December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013!

I'm linking up for two parties today in what will be my LAST POST of 2013!

First up is a Teaching Blog Roundup, hosted by Simply Kinder Head on over there to familiarize yourself with the MANY new teaching blogs and make some new friends!


This second linky, Resolutions by A Peach for the Teach,  has been in my drafts folder for a few days now. I think I struggle to make New Year's Resolutions because a year is a very overwhelming amount of time. Someone (I wish I could remember who... I think it was on E! News?) said yesterday that she was making monthly goals for herself instead. I like that idea!  Anyway, I still wanted to join the party, so here's what I'm working on for 2014:


I hope you all have a safe and happy NYE and look forward to learning and sharing with you in 2014!



December 30, 2013

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

I took a risk with this week's book choice, selecting something that wasn't a recommendation of a friend or family member.

My dear friend, Erin, from I'm Lovin' Lit - you probably know her, was looking for book recommendations last week. Specifically, she said she was interested in more Holocaust fiction.

Being quite the Holocaust connoisseur myself, I decided to rise to the challenge and help her find a book. If you know Erin at all, you know this is not an easy feat because she reads EVERYTHING!

I started by listing some of My Suggestions for Holocaust Fiction:
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (My favorite book of 2013)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Between Shades of Gray by Rita Sepetys
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

But, as I predicted, she was already familiar with this list. So, the I made it a personal mission to find a new book for her. After some online research, I found it... Someone Like Us by Jenna Blum.

Here's the summary from Good Reads:
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.


What drove me to this book was the fact that it was a lesser-told story. Instead of another novel from the perspective of a Jewish survivor (not that I don't love those, in case you can't tell by the list above), this book tells the story of a German woman... and I don't mean one who took major risks to save a Jew either. Anna's story was about survival by any means necessary and because of those who helped, regardless of their motives.

All three of us (my mom read it too) really enjoyed this book. I should warn you that there are some very graphic details that were, unfortunately, the reality during this time period. I wouldn't recommend this particular book to any of my students because of the mature content, but I definitely suggest it for any of my adult friends.

December 29, 2013

Sunday Tradition

For many years, I've looked forward to a little Sunday tradition where I read the posting on the PostSecret blog. If you're not familiar, it's a community art project where people anonymously send secrets on a postcard. Each week, I look forward to reading the cards Frank shares.

Today, there was one that really resonated with me...


And then, at the end of the secrets, there was this message:

In response to the teacher who cannot find magic in his or her classroom:
Your role is not to be the magician. Your role is to be the believer. The magic will reveal itself (it is often locked inside your students).

I hope this reaches some of you as it has me. What a great thing to keep in mind as we head back into the classrooms next week and begin to feel increased pressure regarding the impending testing. 

Believe in magic!

December 27, 2013

Summary from the PISA Report on U.S. Education



Upworthy shared this video today, and it was really good to finally see some data that compares apples to apples in terms of education.

My takeaway? Contrary to popular belief, we ARE doing a great job as teachers despite the numerous obstacles in our way. Also, we, as a society, have to do more to combat poverty. The numbers don't lie!

Thirteen in '13

Being the survey junky I am, I could't pass up the opportunity to join in on this adorable linky party. I'm linking up with A Teeny Tiny Teacher, Dragonflies in First, and Miss Kindergarten

I have a two pair of black skinny jeans from Target. I never in a million years thought I could love a pair of jeans so much. They are flattering, versatile, and comfortable. Here's to stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something you didn't think you'd like!
I think Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the ONLY movie I saw in 2013. At least in the theater. So, I guess that wins by default (and I really liked it). 
I'm having a really hard time choosing between Dexter and Orange is the New Black. I discovered and devoured both shows this year and loved them both. I guess I'll go with Dexter just because it had so many more seasons to offer.
Joy Yee Noodles is my new favorite. My dear friend, Sunny, was super excited to introduce us to more authentic Asian cuisine and took us there for dinner a few weeks ago. Everything we tried was absolutely delicious, and I am in love with the fresh fruit freezes with the tapioca balls, or squishy balls, as I call them. 
Being a teaching assistant. The pay is worse than terrible, but this job is also very rewarding. I love that I get to have the fun part of developing relationships with students without the pressure of their academic progress falling solely on my shoulders. I don't have to plan, grade, conference with parents, be the primary disciplinarian, etc. And best of all, I get to leave at 3:00!
Moving back to Chicago. I say this qualifies for a gift because my parents have given us a home while we search for better job opportunities. We're so blessed to have the gift of their support.
I've actually been less of a pinner in 2013. The only thing I can think of that I for-sure tried this year for the first time was the Pesto Ranch Crock Pot Chicken
My favorite post, because I've seen how many people have adopted this idea, is my post about classroom management apps. Specifically, I discussed my idea to use a Wheel of Rewards to reinforce positive behavior.
This is going to seem so novice to many of you, but I'm seriously SO proud of myself for making a 40-page novel study packet for my TPT store. I love teaching A Christmas Carol and feel really good about being able to share some of my activities with others. It was a LOT of work to put this together, but it also felt really good to be productive and be able to make a little extra cash on the side.

There's nothing like a beautiful late summer/early autumn night in Chicago with friends. We saw an awesome band and got our first professional shot! Ha! I actually had to steal it from Facebook because pretty much all my pictures are gone. I thought they were safe on iCloud, but I obviously did something wrong there.
Spring Break 2013 in Destin, Florida. What I wouldn't give to be on that white sand right now! (Oh how I wish I hadn't lost those pics!)
To find a full-time teaching job in my forever-school. Is that asking too much? I'm just SO tired of the application process and want to be done once and for all!
I think my word for 2014 should be "Kind." I want to remember that it's more important to be kind than right. And I am still learning to be kind to myself. Although I think this will be a lifelong battle, I would like to make some progress toward it. 

This Christmas

Today, I'm linking up with Teaching in Tongass to share some highlights from our festivities. 


Our celebrations began around noon on Christmas Eve when my mom and I prepared the first batch of sangria for our family party that night. As any good host would do, we felt it was necessary to test our drink... and before we knew it, the punch bowl was empty. I think we were on our third batch by 3:00!


During this time, I also taught my parents how to play Heads Up, which is our favorite party game. It was created by Ellen DeGeneres, so you know it's hilarious. You hold the phone to your forehead while everyone else gives you clues to guess the word. I was testing out the "All The Right Moves" set, which reveals a dance move you have to act out for the guesser. Mom and I got breakdance, and she immediately got down on the floor with her legs in the air. I then tried to spin her around while we laughed hysterically. I can't understand why my dad couldn't figure it out! lol If you haven't played this game yet, you MUST download it. Its 99 cents in the app store, and there are many versions, making it great for groups of any age. 



After my siblings arrived, we left for the candlelight service at church, which has been a tradition for years. I love, love, love the symbolism when the whole congregation's candles are lit from the one "Jesus Candle" and we sing "Silent Night" together. I get goosebumps every time we hold our candles high on the last verse.


After church, we headed back to my parents' house for more drinking, appetizers, and presents. My mom tried something new this year, giving each of us one big box with ALL our presents inside, wrapped in tissue paper. It was like the gift that just kept on giving because I'd find a nail polish buried over in one corner and then a lip gloss tucked beneath something else. It was a fun way to open presents, I have to say. I'm obsessed with my new chevron laptop bag. My old one was from my first job out of college and literally falling apart at the seems. I especially love the pocket inside that holds my water bottle with ease and has an elastic top to keep it from falling out and spilling all over. I almost can't wait to be back to school to use it... I said almost!


Joel scored some major points when he upgraded my original request and got me a Rusk Curl Freak curling iron for Christmas. I'm terrible when it comes to curling my own hair. I want so desperately to have big, sexy waves, but all I seem to do is burn my fingers the whole time. haha This curling iron is fool-proof. You just clamp it on a section of hair, and it sucks it into the chamber where it curls it perfectly every time. Of course, my sister and I broke it out right then and there, and then we spent the next hour curling each other's hair on the living room floor while my brother, our boyfriends, and our parents watched. Whatever. We were having fun! Also, I would like to report that I can now achieve big, sexy curls all on my own. Holla!


On Christmas Day, we enjoyed a pumpkin pancake breakfast with my parents and then went to Joel's mom's house for the afternoon. We snuggled our niece, Aniya, who is still as cute as can be, watched a couple movies, ate a delicious meal his mom and her boyfriend prepared, and hung out with his siblings. (No picture here because we didn't think to take any. I suck at pictures.)

Oh, and I finished the last episode of Orange is the New Black last night and am anxiously awaiting Season 2. 

I'd call that a successful Christmas! :)

December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve

It's negative two degrees outside right now.

NEGATIVE TWO degrees! And that doesn't even factor in the windchill, folks! 

It's times like this that I miss living in Louisiana. This time last year, we were eating frozen yogurt on the patio. This nostalgia only lasts about 40 seconds until I remember all the things I hated about Louisiana, of course, but this cold still makes me miss it just a little.

The only time I left the house today was to drive my cousin and her boyfriend to the airport, and that didn't even require a bra (thank God). When it's cold like this, there's nothing I enjoy more than lounging around in a hoodie and sweatpants. When I absolutely have to leave the house, I've taken to putting my boots on over my slipper socks to keep warm.

Even my dogs are hibernating from the cold. My lab pooped all over the stairs not 20 minutes after I took him out... Just as we were about to eat dinner. Apparently, it was too cold to poop outside? There's nothing like picking up dog poop to spoil your appetite. (Okay, let's be real... I still ate dinner. Nothing has the power to turn me completely off from food, although I'd love to find something that could!)

Luckily, my bear-like state (you know... cuz I'm hibernating... and because I can't remember when I last shaved my legs) has given me time to discover the greatness that is Orange is the New Black on Netflix last night. Have you jumped on this bandwagon yet?!

After being glued to my laptop screen for ten episodes in a row, I think it's safe to say that I'm officially hooked. I'm fascinated by prison life and find myself wondering if I would be as clueless as Piper if I ever found myself behind bars. I watch all the characters and ask myself who I would be... and then I remember that I don't want to be any of them because between you and me, I don't think I could hack it in prison. I'll just enjoy the show instead. 

I LOVE winter break!!

Woodsong by Gary Paulsen


Happy Monday! Even though I haven't linked up for a couple weeks, I HAVE been reading.

In class, we finished reading Gary Paulsen's Woodsong last week. I have to admit that I wasn't very eager to read this one because I'm just not a nature person. Survival stories, which are Paulsen's specialty, are just not my thing. I also wasn't convinced my suburban students would be able to relate to the story, so I was apprehensive as we began Chapter 1... and soon after, I found myself surprised at how much I was enjoying the book.

From the School Library Journal:
An autobiographical book that gives through spare but vivid language a look at a man who thought, because he was a hunter and a trapper, that he knew about the outdoors. Instead, he discovered he knew very little until he opened himself to the realities of predators and prey, and to the lessons taught to him by the animals he encountered and the sled dogs he trained and raced. This is not a life story, with dates and names and achievements, but rather Paulsen's reflections on the peculiarities and surprises of nature. Some of the lessons are violent and painful, brought on by the natural instincts of wild animals or Paulsen's own mistakes; others are touching or humorous, and convey a sharp sense of observation and awareness of the various personality traits of the dogs he has raised and run. And some are unexplainable--mysteries of nature that would seem incredible if written in a work of fiction. The anecdotal style and rhythmic, sometimes abrupt sentence structure demand close attention, and the switch in the last third of the book to Paulsen's day-by-day account of the Iditarod is sudden, though expected. The Iditarod story is intensely personal, focusing on Paulsen's thoughts, actions, and hallucinations during those 17 days rather than presenting a comprehensive view of the race and the competitors. Both segments of the book generate wonder at the abilities of animals and should introduce fans of Paulsen's fiction to a different type of writing. --Susan Schuller, Milwaukee Public Library

Our students completed a supplementary WebQuest on the Iditarod as we read through this novel and also enjoyed watching both Balto (before reaing) and Iron Will (after the test), making the stories come alive.

For me, this was, surprisingly, a great read.

December 22, 2013

In Memory of My Uncle

Yesterday, my family paid tribute to my Uncle Carl, who passed away a week ago after a long battle with a myriad of health concerns. I'm honestly not quite sure if the reality of his death has completely sunk in for me yet. There were so many close-calls over the years, but Carl always defied the odds and pulled through. It's weird that I have to keep reminding myself that he's really gone this time, not just in the hospital again.

The things that have given me the most solace are the stories from my aunt and mom who were with him in his final days. Often, they told me, he would look up and to the right with great focus. My sister said that at one point, he was smiling and waving, trying to reach out to something. Although he was unable to speak, I was told that he nodded with conviction when they asked him if he saw my grandma and grandpa. It gives me peace to think that they were there waiting for him when he died. Also, the very last thing he did before losing consciousness for the final time was renew his vows, something he and my aunt have wanted to do for quite some time.

I was privileged to be able to read a love letter my uncle wrote to my aunt several years ago during which he recalled their first date, their courtship, and his desire to spend the rest of his life with her. I had to practice it several times at home so I could stay composed at the funeral because it was pretty emotional for me to speak his words. He didn't just love but cherished my Aunt Patti, and it was an honor to be able to share that with all who came to pay respects.

The one good thing that comes from funerals is that my family, who is scattered across the country in New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado all come "home" to Illinois. It's been nice to spend time with cousins I've seen only a handful of times in my life, and I know my uncle has been smiling down to see us all together like this. And he'll be even more excited to see us all cheering for Da Bears together tonight.

We took advantage of pretty Christmas decor at the ski lodge where we had our luncheon and had a little family photo shoot. Unfortunately, I didn't think to do this until some of the group had already left, but at least we captured the photos below.

I won't bore you with tags of all these people, but we're a pretty cute bunch if I do say so myself.


December 21, 2013

Greek Agora

The sixth graders in my district study ancient civilizations in social studies, and we've just learned about Grecian and Roman Empires.

For the past week, the entire sixth grade had been busy crafting in preparation for our Greek Agora. Students made rainbow loom bracelets (of course), duct tape hair bows and bow ties, clay sculptures, beaded jewelry, keychains, t-shirts, flower pens, picture frames, bookmarks, and a myriad of paper products to sell in the market yesterday. Some groups chose to offer services like fortune telling, nail painting, face painting, and even a skee ball game made of cardboard. Each product/service was sold for Drachma during the Agora, and students took turns selling and shopping.



This made for a great pre-winter break activity because students were completely invested in creating their products. It was fun to see 300+ students packed into the cafeteria wearing togas and shopping (sometimes bartering) for items created by their peers. I'm pretty sure everyone wore a smile the whole morning!

December 18, 2013

Back in Action

I picked up my laptop, complete with a new hard drive, this afternoon. I have to admit, it was kinda nice to not have the distraction of a computer for a few days. My aunt and uncle are in town for a funeral this weekend (my uncle passed away on Saturday after YEARS of being super sick), and not having the temptation of technology has allowed me to just spend time with them.

But... now I'm back in action. Well... kinda. I lost all of my pictures and music on the old drive (I'm smart enough to use Dropbox for my documents, but music and photos take up too much space), so I've been downloading music all night like it's my job! I guess this is good way to weed out the one-hit wonders, huh?

I promise I'll be back to some teaching-related posts soon. We have a BIG day on Friday, so I'll be sure to take some pictures and blog about our adventures!

Stay tuned...

December 15, 2013

Good News, Bad News

When I woke up this morning, I told myself it was going to be a productive day. I had every intention to draft and schedule a few blog posts and work on some TPT projects.

My good intentions, however, we're thrown out the window when I realized my new(ish) Mac wouldn't start. I had a grey screen with a flashing question mark. 

I immediately made an appointment with Genius Bar, who informed me that I will need a new hard drive.

The good news is that it will cost me nothing.

The bad news is that I am without a computer until the new drive arrives AND I lose everything on my hard drive.

Most of my documents are safe in Dropbox. So, really it's my pictures and music that are gone. Hopefully, some of that will be salvaged by iCloud.

Fingers crossed.





















December 11, 2013

A Fun Christmas Survey

I'm not sure what it is about this week (perhaps the FRIGID temperatures?), but it is taking FOREVER! My countdown to Winter Break is pretty much all that's keeping me going right now. This fabulous linky by Michelle at Fabulous in First has come at just the right time!

Hot Chocolate or Eggnog?
Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows please! I'm no opposed to the flavor of eggnog, but I can't stand the texture.

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them underneath the tree?
Always wrapped. I think Santa had a special paper to help us know who gave us the presents.

Colored lights or white?
I like white on a house but colored on a tree. Growing up, my sister and I would always fall asleep in our sleeping bags with our heads under the tree. We would stare at all the pretty colors as I tried desperately to stay awake to catch a glimpse of Santa. It's one of my favorite memories!

When do you decorate?
When my decorations are not in storage like this year, I decorate the day after Thanksgiving while all the crazies are Black Friday shopping. I also leave it up until mid-January when I can decorate for Valentine's Day because I like to have decorations year-round.

Real or fake tree?
I've only had fake trees, but Joel really wants to try a real one once we have our own place again. I think I will love the smell and look but not the mess.

What tops your tree?
An angel.

Favorite Christmas memory or tradition?
As far back as I can remember, my dad used to take our family downtown to Magnificent Mile where we would drink hot chocolate, eat Garrett's popcorn, view the window displays at Marshall Fields (before Macy's), and visit the tree. When we were kids, it was a big deal to go to the city (a whopping 45 minutes away), so it felt really special.

Do you remember a favorite gift as a child?
I can't remember anything off the top of my head from my childhood, but my favorite gift of all time was a pair of tickets to my first ever Bears vs. Packers game at Soldier Field on Christmas Eve the year we went to the Superbowl. We won't talk about how cold and disappointing the game was... just the fact that I was SUPER excited to have the tickets.

Do you prefer giving or receiving?
I know what I'm supposed to say here, but I'm gonna go ahead and keep it real. I prefer receiving. Gifts are my love language. Send 'em my way! :)  Seriously, though, I stress about gift-giving because I want to find the "prefect" gift, and I'm almost always disappointed with my final selection because it's never just right.

Candy canes. Yuck or Yum?
I prefer the Candy Cane Hershey Kisses.

What is your favorite Christmas song?
"All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey (For sentimental reasons. It reminds me of my cheerleading days back in high school.)

Favorite Christmas movie?
Oh gosh... there are so many good options. But I think A Christmas Story is probably my favorite.

Do you shop online or in stores?
I do a lot of price-comparing online, but most of my purchases are done in stores because I usually wait too long to order things. I'd like to change that, though, because I'm really not much of a shopper.

Photo cards, letter, or store bought card?
I've never done Christmas cards. One year, I wanted to be crafty and bought the stuff to make my own, but my ADHD kicked in after two cards and I was done. :)

Christmas Traditions: Light Show

Last year, Christmas just wasn't the same. We were home for the holidays, of course, but I feel like we missed out on a lot of the excitement of the season being in Louisiana. It's just different down there. Christmas is a time for cold, snow, hot cocoa, tree trimming, and lights!

Oh, the lights!

People in Baton Rouge just don't decorate their homes like people in Chicago. At least not from what we saw.

The house in this video is about 30 minutes away from us (in the middle of nowhere). I am not ashamed to tell you that we've made the trip 3 times already this year, as it's one of our favorite Christmas Traditions.

The Larsen Family goes above and beyond, creating a spectacular lights display, set to music, that I swear rivals the Mannheim Steamroller concert I saw with my cousin 10 years ago.

The line gets pretty long, as I'm sure you can imagine, but the last time we went to the show, we were able to park right in front of the house! And this year, they're doing TWO shows on alternating nights... so you know we have to go back to see the other set.

Are there any homes in your area with impressive light displays like this? 




December 10, 2013

Stand for the Silent

We've had two assemblies about bullying in the past week.

One made me cry.

A lot.

The speaker was Kirk Smalley, president of Stand for the Silent. His mission is personal as he is also the father of Ty, an eleven year-old boy who committed suicide after being bullied for more than two years. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to hear a dad explain the details of that fateful day when he learned that his beloved son shot himself because he couldn't take even one more day.

Tears streaked the cheeks of staff and students alike, myself included, as we listened to the message Mr. Smalley. Hearing someone's personal story makes it more meaningful.

And then the coolest thing happened...

Each time Mr. Smalley got choked up during is speech, I looked up to see a gym full of 6th and 7th graders, normally rambunctious and sometimes disrespectful, sitting on the edges of their seat, hanging on to his every word.

And what's more? Each student stretched out a hand toward Mr. Smalley displaying the ASL sign for "I love you" to show him support. He taught them that the sign can also mean, "I've got your back," and it was great to see how they embraced it. It's pretty powerful to look up and see $600+ signs of love pointing in your direction!

At the end of his story came a message of hope. A message that each of us can be part of the change that ends bullying. A message to each student that they are someone important, that they matter, and that suicide is never an option.

He pleaded with our students to go out into the world and spread this message. For themselves, for their kids, and for their grandchildren. He invited them to join the plight of his non-profit, Stand for the Silent, in increasing awareness about bullying and its sobering effects. A group of 8th graders has already come forward with the intent to start our own chapter at our middle school. How awesome!


Although this is completely out of my control as an aide, I would have loved to do a follow-up activity about this in my ELA classroom. I think it would have been really impactful to do a writing assignment where students could talk about a time when they were bullied, a time they were the bully, or a time when they witnessed the bullying and did nothing. I think this would do a couple of important things:
  1. Demonstrate to the victims of bullying that they're not alone.
  2. Educate students on what bullying really means, since so many subtle methods are ignored.
  3. Give students an opportunity to share their writing in small groups or with the class, where they can feel the support (I'm telling you... that "I love you" sign is powerful).
  4. Teach students how to respond to bullying as victims and witnesses. 
  5. Open the door for further communication about this important topic.

December 9, 2013

Just When You Think You've Got It

It's spirit week at school, and today was pajama day. This pretty much means today was destined to be a good day for everyone, right?

So, why was it so frustrating for me??

As you may recall, I have a student who sometimes shuts down. Completely. Selective mutism is just the tip of the iceberg we deal with. The last time we dealt with this, it lasted 3 periods and resulted in us calling mom in to help get her off the floor where she had been lying in a fetal position (in the middle of class, mind you). Obviously, this is very distracting to the other students and teachers and should be avoided at all costs.

Today, said student was working on a comprehension packet for our novel study, and really didn't want to do the writing section. Now, I am often the scribe for this student, but I also know her capabilities... and this was nothing she couldn't do herself. So, I told her she could write. 

Immediately, she took off her glasses and closed her eyes. This is the first sign that she is shutting down. This is also the point at which she usually decides to stop responding to anything we say or do, and she will stay that way until she is good and ready.

My mind instantly ran though my bag of tricks, searching for something I could try to keep her from shutting down. And then I remembered... gum!

"Would a yummy piece of gum help you work hard for me?" I asked her.

Silence.

"I have watermelon (her favorite) and pink (it's raspberry cupcake but she just calls it pink). Which would you like?" I pleaded.

"Watermelon," she whispered.

I grabbed a pice from my bag and held it up. 

"Here you go! Remember, though, if you chew this gum, you have to keep working really hard for me!" I reminded her.

She popped the gum into her mouth and began working. She literally did the entire assignment without any more prompting from me (which never happens). She worked independently, wrote for herself, AND she didn't have a meltdown!

Success!!!!

Or so I thought. 

At the end of the day, I casually mentioned my gum intervention to our team's Support Facilitator (SPED teacher) and was chastised. He told me I was rewarding her for bad behavior. I explained that I was simply trying to prevent bad behavior, but he doesn't see it that way.

This... the same guy who consistently takes away her consequences AND gives her rewards when she hasn't earned them per her Success Chart (behavior system) because she "bounced back." For example, if she doesn't work during her reading intervention class, she's supposed to miss art, but he'll tell me to take her anyway because he doesn't have anything for her to do (because it's too hard to print off some skills sheets for her to do?). My favorite was when he told her she could leave early for the bus and she looked over at me in confusion because SHE KNEW she didn't earn it that day, per her Success Chart. She lives for rules, and here he is "bending" them left and right.

But I was rewarding bad behavior by encouraging her with a pice of sugar-free gum????????

Just when I think I've got it figured out... {smh}.

December 1, 2013

Winter Planning Giveaway Stop C-9

Welcome to Stop C-9 in the Winter Planning Getaway! I'm so excited to be a part of this group! 


First, allow me to introduce myself to all the new visitors. My name is Erin, and I teach middle school English Language Arts and Social Studies. I'm from suburban Illinois, but I spent the past year teaching at in inner-city charter school in Louisiana, which has given me a whole new perspective on education.

Follow on BloglovinOn my blog, I like to share stories from my classroom, lesson plans, classroom management tips, classroom setup and organization, and book recommendations along with stories from my personal life, just so we can all remember that we're real people behind these computers! 

My Teachers Pay Teachers site is relatively new and evolving. I've just posted my first bundle product, a 40-page novel study for A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite novels to teach. This product includes all of the activities I use to supplement the book during a a 3-4 week unit. That's right, you guys, your entire December could be completely planned with this one packet. And it just so happens to be ON SALE NOW for the TPT Cyber Monday & Tuesday Event! Just use the code CYBER to get 28% off!


In fact, you get a little preview of this unit in this Giveaway, my Characterization Guide, which I sell separately on TPT as well. This activity will lead your students through the 6 methods of Characterization (WALTER - Words, Actions, Looks, Thoughts, Emotions, and Reactions) as they read the story. Using the Five Faces of Scrooge packet, students will learn how to identify text quotes and and analyze each method in this Common Core-Aligned graphic organizer. Each page of the packet should be completed for each Stave of the story, making a perfect side-by-side comparison for your students to provide evidence of how Scrooge changes throughout the story.


Currently December

I was actually early to the Currently party this month. Farly's post wasn't live when I was writing earlier, so I guess I'm just gonna break the rules and post twice today.


Listening: Joel and I discovered Dexter over the summer and have slowly been making our way through the seasons. Sometimes, we have marathon days, but then we'll go weeks without watching an episode. Today, we finally started the final season, and I can't wait to see how this series ends.

Loving: I promised myself a lazy day after walking more than 18,000 steps yesterday. I've been hunkered down in the massage chair for more than 2 hours already with my laptop, some water, and a snack. I may stay in here all day! :)

Thinking: With every ache I feel in this chair, I am reminded of our fabulously fun weekend downtown. I hope Christmas break is half as much fun as this past weekend!

Wanting:  Now that I've posted my first novel study to my TPT store, I have all kinda of ideas of other novel studies and activities I want to add as well. It's time-consuming but oh-so rewarding once the product is complete. And it makes me happy to know that I can offer help to other teachers out there!

Needing: I'm reading a few books right now, but I need a good one for Audible that I can listen to in the car during my commute. Anyone have a suggestion for a a book that's not only a great story but also a good narration?

Favorite Tradition: One of my favorite things to do around Christmas time is drive around different neighborhoods to look at all the pretty lights. Honestly, this is something Joel and I do several nights a week. It's a fun, free (except for gas) date idea that allows us to spend a lot of quality time together. We talk, listen to music, and just enjoy the sites. 

Holiday Weekend Recap

First of all, I want to extend my congratulations to Rachael L., who is the winner of my A Christmas Carl Novel Study Giveaway! Please check your inbox, Rachael, for your prize!

Bummed that you didn't win? Don't worry because tomorrow starts the CYBER MONDAY & TUESDAY sale over at TPT, and all products in my store will be 28% off! Yep, that's right!. Load up your shopping carts now!!


I feel like Thanksgiving was the PERFECT break this year. We were fortunate to be given a 5-day weekend this year, which I feel is the exact amount of time I needed to gear up for these last 3 weeks before Christmas break begins. And yes... the countdown has begun! Anyone with me on this?

On Wednesday, I was FINALLY able to get into the salon to get my hair did. The other week, one of my sweet 6th graders asked me my age. When I told her to guess, she said, "Definitely in your 30's because you're getting grey hair." I promptly informed her that I've had grey hairs since I was 18... and then I called the salon to make my appointment.

After I was all beautified at the salon, I came home to work on Thanksgiving preparations. I made two yummy recipes to share this year. One was this pumpkin soup, which I blogged about previously, and the other was a yummy treat made up by my cousins's boyfriend. Roasted butternut squash and goat cheese appetizers. How yummy do these look?!


I've already blogged about Thanksgiving, so I'll skip to Friday when Joel and I managed to snag a couple Black Friday Deals, including a new tool chest for him (he's SO freaking excited about it even though I told him he has to wait until Christmas to "open" it). And then we went to the city to spend the night with my friend/cousin Bobbie at her apartment. 

Yesterday, Bobbie's brother and a neighbor took a bus into the city from Michigan, so we met them downtown for a day of Christmas fun. It was a BEAUTIFUL day in the city. Of course, we had to take them to The Bean, Buckingham Fountain, and all over the Magnificent Mile. We did lots of window shopping, visited the huge Christmas tree at Macy's, sipped some Gl├╝hwein at the Christkindlmarket, enjoyed a swanky lunch at the Omni Hotel, and saw all the lights and decorations on Michigan Avenue.

We ended the night with home-made nachos and some games back at Bobbie's apartment before finally heading back to the 'burbs and crashing blissfully in our bed. My body aches today (a sure sign that I am not as young as I used to be) after 18,000+ steps, but it was worth it. 

P.E.R.F.E.C.T. Weekend!


November 29, 2013

Giveaway Reminder

I hope your hearts and bellies were just as full as mine yesterday. We were fortunate to be able to celebrate the holiday with both our families again. This year, though, it was extra exciting to have our niece, Aniya, with us for her very first Thanksgiving. The novelty of having a baby around was not lost on my family who took turns snuggling her all day. OK... to be honest, it was more like we hijacked opportunities to smuggle her away from the others. At one point, my sister brought her to me for a new diaper, and I swear, before I could even get her little jeggings back on both legs, my mom stole her out from under me! haha

Don't forget to enter my 40-page novel study Giveaway. If you or anyone you know teaches A Christmas Carol, this is a great resource that basically takes all of the guess work out of how to tackle the novel. It's ready-to-use activities will be a hit with your students!

Joel and I are going to hit up a couple stores to see if there are any Black Friday Deals left after the crazies are back home and in bed. He's hoping for a toolbox he saw at Home Depot. I hope there's one left so I can stop hearing about it!

However you spend your day, I hope you enjoy your much-deserved break from school. Relax... you deserve it!

November 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Thanksgiving Edition

Happy Thanksgiving! I've really developed a deeper appreciation for this holiday this year. I love that we take time out of the daily grind to appreciate all the blessings we've been given. I love that we spend a day celebrating just being together, with the only gifts exchanged being time and companionship.


Here is my Ultimate Thanksgiving List...
  1. Togetherness. There's nothing I love more than spending quality time with friends and family. I love that Joel's family joins mine for the holidays, and that we can just hang out. Both of our families are pretty laid back, so there's no pressure to impress anyone, which I also love.
  2. A boyfriend who supports and loves me unconditionally. Joel allows me to be myself completely and make choices that I want. Even when he doesn't agree, he stands by my decisions. Also, I couldn't tell you the last time I had to fill my own gas tank... that's a love language I can appreciate! :)
  3. Music. I love that there's always a song that fits my ever-changing (not in a bi-polar way... you know what I mean) mood. And I love hearing old songs that can instantly transform me to a previous time and place. Specifically, there are a few newer stations here in Chicago that play all the music from the 80s, 90s and 2000s, and I pretty much always have a smile plastered across my face when I listen. I often text my BFF, Ashley, telling her what I'm currently singing along to because I know she'll automatically be experiencing the same flashbacks. It's pretty awesome to be able to share that with someone. 
  4. Teacher Pay Teachers. What a fantastic resource this website has become. I love being able to find products created by those who are in the trenches every day. It's been a huge time-saver and source of inspiration. I'm also optimistic about being able to share more of my products in hopes of helping others and supplementing my income. It's such a great opportunity!
  5. Each and every one of you. I cannot count the ways you have taught, guided, inspired, encouraged, and supported me. Whether we've become bloggy friends, you're a regular or sporadic reader and commenter, or I'm just one of your stalkers, you've been a part of this journey for me. I know I'm a better teacher because of blogging, and I am so grateful that I'm part of this community. 

November 27, 2013

40-Page A Christmas Carol Novel Study Giveaway


A few weeks ago, I blogged about my favorite novel study, A Christmas Carol, and how I teach it in my classroom. With the help and support of a great friend (thanks again, Erin), I am suuuuuper excited to announce that I have finally posted my (very first) entire novel study unit to my TPT store!

I feel like I just birthed a child. For real. I literally spent an entire weekend, from early morning until midnight working on this packet and ignoring the world (while Joel whined the whole time). I kept promising that it will be worth it when they start selling... and I hope I'm right! haha!

If you teach this novel, you can click here to read about how I tackle this unit, which explains how the contents of my novel study packet are used. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below or shoot me an email so I can respond.

Just as I mentioned in my previous post, this 40 page packet is full of activities to help your students master characterization and symbolism through this fantastic novel. Check out this Table of Contents for all the goodies that are included:



And now the fun part. This is going to be a QUICK giveaway because I want the winner to have this in hand by the end of the weekend for immediate use. If you're interested in this bundle, please enter my Rafflecopter giveaway below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

November 25, 2013

A Controversial Read: Crank

I know I told you last week that I'm making my way through a specific list of books being made into movies, but one of the strategic reading teachers at school handed me a book this week and told me I needed to read it. I had seen students read it before but never picked it up myself, but I devoured it in two afternoons.

The book is Crank by Ellen Hopkins. While it doesn't feel right to say that I "liked" this book, I did find it to be a powerful and honest portrayal of the downward spiral of drug addiction. On her website, Ellen Hopkins wrote that this book was loosely based on the the story of her eldest daughter, which makes it even more heart-breaking. The entire time I read the book, I was astounded at how quickly and completely Kristina's entire world was overtaken by the drug.

The SR teacher and I were debating for whom and if this book is appropriate for any of our students. The subject matter is definitely mature, but I also think it would be naive of us to think that none of our students will be faced with such temptations. I wasn't one a teen who experimented in much of anything at all, and a large part of that influence was knowing the negative impact of drugs and alcohol on members of my extended family. With that in mind, I feel like this book could be an effective "Don't even try drugs!" warning.

I would love to get my hands on the rest of this series and find out what happens to Kristina.

Finally, for those that are not familiar, here's the excerpt from Good reads:
In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the "monster," the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or "crank." Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne'er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: "there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree." Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won't, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.