Week 13: NCTE

Okay guys, my feet hurt, I’m exhausted, still defrosting, but this trip has been amazing. Honestly, all of my English teacher friends if you have never been to NCTE yo need to go. This conference has been so eye opening, and I have learned so much. Plus, I have gotten to hear some of my idols speak, and meet some of them.

There have definitely been some major highlights of this trip. Yesterday I stood in line for 15 minutes in order to get a copy of All’s Faire in Middle School signed by Victoria Jamieson! I can’t remember if I’ve talked about All’s Faire before, but if I have then you know I think very highly of it. I think it was definitely like being on cloud nine getting to meet such an amazing authors. Plus, I’m pretty sure meeting authors is an English Major’s form of meeting a movie star (not that we wouldn’t enjoy that too).

Another highlight of this trip was getting to listen to Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher. Their session was so informative, and I got so many ideas for it. One big take away that I have heard from their session was the idea that you have to give students choice about what they are reading. Their project was interesting because it took schools from two different sides of the state and had them choose books to be in a book club together. The way that they organized it almost blew my mind, but the amount of ideas that I have now are slightly overwhelming.

In fact, this whole conference has been super overwhelming. I feel like I have been handed a whole bunch of information, and I’m just crossing my fingers hoping that I have everything I needed written down. My notebook is overflowing with notes that I’m hoping make sense.

Anyway, I’m pretty satisfied with this adventure. St. Louis is a beautiful city, and I haven’t even been to the Arch yet. I’m hoping to fit in a visit tomorrow morning before we fly out. I’m excited to bring back everything I’ve learned, but I’m definitely not excited for the plane ride home, the drive from Denver, and then having to drive all the way home.


Professional Development Book Review 2: Fearless Writing by Tom Romano

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire

I’ll be honest you guys, I devoured this book. I couldn’t get enough of all the information that Romano was throwing at me. Don’t get me wrong I loved Penny Kittle’s writing, but this book drew me in from the very beginning and I swear it just never let me go. So, if you don’t know Tom Romano you need to start looking up his work right now. This is the second time I’ve read something by him, and not only is his writing informational, but he also gives you more than just the information that you are expecting. He gives you feedback from students, he tells you what has and hasn’t worked for him, and he is willing to admit to the times that he has failed.

This book is entirely about multigenre papers, and how to implement them into the classroom. I was first introduced to multigenre papers in Kittle’s work, and I had wanted to learn more about what they were. When Dr. E introduced this book in class on Tuesday I knew it was exactly what I had been looking for to build off of my last professional development book. I dove into the pages hoping to learn more about this elusive idea of a multigenre paper, and how I might begin using it in my own classrooms.

One of the great things about this book is it is also written in multiple genres like the papers it discusses. While many of the chapters are still written in expository, other chapters are simply dialogue, plays, and even poems. I think that the fact that the book is put together this way really helped me to better understand what it means to write in multigenre. The explanations that Romano gives are great, so are the multiple examples of multigenre papers that he provides. Even so, it was almost comforting to see it used within a published book.

I loved the fact that Romano also provides information about how standards and grading interact with multigenre projects. He does a good job of explaining the way he grades multigenre projects, and especially how you can use them in conjunction with standards. This part takes up a very small portion of the book, but if you are nervous about anything that Romano talks about with multigenre papers/projects this section will definitely put you at ease. I really loved this book, and if you are curious about multigenre assignments I suggest that you check it out.

Week 12: Setting Up Mini Lessons

This week in class we discussed different ways of developing mini lessons. I hadn’t thought much before about how to go about planning out a mini lesson, or how I wanted to go about putting min lessons into my classroom. We read several articles discussing different ways to set mini lessons up within the classroom, as well as watched a demonstration of a mini lesson by Penny Kittle.

Many of the articles discussed a way to plan and set up mini lessons over a period of time. This way of planning allows you to plan lessons based on what you are seeing in the needs of your students, but at the same time they are planned out around a week in advance. These types of mini lessons are more the kind that you plan to go within a unit, and it can be saved from year to year. That being said you don’t want to continually use the same mini lesson all the time. You may need to change it depending on the needs of students, or you could want to change up mentor texts based on your student’s interests.

The mini lesson method that Penny Kittle used was a little different. She has a student that approached her on a Thursday, and he was having a problem deciding where he needed to from his storyboard. So she organizes an impromptu mini lesson in which the class works with the student in order to help him come up with ways that they can continue from there. This lesson was great because it allowed the student to get ideas, but it also helped with classroom discussion. Not only that, but during the discussion the students were actively communicating about literature, coming up with ideas, and overall being amazingly creative.

After studying both of these things we were then asked which one we would use in the classroom. I would have to say that you need a balance of these two ideas. You need to have ideas for mini lessons that fit within lessons, or that can deal with specific areas that your students struggle in. You also need to be flexible. Not every lesson can be planned into a schedule. Sometimes someone asks a question that really gets the class going and you don’t want to stop it because they are actually discussing things. You have to be willing to look for situation in the classrooms that you can turn into a learning experience for everyone. It’s often those impromptu lessons that really do make a difference. For these reasons I want to include a good variety of both types of mini lessons within my classroom. I think a lot of it is just finding that balance between spontaneity and planning.


Week 11: Dealing with Poverty

On Tuesday we had a former CSC student come to class and talk about her current job. She works as a 10th and 11th grade English teacher at St. Francis on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. It was interesting to hear about what her life as a teacher is like there, and how she works with her students. She described several things that I had seen when we went to visit Pine Ridge earlier this semester. The ideas surrounding education are different for these people than they were for me when I was growing up. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it does demonstrate the differences that arise depending on the home or the place that you grew up in. These children are no less important than any other child that enters my classroom.

Poverty has been something on my mind a lot lately. Two weeks ago we went to a presentation on poverty in schools. This, combined with our other discussions has really gotten me thinking about the plight of students that may enter my classroom, and how I am going to help them and encourage them as people and as learners. I understand that many of these kids will be experiencing things that I cannot fully comprehend. I can’t say that I have really ever been in their shoes. I also knew that I would have food, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear. Some children aren’t afforded that luxury. Yes, children in America are still caught up in poverty too. There are starving children in every country all over the world, and some might just be sitting in your classroom.

I hadn’t really thought about how I would deal with poverty before this week. In Block we talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and then talked about how we could help meet each of these needs for our students. This got me thinking about what I can do as a teacher to help those students out. Now before I hear any arguments about how it’s not the schools job to help those in poverty, and that they should learn how to take care of themselves, I want you to realize something. People who live in poverty usually have jobs. In fact, a large percentage of people in poverty have at least one adult in the household who is working a full time job. Also, students can not learn on an empty stomach, so if you want them to succeed you have to be willing to give them a hand. This isn’t about politics, it’s about children’s lives.

Anyway, when it comes to helping students every little thing counts. You could put granola bars or other nonperishable food items in your classroom, so your student actually has something to eat that day. Does your student work all night, or live in an unsafe home where they are scared to sleep? Let them catch a nap in your room over lunch. For some of the students that walk into your room it will be the only safe place that they know. Make sure that it is safe. Build your students up, help them grow, don’t belittle and put them down. Create an environment that is safe and conducive to learning. This is about helping your students learn, and you can do that by doing more than just teaching them. Dare to be the teacher that not only teaches, but takes the time to care about the lives your students may be living outside of school.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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I have a ton of stuff to be doing. I have to take the Praxis II next Wednesday, I have presentations coming up, a rough draft for a critical essay to right, and yet I couldn’t seem to put this book down. “Brown Girl Dreaming” is a collection of poetry written by author Jacqueline Woodson. The poetry comes together to demonstrate a beautifully written autobiography. Woodson definitely has a great grasp on writing and storytelling, and she weaves in so much outside history into her poems that it really does just draw you in. These poems are the story of a girl as she is born in Ohio, grows in a racially charged south, and finally ends up in New York City.

Pros: This is a book of poetry, but it doesn’t read like a book of poetry. I know that seems weird, but I never once felt like there was a difference between this book and a book written in prose. The poems were so beautifully composed, and I continually found myself getting lost in the lines, and the picture that was being brought together from poem to poem. Also, Woodson knows how to tell a story. She knows how to draw a reader in and get them lost in the story that is being told. The poems are all well written, and honestly the reading level is not bad. This would definitely be a book that I would recommend to a reader that may be struggling, especially because the poems are short and clear as well.

Cons: I’m really not sure that there are any cons. I fell in love with this book from page one, and I couldn’t wait to see how it ended. I felt like someone looking in on Jacqueline’s life. It was almost like I was the quiet ghost in the corner taking it all in. Seriously, I have nothing negative to say about this book, and I highly recommend you go check it out.

Week 10: Classroom Management

Guys! I’m finally placed, and I couldn’t be more excited!! I also couldn’t be more nervous. It’s starting to hit me that in a semester I will be student teaching, and then looking for my own job. Where did the last four years go? I’m pretty sure that college goes faster than high school, but maybe that’s because I enjoyed it more? Either way the butterflies are starting to form in my stomach especially when it comes to one topic, classroom management. Thankfully, my instructors seem to be on the same page as me this week because not only did we address it in my special methods course, but also in or PDW we had this week in BLOCK.

I keep expecting my first year of teaching to look like one of those bad teaching movies. You know the one’s where the students are constantly throwing things, talking over the teacher, and just generally ignoring the teacher? Yeah, that terrifies me. How am I with my 5 foot 4 inch frame supposed to handle all of that. I am definitely not intimidating, but then again do I need to be? A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on relationships and the importance they have in the classroom. Now what I understand from my teachers is that building relationships is also key to classroom management. Making your students feel important is huge. When we are taking the time to build relationships with our students it’s saying that they are actually worth caring about, and honestly I’m pretty sure that’s something huge. I know too many students over the years that teachers gave up on. I’ve seen too many kids who could have been great cast aside because they weren’t the best and the brightest. I think this is the wrong way to go about it, and if you walk into your classroom acting like you are the lord of all you probably shouldn’t be there.

See along with relationships is this thing called respect. It’s a little hard to show respect to someone when they are constantly treating you like crap. Let’s be real we all know that one person that wants you to respect them, but the does something at every turn to try and force that respect. What happens? You don’t want to respect them, instead you develop that little seed of dislike. Okay, well that’s what happens with me anyway. Back to teaching though. If you can’t also respect and encourage your students, why should you expect them to respect you back. You  have a piece of paper, that’s about it. These kids have thoughts and ideas too, and it’s important that they are heard.

So, while I’m still more scared than ever to start my career in teaching, I also feel like I’m starting to get an understanding of how I can help my students. I’m calling them the two R’s of teaching, relationships and respect. Also, just to point out this applies to your colleagues, administration, and community too. Our PDW speaker on Wednesday said something that really hit me, and I think too many people don’t realize it, so I’d like to share it again here:

Teaching is not a career, it is a lifestyle.

You will be watched from the moment that you become a teacher, and you need to be sure that you are living your life in a way that leaves no question about what you have dedicated your life to doing.

The Saturday Boy, The Night Circus, and All’s Faire in Middle School

While thinking about my midterm grade I realized that I hadn’t really been dedicating enough time to really doing a lot of reading, so I decided to fix that and managed to finish three different books this week. I thought they were all so good that I just had to share them with you.

The first one I finished was “All’s Faire in Middle School” by Victoria Jamieson. Jamieson is also the author of “Roller Girl,” which I haven’t read, but is definitely on my list after finishing this book. The book is about Imogene who has been home schooled much of Image result for alls faire in middle schoolher life, but has decided to go to public school. The kicker is she decided to start in middle school (which to me seems like a poor idea, but whatever). Also, Imogene’s family works at a Renaissance Fair, and this is Imogene’s first year working as well. She starts out as a squire, and she absolutely loves it. However, through a strange set of events she ends up being a sort of bully at her new school. This opens up several doors for learning lessons and self-discovery. I loved this book because I could relate to it on so many levels. I was taken back to my own middle school days, and I discovered that this story still hit me as a senior in college. The message is just as strong now as it would have been then. This is definitely a book that I want to include in my classroom, and I highly recommend that you do too.

The second one was “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve been reading this book for awhile now, and it took me forever to get into it. I finally forced myself to sit down and let myself get drawn in, I then finished it in two hours. While the book has a slow start by the end of it you are wishing that it would just keep going. It is told from multiple The Night Circusperspectives as well as from different time periods, so you really have to stay on your toes. It isn’t so bad, however, that it detracts from the story. I’d try to describe the plot line to you, but it’s one of those books that you really just have to discover it for yourself. Seriously, you need to read this book.

Finally, we have “The Saturday Boy” by David Flemming. This book is definitely a lower level reading book, but that in no way detracts from the story. The book follows Derek, a fifth grader whose father is deployed and flies Apache helicopters. Derek is still navigating the idea of growing up, what it means to be almost a middle schooler, and most importantly having an absentee father. The book also deals with issues of bullying. When I picked up this book I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I will tell you that I laughed and cried while reading it. I think this book Image result for the saturday boywas an interesting read, but there were also some plot holes that I wasn’t really sure about. Overall though I enjoyed reading it, and if any of you would like to borrow it let me know.

Week 9: Hitting the Wall

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Photo CC-dailycompass.org

I’m not going to lie the last few weeks have been draining. I feel like I’m being bounced in twenty directions, and somehow I’m supposed to be able to keep up. While fall break was a great relief from the demands I have been facing this semester, it wasn’t quite enough. The break was great. I got to read some really great books, like Thornhill (so creepy!), and I worked on my professional development book (not as exciting). I got to spend some awesome time with my family, and overall it was a great four days.

I thought I was fully recovered until Wednesday afternoon when I just hit a wall. Our Reading and Writing teacher gave us this completely ridiculous assignment on readability. It was one of those assignments that was pretty much a filler because she had to go teach a class. I learned nothing from it, and it was definitely busy work. I went to print out the stupid assignment, and the printer was jammed. In that moment I had this realization that I have never had in college before, “I don’t care anymore.” Hitting that wall helped me to realize a lot of things about myself, and my chosen profession, that I hadn’t thought about before.

This semester I have felt like I was being pulled between two different sets of ideals. I have constantly been bombarded with conflicting ideas, and I’ve been left in the middle to sort out all of the information. I’ve jumped through so many hoops for my BLOCK teachers that I have seriously questioned whether I even wanted to teach anymore. I have wanted to teach since I was five years old, and worshiped my aunt who was an elementary school teacher. I thought she was the greatest person ever, and I wanted to be just like her. That passion just seemed to grow and grow through the rest of my life, and I’ve been so sure of it that, up until now, I never considered changing my major or doing something else with my life. My passion has always been kids, and I think it’s sad that I have people teaching me who make me question whether it’s even worth it.

Even though I question it, I still know that this is what I have been called to do. I am starting to realize that this job will never be easy. Children will leave their homes, and it will be my job to make sure that they are ready for whatever happens in their future. It will be my job to provide them with an environment in which they will be able to learn, and that I will have to fight for them every day for as long as I teach. I realize that I will hit walls, and that sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and take care of yourself. You are no good to your students if you, yourself , are not mentally healthy. Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs that you can ever have, but in order for it to be rewarding you have to be capable of making a difference in your students lives.

I wonder if the reason we see so many teachers that just don’t care anymore is because somewhere along the way they just hit that wall. Maybe they just got tired of jumping through hoops, sorting through all the competing information, and having people questioning methods that work for their students. Maybe it’s because teachers are told by people who have no educational training, how they should teach. Maybe it’s because they are so under appreciated in our society. While, I’m not saying it’s okay to hit this wall and not try to rally yourself again, I am saying that it’s sad that we live in a society where I, as a student, am questioning whether I even want to teach before I have graduated from college.

Professional Development Book Review 1

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Last year in Adolescent Literature I was introduced to the work of Penny Kittle. Up until reading her book, Book Love, I didn’t know anything about her and her ideas. For those of you who don’t know Kittle is a high school teacher in New England. She often writes about different techniques that she has implemented within her classrooms. One of the main ideas she presents is setting up an English classroom in the form of reading and writing workshops. Now some of you will remember last year while I was reading Book Love, and how hard it was for me to wrap my head around some of the ideas that were presented in the book. Well, this semester I bought Kittle’s book Write Beside Them for a class and then it turned out that I didn’t exactly need it. However, since I enjoyed her book from last year, and since I was required to read a few professional development books over this semester, I decided why not read it. Boy, am I glad I did.

As many of you know we have been studying unit planning in my Special Methods course, and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to design my units based on genre. This book really helped me to get my head around that a little bit more. Kittle demonstrates the ways that she starts out her unit planning, and then presents an explanation for why she does it. While, I’m not sure I would see myself organizing my units the same way, I got a better understanding of what it means to develop units that build off of each other. When building your units (for any grade level) they should be connected in a way that helps students see how they are building on prior knowledge. This helps with the feeling of accomplishment, and allows them to see how they are getting better at writing.

Another idea that gets tossed around a lot is this idea of proper grammar. I was raised in a house that was so strict about grammar. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it often makes me intolerant of people who don’t use correct grammar. Which, in a way, is hilarious because my grasp on commas leaves a lot to be desired (I’m more than a little comma happy). Either way, I was really struggling with this idea of not teaching grammar in the classroom, and the idea that “the more students write, the better they will get at grammar and punctuation.” Now I know in a way that this is correct, but I felt like more needed to be done, and thankfully Kittle knew just how to address it. She has several ideas for teaching grammar in the English classroom that are far different than traditional methods, yet are still effective. The idea of mini lessons on grammar is huge, and the organization of these mini lessons helped me to put my thoughts in perspective.

While reading this book I also got another chance to examine different viewpoints on grading, and helping struggling students to succeed. What I love about Kittle’s writing is that she shows the bad alongside the class. She is honest in her writing. She points out that not every technique will work in the classroom, and that she has tried things that most definitely failed. She shares about her most difficult students, and talks about the fact that you won’t always have success. This openness helps me to accept her ideas, and to think through them more. Honestly, I enjoyed this book, and if you are looking for some things to apply in your own classroom I’d highly recommend you pick it up.

Week 7: Writing Workshop

I’ll be totally honest, I hate workshops. They make me nervous, scared, even sometimes terrified. Even throughout my college career I always dreaded workshops, even in classes where I knew that I was in a safe environment. I’m not sure where is irrational dread came from, but I knew I wasn’t looking forward to going through a workshop in class this week. Why? I can think of about a hundred reasons why I’m terrified. There are much better writers in my class, my writing really isn’t that good, most of my pieces are personal and I’m scared of judgement, and so on. I’m sure I could come up with more if I tried. It’s funny because even though I hate workshops I also absolutely love them. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of it all, or the fact that they are never quite as bad as I think they are going to be. I think this is mostly because I’m sharing it with family.

Now that might seem weird to you, but I would say that every class I’ve done a writing workshop in has felt like family. You get to see all the pieces of the other people in the room, you get to praise their writing, you get to help them make it better, you learn about their lives, and ultimately I really feel like it does draw you together into a little writing family. Even though I hate sharing my work I know that it will never be torn down, that I will be treated with respect, and that my work will be treated with respect. I know that everyone in the room is there to help me, and that I’m there to help them.

My goal for the future is to create a writing classroom where my students are able to share their writing with family. I think back to my high school days, and I remember the fear of sharing with my peers. I think if back then I had had a safe environment that today I would be even more comfortable sharing my writing. There are so many positives to writing workshops, and I don’t want my students to miss out on the development that they can have because of them.

In order to do this, however, I need to start getting over my own anxiety. I’m still that person who hates reading their piece out loud or even sharing it with other people, and I honestly need to get over it. I’m learning that being a writing teacher is less about you and more about your students. It’s you leading by example and showing them that they don’t have to be scared to share their writing. It’s you reading that awful piece that you hate just to show that all writing isn’t good the first time (or even the 20th time). It’s showing your kids that first drafts are messy, and that’s okay. I was trying to think of guidelines for the writing workshops that I want to implement in my class, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that I need to have guidelines for myself. I started to write my own guidelines, but by the time I was done I realized that these are things that I want all my students to apply to their lives and their time in my class. Now honestly I’m sure I could combine some of these or add something to them , but for now I’m satisfied.

  1. Don’t be scared to share.
  2. Be open to everyone’s writing. There’s always something encouraging to say.
  3. Read aloud. Take time to practice if you need it.
  4. Not everything is about you.
  5. Lead by example.
  6. Drafts aren’t pretty.
  7. Not all writing is awesome.
  8. You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to act like it.
  9. The people around you won’t gain anything if you refuse to share your voice.
  10. This classroom is a community or writers.
  11. You are a writer.