January 31, 2014

How Well Do You Think You Know Me?

January is officially over (okay... it will be in one more hour), and I hope it takes its polar vortex with it. I have to admit that I was actually kinda looking forward to winter this year after not seeing any snow last year while we were in Louisiana. I guess I got what I wanted... and then some. I've had enough cold and snow to hold me over for the next decade thank-you-very-much. I really hope February has better things in store for Chicago.

I'm linking up with Farley for her Currently linky. This is one party I never miss... although I will admit that I'm sometimes fashionably late! Due to the fact that Joel and I canceled our plans for the weekend (We're expecting 9+ inches of snow today), I am right on time for this post!

Most of my responses are pretty self-explanatory, so I'll just touch on the couple that need a little explanation. First of all, If you have a Netflix account and love to laugh, you NEED to watch An Idiot Abroad. My mom has been watching this for a couple weeks and talking about it non stop. I've seen a few clips but didn't sit down and watch a full episode until tonight (don't judge my boring weekend... we're getting 9+ inches of snow, and I'm not tryin' to drive around in that). Seriously, my cheeks and throat were HURTING from laughing so hard. I even had tears in my eyes. It's good stuff! Here's a clip so you can see for yourself:

Okay... my 2 truths and a fib:

1. My dream job IS to be a talk show host. This was a dream that started way back in 7th grade from my ELA teacher. I even chose my college and major (media communications) based on my intention to intern at Harpo Studios so I could take over as the next Oprah when she retired. I still can't imagine a better job than getting paid to talk to people all day. I love hearing peoples' stories and discussing hot topics. I guess this is why building relationships with my students is my favorite component of teaching.

2. I AM currently obsessed with coconut oil. I finally caved in and asked Joel to pick up a jar after reading a million and one uses for it on Pinterest. As it turns out... I LOVE it! I use it as a deep conditioner in my hair, skin (even face) moisturizer, shaving cream, first-aid on cuts, mouthwash, and even in cooking. It's like magic in a jar! Any time anything goes wrong, Joel jokes that I can probably use coconut oil to fix it... but he's right! :)

3. This was kinda a trick, but I guess that's part of a fib rather than an outright lie. I am obsessed with all monkeys and apes. I love them. I want to hold them and squeeze them and play with them. They're just so human-like I can't get over it. I could spend all day watching them. BUT I know they're not very good house pets, so I don't really want one. Joel's cousin has a monkey, so I got to go see her... that was good enough for me. I'm too OCD to have any animal that throws poop. haha!

Things That Made Me Laugh This Week

We started off the week with 2 "snow" days, making our total 4 for this year so far. I'm hoping to keep the No-Mondays streak alive with the new storms headed our way this weekend. My fingers are crossed! I seriously don't know how I'll go back to a 5-day week after all these long weekends. I'm dreading it!

The good news, though, is that weeks like this are a good reminder of how much I love my job. I work with the sweetest students and kindest coworkers. Here are 5 little tidbits from my (short) week to give you an idea why I'm always laughing!

1. H is an 8th grader this year. She has Down's Syndrome and packs a personality like no child I've ever encountered. I only ever see her in the hallways, but she's always being sassy and bossing people around. I can't not laugh at her! This week, I was redirecting some noisy 8th graders in the hallway as she walked past me. We exchanged greetings, and then she carefully reached out her hand toward my head. I thought she was trying to get something out of my hair, but instead, she rested her hand gently on my face and said earnestly, "You are SUCH a good girl!" LMAO!

2. Students in my district study a different word part each week. We do all sorts of activities using the word parts to keep it interesting. This week's word part was -arch. One of our activities was to unscramble a sentence to read as follows: Since my grandfather's death, my Uncle Jake, who is my dad's older brother, is the patriarch of the family.

In the 10 minutes we worked on this sentence (this is incredibly hard for our ESL kiddos), you would not believe the number of students who tried to write, "My grandfather, who is also my Uncle Jake..." Um... no! That's NOT how things work here!

3. To amp up some excitement around our annual school musical, students are given clues every day on the announcements for two weeks. Of course, students love to throw out their predictions each time they get a new clue. This has been an eye-opening experience for me because I am simply shocked at how little our kids know about classic Disney movies (one of the clues). Two boys in my first period were convinced that the musical would be Aladdin and proceeded to explain how, "The red guy and the blue guy come out of the can and there's fighting." I only heard part of their retelling but was convinced they were talking about Power Rangers. Haha! (FYI: The musical selection is Beauty and the Beast).

4.Yesterday, J (the girl I work with for the majority of the day) had a melt down during her strategic reading class. I was notified by another student when I asked why she hadn't come to health. Of course, I left right away to see if I could help and found her in the hallway, surrounded by another TA, our facilitator, and one of the assistant principals. Her head was on her desk, eyes were closed, she refused to respond to any prompts, and her hands were clamped tightly around the bars on her desk so she couldn't be moved. She had completely shut down.

I tried a few of our go-to techniques, but it was pretty clear that she was too far gone to just snap out of her tantrum. Our facilitator thought it would be best for everyone to leave except me (because she's most comfortable with me since we're together most of the day). Within 10 minutes, I had her up and walking to her locker. By the time I made it (late) to lunch, I walked in, looked at the other TA on my team, and announced, "I am a miracle-worker. I deserve a raise!" And then I noticed that my principal was sitting right there with her back to me. OOPS! Good thing she laughed!

5. In Design & Modeling today, students watched videos on PBS videos about the design process. The boy next to me, P, has autism and is pretty young both academically and developmentally. The video he chose to watch was about a group designing new prosthetic legs for an amputee who wanted to swim better. His takeaway from the video: "I can't wait until it's summer so I can go swimming again!" Yeah.. me too, Buddy!

I hope your week was filled with as much laughter as mine. TGIF!

January 29, 2014

Snowed In At School

Today, I feel compelled to share how proud I am to be a teacher. The whole country, by now, has heard the news coverage of the "snowpocalypse" in the South. While we in the North are well-equipped for such events (and still whine about the snow and cold every winter), our friends and family down South are just not prepared for such events.

Last I heard, more than 900 accidents were reported in Atlanta alone. A women delivered her baby while stuck in this impossible traffic. There were reports of commuters abandoning their cars, which had exhausted all of their gas, after 12-17 hours. My friend's husband, in Savannah, drove a total of 500 feet in two hours before turning around and sleeping on the floor of a hotel for the night.

And teachers and administrators across these states proved their value when they volunteered to stay at school overnight with students who were stuck without rides. They played games, dried tears, and provided the comfort that comes with a sense of family to the many kids who had to spend the night without their parents, some for the very first time. They took what could have been a scary and overwhelming experience and made it a giant slumber party at school, sacrificing their own comforts, families, and sleep to be there for their students.

I am immensely proud of our teaching community for showing the nation, yet again, that we are more than just educators. It seriously brings tears to my eyes.

Slow claps to all the amazing teachers who go the extra mile every day to make a difference!

January 28, 2014

Preparing for Standardized Writing Assessments

Being that I'm a teaching aide this year, I don't have any pressure about fitting in curriculum before standardized testing. This allows me to enjoy the plentiful "snow" days freely. I do, realize, though, that most of you are not in the same boat, and state writing tests are quickly approaching. To that end, I thought I'd offer some of the techniques I use to prepare my students for the writing portion of the standardized tests.

I start by teaching my students the "formula" for responding to a text. I've always used the following:

Idea: TTQA (Turn The Question Around) and provide your answer
Evidence: Direct quote from the text with page numbers
Interpretation: Explain the quote in your own words, relating it back to your own ideas
Extension: Talk about how this relates to the the life-lesson/author's purpose

Ok... let's break this down a little more!

Idea - Since the first week of school, my students are expected to answer everything in a TTQA format so this becomes second-nature. It REALLY helps if students are expected to do this in other subjects as well. In order to write an effective Idea statement, it's important that students learn how to decipher the question. When I first start teaching reading-responses, I can't tell you how many students don't even answer the prompt, which will not get them far on a standardized assessment. I do a lot of practice asking students to write ONLY the idea statement until they prove that they know how to answer the questions fully.

Evidence - This is another skill that I teach from the very beginning of the year. Whenever students make connections, ask questions, etc., they are required to tell the exact quote from the text from where they get their ideas. Even when we're just having a discussion, I always ask my students to "prove it" with evidence from the text. We also spend quite a bit of time learning how to record the evidence with an appropriate lead ("The author says on page 5, "...") and punctuation. We practice this skill when we read both fiction and non-fiction texts. I will ask them to find a place in the text that proves ______, and they race to find the quotes. I am always amazed at how much many of my students struggle with finding strong evidence. Sometimes, they throw out quotes that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic... which usually means they didn't understand the text or the question.

Interpretation - This is an often-overlooked step in a reading response. Students wrongly assume they can just throw out a quote and assume their readers know how it relates to the main idea or argument. This is simply not the case. I tell them that they have to make those connections for the reader. It helps them when I say, "Assume your reader has not read the text."

Extension - This is the hardest part of the written response. We always ask our students to consider the life-lesson from the text and how it relates to the prompt. To teach this, we practice author's purpose and theme, as those skills are very useful for this part of the response.

What I like best about the IEIE formula is that it's easy for students to remember AND it doesn't trip them up to add multiple pieces of evidence because they just add another EI. It's also a reminder to always interpret the evidence because they can't jump from E to another E.

At the middle school level, I know students are expected to make connections between TWO texts as well as their own lives. When I was teaching in Louisiana, this was really hard for my students because they couldn't relate to the topics given on the practice tests. Honestly? I told them to lie. I told them no one knows their life stories, so they fake a connection, if necessary.

Hey... you've gotta do what you've gotta do!

Of course, it's important to give students plenty of practice writing reading responses before the test. I firmly believe the Article of the Week assignments are tremendously helpful in preparing students for the writing assessment.

Another thing I do is practice these reading responses using video clips. When we have to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, I find it helpful to take the text out. They typically take less time, are more engaging, and allow our struggling readers to be on par with comprehension. You have to ask yourself the purpose of the day's lesson. Are you looking for their reading comprehension or their ability to break apart the prompt and answer it with evidence? If it's the latter, they can do so with a video clip. I ask questions like, "How would you describe the step-sisters in Cinderella?" which is a story they can do without having to watch it.

January 27, 2014

Finally, A Leader Who Values Educators

If you haven't read this article by former North Carolina Governor, Jim Hunt, I urge you to check it out. His is the mentality our leaders need to have about educators, and I sincerely hope other states pay attention to this message.

In a nutshell, he shares his belief that teacher salaries need to increase. He then discusses how his state did this back in the 90s with great success. Teacher salaries increased more than one-third, skyrocketing them to the top 20 in the nation from number 42, and student scores rose with the salaries. Imagine that!!

When I'm reminded how much money I would be making right now had I stayed in my first career, I honestly feel sick to my stomach. I'm infinitely happier as a teacher (despite my employment woes), but the gap in salary is just comical. For a job that occupies my mind 24/7 (seriously... I don't think I EVER stop. Everything is a potential lesson plan, management technique, classroom decoration, etc.), my income is pretty pathetic, and I don't mean just my current situation. I could say the same from my full-time jobs as well.

I'm glad I saw this on Upworthy and sincerely hope the message makes its way to the powers-that-be. We, as a society, need to start treating educators like they're valuable. After all, we're shaping future generations... you'd think that would be seen as a little important!

January 26, 2014

The Streak is Still Alive

This afternoon, we got the call that school is indeed canceled tomorrow, meaning our No-School-On-Mondays streak is still going strong. This makes 6 weeks in a row, and I AM LOVING THIS! Even better? The weather is predicted to be even worse Tuesday, which means we will have a 3-day week.


I don't have any new reads to share for this week. I just started 2 new books but I'm not even to the point that I can speak on them yet. But I swear I have a good excuse... I've been working ALL DAY on a new HUGE product for my TPT store. I'm excited because this is one of my favorite units to teach every year... but I'm not revealing any details quite yet!

Those of you who create your own clipart, I'm curious to know what programs you use and if you can recommend any tutorials for beginners like me? Thanks in advance!

January 24, 2014


Anyone else feel like this on some Friday afternoons???

I promise I love my students. I really do. Each and every one of them. But after two long days of testing, this "short" week felt longer than ever (isn't that always the way it goes?). I mean, how many times do we have to tell our students to stop talking, amirite?!

1. Since there wasn't any school on Monday, I got to hang out with two of my old neighbor friends and their babies all afternoon. We had a great lunch together and just spent time talking and catching up. I miss all of us living on the same street, but I'm so glad we still make an effort to hang out when we can. Also... I got to hold a baby all afternoon!

2. Susan and I finished up our big 300-follower giveaways. Despite the fact that it was a TON of work, I actually enjoyed putting this together and am thrilled to have already met so many new bloggy friends through this project!

3. I uploaded a new product to my TPT store for Valentine's Day. The Cupid Shuffle Close Reading & Scoot Activity is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday in a middle school ELA classroom.

4. Two days of testing all morning meant that I got to spend some quality time with my OverDrive app listening to Room, which I've just about finished. Um... you need to get this book ASAP! Seriously! I also finally got a public library card, which added hundreds of e-books and audiobooks for me to read on this app. I LOVE it!

5. I also worked with my SPED facilitator to alter my schedule a bit, allowing me to be in a class where I can use a computer every day. The purpose for this is so that I can modify the new curriculum for the Design & Modeling class. All of the TA's have been doing this on their own time at night, and let's just be honest... we don't get paid enough to give up our free time for these things. It's not even in our job description. I volunteered to "take one for the team" and modify the rest of the semester's assignments. Hopefully, administration will take note, and this will get me on their good graces for any job openings next year.

Tonight, Joel and I are joining some friends at Feed My Starving Children to do some volunteer work for a friend's birthday. If you're one of my original 7 followers, you may recall that we took our students there several years ago for a service field trip. I'm actually really excited that we're doing this again tonight and think it's a great way to celebrate a birthday!

Other than that, I'm holding out hope for an extra long weekend due to the cold headed our way. I really want to keep this no-school-on-Mondays-since-before-winter-break streak alive. C'mon, Mother Nature!

January 22, 2014

Teacher Clichés: Guilty as Charged

I came across this Buzzfeed list on Facebook the weekend and literally cringed as I read through the list because darn it... I do all of these things.

Please tell me you can relate!!

10 Teacher Clichés You Promised You’d Never Use (But Do)

You wanted to be an inspirational, unique educator. Then you started teaching. Illustrations by Jack Noel.posted on 
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
“I’ll never be a dictatorial teacher,” you swear. “My classroom will be a sanctuary of rational discussion and cooperation,” you promise. Then comes Friday afternoon, a flood of “But why?” and it all goes to hell.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
There is nothing more fist-bitingly awkward than a teacher trying to be down with the kids. Slap yourself on the wrist for slang, high-fives and, worst of all, addressing groups of teenagers as if they were your buddies.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
So true! So snappy! And so utterly clichéd as to communicate nothing other than your penchant for grating turns of phrase.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
Among the many methods of getting a class to pipe down, “Shhhhhhh” is at the bottom of the heap. For good reason. If you’ve tried and failed to grab their attention, you know that blowing like a possessed bicycle pump at the front of the room is not going to do the trick. But you do it anyway.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
Technically true, yes, but also an unfortunate sign that you’ve turned into the kind of teacher you used to daydream about pelting with pens.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
Another flashing marker on your one-way journey to ludicrous teacher stereotype. And, actually, it is your time they’re wasting, as that hurried break time cup of tea fades out of view.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
You know it’s going horribly wrong when this one flies out of your mouth. Intended, of course, as a motivational tool (read: kick up the arse) this comes across as weirdly petty and competitive against someone you’re employed to support.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
Emotional blackmail for beginners. It can be devastatingly effective when deployed by a tearful parent, but infinitely less so from a frustrated teacher to a roomful of off-the-wall students.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
You want to connect with your pupils, and show them your human side. But you both know they’re only nodding along to stories of your favourite book/first pet/teenage band so they can switch off while you gab on.
10 Teacher Clich�s You Promised You'd Never Use (But Do)
We’re certainly not in it for money, are we? Dreams of “You changed my life” speeches might be what’s keeping you going, but asking a grumpy pupil to conceive of gratitude in the throes of a strop is like asking them to sketch a fourth dimension.

January 21, 2014

We Have a Winner

First, I want to extend my sincere appreciation to all of you who participated in our 300-follower giveaway! I am amazed at how many of you participated and super excited to have many new followers to get to know. Thank you so much for celebrating with us. We hope you all love the freebies from the scavenger hunt!

Without further ado, we want to congratulate Andrea L. on being our grand-prize winner! Andrea, please check your email for a message from me regarding your prize package!