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Showing posts from 2017

Creating a Cell Phone Sanctuary

Over the past few years, I have noticed a change in my students.  Not only are they tethered to their phones, but they are more anxious than ever.  In the past two school years, I have had at least three students experience school anxiety so severe that they could not come to school.   Those are just MY students.  This year I have had one student leave our school after her mother spent three weeks trying to drag her to class each morning as her daughter screamed, cried, and sometimes refused to get out of the car.  According to an article titled "Teen Anxiety and Depression: the Kids are not Alright" published in 2016, "In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according t…

Student Writing Comes to LIfe

This is our first year offering Creative Writing, and it is my first time teaching it.  When I proposed the idea to my principal, we thought it would be best to make the class a semester-long and pair it with Beginning Drama.  At the semester, the kids in drama will go to writing and the kids in writing will go to drama.  This will allow students to "try" both electives.  The drama teacher and I thought it would be fun to collaborate on a project together, and it was a huge success.
First, I taught my students how to write a scene.  We discussed the elements of writing a scene, looked at examples, brainstormed ideas, and practiced writing a few.  Once students were ready, they worked in a group to write a scene on their own.  They were encouraged to have just two or three characters in their scene.  Students spent quite a bit of time on this project and received feedback from their classmates on several occasions. Writing groups worked perfectly, but students also read their …

Field Trip to Romeo and Juliet and SO much More

Ask my students if I am ever absent, and they will tell you no.  I hate missing school!  It's because I am selfish. I don't want anyone else to teach my lessons, and I don't like being away from my students.  I like to read stories with my voices, I like to greet them with music, and there is nothing I want to miss (okay, State Testing)!  However, on Friday my Creative Writing class, along with the drama teacher's class, had the opportunity to go see Romeo and Juliet at the Old Globe in San Diego. I have to admit that I wasn't excited about missing three of my classes, being sandwiched between 60 middle schoolers on a school bus, and sitting through a play. I know I am an English teacher and am supposed to love plays, but generally, I don't. I love watching my students perform but not strangers. 

I arrived at school at my usual time to check in with the sub. I was worried she would not know how to work the computer/video. I'm so glad I did. Disaster was immi…

Figure it Out

I'm not gonna lie. I want students to love me and love my class. I could say I don't care about either, but that would be a lie.  That's why embracing the practice of telling kids to "figure it out" when they ask me certain questions has been hard for me.  As a parent, I remember reading a book that said, "Don't do anything for your child that he can do himself."  It certainly made sense as a parent, so why didn't I apply this to teaching? After following Catlin Tucker like a stalker on Twitter, I knew I had to try this strategy for my students' own good.

This year one my primary goal was to provide students with meaningful feedback AS they worked, rather than waiting until they turned something in.  This has proved to be one of the best moves I have ever made as a teacher because I honestly feel like I am TEACHING rather than just GRADING, which can often seem punitive. Students are applying what they are learning in REAL time.  By the time …

Have a Dance Party Before Class Starts

This year I decided to play music as students are entering my classroom and before the final bell rings.  I had no idea what a difference it would make!  Why didn't I do this before?  It creates a positive, upbeat mood and seems to energize my students and ME! 

At first I thought they'd complain when I blasted disco tunes by artists like Chic, The Bee Gees, and Vickie Sue Robinson ("Turn the Beat Around").   I thought they'd groan when I played Bon Jovi, Journey, and Whitesnake. I thought they'd roll their eyes when I played clean versions of songs by Tupac and Snoop Dogg.  I really thought they'd lose it when I played Gypsy Kings.  NOPE!  They loved it!  I had NO idea that my kids would react they way they did.  Here are the results:

If I don't have time to put the music on, several kids will ask, "Where's our dance party?" I really like Pandora because I can create my own stations.  If you're looking for a way to create a positive vi…

Creative Writing: Teacher Utopia

By the end of the week, we have a minimum of four pieces in rough draft form. Every other week, students are required to choose one piece to work on and bring to their writing group.  On the days we meet with our writing groups, students must bring enough printed copies for each group member. They read their piece aloud to the group and get feedback from each person.  They are given the option of having their paper "blessed, addressed, or pressed." I stole this from my idol, Kelly Gallagher.  In other words, they can receive just complements, ask for feedback on a particular part of the piece, or both!  All of my students chose to be "pressed" and get both types of feedback.

Whichever piece is taken to their writing group is then revised and published to our classroom writing blog.  Here, the entire class can read each other's work!  

Teaching this class is a dream come true. It's not just because I enjoy teaching writing though!  It's the kids themselves…

Ditch those Reading Logs: Try Flipgrid Instead

If you've read my posts or follow me on Twitter, you know how I feel about pointless projects and homework!  This year I made it official and ditched homework.  It's the best decision I've ever made as a teacher.  My students are loving it, I am loving it, and I think most of their parents are loving it! I have completely transformed the way I run my classroom and feel like my students are more engaged and excited than ever. 

Student Example (Click to watch)

Like homework, I never felt quite right about assigning reading logs.  Whenever my own kids had to read a book on their own for school, they were initially excited. First, they were told they had to read twenty minutes each night. Then the dreaded reading logs began.  They had to write  down what pages they read, as well as a summary.  Urgh! I can only imagine lying on the beach with my own book and having to complete a reading log.  No thanks!  And I am not going to lie. I just might have signed one of my son's read…

My Classroom is my Business

Sometimes I feel like I am still a first-year teacher.  I still love teaching as much as I did the first year.  In fact, I love it more!  I am still searching for new ideas and lessons, I still get excited and nervous when trying something new, and I am still looking for ways to grow and learn.  The one thing that has changed is that I am not afraid to take risks. In fact, I relish any opportunity to do so!  I can often be heard saying the following in my classroom:

"I have something I want to try today, and I'm soooo excited about it.  It might go really well or really bad!  Let's hope it goes well."

"Hey kids! I found this really neat extension I want to show you today.  Let me show you how to install and use it.  Then you can play around with it!"

"I've never done this before, so you kids are going to try it out for me and let me know what you think?"

"So, I'd like you to reflect on my lesson today and tell me what you thought."


Another First Week in the Books

Whew!  I'm beat!  I feel like I just ran a marathon with a refrigerator tied around my waist.  Any teacher will tell you that the first few weeks are exhausting.  We don't know students' names, they don't know procedures , and let's face it, it's not easy getting up at 5:30!  Yet, I am thrilled with my first week.  I was able to implement so many things that I learned over the summer!  I read countless posts by Catlin Tucker, Jen Roberts, and Alice Keeler who I now consider my Twitter mentors!  I also read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler.  All of this reading reignited my passion and excitement for teaching and provided me with countless tools and strategies to make this my best year yet!

Rather than bore the kids to death by going over my syllabus the first day, we embarked on the spaghetti/marshmallow tower challenge.  Students competed to build the tallest structure using twenty pieces of spaghetti (uncooked), a yar…

I Agree: Ditch that Homework

I have been on both ends of the homework equation, teacher and parent. As a teacher, I have assigned it countless times, but it never felt right. Most of the time I felt guilty for assigning it but felt I had to.  I mean, kids spend six hours a day in school. Shouldn't we be able to get our job done in that amount of time?  Shouldn't kids get to go home and spend time with their families, play sports, go to youth group,  play outside, surf, and relax? As a teacher, I've been irritated and frustrated when students did not complete it. I've heard some of the following:

I lost itI was sick last nightI fell asleepI forgot how to do itI had soccer practice until 9My grandma is in the hospitalI had too much math homeworkMy maid threw it awayI forgot itOur internet was downMy dog ate it (the student handed me paper with tooth marks)Unfortunately, sometimes my lesson for that day was dependent on students completing their homework. If they didn't have it, they couldn't …

What Do Teachers Do in the Summer?

Based on the memes I have seen over the past few months, most people seem to think that teachers spend their summers drinking wine like water and watching Netflix in their pajamas all day.  What do I love about summer?  Sleeping in past 5:30, working out when I want to, peeing when I want to, not needing a nap, staying up past 10, and catching up with friends.  I am not going to lie; it's been great!  However, I have spent several hours each day reading books about teaching writing, working on my website and blog, reading countless educational articles on Twitter, lesson planning for a new class I am teaching,  and learning new ways to incorporate technology in my classroom in meaningful ways. 
I use my summer to reflect on the past year and to set new goals for the upcoming year.  Here are my goals so far: 1) To make my classroom one that kids love to walk into. To connect with my students and get them fired up about learning.
2) To spend more time giving feedback WHILE students are…

How I Wrapped up the Year with Learning Maps

A few weeks ago I read an article about having students create an end of the year learning map.  I liked the idea of having students reflect on all that they'd learned but was a little irked that there were no pictures or clear instructions.  Fortunately, I had a picture in my mind and promised myself I'd publish my own pictures when my students finished.

I cut three large pieces of butcher paper and wrote the following in the middle:  writing, reading, and listening/speaking.  In the meantime, I gave students about forty minutes to review all of their work published to our class blog, all of the comments they received from me on turnitin, their English notebooks, and the grade book.  I told them to jot down notes about what they specifically learned this year as they reflected on their work.

Then, I placed the posters around the room and asked students to visit each one, writing down what they learned this year.  I told them to consider writing down the activity and what they l…

Moments that Matter

Of course, I love teaching The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and showing my students why Twain is a genius.  Of course, I love reading a spectacular student essay that we worked on for weeks.  Of course, I love listening to students have thoughtful, insightful discussions about things that matter.  Yet, what I love about teaching are the connections I make with students.  The moments that fill my heart with joy both when they are happening and sometimes years later.
Wednesday my students were working on creating a playlist for The Pearl.  They had to come up with a song that represented each chapter and write an explanation to support their choice.  It was the perfect assignment for the end of the year.  The kids could socialize and listen to music while working on the assignment.  The room was filled with happy chatter.  As I walked around checking in with and talking with students, I noticed one of my students sitting alone.  She was working on her project, but something seemed a little o…

Celebrating Ice and Ice Cream in Read 180

I supplement the Read 180 program with many of my own lessons and activities.  Two key components of my class are Newsela (which I've blogged about already) and Scholastic Action magazine.

 My students look forward to getting our monthly magazine and enjoy having a tangible copy to hold in their hands.  It's filled with high-interest, age-appropriate articles. Students also appreciate the colorful pictures, graphs, and charts.  Although the magazines could easily stand on their own, I often like to develop my own lessons to complement them.

This month's magazine features an article called ICY HISTORY and is followed by another called ICE CREAM FOR ALL.  I immediately knew I had a great excuse to bring in ice cream for my kiddos! Any excuse for ice cream!

I began my pre-teaching a few key words from the article.  I use  Kate Kinsella's  method for teaching vocabulary.  We then read the article using the cloze reading strategy--one of my favorites. The teacher reads the ar…