Tag Archives: writing

A Great Start!

24 Mar

Well, the school year is officially more than 2/3 of the way done! Last week marked the beginning of trimester three and we are off and running.  This will be my last time teaching a third trimester; next year we are switching to semesters.

I am pretty proud of what was accomplished in trimester 2.  In English 10 A, I really focused on developing our close and critical reading skills and to move into synthesis across texts.  I challenged my students with a full synthesis essay on the American Dream based on our readings.  It was tough for them because they were not used to this type of writing.  However, we worked through and practiced and they stepped up.  They really showed what they learned on the final exams this trimester, too.  The quality of essays greatly improved from what I had seen in the past years and trimesters.  Students even told me they felt more confident going into the exam.  I was proud of them!  I am also gaining confidence in my teaching ability with some of these higher-level skills.  I will continue to work on them the rest of this year and into next year.

Now I get to teach three sections of English 10 B.  This is probably my favorite class to teach!  We start with narrative writing with memoirs.  I follow a workshop model and the students usually respond pretty well.  One of my favorite mini-lessons is the Explode a Moment lesson to help get more descriptive details in the writing.  This one is always fun and the stories students create as we practice the skill lead to a lot of laughter and strong writing moments. We had some great moments this week with this one! I love watching them grow as writers and gain confidence in themselves.

We are also able to do some of my favorite grammar units!  We start with Introductory Clauses.  In grammar, we follow Jeff Anderson‘s model of grammar instruction.  If you are not familiar with his work, you need to check out his books.  I get to borrow his AAWWUBBIS idea and the students create strong sentences and start expanding their writing skills.  These units just make teaching fun.

Plus, the reading has been really strong from the beginning.  We did book tours last week and students checked out books for SSR.  Many students have already been adding books to their To-Read lists.  I have seen students walking in the hall while reading The Selection.  Students keep asking when a book will be back in that they hope to read.  Students are talking more about what they are reading with each other.  I love seeing how reading becomes an accepted and expected part of our routine.  I still am trying to develop their life-long reading skills to carry beyond the classroom, but at least there is a start from all the work being done throughout the year.

There’s really one thing I want this trimester to be all about: fun.  I want students to have fun as they learn and grow as readers and writers.  I want my co-teacher and I to have fun as we continue to grow and learn from our students.  I hope to have some strong communities built by the time we reach June.  I feel pretty rejuvenated and ready to tackle this last part of the school year!


Picture Books and Poems

27 Jan

Alright – teacher confession time: Teaching writing is hard.  Who is with me on this?  While I know I am always evolving as a teacher, writing has been an area I constantly work on and strive to improve.  I was a good writer in school and thanks to some teachers and professors who challenged me, I became an even stronger writer.  However, I have found that sometimes it’s hard to teach students because, well, writing can be hard.  And hard scares us, both teachers and students.

I have really been trying to shift my focus in writing.  There are of course changes in standards and testing, but I have been thinking what skills do my students need?  Making an argument is very important, of course, but what else is there?  That is not the only type of writing.  What other experiences can we share?

Our department has been looking at synthesis the last few years.  This is one of the strategies that work when it comes to reading.  Plus, it is higher order thinking.  We create our own ideas from what we read.  And, as I explained to students, we read literature to learn about the world and apply the messages to our lives. I want to provide opportunities for students to share what they have learned.

A large part of synthesis is using sources to support your ideas.  We know as we have been shifting our instruction that sometimes students have a hard time with this.  I did too at times.  How do you incorporate another’s ideas while keeping the paper your own?  We use these skills in research for all topics, and I know it can really help students.

So, I wanted to incorporate a synthesis essay at the end of the Raisin in the Sun unit to help students with this.  I wanted them to explore the American Dream to discover the lessons they learned as well as apply the lessons to life.  Now, where to start?  How to help them do this?

My assistant principal is amazing to bounce ideas off of and get some advice from.  I want this higher level thinking, but how do we get there.  She suggested breaking it down for them with shorter, simpler texts first.  She recommended a picture book with another text.  Picture books appear simple, but of course, have many deeper lessons that we can apply. I had success earlier this trimester practice Close and Critical Reading Questions with a picture book. I decided to go for it to give the students practice.

After a lesson planning block, I came across some ideas online.  The picture book that really spoke to me was The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.  Not only is a beautiful books in general, but the story has a strong message about segregation.  I knew my students would have a lot to say about it.

I wanted to do more work with poetry with my students.  We had read “A Dream Deferred” before reading the play, so I turned to Langston Hughes again.  I love his poetry!  His poem “Merry-Go-Round” seemed to fit perfectly with the book and I thought we could not only practice using sources to show our learning, but have some great conversations.

And we sure did!  Friday, we went through the lesson.  I was amazed with what students had to say about both the book and the poem.  I love when students share ideas and thoughts I had not thought about.  I saw more light bulbs turn on as we started to write what we learned.  I felt so energized from such a thoughtful, productive day in the classroom.

I know that students are still nervous about the essay as it is new and different from what they are used to.  But, we continued discussing today and I have been encouraging them to try and take this risk to grow as writers.  I also tell them, we become better readers by reading and better writers by writing (and of course they help each other).  I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

I also appreciate the reminder from my AP about how important it is to practice and to remember the power of picture books in class.  Even though I thought I’d have it all figured out by now (will I ever?), at the end of the day, I love these opportunities to grow and try something new.

One Small Word with Students

6 Jan

The first day back from break was actually pretty awesome!  My students worked pretty hard and we got pretty much all our objectives accomplished.  It was a great way to help get back into the swing of things!

I have been really working hard to write (just about) every day along with reading every day.  Today, I asked my students to consider what their word would be for 2015.  To be honest, I was a little worried if they would get the idea.  I had absolutely nothing to worry about!  My students came up with some amazing ideas and really loved thinking of a focus for the new year.

The Wordle below is just a small sampling of the words they came up with.  Can you imagine all the amazing things they can do with a focus like these?  My students continue to amaze me each and every day.

One Small Word

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Goals for 2015

30 Dec


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 Goals/Resolutions for 2015 – books, blogging, or otherwise! I have some plans for 2015.

1. Read 75 Books

I had set my sights pretty high in 2014 going for 100.  A rough winter and a tough slump did not get me there.  To do more than this year, I am aiming for 75 next year.

2. Book Talk, Book Talk, Book Talk

Last trimester, I did not book talk enough.  I have really worked hard to book talk as much as possible this trimester and it is paying off!  Many more books have been checked out and read.  There is such a real power in doing this. 

3. Post at least 3 times a month

I strive to post at least once a month. I want to use the blog more.  Three posts would be just less than once a week and I think I can manage that.

4. Reviews

Within those posts each month, I want to get back to reviewing.  Reflecting on teaching is a part of this blog, but reviews have fallen off lately.  I like sharing my thoughts on what I read and I know I’ll get better the more reviews I write. 

5. Try new genres

Of course I love my YA and am passionate about it.  I want to expand my reading a little more and read some adult fiction and classics I have not gotten to as well. 

6. Write!

This is always a goal of mine.  I need to write more!  And more!  And even more!  I really think I would benefit from even a journal each night to reflect on my thoughts lately. 

7. Finish my re-read of Harry Potter

This summer I reread the first four books for the Harry Potter series.  I hope to finish and blog the last three books this year.

8. Build my picture book collection

I have some picture books in my classroom.  I do like to use them for lessons and students enjoy reading them as well.  I need more books in my collection.

9. Read teaching books

I have several teaching books that I have heard great things about but have yet to read.  I need to make sure I am aware of the current research and best practices for my students.

10. Have more students talk books

I love talking about books to my students. I want to encourage them to talk about them to me and of course, each other to build our community of readers.

What are your goals for 2015?

Just one of those days

23 Sep

Monday was an AMAZING teaching day.  It was one of those days that really energize me and remind me how much I LOVE being a teacher.

Some amazing things are happening in English 10A.  We started the day with a discussion about Banned Books in honor of Banned Books Week.  Students shared a lot of great ideas and opinions on the topics.  We talked about choice and why it is important and starting thinking about who has the right to choose.  We discussed both sides of the issue a bit.  Students will reflect on the topic more with their Article of the Week assignment.

Even our grammar lesson was great today.  I have been following the work of Jeff Anderson for nearly five years now.  I used to hate teaching grammar; I absolutely love it now.  We start on Mondays with a mentor sentence to talk about the skill we are focusing on this week.  Last week we did semi-colons, and we are discussing colons this week.  The mentor sentence opened up a lot of discussion on skills we have started working with and the different was we may use them.  We also made some great connections.  More and more students are participating in our discussions on Mondays and sharing great ideas.

Our discussion about our mentor sentence this week.

Our discussion about our mentor sentence this week.

Another added bonus about today?  My Donors Choose books arrived!  I cannot wait to share these titles with students!!

I am hoping to carry this awesome day throughout the week.  I hope you all have a great week!

Week 1 in Review

7 Sep

Well, year 8 of teaching is well underway.  Overall, it was a pretty great first week of school!

I am teaching English 10 A and a section of our Tier 3 intervention class. I am looking forward to working with these sophomores.  I started the year with a writing prompt where they wrote on this quote: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”  My friend Beth talked about using this on the first day with her students and it inspired me.  We discussed after students shared how this applies to English.  I want them to try new things in reading and writing.  Maybe it won’t go perfectly the first time.  However, we can grow and learn from those experience to become better readers and writers.

We also started a persuasive writing unit.  We discussed the aspects of persuasive writing then looked at where people make arguments in the real world.  Inspired by Penny Kittle’s work, I pulled a number of editorials as mentor texts.  So far, we have read some work by Leonard Pitts.  We have looked at what words, phrase, and techniques he uses to make is writing interesting.  We also talked about how we can see those elements that we associate with persuasive writing in his articles.  As on student pointed out, “His writing isn’t boring.”  I told my students that not a single one of them is boring and they have a lot to say and share.  We are going to work on becoming better writers and hopefully make this type of writing not so boring.

My students in the intervention class are very sweet.  It is all freshmen and it has been awhile since I have total a classroom with just freshmen.  We are working through the program together and I am trying to point out how these comprehension skills will apply to a variety of their classes.  We also have been sharing books and doing SSR.  We will also do some writing as well as the weeks go on.  I am looking forward to working with and getting to know this group more.

In all classes we have talked quite a bi about books and shared titles.  Many books have been checked out.  I am noticing a pretty awesome shift when I talk to students about reading.  In the past, most students would say they did not like reading at all.  As we have really worked together to create a reading culture in our school, more students have shifted to saying the “kind of” like reading.  The book has to interest them for them to like it.  I stress to my students that’s why they have choice in my class and why it is so important.  They seem to appreciate it.  My reading challenge to students this year is to read more than they read last year.

There were a number of great moments, but one sticks in my head.  A student joined our fifth hour on Friday.  I helped him get his folder and notebook set up then asked about reading.  He told me he did not like it at all and there wasn’t much he would want to read about.  I asked if I could bring a few books for him to at least look at.  He agreed.  In the pile, I included Rooftop by Paul Volponi.  I told him about Paul’s experiences that inspired his writing as I shared a little about each book in the pile.  During SSR time, the student did look through all the books and started reading Rooftop.  He seemed to read a few pages.  I asked if he wanted to check it out and he did.  I’m hoping this is a start for that student and he sees himself as a reader.

I really can’t wait to see where we go this year in all my classes.  I hope all teachers and students have had a great start to the 2014-2015 school year!

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.