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Showing posts from 2018

Magical Moments: Not Always Curriculum Related

When I asked my students for feedback a few months ago, many said that they would like to be able to choose their own article on occasion.  This seemed like a reasonable request, so every four weeks they get to choose their own article. They LOVE it. Yesterday in class, one of my students turned in his Article of the Week on how the song "Baby Shark" has gone viral.  
Anyhow, as I read his response to the article about the song, I became intrigued. I had never heard of the song, and apparently I am pretty out of it.  The song has been around for years, but a few years ago Pinkfong, a Korean children's entertainment brand,  created a  new version of the song on Youtube.  To date, it has 1.6 BILLION views!  
I looked up from my student's paper and asked, "How many of you know the "Baby Shark" song?"  Some began singing, some began laughing, some began imitating a shark opening and closing its mouth, and they ALL begged me to play it. So I did!  I proj…

Writing an Essay...with a Partner

Teaching writing to middle school students is not easy.  All students come with different skills and knowledge.  With 35 students in a class, it's impossible to sit down one on one and assist students with the writing process.  Teaching students to write a literary analysis is particularly challenging because most seventh-graders have little, to no experience.  Students need to learn to  develop a thesis statement, find evidence from the text to support it, provide the context of the selected quotations , and write insightful commentary on the evidence they selected. Remember, these kiddos are twelve! Graphic organizers are particularly helpful to these young writers. The biggest challenge is providing feedback to students as they are writing, rather than after they turn their work in for a grade.  Students need to be able to use the feedback they receive and see the difference it makes in the final product.  I was adamant that I was not going to grade over a hundred horrible essa…

Magic Cards

I was sitting in Vinaka Coffee Shop in Carlsbad about twenty years ago reading a book on classroom management, when I stumbled across a gem that I have held on to ever since--magic cards!  No, these cards have nothing to do with card tricks or Yu-gi-Oh.  Instead, they are a great way to get honest feedback from your students that can help you be a better teacher  I really wish I could give credit to the author of the book, but even after searching the internet, I could find nothing about these cards or what book they came from!

We just wrapped up the fifth week of school, so I felt students had enough information about me and my class to give me some honest feedback.  I had students pack up all of their things except a pen or pencil and passed out a square of paper to each student.  I told them that they should not write their names on the card but that they would be handing me the sheet of paper as they walked out the door.  On one side of the card they were asked to write a "plu…

Why I Still Love Teaching

This morning I woke up at 7 and reached over the side of my bed for my laptop.  I have done this every Saturday since school started.  I wanted  to prepare for our Monday morning meeting.  I spent twenty minutes trying to upload a file to a shared folder. Despite my efforts, I was unsuccessful.  A few minutes later I was in tears. I actually told my husband I didn't know if I could do this any more. You see, I have been teaching for twenty-seven years, and these  meetings are one of many new things added to our already overflowing plates.  I became a teacher because I love teaching. I became a teacher because I love kids. This file that I was trying to upload would have no immediate effect on my students or my teaching. After wallowing in self-pity for a few minutes, I decided that today's blog would have to be about all of the reasons I still love teaching.  There are many!

What I Love about Teaching

1) Coming up with the best way to teach a lesson to my students. Trying to fig…

Organizing Important Student Info

This post is probably more for teachers than parents, but it might give parents some insight into what we teachers do besides plan lessons, grade essays,, and teach their kiddos. :)
Every year I am inundated with emails containing very important information about my students.  Some of the emails contain Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 504 plans, and important medical information. In addition, I have parents fill out a digital form (I love Google), and one of my questions is whether or not they have anything important they'd like to share with me regarding their child. Many parents tell me things like: my child wears glasses, my child has ADHD, my child has been homeschooled since kindergarten, etc.  With 150ish students, the amount of information I receive can be overwhelming. In the past, I created folders in Google for IEPs and 504s, but they are easy to access. The information was not organized by the period in which I had the student either. The emails I received we…

Winning Over the Challenging Chihuahuas

Ten days ago (it feels like ten years ago), my sister arrived at my door to drop off her beloved Gidget. She and her family were going on vacation to Hawaii. I love dog sitting and have dog sat Mastiffs, Golden Retrievers, and Boxers.  I love dogs so much that I do it for free!  I figured Gidget would be no different, but boy was I wrong.

All was well until my sister left.  As soon as she pulled out of the drive away, Gidget glued herself to the front door and began to whimper.   I forget to mention that Gidget is a three-pound chihuahua with eyes that bug out like two huge marbles. She is not attractive (Dawn, if you're reading this, I'm sorry).  I figured she'd mellow out eventually but at 3AM her whimpers became howls peppered by high-pitched barks.  I closed my bedroom door and turned on the fan to drown out the sound. No dice. By 5AM, I was desperate and went downstairs to see what I could do. Suddenly,I was her worst enemy. She began to growl and show her small, razo…

Planning Ahead

It's summer, and I am enjoying my freedom. However, I have devoted quite a bit of time to planning for next year. I've been creating a brand new website, collaborating with other teachers, helping to develop a new writing prompt for all seventh-grade students,  and contemplating ways to capture the hearts and minds of my students in the upcoming year.

 Of course, I have had time to relax. During the school year I don't have much time to read books of my choosing. I've read several this summer:  Fates and Furies, The Promise,The Wife Between Us, Everybody Always, and even a trashy true crime book!  I also purchased Great Alone by Kristen Hannah, as well as Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  I  visited my dad in Joliet, Montana!  What a culture shock!  Population of 497! SO beautiful but overjoyed to step back on to San Diego soil.  

Back to teacher talk!  One of my challenges in the upcoming year will be differentiating instruction for both my honors and college prep…

Fishbowls and Pokerchips

Everyone English teacher knows about Fishbowl Discussions and Socratic Seminars.  If they go well, you may feel like you are Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (yes, I am dating myself).  If they go badly (and believe me, they can), you may feel like you chose the wrong career.  In a fishbowl discussion, I noticed that many students get nervous when they are on the inside having the discussion and half of the class is staring at them.  I also noticed how much some of them struggle to find something meaningful to say.  When put on the spot, they sometimes struggle to come up with a good question to ask.  Sometimes it seems so serious and awkward. I mean, isn't being in middle school awkward enough? We've all been there!

So, while driving home from school  one day, I got an idea. We are reading The Giver, and we're five chapters in. It was the perfect time for a juicy discussion. That week I made one of my stations, a question station.  Students were given a handout with fi…

Reflecting on a Tragedy in my City

Last Saturday morning,  two sets of parents said goodbye to their beloved children.  One of them headed off to dance practice at Mission Hills High School. The other, was likely attending baseball practice at that same school.    At approximately 11:00 a.m. these same two sets of parents received the worst news they will ever receive.  For one parent, it was the news that their beautiful daughter, Lauren, had been struck by a car while walking on the sidewalk. She died on the scene. She had been walking back to the school after heading to 7-11 for a quick snack during a break in dance practice.  For the other parent, it was the news that their son had been involved in a car accident--an accident resulting in a fatality.   Lauren was a senior, just weeks away from graduation. She has a twin sister.   The driver,  a sixteen-year-old and baseball player  at that same school.  Since hearing this news, I have been experienced such an overwhelming sense of sadness and fear.  I imagine these…

Time to Reflect

This is the time of year when I am already planning for next year.  What went well?  What didn't?  How can I make next year even better than this year?  I find myself being pretty critical of myself.  My goals this year were to give no homework and provide more feedback to students AS they worked, rather than waiting until they turned in an assignment for a grade.  I wanted to make more connections my students, create a student-friendly environment, and make every student feel love and respected.  Finally, I changed my policies and accepted all late work with no penalty and allowed students to redo/retake any assignment or quiz for a higher grade.  Here is what I learned:

1) No Homework-My students loved this (94.5% according to my survey).  I found that I had to rethink everything I did in class to make this work.  I incorporated stations, which helped tremendously.  The most challenging aspect was trying to get all of the reading of novels completed in class, but we did it!  Acco…

Walking Dead Words, Stupid Simile Shuffle, and Stellar Simile Smack Down

I have been having a blast with my creative writing students. This semester I am trying some activities I did not do with my last semester kiddos.  First, we had a Stupid Simile Shuffle. We discussed cliches, connotation of words, and what makes a good simile.  For example, I asked, "Why does it work to say that her teeth were as yellow as corn but not that her lovely dress was as yellow as corn?" Then,  I found a list of horrible similes taken from student writing and cut them into small strips.   There were definitely some doozies. Students had to mill about the room reading their stupid simile to a partner and each partner and to explain why the simile was stupid and didn't work!  Here is a link to the ones I used.  Seldom do I use examples of bad writing to share with my students when teaching them how to write, but I couldn't resist sharing these, and it was evident by their laughter that they enjoyed hearing them. 

Afterwards, students returned to their seats t…

Passion Projects

I have been reading quite a bit about Genius Hour and Twenty Time the past few years.  I have been wanting to try it with my students,  but quite honestly, I was scared.  How would I monitor what students were doing?  How would I grade them? How would I help them be successful? I decided to quit worrying and jump in.  
I have been trying so hard this year to take the emphasis OFF grades and points and on learning and engagement. It has taken awhile, but I think my students are finally getting it.  I introduced the idea of Passion Projects to my students in December.  The main requirement is that they were passionate about their topic and had a desire to find out something new about that topic.  I also emphasized that the journey was more important than the final product.  How else would I encourage students to take risks?
Because I use stations in my classroom, it was easy to carve out a time for students to work on their projects in class.  Although I do not assign homework students we…

Making Stations Work

I've posted a few times about my efforts to incorporate stations in my classroom this year. Inspired by Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning and one of the amazing educators I follow on Twitter, I want to create more opportunities to interact with my students and provide them with feedback AS they are working.  Overall, it has gone well.  However, one difficulty I have encountered is how to inform students of what they are expected to do at each station.  I thought that posting detailed instructions on my blog would be the best way.  WRONG!  I found that students often struggled to navigate back and forth between the various pages they might be visiting on their Chromebooks.  Also, some stations didn't even require a Chromebook, so it was kind of a pain for them to have to log in and find the instructions.  I thought back to what Alice Keeler, author of Ditch that Homework and Twitter Tweeter extraordinaire once said, "Slapping something online doesn't make it be…

These Kids are Magical

Last week in my Creative Writing class, I introduced the idea of writing parodies of songs.  My students immediately got excited. I showed them "Word Crimes" by Weird Al and another one about algebra set to Toto's "Africa".  That's all they needed.  Within seconds, they were humming, singing, and writing. I could have gone to the gym, and they wouldn't have known I was gone!  My students know me well enough to know that I want them to take risks.  If something doesn't "turn out" they way they had hoped, big deal.  There are many other opportunities to create a masterpiece. 

Students managed to write their songs within a block period and a half.  This included practice time, as well as typing and printing their lyrics.  Then, each group shared a link to the Karaoke version with me on a Google doc. That way it was ready to play when it was their turn to perform.

After the performances (I had tears in my eyes), I had students complete a Google …