Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quick Writes

Once in awhile, we have to remind students that writing is fun.  Quick writes are a great way to do that.  So, in the last ten minutes of class….

Quick Write for "Our Town"

In Emily's farewell speech, she says goodbye to simple things she has loved in this life.
"Goodbye to clocks ticking — And Mama's sunflowers — and food and coffee — and new-ironed dresses and hot baths — and sleeping and waking up! Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you!"

And here is my list:

The Good Stuff *** 2013 Edition

The smell of wood smoke in the morningcrisp applesfluffy white clouds*dimplesa blank sheet of paper or a new journalold moviesflannel sheetsbeards with a bit of gray* the way the downstairs smells when the girls are homebig brown eyesDad’s handsa full moonthe smell after it rainscheese pizzasnow daysmovie afternoonsgood piano musicthe back of a baby’s neckwaking up on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning* holding a sleeping baby* riding down a big hill on a bike* a hot cup of coffeebrushing long hairskipping rocksa hot batha good sneezefaded blue jeansold family photographsmorning walks* the smell of cookies baking * wadingchampagne bubbleslittle kids gigglinggoing barefoot*firefliesa ring of candlelight at Christmas Eve services hugs from a two year old with a tight grip*sleddinga starry sky…

And what is on your list?  Make a list of simple things you love that don't cost much money.  (You know, the kind of things that you take for granted.)  Give your list a title.  I happened to swipe the title to a Kenny Chesney song.  Make sure your name is on it, and place it in the red file for some quick points.

Now, watch students remember that they really do like writing.  

There are about a zillion (hyperbole, I know--my mother tongue) quick writes you can use at any time of year and for any unit.  This is just a favorite.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Learning By Watching

During the last few weeks of school, I've had more teachers in my room than I've ever had before. (Well, without food being involved.)  Our principal has challenged us to take some time and watch a colleague teach. The principal will even sub an hour, so that we can leave our classroom.

Don't get me wrong. They didn't come to my room because I am so magnificent.  I struggle daily and make as many mistakes as anyone.   That being said, I was the first in our building to attempt a Socratic Seminar, and several wanted to watch the process.

Somehow, having other teachers watch my first efforts with a new teaching method wasn't terribly intimidating.  They knew I was finding my way, and I knew what they were going to see didn't have to be perfect.  They gave me feedback and ideas for how to improve the method, and now a couple of them are trying the Socratic method, too.

Now it's my turn.  I need to find the time to get down to a colleague's room and watch them interact with students.  We have some incredible teachers in our building. Narrowing it down to one is going to be tough.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Steps...

You know the drill.  I was so hoping that I was making progress.  It was too good to be true.

We had spent a week or so discussing the history of our English language, where it came from, and where it seems to be heading.  We even spent some time wondering if the technology of today puts us into the Post Modern Era of the English language.

Then, I listened to my students having a Socratic Seminar on English usage today.  Students doubted the articles that said applicants were using text lingo on job applications.  They guffawed.  "We know when to use text language and when we shouldn't."  Uh...right.

The next day, I pointed them in the direction of our classroom blog.  There was a post for Extra Credit. (OK. Mainly to make sure that they actually knew how to access the blog!) The comments they had posted the week before were horrifying.  They didn't capitalize "I," "English," or sometimes even their own name.

"No one sees the blog, Mrs. E."

Well, I do.  Students in my classes do. Their parents do. Colleagues can and do.  Other English teachers could.  What would any of those people think of me as an English teacher after they read the student comments? I told them I was doubtful that I would even have a job.

The assignment for that day was to read the comments on that post and see how many had errors.  They then were to pick the ten worst offenders, copy them into a document, and rewrite the comment using correct grammar.

And a hush fell over the room...

(I probably should let you know that I assured them that I would post no more comments with such blatant disrespect for our language.)

Yes, just when you think your students are making progress...!

Sophomores do such a great job of keeping me humble.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Academic Vocabulary

Our students may be unusual in that they have a very limited vocabulary.  (Somehow, I can't imagine that we are the only school whose students do not have the vocabulary for post secondary education or for the business world.)  So, a goal for my students this year is for them to not only be exposed to a more academic vocabulary, but to use it on a daily basis.

I started with the word "annotate."  Every time I used that word in class, students were to do a "Wooo!" (Kind of like Pee Wee Herman's Secret Word.)  We talked about how important it is for them to mark up their texts with questions, comments, and paraphrasing for understanding.  This isn't about me guessing what is going to cause problems.  This is for them to dig through the text and find their own meanings and questions.  (Thus, they are doing the work.)  There was a lot of woo hooing in English II.

To encourage them to use the "Words of the Week," each class has a piece of paper on the front board. Every time a student uses a word correctly in discussion, they get a gold star to put on their hour's paper.  The competition has been heated between a couple of hours, and even students who find the vocabulary difficult have been using the words.  SCORE!  (This idea came straight off of  If you haven't discovered that gem yet, be sure to check it out.)

I choose four to five words a week as academic vocabulary. I also give them derivatives and challenging synonyms.  The words go up on our front board for the week, so they can see them daily.  At the end of the week, we add them to the word wall.  The next week, they get new words on the front board.

What have I noticed?  Challenging words (think synthesize, literal, allegorical, etc.) are making their way into their daily discussions.  And to be honest, I think there are a lot of students who are quite proud of their growing vocabularies.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

So far...

*Two days were spent with my fellow English colleagues working on Common Core Standards.  We are developing a check list of standards for both teachers and students that will validate both our instruction and the student learning.

*I've written three references.  One was pretty extensive and a challenge to my writing skills.

*My daughter was married in Vegas, so we enjoyed a four day vacation at the Flamingo.

What's ahead for June?

*Reading, planning, and organizing for next fall's musical.  That includes meeting with the music director and costume designer.

*Outlining next fall's curriculum changes for English II.

*Writing a curriculum for the Stagecraft class I will be teaching in the fall.  (This is a new one for me.)

As for July... that month is mine.  I plan to play and spend as little time thinking about school as I can.  (Who am I kidding? I am going to be hunting a lighting director and choreographer for next fall's show and figuring out the audio system in the auditorium.)

When August rolls around, I will be ready to spend time at school again.  Organizing my classroom for the year ahead is a priority this year.  I'm not sure how I will handle all the new challenges of Common Core Standards requirements in English, a new class to teach, and directing the musical; however, I am certain that organization will be the key.

And this is why I could never teach school year round.  I need the extra planning time!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Seating Chart Possibilities

Unusual seating arrangements call for an unusual seating chart.  I talked about group arrangements here.  I knew my creative young colleague would come to the rescue on seating charts.  And she did.

While my desks are in groups, this is the chart she gave me to use:

The desk groups (with chairs) are on the master. Sticky notes are cut to the size of the "desks" in pink and blue colors to indicate genders.  I write the first names on the sticky, then stick the note on the sheet "desk."  I can pull them up easily to rearrange.  Once I have a seating arrangement I like, I slip the whole paper with sticky notes into a page protector so they are visible but won't get pulled off by accident.  Then, I keep all my seating charts on a clipboard, so they are easy to find.
I used to dread new seating charts, but this format makes it so easy. I rearrange groups and seating much more often now.  

Hurray for smart young colleagues who still teach this old dog new tricks!