Wednesday, October 28, 2015



Mixing it up with Romeo and Juliet.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thoughts on my Narrative Unit, Term 1

I focused this unit on memoir. I posted these thoughts about it:

"Memoir is a window into life."                                                                   William Zinsser

"In writing memoir we select moments that reveal our own experiences of our lives."
Lucy McCormick Calkins

"Memoir is how writers look at the past and make sense of it."                      Nancie Atwell

"Memoir recognizes and explores moments on the way to growing up and becoming oneself, the good moments and the bad ones."                                             Nancie Atwell

To brainstorm I had the student make list of "Aha" moments in their lives. 
Some of them struggled with this, so I had a little helper list for them: 

  • What’s your earliest memory?
  • What is the most important thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
  • What is something you will never forget?
  • What is the moment where you were 100% happy?
  • What was a time when you felt brokenhearted?
  • What memory shows something important about your family or your friends?
  • What was a time when you’ve laughed harder than you’ve ever laughed before?
  • Who was the biggest influence (positive or negative) on your life?
  • What have you done that you never thought you would do?
  • What was the greatest challenge of your life so far?
  • What do you wish you had done differently in your life?
  • Who do you wish you could see again?
Then I read and then they read several examples of short memoirs from this excellent book: The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure. 

The one I picked to share was called "Chalk Face."

After we did that, I had the students pick a memory from their list that was 1. a slice of their life (a moment), 2. something they could remember enough of to describe adequately, and 3. a moment where they either learned something or their life changed course.

I didn't give a written assignment for this, but I think next year I should. It was more off the cuff because this year is made up as I go along, as it's my first year doing this.

After they picked the moment, we went into the writing lab and created a barf draft. I had them just get the story down as well as they could without worrying about how it sounded.

Next we focused on several things. I had them rewrite the beginning using several focused hook ideas. 

This was hard work, but all of them agreed that it made their writing better.



Next we focused on adding description, dialogue, strong verbs, and generally making better sentences. I used several resources that I found online. 

I didn't do this, but some great mentor texts to share at this time (with a document camera, which I don't have but which is a must have for next year, I think), would have started with Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting. Picture books are always great tools for teaching good sentences, as well written picture books have very carefully crafted and chosen sentences.

I would show the above version to students and then read aloud the version from the book (see version below). Then I would ask my students what they noticed about the differences between the two versions. Did they like the book's version better? Why?
Working together as a class, we would use the Adding Voice suggestions to see if the author used any of the techniques.
Then I would read Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills, and Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles to work through adding strong verbs, sentence variety, and figurative language.
Finally, we worked on making sure that we had a good reflection at the end. This is one thing I don't think I spent enough time on. I did have some examples for them, but I would go over this more next time.

At this point I did a peer review. I think the next time I do it, I'll have the peer reviewer take highlighters and mark dialogue with blue, thought and feelings with yellow, description with green, and to be verbs and has/have/had (weak verbs) with pink. Then I'll have them ask two questions and give one compliment and two suggestions for improvement. I didn't do a very formal assessment of the peer review, but I should have.

After the peer review they turned it in and I graded them. I had them submit on google docs, which does save you the pain of carrying around all those papers.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Learning is a Journey -- A Tour of My New Classroom

Each room in the building has a value outside of it. I'm loving the one I randomly ended up with.
I picked this Dr. Seuss quote because it so perfectly matched the "Learning is a Journey" theme I was going for. I printed this on the DD's CriCut, but I had to put it up one line at a time. Then I noticed I had one line out of order. Arghhh. I had to completely remove and replace two whole lines. This took forever, but I love how it came out. This is the inside of my door going out into the hallway.
As you come in and look to the left, you'll see a bookshelf and pictures. This is actually the tail end of my books.
I love this picture which says "A book sitting on a shelf in a room is like having completely different worlds at the ready waiting to be explored."
This is one of the two whiteboards that I wrote grants for while I was at Lakeridge. It was a lot of work, and I was one of the main donors. So...I took it with me to my new school. I'm enjoying having it at the back of the room as a place for magnetic poetry and to display my quotes of the month.
This shelf is where I keep my short story collections (yellow stickers) and my nonfiction books (purple stickers). I do love the covered boxes I made up on the top using modge podge and maps.
This is where I keep my picture books, encyclopedias, and other texts that we use regularly in the classroom. Notice all my great travel posters!! This is also where the DD's Day of the Dead souvenir man from Cancun ended up -- he looks so cute in here.
This corner is oddly shaped, but ended up perfect for putting my radio (great reception here by the window)
and my poetry collection.
A closeup of my little poet's corner.
This was the perfect spot for some of those worthless, er, wonderful doodads that you tend to get as a teacher.

This welcome banner turned out rather well and is just clipped to the ceiling with binder clips, so it was so easy to put up. The large poster pictures are another story. They are put up with copious amounts of hot glue and were a real pain in the neck to get straight and level. I have to give a big shout out to the ever loving and patient BHW for helping me to put them up and moving all the whiteboards and bulletin boards for me.

I got these cute box labels from the website of an overachieving elementary teacher. A little tweaking, and each of my seven classes has an inbox (and a continent)!

I'd seen this above the cupboard display at a library, and I just copied it here The suitcases are extreme Savers buys (one of them smells so bad of smoke that I filled it with kitty litter because it would kill me to have it in class otherwise). I repainted them with spray paint and added travel stickers and an atlas. Huge green cabinets were made less imposing by covering them with travel posters.
My genre example box and theme notebooks, along with class supplies like hole punch, stapler, tissues, and tape, are ready for students to use them. Below I have mini white boards made of DVD cases, and more supply boxes made with modge podge.

This bulletin board was in the back of the room where the whiteboard is now. I'm using it as a catch all for various things -- right now it holds my graphic for Romeo and Juliet that helps the students keep the characters straight. You can sort of see how tall I am by where the pictures just stop happening -- this bulletin board is behind a cabinet, and this is as high as I can reach. I had to stand on the cabinet to put up the lettering -- which I had to do twice to get the spacing right. Being a perfectionist can be a bad thing. This was where I put the last of my travel posters.

This corner, also oddly shaped, is another favorite. The BHW and I worked together to create this signpost of places both real and literary. It looks awesome in the classroom. I added a little mini-display of postcards and paraphernalia from around the world, and a fun travel poster. The coup de'etat is the red rocking chair which was decaying not so gracefully on our porch and which I painted red and gave a new life. The curtains were added by the old teacher, and they are a fun, homey addition to the windows. 
I am a big fan of Carol Dweck's Mindset: The Psychology of Success, so when I saw this bulletin board online, I needed to have one of my own. I refer to it all the time while I am working with students. I've since added my Notice and Note signpost posters under this bulletin board where the kids can easily see them.
I've got a sixteen foot whiteboard in the front of the room, which is so nice. I have just a few rules and consequences here along with the infamous pull-down screen which fell on my head the first time I used it in class.

I'm using a table as my main desk, mainly to give me more space on top. I added some stickers to containers from the container store to serve as underdesk drawers for my makeshift desk. I like having a full six feet of desk space. We imitated the Straight Out of Compton picture for our faculty photo.
My containers with stickers. This was another buy at Lakeridge that traveled with me.
My chair is actually a little scary. One arm was unfixable-ly broken, so I removed them both (this lets me slide it under the table, as well). I added a super nice chair cushion, but I really hardly ever use it.
The actual desk that was in the room is quite small. I shoved it right up against the wall and am using it as a storage cabinet only. I really like the Home Depot office supply organizer I made.
I hung my certificates and bulletin boards in a grid pattern that makes them look pretty awesome all together. The small pictures of maps are mini dry erase boards -- I don't use them much but they look cool. The pink Japanese lantern was the DD's, but she had never really wanted it. It works great to warm up the area over my desk. This area had a large TV hanging over it when I moved in, but the TV didn't really have a function anymore, so the janitor took it out for me. I also had to buy the receiver and wire in the the speakers so they would work myself. So. Much. Work.
This printer cart was another DI find. I repainted it green and black because I added a shelf -- I think it turned out pretty good all things considering. I added some fun travel magnets to dress up the metallic side of the desk. This area has a neat poster of the Great Wall of China that says that "The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step."
These bookshelves originally from the back of the room where a perfect fit under this bulletin board, I dressed up the long rather worn top by adding some antique suitcase boxes, bottles and doodads, and a globe. This bulletin board is supposed to be an ongoing project for the whole class. The banner on the top was painstaking created by me in PhotoShop -- I added the whole path of the airplane to it one little rectangle at a time.

Another view.

These four filing cabinets are useful but boring. I dressed them up with liberal application of travel stickers. The little suitcase/trunk (another awesome DI find) on the side holds bags to protect books and lots and LOTS of bookmarks.
I printed the file labels on maps -- it just made it so fun. They are laminated for protection.

I was worried about the life of my cute stickers, so they are covered with modge podge. This makes it impossible for students to mess with them -- yes, I knew they couldn't resist.

Finally, I added some appropriate hall passes with hall pass, office, library, and bathroom printed in several languages. They are permanently affixed to the clipboards and work well.