April 30, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesday - Who I Am Poem

It's Tuesday, which means I need to post a Teacher Tip, but I don't have one prepared because I was a little preoccupied with having fun on spring break! 

But... because I'm committed to sharing my tips, I thought I'd use this opportunity to re-post a lesson I've used for many years with great success. With April being National Poetry Month, I'm sharing this I Am Poem project just in time!

I've seen other teachers use this template but never with the same directions. I require my students to describe themselves in this poem through the use of metaphor. This is a great higher-order thinking lesson that can be easily differentiated to meet the multiple needs in your classrooms. 

In past years, I've always started this project by hanging up samples from previous students and by doing a museum walk. When we do the same on the day the projects are due, my kiddos are always obviously proud of their work.

April 29, 2013

Monthly Goals: May

Wow! Can you believe May starts this week? This year (as in 2013, not the school year) is flying by! I have less than three weeks left before summer vacation begins, and you already know I'm counting down the days!

Today, I want to link up with Jess at I {Heart} Recess who has a new party where we're sharing our monthly goals. Mine aren't exactly SMART goals, but they're a good starting place! :)

Personal: I'm super excited that Joel and I are going home in May to visit our friends and family, whom we have not seen since Christmas!!!! We'll probably be there for a few weeks, and I can't wait!

Health: This is an ongoing process, but I'm always trying to eat less carbs. I've made a lot of adjustments in my diet (more fish and fresh produce and opting for gluten-free carb options when possible), but there's definitely still room for improvement. My sister recommended one meal per day where I allow myself to have some healthy carbs and then none the rest of the day. Ugh! I can do this, right?!

Blogging: I have my own linky party I plan to host in May. Make sure you keep stopping by (or follow) so you can play along!

School: While the end of the year can be very stressful with meeting deadlines and increased behavior incidents, I really do love my students and want to remember to celebrate my last days with them. I want to find at least ONE thing to laugh about every day... make every day a good one!

Fun: My hairstylist is trying to talk me into an ombre look for my next appointment. It's a pretty trendy look, and I'm not a very trendy person... but I love it on other people. Maybe I should try it out!

April 28, 2013

Destination: Destin

Last week, the salesman at Verizon was telling us all about how Destin, Florida is the best place to go for a beach vacation. We had spent weeks looking for hotel deals in Galveston and Gulf Shores, hoping to take advantage of long weekends here and there, but we were having a hard time finding exactly what we wanted.

So, last Monday night, while we were watching TV, I suggested that we check out hotels for the week in Destin. I knew the big rush of spring breakers was behind us and thought we might be able to find a good deal. I was super excited when we found a hotel right across the street from the beach with all the amenities we wanted (for more than half off!).

By the time we got back to the beach on Tuesday (after leaving late and dealing with car issues upon arrival), the sun was already setting. I was determined to feel the sand between my toes, so Joel and I took a little sunset walk along the shore and dipped our feet into the water. It was so worth the drive!

The next day, we bought some beach chairs and more sunscreen (for me... not that it helped) and staked out our spots in the sand. I was definitely right about the spring breakers being gone because it felt like we were on a private beach. We never had to deal with crowds or drunk college kids. And the weather was my definition of perfect. There was enough of a breeze that you didn't really get hot while you were laying in the sun, but it was still warm enough that we did get in the water a few times (the water was a little cold, but we survived).

Speaking of the water, we were actually warned to get out of the water by a lifeguard one day. Apparently, there was an 8.5 ft bull shark about 20 feet away and headed right for us. He said the shark has been sick, which is usually when they come close to shore, and he was alarmed when he saw the shark swimming in circles around a little girl who had no idea he was there. Yikes!

On Thursday, we didn't see any sharks, but I did see a dolphin while relaxing on the beach, and while we were swimming later, we found ourselves in the middle of a school of jumping fish. It was pretty awesome to have dozens of fish jumping all around us!

By Friday morning, my sunburn was probably at its maximum. In fact, I think my nose was already starting to peel, so we opted not to go back to the beach again before driving home. It was the right decision for my skin, but my soul (or maybe my Inner Goddess?) wouldn't have minded another day in the sand.

So, Mr. Verizon Man was right. Destin was a perfect destination for our mini beach vacation. Joel is convinced we need to buy a house there so we can rent it out (and stay there whenever we want, of course). Wouldn't it be nice?!

Let The Countdown Begin

I have so many things on my list of things to blog about, but tonight, as I bask in my last few hours of spring break freedom, I am holding on to one thought:

15 more wake-ups in the entire school year.

Technically, it's only 14 for the kids. And two of those days are super early-dismissal for testing.

I've been around long enough to know that tomorrow will probably be a little rough as we try to get our kiddos re-focused on learning for these last couple weeks.

Wait?! You mean learning can happen if it's not being assessed by the state?!

But, in all seriousness, I have several students to believe this. In their eyes, the rest of the year doesn't matter because they've already taken THE TEST.

They may need a reminder about finals. ;)

April 27, 2013

Joel's Birthday Weekend

I hope you will forgive me for my lack of posting in the past week (thankfully, I had some Teacher Tip Tuesday posts scheduled ahead of time), but I've been super busy enjoying my spring break!

It started just in time for Joel's birthday, which we kept pretty low key. Here's a picture of the birthday boy about to dive into a delicious dessert. And don't worry... the beer went much better with his BBQ chicken than the brownie!

Brownies, Beer, and BBQ = a happy birthday man!
On Sunday, we had tickets to the rodeo. Not just any rodeo, mind you, but the Angola Prison Rodeo. When I first learned of the event from Garrett (our hair stylist) and Michelle (his wife), I knew we had  to get tickets. Neither of us have ever been to a rodeo before much less a prison rodeo.

We had a great time admiring the work of the inmates during the Arts & Crafts fair. If you're in the market for some solid wood seating (gliders, porch swings, rocking chairs, chests, crawfish tables, etc.), you can't beat this quality and pricing.

The rodeo itself was very entertaining. My favorite parts were when the inmates were competing and I was glad to not see anyone get seriously hurt. Also, we loved the monkeys riding the border collies. It might have been the cutest thing I've ever seen!

I would definitely visit the rodeo again. In fact if we're still here in October, I want to go back to buy a glider for our backyard.

After the rodeo, Garrett and Michelle took us to the Earth Day Festival here in Baton Rouge, where we ate some carnival food and listened to some music before heading back to their house to meet their chickens (yes, really) and play some lawn Jenga in their garage, my favorite party game. I told Joel he needs to make us a set immediately!

On Monday, Joel had plans to go fishing with Garrett, and I was going to hang out with Michelle. She ended up needing to run some errands for the salon (they own), so I went with the boys to the part to play some disc golf. If you know me, you know this would not be my first choice in activity, but it was a beautiful day (albeit hot), so I used it as an excuse to work on my spring break tan!

Not a bad start to spring break, huh??

April 23, 2013

Musical Chairs Review Game

For today's Teacher Tip, I'm super excited to share this amazing resource from one of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie at Middle School Matters Blog.

I found this Musical Chairs ELA Review Game in her TPT store and knew it would be a great way to review our ELA terms from this school year before the state test. We played it last Friday because I wanted to review with them in a way that wasn't quite so test-aligned (as we've been doing for weeks). I thought they (and truthfully, I) needed a break, and I didn't want to burn them out right before testing week.

I kinda made up my own rules to the game, some of it intentionally and other parts because I was lazy:

1. I copied the game board for each student.
2. I didn't bother to align the number of questions with the number of students in my class. It didn't bother them or me that there were extra seats for our game. Plus, it made it last longer. :)
3. I didn't put the cards in any specific order on the desks. This made it a lot of fun for the kids toward the end of the game because they had to search for the questions they hadn't answered. It caused a lot of laughter!
4. Instead of playing the music when they were answering questions, I used the music to cue my students that it was time to rotate.

We played with the following rules:
1. You must be in a seat when the music stops, or you get an X in that square.
2. You cannot talk when the music is off, or you get an X in that square.

I had a couple of kids in each class who came in late from resource, and I tasked them with being my rule monitors. They loved busting their peers for talking and not having a seat when the music stopped.

When the game was over, we traded to grade, discussing the questions as a whole group when necessary.

My kiddos LOVED this activity! Some of the quotes I heard were:

Why haven't we played this before?

Where has this game been all year?

We should always review like this!

And trust me, we will!

What I love about this game is that you can easily do it with any type of questions: multiple choice, short answer, true/false, matching, etc. It was also a great way to make sure everyone was participating in the review, as opposed to only one person or team at a time. I like that students were committed to putting something on paper (if they didn't know, they could guess or write an X), so it's great data if it's used for a formative assessment (although it was time-consuming... but totally worthsies!).

Head over to Stephanie's TPT store to download her game now!

April 21, 2013

Not MY Child

I should be taking a mental break from work, but the truth is, I can't stop thinking about one of my students.

I know you're going to say that I shouldn't be so surprised, but let me explain...

"Ms. L, can I see you in the hallway for a minute?" one of my students asked me on Thursday. I walked out there ready to hear about the latest drama related to the impending fight we'd been working all week to avoid. At the request of her mother and our Dean of Students, I kept this student in my classroom all day where we were sure she wouldn't get into trouble.

When her eyes filled with tears, though, I knew something was really wrong.

"I'm pregnant!" she confessed in barely audible whisper. And then she collapsed into my arms while her tears freely flowed and my heart dropped to the floor.

"No!" is all I kept thinking as I choked back my own tears, "Please let this be a mistake. Not her!"

I was warned by coworkers last fall that pregnancies happen here. In fact, we've routinely discussed students we believed to be at-risk. And if I'm honest, this student was on the list from the beginning. And that's exactly why we've talked about it. Often.

You see, this girl is my "project" child for the year (Those that have followed my blog for a while know that I always have at least one in my classroom. Someone who needs a little extra TLC to make a positive change in his/her own life.). Her mom was in prison until this past February, she was expelled last year, she is known all over school for her temper and instigating fights.

But, from the very beginning of the year, I saw the sweet girl beneath all that trouble. I saw a very capable student who was too frequently distracted by the mess around her. So, I adopted this child. We created a behavior tracker together and monitored her progress with fidelity. She hasn't spent a single day in ISS all year because I've helped her learn how to control her mouth (my mom is laughing right now... this was my problem as a teenager too) and she's learned not to resort to physical violence every time she's upset.

My students often call her my mini-me because she's always with me and she quotes me all the time when her peers are misbehaving. She will even grab my iPad and threaten to mark them in Kickboard (our school-wide PBIS system) when they don't comply with redirections. It's quite entertaining, actually.

When her mom came to school for the first time last month, she proudly walked her to my classroom declaring, "This is my school-mama I was telling you about." Our bond is that tight.

So, I guess that explains why I feel like I've failed her. I tried so hard to protect her from adverse consequences. But this, I could not control.

"I'm too young for this," she bemoaned.

She is. 

We spent the day writing notes back and forth on my iPad. I welcomed her to share her thoughts and questions and assured her that I will continue to hold her hand. But my heart hurts for her. Life, as she knows it, will never be the same.

And mine may not be either.

April 19, 2013

Middle School Career Fair

The Future of America, ya'll!
First of all, I want to share my excitement and relief that I am FINALLY on spring break! Yay!!!

Since we tested last week, the state required us to have four days of school this week for any students who needed to make up their tests. Four days between state testing and spring break = a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, though, the brave duo who led Career Week did an amazing job coming up with meaningful lessons for students in all subjects for the week.

One of the things I really like about my school is how much we stress long-term goals of college and career readiness. So many of our students come from families that didn't even finish high school and the vast majority of them (especially the 6th and 7th graders) have no career plans aside from being professional rappers or athletes. This year, though, we've worked really hard to increase their exposure to different career options with mini-lessons in all subject areas and by consistently encouraging them to make "college choices" each day.

My eighth graders had a special project for this week, which was to host and present their research with poster presentations at the Career Fair yesterday. It was the culminating event for the week, with the potential for being a complete disaster in the final hours before spring break if not carefully planned. I volunteered to take the lead on logistics, including how to keep our 6th and 7th grade visitors engaged during these last two ours before freedom.

I decided to create a Career Passport for each student (I would attach it here, but I have no idea how to do that. Check my TPT store. I promise it will be free!)

The passports passed out by classroom teachers who first went over expectations before bringing each section into the gym. Students were instructed to visit at least 10 posters, listen to the career speeches by the 8th graders, and then to ask questions to help determine if the careers would be good fits for them. After at least three questions, my eighth graders would give each visitor a sticker to place on the passport, as evidence that they had fulfilled the requirement. To take it a step further, the placement of the sticker indicated whether the career is one that the visitor would love, like, or hate. After 10 stickers, our visitors received blow pops (which is a huge deal because we don't usually allow gum in our school) for completing their assignment.

My 8th graders loved presenting at the fair. Most of my students worked in partners for this assignment, which allowed them to take turns recruiting visitors to their boards. I made the assignment a bit of a competition for them, in addition to a grade, because one of the reflection questions asked them to identify a favorite presentation. I promised Cane's lunch for the top choice, so my kiddos were very invested in bringing traffic to their posters.

My last little trick was to ask visiting students to be "spies" for me. I assigned them specific posters and asked them to report back to me on how well they did on their presentation. It kept my 8th graders on their toes, and the 6th and 7th graders loved thinking they had that power!

After they left the gym, the visiting students completed a reflection on the back page of their passports, which were submitted as exit tickets. The overwhelming response was that the career fair was extremely helpful for our students, and I'm happy to report that we didn't have any behavior incidents! I was definitely exhausted after school yesterday (the fair took place during my planning periods, so I didn't have any time off yesterday), but it was worth it to keep the kids invested.

And now I get 9 days to relax! Yippee!!!

April 16, 2013

Free Learning Guides

Today's Teacher Tip is possibly my new best friend for my literature lesson planning. Especially for literature circles or book clubs when I can't possibly be well-versed on every novel, this will be my go-to resource.

So, what is this fabulous find? Shmoop. (Maybe it's just me, but when I saw the name of this site, I immediately began singing, "Shmoop, Shmoop ba-doop" in my best Salt N Pepa impression. All the more reason to love it!)

Some of the teacher resources on this site are available for purchase (at pretty reasonable prices), but what I fell i love with is the Learning Guides section. There's something for everyone:

As I clicked around I saw summaries, analyses, quotes, flashcards, study questions, videos, quizzes...

And... they're free!!!

I love that these are written for students. In fact, their tagline is, "We Speak Student!" 

Each introduction I read came with a "Why Should I Care?" section that basically gives students the investment piece we often fail to provide.

So, while I know these learning guides are technically meant for the students, they are excellent resources for us teachers as we prepare our lesson plans. Why recreate the wheel, right?

April 15, 2013

It's a Non-Fiction Monday!

I'm linking up today with Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts and Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff because I'm knee deep into my lesson planning for our last novel study of the year: Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case.

I learned about Emmett Till in high school along when we studied civil rights, so I have been surprised at how few of my workers know his story. I wondered if stories like this are often brushed under the rug in The South, much like stories about the Holocaust among Germans. People don't want to talk about shameful things that happened in the past.

After spring break (which starts on Friday, finally), we have about two weeks left of learning before finals. I knew I wanted to end the year with a whole-class novel study, and I knew I needed something super high-interest in order to motivate (and hold the attention of) my kiddos as 8th-grade-itis sets in now that the LEAP is finished.

Joel and I took one of my mentor kiddos to lunch last week for meeting her long-term behavior goal, so I used her as my litmus test and previewed the novel with her. Her eyes were glued to me as I explained what happened to Emmett Till and about how his murders avoided conviction (I'm not giving anything away; it's in the title). When I finished talking, she exclaimed, "Yes! That's the book we need to read!" So, I immediately placed my order.

I think my students are really going to devour this book, and I've found some great lesson ideas online, including a current controversy involving Lil Wayne (who is pretty much their idol). We will have so much content to discuss and debate, and I think this will be the perfect text to hold their attention for the remainder of the year?

Added bonus? It's non-fiction, which means it's perfect to add to my Common Core curriculum, AND it fits my biography unit for next year. AND my AP told me today that he will buy me a class set! Yay!

April 11, 2013

Warm Fuzzies

Yippee! Huge sigh of relief! After four days of testing, we are officially done for the year.

I, for one, couldn't possibly be happier!

I'm excited to have my own students back in my classroom tomorrow. It's funny how much we miss each other when we can't be together. Every day during lunch (students had brown bag lunches in our classrooms to accommodate all three grade levels at once), I had a revolving door of my students trying to come in and hang out.

"We miss you!" they pleaded as I redirected them back to their rooms.

"We haven't seen you all week!" they argued.

I literally stood in my doorway like a gatekeeper, trying to keep my testing students in and my actual students out. One of our small group test administrators reported that she had to take her students on a walk just to keep them from coming into my room while we were still testing.

I love how they love me!

Speaking of love, I've been receiving quite a bit of unexpected feedback from my students this week. I already mentioned how several students told me on Monday that the test was easy, but the compliments haven't stopped.

Yesterday, I was walking back to my room after lunch when one of my SPED kiddos stopped me in the halls and said, "Ms. L, you must have done a great job because that test was easy!" That was the first time a student has contributed his perceived success on my efforts. To be honest, I was surprised to hear that from this particular student, but it definitely gave me warm fuzzies.

Today, I was preparing dinner when I saw a student's name on my caller ID. Knowing how much my students prefer to text, I immediately thought something was wrong. When I answered the phone though, here's what I heard:

A: Hey, Ms. L! I have T on the phone with me and we thought we should call you because we were talking about you.

Me: You were talking about me? Why?

A: We were talking about how easy the test was because of you.

T: Yeah, you prepared us perfectly. We knew exactly what to expect.

Me: Wow! Thanks, guys! That's really nice of you to say.

A: Really, though, Ms. L., we can't even imagine where we'd be without you.

How freaking cute is that?!

I honestly can't think of a time in my previous years when my students have thanked me for how I've taught them. I've had many students thank me for being funny or caring, and sure, I've had students give me great feedback on specific lessons. But never before have I had students thank me for the overall education I've provided them.

It feels really good to know that they felt ready for this test (and, therefore, high school) because of my instruction, especially since this year has been such a learning curve for me.

To be completely honest, it kinda makes all the frustrations worth it. It's just the encouragement I needed!

April 10, 2013

A Call to All Teachers

I've worked in many, many schools since the start of my education career, both as a substitute and a teacher. I've taught preschool, high school, and everything in between. While middle school is definitely the right fit for me, I can't help but notice how much of the teacher behavior in these settings mimics our students.

Cliques, gossip, judgement, and even bullying. I've seen it all (sometimes by administrators). It truly breaks my heart that I find myself defending my coworkers to each other on almost a daily basis. I've recently stopped attending a weekly happy hour gathering because I refuse to take part in the maliciousness I've seen and heard.

I'm asking you, fellow teachers, to stand with me against this behavior in the workplace. We don't tolerate it from our students, and we shouldn't tolerate it from our peers.

You don't think that teacher's instruction is up to par? Try offering your lesson plans. Or, even better, donate your time to help that struggling teacher learn to write better plans!

You think her classroom management needs some work? Help her tweak it, using tips from what's working in your own room! She's likely overwhelmed and in need of your suggestions!

You're frustrated about something she said/did/didn't say/didn't do? Talk to her about it directly instead of talking about her to everyone else. You have to address a problem if you want to solve it! Maybe there's something you can do to help her help you!

Because when we let a teacher fail, we're really failing the students!

No Need for Coffee Today

I woke up at 6:30 this morning. You know, the time I'm normally walking into my building. For some reason, my alarm decided not to make any sound, and based on its placement, I couldn't hear the vibrating.

Thankfully, I was tossing and turning because I had to go to the bathroom, and I was stubbornly waiting for my alarm to go off so I could get up and start my routine. When I finally opened my eyes and saw light peering in through the windows, I knew something wasn't right.

There's nothing like an adrenaline rush to drive you out of bed in the morning!

Joel immediately jumped out of bed and threw together a breakfast bagel for me, and we were in the car within 5 minutes. The highway was our personal race track, but we made it to school before students were dismissed for first period.

If only I hadn't talked myself out of a shower last night before bed. My greasy hair sat in a messy bun so none of my kiddos would dare touch it today. Ew!

I have to say, though, the extra hour of sleep was nice!

April 9, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesday: Classroom Organizer

Today's Teacher Tip was shared with me at a department meeting a few months ago, and I cannot say enough good things about it! The Classroom Organizer has turned into my favorite teaching app and website.

Since the day I applied to grad school, I've been working hard to build and maintain an engaging classroom library for my students. This year proved to be a bit of a challenge for my existing library because my current students have such different interests and reading levels. I guess this just explains why my work here will never be done. It's a good thing I enjoy it!

Some of the challenges I've faced with managing my library have been:

  • Keeping track of my inventory. Every time I hit a book sale, I find myself racking my brain, trying to remember if I have copies of these books, and if so, how many? (You may recall that I like to have four copies of various books for book clubs.)
  • Remembering who is reading which book. Or who read it last (and destroyed the cover!). 
  • Where to find the book on my shelves. I'll be completely honest here, and let you know that I've never even attempted to have an organization system for my classroom library. I know that sounds crazy for me since I'm such a control freak, but with as many as 90 students a day in and out of the library, it was a battle I let go before it ever began. 
Here's where Classroom Organizer can come to the rescue. The website and apps (on my iPhone and iPad) allow me to:
  • Import books into my digital library by scanning the barcode (or searching the title).  It even lets you add a location, so you know where to find/return each title if you choose to use that function. (I can use the app to check my existing inventory when shopping... it's been a lifesaver!)
  • Import my student rosters from an Excel spreadsheet. (Very efficient!)
  • Check out and return books to specific students using the barcode scanner. (Fun and easy!) 
  • Check the reading history of a specific student. (I find this helpful during reading workshop time or when I'm trying to help a student select a new title.)
  • Check the reading history of a specific title. (This has helped me see which titles would benefit from more copies during my next trip to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale.)
My eighth graders love to use the app on my iPad. I swear it has increased the amount of activity in my classroom library. They all want to use the barcode scanners to check out and return books. For those of you with classroom jobs, the librarian will be your most coveted position!

Oh, and the best part about this site? It's free!!!

Be sure to check out my Teacher Tips page for my past Tuesday Tips!

April 8, 2013

And Now We Wait

Well, my friends, today was the day. My students are officially finished with the ELA portion of the LEAP test.

Everybody let out a big sigh with me!

It feels so good to have that behind us! As with Phase 1 (the writing portion), my students reported that the test was sooo easy. I just hope those comments aren't coming from a false sense of confidence. They do have a tendency to think everything is easy until they get back their scores. I'm optimistic, though, that this time, it comes from a place of preparation. We've been working so hard on our practice tests and review work over the past few weeks. I saw huge improvements through the use of exit tickets.

And I'm oh-so-glad we had our irony lesson last week because I'm told it was on the test. One of my students said he immediately began singing the song in his head! haha!

So, now the waiting game begins. Student scores are available the day after we finish for the year. Their scores here (along with their grades, of course) determine their ability to walk in our graduation ceremony. Those that didn't make the cut will have another chance to prove themselves in summer school (which I am not teaching).

I'm probably just as nervous about these scores as my students since their scores will impact my overall effectiveness rating for the first time in my teaching career.


There's no sense in worrying about what I cannot control. So, I'm going to enjoy these last few weeks with my kiddos without the stress of this huge test looming over us.

But I'll be keeping my fingers crossed! ;)

April 6, 2013

Spark Student Motivation Saturdays

I'm linking up with Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching today for her Spark Student Motivation Saturdays. I know I'm always looking for new ways to motivate my students, and I've already read some great ideas I can't wait to implement in my classroom.

What suggestions do you have to keep students motivated? I linked to my 100 chart post, which has been my favorite behavior intervention this year. My second class earned their reward this week, so I will be rewarding them on Friday after four days of testing. Perfect timing, huh?

Head on over to her adorable site where you can submit your own ideas and check out all the other posts from our great network of teacher bloggers!

April 4, 2013

Teaching Irony

Today, as we were reviewing for next week's test, I realized (thanks to one of or sample test questions) that I failed to teach my students about irony. Oops! Not sure how that fell off my radar!

It's a good thing I'm so highly trained in formative assessment because I realized immediately that my students needed a mini-lesson.

So, we defined it, I gave examples, my students chimed in with their own examples (my favorite: It's ironic that my scores are better when I don't study for a test!), and then we played a little game I like to call Is It Ironic or Just Bad Luck? 

Like anyone out of diapers in the 90's, I can't hear the word irony without thinking of Alanis Morisette, and I thought my students needed a proper introduction.

We watched the video twice. Once so they could see what life was like back when MTV played music videos, and once so they could read the lyrics and vote. With each scenario she suggests in the song, my students gave me a thumbs up for, "That's ironic!" and a thumbs down for, "That's just bad luck!"

It was fun to see them singing along to a song that is so vividly connected to my own adolescence. They had some fierce debates about some of the scenarios, but for the most part, they agree with the masses: the most ironic thing about the song is the lack of irony!

April 3, 2013

What's Next?

I've hit a point in the year when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Next week is our state testing week, followed by Career Week (lesson plans are already done), and then...

and then...

S.P.R.I.N.G. B.R.E.A.K.

When we get back, we have only three weeks left in the school year (crazy, right?) before graduation and summer vacation! Yippeeee! We can finally go home and catch up with family and friends whom we haven't seen since Christmas!

I am super excited to meet these beautiful angels, born the day before my birthday to My Sister From Another Mister! Aren't they just precious? I love them sooooooo much and can't wait to hold them and tell them so!

Meet Elodie Elizabeth and Amelia Genevive. LOVE!
So, here's the part of my post where I confess that I'm actually kinda anxious about the end of the year. Because summer means Hurry-Up-And-Secure-A-Job-In-Illinois-So-You-Can-Move-Home!

Both Joel and I have been applying to whatever we can find, which hasn't been much. Of course, I've been diligent about searching for teaching jobs, but I've even branched out in my search. I really want to work with kids, so I started brainstorming other possible avenues: The Boys & Girls Club, YMCA... anyone have any other ideas???

I've even started looking at getting back into marketing (yes, I hated it... does that show you my desperation?) because the job market is just that poor. 

It's not even that I hate Louisiana or my job here so much as I miss my family and friends. I've missed out on so much - too much. I don't know if I have it in me, emotionally, to do it again. Baton Rouge just doesn't feel like home; we don't belong... as in, we don't have people we belong to. 

Please cross your fingers, send good vibes, say prayers if that's your thing. We need to find stable employment in Illinois by the time our lease is up at the end of June. Eeek!

April 2, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesday: Writing Workshop Management

One of the things that's very overwhelming for me as an ELA teacher is that there never seems to be enough time to give my students the individual writing feedback they need. When I was teaching ESL, I was blessed to have really small classes (my largest class was 7 students), and I saw tremendous growth in their writing because every assignment had multiple (I'm talking 5 or 6) drafts. I was able to sit with each student and give them mini-lessons on the skills they needed for each round, and they expressed a lot of pride when they compared their first and final drafts.

In a mainstream classroom, though, there are so many more kids and no extra time. Often, this means I'm doing small group mini lessons instead of the individual instruction. While this is definitely a better option than just small group instruction, nothing can really take the place of the specific teacher feedback. Because of this, I try really hard to find time for mini writing conferences during our workshop time.

During writing workshop, I let my students work at their own pace and ask them to check in with me at specific stages in the writing process. To be sure I see every student, I require that they get my signatures on a writing process checklist as they go. Typically during their writing time, I will sit at my small group table and allow students to come to me when they're ready. This lets me do mini lessons with small groups on some days, or I can sit with an individual student and review a paper with him or her.

Quickly, though, I became overwhelmed when students would come to me for a mini-conference while I was already busy working with another student. My table would fill quickly with students just hanging out, waiting for me. As they sat (or stood if the lines were really long), they'd start playing or socializing, causing my conferences to be interrupted with the need to redirect them. Obviously, this was not an effective use of time, so I developed a new management technique on the spot, which is today's Teacher Tip!

When students are ready for a mini-conference, they place their papers in a designated paper and return to their seats. They are required to work on alternative assignments at this time and may not socialize while they wait for me. As soon as I finish a conference, I pull the paper on the bottom of my pile so they don't lose their spot in line. The catch, though, is that when I pull their paper, they have to be 100% on task. If not, their paper goes back to the top of the pile and they have to wait longer.

This was very effective during the past couple weeks of writing instruction as we prepared for the first part of our state test. I was able to work with students without disruption, and my students were motivated to stay on task because they genuinely wanted to benefit from my feedback (or because they wanted the points awarded for my signatures each day).

April 1, 2013

April Currently

Happy, April, everyone!

I always feel like I'm super late to the Currently parties, even when I post the same day. All blogging websites are blocked from school, so I don't see anything until after I'm settled at home, but I'm always amazed to see how many people manage to post during the day. I don't have the time.

Anyway, here are my responses to this month's Currently...

Listening to the Jodi Arias trial on HLN. This is our daily after-school activity. We've followed the whole case and spend way too much of our free time arguing about whether or not she will be found guilty. For those that don't know, she's the woman who killed her ex-boyfriend, slit his throat, and then put him in the shower. Joel likes to defend her just to get under my skin... it works! haha

Loving my freshly detailed car. When Joel picked me up from school today (yes, he drives me to and from school just because he likes to... cute, huh?) I noticed immediately that my carpets and dashboard were much cleaner. I love clean. L.O.V.E. it!

Thinking about my lack of self-control at Target. We stopped there on the way home to pick up four things and walked out with $80 less in our bank account. This always happens to us. And wouldn't you know, one of the four items I needed... yeah... didn't even get it!

Wanting spring break! Three more weeks to go. I feel like The Little Engine That Could... but I'm running out of fumes. And so are my kiddos. I have to find a way to keep them invested!

Needing to get Microsoft Office for my new Mac. It's crazy how limited I feel without these programs! It's forcing me to leave my school work at school, but I need to be able to access files from home!

Advice My best piece of blogging advice is to remember why you started. I think it's easy to get caught up in the data (How many followers do I have? How many views?), but at the end of the day, that's not why most of us are here. I've had to make a conscious decision NOT to participate in every linky party I see because it's diverting my attention from my purpose: sharing my experience. It feels like there's a lot of pressure to be involved in every party, but I'm choosing to select the ones thatI really believe in so I don't get overwhelmed by everything out there! Use your best judgement!

Kid Quote from The South

Since moving to Baton Rouge, I've had to learn a new language. Okay, not a new language, exactly, but dialect for sure. Most of the time, I don't notice much of an accent, at least not in the city. When we watch the news, though, I'm always questioning where they find their interview subjects because they all sound like their straight out of The Waterboy.

In my classroom, my accent (which I swear I don't have) is often the object of mockery. My students say my speech is too proper. What they're really saying, though, is that I enunciate my words... and I can hear my mom laughing at this as I type because she always told me I was a lazy speaker. But trust me on this one... my students are the laziest speakers of all. Honestly, to the point that I sometimes cannot understand them and make them try their sentences again.

In addition to their accents and lazy speech patterns, there are some terms I've had to learn this year as well. Here are just a few examples:

          Baton Rouge Term                    Chicago Translation
          Jacket                                              Hoodie/Sweatshirt
          Cold Drink                                      Pop
          Mess                                                Drama
          Washroom                                      Laundry Room

We've had many laughs over these and similar words this year. I really confused my students one day when I told them I needed to use the washroom. They thought I had to go home to wash my clothes and kept asking, "Why?" I couldn't understand why it was necessary to explain my need to use the bathroom. Thankfully, my co-teacher was there to translate for us!

One of my absolute favorite things I've heard from a student this year happened a few weeks ago while I was tutoring some students during a pull-out. A group of boys were playing in the hallway and started knocking on my door, wanting to come in and hang out. We were in the middle of writing essays and couldn't afford the distraction, so I asked one of the girls to go to the door and tell the boys to go back to their classes. After she told them what I said, the boys were upset and began banging on the door and walls, getting louder and more disruptive. Thankfully, one of our disciplinarians came to escort the boys back to class, and my student returned to the group, exasperated.

"These triflin' chil'ren acting like they ain't had no home-training!" she exclaimed.

I literally had tears from laughing so hard.

Best. Quote. Ever!