Monday, January 23, 2017

favorite quotes

This week, students in my ELA classes will be writing about their favorite quotes. Here are a few of mine.

Maya Angelou spoke these wise words. I think they are so true. Personally, I can remember back to middle school, and I have no idea what we were learning, but I just remember that I had this awesome homeroom teacher named Mrs. Poe. I knew she really cared about me.

Another teacher I can remember that fits this quote is Ms. Thompson. She was my senior government teacher. I have no idea what we learned about in government that year, but I do remember that she was interested in my life and made an effort to talk to me and joke with me. She is still one of my very favorite teachers.

Moving on, here's a second quote I really like, that has came to my attention within the last six months.

I like this one because what it's telling us is that we need to do things we are scared of. We have the ability to make any dream we have come true, but that doesn't happen by just doing what we've always done. We have to "jump out of our nests" to try new things, and who knows where that will take us!

What are your favorite quotes?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

devos funnies...but first a call to action

By now I'm sure you've all seen the hearing with the Senate and Betsy DeVos. What a train wreck! In case you haven't called any of the senators, you should definitely do that. Here are a few numbers to make it easy:

Senator Burr. NC (202) 224-3154
Senator Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665
Senator Lamar Alexander (202) 224-4944
Senator Enzi (202) 224-3424
Senator Isakson (202) 224-3463

Or, if you prefer to leave a signature online, you could go here to do that.

Please don't just stand by - sign a petition, write a letter, call a Senator!

So much for draining the swamp, right? Now that Trump is in office, Truth Trump comes out. There's no draining the swamp at all. Bunch of millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet, Betsy DeVos is a perfect example: over the course of years past, her family has donated upwards of $200 million to the Republican party.

I always thought that people in government were there because they wanted to make our country serving others. I thought they were people who worked in the best interest of everyone, like, they thought not only of the insanely rich, but also of the many who live in a state of poverty. And the middle class. And also, I thought they would be highly qualified to do their jobs.

But it seems that some believe we should privatize public education, because it's "failing." (Perhaps they've found that if you privatize and let charters operate with less oversight, there's extra money there, and maybe some left over for the people running the biz.) But, newsflash! If you fully funded public education, the very thing that makes our country amazing and beautiful and special, and you leveled the playing field in the poor neighborhoods, we'd have progress.

So while we might not have a Secretary of Education who has one iota of knowledge related to the job she is more than likely going to take on, at least we can have a laugh.

So start here with Trevor Noah's complete clip on Betsy. It's awesome.

And then you'll get these funny memes that came out...

Friends, let's not let tomorrow be the day we give up. Get out into your communities. Volunteer! Walk in a march! Send some donations to the organizations that will need in most in the coming years. Make your voice heard! It's not the time to sit back and be quiet, it's the time to act. And let it start with laughter.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

(re) designing argumentation writing units for grades 5-12

Last week Ashli from Solution Tree emailed asking if I'd like a copy of a new book that was just released: (re)Designing Argumentation Writing Units for Grades 5-12. Now, there are many things I do well and know about writing and teaching writing, but argument is not one of them, so for my own selfish reasons, I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" right away!

Yesterday I took at look at the first two chapters and I love it so far. It's already been super helpful in building my understanding of argument writing - both writing it and teaching kids how to write it.

The first chapter begins by just explaining all the key ideas a teacher would need to know about argument. First, there's discussion about how argument is a subset of persuasion, and explains what makes it persuasive writing and also what is different about argument. Then it launches into the characteristics of argument, explaining each in detail: claims, audience, style, reasons, evidence, elaboration, counterarguments, and citations. It ends with structuring an argument paper, and I found something I was especially thankful for in this part.

Many times, writing teachers give students, for lack of a better word, formula, for writing. Like it has to be five paragraphs or it has to have so many words. While this can be helpful for less experienced writers, it can be problematic for advanced writers who have been a part of a Writing Workshop for a few years. For my first 10 years as a teacher, I didn't write. Once I started blogging, it opened up so much more insight for me as a writing teacher, and I'm glad to see that reflected in the content of this book. I wanted to share a quote I found particularly insightful:
"The simplistic structure is comfortable and well intentioned, given the demands to help ensure students perform well on standardized tests. However, subjecting advanced writers to a lockstep structure whereby they are mandated to use a formulaic approach may do them a disservice in which they focus too much on form rather than content. An overly restrictive structure that largely relies on prescriptive phrases and paragraphs can make all papers appear too similar and discourage any student from deviating from the set frame.This mandate can limit their creativity and sophistication as writers, squashing a potential gem of a piece."
Personally speaking, prior to blogging, I did this exact thing as a writing teacher - I dictated which paragraphs included which kinds of information, rather than giving students some freedom. The five paragraph essay is a perfect example - I taught students how to write them but it was so structured the kids never had any chance for creative freedom at all. Then just a few years ago, after I had been blogging awhile, I heard someone say, "Parts, not paragraphs," meaning that students should have an introduction, three parts (and each part may have had one or more paragraphs), and then a conclusion. This kind of knowledge about writing is so important for teachers - writing is a space to create, and when we limit our kids' work to a super-specific set of parameters, they aren't fun to read, they do seem formulaic, and they probably aren't fun for the kids to write, either. We need to find ways to give students some freedom so they can engage their creativity, but at the same time, have students understand the parts of an argument paper, and make sure to include each of those.

Chapter one of this book was fantastic, and in chapter 2, the author launches into how to plan a unit with a Backwards Design framework. She shows an example of how to break standards down by what students should Know, Understand, and be able to Do (KUDs). There's a detailed example of standards breakdown for an 8th grade argument paper that really illuminates how to think through the standards; after all, the more clarity you have about the standards, the more clarity you'll have when delivering instruction to students.

I'm only two chapters in but highly recommend this book. With all the knowledge Kathy Tuchman Glass has about the genre of Argumentation, it's a great tool to have at your side when it comes time to teach your argument unit.

What other fabulous argument resources do you all keep in your back pocket? Leave a comment below and let's keep the conversation going!

Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 13, 2017

library organization

Over the years, I've had many different ideas for organizing my classroom library. For the better part of my first 5 years, I didn't really pay any attention to it, an so similarly, neither did the students. Then, in grad school I got that the library is the heartbeat of your classroom, and that the more effort and energy you put into it, the more the students would use it. The library really is a great reflection of a teacher's beliefs about student-selected independent reading!

In the past, I had lots of baskets of books, by genre, by author, by topic, and so on. The baskets were numbered so it made reorganizing it easy for students to help with. Here's a pic from my library back in 2009, not exactly up close, but you get the idea:

Since coming back to the middle school, I have been able to rethink the library again. I decided I didn't want to use the numbering system because I wanted kids to be thinking about genres more. So, I got some color coding labels and here is what I came up with:

Pink labels represent fiction.
Green labels represent nonfiction.
Yellow labels represent poetry.

Then, within each color, I also label a more specific genre:

Fantasy, with an F on the pink label --

Realistic Fiction, with an RF on the pink label --

Informational Nonfiction, with an I on the green label --
I also have biography, which is not pictured here.

Poetry, just a P for poetry on the yellow label --

And this year, one of my new additions in fiction, Young Adult, with a YA on the pink label --

I started to get some of my old books out of the basement (they were stored at home while I was at the elementary school) and I'm finding that I still might need some baskets. I have a bunch of the Percy Jackson books, Harry Potter, and Cirque du Freak that should probably stay together, but I'm glad I've got this color coding and genre listed on the spine of the books.

I'm just reminded that it takes time for students to get into the books. I was so excited to have all these new YA books for kids, but then no one was reading them. Beautiful, brand new books, mostly hardcover! Some of my seventh and eighth graders are still going back to the Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books, which are fine, but with the elementary perspective I now have, I know that kiddos in third and fourth grade read those, and so what I want for my kids is to be reading books that are more age appropriate.

So, we will continue with our book talks, and I will keep pushing kids to try new books. It's one thing to hear a book talk from your teacher. It's another when a friend recommends a book.

How is your library looking this year? Any new insights into organizational tips? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

to the coaches at my side

I haven't written much about coaching since I began this blog. I think the knowledge you get comes over time and comes with experience. I'm about halfway through my fourth year with the title of Literacy Coach and finally feel I have some perspective and ideas about this work to share with my PLN.

This year, I went back to the middle school and in addition to coaching, I'm also teaching an ELA class each day and a Challenge Based Learning class every other day. I have one block every day for coaching, and opposite of the the Challenge Based Learning class, I have another.

In our district, there are 8 literacy coaches, so you can see what a wonderful opportunity we all have for working together. We take turns meeting at different buildings, and then when we get together, we visit classrooms, do a little bit of professional development (lately it has been with a Webinar with the EdCollab, thanks for sharing that, Leah!), and then we talk about and maybe make suggest ideas about literacy related items around the district. For the first part of the year, I wasn't going to the coaching meetings and I was blaming it on not wanting to leave the two classes I was teaching. Then, in December, I decided I *had to get there, and I'm so glad I did, because a big lesson came from this.

Although it is my fourth year as a coach, I'm on year one of coaching at the middle school - it's their first year to have a part-time Literacy Coach on staff. For the better part of this year, I have been so anxious, thinking about the things that I'm not doing, or not doing well enough. And, I've been carrying all of that around by myself, because I wasn't making it a point to get to the coaches meetings.

Then in December, I got it. I have to see the other coaches in my district on a consistent basis. Even though my schedule is slightly different from the other coaches (since they are mostly at elementary schools) it is so helpful to meet with the people who do the same work as I do.

For the first four months of the school year this year, by not going to these meetings, I was basically on a little island by myself, feeling the stress this position creates and holding it all by myself. To which I finally found a key: you have to see your people on a regular basis.

Every time I see them, I am reminded that we share similar struggles, we are always there to support one another, and that yes, I can keep on. I don't know what I would do without this network of colleagues who I now call friends. So to the coaches at my side - the ones in my district I am lucky to see on a regular basis and others who I know via Twitter and this blog, thank you for sharing with me - ideas about coaching, ideas about teaching and learning, and even just an ear to listen. I am so thankful for you.

Which got me to thinking. I know there are really small districts out there where maybe there is only one coach. That could be a real challenge, not having a support system. Which is why I think twitter and our PLNs are so important. We have to connect with others who do similar work, for so many reasons, but in my opinion, mostly importantly to stay connected with peace of mind so we can be our best for the students we may be teaching every day and also for the colleagues we collaborate with in our buildings.

Coaches out there - what has your experience been? Any similar feelings on this topic? Please leave a comment to share, but also so that we can get connected!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

one little word 2017

Gosh, it's been 5 weeks since I published a post. This really makes my heart ache, because I think about writing all the time, but for a variety of reasons I haven't been. But, I'm here to share my One Little Word for the year, and I'm thinking this little word will snap me out of my funk!

I love using a word as an intention to drive everything I do for the year. This year...

I love this word. I think it was Brené Brown in Daring Greatly that said that so many people look at life with a scarcity mindset - there's not enough money, there's not enough great men to meet, there's not enough time in the day. Really, there is so many amazing things in this instant of a life we are given. So my goal this year is to look at all the great stuff rather than dwelling on the things I don't have. Let me break it down for you.

Abundance of Mindfulness
It's got to start here. We've got to realize that our thoughts that run on autopilot all day - they shape the way we view the world. So, they can be positive and see all that is available or negative and ruin our days. I'm training myself this year to see the positive in everything, even when I'm stressed, even when I'm pissed off, even when things aren't going my way. Buddha said, "Rule your mind or it will rule you." So much truth there.

Abundance in finances
After last year's car accident, one of my biggest goals is to create financial freedom this year. I've been on Pinterest looking up financial freedom and find pins that say things like, "Money is just energy. It flows to me and from me. This year money will abundantly flow in my direction."

Now, I'm not expecting to do nothing and have tons of money flow in my direction, quite the opposite actually. I'm putting money into savings first, then spending no more than what I have left. Picking up a few extras at school and also getting to work with Arbonne. I'm creating financial abundance this year.

Abundance in Reading and Writing
50 books and 100 blog posts. I can do it. I love writing so much, it really helps me to understand my world better. And reading, reading teaches me tons of things I would otherwise not know. I'm unplugging from my TV and Social Media more this year so I can achieve these goals.

Abundantly Focused
How many times do you hear yourself say, "I'm really good at multi-tasking!" and there you sit, doing 14 things but not having a lot of connection with any of them? Yeah, me too. So, this year, I want to pick just a few and do one thing at a time. Do one task till it's finished, and even though it's so easy to get sidetracked and begin something new, all I want to do is finish one thing at a time. No more half-assing things. I want to whole-ass them and check them off my list.

Abundance in Health and Wellness
Time to start taking care of my health and wellness, too. Continuing to eat pretty clean and adding in the exercise. Beginning 2017 with no drinks in January, and getting back to the treadmill a few times a week. I feel so much better in all areas when I'm getting exercise and that will really help me achieve how I'm hoping to feel (and look!) this summer. Clean eating 80% of the time, throw in some exercise and some meditation and I'm good to go.

Have you seen my vision board? A daily reminder of everything I want to accomplish this year!

What are your goals? Get some pictures, post them up, set your intentions, share it with the world. Let's make it an amazing 2017!

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