Saturday, December 6, 2014

Howdy Strangers!

Let's play a much stuff can Mrs. White pack into a quarter without going insane?

Hi everyone :)

This past quarter has been the craziest time I think ever in my teaching career. As someone who thrives on insanity, that is saying something. I hope everyone has been doing well, and I am back (for now) to share some of the things we have been doing in my classroom!

Oh, what's new with me? Not much...just directing middle schoolers tackling a Shakespearean play
The cast of "A Midsummer Night's Midterm"
, trying to get a new sound system for our stage, building sets and costumes and whatever else pops up (including the sound system shorting out 5 minutes before our last show), NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo 2K14
, starting a new venture in theatre with some friends, prepping for my evaluation, teaching, auditioning for a mini-theatre adventure, cleaning my house, battling mice, teaching, working on curriculum writing with other LA teachers, hosting Thanksgiving for the first know, the usual. :)

Isn't that how it always goes for teachers? We all have busy seasons, especially if you have extracurricular duties like sports and the arts. I like to think of it like doing P90X, just without the killer abs at the end. I've never done P90X, but I do watch the infomercials when I can't sleep, so that counts, right?

But seriously, I LOVE directing drama, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am a controlling person, so when I feel like I can't hold onto all of my puppet strings easily I feel incredibly guilty, and my anxiety starts to overwhelm me. Blogging and all of this has fallen by the wayside, because I felt that it wasn't a "requirement" just something I enjoy doing and sharing with people. And because it's something I do for fun, I let it slip away when things got busy, but no more! I am declaring today that I am done putting aside my own passions for my job. I just need to let go in some places and take back control of my own life. :)

So here's what we've been doing in class. While I've been virtually "gone" my students have become the following:

Comma Magnets:
"I just met you, and this is crazy,
but I sense a magnetic attraction,
so let's hang out together, maybe?
Well, ok!"
Each time we "master" a grammar lesson, I've been making stickers and giving them to them for their writer's notebooks like merit badges. The purple one is for Comma Magnets, I already apologized to them, because I think I was delirious when I wrote it. I thought it was funny at the time!

Note: I started this blog post last weekend, and then came down with the flu (really nasty, yuck!), so I'm just jumping back into it now!

Ok, so to teach each lesson, I used a picture book as a model and went from there. I believe when I last blogged, we had used "When I Was Little" and "Memoirs of a Hamster" for AAAWWUBBIS words and FANBOYS.

I followed the same format as I did for the last two comma lessons. I had a mentor sentence, students discussed what they noticed about them, and we took notes.

Students then imitated these model sentences first as a class, and then on their own. I did not have them search for them in books, mostly because of the time it takes. However, they have been noticing them and finding them on their own, which is great to see. I love that they have an awareness of these different types of commas, and can notice them in their books and other writing!

Then, they have a writing assignment based on the model text, and we do an express lane edit. I have some examples of the basket commas lesson below. The anchor charts for these three will be up as a set soon on TpT!

For Serial Commas, we used, "My Brother Dan's Delicious" by Steven Layne, which has always been one of my favorites when we taught persuasive writing. Students wrote their own "Don't Eat Me Monologues" in preparation for our argumentative paper they are going to workshop this quarter.

For Basket Commas, we used, "I Wanna Iguana", and students wrote "text" style letters back and forth, where we focused on counterarguments from a parent or authority figure.

Finally, for Comma Magnets, we used, "Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School". For this one, students wrote a series of at least five letters, with no response, giving reasons for why something was unfair. I had them write as someone fictional to make it more lighthearted. They could choose to be an animal, food, or an inanimate object. 

As a "final" for this quarter, students chose one of their three mini argument pieces for workshop. We begin that next week. Then, they will be asked to identify sentences with certain types of commas as a final assessment!

I have to say that I am incredibly pleased with using the grammar invitations this year in class. I am SO thankful that I went and saw Jeff Anderson, and I see a change in the way my students think about their writing and recognize how grammar works.

Next quarter we will start a new focus, most likely phrases and clauses along with types of sentences!

I leave you with, some close reading. 8th graders read "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" and did a close reading with both...

My 7th Graders read "Rikki Tikki Tavi" and then I found this awesome satirical article that was begging to be close read as a non-fiction piece. If you use it, copy and paste it into a word document, as there are some pretty inappropriate ads on this page! This was a great closing and assessment for students. I ended up creating an assessment on mastery connect for this article, and they could use their notebooks to help answer the questions. This was a great way to check and see if they had correctly identified the main idea, details, and evidence/facts. If you use Mastery Connect, you can check it out here!

I'm impressed with their improvement this year with close reading, since many of them had never done it before this year.

I shared this article on my FB page the other day, and while I found it funny, I was initially horrified! Before reading the article I immediately thought, "Who in their right mind would find close reading ineffective?" I think everyone knows that is my go to strategy, what's yours? 

Two weeks until Christmas Break!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tieks for the Cure!

As you know, one way to show your support for Breast Cancer Awareness month is to wear pink this October! I'm rocking my pink Tieks in Ballerina Pink and Fuschia a lot this month, and as usual, they are the comfiest flats I own, and I highly recommend them if you are on your feet a lot during the day!

I've known multiple people affected by Breast Cancer, and it's so important to find it early. This is absolutely key.

Here are some fast facts:

-In the U.S., 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
-Every 19 seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with breast cancer.
-Every 15 minutes, a woman dies of breast cancer in the U.S.  
-When breast cancer is detected early in the localized stage, the 5 year survival rate is over 95%.
-It has been estimated that if every woman over the age of 50 had her yearly mammogram, breast cancer deaths in this age group would drop by 25% or more.

It's been a blessing and a curse to be visiting my OB/GYN so often that I get checked all the time, but you can also do at-home exams. There are tons of tutorials, and an app I use, iPeriod, will actually remind you to do an exam. I highly recommend it!

How are you recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness month on your own or in your classroom? One thing I've always wanted to do is dye my hair to show support, but we just had parent teacher conferences last week so I chickened out. 

I think it's important to always show and promote organizations that contribute something good to the community and society, which is why our major writing assignment for 8th graders Quarter 1 was to write to a business or organization that impacts their life. I used Tieks (for their amazing customer service and commitment to awareness and information about a variety of important causes) and TOMS (for their one to one program) as an example, along with Starbucks (for their college tuition program for their baristas). They could also choose to write to an author, and enter the Letters About Literature contest. 

Please join me and Think Pink this October and spread awareness. Schedule an appointment and encourage friends and family to have a routine check-up and mammogram. 

Have a great week, everyone!

On a bit of a different note, here are my six pairs of Tieks all lined up in my closet, I love how cute and compact the boxes are!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


It's been a crazy past few weeks, and I sincerely apologize for not having my life in order enough to share with you all! I am hoping and praying that I can get things a bit more organized around here in order to manage my time better.

We've been super busy in the classroom, and it's been a whirlwind of midterms and now end of quarter projects and grading, play auditions, parent teacher conferences, and of course, meetings. Oh, meetings...

It used to be that I would bring things home to work on, but if it didn't get finished it wasn't the end of the world. Now, if I bring something home to work on and heaven forbid fall asleep, or go out to dinner with my husband and not get it done, I'm completely unprepared the next day. What is happening?? This seems to be the general consensus not just within my building, but the entire nation of teachers!

Sprinkled in among baby announcements, wedding photos, and pumpkin patch pictures, this is what I saw on FB today:

...along with cries for help about feeling overworked, overstressed, and just plain tired. This has got to STOP! Side note: I also feel this way and do this ALL the time. I'm not calling anyone out, I've just been too tired lately to post it on FB. My fingers are even tired. See, now I'm complaining too, and I do it all the time. :)

Last night, I needed to go grocery shopping for my husband's birthday party today (yes, today. Happy Birthday, hubster!), and I was so tired I was hunched over my shopping cart like I was either deathly ill or intoxicated (neither, to be clear). That's just my life right now. We all need to remember why we go into this profession. No matter what changes may be happening, be it more testing, more responsibilities, or less autonomy.

We either all need to propose a solution, or we all need to move to Finland apparently, where the teachers are treated as demigods, and the students apparently are all high achieving and feed you grapes at lunch and sing to you....I'm being hyperbolic, but seriously. Yes, the grass is always greener, but there has to be something negative about teaching in Finland (mostly because if there is not, we are putting the house on the market tonight).

Oh.....Finland. You magical Oz-like land of teaching. 

Without a doubt, the greatest part of my work day is always in my classroom, teaching. I LOVE my students this year (yeah, I said love), and I LOVE teaching them and seeing them grow academically, emotionally, socially, all of it. We discuss rigorous questioning techniques, they give amazing presentations in their genius hour classrooms, we spend the last two minutes of class talking as a class about them, and their lives outside of the classroom. 

I flat out told my 8th graders I was going to miss them (I feel like I've talked about this before, but I'm too tired to go back and check, lol), and I mean it. I have a passion for teaching that I can only describe as fierce. I am terrified of losing it. 

Some days I feel like I have a storm cloud over my head...
...but as soon as the bell rings and my classroom door closes, it's usually gone. Except for last week, when I suddenly developed a migraine in the middle of class and had to go home early, and there was an actual storm cloud happening over my eyeballs. It was kind of freaky, and I've never actually physically gotten ill in a class. It was definitely a panic moment.

Here's the other thing, I'm not truly unhappy, just overwhelmed. I like being a leader in the building, I like being given the opportunity to be involved with change, and I love directing drama at my school. It's hard for me to say that I would give any of it up, but it is truly difficult to find a balance between everything. This year, we teach seven classes. We have a prep period, and a lunch. My prep period is 1st, which is a blessing and a curse! I think once I get in the swing of things in...I don't know...March, it will feel awesome to not have to jump right into teaching first thing.

But right now I'm literally running around my classroom like a psycho trying to get everything ready, copied, organized, ordered, entered, updated, differentiated, analyzed, and cleaned.

How do I go from this every morning:

To the happy and excited person I know I am inside? To top it off, I'm being evaluated this year, and it's my first time being evaluated by the Danielson model. Anything unknown and new makes me very anxious, and I want to make sure I do the best I can. I am definitely a Hermione.

So what is the solution? Laugh? Leave? Cry? Move to Finland?

Think of the positives in your day. Hold on to those, and seek them out. See the good in a situation. Enjoy the moments in your classroom when kids are happy, safe, and learning. Know that you are making a difference, despite the added pressures that come with being an educator today. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The "other" sections of the Writer's Notebook

First- I caved and bought labels for ALL of my students to put in their notebooks. Not only because I'm controlling, but because it's helpful for them to be organized. In fact, they recognized that this will help them become more organized, and make it easier to find sections in their notebooks.

Am I the only one who gets super excited when I see organized tabs? Oh, and notice their "Master AAAWWUBBIS Hunter" stickers? Went over really well, and every student received one when they showed me their completed, and correct, Express Lane Edit for AAAWWUBBIS. It cost $20 for the labels, but I can get four different sets of labels done for my classes. Coming up this week is "Ultimate FANBOYS" :)


So I have two other sections in my Writer's Notebook, "Author's Word and Phrase Palette", and "Gems". We utilized these sections last week in my Language Arts 1 (Reading) class, by having them out while they silent read!

We started off by labeling the sections in their Table of Contents, and I gave them silly names so that they would be memorable.

I told students that they absolutely did not have to write things down as they read, but if they saw a cool word or phrase, they should write it down so they can remember it later! 

I did the same as I silent read to model.

Here's our section for "Quotes"

The gems section is not only great for remembering quotes, but giving them extra practice with citations. They are already pointing out that I'm missing a citation if I write a quote on the board and don't put the author and page number.

This is this weeks board. I am moving to a two-week process, where we work on WWTW on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Invitations on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I know that eventually this process will go faster, and we won't need an entire class period. For now I am thankful that I have time in the curriculum to go over it in depth. 

I also made a binder to hold all my anchor charts as the year goes on, and students can refer back to it as well.

I've done "anchor charts" for our Invitation to Write days...

and our Express Lane Edits

I'm trying to focus on visual cues with students this year. On a typical day, I have agendas posted/written on the backboard, and projected in the front as well. I'm really trying to have them focus on their surroundings, and taking the initiative to look around the room to answer their questions of, "What are we doing today?" and "Is there going to be homework?"

I apologize for my lack of posts last week. Of course, I set a schedule for myself and then completely break it. It's been non-stop working and grading when I get home every night already, and I'm worried I'm going to burn out very rapidly this year. Going from teaching 6 classes to 7 with four different preps and one plan period has been a bigger hurdle than I think any of us anticipated.  However, I will continue to be committed to giving 100%+ to my students, despite my own stresses. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Grammar Invitation #2

I have been having trouble deciding what I'm going to blog about when lately, because I teach four different classes, and I want to make sure I'm sharing consistently about all of them! is the schedule I'm hoping to follow from now on. This doesn't mean that I won't be blogging on the days not listed, it just won't necessarily be on a specified topic. :)

Mondays: Interactive Student Notebooks
Tuesdays: Technology Tuesdays and Genius Hour
Sundays: Writer's Workshop and Grammar

Today is Sunday, therefore I will be talking about Grammar! Yay!

When I last left off, students were finding their mentor sentences from their silent reading books. This ended up taking almost TWO class periods!

Students started off with their own books, and quickly escalated to grabbing piles of books off my shelf and flipping through them. I stopped them around ten minutes in and asked them what methods they were using to find AAAWWUBBIS words. They immediately gave feedback on scanning on the first lines down the page, and the beginnings of chapters. At the end of the first period, I allowed them to "steal" one from someone else, but only if they had cited it correctly! (last name #). This had them peer checking each other, and I heard a lot of, "That's not cited correctly, you have to do it like this!" Bonus! The second day, I allowed them to work in partners to finish up for about ten minutes.

Then, they had to identify what was in their sentences. I had them circle the AAAWWUBBIS word, underline the subject in each half once, and the verb in each half twice, and highlight the comma. They did this in partners.

Invitation to Imitate:

Once they finished, they had to write 5 sentences modeled after any of the mentor sentences we had used. These included the two from the second day, and the ones they identified on their own.

Invitation to Write:

Students had to write a short story (one page) about when they were little. Almost every single student started their story with, "When I was little, ..." I had a substitute this day since I was out at a department meeting, so the next day I gave them ten minutes to finish up their stories.

Invitation to Edit:

Time to introduce the express-lane edit!

I put up my story on the board, with some of the sentences purposely missing the comma. We wrote Express Lane Edit on the page opposite their story, and set up the Shopping List and Receipt. I asked students what we usually do when we go shopping. "We look for stuff to buy", "We get stuff we need", etc... I asked them what was on their receipt when they left the store. "A list of what we bought." I told them to copy down the following. "We are looking for sentences that start with AAAWWUBBIS words, and have a comma in the right place." I will amend this in the future to say sentences that contain an AAAWWUBBIS word, because many of them were writing complex sentences featuring AAAWWUBBIS words at the end.

We went through the story, and identified a sentence that had an AAAWWUBBIS word but not a comma in the right place, a sentence that had everything correct, and a sentence we could add an AAAWWUBBIS phrase to.

I modeled what we could write for each of these in the receipt.

For ADDING/FIXING: I added a comma in between little and liked because it started with "When".
For CORRECT: I wrote a sentence , closer in the 2nd line using "Because".
For ADDING: I added an opener , sentence with "While" to "I hate getting into trouble."

Students had to then go through their own stories and find FIVE things to put on their receipt. I also asked them to highlight the sentences they identified or fixed.

This week, we are starting FANBOYS, yay!

Here's the plan for the week:


Invitation to Notice: We are focusing on Simple and Compound Sentences and FANBOYS. I'm condensing the simple sentences in with compound because they already have a good grasp of this, so it's just a quick review.

I'm going to review Simple Sentences using Memoirs of a Goldfish, which is just hilarious, and I wanted a reason to use it :)

We are simply going to identify the subjects and verbs in a few of the sentences, and then move on.

Next, to do compound sentences, and continue on with the personal narrative theme, I chose the first page of Paper Towns by John Green, because it is one of my favorite books, it uses FANBOYS, and it talks about a person. It's a great model for writing, I think!

The second one I'll use is the "Cheese" section from Diary of a Wimpy Kid because it uses FANBOYS and it describes and event that happened at school.

We will "notice" as we did last week, and identify what we see in both examples to try and get to "FANBOYS". 

Then I will handout our anchor charts for the week and we will glue them in our notebooks.

Simple and Compound Sentences chart and Fanboys Chart

I will update later on in the week with progress!

I'm taking a page out of the boy/girl scouts book, and making stickers to give to students when they complete or master a skill. Tomorrow I'm printing these off,

 and I'll have a bundle of them available on TpT soon!

Have a great week, everyone!