play moves to the next person; do not start the round with Kyle).  Play until one team wins 7 points...or however many works for your classroom.

Taboo would essentially be the same concept, just that you must come up with a short list (4 total, I believe) of words that the prompter cannot say when trying to get his teammates to guess the word.

If you have ideas for how to adapt these games to grammar, let me know!  Or if you have other games to share, please spread the wealth!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review Games - Board Games

This particular review game takes a bit more prep than Fireline, but it could potentially last you for years.

The bottom line:  make your own board game.  There are websites out there with templates, but if you have Microsoft Word, it has a fair set of templates as well.  Have fun with the game spaces: lose a turn, move ahead 2, move back 2, perform "I'm a Little Teapot,"etc.  Glue your game board onto a piece of construction paper (and laminate it if you can); stop by the dollar store to pick up some cheap trinkets for each player.  You could stop by a yard sale and buy old copies of various board games, throwing away the board game but keeping the pieces.  You'll also need a die for each game board.  I didn't have very big game boards, so I found someplace where I could make a die with only 1-3 on it.  I used sturdier paper to make those dice.

Finally, you'll need to make the cards with review questions.  I just made a nice sized table in a Word document that filled up a whole page, then typed up a question & answer for each card (as a result, someone has to be able to read the question to the player who must answer it).  For longevity, glue the sheets onto construction paper before cutting out each card.

To play the game, students set up like any other board game, but on each turn, students have to answer a card with a review question on it; a player cannot roll the die until s/he answers a question correctly.  Pretty simple rules!

I made about five or six sets of these game boards & cards (at the time, I had a student helper who cut out all the blessed question cards for me) and laminated the boards to last me awhile.  Because the game takes so much prep, I only used this for BIG units with lots of info, so I had plenty of cards and could use them throughout the year (once for the unit, again for final review and state testing time).  I even included grammar in there -- sentence corrections like pronoun/verb agreement or homophones.  So, YES it's even possible to play games with grammar!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review Games - Fireline

Some of you will be returning to school soon in time for end-of-semester exams or even early state testing.  And even if you're not, are you always on the look-out for review games?  I know I usually am.  Jeopardy is an easy standby but has lost its novelty since powerpoints are so 90s.

One game that I got from a teacher next door to me is called "Fireline!" and the kids loved it.  You need 5 chairs placed at the front of the room; this is your "fireline."  You need one student as your extra set of eyes (maybe two, depending on your class size) because speed matters in this game.  The students' goal is to be one of the five people seated in a chair at the end of the game; I usually gave a couple points extra credit on the test as the incentive.  Because the student acting as extra eyes can't participate, I also gave him/her a little incentive (a piece of candy and a little less extra credit).  You read out the review questions and after you are done reading the question, the student who has his hand up first gets to answer the question.  If s/he gets it right, s/he may take a seat on the Fireline.  If s/he gets it wrong and has made a real effort to answer, s/he gets to choose someone on the Fireline to answer the question for him/her.  If the person on the Fireline gets it wrong, that person gets to take that seat.  If the Fireline answerer gets it correct, s/he has defended the chair.

Your extra set of eyes comes in handy in determining who raised a hand first after you finish reading the question and judging whether his/her peer made an honest effort to answer it.  Because there is a chance of getting the chair even if the answer is wrong, it is important to make that stipulation about a true effort, just so kids don't throw up their hands and throw out any ol' response.  I also sometimes used my helper to judge an answer as correct or not, if the respondent was close but not perfect.  However, you can really only do this if you have the answer you are looking for previously written down.  I found that this position worked well for two types of kids:   the super-shy kid who wouldn't really participate anyway because s/he doesn't like competition or the extremely gregarious/goofball kid who is not afraid to challenge his/her peers for not making an honest effort to answer.

The nice thing about this game is that it takes little to no preparation.  Heck, if you've already made the test, you've already made your review script!

I'm going to try and post a few other review games I've used -- feel free to share others you & your class have enjoyed!