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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Swivl It, Just a Little Bit!"

Hoping you all had an amazing turkey day full of family, friends, love, and laughs!! We have had such a great few days and it's been so nice to relax and unwind.




So, anybody have a chance to play with a Swivl yet? Ever even heard of them?

Ok, a Swivl is a fun little contraption that allows you to use your phone and a Bluetooth microphone that you wear around your neck to video yourself while you teach. And, because of the Bluetooth mic that you wear, the base will "swivel" around the room and follow you as you move.

Now, I'm sure you're probably thinking, "Ugh! Why would I ever want to videotape myself teaching?!?" And believe me, the first time I used one of these little guys over the summer, I wanted to cry! All I could see was the 60 lbs. I've gained from having four babies in four years... and my voice!! OMG!! It's like nails on a flippin' chalkboard! I mean seriously, why does no one ever tell you how annoying your voice is?!? Anyway, I wanted to cry... and then bash my Swivlin' friend with a baseball bat and bury him in my yard!!

But......... once you get over cringing over "you," what you can learn about your teaching is nothing shy of amazing!!

My first experience with videotaping a lesson came way back when I was getting my Master's degree. (That was two kids ago, btw, so only about 30 of those lbs. were there!!) We needed to tape ourselves and then watch it with a peer group to discuss aspects about our teaching that we'd like to change.

I can remember being so embarrassed about my video! And you know how you can get sorta angry-like when you feel embarrassed? Well, I was all sorts of angry-like and had CONVINCED myself that this was the most useless thing I had ever done. I was adamant about gaining nothing from this experience and sat down with a huff after pressing play on the computer so my group could watch.

After watching for about 20-minutes, my face red and palms sweaty, a group member asked me something about my video. I was lost in my head, planning on how I was going to burn the outfit I was wearing in my video because it clearly did NOTHING for my expanding love handles, so I responded with a confused, "Hmm?"

"That boy. Why are you always going over to him? You ask your students to do something, and then you immediately go to his side? Why?"

"Oh," I responded, sorta smug-like. "That's __________. He's one of my lowest kids. Really struggles. I need to go over and clarify my directions and then help him because he just can't do it himself." I then went back to building the clothes-burning bonfire in my head, sure my answer made sense to her.

"Oh," she said. "But..." she continued hesitantly, "how do you know he can't do it. I mean, if you watch him, he never asks for help, never raises his hand to signal you. You just kinda run right over to him and jump in before he even tries. Do you always do that?"

Now, here is where things get awkward. Having someone question your teaching is horrible. Painful. Excruciating even! The thing is, we, as teachers, love our jobs and our students and we work incredibly hard to be great at what we are doing. And we all know that this hard-work comes at the expense of our own lives. More often than not, during the school year, I put my students and my work before many parts of my own life. Sometimes, gulp, even before my own flesh-and-blood children. So, to have someone call in to question something that we do, a lesson or practice that we've put time and effort into is just awful. It really scares us to think that we've been working so hard at something - something that means the world to us - and that just maybe what we have been doing, might not be so great... it may have even been a mistake, causing harm to the students that we love and work so hard to teach. It's such a vulnerable experience! And, boy, do most of us loathe to be vulnerable!!

Thankfully, with the support of a great bunch of video-watching peers, I was able to reflect on what this woman was calling into question. Together, we re-watched parts of the video and discussed what we were seeing: Yes, I assume this kid is low and is constantly struggling. I assume he always needs my help. I assume he cannot do what the other students are expected to do. And so, I run to his side to "help" him every chance I get.

After we were clear that there was a pattern to how I was treating this student, we discussed the effect this might have on him. Maybe he struggles because I assume he will? Maybe he is just meeting my expectation? And what if all his teachers had treated him like this over the years? Wouldn't it be true then, that by the time he reached me in middle school, that he'd be so convinced that he "couldn't" that he just "wouldn't?"

This discussion spring-boarded into an entire group self-reflection on how our expectations affect our kids. How, each day, we are "teaching" our students how to behave because of what we expect of them. Everyone in my peer-group was thinking and talking about expectations. How we form them, how we relay them to our students, and how our students meet them.

To this day, this conversation that stemmed from my video, is easily one of the best professional developments I've EVER been a part of. From that moment on, I was a different teacher, a better teacher. Had I not made that video, had I not watched it with peers, had someone not had the guts to call me out on something that she noticed, had we not reflected together, in a gentle, supportive manner... I would never have learned that crucial lesson - my students will meet my expectations, good or bad! Therefore, it is imperative to treat each and every student like they are the smartest people in the room!

From that moment on, I was a fan of the video-taping experience. But, even though I knew its value and advocated its helpfulness, I didn't tape myself again after I had finished my Master's. It wasn't until this past summer, when our district purchased several of these Swivls for our summer-learning program, that I had the opportunity to make some more videos.

I taped quite a few of my lessons over the summer and got a chance to watch and critique them with peers. And, again, just like before, once I got past my body and mannerisms and voice (grrr!!), I was able to reflect on and change my practice for the better. And believe me, I wasn't the only one who gained from watching themselves! So many of the folks that I worked with during the summer were having the same "A-ha!" moments. They quickly realized that what at first seemed so awkward and embarrassing, was really some of the best professional development they could have experienced.

In fact, the response from our summer teachers was so positive, that this school year, tenured teachers were given the option to videotape themselves in lieu of getting a formal observation. I recorded and submitted my lesson right before Thanksgiving break, so I wanted to blog about this idea while it was still fresh in my mind! I'm eager to watch the video with my evaluator and see how it lends itself to the Danielson model (our district's choice of teacher evaluation rubric).

So, if you ever get a chance to play with a Swivl, JUST DO IT! And actually, you don't even need a Swivl-any device that records video will do (though the Swivls do make it easy and produce a pretty great video!). You will be amazed at what you can learn about your teaching and will emerge a better teacher for it!

Thoughts about this? Would you be willing to try it? Have you ever watched a video of yourself teaching? How was it? What did you learn? I'd love to hear from you!!

Hope you all are enjoying a great holiday weekend!

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thanks & Giving eBooks!

Oh boy, do I have the GREATEST downloads for you!!

The amazing teachers behind Literary Sherry and Brain Waves Instruction have compiled two **FREE** Thanks & Giving eBooks designed specifically for the middle school ELA classroom!

Each book features 25 print-and-teach freebies from some of your favorite Teachers Pay Teachers sellers. Seriously, you guys... the freebies are AMAZING!! You are going to find so much to use in your classroom TOMORROW!



(Yours truly is featured on pages 20-21 in SET 1. Check out my Transition Words Anchor Poster freebie that comes from my Argument Writing: A Writer's Workshop for Common Core.)

Also, since it's that "thanks" and "giving" time of the year, I wanted to find a way to give thanks to all of my readers and customers. When I started Musings from the Middle School a little over a year ago, I had recently given birth to our (surprise!!!!) twins, Chase and Adeline. These two sweet bundles were joining our 3-year old, Drew, and 2-year old, Quinn, making babies #3 and 4 for our family!
(Chase and Addy)

(Drew and Quinn)

While we were thrilled to add to our family, the timing was tough. You see, my husband and I are both teachers. I had just wrapped up a Master's degree and my husband was looking to start his. And we had recently bought our first home. To say our budget was tight would be an understatement.

Starting this blog and opening my TpT store has changed our lives in so many ways. Not only does it help keep these cuties in milk and diapers, it has introduced me to a community of ah-mazing educators from around the world! And what's more is I am having the time of my life sharing my classroom and lessons with you! Teaching is my absolute passion in life. In my opinion, there is no career more essential than sculpting the minds of America's future. I do it with passion, pride, and enthusiasm each day and I love giving you all a glimpse into that world. And when I hear that my blog posts and products have helped you in your classroom?!? Ahh... nothing can even compare! It simply makes my day!

So, to thank you all for reading and shopping, I am offering one of my favorite products for **FREE** for the next week (11/15/15 - 11/21/15):


I LOVE these posters! I have them hanging in my library and have also used them as labels for my book bins:


So hurry over to TpT and get them while they're FREE!!

Again, thanks so much everyone!! The pleasure is all mine.

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writing from Lists

Hey everyone! If you are a teacher in NJ, happy NJEA Teacher's Convention weekend! Hopefully Thursday and Friday recharged your teaching batteries and brought you some much needed inspiration to bring back to your classrooms on Monday!

I've been doing quite a bit of planning over the past few days, and I'm excited about this new list writing activity that I've been working on. If you've followed this blog for a while now, you know that list writing is my most favorite way to get my students' creative juices flowing and brainstorm some great writing topics!



This new list writing activity that I've got, "Give Thanks," is going to be just perfect for getting students into the Thanksgiving-spirit!


Last week, we moved from narrative writing to compare and contrast (from the "writing to inform/explain" genre). My thinking is that when we start this "Give Thanks" unit next week, I'll give students the choice to write either a narrative or a piece that informs/explains. I love when I am able to give them that option! Some students are just natural narrative writers, while others love to write informative pieces. It's great when they can pick the genre that best suites them and their style.

So, any fun Thanksgiving-inspired lessons making their way into your classroom? I'd love to hear about them!

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Awesome Site (and a little self-promotion!)

So last week, I posted about Plickers. And, as impressed as I was about the Plickers product, I was equally (if not even a little more!) impressed with Annette Sapp's video promoting Plickers. Her video was super cool and unlike anything I'd seen before. I immediately Googled "PowToon," the watermark that appeared in the corner of her video, and signed-up for a free trial.

PowToon is fun!! It's like a super-snazzy cross between PowerPoint and Photostory. There is a bit of a learning curve (a curve I'm still traveling!!), but once you get the gist, you can make some cool slide shows or "movies."

When I signed up, I was offered a free subscription to a slight upgrade for educators. Apparently, they were/are giving away $10 million worth of "classroom accounts." I can't find that "plan" listed on their website, so I can't really say what more is included in that plan than the free plan. I'm not sure if the $10 million promotion is still going, but check your email after signing up for the free plan and see if they offer you an upgrade!

Anyway, PowToon works very much like PowerPoint in that you create a series of slides. But, it gets a little PhotoStory-like in that you have lots of options for fun transitions and music. Additionally, they offer a slew of cool animated gifs that you can add to your video.

Here is the one I created. It's an ad for my Interactive Notebook - HUGE Bundle! that I plan to promote on Facebook.


My mind flips, dances, and swirls when I think about all the cool movies I'm going to make for my students! I've used PowerPoint basically since I started teaching, but I think I'm hooked on PowToon!

Ever given PowToon a try? I'd love to see some of your movies!

Happy PowToon-ing!!

P.S. PowToon has absolutely no idea who I am and did not pay me to write about my experience!