Saturday, August 31, 2013

Looking Back

Here's some writing I did at the very beginning of the summer, even before I spent the whole ten weeks looking for a job. This sounds very prophetic as to what my summer really was like: 
At the end of the year, I felt secure. Sure, my personal life was going all to heck, but I knew what I was going to do next year. I'd gathered up all of the yearbook materials, and I was prepared to spend all summer going over them and getting yearbook more organized. Then I was derailed at my checkout when my principal informed me that they were eliminating my part-time position. So much for the peaceful, productive summer. I would now spend all summer agonizing over cover letters, chasing down letters of reference, and going to interviews, and this doesn't even include planning and implementing a brand new curriculum. Aargh!
Now I have the crazy dilemma of trying to decide where I'll be at next year. No matter where it is, it's going to be a lot more work for me, because I'll most likely be teaching full time.  I've already got an offer, but I'm not completely convinced that it is the right fit for me. I feel disjointed, discombobulated, and disenfranchised, all at the same time.
I think the job hunt was even worse than I had imagined. I'm glad it's over.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My New Room -- Yikes!!!!

So after the district finally approved my hire yesterday (the people at the school kept telling me it was not approved, but then the VP remembered that he had sent the request using another email--turns out it was approved immediately the day I was hired), I finally got to look at my room. In a word -- scary.
The teacher who quit suddenly last week left a bit of a mess. Understatement of the day. Here's what I have to work with:

Yes, that is a laptop cart (the laptops are scattered all over the room), and I have an overhead projector and an ELMO and a really nice stand for large paper pads. There are also all kinds of strange things in the room - a step ladder, a music stand, two fans, a space heater, and...boxes and boxes of curling irons, hairspray, and nail polish (I guess the former teacher did hair and nails as as a flex (student chosen reward) time activity)? I also have so much junk piled everywhere that I'm a little afraid of what to do with it. It's not entirely her fault as the custodians have dumped this room in and out this year. Supposedly the former teacher is coming at 3 o'clock today to take out her stuff -- whatever of all this stuff her stuff is. One thing that I don't like is that she has covered some of the walls with large strips of paper, which is torn and looks pretty tacky. That will have to come down ASAP -- so that step ladder will come in handy.
On a more positive note, I had a mostly good experience with the faculty meeting yesterday. It turns out that I am not a member of the ELA team,  but instead I team with the foreign language department. The old ESL teacher never met with anyone because she had a class to teach at the high school, so...I will see how this goes. Wish me luck!!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Whole New World

I haven't posted anything about this yet, but I wasn't hired back at UCAS at the end of the year. I was teaching part-time there, and they kind of rearranged the schedule so that I wasn't on it anymore. It was a bittersweet parting. I had a lot of good experiences and fun there -- loved the students and staff -- but it wasn't handled very well.
I've spent an entire stressful summer looking for a new job. I even briefly accepted a position in SLC, but I came to my senses before I signed the contract -- that 50 minute commute would have killed me. I gave up a very nice contract, but I figured I would get another offer. Well, two months and many interviews later and only a week before school starts, I had despaired of getting a job this year. I confided this to the BHW last week, mentioning what a hit this has taken on my self esteem, and he said, "I'm pretty sure that you'll have a position sooner than you think."
So...on Tuesday I went for an interview at Lakeridge Junior High for an ESL teacher. I haven't taught junior high since I student taught, and I don't have an ESL endorsement. During the interview, I was talking about some of the ways I've tried to create a sense of community and rapport in the classroom, and one the of interviewers said, "When you talk about your students, your face just lights up." I guess that means that they thought I had what they wanted, because they called today to offer me the job. I am beyond stoked. I am thrilled, humbled, and feel very blessed. I am going to work like crazy for those kids!!
This will be a challenge for me, but I think I am up for it. I am excited for the new change and for the chance to work for the local school district. I will have access to a lot more professional development resources, etc., than I ever had working for a charter school.
Well, enough about me. I immediately went on the EC Ning and started looking for resources, and found this site: Larry Ferlazzo's Website of the Day. He has a book on Amazon, too, which I ended up ordering after emailing him back and forth for a bit.

Someday -- Eileen Spinelli

At a CUWP meeting recently, we did some writing modeled on this book. Here is what I came up with--this is not edited and is pretty rough. I started out pretty down but tried to put a twist and positive spin on the end.

Someday I will have my house all to myself. I won't have to pick up after anyone, I'll cook whatever I want for dinner, I'll play whatever music I want as loud as I want to. I'll close off all the bathrooms but one, and I'll only run the washing machine and dryer every other week. The kitchen floor will go months between moppings because it doesn't need it, not because I  don't have time. I won't have to compete for TV time or computer time, and it will be so peaceful that I'll finally finish writing the novel I've been working on for the last five years.

Today I'll return home to a house with three teenagers, all of them messy. Most likely I'll have a group of dubious smelling teenage boys show up around 5 PM to play dungeons and dragons with my youngest son, and my daughter will Skype with her "friend who is a boy from California" for most of the afternoon. My oldest son will bring a stack of dishes ten inches high up from the bowels of the basement where he has apparently been using them to attract rodents. If there ever is a moment of peace, my married daughter and her husband will come over and loudly play every YouTube video they can think of and laugh themselves silly.

Someday my life will be lonely. . . today, it is full.

I think this would be a great way to start out a school year -- kids could write about how things are for them now, and what they want to know/do by the end of the year.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Model Book Review

Last year I was invited to a special writing workshop introducing Debbie Dean's new book, What Works in Writing Instruction: Research and Practices.

As part of the workshop, we did some model writing. We looked at various book reviews from NPR, then we wrote our own versions based on what we noticed the reviewers doing.

Don’t Give Up on Memory

I’ve only fainted one time in my life—after I gave birth to my first-born son. A be-scrubbed nurse had just told that he was dying, and she was trying to get me on my feet so I could see him for the last time. As I came out of the faint, I saw my husband and the nurses’ concerned faces looking down at me, and . . . I couldn’t remember what was happening and why I was on the floor. Within minutes, my memory came crashing back, but I will never forget the immense weight of it as I realized what was happening.

Memories can do this. They can be heavier than mountains. They can add burdens and pain to everyday life. Some of us may wish that we could get rid of our memories and unburden ourselves. We long to be free.

In The Giver by Lois Lowry, an entire nation has done just that. They’ve passed on the mantle of remembering to just one person—know as the Receiver of Memories. At first the memory free society seems like utopia. There is no anger, no violence, no fear. None of the baggage that comes with memory.

But as the book continues, Lowry reminds us that memories are also about love, kindness, compassion, ethics, even basic morality. People without memories are people without a conscience. Memory becomes something to treasure and to fight for.

As for me, I re-read this book again immediately after I first read it, and then I got up at 5 o'clock in the morning and took a two-hour walk to think about it. It disturbed me, it shook me, it made me think. Even with all the painful memories I have -- particularly the death of my infant son -- I would never want to give up my memories -- they are just too precious.
If you are a person with memories, whether they are sweet, bittersweet or downright painful, you must read this book.

I don't remember exactly why I was highlighting certain sections -- I think blue was personal connections, green was ? yellow was summary, and pink was my reaction to the book? I'll have to go back, find my notes, and check. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Castle on the Rock

Edinburgh Castle, with the sign of our hostel just visible
Here is some writing I did at a recent CUWP Workshop. We were assigned to write about our best vacation, then we turned and paired and shared, and our partner suggested something we could expand on and explain more. This is a peer review technique where after reading a peer's paper, the student reviewer generates a list of questions she has about the topic. The writer takes the list and considers them, adding and updating his paper as needed. The section in blue is what I added after my pair/share partner asked me to explain what in the heck was a youth hostel.

Well, my best vacation ever, hands down, would have to be last year's trip to England and Scotland with my husband and best friend, Mark. We have wanted to go to England for years, and we finally decided to just go for it. One fun thing about it was that we alternated between really nice destinations and funky destinations, and so we stayed in 5 star hotels and youth hostels (sharing bathrooms with teenagers) on the same trip. 
What The Castle on the Rock Youth Hostel looks like from the front

One particular hostel we stayed in was situated directly below Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh castle is an imposing structure situated directly on a giant rock. We would walk out of our hostel, look up, and there was this amazing structure.

Youth hostels are a cross between extremely low budget hotels and college dormitories. You pay for the use of a bed (bedding is extra). They generally have a giant common area and even a kitchen you can use if you want to. There is only one bathroom for all the people who are there, male and female (the showers and toilets, of course, are private). So, everyone is using the same bathroom, and you may be shaving next to a 15 year old who is putting on all his Goth, complete with liner and piercings. This disconcerted my husband a bit. 
The front desk where we checked in every night
Luckily for us, though, we didn't have to sleep dormitory style; for a little bit extra we had a private room with one double bed and a sink. The room was called Antony and Cleopatra. We had to get the desk service person to buzz us into the hostel every night, and when he did, he would say, "Oh yes, it's Antony and Cleopatra."
The funky staircase, complete with Knight in Shining Armor

We also went carless and depended on our feet, taxis, trains, buses, and the underground for all of our transportation, which was an adventure in and of itself. We also had those fun little challenges that always make our vacations memorable, such as rain every single day except one—so much rain that the train we were traveling on from Edinburgh to London was washed out and we had an entire day of rain delay.  Oh, what a fun vacation it was.

So...I felt like it was a better mini-write with the addition, and I tried this with some success with my students. Some of them had some problems coming up with questions, but I think that is probably one of the best parts of this...both reviewer and writer have to do a little thinking.
What the common room looked like pretty much everyday we were there (minus the sun)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On the Nonfiction Front...

While trolling over at the EC Ning, I discovered this little gem of a website, Newsela. This site is a treasure trove of articles about current events, but the really nice thing about it is that you can click on an article, and it will tell you what lexile the article is written in, and not only that, but you can click a button and lower the lexile. Differentiation heaven!!

In case you are interested, here is some grade level text information relevant to lexile and the common core from the Lexile website, which is also a cornucopia of information and is invaluable in helping kids find books to read at their lexile level.

Typical Reader Measures, by Grade

GradeReader Measures, Mid-Year
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1Up to 300L
2140L to 500L
3330L to 700L
4445L to 810L
5565L to 910L
6665L to 1000L
7735L to 1065L
8805L to 1100L
9855L to 1165L
10905L to 1195L
11 and 12940L to 1210L

Data for the first column of text measures came from a research study designed to examine collections of textbooks designated for specific grades (MetaMetrics, 2009). The "stretch" text measures (defined in 2012 through studies related to the development of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts) in the second column represent the demand of text that students should be reading to be college and career ready by the end of Grade 12. 

Typical Text Measures, by Grade

Text Demand Study 2009
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
2012 CCSS Text Measures*
1230L to 420L190L to 530L
2450L to 570L420L to 650L
3600L to 730L520L to 820L
4640L to780L740L to 940L
5730L to 850L830L to 1010L
6860L to 920L925L to 1070L
7880L to 960L970L to 1120L
8900L to 1010L1010L to 1185L
9960L to 1110L1050L to 1260L
10920L to 1120L1080L to 1335L
11 and 121070L to 1220L1185L to 1385L