Archive | March, 2014

First Week of T3

31 Mar

Well, the first week of the last third of the school year is in the books.  So far, it has been a great start to the new trimester!  I am loving my classes and some pretty cool things have been going on in them, especially in my three sections of English 10B.

On Tuesday, we did our book pass and quite a large number of students were able to find a book they wanted to check out.  In fact, many students begged that we start reading right away.  So that is exactly what we did.  We took 10 minutes to do some SSR so students could get into their books.

Many students are already enjoying their books.  A boy in my second hour who was notorious for just grabbing different books each day has discovered Paul Volponi thanks to Rucker Park Setup.  His direct quote this week: “I actually like this book.”  This helps to verify that my quote – “You just haven’t found the right book yet” – has some merit.

Another amazing thing I have observed is how much my students talk about books now.  When I started teaching, I did not do any SSR.  And even a few years later when I started doing it, we did not talk too much about books.  I have really strived to make our reading lives part of our classroom community.  For example, when I book talked The Fault in Our Stars by John Green in my third hour, I called on a student who had already read the book to tell about it.  Her enthusiasm about the book had another student take it directly from me and a few more to add it to their to-read lists.  I have also overheard many students in all classes ask each other about the books they are reading and actually discuss what they have been reading without my co-teachers or me prompting these discussions.  We really are building a community of readers.

Our first unit is Narrative Writing and students are writing memoirs about their lives.  When we got to our first drafting day, I told them I had a secret to tell them about writing.  I said, “Writing. Is.”  Before I could finish, I heard a student mumble, “Hard.”  I then said, “Yes it is.  Writing is hard.”  She was so grateful to hear a teacher say that about writing.  I’m glad I have am honest about that now because students need to know it is ok to struggle and that we all struggle with writing.

I also have been modeling my own writing for my students in this unit.  I showed them how I changed by topic, which I did not plan to do at all.  I also threw my own personal notebook up on the screen to show how I wrote out my ideas at home the night before.  Pretty much every student in each class wrote something.  Some students also asked to take their notebooks home to continue writing their stories outside of class.  I don’t know if I have ever been asked that before.

This first week was exactly what I needed for a reset and recharge.  I look forward to seeing where we will go this week and in the weeks to come.  I hope this positive energy keeps flowing through June.


A Crooked Kind of Perfect: A Review

26 Mar

Title: A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Author: Linda Urban

Format: Paperback, purchase at MRA

Release Date: September 1, 2007

Summary (from Goodreads): Ten-year-old Zoe Elias has perfect piano dreams. She can practically feel the keys under her flying fingers; she can hear the audience’s applause. All she needs is a baby grand so she can start her lessons, and then she’ll be well on her way to Carnegie Hall.

But when Dad ventures to the music store and ends up with a wheezy organ instead of a piano, Zoe’s dreams hit a sour note. Learning the organ versions of old TV theme songs just isn’t the same as mastering Beethoven on the piano. And the organ isn’t the only part of Zoe’s life in Michigan that’s off-kilter, what with Mom constantly at work, Dad afraid to leave the house, and that odd boy, Wheeler Diggs, following her home from school every day.

Yet when Zoe enters the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition, she finds that life is full of surprises–and that perfection may be even better when it’s just a little off center.

Following the Nerdy Book Club makes it hard not to know about Linda Urban.  Her novel Hound Dog True (which I have yet to read) is what started this amazing community of readers.  I had said book in my hand at MRA when my good friend Kristin suggested I try Crooked Kind of Perfect as it would fit my personality, in that I am a perfectionist and want everything to be perfect.  So I switched the books in my hand.  Thank you, Kristin, for this recommendation!

The narrator is very, very important for me.  I adored Zoe from page one!  I could totally relate to her voice.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted things to be perfect no matter what.  Zoe’s ups and downs in her friendships are another aspect I could relate to when I thought back to middle and high school.  Zoe is a very believable character that I think many readers will appreciate and love.  And let’s not forget Wheeler.  I loved Wheeler, too.  He was a perfect balance for both Zoe and her dad.  Of course, I am bias that the book takes place in Michigan and is written by a Michigan born author.

The message that things don’t have to be perfect in order to be perfect is beautiful.  Readers will reflect on what they have and what makes everything they have so wonderful and, well, perfect.  In my own life, I have learned that the things that did not go the way I have planned or wanted led to even more amazing things that make my life what it is today.  I love this lesson and idea for young readers.  I can see my high school students even enjoying Zoe and her story.

Linda Urban was a fantastic person to meet at MRA this year.  She is so incredibly fun and encouraging.  I plan on reading more by her and sharing her with students of all ages.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List

25 Mar



Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week they post a new list for bloggers to answer.  This week’s topics is Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List.  This can cover just about anything blog or book related.  I broke mine into a couple categories to compile my list.

Authors to Meet

1. John Green – I love John Green and his work! Looking for Alaska is one of my favorite books I have read.  His sense of humor is amazing.  I love his books, his Twitter, his vlogs – just about everything.  He would be amazing to meet in person!

2. Judy Blume – She has really been with me through all parts of my reading life.  I loved the Fudge books when I was in elementary school.  Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret got me through my awkward pre-teen and teen years by assuring me I was not alone.  Finally, Summer Sisters is truly my number one favorite book of all time.  I have reread it more times than I can count.

3. Rainbow Rowell – I loved Eleanor and Park as well as Fangirl.  Her writing is that amazing!  She is another one I love to follow on Twitter and is constantly cracking me up.  The conversations would be epic!

4. Tahereh Mafi & Ransom Riggs – These two definitely go together as one.  I cannot imagine meeting one and not the other.  They are the cutest couple in the author universe!  I can just see tons of fun happening when hanging out with these two.

5. Gae Polisner – We have seen each other through Skype.  We talk on social media a lot.  I have yet to meet Gae face-to-face.  She was the first author I made a personal connection with.  She has also done so many things for my students over the last few years.  I hope to actually sit down and meet her in my lifetime.

Other Book Related Fun

6. Read 100 books in a year – This is my Goodreads Challenge this year.  Last year, I just barely hit my 75.  I know I am already behind this year.  100 is such a strong, round number.  It works to an average of 2 books a week.  I would feel proud of this number.

7. Finally read Anna Karenina – I have owned this book for longer than I care to mention.  The AP Seniors read it each year and I always vow I will read it as well.  It has yet to happen.  It’s just so…big!  I will cross this off my list sometime soon.

8. Own a house with a library – My aunt’s house has a beautiful library in it.  I always loved it as a kid when we would go over there.  A whole wall of books!  I always wanted one in my own house.  While my office is overflowing with books right now, it’s just not the same.  I want a room for books and only books.  The BIG dream would be a Beauty and the Beast style library, but we can start small.

9. Reread all seven Harry Potter books with my children – I do not have any children yet, but I hope to one day.  I want to share the absolute adventure and joy of Harry Potter with them.  I want them to enjoy the books like I got to.  Have the discussions and ask the questions I did.  I want to see them completely lost in this world, just as I was.  I want us to share that together.

10. Write my own book – Of course, to do this, I must write.  I am working on it again.  This has been a dream I have had since I could write.  I hope to one day accomplish it.

What is on your bucket list?

A Peek Inside: English 10B

24 Mar

The new trimester begins this week.  Can you believe the school year is already 2/3 of the way over?  Every year is faster than the last.  I said good bye to my seniors (I plan on sharing some of their reflections later this week) and am gearing up for new classes.  This trimester I am teaching one section of ELA Lab and the rest of my schedule is English 10B.

English 10B is one of my favorite classes to teach!  I absolutely love the 10th grade curriculum and in particular, I really love this class.  Here is a little tour of what we will be doing the next three months.

Along with daily SSR and grammar lessons, we have three major units throughout the trimester:

  • Narriative Writing
  • Of Mice and Men novel study
  • Choice Books

Narrative Writing

Of all the units of writing I teach, this is by far my favorite.  One thing I do appreciate about the CCSS is the fact that narrative writing is part of the conversation.  Students really find their voices when able to tell their stories.  I also see their confidence grow as writers.  Plus, I learn so much about them.

We begin by looking at some mentor texts in narrative writing.  I have chosen memoirs from a variety of different authors.  We look at what we like about the writing and discuss what the characteristics of memoir are.  Then we start to brainstorm possible topics for our own memoirs.  I have typically done lists in the past; this year I am turning to Penny Kittle’s work in Write Beside Them for a number of different activities to get the juices flowing.

Then, we write.  Last year, I set up my class loosely following a workshop model. I model my writing and drafting then give students ample time write in class.  It is difficult at times to get them to start writing.  Students want everything to be perfect the first time and don’t always understand the messy process that is writing.  My hope is that workshop will help them discover that.

We focus three mini-lessons on specific narrative skills: revising leads, exploding a moment (or two), and adding dialogue.  Students work on revising memoirs to include these techniques and I confer with them as to how they might.  We spend a good portion of time discussing revision and working on polished drafts to conclude the unit.

I hope to incorporate opportunities for students to share their writing.  I haven’t done much of that before.  I think it will help build community in my classroom and make students feel more confident about their own writing.

Of Mice and Men Novel Study

This is probably my favorite book to teach!  We start with some work with informational texts on symbiosis.  Yes, this English teacher brings in some science.  We do some close reading strategies to understand symbiosis and relationships.  We also watch a short video to help students understand the concept.  Finally, we read a story how maggots and leeches (yuck!) can actually be helpful to humans in order to understand how complex relationships can be.

Then we get into the novel.  Using Cris Tovani’s book So What Do They Really Know?: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning I started setting up some reading workshop.  We have a reading focus for each chapter.  For example, in chapter 1 we focus on building the characters of George and Lennie.  We read some chapters together, but I’m working towards more independent reading as well.  I also use Tovani’s Inner Conversation Logs for students to become aware of their thinking.  I will confer with students as they read independently.  Students in general really get into this novel and I love the conversations we have during the reading of the novel.

In the past, the assessment for this unit has been a persuasive essay dealing with the issue if George was justified in killing Lennie.  I want to try something new this year.  As I have written about before, we have had a lot of conversations about persuasive vs. argumentative writing and this was a topic at MRA as well.  Working with different levels now this year has shown me that students need more experience using sources in their writing.  Over the last few years, I have come across a large number of articles that deal with the morality in holding people of lower mental capacity responsible for their crimes.  I want to bring in these sources as well as the novel for students to explore the bigger topic that surrounds our discussions.  My colleague who is also teaching 10B seems on board with this.  I will update later what we do with this idea.

Choice Books Unit

Students have a choice of three books to read independently and discuss in groups:

The mini-lessons focus on what makes an effective discussion.  We still look at our thinking while reading using a variety of methods to record thinking.  My main goal, however, is to “beef up” the conversations students are having.  One of my favorite lessons is talking about fat questions vs. skinny questions using the picture book Rainbow Fish.  We also work on follow up questions and how to build up the discussions they are having.

A special treat the last couple of years has been the opportunity to Skype with Gae Polisner.  She tells us a lot about writing and takes questions from students that read the book.  I am playing with the idea of doing a read aloud again this year.  I might use her new book The Summer of Letting Go so more students can take part in questions about her writing.  I just have to hang onto one of my two copies as seniors who read The Pull of Gravity as sophomores really want to read the new book.

I am looking forward to teaching this class again.  I am very lucky that I enjoy teaching so many of the classes that are on my schedule.  I can’t wait to see where this trimester leads my students and me.

Second Trimester Reflections

20 Mar

I am starting this entry as I sit at school and feel like I’m losing my mind.  Second trimester finals begin tomorrow.  I feel like I barely did any teaching!  We had a record eight snow days this trimester!  The most I ever remember is four; this year, we had four snow days in a row.  I’m worrying about students’ grades and are they prepared for the final and what could I have done differently and…well, the list goes on and on.

I was checking in work today for my intervention class, ELA Lab.  One assignment I always have students do in this class is a reflection.  I truly believe reflection is important in teaching, especially with an intervention class.  I want to make sure I am meeting students’ needs and being the most effective teacher I can be.  I am so glad I read these today.  Not only did they give me great insights to my class, but they were also a little pick-me up that I so desperately needed.

I asked students to list the positives and deltas (things to change) about the class.  I was amazed at what some of them had to say!  A positive that was mentioned overwhelmingly is that students were able to read and read a lot.  That made me feel pretty good since we do read every day.  They did make me want to reconsider logs though; they are not huge fans of those.  I am reconsidering the use of them.  My number one goal is to provide positive reading experiences, and in my own life, I do not recall filling out a log in any of my positive memories.  That is definite food for thought.

Other positives that really stood out to me include:

  • I read a lot more
  • Also, it helped me not to be afraid to read out loud
  • I love the reading!
  • Better understanding of reading and how important it really is.
  • It teaches you that everyone likes to read they just haven’t found a book that they like and they will one day

The reflection has students consider how the class helps them in other classes and how they have changed as a reader, both in ability and attitude.  They had a lot to say.

  • I think this class helped me as a reader because I understand what’s going on more
  • The class made me feel stupid at first but in the end it helped me
  • I used to not really want to read, but I did enjoy it. Now I sort of just really wanna read all the time! and enjoy it!
  • I use the strategies in my English class.  For an example asking questions, I’m able to ask questions before reading and identify a questions too. Making Connections, being able to connect with the stories helped me  as well.
  • About the dog helping a girl with a problem because i never knew that and its amazing how a dog can sense danger like her condition. (most interesting thing read – an article on a seizure alert dog)

This has helped me.  I know I have aspects of the class to work on and tinker, but to know that my students understand what we do and how it helps them reminds me that as teachers, we do a lot more than what we are aware.  Sometimes, we focus too much on the negative or what we think we did “wrong.”  In reality, there are so many amazing things going on in our classrooms that may surprise us.  As we struggle with the end of winter, I think this helps us keep focused on what’s important and the positive.

I will miss my students as I always do, especially my lab students this trimester.  They were an amazing group of students that could make me smile not matter what kind of day I was having.  I’m looking forward to the rest button of next week with a new trimester and will be taking the ideas and lessons they have taught me.

Antigoddess: A Review

19 Mar

Title: Antigoddess

Author: Kendare Blake

Format: Hardcover, personal purchase

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads): The Goddess War begins in Antigoddess, the first installment of the new series by acclaimed author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake.
Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god. 

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning. 

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out. 

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

Really, this one combines two things I just love: Kendare Blake and Greek Mythology.  I loved Blake’s writing in Anna Dressed in Blood.  If you or your students want something creepy, Anna is all you need.  When I heard she was writing a new book, I was ecstatic.  I’ll be honest; I picked this one up with knowing very little about it.  That is how much I loved the Anna books.  Once again, I was not disappointed.

I learned a lot when reading this.  I was telling a colleague about the books and she was filling me in on some of the myths I was not too familiar with.  I found myself doing research as I read, especially about Cassandra.  I wanted to learn as much as I could while reading.  This makes me wonder if students would do the same while reading.  The interest in mythology I know many students have thanks to Percy Jackson tells me that they just might.  I absolutely love how Blake throws in a few surprises with how some other gods and some of my favorite characters from the myths find their way into the story.

Really, just like with Anna, this books has everything.  There is humor.  There is suspense.  There is violence (overly so at times).  There are parts that give you the creeps.  There are countless surprises.  You will feel shock.  You will feel awe.  Really, you will be on a roller coaster ride from page one.  Readers cheer for both Athena and Cassandra throughout their story.

I have mentioned plenty of times before how much I enjoy duel perspectives.  It is interesting that this one is third-person limited duel perspectives (maybe I just coined a new term).  Then, Blake has a lot of freedom in her writing when Athena’s and Cassandra’s story lines do finally meet.  There can be a shift in perspective in the middle of a chapter or scene with little to no confusion for the reader.  I appreciated this technique.

I will admit, the ending threw me off just a little bit.   Not enough to discourage me from the rest of the serious though.  I was like of surprised how it went, to be honest.  Though I can see how that opinion may change when I do read the next book and see where the plot is headed.

If you like mythology and know a thing or two about the gods, I really think you will enjoy this book.  I will warn you that it is not for the faint of heart and you may want to consider ages of readers when recommending it to students.

MRA 2014 Wrap Up!

18 Mar

This past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the school year.  Along with two of my colleagues, I traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend the Michigan Reading Association’s Annual Conference.  This is the third year in a row I have attended MRA.  Just as in years past, this was an amazing weekend full of fun, friends, and learning.

Saturday started nice at early at 8am with a session with Penny Kittle.  I was so excited to hear her speak for the first time.  As I have written before, I have been influenced by Penny’s work in both reading and writing.  On Saturday, she focused on writing.  Here are some of the biggest points I want to take with me:

  • Talk drives writing
  • We need to model the mess of writing
  • Coteachers can BOTH write and revise on the board to model
  • We can teach revision as daily practice
  • MODEL!!
  • Make students not afraid to revise

It was an honor to meet Penny in person.


The keynote speak for Saturday was RJ Palacio, the author of Wonder.  So if you have not read this amazing book, please make sure you get on that as quickly as possible!  To hear how she came to write the book and how the book has touched so many different people, of all ages and backgrounds, was very inspiring.  It started some thoughts in my own mind…but we will save that for a different day.  😉

My colleagues and I attended the Rockstar Luncheon where we had the opportunity to sit and talk with “Rockstars” in literacy.  There was room at Jeff Anderson’s table so I took a seat with him.  I really like Jeff!  He actually worked with teachers in my district a couple years ago.  We had some great conversations about writing, reading, and our favorite television shows.  He is incredibly fun to talk to and I really appreciated the time he spent with us.

Jeff Anderson

The 1:30 session was presented by Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler.  They were sharing ways students could create digital argument using technology.  These were examples from their book Create, Compose, Connect.  One of the most beneficial aspects of this one was that I really am getting a better idea of persuasive vs. argumentative.  This handy graphic may help:



Jeremy also gave a great analogy: think of persuasive as a salesman and argument as a lawyer.  This one clicked with me very well.  I also know to make sure to use the words Claim, Evidence, and Reason in my teaching and how these can be very beneficial throughout the content areas.  Simple and specific lists are also techniques to help writers focus on reasons and evidence.  Mindmeister is an amazing online tool for mindmapping I hope to use, especially now that it is an Add-on in Google Drive.  Check it out of you have not yet.  Jeremy and Troy’s book talks about many types of writing.  I definitely want to get my hands on this one!

The last session for Saturday was a Welcome Home panel put together by Colby Sharp to bring together Michigan born authors Katherine Applegate, Lisa McMann, and Linda Urban.  Plus, Colby had two of his students from last year who are lovers of these authors and readers.  Not only was I inspired to continue to promote reading in my classroom especially through book talks, but I was inspired to write again.  Linda Urban spoke so freely about her own struggles to allow herself to make mistakes and talking to her afterward gave me a kick in the pants to keep going.  I even already have a notebook all set to use.



I just love hearing authors speak of their influences and getting to know them as people.  I was able to tell Lisa how much my students loves her Wake trilogy.  And then I told the student on Monday about meeting Lisa.  I love making these connections.  It was an amazing panel!

Sunday started nice and early again with Donalyn Miller’s session about, what else?, BOOKS!  My Goodreads account has blown up with books I want to read.  She really promoted some nonfiction titles I would love to add to my library as well as some middle grade and young adult titles that I can see students liking.  I was reminded of the quote that seems to describe my life: “I was born with a to-read pile I will never finish.”

Cris Tovani was the keynote speaker for Sunday.  I had the amazing opportunity to introduce myself on Saturday night and tell her how she has influenced my work.  She is an amazingly kind person and very easy to talk to.  I appreciated in her talk how she discussed some struggles she has with balancing reading and CCSS and well, pretty much everything we deal with on a daily basis.  We are not alone!  She reminded us that tinkering is a part of teaching.  Our resources may shift in order to best prepare our students.  She also posed the question how do we reread something differently?  I think this is one think I can really focus on in my reading instruction.  These two notes struck the biggest cord with me:

  1. If students can read my content better, I can cover more content.
  2. If students know what to do when they encounter difficulty, they can read away from class.

After a #nerdybookclub luncheon, I presented for the first time ever along with my colleague Leanne.  We shared the reasons behind Project Literacy this summer and what we did at the camp, as well as what we are doing with students now in school.  I was nervous and we had a few tech issues, but overall it went really well.  People came, which is always a plus, and had questions.  I also connected with another teacher afterward who was so excited about what we shared as he is planning a summer literacy camp as well.  Basically, I am very proud of what we did and I have been bitten my the preso bug!  I hope to have many other opportunities in the future to share and work with other teachers.


Me and Leanne with our former consultant, Dr. Jeff Beal.


As always, MRA was an AMAZING experience!  Along with all this learning, I had a great time with friends, both old and new.  I love the connections we make and the fun that we have together.  I plan on being there next year for the 2015 conference.  I hope to see you there, too!