Monday, February 16, 2015

My Beef with the ISN

Well...I've hit a crossroads. I LOVE my ISN, and it's been absolutely amazing for keeping students organized in the classroom, but lately I feel like we are just putting in worksheets...something that could be easily done in a binder, or in a workbook. I would love to be able to have all my materials copied and bound for each student in my class at the beginning of the year in one workbook for them, but that's just unreasonable. That is one of the things I love about the ISN...if I add something in at the last minute, we throw it in the notebook and glue it in.

I guess my guilt is coming from seeing all of the absolutely adorable foldables and things that people sell on TpT. They just look so cute, and my notebooks look so boring and serious. I tried the foldable thing two years ago with my 7th graders, and it turned into a nightmare. "Where do I cut this?" "I glued it all down on accident!", "I messed up, I need another copy!" The whole period turned into gluing in some complex foldable instead of doing the lesson. What's a crafty heart to do? This also begs the question, does it have to be cutesy and clever to be engaging?

The beginning of our notebooks are always the same:

Anchor Charts and Strategy Modeling. My 7th and 8th graders have guides for close reading, the fiction and non-fiction keys, and two model close reads that we did as a class. They also have the Notice and Note Signposts, along with Types of Questions.

Here's how my notebooks usually go for each unit:

New Knowledge Questions: these are a must. They come in and complete two each day for the bellringer, and a student walks around and stamps them in when they're done. It's great, and it gives students those key terms and vocabulary essential for the unit.

At least 4-5 passages to use with Close Reading, SOAPstone, or a TP-CASTT. We also use these passages for Shared Inquiry (socratic seminar), or for modeling for a writing lesson.

My latest issue is that since we were given a bazillion worksheets and graphic organizers with our text, I feel like I'll be reinventing the wheel if I don't use them. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't use half of them, and my 8th graders last year rebelled against me when they saw yet another: "Reading: Reread and Read Ahead" handout. Pearson is not especially awesome at differentiating their handouts. Each selection has the same exact types of handouts: Vocab Warm-Up, Model Selection, Reading: , Enrichment, Grammar, and Literary Analysis. I try to spice it up with the occasional plot chart, two column-notes, etc... but sometimes I feel like I'm in graphic organizer overload. 

I have a SIP day tomorrow, but when I get back to school on Wednesday, I'll post some pics of some of our notebooks for you to see.

I have so many strategies I want to try that I keep forgetting about, so I'm ditching my current 30-day challenge of "Tackling my To-Do List", in favor of a new one.

  • Organize all of the strategies I want to try out in my classroom that I have pinned on Pinterest, learned at an inservice day, or seen in workshops and books that I like.
  • Create a chart, listing what they might work best for.
  • Organize ALL of the files on my computer, and tag them (thank you Mac), so that I can find them.

Here's my starting list of strategies I want to try:

Incredible Shrinking Notes
Writing Long Off A Post-It 

My favorite strategies that I learned at the IAGC Gifted Conference!

From Jim Curry:


  1.  LB: What did you like best?
  2. □ Tell me what you liked best about your product.
     NT: What might you do next time?□ Tell me what you might do differently next time. How would you change your product. Would you add or subtract
    something? GB: How did you go beyond?
    • □  Did you go beyond... Add a border Add graphics or pictures Add intricate details Do further research Use creative skill to add something new
    • □  Create a poster to put in the room for self-reflection
    • □  Have them talk about quality work with each other, in partners or small groups, or the teacher
    • □  "I'm going to be walking around as you're working, and asking you questions". - Like Project Runway with Tim Gunn
All of the writing strategies that Jim Delisle talked about, which are available in his book: Building Strong Writers in Middle School: Classroom-ready activities that inspire creativity and support core standards, by Deb Delisle and Jim Delisle.

These include: Quotes from the Sages, Quotes from the Ages, Be the Philosopher, Poems to Ponder, 55 Word Short Stories, and So, Are You? These all require students to go deeper with their writing, which is great, especially for Narrative Non-Fiction writing!

Finally, everything I learned from Bob Iseminger. I mean everything. He was my second to last presentation for the day, and at the end of the session, we were only about halfway through his presentation. Lucky for us, the lady scheduled after him cancelled because she was ill, so we asked him if we could just continue with him. He obliged, and it was absolutely fantastic! He focused on using Creativity in Common Core lessons, and it was so refreshing!

Side Note: I was incredibly annoyed for most of the day at the amount of people just openly talking and chatting, even if they were sitting in the front row, literally two feet from the speaker. Is it just me, or does this just seem downright rude? Or others who were texting on their cell phones the whole time? I wouldn't stand for that in my classroom, and I can't imagine the speakers appreciated it. Our districts pay for us to attend these conferences, or in some cases we pay out of pocket. As someone who definitely has hyperacusis or auditory sensitivity, I would really prefer if the people around it didn't ruin it for me. This has been an issue for my entire life, and I apologize if you meet me and see me uncomfortably squirming in a crowded room or a movie theater because I can literally hear everything. I can hear you opening your skittles box...I can hear them falling all over the floor, I can hear you lean over and crinkle in your seat, I can also hear you sucking on your popcorn directly behind me, or smacking your gum. Believe me, if I could just "tune it out", as my husband suggests, I would be so much happier in my daily life, but I just can't. Tapping your foot on the other end of the row? Yep, I can hear that too. 

©2013-2015 SuperRenders

The positive? This also is a superpower for me in the classroom. I always know exactly who is talking without turning around, or chewing gum, or preparing to throw a wad of paper across the room. :) 

Monday, February 2, 2015

A New 30 Day Challenge!

After much thinking last night, I decided on my next Thirty-Day challenge: conquer my to-do list!

Now, this might not sound like much, but I've had things on my to-do list that have been there for up to five or six years... I figured a short month like February was a perfect time to get my butt in gear and just do it!

Here's the To-Do List:

Today I will tackle the laundry, and Goodwill donation bags. I think I have more than enough stuff to keep me busy this month!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Currently February!

It's February!! I'm linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy Fourth Grade for her currently. Fill yours out and link up!

Well, as you may have heard, Chicago is having it's annual "Snowpocalypse", or as we used to call it, "Winter".  I guess I'm weird, but it really didn't seem that bad out when I went grocery shopping, my car didn't even slide! Now, I'm the most "over" cautious driver I know. If you are ever stuck behind me trying to turn left, I'm sorry. I will literally wait until there are ZERO cars around to make my turn, and you will probably hate me. I would, too.  :)

Anyway, I put in my currently above, and I figured while I'm here, I'd give an update on my 30 day challenge! My students will be done on the 5th, so I'll have more to update then, but I started mine on the 31st! 

30 Days of Bringing Lunch to school: I DID IT!! YAY! I was so proud of myself, but on the last day, as you may have seen on my FB page, I almost didn't make it. I got up, looked in the fridge, saw there was no food...sometimes I'm really lazy about that basic survival stuff...and thought, "PB&J!" I made my little sandwich, put out my peanut butter, and went to the fridge for my jelly. Expired. Like, really expired, kill me if I try it expired. So I text my colleague, and she totally saved me by bringing me some of her grape jelly. That was a long tangent. But anyway, I did it, I lost a couple of pounds, and I saved some money in the process! I am going to try and make it a lifelong habit, but I can occasionally get lunch with my co-workers here and there now without feeling guilty. 

30 Days of taking a One Second Video: I DID IT! Now, this is a year long project, but I'm glad I stuck to it for the first month. A few days ago I went to bed at 7:30 for no good reason, and I think I actually woke myself up so that I could take a video. It ended up being a few seconds of my glowing Nook. I'm struggling with finding something interesting to take a video of every day. Often times I will get home and think, "I wish I had videotaped _________" that happened today. Regardless, it's fun to look back at my videos and see how the month went!

I'm still trying to think of a good 30 Day Challenge this month, my goal is to decide by tonight. Any suggestions??

Happy February!!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Using the Grammar Invitations in 8th Grade

I have talked a few times this year about how using Jeff Anderson's book, Mechanically Inclined, has literally transformed my grammar instruction. My seventh graders are seeing incredible changes in their writing, and teaching each concept independently has been a blessing, because I can truly differentiate and personalize instruction for my students who may be struggling.

After reading all of the grammatically correct papers from my seventh graders I was appalled, and a little surprised, to read my eighth graders narratives and realize that they had no idea how to use commas. There were either too many, so, that, their, stories read, like this. Or there were absolutely no commas and the action of the story would just continue from the first page to the last with absolutely no break and I would find myself out of the breath by the time I was done reading. Here's the kicker: I taught them last year!! We went over grammar, I remember spending a very long time covering everything from prepositional phrases to gerunds. I was convinced they had it. I was wrong. Where had I gone wrong? We took notes, we wrote sentences together, we identified phrases and clauses on the board, we corrected and fixed sentences that were wrong, and they took tests and quizzes.

So what's to stop my seventh graders next year from going through this grammar lobotomy? Well, the fact that my students still identify AAAWWUBBIS words and FANBOYS when we are reading, without me prompting them is a sign. We learned that first quarter, and just last week a student said, "But is a FANBOY, that's why there is a comma in that sentence!" Ahh, it warms my heart. :)

A colleague of mine who is also doing the grammar invitations with me has noticed the same thing with her eighth graders, so we decided to incorporate the comma lessons into our non-fiction unit this quarter. I was a little nervous that it wouldn't go as well as it did, but it is one of those strategies that just works.

I had to make a few changes, since my eighth graders only have one class of Language Arts instead of two, so I incorporated the selection they are reading with the model sentence we use for the grammar invitation.

This week, I introduced AAAWWUBBIS words using a quote from an article about advertising in video games.

Here's how it went:

DAY 1:

  • Me: This week we are going to be learning about AAAWWUBBIS words (you have to say it weird, up talking on the 'WWU'), you will be reading a non-fiction article, and writing a short response.
  • Students respond with: "AAAWWUBBIS!" in a variety of voices and pitches
  • One student suggests we say Triple A, Double W, U, Double B I S, because it's easier. We time how long it takes to say. I win. :)
  • We discuss complex sentences, and how they can have an opener, an interrupter, or a closer.
  • I put up the model sentence on the board and ask them what they notice. We spend 5-10 minutes noticing every little thing in the sentence.
  • We pick apart why there is a comma, and identify the subject and verb in each half of the sentence. Someone inevitable asks what a verb is. Someone else asks what a noun is. I pretend to not be horrified, but I die a little inside. 
DAY 2:
  • We spent the next day with them finding examples of the AAAWWUBBIS words in their

    books. They did this in groups of 4-6. I had my seventh graders do it independently, and it took a week, so this worked out much better. I even let them send out a "scout" from their groups to steal one from another table. At the end of the period, students wrote sentences on their own for the words they hadn't found. Then they identified the AAAWWUBBIS word, the nouns, and the verbs for each sentence.

DAY 3:
  • Students were given their writing prompt, and read the article I had assigned. They highlighted the reasoning they found in the article, and then their writing prompt asked them to create a claim and give three reasons for or against advertisers purchasing ad space within video games. They only had to write one paragraph (8-10) sentences, and I asked them to be aware of using AAAWWUBBIS words in their writing.
  • On Monday, we will do an express-lane edit focusing solely on AAAWWUBBIS words. 

Oh, and it was pretty hilarious that a student had a shirt on with an AAAWWUBBIS word, but no comma. I had to fix it. 

Again, I am so thankful to Jeff Anderson for coming up with this strategy, and I so enjoy teaching grammar now. I'm excited to see what they came up with on Monday!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend! 

I cast our spring musical last week, and performed in a Disney Night of Broadway benefit concert last night, so I am a wee bit tired, but ready for a new week! :)

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Life Planner

Well, I totally stopped using my life planner around June of last year, mostly because I was home and didn't have a whole lot going on to justify using it frequently. I said to myself, "Ok, you don't need a new planner then..." so I didn't buy one. Then I remembered. I had placed my twentieth order, and received a $100 coupon to use at Erin Condren. Yes, it's sick that I've placed twenty orders, but a lot of them were gifts (for me, ha!). I decided that I would get a quick ship planner since I still liked my cover from my last planner.

It came within a week (so I highly recommend this option if you don't feel the need to personalize!)

I added the Wellness and the Budget book to my order, because it was free, so why not? I wanted to check them out. So far, the Budget book is great, but the Wellness book is kind of a pain, because I'm lazy. Also, I didn't really know what I'd write in my actual planner if I wasn't tracking what I brought for lunch along with my steps.

The problem with a new planner, is that even though you have an entire office dedicated to your crafting addiction, you feel this insane need to go purchase new washi tape and stickers. I don't even really like stickers, you wouldn't be able to tell that from looking at my planner. 

Now that cute little container of Washi tape? That's my "to-go" tape...yes people. 

Here is the rest of it, currently in my office.

I'm sure there's more hiding at school somewhere.

Ok- so what do I put in my planner?

On my monthly pages, I mark when bills are due, and when we get paid. This way, I know our cash flow:

On the weekly spread, I put inspirational quotes along the left. In the "morning" section, I put what I'm bringing for lunch, since that is a huge focus for me this month. The middle section is my general "To-Do" area. It's really hard not to put school stuff in this section. The evening section is to mark what we have going on in the evenings, along with dinner. Finally, in the bottom section I'm logging my steps and sleep from my Fitbit!

Finally, in the back we have our Dave Ramsey Debt Snowball, Monthly Expenses, Cash Flow, and I've started taping off some pages to use for weight loss, healthy options for eating, and Books I've Read. 

So, I'm still finding my groove with the new planner, and my big struggle is managing both this and my teacher planner. I don't seem to have enough hours in the day to plan all my hours in the day. But I will say, with the stress I have felt this year, doing this is a great way to unwind at the end of the day, and keep myself accountable. 

Do you have a planning system that you can't live without? Feel free to share below!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Top Ten Best Things About Teaching Middle School...

In the spirit of the many "Top Ten Things About (INSERT TOPIC HERE)", I decided to make my own, with perhaps a more positive spin. I love teaching 7th and 8th grade, and these are just ten of my favorite things about it...

Top Ten Best Things About Teaching Middle School...

1. Lessons often start off as an excellent discussion, and can quickly devolve into a kid shouting
“AVADA KEDAVRA” while using his pen as a wand.

2. They will laugh with you when you do something ridiculous, like suddenly lose the ability to talk 9th period.
3. They experience a wide range of emotions. Usually within a 30 second time period.

4. In the last month of school, eighth graders become mushy nostalgic love monsters.

5. PAJAMA day.
6. Sometimes they shock you with their incredible insight.

7. They feel a great need for justice, and will create petitions for almost ANYTHING, like free seating at lunch.
My usual response...
8. Just in between acting “too cool” and “awkward”, they just want an adult they can talk to.

9. They own their obsessions. OWN them. Want to see an argumentative? Just disagree with their favorite brand/music/tv show/book/celebrity/movie

10. They are just starting to find their way in the world, and you get to be a tiny part of it.