Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guest Post @ E, Myself, and I: Surviving First-Trimester Pregnancy in the Classroom

Lots of news today-- let's start with the fact that I have a guest post up on E, Myself, and I today, as part of her new Working Moms series: "Surviving First Trimester Pregnancy in the Classroom."  I'm no expert, but go take a look!  It's what worked for me . . . 

That leads me to the real, super-exciting news-- I have a Little One on the way!  Baby Patrick is expected to arrive somewhere around June 13.  I am all kinds of thrilled and let me just tell you that this is a long-awaited and much-anticipated Little Bean.  

But, on top of all that excitement, I'm also sick.  And tired.  And a bit overwhelmed with all there is to do.  Don't pretend y'all haven't noticed me slacking off on the blog front.  So, while it pains me to say it, I'm going to take a break from M*Print.  I don't know when I'll return, but right now my focus is pretty simple: baby, family, sleep, food.  And of course, my passion for my students is right behind all of that.  It doesn't leave much room for extras, and sadly, this blog is an extra.  I'll be back someday-- maybe when Little One becomes a little less Little.  I'll be reading and keeping up with my new-found blog friends in the meantime.  Until then, all my love!  

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Five Types of Unlovable Students (and How to Love Them Anyway)

It's no secret: I adore my kids.  I'm a teacher, in large part,  because I just like kids and want them to succeed.  But let's just be real for a minute-- sometimes, there's that kid. No matter how hard you try, you just don't like that kid.  For whatever reason, that kid just drives you up the wall.  Because you're a rational person, you decide that you're going to deal and get past whatever personal issue you have.  But it's hard.  While it's not necessary for us to love our kids in order to teach them, I think it certainly helps.  I have worked with a number of those kids over the years, and I'm proud to say that I think most (if not all) of them have no idea that I ever disliked them.  I like to think that I have a special skill for hiding my distaste, and even turning it into a real appreciation for my kids.  Here are five kinds of kids I sometimes find "unlovable," and how I manage to get around it and love them anyway.

1. The Slug

The Slug is characterized by a lack of traits rather than a list of them.  S/he never has homework, textbooks, pencils, paper, drive, work ethic, thoughts, ideas, eye contact, responsibility, or a clue.  Slugs don't even bother to make up excuses; they just shrug or look away when asked about their work.  

How to Love Them:
Slugs usually lack effort because, quite frankly, they lack self-worth.  Many of them have been told countless times (either verbally or indirectly) that they are stupid, lazy, or otherwise unimportant.  Many of them lack parents who care, teachers who care, or even friends.  And we expect them to care about themselves even when no one else does?  To fix a Slug, pay attention to her.  Get on her case.  Nag her about her homework; sit with her while she writes; do whatever it takes.  If a Slug thinks you don't care, he'll never change.  Show him you care about him, about his life, and I promise you, he'll come around.  Most likely, you'll find yourself loving that reformed Slug before it's over with.

2. The Desk-Stander
Desk-Standers are, in many ways, the total opposite of Slugs.  Rather than avoiding your eyes, Desk-Standers seek them out.  In fact, you'll probably find yourself dodging eye contact.  Desk-Standers are often good students, but they won't seem to stop standing at your desk.  A Desk-Stander wants to tell you about his entire day, even down to the breakfast foods he ate.  A Desk-Stander will read twelve chapters ahead in the class novel, just so that she can chat with you about it before class.  She also wants to know all about your day.  Every day.  If you need to quickly catch up on grading or email between classes, you're out of luck with a Desk-Stander around.

How to Love Them:
Despite their behavioral differences, Desk-Standers actually have a lot in common with Slugs.  Desk-Standers are starved for attention; I find that they usually are a bit neglected at home.  They may also lack friends, so they feel a need to connect with someone, and that someone happens to be you-- the nearest adult who has to be kind to them.  Desk-Standers also lack self-worth, but unlike Slugs, they need you to reaffirm it for them.  To love a Desk-Stander, make eye contact, even if it's the last thing you want to do.  Listen.  Share something yourself.  Eventually, your patience will pay off, and the Desk-Stander will feel validated and will (hopefully) look to peers for conversation, rather than to you.

3. The Eye-Roller

The Eye-Roller is tricky.  Like Love, Teach's Smirker, the Eye-Roller is difficult to discipline, because there isn't really a crime committed.  He glares openly at you, even when all your other kids are rapt with attention at the fabulous lesson you've planned.  An Eye-Roller (shocker!!) rolls her eyes at everything you say and do.  Honestly, it'll probably hurt your feelings more than you'd care to admit.  Every student in the classroom can be beaming at you, but one sullen stink-eyed Eye-Roller can ruin your entire mood.

How to Love Them:
Here's the thing; it's not about you.  As difficult as it is to deal with, every teacher must learn to stop taking things so personally.  Really, teenagers are sullen sometimes.  It's hormones, boys/girls, friend drama, etc. Not you.  As my second-grade teacher said, "Kill them with kindness."  For every roll of the eyes, give the Eye-Roller your best smile.  Eventually, you might get one back.

4. The Blurter

Somewhat similar to the Desk-Stander, the Blurter desperately needs attention.  The difference?  While the Desk-Stander seeks positive attention from you, the Blurter seeks any kind of attention from anyone who will give it.  The Blurter loves being late, because that means she can burst loudly into class, screaming a ridiculous excuse for her tardy.  If you ever ask, "Are there any questions?" . . . you'd better be prepared if you have a Blurter. He will have questions; that's for sure. A Blurter also loves to interrupt class with random off-topic musings, like, "Hey, Teacher, I like your shirt today." 

How to Love Them:
Blurters need your attention-- to a point.  I like to give them a few minutes (at the beginning or end of class) to get my full attention.  I listen to their stories, answer their questions, and then?  They have to be still and cooperative in class.  Honestly, once Blurters get a little undivided attention, they're usually satisfied.  It's also a good idea to seat Blurters with others who are not amused by their blurts.  The other kids can help keep them in line. 

5. The Spoon
Spoons are probably the "unlovable students" I struggle with the most, because they fly completely in the face of my classroom motto of "Be nice or leave."  Spoons, as you might suspect, stir the pot.  You may also hear them referred to as Drama Queens or Kings.  Spoons know (or think they know) something about everyone, and they love to share.  I have a pretty strict anti-gossip and drama policy in class, but Spoons just ignore it.  A typical interaction with a Spoon, for me, usually involves me gently reminding him of the rules.  Thirty seconds later, I realize that he's back at it.  Spoons often fail to realize that they are, in fact, Spoons.  They somehow see themselves as public informants or detectives. This makes it really difficult to convince them to stop their behavior.  

How to Love Them:
Spoons, like anyone else, need attention.  Their own lives haven't provided enough material (in their opinion) for conversation, so they must discuss the lives of others.  Once I recognize a Spoon in my room, I listen carefully to her conversations and make sure I constantly nip it in the bud.  The Spoon sees me as the devil incarnate, constantly on her back.  Then, I start taking an obvious interest in the Spoon.  I ask about her weekend, but end the conversation immediately if she tries to discuss anything other than her own life.  After enough conversations like this, the Spoon usually gets it.  Eventually, at least in my room, the Spoon is reformed and I can love him/her like all the others.  

What is your most unlovable type of student?

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Better Together: Fun in the Classroom

Good Monday morning!  It's time for my second-ever Better Together link-up.  I think October is a tough time for lots of teachers-- the honeymoon period is over, and it's a long month with really no breaks.  To get us through it, this month's focus is on fun in the classroom.  Please link up with me to share ideas for making the classroom more fun (for the students and for us)!

One of my favorite fun lesson plans is something I do every year: I have my students re-write the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with a twist . . . and then perform them!  My students never fail to put together fantastic skits with lots of humor and cheek.  I've had so many fun versions:

  • Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne
  • a kitten and a puppy (Wherefore art meow?)
  • Jersey Shore
  • Duck Dynasty
  • Honey Boo-Boo
  • "band geeks" from opposing bands (My heart beats faster than a metronome for you!)
  • two teachers from our county (who really are married, and the parents of one of my students)
I love this lesson plan, not only because it guarantees lots of laughs and an entertaining class period or two, but also because it forces the kids to look more closely at that scene than they otherwise ever would.

Please share!  Link up below through next Monday and share your favorite fun lesson plan.  I look forward to seeing them all!  Remember- we are better together.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Mash-Up: Of Smirkers and Sportsmanship

It's been a while since I put together a Monday Mash-Up, but I've been saving posts as they come along, so this one has some real gems for you!

They really have no common theme, but they're all pieces I thoroughly enjoyed for one reason or another- and hope you will, too.

  • "Winning, Losing, and Loving It: Have We Taught Sportsmanship?"  from Daydreaming in Maths, deals with something I preach to my students constantly.  Joanna coaches the chess team for her school, and I coach an academic competition team.  I've always thought I wasn't a "good coach" or "coach material" because I'm not angry when they lose.  In fact, I really could not care less.  What I do care about is that my team conducts themselves like ladies and gentlemen.  I loved reading that someone else feels the same.

  • Love, Teach, as always, is a favorite blog of mine.  "Smirker, Round Two" is a hilarious piece about the frustration of dealing with those general bad-attitude kids.  We've all had 'em.

  • Elizabeth of E, Myself, and I wrote beautifully about "What I Want My Own Little Monster to Know About Dreams, College, and the Future,"  and though it's written for parents, it's another great teacher-read.  Elizabeth's goals for her adorable little boy Sam are some of the same goals I have for my students: that they have someone who loves and cheers for them, that they don't stress out about the little things, and that they are able to pick themselves up after making mistakes or failing.  If only all our students had parents who loved and supported them like this.

  • Finally, who doesn't love a good lesson plan that's already done?!  I'm teaching both Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar right now, in two different English classes, and this one, "Serving Up Tragedy" from The Curly Classroom, is pretty awesome.  It uses paper plates to help students study and compare the elements of tragedy and comedy-- cheap hands-on learning always rocks my socks!

My next Better Together linky party will be up in one week-- get your posts ready!  The focus this month is on "Fun in the Classroom." 

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Allowing Students to "Run Wild"

Here in the south, allowing kids to "run wild" is a topic one overhears whispered amongst judgmental parents.  As in, "She just lets her kids run wild; what is wrong with her?"  I'm here to put a different spin on those two little words-- and to suggest that sometimes, as teachers, we give our kids the freedom to run wild.  

Let me start at the beginning.  I have a brand-new newspaper class this year that is so much fun.  It's made up of 10 brilliant young people and myself.  Several of them actually want to pursue writing as a career, so while I feel some pressure to really rock it this year, I also love teaching them.  They're interested and dedicated; I never hear, "Do we have to?"  Frankly, they're one of the great joys of my school year.  

But when three boys, who all aspire to become sportswriters or sportscasters, approached me about doing something new and different, I hesitated for a moment.  They wanted to broadcast the Homecoming football game.  On film.  My first thoughts?  I don't know.  That sounds difficult.  Where could we do it?  I don't have any equipment.

A tiny voice inside my head said, "Let them figure it out."  So I did.  I told them they'd have to figure out the logistics.  In a few minutes, they were back.  They had booked a room in the press box for the night of the game, and secured a video camera and tripod.  While we wouldn't be able to actually "broadcast" or stream the video feed, we could definitely film it, edit it, and post it on our newspaper blog.  

I told the boys they'd have to dress professionally (If you want to be a sportscaster, you're going to look like a sportscaster.) and that, since I was signed up to sell tickets at the game, they'd have to go it alone until I could join them at halftime.  I must admit, I was a tad bit nervous for them.  I saw one of them briefly before the game; he'd been unable to find the others and was stressing.  But when halftime rolled around, I made my way up there with snacks and drinks for them, and my mind was blown.  

guest commentator + two of my three students

Not only were they all in shirts and ties, but they had brought in a guest commentator, a former player from our football team.  Their knowledge of football amazes me, (partly because I know precious little), and their commentary was incredible.  They even referenced former players, other teams in our district, and made comparisons to college and NFL teams.  I am so stinkin' proud of them! 

We are still in the editing phase (and they're doing it all), but I think the lesson I learned is this: sometimes, kids get excited about learning.  About spreading their wings, trying new skills, and running wild.  And it's our job to just let them.  That project took almost no effort on my part; all I had to do was say yes.  In the process, I showed my students that I believe in them and that they can.  If you haven't yet, give your students a chance to run wild. Soon.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Homecoming Week: Teacher/Student Bonding

This two-week blogging hiatus is brought to you by what Love, Teach affectionately calls DEVOLSON-- the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.  Man, am I tired.  But aren't we all?  The good news is I'm back, and although it's a bit belated, I've got some fun pictures!

If you're a high school teacher, you get to experience Homecoming Week.  You can look at it one of two ways: 

1. It'stheworstweekevermykidsarecrazy ohmyGodhowwillIgetthroughthis?!

2.  What fun!  This is the perfect chance to get to know, and bond with, my students.

I choose Option 2.  Because really, who wants to just be frazzled for a week?  And secondly, who doesn't want to wear fun costumes to work?

I have to say, I didn't come to this realization on my own.  I work with a highly involved, incredibly fun faculty who participate with gusto every year.  A large group of my teacher-friends and I coordinate fun costumes according to the week's scheduled dress-up days, and our pictures are simply fabulous.  Check out this year's pics:

Monday: Camo Day

Clearly, we are Duck Dynasty.

Tuesday: Twin Day

Can you tell whose mustache is fo' real?  We all "honored" our principal, who is retiring after this year.

Wednesday: Retro Day

How much do you love our decade-based digs?  My flapper had to wear a sweater to be school appropriate, but I still think we're darned cute.

Thursday: Favorite Sports Team Day

The perfect excuse to wear jeans to school!

Friday: Big Orange/Black Day

This has become an annual tradition: we wear the uniforms of our senior football captains.

In past years, we've also been Ms. Pac Man and her ghosts (Video Game Day), the Ninja Turtles (Superhero Day), and lots of other fun things.  Not only do the kids love seeing what crazy thing we'll be doing each day, but we love doing it.  If we can't occasionally be kids, how are we supposed to teach them?  

My school also holds a carnival each Homecoming Week, where we get to talk, play games, eat pizza, and dance with our kids.  I have learned many new line dances over the years, and most importantly, I've formed lasting relationships with my young'uns.  If you have a Homecoming Week, by all means, please jump in headfirst!

I'm hosting another Better Together linky in a few weeks, so start planning your post to link up-- our theme will fit this blog: Fun in the Classroom.  What do you do to engage with your students in fun?

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed

My school system has a new hybrid block schedule in place this year.  Honestly, no one is a fan.  It's complex and weird-- some strange combination of a 7-period day and a 4x4 block.  Part of the reason for the change is that students now take eight classes per year, rather than seven, so they have more opportunities for credits.  Another reason is that teachers, who previously had to be paid extra to teach more than five classes, are now all teaching six with no extra pay.  

Who doesn't love a list?

  • I adore my 90-minute classes, because I feel like we're accomplishing so much. 
  • I adore my kids this year.  Most of them are super sweet and very fun.
  • I adore that it's Homecoming Week, and I work with an incredible group of faculty and staff who know how to have fun and be professional.  (More on that later.) 
  • I adore that I work with a principal who respects us and gives us room to do our jobs.

  • I don't adore that I have double the planning, but not double the planning time
  • I don't adore not knowing all my kids until second semester.  
  • I don't adore the massive amount of grading I'm experiencing from my block classes.
  • I don't adore that I feel nearly as busy and overwhelmed as I did while completing my National Board Portfolio last year.

Yesterday, I had a meeting with a group of teachers from lots of surrounding counties.  We were asked to rate our school year on a scale from 0-10.  I thought about it, and maybe I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, but I decided my school year deserved a B, so I went with 9.  Let me tell you, it has been much worse before.  Aside from one person, no one else in the room gave their year above a 6.5.  Huh!  Maybe I'm not the only one feeling overworked and underpaid.  Sometimes it's just nice to commiserate, huh?  

Remembering my blessings this morning-- my kids are fine; my classroom is my own and is full of learning and love; my bills are paid even if my wallet's not full.  It's not so bad, after all.
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Mash-Up: The Real World

Happy Monday morning!  I am thrilled to call my first linky, Better Together, a success.  I needed help, so I reached out to my blogging friends for advice.  I love collaborating with other great teachers, and I can't express enough how much better we all are together.  I had four great entries- check them out!

1. "Collaboration=Creative Genius," from Katie @ The Oatmeal Chronicles contributed lots of great ideas: paired work, tiered questions, extension cards, and "switching students" in co-teaching settings.  I am especially excited about the extension cards, and am working on a set of those for my room today!  (And I used her narrative-songs-for-plot-structure lesson plan Thursday with great success!)

2. "Teaching Tuesday: Classroom Management," from Elizabeth @ E, Myself, and I discusses mutual respect, tough love, and being a team player.  My favorite part?  

"If you call me a b*^#@$, I'm giving you detention and calling home.  Every.time.  Period.  BUT, I'm not going to cause a scene about it, and I'm NOT going to hold a grudge.  The next morning, I will greet you with a smile.  When it's done, it's done."

3. "Better Together," from Suzanne @ The Curly Classroom offers some great advice for co-teaching, which I'm new to this year.  While I feel like my co-teacher and I are off to a great start, I definitely hope to start planning more together.

4.  "Stayin' Alive: My Classroom Management Survival Strategy," from Joanna @ Daydreaming in Maths has some good classroom management tips for surviving with those "trouble-makers."  I love the bit about spending quality time with them and getting to know their "why."  Plus, it's kind of awesome that Joanna is from Cape Town, South Africa!  

Keep your eyes peeled for my next Better Together Link-Up in October.  I'd love suggestions for topics!

Now, on to some of my other favorites from around the blogosphere this week-- which all seem to revolve around the real world.

"The 'Real World,'" from Josh @ Stump the Teacher is a deep inspection of what those two words mean.  Every teacher likes to think that s/he is preparing students for the real world, but what exactly does that entail?  We may not realize it, but many kids are already living in a world that's all too real.  

"Why I'll Let My Kids Get Teased at School," by Adriana Velez for The Stir is another one of those for-moms-but-could-definitely-be-for-teachers-too posts.  I have said for a long time that rather than constantly harping about eliminating bullying, we should spend as much time teaching our kids to develop a thick skin and react appropriately.  There will always be bullies in the real world, even in adulthood.  We choose to give them power over us-- or not.  Please know, I'm not in the business of ignoring bullying.  I just really like what Adriana has to say about the importance of letting kids learn to deal.

Similarly, "Have We Made Things TOO Easy for Today's Kids?" by Bill Ferriter for the Center for Teaching Quality focuses on the fact that teachers are working much harder than students in many classrooms today.  He compares modern classrooms to the ones he attended as a student, and the results are obvious.  Again, I'm not calling for a return to teachers who do nothing but lecture and dole out classroom spankings, but I do think it's time we give kids some responsibility.  After all, isn't that our job-- to prepare them for the real world?

Finally, a look into a classroom where kids are learning in the real world:  Katie @ A Hundred Affections has put together "A Crazy Idea That Just Might Not Be So Crazy After All."  In order to help her students connect to their American literature studies in a real way, Katie has devised a heartwarming, beautiful, educational service-learning project for her students.  They'll be writing a memorial book, creating a memorial garden, and even marching with The Wounded Warrior Project.  This is the kind of service-learning kids will never forget, and I can't think of a way to better connect classroom learning with the real world.  Major kudos!

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Midweek Confessions: Playing Dumb

I'm linking up with E, Myself, and I for this week's Midweek Confessions.  Here goes . . . 

I'm blonde.  I'm a woman.  This makes me neither stupid, nor a bad driver, nor mathematically inept.  Why, then, do we sometimes perpetuate stereotypes about ourselves?  

I hate math.  Hate it.  In fact, I detest it so much that I celebrated like it was my birfday when I realized I had finished my last-ever math class.  As a result, I've spent many, many years making disparaging jokes at my own expense.  An example: A kid in my study hall last year asked a fairly simple subtraction question.  My response?  "I don't know; I'm an English teacher."  This has always been fun for me-- it unites me with other math-haters.  Things like this . . . 

and this . . . 

and this . . . 

have always struck me as hilarious.  But here's my dirty little secret-- I'm not really bad at math.  I really don't like it, I don't see its value beyond the basics, and I am glad to never have to do it again-- but I made good grades in math classes.  I understood it fairly easily.  So why do I do that?  Why pretend to lack intelligence?  

This latest revelation comes from an essay my Advanced English 9 students just read, called "Math and After Math," and written by Lensey Namioka.  In it, the a young girl's classmates view her as strange and different because she is a girl who's good at math.  After we read, I had my kids do a class fishbowl discussion about stereotypes.  I asked how many of my (honor student) girls had ever pretended to not "get" something so that they'd feel less different.  Almost all of them raised their hands.  Wow.  I was shocked . . . until I realized that I, too, was guilty of faking it.  Even though my self-deprecation is a joke to me, what kind of example am I setting for the young ladies in my classroom?  

I've become more conscious lately of what I say, especially in the presence of my kids.  It's scary to think about the influence I might have on kids I spend so much time with-- and I am promising myself that I'll do a better job of representing myself from here on out.

We are all guilty of saying things we regret to our students-- please share your stories, so I don't feel so terrible!

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Mash-Up: Teacher Moms and Tin Foil

Good Monday morning!  It was a beautiful autumnal weekend at my house- so beautiful, in fact, that I'm not sure I'm ready for Monday to be here.  Alas, it is-- so here's some good reading to brighten your Monday.

"6 Words You Should Say Today" by Rachel Macy Stafford for HuffPost reminds us of the importance of encouraging words. Although written for mothers, this post (like many other mom-blogs) speaks to me as a teacher, too.  Take a look at these six words, and I think you'll understand.  Phrases like "I love to watch you write" and "I love to hear you read Juliet's part" come to mind.

"Character Foils-- That's a Wrap!" from Lori at The Curly Classroom brings dramatic foils to life with a hands-on activity involving real aluminum foil.  I love the creativity involved here, and how a few rolls of aluminum foil could easily cement a literary term in the minds of my students.

"Domestic Enemies of the Teacher Mom" from Rants from Mommyland is hilarious and oh-too-true.  I have taught lots of my colleagues' children over the years, and I know it isn't fun to be a "teacher's kid."  This piece focuses on the other half of that partnership-- the Teacher Mom-- and all the struggles involved in having two incredibly tough and important jobs.

Morning Meetings with Jesus: 180 Devotions for Teachers, by Susan O'Carroll Drake, isn't a blog like most of my Monday Mash-Up pieces; it's a book.  I have to share even if it breaks format. I found it while surfing for a few new Kindle books, and I love it.  Each devotion (one for every day of the school year) is short and to-the-point, and comes across as uplifting, not "preachy."  I read one each morning while I get ready, and I find that they're an inspiring start to my school days.

Finally, "No Defense for Webster's 'N' Word," from Secondary Solutions, is a great read for teachers and students.  English teachers encounter this word in lots of great literature. (Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn come to mind immediately.) It's always uncomfortable and can spark some heated discussion among my students, so I like to address it up front with the kids.  This article links to a great PDF, written by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, that I plan to share in class this week.

Did I miss anything great this week?  Please share fantastic "teacher-reads" in the comments. And-- don't forget to link up with me this week to share some tips for Better Together!
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fostering Critical Thinking with Fishbowl Discussions

In my experience, teenagers tend to struggle with writing for two major reasons: 

1) They're not used to thinking critically.
2) They don't know how to put their thoughts into words.

I have no qualms about saying that I wholeheartedly blame our testing culture.  We're teaching the youth of our nation to think in terms of A, B, C, or D-- not to analyze, rationalize, criticize, or evaluate.  However, lest this blog turn into one giant anti-testing rantfest, I'd prefer to focus on what I can do with what I have.  What I have is a room full of kids who need to learn to think critically so that they can not only write well, but also be productive in the real world.  What I can do is model critical thinking for them and let them practice in a safe environment.

I've heard of fishbowl discussions for years, but this year is the first time I've tried them.  Wow!  I'm holding at least one a week in most of my classes, and they're changing the way my classroom works.  The concept is simple:

1. Choose 3-4 students to be "fish"-- to sit in the front of the room and serve as the leaders of the discussion.

2. Ask discussion questions, one at a time, of the fish.  Allow them to hash out their responses as a panel, and then open the discussion to the rest of the class.

My kids are so responsive to this format!  Our discussions are lively and so insightful.  It's amazing what kids can come up with when we let them think.  I have to say, at first they all seemed to feel a need to address me for their responses, rather than the class.  To get them discussing together, I moved to the back of the room, spoke only when necessary, and occasionally redirected kids who were turning around to face me.  I'm also more than happy to spend some time on a (related) tangent, because I want to allow discussions to flow freely and kids to express their thoughts fully before we rest a topic.

I chose my first "fish" based on their outgoing personalities.  To get the figurative ball rolling, I wanted kids who would have no problem expressing themselves.  After the initial discussion, though, I usually choose kids who were notably quiet during the last discussion.  This way, I make sure that they're accountable for participation.  (I also take a participation grade.)

Fishbowl discussions are revolutionizing my kids' writing, because they're eliminating the problems I listed first-- they are forced to think critically, and talking through their thoughts helps them to formulate the words they need to write.

What tricks do you use to get kids discussing?
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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Better Together Linky Party: September 2013

I'm hosting my first ever linky!  I'm pretty excited about this, because I desperately need your help could use a few new ideas. 

Confession time: I am struggling with a class this year.  I don't like to admit it, but I have a group that is a challenge for me.  It's my biggest class, and has a large percentage of IEPs and 504 plans-- lots of accommodations to remember and implement.  This class has a wide variety of ability levels-- which I know, every class has, but this one is a doozy.  There are kids who I can't believe made it out of elementary school, and there are kids who I know should be in Advanced English instead.  On top of all of that, there are 3-4 kids who are blurters or noise-makers.  

My challenges right now (in this class) are these:  
1. How do I teach a high school English class in which many of the students can't write a coherent sentence or read beyond a 4th-grade level?  Shakespeare and research papers are coming all too soon, y'all.

2. What do I do with the kids who can do all of the above and are rapidly becoming super bored with the repetition?

3. How do I manage the behavior of all those attention-starved kids who just can't stop shouting out irrelevant comments or making strange noises?  I have known for a long time how to deal with these kids one at a time, or even two at a time, but there are so many of them in this group.

4. This challenge is a positive challenge.  I'm working with a special education co-teacher for the first time ever in this class, and while she's fantastic and we're working well together, I'd still love some tips on collaborative teaching.

So now to the real point-- I've decided to host a monthly linky party, which I'm calling Better Together.  I  have written so many times about the importance of collaboration in education.  It's time to start widening my network of teacher-friend-mentors.  

Please share your best tips and lesson plans, and link up with me!  Because I totally need advice right now, our focus for September's party will be on behavior management, co-teaching, and working with a wide variety of ability levels.  We're all in this together, so please feel free to share your ideas for any grade level, or even homeschooling.  I think we'll be amazed at what we can learn from one another.

Linky Rules
1. Grab my button from the top and link back to M*Print.
2. Link up your post on a classroom-related tip or lesson idea, not your entire blog.
3. Explore!  Visit some other link-ups and learn something yourself.

Link up any time between now and next Saturday.  I'll feature my favorite post when the link-up closes next week.  Happy linking!

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TBA's Ultimate Linky Party

Friday, September 13, 2013

redditgifts for the Teachers 2013

Having been back into the school year for three weeks now, I feel like I'm finally hitting my stride again.  That means new blog posts coming up!

Right now, though, I just had to send out a huge thank-you to redditgifts, who created a gift exchange called redditgifts for Teachers 2013 just for people to send teachers free stuff!  I mean, wow.  DonorsChoose, and now this one, too?!  There are so many good people in the world, y'all.  

I heard about the exchange and sent in a request for a gift.  It asked me to fill in some details about my classroom, like what grade level and subject(s) I teach, what we needed/wanted most, and our school colors.  A week or so later, I got an email saying that my "Santa" had shipped a package for me!

When the boxes arrived, I ripped into them immediately and found the most-used resources my classroom needs: a huge 6-pack of tissues, and a big bottle of hand sanitizer.  No flu in my room this year!  

I had really never heard of reddit before, and I'm not sure if this is an annual event or a one-time deal, but how awesome was that?  Someone, out of the kindness of his/her giant heart, just decided to mail my kids a gift.  

Happy Friday!  It doesn't get much better than free classroom supplies, in my book.
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Monday, September 9, 2013

When It All Goes Wrong: Monday Mash-Up

Happy Monday!  I have just a couple of favorites to share this week, but they're both true gems.  For me, the first few weeks are always difficult.  I am tired, I don't know all of my kids well yet, and I'm adjusting to a new schedule.  The best laid plans of mice and teachers . . . well, you know the rest.  Both of my Monday Mash-Up honorees this week address what it's like when things just go wrong.

1. "They Can't All Be Great," from The Curly Classroom, describes my nightmare classroom scenario.  It has happened to all of us:  you've planned a fantastic lesson that should inspire critical thinking and personal connections with a text, only to see it fall flat.  

2.  "How a Rough First Year Became a Career," by Justin Minkel for The Center for Teaching Quality, describes my career perfectly.  I have to say, my first year was straight from hell in many ways.  I went through some personal issues that year, and added to the stress and struggle of being a brand-new teacher, I would never have made it without lots of support from my teacher-friends.  But, as Minkel writes, I learned from it and grew into a better person and educator.
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Friday, September 6, 2013

Epic. Hard. Radical. No Sleep.

     Friday nights are usually reserved for non-school related relaxation at my house.  At the end of a week, I need rejuvenation, and so I ignore my stack of work and do something mindless.  This Friday night, however, was different.  CBS aired its new documentary, TEACH, and I was riveted to my seat.  Yes, I was thinking about work.  A lot.  But it was all the rejuvenation I needed.

     TEACH documents the lives of four teachers throughout a school year.  If you missed it, find it and watch it immediately!  I've never seen a truer portrayal of what it is to be a teacher.  

Photo Credit

Some of my favorite moments:

1. Matt.  Period.  He was wonderful, and I wish he had been my 4th period teacher.

2. Joel's humorous "yo mama" joke approach to teaching thesis statements.  How awesome is that?!  Using it Monday.

3. This quote from Lindsay: "There's not a kid out there that doesn't want to be successful."

4. And this one from Matt, after a student noted that she didn't like reading:  "I get you.  But is this important for you?  Yes.  Yeira, I care about you too much to let you not give me your best, do you understand?"  I'm not sure I've ever articulated it like that for my kids-- that I push them out of love-- but I sure as heck will now.

5. Lindsay's administrator, Shawn, collaborating with her to create 360° Math, a system with boards around the room on which students work problems, while the teacher stands in the center and observes, providing support.  My colleagues and I are already planning for a 360° learning room.  

6. Joel's team-style t-shirts and "Eye of the Tiger" to pump his kids up for the AP Exam.

7. Watching these "celebrity" teachers experience the same frustrations and self-doubt that I sometimes find crippling.  In our talks tonight while we were watching, a colleague of mine said that she had realized that when we stopped feeling that doubt, it would be then that we needed to worry.  She's right.  It's the very fact that we question ourselves, and strive to always improve, that makes us good teachers.

8. Seeing many of them reaching out to colleagues for support.  I wouldn't have lasted a year in this business without my fantastic group of teacher-friends.  Remember this post?  Just a few days ago, I came across a challenging situation in my room.  Within hours, I had lots of new strategies from my girls.  We are all better together.

9. When asked to describe their year, Joel's students' responses: "Epic." "Hard." "Radical." "No sleep."  Obviously, they were talking about AP high school classes, but- best summary of teaching I've heard yet.

As the host, Queen Latifah said

Why take on such a tough job when the odds feel stacked against you? Teachers have lives of their own, families of their own, dreams of their own- but every day they show up, dig a little deeper, and do whatever it takes.

TEACH was exactly the pick-me-up I needed after a few weeks of Year Five under my belt.  I'm excited to dive into lesson planning with a whole new spark tomorrow!
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday Mash-Up: Character Education Edition

The first few days of school kicked my butt, y'all.  And of course, teaching comes first-- so my apologies, but I missed my Monday Mash-Up last week.  So to make up for it . . . I lumped all my favorites from last week in with this week's.  Take a look!

1. An Open Letter to Parents from Your Child's Teacher, from A Hundred Affections, tells it like it is.  Honestly?  It should be required reading for all parents.  Every August.  

2. 23 Things I Want My Kids to Know, from Finding Joy, is a poignantly written piece about teaching kids what's really important in life.  Although it's written by a mother (and probably for mothers), it made perfect sense to me as a teacher.  Some key "things" that stood out:  
           7. Help others. Volunteer.  Give of               your time.
           14. Seek to understand.
           18. Always be willing to learn.

Character education at its finest: this is one mom who doesn't need to read the Open Letter.  She already gets it.

3. Lord, Miley Cyrus caused a bit of a stir this week with her VMA performance.  Parents (and teachers) shuddered across America.  And the internet exploded.  Dear Students, Never Feel Like You Have to Be Miley Cyrus, by Eat.Write.Teach., speaks to our kids about self-respect.  I love that this post doesn't focus on the negative, but goes on to name a long list of celebrities who do set a positive example.

4.  And finally- a different view.  The beautifully named She isn't a hurricane. reminds us all that Ms. Cyrus is indeed a human being.  Kudos to the talented Hannah Brencher for gently and poetically shaming me out of my mean-girl judgment and into the compassion Miley probably really needs from the world right now.  

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