Saturday, April 19, 2014

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014

It is almost time for one of my favorite days of the the year...
Poem in Your Pocket Day!
Click here for a freebie.
Would you like to give your students an opportunity to experience poetry just for the simple joy of it?  The Academy of American Poets designates one day during National Poetry Month to be Poem in Your Pocket Day. The idea is to find a poem that you love, carry it around, and share it all day long with everyone you meet. It’s fun! It’s also a great way to celebrate and discuss poetry!

I also encouraged kids to find a line from the poem and write it in a unexpected place. They were really excited to do this, and likened it to secretly leaving a treasure for someone to find.
                                       

Enjoy the celebration! And remember: you can celebrate a local version of Poem in Your Pocket Day on any day of the year!

                                      


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Move Over James Cameron...Make Way for The Peanut Gallery

I'm not known for being on the cutting edge of technology. Or anything else for that matter. So when I found The Peanut Gallery by Google, and I saw that it was released on March 19th, I was excited to have found a really cool brand spankin' new bit of technology. Until I saw that the release date was 2013.

Okay, so I'm still not cutting edge, but The Peanut Gallery definitely is. First you choose a silent film from over a dozen choices, then you speak intertitles (subtitles) into your microphone. The movie will play back with your intertitles in place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd8HzLCIstE


I'm always looking for interesting ways to teach students how to write dialogue. Last year, right after our state tests, I taught a mini-lesson on dialogue writing and then had students work in small groups to compose dialogue for the video below. The results were hilarious.



Our twins were arguing about whose turn it is to cook dinner, whose turn it is to use the car (a Little Tykes coupe, of course), who produces the smelliest poopy diaper... It was a good learning experience, and the timing was perfect, because after the tests we all needed a good laugh.

This year I might do the same thing using The Peanut Gallery. If you can think of other ways to use it, I'd love some additional ideas!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Note to Self: Don't be an Idiot


                 Like most epic fails, all I can say in my defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
                 Isn't that what everybody says in retrospect, after their rash decision to do something every logical person knows is monumentally stupid... fails? Like when you bungee-jump from your neighbor's tree using elastic you repurposed from Grandpa's old Fruit of the Looms? Or when you pull a James Thurber. Thurber, author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, lost his eyesight as a child, because he and his brother were playing William Tell.  I know. It's painful to visualize that one. ( I guess William Tell never heard of the "don't try this at home" disclaimer.)
James Thurber
               


                   I didn't bungee jump or attempt to shoot an arrow off someone's head, but I did do something equally stupid. I gave a short (announced) quiz and I introduced a new unit of study on a Monday.
                   It doesn't sound too stupid right?! Well, it is when you take into account daylight saving time. Okay, so now you get it. My morning classes looked like extras from The Walking Dead. If they were any more immobile,  Resuscitation Annie would no longer have the training mannequin monopoly.
                   Sadly, I wasn't much better myself. I'm starting to think that instead of "springing ahead" on a Sunday at  2 AM, we should do it on a Monday at 2 PM. Think about it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Not Quite Lassie, but...

     My son asked for a dog that could rescue him from a well. He began joking about this when we still had our little Maltese. Let me tell you, if she saw a kid in a well, she'd be much more likely to laugh at his predicament than get help.
     That's just how she rolled.
     Now we have the sweet Sunny T, and I'm on a quest to get him ready for that well rescue.
     Background: When I was a kid, I was addicted to Lassie and Flipper reruns. Lassie managed to get Timmy out of lots of wells. (With all those open wells around, I can't even imagine what the insurance premiums were on that farm.) Flipper was about a dolphin who was the aquatic Lassie. I was certain that as an adult I would be a writer who owned a dog like Lassie, and trained dolphins like Flipper as a hobby. I threw myself into swimming lessons with zeal so that I would be ready to learn dolphin training when opportunity knocked.
     No one had the heart to tell me that living in New York makes it a little difficult to become a dolphin training apprentice.
     My younger self would be shocked to learn that not only would my dolphin dreams fail to pan out, but I would go on to become a teacher instead of a writer. My younger self would be shocked AND appalled to learn that the dogs in my adult life were all small, temperamental types. More diva than Lassie.
    Until Sunny, that is. He is only 11 months old, but he just might be the "well rescuing" type. Watch this video of one of his favorite tricks.

(I know that dogs don't see the full color spectrum, but I identify the toy as "the orange toy." He learned which particular toy I'm talking about.)

      If my students bomb the ELA and the state yanks my teaching license, maybe Sunny and I will head to Sea World to train dolphins.
      When you were a child, did you have any unusual ideas about what your adult life would be like?
 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Don't Flip! Test Tips

We teachers love to say we don't "do" test prep. We say it proudly, like we're saying, "I don't smoke cigarettes, and I never have." When we say it, other teachers proudly concur. No one dares to admit, "Oh, I do a lot of test prep. It's test prep all the time in my class. It's Test Prep City, Baby."

That teacher would be tarred and feathered, and the photos would live forever on Facebook's Teacher Hall of Shame page for all of eternity.

Well, I do test prep, and it is fun. Fun test prep is not an oxymoron.

Say what?! Let me explain. Of course, test results are cumulative, and every single lesson contributes to student learning. Test prep brings to mind boring workbook drills and mock tests. I DON'T do that kind of test prep.

 I've taught test prep sessions for many years, and it never fails to amaze me how the students who attend the sessions are the kids who don't freak out on testing day. They know that they have every trick up our sleeves available to them, and this knowledge gives them confidence.

Due to budget cuts, this year my district decided not to offer the test prep sessions. I had to come up with a fun, interactive way to teach students how to be successful. My Don't Flip! Test Tip Flip Book was born out of necessity and was nurtured out of love. Here it is.....Ta Da!
I am so proud of this! Ron Leishman graphics are a perfect addition, allowing me to keep the tone informal and humorous enough to keep students' attention. I even included a blackline version for easy and inexpensive printing.

 Don't Flip!

If we don't teach students how to successfully take a test, we are failing them. We have to teach test prep as a genre. Students have to learn to identify the power words in a question. They have to learn how to approach a test, how to answer multiple choice questions, short response questions, and extended response questions. They have to learn to work efficiently and budget their time. They also have to learn how to make their brain work at full capacity. Most importantly perhaps, they have to learn how to relax. And the secret behind that is to give them some powerful "test tips" to give them confidence.

We have winter break this week, but I can't wait to get back and create these flip books. Did I really just say I want this vacation to end? Maybe I do deserve to be tarred and feathered.

BTW. Don't go looking for the Facebook Teacher Hall of Shame page, because I made it up. And if it does exist, all I can say is please don't tell me if you see me there.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Storm Called "Dinky"

Have you noticed that they name every single weather occurrence these days? A few years ago, the "nor'easter" was thrust into public consciousness. Now "nor'easter" isn't enough. The nor'easter needs a mighty-sounding name. Well, like most of us these days, I'm sick of Vulcan, Atlas, and Orion. Send us a storm named Dinky. Or Fluffy. Or Barney Fife. Those we can live with.

After suffering from the flu, I was rarin' to get back to school this week. I missed my kids! But we've had two snow days this week, with another storm hot on the tail of the last. So we are condensing lessons. Fortunately, my kids work well at warp speed. Most of the time.

We are working on a research essay, and this is the "foldanizer" that my students use for the introduction. It's great for my visual learners. They learn to associate the inverted pyramid with the information required in the opening paragraph. Notice that it starts out broad and general, and the "point" is the thesis statement.
The concluding paragraph is reversed; it's a pyramid, with the thesis restatement first and the general part last.
I always have extra blank foldanizers around for kids who want to use it for planning, instead of using a typical graphic organizer.

I also have a chart similar to this one, for reference.
It's so helpful to have all kinds of tricks up our sleeves for all of the different learning styles we see. 

Hopefully, we won't have any more snow days, and this essay can actually be finished before spring. I think our first sunny day should be called Apollo: god of light, the sun, music, and poetry. But for now, I'll settle for Dinky.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are You a Common Core Bore?

Rigor? Check. Complex texts? Check. Text evidence? Check. Reading closely, instead of skimming shallowly for a "right there" answer? Damn yes. Check! So what's the fuss with Common Core?



The other day I did the unthinkable. I asked my friend, a fellow middle school English teacher, why she's so down on Common Core. She was vehement and earnest in her response. "Because it's bad for kids. It crushes their creativity. It takes the joy out of our subject area. And..." (This was where she really became angry.) "...it does not teach them how to think."

Asking the question was not the unthinkable part. The unthinkable is what I said in response. You may forgive me when you realize that I came down with the flu the very next day. So maybe I was hallucinatory. Or maybe the flu was my penance. My response? "Oh. You're a Common Core Bore."

I'm pretty sick of Common Core trashing. I think it is good for kids. And it does not crush their creativity. Last month my students wrote the most amazing fictional narratives; I swear that one of my best writers wrote a story that is almost professional. As for taking the joy out of our ELA classes, my kids are so proud to be reading (and comprehending!) complex texts, such as O. Henry's hilarious story, The Ransom of Red Chief.  They love using Interactive Notebook Templates  from The Candy Class for vocabulary. Even text evidence writing can be fun and creative! My kids will soon be working on an exploding box book report and craftivity that has a text evidence component. The box part will look something like this when it's done:


As for thinking, we're feverishly (no flu pun intended) evaluating and writing argument papers. I think they finally "get" that an argument can't just come from the gut. If there isn't valid evidence to support it, their argument is about as useful as using their hands as a vessel to hold dry sand.

I could go on and on. But I will save it for another post. 

I'm just so tired of Common Core trashing. (If I just repeated myself it's because I'm literally tired too.) I realize that the standards are not perfect. Some of them are age-inappropriate, while others are poorly worded. (And I am only referring to ELA, not math.) But they offer a good starting point. 

If one of the trash-talkers can come up with something better, I promise I will evaluate their argument fairly, as will my students. Because they CAN.