Archive | September, 2013

A Little Check-In

23 Sep

Wow!  Three weeks are already done in the school year.  The year is already flying by and it has been crazy busy!  I have not been able to update nearly as much as I had hoped.  I am going to strive to get better at that.

Today, I wanted to share some things that I have been loving about this school year and a one thing I am going to keep working on.

Three Things I Love So Far…

1. My classes

I feel incredibly spoiled this trimester.  I have some amazing classes!  We have really fallen into the routine quite well in both English 10 A and ELA Lab.  I have fun teaching every day in each hour.  As we get more into the school year, students are feeling more comfortable in our class and more students are participating.  I have laughed a lot so far this year – and there is no better feeling than that!

2. Book Talking

I love talking about books.  I don’t think my students knew quite what to make of my book talks at first.  But now that they are a part of the routine, students are responding much more positively.  While some students still wait until after class to ask to check out a book, more students are reaching for books after I book talk them.  And many students are using their “Books to Read” list in their notebooks.

Some memorable book talks include when I book talked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. A student was having a hard time with the first book he chose for SSR and I told him it was totally ok to abandon it and find another.  He asked to see Yoda after I shared it.  He is responding much better to this book.  In fact, I had to pull him away from SSR one day to get him to rotate to his next station.  (I hate doing that sometimes – but it is great to see students wanting to read!)  I see him reading more of the Origami Yoda series after he is done.

Last week, I started discussing banned books after hearing of attempts to ban Rainbow Rowell’s amazing novel Eleanor and Park in Minnesota.  Read about it here.  So I book talked the book and we started to talk about why books are challenged and what they thought about it.  The students had a lot to say on the topic and they feel strongly on it.  Books they were able to read in ninth grade are usually high on the most challenged lists.  This upsets them because how much they loved those books.  We are continuing these conversations this week as I plan to book talk a banned book each day this week.  We started this week with Crank by Ellen Hopkins.

3. Article of the Week

Thank you, Kelly Gallagher!  I am loving this strategy.  My students are thinking more when reading informational texts and I do see the advantages from them reading articles and knowing what’s going on.  Kelly has an on-going list of his articles of the week on his website.  We have done two so far.  Last week, I used the article on Syria that Kelly used as well.  We had a great talk on Monday about what is happening in Syria.  Many students had no idea.  Their annotations on their articles were showing a lot of critical thinking and questioning.  They had many interesting responses to the prompts.  The best thing I heard today from a student was that his dad has been talking a lot about Syria and now he can connect to it and know what his dad is talking about.  I like to see strategies I implement meet the goals I set for them.

One Thing To Watch

1. Students’ outside reading

So I challenged my tenth graders to read for two hours a week.  We determined reading rates to set reading goals.  We have been doing Friday Check-in to see how they are doing.  Well, I can say this – my students are very honest.

Most students are not reading outside of class and will readily admit it.  They have a number of reasons why: too busy, too boring, too loud at home, rather watch TV/Netflix, new video game just came out, etc.  I always appreciate their honesty.

So, I challenged them again today.  I asked them to read for 5 minutes sometime after school today.  I suggested when they just get home, before their favorite show starts so they can fast forward commercials, or just before going to bed.  Just 5 minutes.  It’s much less than what we read in class.  A number of students said they could do that.  I’m hoping to talk to them about if they did so tomorrow and what they thought.

So that’s where we are as we begin week 4.  Any suggestions on the reading challenge front?  How has your school year been going so far?


If I Lie: A Review

11 Sep

Title: If I Lie

Author: Corrine Jackson

Release Date: August 28, 2012

Format: Paperback personal purchase from Barnes & Noble

Summary (from Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

This book has been on my radar since I heard Sarah talk about it last year.  Sarah compared it to Courtney Summers and Speak so I knew I was in.  It took me some time to get my hands on it.  I saw it in B&N this summer and finally picked it up.  I am so glad that I did.

If I Lie deals with some many issues that I think students will connect to and want to read about.  First of all, this is now the second book I’ve read this year that deals with the military.  While Quinn is not actually in the military, she has grown up in a military town and family.  Of course, she is dealing with Carey, not just her boyfriend but also her best friend, being deployed and actually missing.  Along with that, the book deals with bullying and how perception is not everything.  In today’s age of bullying, especially cyberbullying and the over exposure of social media, I think books that deal with this are very important for students to read.

I like how If I Lie is written.  Usually, books don’t reveal the secret until the end.  The secret Quinn is carrying is revealed in the first part of the book – though I will admit I had predicted something along those lines.  Yet, readers still don’t know the whole picture or story and gain insight through Quinn’s flashbacks as she fills in the holes.  I was still surprised by different events Quinn revealed between her and Carey and her and Blake, their other best friend.  The plot kept me pulled in as I learned more and more about Quinn.

In general, I loved Quinn’s character.  She is not perfect, yet she has many strong qualities and morals.  Her loyalty to Carey is something to be admired.  As much as I wanted her to be able to clear her name, she never broke her promise, which is admirable.  She felt real, and that is very important to me in a main character.  There are some relationship aspects, but they do not overpower Quinn nor is she boy-obsessed as we sometimes see.  My favorite character was by far George, a patient at the veterans’ hospital Quinn befriends when forced to volunteer there by her father.  I also appreciated the author’s note at the end about getting involved with veterans’ projects much like what Quinn and George were working on in the novel.

Finally, while I do not teach it, I really appreciate the connections between this and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  This would be an excellent contemporary book to pair with this classic.  Hearing of this connection was another aspect that sparked my interest, considering I have many negative feelings toward The Scarlet Letter (English teacher confessions).  I encourage teachers who do teach it, or just enjoy Hawthorne’s classic.

Overall, I think I liked this book more than I expected.  What a fantastic debut novel.  I look forward to reading more from Jackson in the future.

4/5 stars

A Peek Inside: ELA Lab

8 Sep

Wow!  This first week of school was very exciting, crazy, and exhausting!  A little later than I originally hoped, here is a look at the Reading Intervention class I teach ELA Lab.

Purpose of the Class

ELA Lab is a Tier 2 reading intervention class for ninth and tenth graders.  Students are  put into the class based on a number of different assessments.  Some students test into this level.   Other students come into this class after completing the Corrective Reading classes, our Tier 3 intervention.  This is to help students with deeper comprehension, especially of informational texts.  We follow a stations model as well.

Units Breakdown

In general, here is how I break down the class:

Week 1: intro class/genres & SSR/Purpose in reading
Week 2: strategies intro/connections through background knowledge
Week 3: questioning while reading
Week 4: QAR
Week 5: QAR & making own QAR questions
Week 6: summarizing/Predicting
Week 7: clarifying
Week 8: Reciprocal Teaching (RT)/Visualizing
Week 9: RT/compare and contrast pieces
Week 10: RT/inferring
Week 11: RT/Comprehension constructors
Week 12: Short story applications/Reading Graphs & Images
Week 13: Review and finals

Daily Structure

In the first week, we are not yet in groups and stations.  There are a lot of introduction activities that get students thinking about reading and their thoughts about reading.

In the second week, we begin the stations.  Students will have approximately 20 minutes per station. The daily schedule will look like this:

  • Writing/Book Talk
  • Stations – Computers, SSR, Teacher
  • Wrap Up

Computer Station

Through Google Apps, students will be completing and turning-in assignments online.  The assignments are for independent practice with the skills and strategies we have introduced at the teacher station.  I love using Google Apps because it saves paper and is a great way to manage what students have and have not turned in.  Student also get used to using Google, which many other classes use in the school.

SSR Station

Another goal of the class is to help students find pleasure in reading again.  The majority of my students tell me they hate reading.  So, part of their day is reading independently a book of their own choice.  Through donations, the room has a couch and a couple chairs to help make reading more comfortable.  In the time at this station, students are to read and complete a log.  Because I cannot confer in this set up in the way I do in English 10A, I ask for a summary of what they read that day and reactions as they read.  I will follow up with students if anything catches my attention on the logs.

Teacher Station

I get to work with my students every day in small groups of 5-7 students.  This is one of my favorite aspects of this class.  In the 20 minutes we have together, I model the skills and strategies we are working on.  Students have some independent practice in this time as well so I can check in with them and help as needed.  I love the small group because students feel more comfortable to ask questions and I feel that I can work with each student every day.

So here is ELA Lab in a nutshell.  Hope you enjoyed the peeks into my classrooms.

A Peek Inside: English 10A

2 Sep

To help paint more of a picture of my classroom, I thought I would tell a little about what I am teaching.  My school follows a trimester schedule.  For the first trimester, I am teaching English 10A, the first part of the 10th grade English credit, and ELA Lab, a 9th and 10th grade Tier 2 Reading Intervention.  First, I will share details about English 10A.


English 10A is divided into four main units:

  • Persuasive Writing
  • Anchor Text; The Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • Historical Fiction Research Project
  • Choice Book Unit

Daily Schedule

My daily schedule in English 10A will look something like this:

  • Review of Day/Book Talk
  • SSR
  • Writing
  • Grammar
  • Mini-Lesson
  • Independent Work Time


I have written before about how important reading every day in class is important to me.  We did it last year, and I plan on continuing it this year.  One of my big decisions has been what to do about logs.  In the past, students filled out a daily log that asked for a summary of what they have read and the strategies they used.  At the end of the week, students wrote a paragraph reflecting on a strategy they used that week and how it helps them as readers.  I have been debating if this is the most effective thing to do.  After reading a number of books and talking with a variety of people on Twitter, I think I have a plan.

Using Book Love by Penny Kittle as part of my guide, I am going to work with students in determining their reading rates.  I want students to be reading at least two hours each week.  Using the format laid out by Penny in Chapter 4, we will determine how many pages per week a student should be reading if he or she is reading for two hours.  Using some advice from Jason Stephenson, whom I follow on Twitter, I am going to do a Friday Check-In with notebooks where students will write down the book the reading, the page they are on out of the total book, and how many books they have read this year.  You can check out Jason’s great ideas at the entry here, as well as other amazing ideas in his blog.

I have also debated whether or not to have a goal for students to read, a la Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer.  I am torn because I do not have students all year and there’s a good chance I will not have them in 10B.  I have gone back and forth with should I do 10, 15, no goal?  I revisited Penny Kittle again in Book Love and I am going to use students’ rates to help set individual goals for the trimester.  My ultimate goal is students read more than they have before and develop a love for reading that they can bring with them in the upper grades and beyond.


I want to write every day.  Writing is something that has fallen to the wayside.  I didn’t mean for it too.  I just focused so much on reading that at times writing was pushed aside.  However, I do need to focus on writing just as I focus on reading.  Writing fluency is just as important as reading fluency.  So, notebooks will be used to help students brainstorm writing ideas, writing about what we will be learning, respond to things we read, imitate another piece of writing, or just write about what they want.  This will be beneficial just as reading every day will.


When I started teaching, I loathed teaching grammar.  Could not stand it.  I would do anything but teach grammar.  Now, I love it.  Why?  What brought about this change?  The work of Jeff Anderson changed everything.  Not only did I get to see Jeff at our ISD in my third year, but in 2012, he visited our district and worked with us.  He completely changed my view of grammar and I enjoy it.  I think my students enjoy it more too.

Following Jeff’s model, we do the following lessons daily for each skill:

  • Monday – What do you notice? (Look at mentor sentence and discuss techniques used)
  • Tuesday – Imitate (Both students and I write sentences imitating the skill in the mentor sentence)
  • Wednesday – Revise (Look at how we can use skill in other sentences)
  • Thursday – Edit (Discuss how the skill might be incorrect and record correct sentences in notebook)
  • Friday – Write (Write a passage that uses the skill plus one or two skills from previous weeks)

Seriously, grammar is much less time consuming and makes more sense to students this way.  I would not change back for anything!

Persuasive Writing

There is a focus of preparing our students for the ACT and MME.  Persuasive writing is a big part of that.  I start of the year with this.  I do use a workshop model that I adapted from units a former consultant introduced us to.  Before instructing on how to write the essay, we immerse ourselves in the genre looking at strong mentor essays and creating the characteristics of persuasive essays.  We also break down the structure of an essay and talk about the different parts and how different writers use each part and how students can play with the structure a little.

Ninth grade hits persuasive writing as well, so my students have a good sense of the different parts.  They definitely have the bones of the essay.  My goal in tenth grade is to build up the meat of the essay.  I particularly focus on thesis statements that provide a context and developing the support paragraphs.  With thesis statements, we also talk about purpose statements to help us plan on demand writing.  These purpose statements help us create a context.  When we discuss support, I hit hard on the so what? and how so?  In fact, I am usually going around the room getting in students’ faces to get them to make me stop asking that question.

We practice skills for each part of the persuasive essay, with me modeling my thinking and students working to practice the skill while I work around the room.  The final assessment is an in-class, on demand persuasive essay.  I do love our prompt though.  Students discuss if YA novels should be banned in school classrooms and libraries.  They always have a lot to say on that.

A Raisin in the Sun

Before reading the play, we do a mini informational unit to talk about The American Dream.  We practice close reading with an essay that addresses how the American Dream has changed over time.  After a discussion on denotation and connotation, we watch the first part of Obama’s speech from the 2004 DNC.  Students practice close reading on their own with a blog entry about how people now want “fast cash” and are not willing to work for the American Dream.  We complete a cross-text matrix to help students make connections among these three pieces.

When we get into the play, we read Act 1 as a class.  Students read the different roles.  On the advice of Kelly Gallagher in Readicide, I give students a particular focus: the characters’ relationships among each other and their dreams.  We look closely at the Younger family to start to understand them as characters.  We actually watch the play once students have an understanding of the characters.  Plays were meant to be viewed.  We still discuss characters’ motives and themes throughout.  Students complete an ACT Reading style test with an explanatory prompt exploring themes and characters in the play.

Historical Fiction Research Project

This project will actually be introduced during week one.  Students then have some time to work on it.  I actually got this idea from a session I attended at MRA in 2012.  Students will pick a historical fiction book to read.  It may be YA, adult, or a middle grade novel.  It can be from any time period, on any topic.  I limit that one person per class can read the same book.  As students read, I remind them to focus on the historical aspects of the book and topics they will want to research.  Students do have class time to research their topics.  The final product is a presentation to the class that looks at how well the book does in representing what actually happened.  To lead up to this, we do read historical fiction picture books to understand the genre.  I also do a sample presentation on the book Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

I have collected books through personal purchases and projects.  I have an active project right now that is almost fulfilled to get more books to my students.  I have not only a variety of topics, but also a variety of reading levels to help meet students’ needs.  It is still the choice of the student which book he or she uses for the project.

You can see my project here.

Choice Books

I feel so lucky to work in a building that has been open to changing the ways English has been traditionally taught.  One thing we have done is introduce more choice and novels through our choice books and literature circles.  In 10A, students have the choice among four books to read:

I book talk the books to introduce them to students and allow them to look through them.  I ask for their top two choices and do my best to honor their first.  During this time, SSR time is usually devoted to these books.  We do a number of mini-lessons that focus on reading strategies and responding the reading.  Students apply these lessons to their books.  Once a week, their small groups meeting to discuss their books based on the strategies we worked on that week.  They become the teachers and help each other.

The end of the unit has the groups create a way to introduce the book to their classmates.  The can do an ad, readers’ theater, create a “deleted scene,” or make the book or part of the book into a children’s book.  This enables students to be creative with what we have worked on.

So that is English 10A in a nutshell.  Later this week, I will tell you all about ELA Lab.  I also hope to give a tour of my classrooms (Lab is in a different room than English 10A).  What are your classes like?