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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September Book Display - "Middle School Mayhem"

Get you students super excited to dive into these books all about life in middle school with this amazing book display!

Hey Friends!!

Holy cow.

And, here's the kicker: the students don't even arrive until tomorrow!!

That's right. Professional development and classroom set-up has just about killed me! Anyway, I am hoping to film a classroom tour next week. I wanted to let the kids live in the space a little so you could see what it REALLY looks like instead of the Pinterest-perfect it is right now. But, I wanted to take a minute to share with you my FAVORITE new edition to our room this year: the Book Display!

I got the idea from Pernille Ripp's Passionate Readers. Seriously, friends. Read this book! I didn't think I needed another reader's workshop book in my life, but, apparently I did 'cause this book was awesome!

Anyway, she talks about using book displays in your classroom and I listened. Here is what will be on display through the month of September:

"Middle School Mayhem" book display

My plan is to dedicate this book shelf to a new "theme" this month and use the books on display for our book talks.


And the best part, there's a spotlight!!!!!!! Isn't that just so extra?!?

"Middle School Mayhem" book display

Here are the books included on the shelf:

Middle School: Jackie Ha-Ha
After the Shots Drop
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret
Where You’ll Find Me
Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day
The First Rule of Punk
You Go First
Lily and Dunkin
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom
Invisible Emmie
Swing It Sunny
Real Friends
Diary of Wimpy Kid series
The Best Man
Front Desk
Fish in a Tree
The Seventh Wish
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
Lions and Liars
Save Me a Seat

Now, do have lots more books that are about life in middle school in my class library, but they couldn't all fit on the shelf. There wasn't any real rhyme or reason to choosing these title other than I've read and liked all of them so they make for easy book talks.

If you want to make one of these babies for yourself, the "Middle School Mayhem" backdrop is available in my store. I stuck it to a standard, cardboard trifold (with Velcro so I could change it out every month) and stuck it on top of my cheapy bookshelves from Walmart that I've had for YEARS!!

"Middle School Mayhem" book display

I will caution you that this takes a minute to make, so please don't think it's print-and-go. You need to assemble it like a puzzle and tape it together, but it's worth the labor. Trust me!!

Okay, Friends. I'm going to sleep! Wish me luck tomorrow as I meet my kiddos!

Hope the beginning of the year is going well for you all so far! Stay tuned for that classroom tour :)

P.S. Don't ask about the black posters over the trifold. They were modeled after these amazing gems from Hello Literacy. I made them real quick at school and then forgot to hit "save" when I was closing out my eleventy million tabs. The shame. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

First Week of School Plans

Hey Friends!

So, I know that some of you are in deep and rolling with your school year, but here in South Jersey, we don't head back (officially) until September 4th (for teachers) and September 6th (for students).

Anyway, if you are like me and NOT back to school yet, then this post is for you! (If you're back to school already, save this post for next year!!)

If you follow me on FB or IG, then you know that this year I will be hosting a student teacher! EEK!! I am so excited! She did a fieldwork placement with me in the spring, so I already know that I love her and can't wait to work with her. So many of you reached out, sharing what an amazing experience it was for you to work with a student teacher, and I already know this is going to be awesome.

Many of you mentioned that one thing it did was make you a better teacher because you really had to up your game. I can already tell this is the case because I've been digging deep and reflecting on what I've done in the past to start the year, and I'm finding that I'm replacing some older back-to-school activities that I've typically done and with more thoughtful, relationship-building ones. The one thing that I've stressed to my student teacher is that building relationships is THE single most important thing you do in your room, so I needed to make sure that I was really modeling that for her.

Anyway, here is my plan for the first week of school (and yes, I know that it's technically more than a week, but those first two days hardly count!!):

Day 1: On the first day, all our students on our team spend the entire day in homeroom. It is an early dismissal day, and after they go to specials and lunch, we have very little time with them. Much of that time is spent giving them a tour of our building (it's their first time there) and practicing with our lockers (which are also a first!). I've learned in the past to not schedule too much during this time because the lockers are a nightmare time-consuming and angst-producing! Also, all my students already know each other from our summer program and so we don't have to do a ton of team-building. I do plan to play a quick game of "Hot Seat" with them (available in this bundle here) and review their agenda books with contain some essentials that they need to know.

Day 2: This is our first day switching, so we will get to meet all our students. I'm taking a page from this blog post and doing something fun and different to get kids excited and talking without too much pressure. My plan is for my student teacher and me to join a group for each question and participate, too.

Day 3: So this will be the day we go over "all the stuff." Tour of the classroom, library, bulletin boards, etc. We will discuss the team rules and the classroom rules (which is easy, 'cause I literally have one... don't be a punk! I kid, I kid!! But... not really. I'm not big on rules. I expect you to think lots and don't make life difficult for anyone. Pretty easy.). I also hand out the Library Permission Slips and explain that they need to be back on Thursday so we can do something fun on Friday!

Day 4: Giving an escape room a try this year!! This is something I added to make all the beginning of the year stuff easier to swallow. I'm hoping that while kids are working, we will be able to lean in and listen, as well as work with small groups, both of which will help build relationships.

Day 5: I always giving a Reading and Writing Inventory (found here). This tells me a lot that I need to know about how kids see themselves as readers and writers. Once that's done, we will do a few Icebreakers That Rock! I've been using these for a few years and they are amazing! We never get through all of them, and so I use the remaining throughout the year when we just need a brain-break or quick filler.

Day 6: Timed writing day. Not really fun. Not super-exciting. But, it is a great way to see where kids are in September. Also, these are so fun to give back in June and hear kids say, "Wow! I used to be so bad at writing! I'm so much better now!" Our district provides the prompt for this, and for 7th grade, it has something to do with how a school should spend surplus student council money, so a persuasive/argument piece.

Day 7: Book Tasting Day!! This is also something new that I'm adding. Yes, I've done lots of these, but not really until later in the year. This year, though, I thought it would be so fun to do one early! I hope to do a Book Raffle, ala my girl, Ashley Bible, with the books that seem to be most popular after our tasting.

Phew!! I'm exhausted just writing this out! I can already feel that teacher-tired sinking into my bones. I have such a love/hate with Back-to-School! Please tell me you do, too!!

Anyway, that's the plan for the first week. Thoughts, suggestions, questions?!? I'd love to hear them! Comment below, or come visit on Facebook or Instagram :)

Monday, August 20, 2018

ELA in 50 Minutes a Day: THE REBOOT!

Hey Friends!! It's been a minute!

Let me just start by saying that I've had such a great summer. I had intended to do a lot of work, but I just couldn't. I needed a little break. I needed to recharge.

So, instead of working on blog posts and products and stuff for the upcoming school year, I sat by the pool, went to the beach, read a bunch of books, ate ice cream, and drank wine. IT.WAS.GLORIOUS!

I'd mentioned before that the last school year was a tough one. Aside from having many lovable, but complicated students, it was our first year of having a combined ELA period. If you remember, for years I'd had a 45-minute reading period AND a 45-minute writing period each day. And then last year, we switched to a 50-minute ELA period (so reading and writing combined), along with a daily 30-minute reader's workshop period.

About this time last year, I posted my plan for this new schedule. I thought I had a pretty good idea for how to make this work. But, as I'd mentioned on Facebook a few times, things were just not going as I'd hoped. All year long, I felt behind, rushed, flustered, and anxious. I was not at all happy with how things were going. When June finally arrived, I was exhausted and full of guilt that I hadn't prepared my kids nearly enough for 8th grade.

This year, I've got a new plan. I'm still working it out in my brain, but I wanted to sketch out my thinking for you in the hopes of getting some feedback.

About two weeks ago, I sat down with my plans from last year, my grade book, our PARCC scores, and a notebook and pencil. I spent some time thinking about what is most essential for my kids to have experienced by the end of the year.

After lots of thought, I finally admitted this: Until I can be sure that my kids are all proficient readers and writers, meaning they can read and write the way a 7th grader is expected to, it is nearly impossible to determine if students are weak in a specified skill. I've always KNOWN this, but I will admit that it can be easy to get lost in the standards and data. One can easily fall into the "they just need more work on understanding plot or character" or, "let me just teach them this formula for answering those open-ended questions" way of thinking. Admittedly, it's easy to fall into the trap because teaching plot and character and formulas is a lot easier than teaching kids to become proficient readers and writers. But, when we are honest with ourselves, I think it's clear that most of our time needs to be spent practicing reading and writing.

So, my plan for this year...

In a nutshell, I plan to make my ELA period a WRITING class. Our goal at the end of every day is to be better WRITERS than we were the day before. We will write, and write, and write some more! Yes, we will read. And we will discuss and analyze what we read, but we will do this as writers. For example, we look at how authors create character in texts like, "Seventh Grade" (Soto), "Rikki Tikki Tavi" (Kipling), and "Casey at the Bat" (Thayer), but we do it so we can emulate it in our writing - not so that we can take a test on those stories to prove we know it. The proof that we understand will be reflected in our writing. Another example, we will study the organizational patterns of nonfiction, but rather than take a test where students are required to read a few different examples and identify their organization, kids will show me they understand by how they choose to organize their own writing.

Does that make sense?

Here are my plans at-a-glance. I plan to spend the first month prepping students for the routines that we will use all year, namely Reader's Workshop, Article of the Week, and Greek and Latin Roots. The next several weeks will be spent "working like a writer," meaning we will generate ideas for our future writing pieces, as well as study and explore mentor pieces and then use what we learn from them in our own writing. It will look something like this:

Daily Class Period Schedule - At-a-Glance
Daily Class Period Schedule
September Plans At-a-Glance

October Plans At-a-Glance

November Plans At-a-Glance

December Plans At-a-Glance

You'll notice that I've got "themes" for each month of Reader's Workshop (which, remember for me, is a separate, 30-minute period that happens each day). I got this idea for creating book displays from Pernille Ripp's Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. I'll be writing more on this later, so stay tuned!!

Okay... so let me hear your thoughts? Think this will work? I'm a bit concerned about grades. I'll have the weekly AoW and Greek and Latin Roots stuff. But, I see myself having way less daily seat work and quizzes that go along with the stories in our anthology. My goal is to have kids submit a published piece every marking period, but maybe I'll need to incorporate a timed-writing each marking period, as well?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer School Happenings!

Hey Friends! Happy 2/3s of the way through July!! Can you even?!? As always, time is flying.

I have to say, I've had such a great summer. Busy, but great. I had crazy big expectations for the blog this summer, but, as you can see, I haven't really gotten around to posting much.

I'm cool with it.

In the past, I'd be stressing because how little I was blogging, but taking a break has been feeling soooo good! I hoping a relaxing summer will be just what I need to reload and recharge for the upcoming school year.

Anyway, I do have a few things to share.

Summer school this year has been AWESOME! I just love, love, love my students. And, I'll be working with a student teacher this fall (EEK!! I'm so nervous! It's my first time having a student teacher and I'd love some advice!!). She attends the university right in my school's town and is here all summer. So, she's been volunteering her time this year at summer school. I'm so loving having her. She is smart and funny and so, so, so eager to be a teacher. It's been great having her around.

As always, I start every year with a fun ice-breaker. My favorite first-day-of-school activity has got to be Find Somebody Who... You can grab this for FREE in my store. We used it on the first day and it was such a fun way to get kids up and meeting each other.

I'd mentioned before that we are trying out a commercial writing program this summer. We've been instructed to follow the program as closely as possible so we can get a feel for how it works, which is why I haven't been posting my lesson plans like I did last year and the year before (I'm pretty much just following the teacher's manual!).

But, like all programs, this one lacks the vibe that makes kids excited to write, so of course, my fellow teachers and I (who are the experts in all things teaching and engagement!) need to put our spin on the daily activities, handouts, and anchor posters.

And that I can share with you!

As you know, Writing from Lists is pretty much my jam and is easily the BEST way to motivate your writers. The unit I'm teaching this summer is all about memoir writing and I created this list for students to use to brainstorm some of the important people, places, things, and events that have created memorable experiences. You can pick it up for FREE in my store.

Okay... that's about all I've got in me today. Getting ready to take my own four kiddos over to my parents for an afternoon of swimming. 

I hope you are all enjoying break. I know that some of you are gearing up to head back soon, but here in NJ, we've got until the first week of September... ahh!!

Talk soon!