March 31, 2014


My school library started to promote next year's Rebecca Caudill list. This is a yearly list of 20 books chosen by and for students in grades 4-8. It's a great place to start if you're looking for books to add to your classroom library, even if you're not in Illinois. At one of my schools, we were fortunate to have a PTA that purchased an entire set of these books for every ELA teacher in the school.

We promote these books all year long with various incentives, including a reading celebration for those who read X number of books (every school is different). Any student in the state who reads 3 or more books from the list can vote in February for The Young Readers Book Award (click on the link for a complete list of past winners).

As soon as the 2015 list was posted, our LMC Director and Assistant started pulling the books from our shelves so our students could start reading. And, of course, I had to check out the list myself.

One of the books that caught  my attention was Slob by Ellen Potter. I mean, any book with an Oreo cookie on the cover is certainly going to get a second look from me (Don't judge!), and after a quick read of the summary on the back, I knew this was a book I'd enjoy.

The story is narrated by Owen, who is not only the fattest kid in school but also the smartest. Unfortunately, this makes him a target for not only his peers but also his teachers, and poor Owen is pushed to his limits when he realizes that someone has been stealing his beloved Oreos from his lunch. Luckily, he's a great inventor and is certain that all the answers to his problems will be solved when he finishes his TV that shows two years into the past.

I love the voice in this book. I fell in love with Owen when he described the way he had to climb above the refrigerator to the "think-it-through cabinet" to retrieve his cookies. It was his mom's idea to keep them there, so he has to really decide if the cookies are worth the effort... and, of course, they are... I can relate!

Here's a great synopsis I found on StorySnoops:
This funny and poignant book is a speed read with depth. Two years earlier, Owen heard the gunshots that killed his parents and had to make a choice between going to help, or protecting his sister. Now in a loving home, this choice still haunts Owen and has caused him to over-eat. Over time, Owen and his sister work through, and triumph over, their issues in healthy ways. With the help of his Buddhist friend, Owen learns to let go of anger and to focus on being a good person. Positive messages abound, including not judging a book by its cover, the value of intelligence, doing the right thing, and the idea that bravery doesn't require brawn. While these positive messages would not be completely lost on an eight-year-old, the book may be best saved for a slightly older child who could truly appreciate the rich themes and emotions in the story. 

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.

March 30, 2014

It Can Only Improve From Here

Let me start by saying this post includes some graphic details that are not suitable for those with weak stomachs. Consider yourselves warned!

I haven't been very connected online for the past couple weeks, with the exception of some pre-scheduled posts. My reading and commenting have been pathetic. I promise my love for you all has not changed one bit!

This is partially due to guilt because I have a fantastic poetry anthology product I've been meaning to upload to TPT and share here for... oh... about two months now, and I just haven't gotten around to it. And now that April is looming... you know... poetry month... I'm kicking myself for not getting this done sooner. (Yet here I am, writing this post instead of putting on my final touches and getting the darn thing uploaded.)

The good news, my friends, is that I'm officially on spring break. My job is certainly less stressful this year, but for some reason, I feel like I've needed this break more than ever. I think a late break, early time change, and long winter have made me long for some time off. I'm super excited to sleep in every single day (except that Joel woke me up at 7 AM today to watch a YouTube video he found while in the bathroom... really?!).

Last week was honestly the longest week of my life. I had a terrible migraine one night and into the next day (but I went to school anyway because I couldn't justify taking a day so close to spring break). I basically felt like this all day...

And then I woke up on Friday with an upset stomach that just wouldn't go away. Like, I was concentrating on deep breaths all morning long and visited the nurse for some mints in hopes of keeping everything calm. In the middle of 3rd period, though, I realized all my attempts were in vain and rushed to the single-stall staff bathroom. I literally had to push a very-pregnant coworker out of the way saying, "Hold on! I have to puke!" She thought I was kidding until I made this face...

Yeah... it was time for me to go home. So... yay for me for a little extra spring break time?

I've literally been too sick to do much of anything all weekend. I slept 16 hours Friday-Saturday and spent the rest of the day watching movies in bed or in the bathroom. Poor Joel was heartbroken when I told him I wasn't up for a trip to Miami this weekend.

The climax came last night when Joel convinced me that I would be fine to take a little drive with him. All was fine until I coughed, which led to me puking all over myself, my phone, and my car, both inside and out. It all happened so fast, and before I knew it, I was standing in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant violently hurling in all directions as Joel desperately tried to clean me up with the stash of fast food napkins from my glove compartment.

Thankfully, I trusted my gut (no pun intended... but it fit very nicely just the same) and chose not to eat the delicious BBQ dinner with my family, so I really just puked up the water I had been drinking all day. It could have been much worse. Unfortunately, my lack of experience in this department (I went to college in the city where we used public transportation to and from the bars) didn't prepare me for the horror that is cleaning said vomit from the car. I now feel sufficiently prepared for what to expect when we have children.

The good news is that I managed to keep down the little bit of food I ate today, so I think I'm on the mend.

So, what are my big plans for the rest of this spring break?  Well, Joel and I are hoping to go to Nashville for a couple nights because it's going to be pretty cold here this week, and it will be fun to see someplace new together. I wish we were closer to a beach, but it will still be nice to get away.

Other than that, I want to treat myself to a mani/pedi and SLEEP. Have I mentioned sleep? I know... exciting, huh?!

Also, I'm putting this in writing so you guys can hold me accountable: I vow to get my poetry anthology posted to TPT this week and get back to my regular routine of posting, reading, and commenting on all your lovely blogs.

March 25, 2014

Keeping Classes Organized

I've blogged a few times about the power of color in the classroom.

Organization is kinda my thing. It's what sets me apart from many teachers who are constantly battling desks that are covered in heaps of paper.

Once, a coworker I don't know very well was subbing for me during a meeting. When he came to my class, I guided him over to my desk to show him the lesson plan. As soon as he saw it, he asked me, "Do you even work at this desk? Where's all your stuff?"

"Organized!" I told him.

My mind focuses better when I don't have any distractions around me.

And because I know this is true for many of my students, I'm always keeping my eye out for other ways to simplify and organize my classroom and their belongings.

One of the easiest tips I can offer is to color code each subject.

When I moved to a new school in 8th grade, I was surprised to see that the school mandated what color folder and notebook we used in each class. At first, it felt like a uniform, like they were trying to stifle my individuality. I mean, what was the world coming to if I couldn't declare my love of rainbows, unicorns, and puppies with a plethora of Lisa Frank school supplies?!

Nope. Not at my new school. We were limited to the following when it came to folders and notebooks:

  • Blue for language arts
  • Red for math
  • Yellow for social studies
  • Green for science
  • Black for art/music

It didn't take much time, however, until I was able to see the benefit in this situation. It made our locker stops efficient, and it was easy for teachers to quickly confirm that everyone had the right materials. No one ever had to go back to their lockers because they grabbed the wrong folder. It just didn't happen.

The fact that the whole school followed this system made it even easier. Simply by looking at the contents in a students' hands would tell you where they were headed or from where they came. Also, it became second-nature for students at this school, who saved their Lisa Frank envy for pencils and erasers that looked cool but never worked.

I adopted this color-coding method for myself when I went to high school (and college). It took away some of the anxiety I was feeling about having such limited time to stop at my locker before running to the other end of school for my next class. Being organized like this allowed me to simply reach for the color I knew I needed and be on my way.

Ultimately, my organizational skills resulted in more time to socialize with my peers in the hallways, which, let's face it, is why I went to school in the first place! ;)

March 24, 2014

IMWAYR: A Piece of Cake

This week, I want to talk about is A Piece of Cake: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown. Let me start by saying that the adorable title shouldn't fool you... this is an adult book! And it's not a sweet book about baking.

Cupcake, as her mother called her, shares with us her life of abuse, neglect, crime, drugs, gangs, prostitution, alcoholism, and life in the foster care system and as a runaway. And the most incredible part is that she experiences ALL of these things before turning 20.

She doesn't share her story from a place that begs for pity. Instead, she shares her dark past as a means to inspire others who have been neglected by our system and felt defeated. Her story is a much-needed reminder that one is never too-far-gone to change paths, as that's exactly what she did.

With a little faith, guidance and support from the right group, and a lot of determination, Cupcake was able to rise to greatness. She exhibits a sense of determination and strength that I can't even imagine, pulling herself our of the depths of addiction and out of a life riddled with poor choices. Through her ceaseless work, she went on to become not only a college graduate but a lawyer in one of the top 25 firms in the country.

Her message is an important one for those who need the reminder that every day is filled with choices, and that those choices create the life we live. It reminds me of a quote I used to hear from my late grandmother, "Unless you change who you are, you'll always have what you've got."

In case it wasn't clear, I definitely recommend this book!

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.

March 23, 2014

How Can I Stay Mad?

You guys, I have to fill you in on this story that happened at the end of the day Friday because it's just too priceless not to share.

J, the girl I work with for the majority of my day, has a really hard time sharing and taking turns. It's a serious struggle for her. This can be a problem in science class (or... if I'm being honest, in pretty much any class) during labs when she's expected to work with a partner or group.

On Friday, students were learning how to make wet mounts and practicing looking at them with the microscope. J was adamant that she be the one to make the wet mount while her partner watched. Then, she placed the slide on the microscope stage and struggled for a really long time to be able to see the specimen. I let her struggle for a bit because I think it's good for problem solving, and then I suggested she let her partner try... but J would not budge.

Not only was she not taking turns, but she was not properly adjusting the microscope. Instead, she was moving the slide back and forth with her fingers, causing the cover slip to slide off and basically ruin the slide. I tried to intervene, reminding her that she needed to move her hand down to the fine and course adjustment knobs. But again... she wouldn't move.

This resulted in a brief time out and minimal (thankfully) tears. Of course, my "best bud" was now mad at me and giving me the stink eye for the rest of science. When the classroom teacher gave her zeros on her success chart (behavior tracker) for the period, I got the silent treatment.

The thing is... I'm completely unfazed by this. In fact, I expect it. Usually, she forgets she's mad at me relatively quickly and goes back to being my best bud as soon as she wants something.

On Friday, though, her anger carried through our break time in the sensory room (probably because part of her punishment meant she couldn't use the coveted swing that hangs from the ceiling) and into our design and modeling class. During this period, there are 5-6 teaching assistants who work with as many students with special needs on an alternative curriculum, including and me.

For days, two of the students worked together to put together this puzzle as an assessment. It was sitting on a work table waiting for the classroom teacher's final approval and grade. J was sitting next to this completed puzzle (which she completed on her own the week prior, BTW) and started picking at the edges. I quickly reminded her that the puzzle needed to be graded and that she shouldn't touch it.

J looked right at me and slid her hands under both ends.

After another warning, she glared at me and promptly folded the puzzle in half, breaking the pieces apart.

So, here's the thing... J does things like this from time to time, and there has NEVER been a consequence. This is one of the hardest parts of my job. I am the one who deals with the bad behavior, yet my hands are tied when it comes to rewards and consequences. Those have to come from the support teacher.

That word is "puzzle"... get your minds out of the gutters!
Luckily for me, my support teacher has recently returned from her maternity leave. I immediately left the classroom to inform her of J's antics, and she promptly called home (mom was livid) and wrote her a detention! Basically, this is unheard of... and I feel vindicated. When a behavior is intentional, it deserves some sort of consequence.

When I came back to class, J had fixed the puzzle. I thanked her for making a good choice (even if it was to avoid a consequence), and asked her if she should say something to the students who worked hard on the puzzle. She agreed to write them a letter instead.

I don't know about you, but I can't read an apology letter like that without smiling. It doesn't take much for her to win over my heart again. :)

March 22, 2014

Vocabulary Review Game: Word Swat

This is a great review game that's sure to motivate your students. Every teacher in my building has just called this a review game, so I'm calling it Word Swat.

The objective is to be the first student to correctly identify a vocabulary word and swat it with a fly swatter.

To set it up, you scatter the vocabulary words across the board (this can easily be done on a SMARTboard or in Powerpoint too).

Here's how you play:
  1. Divide the class into two teams.
  2. One person from each team comes to the front of the room with their backs to the board.
  3. The teacher reads a definition for one of the vocabulary words.
  4. Students turn around and race to identify the correct word and swat it with the fly swatter.
  5. The first student to correctly swat the word gets a point for his or her team.
  6. Continue until all students have played or all words have been reviewed.
My students have SO MUCH FUN with this game. 

One of the things I like best is that the scattered words leaves room for chance. It's not always the smartest student who wins because they may not be able to find the word the fastest.

I also want to add that you needn't worry about damaging your interactive white boards with this game. The boys in my classes have proven many times that the fly swatters take the brunt of the impact. :)

March 20, 2014

The Light At The End of the Tunnel

Woohoo! It's spring! I check my weather app right away each morning, and I was soooooo excited to see 50 degrees and sunny in today's forecast. Imagine my surprise when I walked outside to see blizzard-like conditions. I literally stopped in my tracks, convinced the world was playing some huge joke on me.

The good news is that by 3:00 the sun was shining, the temperature was a balmy 50 degrees, and practically all that snow had melted. Well... except for the snow in my front yard because we don't face the sun so I think those snow piles will be around until June!

After the world's longest winter (I know many of you can agree), the fact that spring has, indeed, arrived was cause for a celebration! We welcomed this warm weather with my favorite summer salad (spinach, strawberries, almond slices, dried cranberries, goat cheese crumbles, and a raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing... OMG SO GOOD!)... not that I'm pushing it or anything! ;)

Tomorrow marks the end of third quarter and only one week left until spring break. I think I can... I think I can...

Positions for next year have been officially posted. I've applied for an opening at my school and sent an email to my principal to keep me in mind. Fingers crossed!

March 18, 2014

Trying New Things

I'm taking a slight break from Teacher Tips  to link up with Holly. I promise it's not because I got lazy. In fact, I already have a post scheduled for next week, but I actually have a few new things this week and am ready to share:

1. Have any of you seen that show The People's Couch on Bravo? I never heard of it until now, but I guess this is the second season. If you've been in the dark with me, it's a "reality" show where they share the commentary of various groups of people watching the week's shows. It's completely unnatural but somewhat entertaining.

I'm just curious... how do I get hired for this gig? I talk through all my shows anyway; it would be great to earn a paycheck for it!

2. The next thing I tried was this recipe for stuffed shells I found on Pinterest. Joel likes to put a little ricotta cheese in his spaghetti, which apparently meant he needed to buy a 32 ounce container when he cooked last week. Needless to say, we only used a fraction of that cheese, and I needed a plan for the leftovers. I decided to try making stuffed shells since I've never made them before, and they were SUPER easy!

What I liked best about this recipe, is that I think it LOOKS more impressive than a lasagna or other pasta dish, but it really wasn't a whole lot of work. I simply mixes up my stuffing while the noodles cooked, and then threw the stuffed noodles over some sauce in the oven for 30 minutes. This is a great make-ahead meal for the days when you need a hot meal in a little time.

3. Are you familiar with Jamberry Nails? I've been hearing about these nail shields for months now and dying to get my hands on them. I got a couple samples in the mail from two different people, but my first sample didn't fit. At all. I don't know if my nails are abnormally large, or if I got a junior size, but it just wasn't going to happen.

My second attempt was much better in fit, although I still had a hard time getting it to cover my whole nail. Apparently, my nails are very rounded, which can make it difficult to get the wraps to adhere completely. Veronica sent me an email yesterday with some more videos and tips for pulling and stretching the wrap for another try. I'll let you guys know if I manage to make it work!

4. My 25 year-old brother has been living on his own for a year now. Since Christmas, he's shown an interest in cooking actual meals for himself, except that he basically only knows how to make macaroni and cheese. My mom has been giving him tons of recipes and buying him groceries to make them. Yesterday, though, she took it a step further when she offered to teach him how to make lasagna.

So, my last new thing was that I ate my brother's cooking. And I'm still alive... so far. :)

March 17, 2014

IMWAYR: Maniac Magee

Last week, our ELA classes finally finished reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. This is probably shocking, but I never read the book until now, although I've heard great things over the years. I think this is just part of life as an ELA teacher that my reading list is always a mile long, and sometimes I miss out on some great books because they just haven't risen to the top of the list yet.

I'm definitely glad I finally read this novel. We chose it as an alternative to Phineas Gage, which is a very engaging story but too hard for our sixth graders (though other classes did it). They did wonderful, though, with this text and were able to make many connections to the themes of friendship, racism, and homelessness.

What was harder for my students to understand (and I think this is probably a good thing) was the segregation. In fact, when asked, some of the students thought the book took place in the 50s because of said segregation. Their knowledge of this part of history (and, let's face it, present in some parts of our country) is very limited, and my students live in a very diverse community. One of the other ELA teachers told me she prepared her students for this before reading the novel by giving them texts about segregation in Chicago to help them make connections.

This book is an incredible mentor text. There are endless examples of literary devices and vivid descriptions that make the story come alive. Maniac's story provides plentiful opportunities for class discussions around homelessness, racism, and friendship, which challenged our students to consider situations they've never experienced. Above all, I applaud this text for teaching compassion and empathy, two character traits we want to instill in our children.

I honestly don't think there was a single student in the room who didn't love this book. Today, after the test, we watched the Nickelodeon movie, and all day long, my students commented how much more they enjoyed the book. To be fair, the movie is pretty terrible, and they were really upset that one of their favorite characters wasn't even included.

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.

March 12, 2014

Lovin' It & Over It

I've been meaning to link up with this cute, quick linky by Ali at Teaching (Powered by Caffeine) since I first saw it in my feed, and I'm glad to finally getting around to participating!

The purpose of this linky is to share the things we're currently loving and wishing would go away, and this is great for me because I'm always full of opinions and willing to share!

I'm lovin' these Buzzfeed and Zimbio quizzes on Facebook recently. It's my new guilty pleasure. I know they're dumb, but I still have to know the results. And sometimes I change my answers if I don't like the results. Whatever. Judge if you must!

Yesterday, a friend from college posted his poll results that Justin Timberlake is his celebrity boyfriend. Out of pure jealousy, I immediately started the quiz myself, and would you just LOOK at my result?! 

He can keep Justin. I'm happy with this upgrade!

I'm lovin' the Starbucks gift cards I've been hoarding since Christmas. I've needed the extra caffeine in my life this week, so it's nice to be able to treat myself without going broke!

I'm lovin' the 50-degree weather we had Monday and are expecting again Friday. I know all you Southerners think we're crazy wearing shorts, skirts, and flip flops and for driving around with the windows down, but you have to appreciate the relief this mild weather brings after 6 months of cold!

I'm lovin' puzzle time during our Design & Modeling class. It's a great independent activity for my SPED babies and is teaching them some great strategies.

I'm lovin' the blueberry goat-cheese pie my fabulous friends made me for my birthday. For real... best pie ever!

I told myself I was done complaining about this horrible winter, but it's March 12, and Chicago just got ANOTHER snow storm. Seriously, Mother Nature. You win! Now, can we please have spring??? I just can't will myself out of bed in the morning when it's dark (stupid time change) AND cold. 

I'm over wearing boots... and planning my entire outfit around them.

I'm over coats (well... I don't really wear mine anyway, but Joel makes me keep it in the car).

I'm over digging my car out of the snow. This girl needs a garage again.

I'm over the salt on my pretty new car. Every time we wash it (Sunday), we get more snow.

I guess I have it pretty good if my biggest complaint in life is the weather! :)

March 11, 2014

Color Coding for Binder Organization

I LOVE to organize. Whenever I'm feeling stressed or procrastinating, you can probably find me re-organizing something... it gives me a sense of peace and tranquility to know that everything has a place and everything is in its place.

Because this is my nature, I've never really understood the students whose binders/lockers are a complete disaster zone. I mean... how hard is it to put the paper IN a folder instead of jamming it into a book only to have it fall on the floor or the bottom of the black hole that is your locker? Apparently it's extremely hard for many students because ninety bajillion missing assignments later, they're still cramming things where they don't belong.

In an effort to combat the headache I get when my students whine, "I can't find my worksheet!" I knew that my only solution was to force them to organize.

Yes... I said force them.

On the school supply list each year, I ask students to bring a 1/2 inch binder and a pack of 5-tab dividers. Here's the key: You have to ask each student to use the SAME tabs.

And here's why: I color coordinate all of my handouts to match that section of the binder.

It's such a simple thing (since my copy room is full of multi-colored paper at all times) that makes such a difference. When I handout a new assignment, I always make students put it in correct location in their binders immediately so I know it's in the right spot.

It also helps if you don't staple packets because the pages will lay flat. (Or you can ask students to remove staples once they're safely tucked away.)

When we transition from one activity to the next, the colored papers allow me to see that they're in the right place and ready to move on. If I see a green page during vocabulary instruction, I know something is wrong.

My last tip is that if you place to use a binder for Interactive Notes, you can certainly do that. My preference would be to glue the final products on to a coordinating piece of copy paper rather than into a notebook. I would also advise that this be your first section. Partially because you will use it most frequently, but also since most writing takes place on the right side of the binder, this helps keep a flat surface for the other tabs.

March 10, 2014

IMWAYR: Nineteen Minutes

Happy birthday to me! I had a FANTASTIC birthday weekend filled with my family and some close friends. I really cherish the quality time I get to spend with the people I love, and I truly appreciated being able to spend my birthday with those people again after being away last year.

Today, as promised, I'm sharing about the book I actually meant to share last week when I accidentally deleted my own post.

The book is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. I have to admit that I was convinced that I wasn't a fan of Picoult's writing after I read My Sister's Keeper. For some reason, that book kinda dragged for me, and it wasn't until my mom couldn't stop talking about The Storyteller that I even tried another one of her books. I was so impressed with it, that I decided to give her another chance with this novel, and I definitely think my initial impression was wrong.

In this novel, what impressed me the most was the fact that Picoult was able to make me empathetic toward the perpetrator of a high school shooting, Peter Houghton. My heart broke as I followed his journey as the victim of unfathomable bullying. The whole story made me even more aware of the subtle bullying in my own school. I feel like I'm on a personal mission to make sure every student has a place where they feel valued and respected.

The novel starts on the day of the shooting and then backs up to give you the back story, allowing readers to see how the lives of everyone impacted by the tragedy are interwoven. It then continues into the court room where the reader is given a play-by-play of the shooting, including an unexpected twist at the end.

The story does not just center around Peter. It also follows Josie Cromier, his childhood friend who dumped him in the name of popularity. The guilt she feels isn't even fully understood until the last pages of the book, but I also felt empathy for her situation. The pressure to fit in with the "in" crowd is real and overwhelming, and as Josie mentions, it's a precarious place where one wrong move could easily cause one to fall our of favor, social suicide for a teenager. You almost can't blame her... if only you didn't know how badly Peter needed her by his side.

And, as in real life, the shooting has profound impacts on the parents in the community, who question, as all parents do, whether or not they are doing enough for their children. It seems that no parent can win, no matter their style.

This book was very emotional for me, in so many ways. I was really drawn to the story because I felt so conflicted about how I wanted it to end. I definitely recommend this read!!

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.

March 7, 2014

Birthday Weekend!

Whew! It's been a long week, guys, and I feel like shouting TGIF from a rooftop!

Side Note: Does anyone else automatically think of the TV lineup from the 90s when people say that? I hear TGIF and my brain sees images of Full House, Step by Step, Family Matters... ah, the good ol' days!

Anyway, I had very limited interactions with the majority of my students this week, so I don't have 5 funnies to share... but I do have a few recaps.

1. I stayed home Monday sick with the flu. It was a pretty miserable day, but I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up Tuesday morning feeling like nothing had ever happened. Call me crazy, but I'll take a 24 hour flu over a never-ending cold any time!

2. ISAT week is officially over. The girl I tested could win an Olympic gold medal if students were awarded points for finishing fastest. She literally finished her reading sessions in 4 minutes flat. Poor girl saw all that text and said nope... not doing that. After 3 minutes of staring at the ceiling (literally), she finally filled in all the bubbles without reading any questions. When asked about her test later, she reported that she didn't need to read the texts because she already knew all the answers. What I wouldn't do for a sliver of that confidence!

3. My friend Angela is celebrating several huge milestones at her blog, The Teacher's Desk 6.

You definitely want to enter her Rafflecopter drawing because there are some great prizes, including my Quotation Pack, complete with practice worksheets and a quiz.

4. I've been meaning to share this for a while now, but it keeps getting pushed too far down my inbox. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this!! My friend Kristy at 2 Peas and a Dog started a collaborative post where she's shared links to Pinterest board of 12 fabulous middle school bloggers who have been super busy pinning some great ideas for months (or even years). You definitely want to check out her post!

5. My birthday is on Monday, which means this is my BIRTHDAY WEEKEND! It's so nice to be 29... again! :) Some friends are coming over on Saturday night, and we're going to have a pie-themed dinner (because it's almost pi day) together. On Sunday, my parents will take me out to dinner at our traditional restaurant, Claim Jumper, where I can get my once-a-year drool-worthy chocolate cake. One slice is big enough to feed an entire family (let's just talk about those SIX layers), and I swear I look forward to this all year long (and I'm not normally much of a chocolate cake eater). I mean... just look at it:

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!!

March 6, 2014

Thursday Throwdown with Flash Freebies

imlovinlit.blogspot.comI'm linking up with my very first bloggy bestie, Erin from I'm Lovin Lit, today to share one way I make learning more interactive.

When we read The Outsiders in 7th grade, it was always done as an independent novel study. What I mean by this, is that students were given a set of parameters, but they had a lot of choice for how they wanted to complete the requirements.

For example, for each set of chapters, students had to complete the following:

1. Journal - I provided 4 prompts for each set of chapters, and they have to choose one to answer thoughtfully
2. Comprehension check -10 point multiple choice or true/false quiz
3. Activity - I offered and 3-4 choices here as well. The options offer students opportunities to explore various plot elements, point-of-view, re-writing scenes, exploring the meaning of the word tuff, taking on the role of a character for a shopping spree, writing up articles for the local newspaper, etc.

My students were very motivated during our 3-week unit because they had SO much choice about when, what, and how they completed their assignments. Some students preferred to read the book in its entirety, take all the quizzes at once, and then go back to finish the journals and activities. Other students preferred to complete the journals and activities as they read the chapters as a way to check their comprehension before the quizzes.

My role during this unit was to help students create individual schedules for themselves and to keep them accountable for staying on task. The goal for this unit was for greater independence, but of course, there are some students who just need daily (or even more frequently) check-ins.

Now, that's not to say we never did anything as a class becuase we did, of course. Usually twice a week, I would select a group activity for them to do within table groups, and we would have great discussions as a whole class. Two of the favorites include the Social Group Analysis and a We Will Make the Rules Activity. You may download both activities for FREE by clicking on the links. Each of them provide plenty of opportunity for students to share their thoughts and opinions - trust me when I say that even your quietest students will be participating in these activities!

It's amazing how much more engaged students are in their learning when they have choice.

It is my goal for the month of March to get my entire novel study in my TPT store, and as always, I will probably offer a couple freebies, so make sure you're following my blog! :)

March 5, 2014

Sunshine Award

My sweet friend Alison from Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin' gave me a Sunshine Blogger Award this week. She says it's because I bring sunshine to her life, but really... she does that for me!

Rules for the Sunshine Blogger Award
1. Post 11 random facts about yourself
2. Answer the 11 questions from your nominator
3. Nominate 11 blogger who bring sunshine to the world
4. Make up 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

Random Facts about Me
1. My dream job is to be a talk show host. I love talking to people and learning about their lives. If I could get paid to do that, I would be thrilled!
2. I am really good at organizing things. I LOVE it
3. I really enjoy setting up a classroom. I like creating bulletin boards, creating learning centers, establishing a flow, and of course, organizing everything. I thought about doing this as a side job until I remembered that teachers are poor and I would be very limited in the number of people I could help in that precious window of time we're allowed in our rooms before school starts.
4. I keep my toenails painted at ALL times.
5. I'm obsessed with coconut oil and use it for pretty much everything in life.
6. My favorite part about teaching is the relationships I form with my students. I often wish I could get paid to just hang out with my kiddos because I love talking to them and learning about their lives. If only I weren't responsible for their educations! :)
7. I know this makes me boring, but I am a creature of habit. I like routine because I like knowing what will happen next.
8. I feel anxious when I have to stop reading or listening to a book in the middle of a chapter.
9. My favorite job was working at an child care program in high school & college. We only worked like 3 hours after school and during breaks. All of my BFFs worked with me, and we got to do crafts, play outside, and go on fun field trips all the time. The pay was ridiculous, but it was worth it because we had so much fun together!
10. I come from a small family that is spread out in age and distance. Despite her living in New Jersey, my cousin, Ellen, has always been one of my role models. I've always wanted to be the wife and mother I saw in her... and still do!
11. If I could do college again, I would study abroad for a semester. It's such a great opportunity to see the world, and I wish I had done it!

Questions from Alison
1) How long have you been teachin' and what is your absolute favorite grade to teach? This is my 8th year teaching. If I love all the middle grades, but if I have to pick a favorite, I'll go with 6th because they're still so sweet and eager to please!
2) If you had an opportunity to change one county, state, or national law about teachin', would you change anything? I would just like to find a way to take off a lot of the pressure that comes with standardized testing. I don't have an alternative solution, but I don't think this is the answer to our education problems.
3) Have you ever thought about teachin' abroad? If so, where? I've never considered it. Baton Rouge felt foreign enough to me! haha
4) If you could go on a shoppin' spree for one day and buy anything you wanted(money would be no object), what would you buy? I would love to get a complete makeover of hair, makeup, nails, and a new wardrobe that makes me feel confident and cute!
5) What is your favorite "me time" activity to do? I love to treat myself to a mani/pedi.
6) What is one food that you could eat every single day and not get sick of? Cupcakes! And yes, I realize this explains a lot about me!
7) What is your all time favorite children's book title and why should I read this book? I'm going to go with I Love You Forever. I used to read it daily to a little boy when I was a nanny, and it makes me all teary every time.
8) What is one app or piece of technology that you could not live without? My iPhone. I honestly don't know how I ever survived without it. It comes everywhere with me... even the bathroom!
9) If you were in charge of your school for one day, what would you plan for that day? It would definitely be a pajama day... nothing is better than that! And we would have lots of time for reading great books! Maybe we would do an academic Olympics!
10) What made you decide to start bloggin'? I think I just wanted a place to share my experiences and opinions without being censored as we sometimes have to be in real life. I didn't have much of a purpose in the beginning because my only exposure was to Mommy blogs. Once I found education blogging, I knew I finally had a purpose!
11) Where should I go on vacation and what should I do there? Come to Chicago to hang out with me, of course!!! You know we'd have a blast!

My Fabulous Nominees
These wonderful ladies have offered endless encouragement, advice, motivation, and friendship. I tried not to repeat names from Alison's list and still had a hard time narrowing it down to just 11 of you amazing bloggers! We have such a wonderful community!

Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching
Susan and Middle School OCD
Erin at Short andSassy Teacher
Jen at Teaching Teens in the 21st Century
Jessica at Joy in the Journey
Catherine at The Brown Bag Teacher
Ali at Teaching Powered by Caffeine
Kasey at Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach
Michele at A Lesson Plan for Teachers
Kristy at 2 Peas and a Dog

Questions for My Nominees
1. What is the one lesson that you most enjoy teaching all year?
2. If you didn't teach your current subject or grade, what would you want to teach?
3. If you weren't teaching, what other job(s) could you see yourself doing?
4. What gets you through a tough day/week/semester/year?
5. What is one responsibility you have now that you'd like to drop?
6. Which extra-curricular activities do you facilitate?
7. If money were no object, what is the one thing you'd want for your classroom?
8. What's something you wish your students' previous teachers had taught them?
9. What's something you want your students' future teachers to know?
10. What is the one professional resource that has been most helpful for you?
11. Who inspires you to be a better teacher?

March 4, 2014

Teacher Tip Tuesday: CHAMPS

My 4-day weekend was jam-packed with activity, which didn't allow for much blogging time. I usually schedule a few posts for the week on Sundays, but I was so exhausted that I couldn't even look at the computer. As it turns out, I got the flu and had to stay home sick yesterday.

All this to explain why I didn't link up with my reading update yesterday, even though my drafts folder has a list of about 10 books ready to be finished and scheduled.

And why my taxes still aren't done.

And why I've been a poor commenter lately. Speaking of... do any of you find that when you comment using the Bloglovin' app, the comments never actually appear?? I swear I have like 5,000 blog comments lost in cyber space somewhere.

Anyway, I am trying to get myself back on track today and have a Tuesday Teaching Tip to share. One of the best classroom managment techniques I've used has been CHAMPS. Basically, before every activity, the teacher is supposed to set the following expectations:
  • What is the appropriate conversation level?
    • 0 = silence, 1 = whisper, 2 = table talk, 3 = presentation voice
  • How should students ask for help?
    • ask a neighbor, raise hand, display a red card, come to conferencing table, etc.
  • What activity should students be doing?
    • silent reading, writing, note-taking, etc.
  • What movment is allowed?
    • bathroom, tissue, pencil sharpeners, etc.
  • What does participation look like?
    • reading, writing, active listening, taking notes, etc. 
  • CHAMP = Success
What I like about CHAMPS is that it clearly sets the expectations for the activity. It makes everything black and white for the students, and sets the parameters for the activity. When the expectations are clear, it is less likely that students will be off-task, and if they are, it certainly won't be because they were unclear.  

There are a few ways to display the CHAMPS expectations. One option is to make a poster like the one below, which lists all of the possible options. This works well for activities that are routine (morning work, independent reading, direct instruction, etc.). My one warning, though, is that I think these posters can be pretty overwhelming if they get too big!

Another option is to have a giant, laminated CHAMPS poster in the classroom. Each day, you can CHAMP out the activity with a dry erase marker. This has been the preferred method in my school, and it works well in a class that implements one main activity each day.

As an ELA teacher, however, we often do many activities in a 90-minute block of time, with the expectations changing for each activity. I've gone back and forth in my mind for how I feel it's best to display these expectations, and I think my preference is in a digital file. This way, I can simply pull up the appropriate chart for the current activity (and it's stored on my computer for future use).  

March 2, 2014


Today's post is going to be super easy because it's ISAT Week here in Illinois.

We start Tuesday and test through Thursday/Friday (7th grade has one extra day of testing for science). I will be administering the test to my darling little J, which means we'll be hanging out together in a small room for many, many hours.

I fully anticipate her finishing her tests in record time because she LOVES multiple choice. Why think about the answer when one can simply fill in a random bubble?

I'd been collecting ideas for when we're done super early:

  • Card games
  • Journal activities
  • Cool math games
  • Mancala
  • Books we can read together
Friday will include an ELA test over our class novel, Maniac Magee, as well as a science test on all the vertebrates we've been studying for weeks. By Friday, I think our kids will be bouncing off the walls with energy after sitting still and silent for so long. 

It's going to be a long week, friends. Pray for us!

March 1, 2014

Welcome, March. Please Bring Sun!

My question was "How many years have I been in education?"

I can't believe it's been 8 years!

I spent my first two as a day-to-day substitute in 3 districts while in grad school to get my teaching certificate. It was during this time that I fell in love with middle school, although I also took on a job through the local community college teaching 9th grade English in their summer school program. I taught summer school for 3 LONG years before deciding my sanity was more important than a little extra spending money... of course... that's when I HAD extra spending money! haha

As soon as I graduated, I was hired to teach 7th grade ELA and gifted ELA in the school where I student taught. My first year there was Heaven. I had wonderful students and the best team anyone could ever want. I was moved to a new team for my second year, and even though I loved my students, it's somewhat overshadowed by a shady administrator who made life miserable for too many people (myself included).

I spent nearly all of the following year covering two long-term ESL positions in another district. In the first, I taught the newcomers (including all core subjects), geography, US history, and a combined 6th & 7th grade math. I was completely unqualified for this position, but I was friends with the Director of ESL, so he helped me get in the door. When that position ended, I took over for my co-worker's maternity leave, which allowed me to work with my same students as a READ 180 & Writing teacher. This is where I really got to see the value of a writing and reading workshop program because of my small class sizes (seriously... as small as 2 students).

For the remainder of that year and the year following, I worked as a day-to-day sub. One of my former teachers was an AP at one of the local middle schools and got me on the sub list in her district. I worked consistently at two schools, including my current building.

Last year, as most of you know, I taught 8th grade ELA at a charter school in Baton Rouge. This was a life-changing experience for me, both personally and professionally, as I was challenged in ways I never thought possible. After this experience, I feel comfortable saying that I have taught the full gamut. :)

This year, I'm back in IL as a teaching assistant with my fingers crossed for a full-time teaching position next year. It's ALMOST time for districts to start posting their openings (probably the end of this month), so if you feel like crossing your fingers with me, that would be much appreciated!! :)