Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Write Beside Them ( with a nod to Penny Kittle)

Nearly every workshop on teaching writing that I have sat in over the last few years, from Linda Rief to Penny Kittle, to Kelly Gallagher, has emphasized the idea that I am the best writer in the room and that I need to write beside and in front of my students. In fact, Penny Kittle wrote a book by that very name: Write Beside Them, (Heinemann 2008). It is very helpful to write with my students. They need to see me modeling writing, from the struggle to focus or find the right word, to getting into the flow. It also helps me to understand they struggle they may have with a particular assignment. Unfortunately, I don't always get to write with them or I have the best intentions but don't follow through with completing the assignment.

I have a unique situation with my sophomore English Composition and Literature class this year. There are just three students in the class and two of them are ELL students whose native language is  Chinese. Because of the ELL students, I have another teacher in the class with me. Her job is to work one-on-one with the ELL students, both in the classroom and outside of class, to improve their English and be able understand and complete the work in their classes. She always tries to do the assignments so that she can best help the ELLs. That inspired me to make a greater effort at doing the writing assignments with my students.

We are wrapping up our study of Romeo and Juliet. I'm not completely happy with how the unit went. Things took way too long, November was broken up with days off, half days, special events, and testing, and we weren't able to cover everything I would have liked to. Still, I tried my best to stick to the lens of relationships that I use (thank you, Jim Burke, for the idea of this lens as well as many of the textual analysis assignments!) and I think we've done enough that they can write the final paper on relationships. We reviewed the characters and their relationships to each other, I gave the students the prompt and guideline and took them through the thesis generator (again, thank you Jim Burke!)

We are taking this week to write the draft in class because the ELL kids need a lot of support. Today, after getting everyone rolling on their writing, I sat down and started my own essay. As I got going with the thesis generator and then moved on to planning out the examples I want to use from the play, I realized that this will be really good prep work to show to my 9th graders as they start the same process in our next class. They need to see the steps and see the model for this paper. This is when I wish I had a document camera! But I'll do what I can. I would like to try to carry through on writing this paper. I need the practice and it will be good for my students. I'm also excited about apply to this an idea that I read yesterday on Kate Baker's blog. Rather than use the term "Final Draft", use the term "Best draft (for now)". I love this idea! It makes so much more sense!

I'm excited about the thesis statements the sophomores have crafted and I am looking forward to what the freshmen will come up with. I like using the lens of relationships for the study of Romeo and Juliet because it allows for such a broader understanding of the text- it's not just about Romeo and Juliet, but also about the other relationships in the story.

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Monday! What Are Your Reading 11/25

Once again I am the guest blogger over at the Maine Reading Association's blog. So to find out what I'm reading, head on over there!

Maybe some day I'll get back into the regular habit of blogging without the assignment from MRA. In the mean time, it's good to have that responsibility because it does get me blogging and it helps me to see that I am getting some reading done, even when it doesn't feel like it!

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/11/13

I have to admit that right now, if it weren't for my responsibility to post to the Maine Reading Association Blog once a month, I wouldn't be getting a IMWAYR post up at all. This week I blogged over at the MRA blog, you should check it out! Also be sure to check out Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for links to other IMWAYR posts.

And a big thank you to Gigi McAllister of The Late Bloomer's Book Blog for innocently asking me if I knew who was supposed to post this week, and therefore reminding me that it was indeed me, so that I could get the post up on time!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


My poor, neglected blog. Every once in a while I blow the dust off, lament my neglect, then log out and let the dust collect again.

I need to write.

There is so much swirling around in my brain. School, family, books. I struggle with so much dissatisfaction- mostly in myself. I set the bar so high and then scold myself for not making it over such an impossible height.

Writing will help me process. Writing will help me think.

Right now my biggest frustrations lie in two areas:
My professional life and my personal life.

Professionally I am feeling a bit stuck. I know what I need to do. I know what works. But trying to actually flesh that out is where I feel stuck. I strongly believe in two major pedagogical practices: Workshop and Standards Based Grading. But these ideas are progressive and go against what everyone else believes and expects. I feel like Jeremiah- a voice crying in the wilderness. So I am trying to make mid-stream corrections. Sometimes mid-stream corrections are easier because you have momentum. Sometimes they are so much harder because you need to go in such a different direction.

Workshop and SBG require a lot of initial time and energy to establish- you need to think through everything you are doing and look what the students need to learn, how they're going to learn it, and how they're going to demonstrate that learning. I love Understanding by Design (UbD). It makes so much sense! But it's so much work. And when you are teaching five different subjects, and you're on your own for planning and implementing, it quickly gets overwhelming and discouraging.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the reading/writing workshop looks like in the high school English classroom. I am facing the following hurdles:
mindset of students & parents
space- a tiny classroom
schedule- currently running an A/B Day block schedule with 80 minute periods.

When I went to NERA in September, I grabbed a few minutes with Penny Kittle after her keynote. I expressed my frustration with trying to do workshop, yet feeling that I was coming up against the expectation that "that's just not how high school English is done". Penny surprised me with her response, "Who's expectation is that? The parents' or your's? Most parents are thrilled that their kids are reading." Her parting words to me were, "I've read your tweets. You know what you need to do. Do it. Trust yourself."

I keep reminding myself of those words. I know what I need to do. Just do it. I need to stop giving into the fear that I'm going to be judged or criticized and just do what I know is what needs to be done. I've been thinking about Penny's question- who's expectation is it? Maybe it really is my own expectation and it is that that is causing my fear and preventing me from just moving forward in what I need to do in my classroom. Maybe this also applies to my struggle with constantly feeling that I'm not measuring up as a high school teacher or that I'm being weighted and found lacking because I don't have a masters degree in education or literacy. Maybe those feeling are coming from me and I'm projecting them onto my students and their parents. Whether it's real or perceived, it is a constant struggle. It does lead me to realize I need to be practicing 2 Corinthians 10: 5 "...take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ."

My professional struggles are tied to my personal frustrations. I need to reclaim my life from my job. I feel like I've been stuffed into a mould that isn't really me. This morning I told my husband, "I feel like I'm not allowed to be myself and I'm sick of that." I can't fully articulate that feeling or where it's coming from and after reflecting on the possibility of the transference of my professional expectation, I wonder how much is true and how much is transference. But I don't always feel like me, or that I can truly be me.

It hit me this weekend that I really missing hiking and skiing. I haven't done much of either in a very long time. I put so much of my time and energy into my job and my relationships and my personal time suffers. Unfortunately it's been that way for a very long time. I need to get back into the woods, back to the mountains, back on the water, and I need to find me. Thoreau said,
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” 
I'm not planning to go spend a year in the woods, living in a cabin I built myself, foraging for food (and nearly burning down the woods!). But I do need to get back to the woods to find what I've lost- namely myself. I think I've been so concerned with succeeding, that I've forgotten to be me.

I'll probably read this tomorrow and think. Wow. What a bunch of self-righteous crap! But tonight, this is what is on my mind, and I've written.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ― Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week I am the guest blogger at The Maine Reading Association Blog. So you will find my IMWAYR post there. Just follow this link!

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? September 9, 2013

It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers. They decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. 

Back to school sort of snuck up on with the subtle of a freight train. It seems like it was just August and we were finishing our move and then BAMB! week 1 of school is in the books. August did not afford me the time to read that I would have liked, and now that school has started with my 4 different English classes and 1 American Government class, my reading life has changed quite a bit. I'll focus today on a few books that I did manage to get in during August and some that I am trying to get to now.

I was at my local library browsing the YA Graphic Novels section and saw Matt Phalen's name. That was all I needed. I absolutely adored The Storm in the Barn and Around the World and knew that I would enjoy this no matter the story! Matt's work is simply beautiful. It was a delight to discover that this was a story about Buster Keaton. 

There are certain authors that you know will never disappoint. Doug TenNapel's books are all a bit quirky, but they are fun to read, have a great theme, and have appeal to multiple ages. Besides, who wouldn't want a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a pet?

I kept hearing so much hype about this book on Twitter, but my copy disappeared from my classroom before I had a chance to read it. Last year at got a new copy at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and kept it at home until I had a chance to read it, which wasn't until the middle of August. I couldn't put it down! I sort of feel ashamed to admit that I still have not gotten the second book, The Runaway King, but I do have every intention of getting it and reading it. The book really did live up to the hype. I really enjoyed the mystery and intrigue. 

I have been reading this all summer. There is so much valuable information to absorb. I read the 3rd Edition several years ago, but Jim has completely rewritten the book. So much of the English classroom has changed in the last few years and I believe will continue to change. I appreciate that Jim is a current classroom teacher. He writes out of his experiences. He shares what is working for him and gives valuable resources for developing your curriculum. I have used so much of his material and have become a stronger teacher. I still have a few sections to get through and am determined to keep chipping away at it.

Now to the books that I am hoping to get to! I have a little stack sitting on my dining room table. I have a really hard time walking out of a library or bookstore with out books in hand, even if I don't have time to read. These caught my eye recently.

This series has been popular with my students and I have enjoyed them myself. I've read books 1 & 2, but this is the first time I've gotten my hands on book 3. It is a zombie series, but it isn't really about the zombies. 

William Shakespeare and Star Wars. Really what more needs to be said?

This is another that I have been hearing a lot about. I think it's going to become a popular one in my class. 

And still another that I keep hearing about. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blog Face Lift

I decided that I really needed to change my class website, which led me to playing with format and design of my blog. I was reading Katherine Sokolowski's blog Read, Write, Reflect and really liked her layout. Then I thought, I need to redesign my blog. It feels old and tired.

I still haven't solved the problem of what to do with my classroom website, but I think I like my blog's new look!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wagon Wheels

I had the best of intentions, really I did. I started off the summer so well doing my IMWAYR posts. I was going to blog at least once a week. Then things got real with our move, and the wheels fell off the blogging wagon. Blogging didn't happen, my Twitter feed grew dusty, school plans got pushed to the side. Now here we are, two weeks out from the start of school and I'm trying to get back in the saddle, get the wheels back on the wagon, and hoping that it's not to late to be at least a little prepared for the school year.

Early in my teaching career, my dear friend, pastor and administrator explained to me the Rotter-Covey Square.

Too often we allow the tyranny of the urgent to take over. As I enter the last two weeks of the summer and look at all the planning I wanted to do and did not get to, as well as the planning I needed to do and did not get to, I feel my stress level rising. I need to manage that stress well. I want to enjoy my job as a high school administrator and I want to enjoy teaching- both my high school students and my fellow teachers. I think it's time to fill out a Rotter-Covey Square and try to enjoy my last two weeks of summer in this beautiful house that we have moved into. If I sit on the porch, I can look at the pond and not the piles of boxes that still need to be unpacked!

It may be 9:30 and I'm still in my pajamas, but I've emailed three teachers and one teacher candidate. So that's good, right?

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/22/13

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.
It was originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, but Jen and Kellee put a Picture Book to YA spin on it.

What I Read This Week:
Picture Books
Once a week I volunteer at my local library. This week I was assigned to shelf read the picture books looking for popular authors who have multiple titles; I was to make a list so we could check to see what we needed to order. The end result was a stack of books that I needed to check out! Some of them were books I have been hearing about but not yet read, while others were ones that simply caught my eye. There were 13 in all, but some of my favorites were:

  Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton. The story was a bit goofy, but there was just something about the illustrations that I loved.

What To Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. I just love Peter H. Reynolds’ art work. When I first started reading the story, I was afraid it was going to be a take on If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, but was pleasantly surprised by the narrative twist.

Crow Call by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Oh. My. Goodness. This book is absolutely beautiful! Lois Lowry is an amazing storyteller, and Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are gorgeous. I am always in awe of artists whose work is so realistic it looks like a photograph.

Happy Birthday, Hamster by Cynthia Lord, illustrated by Derek Anderson. Cynthia Lord has long been a favorite author. This book is so much fun.

Kamishibai Man by Allen Say. This caught my eye for two reasons: 1. Allen Say. 2. After reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet I am interested in learning more about the Japanese culture.  This is a beautiful story.

Young Adult

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
This is a book that I have long had on my TBR list and the time just seemed right. Last week reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford got me thinking about the American Identity and how the United States has treated minority groups who proudly identify themselves as American. My husband was reading Code Talker and as we discussed the books, it was clear that this would be a good follow up for me. Code Talker tells the story of Ned Begay, a Navajo Indian who becomes a Marine Code Talker in the Pacific theater of World War II. After attending boarding school where he was told that everything Navajo is bad, Ned, is eager to join the Marines when he learns that Navajos are being specially recruited. Upon completing basic training, where the Navajos discover they are better equipped to handle the physical demands, Ned begins training as a Code Talker, and is delighted to discover that his sacred language, for which he was previously punished for using, is now highly valued.

The Island of Lote by Emily Kinney
I have to confess that I have abandoned this one. I’ve been trying to read it for quite some time. I met the author; she’s a young gal from Maine. I enjoyed hearing her speak to our middle school students. A few of the middle school students have read this book and enjoyed it. I really wanted to like it, but just couldn’t get past some early events that really go beyond what is realistic. I know that when reading fiction you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief, but this was a bit too much to ask. I do hope that Emily continues to write and that her writing matures. She has a lot of talent and potential.

Graphic Novels

reMIND: Volume 2 by Jason Brubaker
I was thrilled to find this at my library on Thursday. I read volume 1 earlier in the spring and fell in love with Jason Brubaker’s drawing. My favorite, by far, is Victuals the cat. When I read Volume 1 my first reaction was that the story was goofy, but suddenly I found myself sucked into the story.

What I am Reading:

Professional Development

Real Revision by Kate Messner

Middle Grade

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/15/13

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.
It was originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, but Jen and Kellee put a Picture Book to YA spin on it.

As I've said before, my summer is being consumed with preparing an old farmhouse for habitation. We're almost there- the interior painting is done. We just need to clean and move our stuff (and we have a lot of stuff!), but the water went out last weekend and we're trying to figure out what is wrong and get it fixed. Lack of water has slowed down the cleaning progress.

Last week I read:

Middle Grade

Wintering Well by Lea Wait

Young Adult

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen


I blogged about my initial thoughts on the book here.

Currently I'm reading:

Young Adult

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

The Island of Lote by Emily Kinney

Professional Development

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Words in Expert Hands

"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic." 
~The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

There are certain books that stay with you. You can't put them down, and when after you read the last page, and close the tale, whether with a sigh or a sniffle, they stay with you. They follow you around as you wash the dishes you neglected that day. They tug at your heart and mind as you get supper, grade papers, write lesson plans. They stand at your shoulder as you talk with your family and friends. There are some books that you excitedly recommend to every single person with whom you come into contact because the book is so amazing that you are convinced that every person on God's green earth absolutely must read it. And there are those books that just stay with you because they have touched you so deeply.

As I look back over my reading life, I can bring to mind numerous titles that have deeply impacted me in various ways. Some are delightful reads, masterfully wrought. Some are intellectually or spiritually challenging, and some have simply stopped me in my tracks.

I now add Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to the number of books that are my "favorites". This one carries the tag of "Haunts Me". Its such a beautiful story. The narration switches artfully between 1940s Seattle and 1980s Seattle. We see first generation Henry as a young teen trying to make sense of his traditional Chinese family in a time fraught with patriotism, fear, and suspicion. We also meet him as an adult, looking back at his life with new insight.

This book has gotten me thinking a lot about the questions of what does it mean to be an American, and what is the American identity? Over the centuries so many people have come to America with hope for success, for freedom. So many have proudly taken citizenship.  Then there are those who were already here or where brought against their will. Yet so many of these same people have been treated as less then human, let alone less then a citizen.

This book is haunting me. Even as I try to write about all the thoughts and questions that it has brought up, I realize that I am still meditating on it. I'm going to have to revisit my thoughts on this book. I know that I want to read Farewell to Manzanar, but I think it would be wise for me to wait a bit, to read something a bit different.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Surprise, Surprise, a KindleFire Giveaway!

I went over to Teach Mentor Texts this morning to link my It's Monday! What Are You Reading? post and low and behold, I discovered a giveaway for a KindleFire! You should definitely head on over and check out the giveaway. There are plenty of opportunities to enter. Best yet, you get opportunities to connect with more literary folks and find out about awesome books to read. It's a win-win situation!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/8/13

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen and Kellee atTeach Mentor Texts.
It was originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, but Jen & Kellee put a Picture Book to YA spin on it.

While summer is supposed to be a time for me to relax, catch up on my reading, and prepare for the coming school year, this summer our time has been consumed with house remodeling/repair. We are working hard to prepare an 150+ year old farmhouse that we are going to be renting, and hope to finish moving by the end of the month. I wasn't able to get a IMWAYR post in last week, so I'll cover two weeks with this one.

Graphic Novels

Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks


Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson

Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Professional Development

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

Adult/ Curriculum Related

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

 Currently Reading/On Deck:

The Island of Lote by Emily Kinney

Wintering Well by Lea Wait

Professional Development

Real Revision by Kate Messner