Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December Book Display - "Guts & Grit" Stories About Perseverance

Guts and Grit Book Display Pin

Hey Friends!

It's December.


I mean, can you even?!?!? How did this happen so fast!?

So, there's lots happening in my room right now. First and foremost, my student teacher is finished on Friday. I'm so sad!!! I mean, I'm happy for her, but so sad for me!! Having her was amazing and she is going to be the best teacher. I've enjoyed every minute of this experience. I will write more about this later and I am asking her to write a blog post, too, so stay tuned for that.

Also, not sure if you saw this, but I spent Monday with my two best friends. ((Gasp!! I still want to cry every time I look at this picture!! That's my student teacher on the left!!))

My student teacher, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and me!

The workshop was nothing short of incredible...

...these two did not disappoint and were just as cool and REAL as I knew they'd be...

...and I literally walked out of there a better teacher than when I walked in.

It was one of the best workshops I've ever attended.

Once I have my thoughts together about it, expect a blog post. In the meantime, go out and grab a copy of 180 Days if you haven't already.

Image result for 180 days kittle gallagher cover

Anyway, I wanted to show you my December Book Display.

Guts & Grit Book Display

It's called "Guts & Grit" Stories About Perseverance. I've got some great titles on this shelf, including:

  • House Arrest
  • Hey Kiddo
  • Illegal
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • The Plot to Kill Hitler
  • The Pact
  • Born a Crime
  • A Long Walk to Water
  • Lily and Dunkin
  • Solo
  • Echo
  • The Hunger Games series
  • Divergent series
  • Unwind series
  • The Hate You Give
  • Hatchet
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
  • Esperanza Rising
  • Bud, Not Buddy
  • Unbroken
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • She Persisted
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World
  • Freak the Mighty

Okay... that's about all I've got for now. December is a busy, busy time in school and at home (the holidays with four little kids, you know?!? I hope there is enough wine!!) and while I'm hoping to post again this month, I can't make any promises.

Wishing you the happiest end to 2018 and a great start to 2019!!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Zen and the Art of First Chapter Fridays

First Chapter Fridays is a great way to read aloud to your students and expose them to awesome books!

Do you meditate? If you do, gah! I'm jealous. See, I've tried to meditate for years. I pay for a subscription to the Calm App (though someone just said teachers can get this for free!!). I always sign up for Oprah and Deepak's 21-Day Meditation classes (but admittedly NEVER finish them!). I read books and blogs and listen to podcasts about it.

I really, really try.

But, the thing is, it's never really worked for me. Yes, I know, it's a practice. And yes, I know it's not about perfection. But, I'm really, really bad at it. My brain just will not turn off. Ever. And yes, I am aware that this makes it completely clear WHY meditation would be so good for me.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was sharing our first chapter Friday read with the kids. As always, the books that I share on this day are AWESOME and they have the BEST opening chapters. Like, epic first chapters. Chapters that literally cause 7th graders to beg like baby chicks for "more."

So, while reading the first chapter of Bud, Not Buddy, one of my most favorite reads ever, a feeling of total peace and contentment fell over me. Dude, I know this sounds super woo-woo, but seriously... I felt like I was floating. Now, it only took my over-thinking brain a few seconds to convince myself that I was having a stroke, and panic set in, but seriously, before that, I was Zen. Totally, completely, utterly in bliss.

Later that day, after I'd realized that it wasn't a stroke and I could reflect on that experience without panic, I came to the conclusion that for me, reading aloud is my mediation. And it makes sense, right? You can't think or lose focus, because you'd totally you screw up, and if your kids are anything like mine they would never let you forget that, right?!? So, when I read aloud, I am completely and totally present. No distractions, no thinking, no worrying, no planning... just me, the kids, and the words on the page.

Amazing, huh!?!

Anyway, since that day, I've had to revise my list for why I read aloud often to my students:

Reasons To Read Aloud in the Classroom

  1. It allows me to model fluent reading, which benefits all students, but particularly struggling readers.
  2. It gives my students an opportunity to engage with texts that would otherwise be too difficult for them to read.
  3. It exposes students to rich vocabulary.
  4. It creates a shared learning experience.
  5. It improves comprehension and processing speed.
  6. It reaches auditory learners.
  7. It develops good listening skills.
  8. It helps Mrs. Smith reach a state of blissful peace and serenity, by quieting her loud, busy, overly judgmental, worrisome mind!
Do you read aloud to your students? How, when, and why? I'd love to hear about it, so comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or IG.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

November Book Display - "True That!"

It’s November, people. NOVEMBER!

Holy cow, I swear I posted about October’s BookDisplay like, 5 minutes ago?!

Before we get to this month’s display, I just want to remind everyone to VOTE on Tuesday. No, this isn’t political. No, I’m not telling you who to vote for. I just want to remind you of your civic duty to VOTE! My favorite reminder from Adam Goodell via Twitter:

Don't forget to vote!!

Whelp, here is November’s display. It’s called, “True That!” is all about nonfiction. 

November Book Display - "True That!"

Here is the list of books that are included:

·         Undefeated
·         Hidden Figures
·         Hey Kiddo
·         A Long Way Gone
·         I Am Najood
·         No Summit Out of Sight
·         Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series
·         The Boys in the Boat
·         Heart of the Sea
·         Who Was/Who Is… series
·         I Survived... series
·         Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
·         The Other Wes Moore
·         The Plot to Kill Hitler
·         Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
·         Chasing MLK’s Killer
·         Phineas Gage
·         I Am Malala
·         Brown Girl Dreaming
·         Bomb: The Race to Build (and Steal) the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
·         Witches: The Absolutely True Tale…
·         The 57 Bus
·         Trevor Noah: Born a Crime
·         The Pact
·         Red Scarf Girl
·         Diary of Anne Frank
·         Night
·         Various Picture books

If you want to make the display, you can get it here:

November Book Display

Vote on Tuesday!! And if you make a display, share it with me on Facebook or Insta!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Word on Writing Rubrics...

The Easiest Rubric You'll Ever Use!

**Disclaimer: If you own any of writing resources from TpT, you’ve likely read this! Just wanted to save you a minute!

Let’s Talk About Rubrics...

I don’t LOVE rubrics. When I first started teaching, I always found myself second-guessing my gut instinct or paying too much attention to one category and not enough to another. Then, I’d get sort of obsessive about comparing papers and making sure that those with similar scores seemed to have similar strengths/mistakes. And then I always found that I struggled to explain to students the shades of difference between the scores, so I never felt like they really benefited from getting a grade back. Ugh! Such a mess!!

However, I’ve tried other methods for grading writing (like writing a narrative on each piece explaining the strengths and weakness… painstaking!!), and they were nothing short of a disaster, so I decided to make a rubric that I could work with AND that would be helpful for students. It took me many years and the grading of a thousand papers to come up with following rubric. It’s not perfect, but I find it works for both me and the students!

Scoring Rubric

The idea behind this rubric is that there are three possible grades for each category: 3, 2, or 1. In my mind, and what I tell the students is that a “3” means “Yes!! You’ve got this!” A “2” means “Okay! You’re almost there, but we still have some work to do.” And a “1” means “Not quite. We need to work on this.”

In my grade book, I give the numerical score of a 70% for a score of “5” (meaning a student received a “1” in every category). In my district, this is a C-. I make a very conscious choice to not give a D or F to a piece of writing that a student turns in completed, checked against the “Revising and Editing Checklist,” and on time. Writing well is, quite possibly, one of the single most difficult tasks a person learns to do! Many folks (and I’m talking both kids and adults here!) NEVER really get GOOD at it! It’s a skill that takes time, patience, persistence, and courage (yes, courage!) to perfect. Many upper elementary/middle/high schoolers are just not developed enough to tackle all of that yet and will need loads of support and encouragement along the way to get there. And, I’ve found that the single surest way to guarantee that they NEVER get there, is to squash their work (especially something they poured their heart into!) with a bad grade. So for me, in my classroom, if you try, you won’t fail! Obviously, you can use whatever grading system/rubric that works for you and your district, but that is the rationale behind my system.

You can grab a **FREE** copy of my rubric over in my TpT Store.

Scoring Rubric

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

October Book Display - "Shh! Don't Scream!"

October Book Display for the Library

Happy October!!

Can you even?!? Time is flying!!

I wanted to share my October Book Display with you. Perfect for Halloween, huh? I'm giving myself come props here... if you know me, then you know that I am TERRIFIED of clowns. But, my students are obsessed with them (thank you It) and so I sucked it up and used a clown for this display. 

October Book Display for the Classroom Library

Here is the list of books that are included:
  • Carrie
  • The Talisman
  • Jurassic Park
  • The Lost World
  • Jaws
  • Congo
  • Mrs. Peregrine’s
  • The Meg
  • Deep, Dark, and Dangerous
  • One for Sorrow
  • The Doll Garden
  • Goosebumps series
  • Wait till Helen Comes
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s
  • Scythe
  • Hunting Prince Dracula
  • Stalking Jack the Ripper
  • Escaping Houdini
  • Mary’s Monster
  • The Detour
  • The Face on the Milk Carton
  • The Graveyard Book
  • Wickedpedia series
  • The Secret of Spellshadow Manor
  • Six of Crows
Now remember, I do send out a permission slips talking about the mature titles that I have in my library, so make sure that your parents are aware before adding some of these to your collection!

If you want to make the display, you can get it here:

Display is available for purchase in my TpT store.

Have you ever done a book display in your classroom? I'd love to see pictures! Head over to FB and share them with me!!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Classroom Tour 2018

Here is it, Friends, in all its mess and glory!! Forgive my camera skills (hoping I don't make you sea sick) and my heavy breathing... which isn't really heavy, but sounds like it because of where the mic was located!!

Thanks for watching!!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Social Media and Education

Facebook, Insta, and Twitter,
Addictions that make my heart flitter.
You reveal aspirations that cause me to long,
And reminders of all the things I do wrong.
Just stop scrolling? Heck, no, I’m not a quitter.

Thank you for indulging my terrible poetry writing, lol! But, I always talk to my students about the importance of a catchy opening, and this is my attempt.

Today I want to take a minute to talk about social media and education. I could go on and on and ON about this, but I won’t because it’s been done by many folks who are more educated on this subject than me, and who are way better writers!

I just wanted to take a minute, though, to talk about something that I’m noticing more often now that so many teachers are active on these platforms.

The meme above, or some version of it, has been shared about social media a ton over the last few weeks. And it makes sense. It’s decent advice for back to school time.

This summer, I attended a workshop. While there, the presenter brought up this idea, that it is never a good idea to form an opinion about a student based on someone else’s experience with that kid. Several teachers were nodding in agreement, and a conversation ensued about how some teachers make it a point to never look at a students’ file before school starts. And the conviction in these teachers! Many talking about what a disservice it is for kids when teachers do this. Some of these teachers were all but quoting this meme (or a similar version), mentioning that they’ve seen conversations about this on social media and they “so agree.” As they spoke, you could see other teachers in the room nodding in agreement, mouthing “yes” and “I totally agree.”

And so, as I am often known to do, I spoke.

I asked, “So, you really think it’s a good idea to not read a student’s file before the first day of school?”

To the nodding heads I said, “So, you really think that teachers are not professional enough to take in information about a student, but then NOT hold that information against them? What are we saying about teachers?”

Now the nodding was less.

Another teacher commented about a recent experience she had where learning about a “difficult” student prior to her entering class had helped her develop a plan for that kid that started the moment she entered the room. She went on to say that the student had an exceptional year as a result her preparedness. Further conversations ensued, many teachers talking about the important things they learned from reading a students’ file: a recent death in the family, a traumatic experience, a difficult move. All this information that wouldn’t have been known if these teachers had not read the file like they believed this meme was telling them to do.

Now, I know that the meme doesn’t exactly say, “Hey! Don’t read a kid’s file because then you’ll judge them before they enter your room and as a result will have a terrible school year.” I know it doesn’t say that.

But, (and this is leading to the point of my post, I promise!!) lots of people in the room just assumed that it was saying that. They assumed that a simple way to give a kid a “clean slate” was to not read their file. This made total, logical sense after seeing several of these memes shared around the Internets by people who “know what they were talking about.”

It wasn’t until after we talked about it, dove deeper into what it was really implying, did folks see what a silly idea it is to a.) not read a kid’s file in the beginning of the year, and b.) assume that teachers are such jerks that they can’t NOT hold information they learn against a kid. (Okay, I know that there are teachers who will absolutely judge a kid based on what another teacher says about them. And I know the kid will suffer because of it. I know this. Our profession isn’t perfect. But no profession is! You think just ‘cause there’s a sign that says, “All employees must wash their hands before returning to work,” that they all do?!? Please. But, for the most part, people are good, teachers are good, and we need to believe that they will do what’s right.)

This story is just a tiny part of much bigger picture, but I think it is a good way to demonstrate this: Being a society where we accept a lot of our information in the form of a soundbite, a headline, or (gulp!) a meme, is a problem. While helpful to let the consumers of information see the gist of something, it is not meant to be consumed alone. It is not meant to be the complete picture of an idea or practice or story. It’s simply a tiny piece of that.

I’m seeing a lot of incomplete pictures surrounding education on social media these days. Lots of soundbites, quotes from books and articles, and memes. Oftentimes, these folks have many followers and some sort of “celebrity” status (maybe authors, researchers, professors… or large corporations!) which means that they have a lot of influence and their messages are spread far and wide. And, unfortunately, I think these messages are being misinterpreted by folks, creating confusion, misunderstandings, and downright fighting.

To be clear, I am not necessarily criticizing the posters. Sometimes, they ARE experts in the field, and they know their “stuff” well. They are practicing teachers or recently retired from the profession. But, a lot them aren’t teachers. In fact, some have NEVER been teachers or have anything to do with education, they are just a company that has realized what a large consumer audience we are and have decided to profit from us. So, as practicing teachers, and the consumers of this information, we need to dig deeper, read further, click the link and READ the article, not just retweet the headline and carry on a conversation with others about it without knowing the whole story.

This summer, I saw a lot of infighting among teachers about “right” and “wrong.” (I am attributing this to my recent Twitter addiction… I cannot believe the brilliance that I see on there each day, but am simultaneously astounded by what a cesspool it is!!) Many times, the original post came from “an education expert” who isn’t a teacher. And more often than not, the argument came down to what someone “thought” something meant, versus what it actually meant. Or, what something “meant to them,” with no consideration of someone else’s interpretation. All across the three platforms I use, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, this fighting could be seen, and about all kinds of ideas: everything from leveled books, to Accelerated Reader, to Teachers Pay Teachers, to racism, sexism, and xenophobia. It got ugly… often. It was hard to watch.

And again, so much of it could have been avoided if we had just dug a little deeper. If we had just read the article instead of arguing either for or against its headline. If we had talked it out with curiosity, rather than digging our feet into the sand. If we had just considered another’s point of view instead of insisting ours is right. If we just looked up the definition of “microaggression” instead of assuming that we knew what it meant.

And so, Friends, if you’ve hung in there through my rambling, I thank you. I just wanted to put out a reminder that we are smart people and the experts in our craft, and so we deserve more than memes to tell us what to do; that at the end of the day, we are far more alike than different; and finally, we need to stick together and assume the best of each other. Politicians have worked hard enough to take away our dignity, we don’t need to be arguing among each other, reducing our dignity even further.