Monday, January 12, 2015

Companion texts

We'll be starting to read Animal Farm in just a few days. I think the overarching question I want to push students to examine is "What is the citizen's responsibility to society – and why?"

See, I've taught it before, and the students often come to the conclusion that the pigs just should have been nicer. I don't know if it's because they're that naive, or because they're slacking off and not bothering to look below the surface. Because, honestly, at the end of the novel, the pigs have it pretty good, at least in comparison to the rest of the animals.

The pigs aren't going to be any nicer unless the other animals make them be nicer. But by the end of the story, the pigs not only have the dogs as enforcers, they have the guns and other weapons as well. It would be very difficult for the other animals to take a stand against the pigs. The key is that the other animals didn't make the most of their opportunity to be involved in the new government after the Rebellion. They weren't lazy – they worked hard – but they were willing to go along with what someone else wanted. If you do that often enough, you're going to get stepped on, and that's exactly what happened.

For potential companion texts, I've used "Initiation" and "The Fan Club" as a pair, to encourage students to examine the desire to belong. I also have access to "The Lottery" and "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," but I'm less happy with those. They seem to oversimplify the situation. Both of them look at established societies, sort of as a "oh my isn't this terrible," but they don't look at how those societies and their practices developed. For example, you can definitely make the case that a capitalist society is predicated upon the suffering of those at the bottom for the well-being of those at the top. In "Omelas," we are just flat-out told that the suffering one is innocent. How do we know this? Only because the narrator says so. However, in our society (for example) we make other excuses for why those at the bottom are there. They aren't willing to work hard. They're selfish. They're criminals. We tell ourselves that our suffering ones are not innocent.

Trying to change society is a HUGE task that really can't be completely accomplished by one person, Hunger Games notwithstanding. So I want to get students to think about what it would take to change society, to make the world better, and what they can do to help make it happen.

Any suggestions for other possible texts to work along with Animal Farm?


Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of Term Exhaustion

One of the buzzwords this year has been "grit." In the reading I've done, I've heard it explained that students who take responsibility for their achievements are more likely to be successful than students who attribute their success or failure to external factors. This makes sense on the surface, but when I was reading my students' reflective essays, I noticed something interesting.

I had asked them to write about a standard they had mastered and a standard they still needed to work on. And for quite a few of the students, they claimed that the standard they mastered was because of their own skill and hard work... then went on to give all sorts of excuses I mean reasons that they'd been less successful. There were very few students who took responsibility for both their successes AND their failures. Needless to say, this was enlightening for me, but also somewhat discouraging. According to my students, any learning that happens is apparently in spite of me, not because of me.

Grit is variously defined as a mixture of determination, resilience, motivation, and courage. Here are some recent articles and blog posts that discuss it:

But while these all exalt the value of getting back up after failing (and in fairness, students who don't do that won't succeed) the truth is that simply trying again, or even trying harder, may not be enough to ensure success. Because if you did something that didn't get you the desired result, if you just do the same thing again, you're likely to get the same less-than-desirable result you did the first time. Perseverance alone isn't enough.

One of the skills that I don't see mentioned in the articles that talk about grit is reflection. After experiencing failure, but before charging back into the fray, it's important to take a good look at what led up to that failure. What were the factors that caused it? Which can I influence directly? What can I do to compensate for the factors that I cannot change? But while we practice this on a regular basis, I'm not entirely sure how I can break it down into smaller steps or try it at an easier level or provide support to help students who are struggling with it. (A lot of my students seem to equate "helping them" with "giving them the answer.")

How do you teach effective reflection? Do you teach it? If not, how do you encourage students to look for ways to improve?


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social Networking

I am, by nature, a solitary person. Most people would not suspect this, because I make an effort to be not just polite, but friendly. But when I get home from school, I am perfectly content to spend the evening (or an entire weekend) surfing the web, watching TV, listening to music, reading books, and doing household chores.

However, I know that having a good relationship with one's colleagues is important. So I try to stop by and talk to the other teachers in my department at least once during the week - usually during planning. But the thing is, it's really hard for me, even more so than usual. I've always got this nagging feeling that I ought to be grading, or contacting parents, or looking for resources, or responding to emails, or printing articles or rubrics or graphic organizers, or updating student progress on the network... the list seems endless. Talking to my colleagues is something that feels frivolous -- it's so enjoyable that it must be a waste of time.

On the other hand, there are teachers who are always in someone else's room talking whenever I pass by. I don't understand that at all. Are they really able to get things done with that much time to spare? Am I that inefficient?

This year I haven't done nearly as well with keeping up with this blog, or with staying involved with the English Companion Ning. It doesn't help that the Ning is blocked while I'm at school, which is generally where I am when I'm suddenly hit by something like "hey, I wonder what ideas other teachers have for short stories to pair with Julius Caesar."

I haven't decided if it's because I have more extracurricular activities going on, or because I just don't have as much to say. I hope I'm not burning out.

Image: Norman Rockwell's "Chain of Gossip," 1948


Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday, October 17 - Homecoming

Brief note - it seems like blogger has changed things and my 'Continue' links aren't working the way I wanted them to. That's frustrating. Part of me feels like I ought to take just a little bit of time this weekend to check and see what I can do to make them work again, but then there's another part of me that says "you haven't been keeping up with your blogging anyway, so it's not like it matters."


So today is Homecoming. I must confess, I'm not a particularly rah-rah sort of person. I mean, I do like my school and my students (even if their attitudes and behavior aggravate me on a regular basis). But I'm not particularly interested in extracurriculars. I'm here at school all day, focused on my work, and when the day is over I want to go home and focus on other things. It doesn't help that I have a 40-minute commute; I wish the school was closer to the house we could afford, but it's not. And I could get a job at a school that's closer - there's at least one that's within walking distance - but like I said, I do like the school I'm at and I particularly enjoy working with the colleagues I have here.

So in addition to a lot of school colors everywhere this week, we've had dress-up days and the student government had a competition to raise money for their floats and there was a parade last night. Tonight is the big game so there's a pep rally today. During school. All of our classes are shortened so that for the last 45 minutes we can put all the students in the gym and have them scream a lot.

And we have to be there.

I guess you can tell that I'm not a big fan of pep rallies. For one thing, I just generally don't like large ceremonies. They feel impersonal and bland, and the larger they are, the longer they tend to go on. Additionally, I'm not fond of the fact that we take time away from academics for the purpose of supporting extracurriculars. And it's so loud.

I feel like this makes me a big gloomy cloud of not-fun, but I'm looking forward to next week, when hopefully things will go back to normal!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday, August 27 - Lesson: "Beginnings"

Every story starts with the promise that reading it is worth your time & effort, and gives clues about what to expect. In the first sentence, the author establishes this promise, enticing the reader to continue, and hints about what the reader can expect from the rest of the book. Consider these famous beginnings:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • They shoot the white girl first.
  • 124 was spiteful.
  • Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
  • You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.
As a class, we discuss a few of these openers - I generally start with Moby Dick and ask students what they notice. They either mention "he has a weird name" or "he's introducing himself." Each of those leads into a significant point - Ishamel is an allusion to the story of God's promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis, and there's an important distinction between call me and my name is, which allows me to touch on the concept of an unreliable narrator.

I always finish with the beginning of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, because I love the way it builds from a dull start to an exciting finish:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
"There was" is about the most boring start to a sentence you can write! Then we move to "a hand" so there's at least an object, but it's ordinary and there's no description. But then we get "in the darkness," which adds description and some mood - kind of suspenseful. Then "and it held" provides some action, and we finish with "A KNIFE." Cue the dramatic music!

Then I take out my copy of the book and ask them what the first thing they notice about the page is, and I very briefly open the book to that first page:

I need to get out of the habit of asking them what they notice first, because they always pick the knife! Then I have to go back and ask them "how is this first page different from the first page of just about every other book? How is it different from the book you're reading?" Then they point out that most books have black text on a plain page, but here, the typeface is reversed on a black background.

So in the same way that the author's words are designed to grab the reader's attention, here we have the book's design working together with those words!

Then I ask them to look closer. What is right there by the end of the sentence? The knife! they say - by this point they're always getting a little excited, because they see how it's all connected. What part of the knife? I ask, and they say the blade or the point.

Okay, so where does your eye go, after you see the knife? Of course they say they want to know who's holding it, and what's going to happen. I trace my finger along the knife, past the hand and up the arm, saying okay, so this is where you look, and - uhoh! What happens here? I ask, pointing to where the drawing cuts off. What is the book itself encouraging you to do? What is supposed to happen when your eye gets to the bottom right corner of the page?

And it's just delightful to watch their eyes light up as they say you're supposed to turn the page and keep reading!


That's what every author wants the reader to do - keep reading! And this book does a particularly good job of getting you to do just that.

Then we start our classwork. Because each student has a different book, there's really no way they can cheat; I let them help each other out and discuss the work together.

Turn back to the beginning of the book you chose, and re-read the first sentence. Based on that sentence alone, what clues can you gather about the rest of the story? Images thanks to and


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Summer Feathers

Goals for the summer:

  • Change the address on my driver's license √
  • Register to vote (waiting on card to arrive)
  • Create Antigone unit
  • Check the used bookstore for The Hunger Games (√), Catchphrase, and Taboo (didn't have the latter)
  • Read Things Fall Apart
  • Practice doing voice work √
  • Write sample video game quest trees
  • Continue learning to code √
  • Continue tap lessons and practice √
  • Daily cardio/weights/yoga √
  • Develop clicker games and review practice
  • Create other review games
I've been doing pretty well, I think - I haven't done any of my planning-type stuff yet but I want to wait until I actually have my classes for next term. That way I can create plans and materials I can actually use!


Saturday, June 07, 2014


So at the end of the school year we were informed that next year, the lowest grade we would be allowed to put into the computer gradebook, for any assignment, would be a 60. Needless to say, this news caused a bit of a kerfuffle.

My biggest concern is that I don't know of any schools that have used it and found it helpful. If there are some, it sure would be nice to see HOW they implemented it - what other procedures they put in place so that students' grades accurately reflected their demonstrated mastery of the standards.

STICKING POINT: How do we ensure that low-level students do the practice that they need so that they can improve, rather than just taking their 60s and assuming they can do some extra-credit work at the end of the term so that they can move on to the next course (for which they will be unprepared)? Back when I taught 9th grade, we read Lois Lowry's novel 'The Giver.' Scholastic says that it's at a sixth-grade reading level, but some students said that it was too hard for them.

I also think that advanced students will say that this is "unfair," but IMO they need to just suck it up. It is NOT unfair. If they bomb (or blow off!) an assignment, they get the same "free" 60 that everyone else does. And EVERYONE who wants more than a 60 has to work for it. The rules are the same across the board.

It also ties in to the law of diminishing returns, which is primarily an economic concept, but has broader relevance. The better you get at a skill, the harder you have to work in order to improve further, for example. Same idea here. The 60 is free. You want to pass? Gotta work a bit. You want a solid B? Gotta work even harder. You want a really good grade? Better be prepared to study on the weekends!

You can see this in video games, whether it's console shooters or Farmville. When you start off, it's like you CAN'T fail. But as you progress through the game, the content gets harder, and you have to start actually thinking about what you're doing. You may even decide to get help. But that is entirely your choice, you know? If you get frustrated, you can always just stay on a level you're comfortable with and not stress out over trying to beat a level that's too hard for you.

When I spoke with the principal he said that only a few teachers had sent him anything in writing, and that if there were concerns he needed to be able to give some evidence to the higher administrators. But my thought is that the reason that so few teachers have responded is that none of us were given the chance to offer our input before the decision was made. Even IF we hadn't been told that this was definitely going to happen, why wouldn't we be skeptical?

We'll see how it goes.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pushing for independent-choice reading

So... I had the meeting with my administrator to discuss my annual evaluation. Overall it went well. I made a strong push to reinstate my individual-choice reading IN CLASS. The administrator has been against it (!) and seemed to see it as "free time."  (Actually SAID that at one point. I somehow managed to keep my cool.) Well, I brought a bulleted list of how my practices for CR support quite a few of the Common Core standards while also differentiating both by student ability and interest level. I also had a couple of articles that collected some of the research that supports "sustained silent reading" (although I do more with it than a typical SSR program does).

Faced with that sort of reasoned, professional assault, my admin backed down a bit and asked me to see if the other English teachers at my grade level used student-selected reading in class. And I was pretty sure they didn't (after all, as important as it is to me, *I* backed down after I got told not to use it!) but I figured I could talk to them about why they didn't and see if they were interested in including it.

One of the teachers said that she felt like with it being English class, and all the literature we read together, that they already did a lot of reading in class and she didn't want to force them do more. She did have a small classroom library available for students who wanted to check books out.

The other teacher said that she had a difficult enough time getting through the curriculum she already had. And I couldn't help wondering just what it was that her class did if she was dropping entire units. But... I didn't say that. Actually I didn't say much of anything at all.

I don't feel like I have the authority to say "no, you shouldn't do that, you should do this, and here's why." I just... I feel pretty strongly about what I do and why I do it, especially the individual choice reading. I believe it's solid instructional practice. I believe it's what's best for students. I believe it's a better choice than sticking solely to the whole-class literature. And I don't understand why administration is telling me that I can't teach in the way that I feel is best, and other teachers aren't required to defend their practices.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why Do We Study Works We Can't Read?

The first semester is winding down and somehow I've managed to get (mostly) caught up on grading and end-of-term paperwork. So I've got some time to look over my unit plans and think about what I teach and how I teach and why I do things that way.

The thing is, I'm rather conflicted about my reasons for teaching Beowulf. Like... if it's important to study, say, the original text of Romeo and Juliet, and it's not enough just to watch the Baz Luhrman flick from the 1990s, why do we not apply the same reasoning to Beowulf? What makes an adaptation okay in one case - even something of a tradition - and not okay in another?

Is studying Beowulf really the best use of that time? I mean, sure, it's a ripping yarn, but personally I like The Song of Roland better. I mean, the epic friendship - "A Roland for an Oliver!" and the way it develops through the story and the REVEAL... it's awesome. And then there's Durandal and the arms of Achilles and it's just buckets of fun.

Right now I feel like I'm supposed to teach it because it's the oldest long work we have (why does that matter so much?) that's a progenitor of Modern English. (Given the Norman invasion, why NOT start with Roland, especially as a counterpart to the Canterbury Tales?) And because TRADITION.

Help me out! Why does this particular work matter so much more than everything else I don't get to teach?

Cross-posted from the EC Ning.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Stupid update

We are having issues with our online gradebook. I am so frustrated I can't even begin to put it into words. I never feel like writing. I've started to resent all the time and money that it's just assumed I'll dump into MY JOB. And then that makes me worry that I'm burning out, that I'm turning into a dried-up husk like everyone complains about -- that I'm becoming a Bad Teacher.

Money is SUCH an issue right now. We're supposed to use more informational reading instead of relying on the literature that we actually have on hand. But there's no money for more books, and God knows there's certainly not enough for students to have school-issued laptops or ipads or anything.

Just so TIRED of things not working.

Anyone know if there's a blogging carnival running?


Monday, October 28, 2013

Three Rules of Writing

Every day, when I read my students' journals, I am encouraged and amused by the ideas that they share with me in their writing. They are creative, thoughtful - well, sometimes - and often even passionate writers. They share about their weekends, about boyfriends and girlfriends, family life, friends, football games, jobs, birthdays, chores, and many other topics in addition to the assigned ones (they're allowed to freewrite for the second half of the page if they want to, and each Friday I assign a freewrite rather than a topic).

Then I assign an essay. *sigh*

It's like they think that for any 'real' writing, all of a sudden I'm not interested in hearing their ideas anymore. What I'm looking for is the 'right answer' or a re-phrasing of whatever my own opinion is. In vain do I entreat them to share their own thoughts, supported with examples and facts from their reading or their own lives.

So I came up with my Three Rules of Writing:

  1. Don't confuse me. If I can't understand what you're saying, how in the world are you ever going to convince me that your ideas have merit?
  2. Don't bore me. If you don't care about what you're writing, why should I? Include specific details and description to make what you're writing about seem real to me!
  3. Don't lie to me. Not everything you write has to be factual, but it does need to be truthful. Don't write what you don't believe.

My sophomores are working on a research paper. We'll see if that little lecture sinks in at all...


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Road to Hell

I feel like half of my posts are "hi, I'm back from an unexpected hiatus!" This year has been more challenging than I anticipated, for a number of reasons. (See the 'continue' link if you really want to know about them.)

First of all, we've had extra paperwork. We had to give a pre-test and then fill out a spreadsheet with students' scores. Then we had to go into an online database, find their scores from the previous end-of-year exam, and then predict whether we thought the student would pass or fail the end-of-year exam for this course based on those two scores. It was kind of nerve-wracking because we hadn't given that pre-test before so it's not really correlated well (by which I mean NOT AT ALL) with either of the the post-tests.

So that was incredibly stressful. Then I've also had a bunch of doctor's appointments to go to. Speaking of which, I need to call them to let them know I can't come today. But I haven't had a moment free from class, and they'll be closed while I'm at lunch. I'm fortunate that I've been able to schedule my appointments in the afternoon, so that I don't have to miss class (just planning) but even so it's getting to be a bit of a challenge, missing that much planning time.

Then we've had more department meetings this year than we've ever had before. Each month we have at least four - one with just the teachers in our grade level (so I go to two of those, since I teach both sophomores and seniors), then one with the grade-level teachers and the department head and an assistant principal (so I go to two of those as well), then one with the whole department and our graduation coaches, then one with just the department. Today we've also got an administrative meeting during planning about setting up medical insurance for next calendar year.

As a result, I haven't had NEARLY as much planning time as I thought I would this year. And I had so much that I wanted to do that I haven't been able to, because I've been struggling just to get through what I need to do. But I should be at the end of my doctor appointments, and I shouldn't have to do any more extra testing until the next term starts. Here's hoping!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

I was reviewing the Wikipedia entry for caesura in order to feel more confident about explaining it to my students. (I'm still not entirely clear about its purpose in Anglo-Saxon poetry.) And it included examples from the Iliad and the Aeneid. In those examples, they first quoted the line in the original language (including the double-pipe to mark the caesura) and then below it they gave the translation.

While I could read the Latin, because we still use the Latin alphabet, the Greek was - well - Greek to me! It looked like a bunch of squiggles and zigzags. But what I found was that when I looked at it more carefully, I could figure out the phonetic pronunciation based on my curiosity about New Testament Greek some years ago. And then based on my knowledge of roots and cognates, and with the help of the translation being right there, I was able to understand some of the words!

It was fascinating! It went from looking like Mnviv aeide oea nnvniadew Axivnoc to menin aeide thea Peleiadeo Achileos which is probably a miserable transcription but makes some modicum of sense to me.

Friday is my grading-day. But I generally do a pretty good job of keeping up with it. I'm wondering if maybe I couldn't dedicate some of my planning time on Fridays to reviving my study of Greek. It seems like a bit much, though… maybe I'll look into it once I've finished grading the research papers that were handed in today!

Anyway, I've just been thinking about how amazing it is that I can just look at words and KNOW what they mean. You know? Heck, when you really think about it, writing and reading is like… I mean… wizardry. Seriously, think it over: when you read classic literature, you are absorbing the thoughts of people who are dead.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday, September 10: CSS Glossary

The weekly goals are going well! I had a doctor's appointment yesterday and had to leave early, so today during planning I doubled up and finished my parent calls (yay!) as well as getting some practice in over at Codecadamy. The downside is that I wasn't able to update the class webpages in advance like I had hoped. Oh well!

As I continue my lessons in CSS, one of the difficulties I'm facing is that there are all these terms and I don't really know what they're used for. Like today I learned about how to assign a trait to the first example of an element. But I'm like... why would you want to do it that way instead of just finding the particular item you want and assigning the trait to it? Why is it necessary to have this syntax? Generally I'm pretty easygoing, but given the number of new terms that they're dumping on me, it's really frustrating to try to remember them all when the context is so limited.

So I think for the next few Tuesdays, I'm going to work on a glossary of the CSS terms I'm supposed to know.

Properties are the traits assigned to items. So if you were describing a pair of your socks as blue, the PROPERTY is 'COLOR.'

Here is a list of CSS properties, according to HTML Dog and my explanation of what they are. Also a bit of whingeing along the way.

  • font: The name of the font you want the page to use
  • font-family: The basic type of font you want the page to use
  • font-size: The pixel size you want your font to be. I'm not sure what the numbers measure, but my guess is from the bottom of a descender, like the downstroke of a lowercase p, to the top of an ascender like in a t.
  • font-weight: I think this is how 'thick' or 'heavy' you want the font to look.
  • font-style: This adds slant to a text. I don't know the difference between 'oblique' and 'italic.' Guess Imma haft learn.
  • font-variant: This lets you add smallcaps as an option. It also has 'inherit' and 'normal' as options. Which makes me wonder why you would set it as a property if you weren't going to do anything with it. Why can't 'bold' and 'heavy' and 'lighter' and 'smallcaps' be properties of a font's style? UGH!
  • line-height: I think this is what I learned as 'leading' - it's how much room there is for each line of text.
  • letter-spacing: presumably the amount of space between each letter in a word.
  • word-spacing: presumably the amount of space between words!
  • text-align: how the text is placed horizontally on the page - flush left, flush right, centered, or justified (even on both left and right)
  • text-decoration: lines - over, under, or through. Again, IMO this should be included in font-style, dammit!
  • text-indent: I'm not sure if this means it's indented from the margin for all lines, or if it indents the first line of a section like a paragraph or a division.
  • text-transform: Changes text to all-upper or all-lowercase. Can also capitalize the first letter of every word, but that seems useless to me.
  • vertical-align: moves the lines of text up or down in relation to the page they're on or the box they're in. Useful for degrees or things like chemical notation, or squares and cubes and stuff.
  • white-space: I have no idea. This either 'maintains' or 'collapses' white space. What white space? The white space between paragraphs? maybe?
  • color: the color of the element
  • background-color: the color around/behind the element
  • background: idk
  • background-image: the picture around/behind the element
  • background-repeat: idk
  • background-position: idk
  • background-attachment: idk
  • padding (top, right, bottom, left): how much space is allowed between adjacent elements
There's plenty more, but I'm out of time for today.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday, September 6

Just a brief update. Things are overall going really well. I've been able to meet just about all of my goals so far. The one part that was difficult was getting EVERYONE called during that first week. I almost got there, but not quite.

I've also decided that I want to update the class website with the notes and assignments BEFORE class. I used to have the student assistant update it during class, as I gave the notes. But this way I can use my own notes as an outline, and I can have the student assistant edit it in case I come up with something particularly brilliant. That will help me feel even more competent and successful.

ETA: Friday was the 6th. I'm a ninny sometimes.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Feathers Again

I went back through my 'hope' tag and found my end-of-year self-assessment series. I hadn't realized it was so long since I'd revisted it!

There's a lot that's still relevant. Portia is still a nauseatingly sexist portrayal of womanhood. Composition books are way better than binders or spiral-bound notebooks. I still haven't kept in touch with parents as often as I feel I ought to (although I've improved and I probably call at least as much as I need to). We still do silent reading each day, although I switched it to the start of class instead of the end. I punted the journal-style writing assignments to homework, because the plain truth of the matter is it's far more challenging to fake those!

But a lot of things have changed, as well. As I look over the list, it's very reassuring (even encouraging!) to see that the changes have been positive. I don't really notice anything where I'm like "oo, I used to be awesome at XYZ, and now I suck at it! bugger that!" Like, last year I didn't do small-group literature circles as much, and for a little bit I felt bad about that... but then I realized I did more with individual choice reading. So there was something of a tradeoff there. However, one of the things I'm going to attempt for THIS year is kind of blending the two. (Keep your fingers crossed for me.)

I'm also trying to be as specific as possible with my goals. I hear that's important. So here they are:

  1. Go to the library each Monday. Return all of the books from the previous Monday. Read at least the first ten pages of each book and log it in Goodreads.
  2. 20 parent calls per day first 4 days. 10 parent calls each Monday beginning 9/9.
  3. Review coding lessons on Tuesday.
  4. Unit plan reviewed and revised if needed each Wednesday. Plans for upcoming unit emailed to department head the Wednesday before it begins.
  5. Write a chapter of fanfic on Thursday.
  6. Homework grades input daily; quizzes, projects, tests, essays graded by Friday.
  7. Check that focus question, standards, and quickwrite for the next day are posted before leaving.
  8. Progress reports handed out every Tuesday. (I have planning at the end of the day, so I’ll print them Monday and hand them out Tuesday.)
  9. More student work posted to the class website. This is going to be iffy – we’ve lost access to one of our two labs as it’s been set aside for online classes. This is important to me but I can’t count on students having their own internet access, so if it works, it works, if not… I’ll just hope for next year.
  10. Try using individual choice books in literature circles. Not sure how that's going to work when there's a mix of novels and nonfiction, but I guess I'll find out!

The coding thing is because I'm still mad about blogger screwing up my click-throughs. I'm working with Codecademy and so far I've reviewed HTML (I really need to get rid of some of my bad/old habits, but it's harrrrd!) and moved into CSS. I think the problem is in the definition of the "fullpost" descriptor. But I haven't yet learned how to define descriptors. I suppose that's more advanced.

The writing thing is harder. I mean, I started trying to write more because Penny Kittle said so, but she (and Mardie! *hearts*) also say that it's important to write WITH them. And I just don't know if I can do that. See, the thing is, I'm not by nature a Professional Person. I'm pretty casual and quirky. And I have to squish that part of me at school. I can't wear jeans except on Friday and then only with a professional-casual shirt, because the T-shirt featuring Chernabog that we got at Disney was deemed inappropriate. If I dye my hair, it has to be normal-looking colors. So when I've tried to model writing for my students, I have to have "writing something that won't get me in trouble" as a priority ahead of "writing truthfully."

Hm. I hadn't actually realized that before. Interesting. Clearly I'll have to give it some more thought.

So I have ten new goals for this year. That sounds reasonable. And I think I'll submit five of them to my evaluator. We aren't required to do so, but I don't find rubberstamp evaluations particularly helpful. I would rather take charge "pursuing professional excellence," as I put it in my tag, on my own, rather than waiting around for a bunch of legislators to tell me how they've come up with some kind of computerized algorithm that's going to rate me based on how well my students do on tests. No thank you!

Now I'm going to take my own advice and go back and update the HTML in this post.

Image thanks to


Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading Goals

Sometimes as I'm reading blog posts I see in someone's sidebar that they have a reading goal that they're tracking through Goodreads or Shelfari or something. And I've been thinking about that. I mean, I read a fair amount. And I certainly want to promote and encourage reading, not just with my students, but in general.

But the thing is, there are a lot of crappy -- okay, mediocre -- books out there. And I feel a little bad about putting them down after I start or even just passing them by completely, because I know that someone worked really hard on them. Usually quite a few someones, I'd guess. However, I don't feel bad enough about it to force myself to slog through them. I'm sorry, hardworking writers and publishing folks of the world. I really, really am. But I'm just not gonna do it. Life is too short for that.

Instead, I'd rather set a different sort of reading goal for myself. My goal is to find and read as many four and five-star books as I possibly can. I'm thinking three per month, starting in September? I have no idea how easy or difficult it's going to be to meet that goal, but three sounds like a nice number. It's sort of magical.

The tricky part, of course, is going to be finding them. Because once I find a book I really-and-truly love, I find that I look up to catch my breath and holy heck how did it get to be so late? That's the feeling I get with a fantastic book, that feeling like when you're swimming and you take a big breath and then let it out as you sink underneath the water and you can still hear but the sounds from above are muted and muffled and instead you hear the swushies of everyone else splashing and kicking and the gentle schlub-schlub-schlub of the waves.

So I think I will also commit to going to the library each week to look for new possibilities and return the previous ones. It'd probably be a good idea to have it be the same day every week. That way I won't have overdue fees (yikes!) because I've lost track of time and gotten caught up in things and holy heck the summer's gone and I owe fifteen bucks!

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

And finally, I will commit to reading at least ten pages of each possible fantastic book and logging each one with my Goodreads account, even if my review is simply: "Ten pages. Didn't grab me. Oh well!"

I guess the next step is to take a look at our schedule and see which day of the week would best suit! It will be interesting to see if I actually end up reading any more than I otherwise would, or not.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Canon or Choice?

Pre-planning begins one week from today. I'm feeling that sort of nebulous anxiety that comes from knowing I have the basics in place but not being sure about the particulars. I'm going to have seniors this year in addition to sophomores, and I have no materials for the seniors.

But one of the biggest changes will be if I get pushed to drop my choice reading at the beginning of each period. I made the apparent mistake of mentioning in an email to one of our assistant principals that I was excited about all the books I'd picked up at the ALA convention and using them for SSR books in my classroom library, and she was like "wait, you mean reading them at home, right? because the Common Core is really getting away from free reading in the classroom."

I kind of wussed out and just didn't reply, because I'm secretly petrified that she's going to say I can't do it anymore. And that was one of the procedures that I specifically brought up in my end-of-year evaluation for things I've done that I'm proud of. In reflecting on how they feel they improved over the course of the term, students consistently mentioned becoming better readers, specifically detailing improvements in retention, stamina, and comprehension. I'm afraid that I'm going to be told it's not an effective use of classroom time, when the truth is, it seems to be the most effective thing we do.

That's not to say that I want to throw out everything else we work on and focus solely on reading all day, every day. There's obviously a need to work together as a group to tackle more challenging texts -- ones that students might not be able to understand on their own. Class time gives us a unique opportunity to collaborate and share ideas and encourage each other. But I don't want to give up SSR, either. That's why I picked this gif.

Both IS good.


Sunday, August 04, 2013

Rocket Surgery

At the end of each school year, we have to clean out our rooms and return our non-attached technology to the school library. However, when the technology in question weighs a good 80-100 pounds, problems arise. Can that one item be kept in the room? Nope, not an option. Is there a custodian who maybe has a cart that could handle it? They're setting up for the graduation ceremony.

So, student helpers. Yay. However, when it's close to the end of the day at that point and I'm called to the office for a meeting, worry sets in. I'm on planning and won't have another class before dismissal. Fortunately I pass a group of boys lugging a similar item to the library for another teacher. I ask them if they'll go to my room and get my item and take it to the library when they're done with the one they have, and they say "sure!"

Thank goodness! It's covered.

After the meeting, I check back in my room, and sure enough, the item is gone. I call down to the library, but there's no answer. This doesn't surprise me, as (a) the librarian has also been helping out with graduation planning, and (b) given her limited time in the library, if she's there, she probably has a mob of people checking things in. So I call the teacher of the boys I talked to and ask if there were any problems. No - he'd been a little concerned about how long they were gone, but now that their story of helping me out is confirmed, he feels better about it.

I try several times that afternoon and then the next day to get the librarian to sign me off, but every time I go by the library she's not there. Eventually I try calling ahead to check, which saves me the walk, but doesn't result in any success. The day after that is our last work day, and the librarian is absent. So I go to one of our assistant principals and turn in a few smaller items that I didn't have trouble carrying by myself, and she signs off on the form we have to have filled out.

A few weeks later, I get a voicemail message. They've noticed that my large item is missing.


I email back explaining what I did, giving the time frame, thinking that perhaps there was a closet available, or a work room, for the times when the librarian was away and the library was locked up. There's no response, so I let the matter go, though it continues to gnaw at a corner of my mind.

About a month after that, well into summer break, I get an email reply (finally). They re-checked the items that were turned in (the same ones they checked before) and mine isn't among them. They also went and checked my classroom, and the neighboring ones, though why they would have thought they might find it there is beyond me. I am reminded that this was signed out to me and therefore I am financially responsible for it.

*more headdesking*

It's a day or two later before I've mustered up the psychological stamina to head down to the school with my husband. Neither the AP nor the librarian is there, but we do find a custodian who offers to unlock rooms for us so we can look. He takes me by the library first, though of course, it's not there. My next guess is one of the teacher work rooms, as that's where teachers store their materials over the summer while their classrooms are being cleaned. We go first to the one that's closest by - it makes sense to me that if the library was closed, the boys wouldn't want to lug that thing any further than they had to! It doesn't take more than a few seconds to glance around and see that unfortunately, it's not there.

We check the next two work rooms with no more luck than the first, and I'm already thinking I may have to go through and check every single room in the entire school. But as we walk up to the last work room, the door is already open and through the doorway I can see an enormous black box next to the copy machine. It's the right shape and size and when I go over to it my heart is pounding and I check the serial number and it's MINE, ALL MINE!

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that things worked out. But it was more than a little frustrating that it had been presented to me as this huge problem; they'd spent a significant amount of time searching and come up with nothing. And then we spent five minutes checking four rooms (ten minutes and five rooms if you count the library) and found the darn thing.


Saturday, August 03, 2013


So it's been an exciting few days, schoolwise. I'll write more about some of the rest of it tomorrow (I hope) but last night I posted over on the EC Ning asking if anybody else was interested in a book discussion of Notice & Note, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. And by the time I went to bed there were five people who'd already replied and said yes!

This will be the first time I've facilitated such a discussion. I'm kind of nervous (see photo!) because I'm not entirely sure what to expect. I don't know what problems might come up. Well, except for one - I'm kind of afraid that I'll start things off... and get crickets!

I just (like 45 seconds ago!) put a notice up on twitter, which I haven't been on, like, all summer. I'll probably retweet it a few times over the next couple of days, see if it gets any traction. I really hope to get a nice-sized crowd and some good conversation and idea-sharing back and forth. The lasting connections that you can form with people who share your purpose and your passion... that, to me, is the best part of the internet.

Then again, I feel like I've kind of neglected those connections this summer - at least professionally. I've been away a lot, for one thing, and for another I've really tried to focus on my writing and along that line been much more active on tumblr as a new platform.

So once again I find myself reaffirming my commitment to Epic Adventures here. I feel like I'm at some kind of professional turning point; I've developed confidence in what I'm doing as a teacher but at the same time -- or perhaps as a result? -- I feel like it's time for me to develop My Thing, to craft some sort of niche for myself that can be my area of expertise. It's a very nebulous, uncertain sort of feeling, though, and I'm not at all sure that I'm up to the task.

But oh well! I suppose the fact that it's "uncomfortable" just means it fits in completely with my "professional theme" as it were, haha... because it's definitely going to be an adventure!

 Stock image