Saturday, June 9, 2018

Classroom Novels Rant

I spend my life on the outside looking in.  I am not, nor will I ever be, the normal girl/woman/teacher.  I do things differently, and I always have.  Sometimes that works for me...sometimes it doesn't.  In my classroom, it works well, but I find myself alone on an island most of the time.  I march to the beat of my own drum.  I do things my own way.  I watch other teachers and say to myself - really? But I am going to stop here before I say too much and proceed to the reason for this post, and I am going to try 


not to step on toes.  Good luck with that.

If we put 50 middle-school ELA teachers in a room, I believe at least 40-45 would admit they actually LIKE to read.  I want to type the number 49, but I have honestly come across too many teachers who hate teaching/kids/work/reading/books, yet they have a job as a teacher.  


but here we are.  Anyhooo.......40 of the 50 like to read.  We all go on a magical field trip to a book store - the world's GREATEST book store - to get a new book to read.  All 40 of us walk in the door with wonder and love in our eyes at the rows and rows and shelves and shelves and bins and bins and baskets and baskets of nothing but BOOKS!!!!    All of our senses are affected...we see the beautiful books, we smell the beautiful books, we hear the rustle of the pages of the beautiful books, we touch the covers of the beautiful books, and we "taste" the beautiful books (newest buzz word on instagrampinterestfacebook about how to choose a book) - Google it.  

We are told it is time to return to the magic bus with our book.  We are ready to choose a magical book from this magical bookstore so that we can be transported to a magical world that only magical reading can take us to.  But then........we are all handed the same exact book.  


Would you just think for a minute about that?  How happy would we be?  How content would we be?  How anxious would we be to dive in?  COME ON!!!  Admit it!!!  This would NOT work!!

Now think about your classroom.  

Many teachers have 100 copies of the same book.  Many teachers have spent countless hours creating a "unit" to use with "teaching" that book.  New rant - how do you "teach" a book?  What does that even MEAN??  We teach students how to READ a book - not TEACH a book!!!  I feel your hatred for this post already.  I know I am stepping on your toes.  

Back to it....Teachers have THICK binders full of teaching ideas for THAT book.  They have activities-scaffold-ed questions- vocabulary lists-culminating activities-videos-Bloom's balls directions - blackout poetry activities - one-pager directions- quizzes-tests-writing prompts - list of standards - posters - permissiontoshowthemovieattheend form.  They already have their outfit planned for their Instagram picture in which they will swear that 



wait for the word...

here it comes....


I call bullshit.  40 of us would not like the same book.  100 students will not like the same book.  Are you teaching it because every single student - ALL 100 OF THEM - begged you to read it with them at the SAME TIME!?!?!!?  Or are you reading it because you have spent a huge amount of time gathering together amazing activities and bought an amazing t-shirt to wear on the first day of reading this amazing book and found amazing things on Pinterest to use in decorating your room and purchased amazing things on TpT from people who already read this amazing book to their 100 amazing students? 

Don't get so upset with me until you think about it.  Do ALL your students want to read that book???  or do YOU just want to force them to read it because you have lesson plans to 


the book.  

Is this reading journey about YOU 

or THEM?  

Try this...

Teach them how to read - how to question things when they read- what to think about as they read - what to ask themselves as they read - what to jot down notes about - what to have handy as the read (dictionary, post-its, etc.) - 


them strategies.  Have a process of accountability for reading (graded book talks).  Make time in your classroom for those cute pinterestgoogletpt activites AFTER they finish a book.  

A book

That they chose

Not YOU...


It's all about choice.  Give them choices.  Focus on making the choices available for them.  Coach them.  Teach them.  Organize them.  Give them strategies.  Give them control (to a certain extent).  Give them options.  Make them accountable for their own learning.  

WE teachers do not want to be forced to read the same book.  Why would these kids?!?!!  

We also would never enjoy sitting down to write to a teacher-written prompt, but that topic is for another rant-blog.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Be a Parent - We are begging you...

Mom was a housewife and dad was a mechanic.  We didn’t have much, but we had everything.  She made sure of it.  We had those school photos made every year…she made sure of it.  Pictures of me trying to have straight hair like Marcia Brady.  Me grinning from ear to ear despite the missing front tooth just like everybody else in first grade.  And those class photos where the tall kids were on the back row of risers, the short ones with the knobby knees and bruised shins on the front row with the teacher standing proudly to the side.  She bought them all.  She made sure of it. 

My two beautiful boys.  Those pictures order forms started coming home.  The toothless picture of both my Shanks’ Sharks graduates standing proudly in their tiny blue graduation robes holding a stuffed shark.  The photo of my oldest taken when he decided to dye his hair blonde and suffered through months of me calling him Ponyboy.  The photo of my youngest that I had to date quickly because I can’t tell him apart from his brother, his twin born 7 years earlier.  Checks written to Lifetouch multiple times a year.  She did it.  I did it. 

He was brought to my classroom.  It was explained he was there temporarily - an emergency situation - standard rules in place that all teachers have heard here and in Florida…not allowed to wear a coat, can’t carry a backpack, walk him to and from, keep a close eye on him, bad situation, only here temporarily until further arrangements can be made.  I’m in the middle of collecting picture order forms.  It’s picture day.  Time for the goofy smiles, the coolest outfit owned that will be an embarrassment years later, the quick check in the mirror before proceeding to the gym.  He asked what was going on.  With almost a flippant air, I tell him it’s picture day.  Duh.  I send my students…all with order forms and checks made out to the photographer. She did it. 

 I stay with him because he’s not allowed to wear a coat, can’t carry a backpack, walk him to and from, keep a close eye on him, bad situation, only here temporarily until further arrangements can be made.  We talk about things…normal things…treading shallow water…He asks to see an order form.  I watch him clutch it, study it, and read it as he explains he has never…not one time in his young life…ever…ever…had a school picture made.

He’s probably mistaken.
He’s probably just forgot.
He’s probably messing with me.
He’s probably blocked it out.

He’s escorted to another room for a meeting.  Probably one of thousands of meetings in his young life.  I couldn’t let it go, so I ask his caseworker.  I’m told by those that know…it’s true.  He’s never had anyone write a check for his picture to be taken.  She’s never done it. She never did it.   As teachers always do, we went on the move.  Change drawers, hidden money stashed in fake books on teacher bookshelves, cup holders in the cars - whatever it took to gather enough money for him to have his photo taken on this day.  His only day with us.  His last day with us.  I stuff the money in the envelope, fill out the information, swear to him I will make sure he gets those photos no matter what, and watch him as he clutches that form with sweaty hands, dirty nails, and a look of wonder.  We tell him to sit tight, photographers have gone to lunch, and he will be the first photo taken when they return.  I take his order form and clear the way like a mama bear to get him to that gym…as they come through the front door to take him away.  She never did it. 

It was explained he was there temporarily - an emergency situation - standard rules in place that all teachers have heard here and in Florida…not allowed to wear a coat, can’t carry a backpack, walk him to and from, keep a close eye on him, bad situation, only here temporarily until further arrangements can be made. 

He’s gone.  No picture taken.  No idea where he went.  One of my memories out of thousands of memories in my career.  One that will be with me until the day I die. 

We as teachers are begging you. Help us.  Be a parent.  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Independent Reading

If we took a stroll down memory lane to my college years, we would find all of my essays, papers, projects - anything in writing - to be all about reading.  I’m a reader.  I always have been, and I pray to God I always will be.  In every paper I wrote about “Why I Want to Be a Teacher” I stated that I had the overwhelming desire to instill in students the love of reading.  I want students to enjoy a book just like I enjoyed my Sunday afternoons reading my Nancy Drew books.  I want students to wipe away a tear silently in their seat when they read that Johnny has died from his injuries after saving those children in the fire.  I want students to feel in their hearts the desire to cheer for the underdogs such as August Pullman and Freak the Mighty.  I want students to ask to be put on a waiting list for Dust and Decay because they just finished Rot and Ruin and have to know what is going on with Benny and Nix.  I want students to read. 

However, it saddened me to find in the first few years of teaching that some students don’t/won’t/can’t read.  There are many, many reasons they don’t read.  Some aren’t on level and struggle with everything they do in the ELA classroom.  Some can’t focus long enough to read a sentence much less a book unless they are on meds for whatever they have going on.  Some are shocked at the concept because they have never been told they MUST be reading in the reading classroom.  I love the cliché about
If you say you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book.   
There is a lot of truth to that!! 

Thus began my quest to discover what needs to be done, what works, what doesn’t work, and how I get students to “get into” their self-chosen book.

Enter the absolutely beautiful world and work of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst and their Notice and Note

If you haven’t heard of this book, I encourage you to dive headfirst into an immediate read/study of their work.  As an ELA teacher, I found myself saying, “YESSSSS!!” out loud as I read this book.  You know a book is a great one when you need to take notes!!  Be prepared to take tons of notes!!  Be prepared to stalk blogs, Pinterest, Amazon, etc. to get all the information you possibly can about this phenomenal close-reading strategy.  Follow the Facebook pages for Notice and Note.  Pin away on Pinterest.  Enjoy the fact that, Yes, there are really people out there who believe just as you doReading IS the most important thing in the world, and our students need to be doing more of it!!!

Here are my procedures to have students read, read, read, read, read. 

First, I spend the first two weeks of the new school year introducing the Fiction Signposts.  I teach them just as Beers and Probst have outlined in the book.  My students travel to all 6 stations within my classroom and read the short texts, write answers to the questions for each signpost,, and then spend time discussing their answers and digging DEEPER into the texts than can be imagined.  What quality discussions we have when using this technique!

Once I have them understanding the signposts , I distribute the beautifully colored and laminated bookmarks downloaded from TpT for free.  I shorten the bookmarks a little in order to type each student’s name on the bottom before laminating.  I explain they are to ALWAYS have this bookmark with them until the day they die or later!  They are then instructed to check out a bookany bookwithin reason.  I then proceed to explain my homework.

If you have never heard the name Laura Randazzo, I encourage you to stalk this teacher’s blog

and her TpT page

and download this free resource for your classroom

I explain to my students that we will be having Book Talks every 3 week which is explained in Laura Randazzo’s resource.  At that time, they are to bring their book and their bookmark.  They are told to be prepared to pick one of the signposts and discuss it THOROUGHLY with me.  We have a practice session with silliness and shenanigans because I want them to talk to me as practice for a job interview.  I begin by pretending to be the student and sounding like Kim Kardashian trying to have a book talk.  I want them to look me in the eye, not say “like” every 2 seconds like a Kardashian, and be able to explain themselves without filler words.  Once they understand the seriousness of the Book Talk, we proceed to read, read, read.  It is crucial to give them time to read in the classroom.  I know our time is valuable, but reading for 10 minutes is my bell-ringer.  Because of my classroom management, rarely do students forget their book.  When they realize they have disappointed the entire class - not just me- by forgetting their book, it makes a difference and tends to not happen much. 

Side note:  We also go a little cross-curriculum here.  I realize there are some students who will NEVER take their book home.  How uncool it is to be seen with a book, for heaven’s sake!!!  So we work a little math problem in our groups.  How many minutes per day do I have to read in school in order to read 250 pages every 3 weeks and NEVER take my book home. 

17 pages.  The answer is 17 pages. 

There’s your reading goal! 

10 minutes every day.  Silence except for Pandora soothing us in the background.  17 pages per day which means you MUST carry that book around all day (your colleagues will thank you because now they have something to do when they finish that quiz early)

Book Talks have become these deeper conversations that have true meaning.  I used to only use Signposts when we were doing in-class readings of texts.  I was having GREAT conversations about texts and saw great improvements in discussions, writing, assessments, and overall understanding of texts by using the Signposts.  However, I was only asking students to summarize their books when we were having Book Talks - which I realize can be done by reading the back of the book if you have a lot of talent.  No longer can they plot-map that novel because they binge-watched Maze Runner the weekend before our Book Talk.  No longer can you explain that Hazel Grace and Gus feel sad because they have cancer and go to this place in this foreign country where she had to walk up a lot of steps in this museum about that girl - you know that girl - she was, like, you know, like hiding or sumthin. 

Signposts + Book Talks = Beautiful

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Are you Grading Your Nerf Darts?

More about Word Walls and Vocabulary!


Are you Grading Your Nerf Darts? 

Back in the Day
(Don’t you love that phrase!?! - NOT!!)

 Back in the day, we would have students sit in desks alphabetically, facing the front, both feet on the floor, be quite and do your work!!  When papers and tests were retrieved from the students, they were trained to pass them up in a certain order so that the teacher would be gifted with papers already in alphabetical order, ready to be graded and recorded! 

Now we live in the days of flexible seating where a student with the last name ending in “B” is lounging in a beach chair beside a student with the last name ending in “W” who is seated in a gaming chair covered in leopard print as they both answer their test on a Nerf dart which will be fired into or near a trash can for the teacher to retrieve and grade said dart. 

So what can be done to ensure that a teacher doesn’t lose her mind when recording grades from the Nerf darts?  It’s too simple to even mention, but SOMEBODY SHOWED ME AND MADE MY WORLD A LITTLE BETTER - So I’m showing you

Just make a spreadsheet with columns of names, a column for the grade, and a place for the date and assignment name.  Grade your Nerf darts in the order in which they are fired upon you, record the grade on the handy-dandy spreadsheet as you go, and voila!  You have an alphabetical listing of grades to enter into your gradebook! 

Now, let’s discuss how to be successful with Word Walls and Vocabulary.  As I wrote about in a previous blog, I have a wall for AcademicVocabulary, the 88 most important words for students to memorize, apply, use, understand, interpret, analyze, etc.  I also stole the idea from B’s Book Love to have a vocabulary word-wall in which words are color-coded based on parts-of-speech.  Students are given 5 words every Monday on Lexicon Monday along with two Greek or Latin roots.  They copy the words/roots, definitions, part-of-speech, synonym, and sample sentence into their dictionary found in their Interactive Notebook.  I also provide a list of ALL words in their Google drive for the times we are able to use computers.  I teach Academic Words as I teach based on what we are learning that week. 

But how easy it is to just let those words sit and stew and never be revisited or used or committed to memory.  I decided to make the usage of these words - both Weekly Vocabulary and Academic Vocabulary words - part of their homework.

Students are required to use “X” number of words per nine weeks in their writing in ANY CLASS - not just ELA.  I change the requirement of words per nine weeks based on what we are doing.  If they are in my classroom and use a word, they simply raise their hand and show me.  If they don’t have me nearby, I’ve asked them to highlight words - yellow for vocabulary and green for academic vocabulary.  If they use a word on a poster or paper or assignment in another classroom, they either bring it to me, share it with me, take a photo of it, or whatever it takes to show me they have attempted to improve their vocabulary. 

Another piece of our Lexicon puzzle is finding words containing the roots we are studying.  They are required to watch out for words containing roots that we are trying to commit to memory.  Therefore, I have a column for “Find A Root” as well.  

Again, I make a spreadsheet with student names and the number of times they are expected to use words.  As they use one, I circle the number, tally them at the end of the nine-weeks, and give a grade accordingly. 

And that’s how we improve our vocabulary!  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Stairway of Heaven

Look at these steps!  Aren’t they just sumpin?!?!  The first time I saw an example on Pinterest, I developed that

Do not EVEN act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You see something.  You walk away from it.  You click off of it.  You go back for a 2nd look.  Then a 3rd.  You “save” it somewhere.  You go to the kitchen for a drink thinking about IT the entire time.  You can’t stand it.  You can’t live without it.  You have…


Fast forward a few months.  We were finally going to replace the white carpet

(Who puts in white carpet - please tell me!?!?!?!?!)

with new wood floors which meant the STAIRS NEEDED TO BE REPLACED!!  Here’s my chance!

I detoxed myself from the PINTEREST pages and moved on to my next addiction…

I looked at almost every store that offered these stair decals and began price comparisons and reading of reviews.  I settled with this store on Etsy:

She turned out to be the sweetest, most helpful person.  After 2,467,832 emails, I finally decided on what book spines I wanted for my stairs.  Choosing the titles was HARD
but putting them in a certain order was difficult as well!!!

You will need the following when you embark upon this journey:

  1. The patience of Job
  2. Two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon minimum
  3. A credit card (to apply the decal)
  4. A really good thumbnail NOT recently manicured (to apply the decal)

Your knees will scream.
 Your credit card will lose all its edges.
 Your thumbnail will never recover.  

But you will have some really cool steps of your favorite titles.  
Your very own
Stairway of Heaven
  1. The Bible - 1st step because it’s my BASE
  2. The Shack - oh my - what a book!
  3. Edgar Allan Poe - Duh!  It’s Poe!!!
  4. Catch 22 - My husband’s favorite book.  
  5. Nancy Drew - The reason I fell in love with reading!!
  6. 1984 - LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!
  7. Big Stone Gap - Because Adriana Trigiani is a homegirl, I’m from Big Stone Gap, and because that book rocks!!
  8. Oh, The Places You’ll Go - In honor of my students as they travel to high school, college, and career
  9. Jane Eyre - Duh!  It’s Jane Eyre
  10. Tara Road - It’s my go-to book.  I can read Maeve any day!
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird - Duh!!!!!!!!!
  12. Old Yeller - in honor of my dad
  13. The Road - LOVE LOVE LOVE
  14. Love You Forever - for my two boys.  I will love you forever and then some

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Academic Vocabulary

Academic Vocabulary

I’ve been teaching long enough to realize that today’s latest and greatest ideas will eventually go away and be replaced with the BETTER idea which adds more rigor and differentiation and collaboration and any other buzz-word you can come up with.  Some experts will say the WORD WALL is a waste of precious time.  Some experts will show off their successful word walls on their blog (B’s Book Love - an expert) and explain how it has worked for them.  I can remember hosting a PD in my classroom several years ago in which the “Professional” who was there to “Develop Us" took one look at my word wall and stated it was a completely wrong strategy.  Well, it wasn’t the first time someone didn’t agree with a strategy of mine, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  But here’s what I know.

I know about this student who sat in my room reading on a 3rd grade level in my 8th grade classroom.  I know about this student who was experiencing the regular ed classroom for the first time in their life.  I know about this student who seemed to have a thirst for knowledge that could never be quenched.  I know about this student who took the words from my word wall and made her own flashcards to use at home without me assigning it to her.  I know about this student who would work her tail off to better herself.  I know about this student that when it came time for assessments in my room during which I would cover my word wall, she would stare at the wall where she REMEMBERED the word to be, and it would “appear” to her.  I know about a student whom I will never forget, who is a success in life, and who used my word wall for its intent - from which to learn. 
Here’s my list of the 88 most important Academic Words for my 8th grade students to know.  It is my belief that they must know the definition FIRST and then the application, usage, analysis, summarization, argumentation, explanation, etc., etc., etc., of the words.  Yes, I spend weeks diving into the ethos, pathos, and logos of texts.  Yes, I spend weeks teaching how to write an explanatory essay.  Yes, I spend weeks teaching about the symbolism found in poetry.  But we also spend weeks simply memorizing the definitions. 

The words and definitions are printed on a green background because I tell my students, “Green words are good!”  I’ve also provided them on a blank background for you to choose your own color.
P.S.  The very best way to have students memorize words and definitions is through Quizlet Live.  It’s free.  It’s fun.  It WORKS!!! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Snowmageddon 2016

Image result for snowmageddon

Day 8 of the Snow of 2016.  Everybody slams my county for being out so much for snow, but DANG, people, my driveway still has ice.  You should see Rachel's YARD!!!!

Anyhoo,  on Day 8, I have left the house (wearing a bra and lipstick) exactly two times

- once in a 4-wheel drive driven by hubby because he could see in my eyes that I was slowly going mad and needing a Cracker Barrel fix.

- once in my car…….. JUST BECAUSE!!!

That’s twice in 8 days.

I’ve also left the house (sans bra but still wearing lipstick!!!  Yes, I listened, Granny Jean!) a few times to venture to the mailbox and to retrieve the paper from  whatever snowbank in which she decided to sling it!!!!! 

I’ve also done the following:

1.  Netflixed - up to season 3 of 5 of a show from the 80’s that I have always LOVED, but if I tell you what it is, you will have confirmation of just how strange I am  Out of curiosity, comment what show it is below.  Not you, Billy.  You already know how weird I am. 

2.  Cooked.  See previous blog post.  Awaiting Heidi's seal of approval using stuffing instead of breadcrumbs which is TOTALLY needed!!!

3.  ATE the cooking.

Image result for funny pig picture

4.  Washed my hair exactly three times.  In 8 days. 
Image result for dirty hair
5.  Private messaged and/or Snapchatted Annalisa and Shana inappropriate shenanigans going on!!!!

6.   READ and READ and READ and READ !!!

Here’s the current book.  

Image result for the 5th wave

I’m on page 65 and completely hooked.  I’ve already done the following

1.  Googled Mr. Vancey to see his other works.

2.  Added all his books to my handy little “BOOKS” list on my notepad in my iPhone.

3.  Made those little deals with myself such as…….

If I get up and clean the kitchen cabinets with Murphy’s Oil Soap, I will allow myself a steaming cup of coffee, my blankey, my two useless dogs at my feet, and 30 minutes of reading.  Ok, more like 60.

If I get up and shower and change into clean clothes, I will allow myself a hot cup of tea, 5 (or 14) pretzels filled with p-nut butter, my blankey, my two worthless dogs at my feet, and 30 minutes of reading.   Yeah, 30, right. 

You get the picture.  I’m loving this book even though it’s not my usual type of book.  I think it has to do with the fact that I became a Walking Dead fanatic because my teenage son thought I was so lame for not watching it, so I binge-watched it on Netflix until I got caught up, and now the teenage son thinks I’m so lame because “NOBODY watches that show anymore, mom.”

  Come on ladies, draw out that mooooooommmmmm just like a teenager does!!!

So, Faye, suck it up, buttercup, and venture out to the "Aliens-Taking-Over-The-Earth which freakin better wait because I still don't have my underground shelter stocked up" kind of book!!!!!!!

Anyway, back to to Mr. Vancey.   I’m also praying that he decided to leave out sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll enough that I can share it with my 
RylanMattKyraAbbieRenJustyn readers at school.  Please be semi-age appropriate, Mr. Vancey!!!  Even though the first word in The Martian was a big old “F” bomb, I hope to share this one with my reading buddies as well.

Maybe on Day 9?