Hooking with the Right Book

There are days when I cannot recall one extra moment I had to sit and read a book for pleasure. Then, there are days when I sacrifice all in order to devour a book. The question is not if I have time to read, or if I enjoy reading . . .  The question is . . . Teacher, can you find a book that will hook me like a catfish on stink bait on a hot summer day?

My students have a more difficult time getting settled into a book, especially at the beginning of the year. Imagine my surprise when on the third day of school, one of my most reluctant readers (he was with me last spring as well) is begging for more class time to read his book, Foul Trouble by John Feinstein.

Foul Trouble

As I have observed their reading habits in the last few days, I have noticed a few “new” strategies (ones I suggested last spring) Mr. Reluctant is using during our reading time: he is mouthing words silently; he is using an index finger to keep himself on track, rereading when necessary; he is using annotations for vocabulary and literary terms.

Mr. Reluctant's Status page in his InterActive Notebook where he daily documents where he is in his book.

Mr. Reluctant’s Status page in his InterActive Notebook where he daily documents where he is in his book.

Pardon me for being a bit excited for a junior in high school using skills that any on-level 2nd grader is using, but I have all non-readers in my classes on Day 1 of school.

I teach a reading class for mostly juniors and seniors who still have not yet passed their state assessment for English 1 and/or English 2. In the state of Texas, students must pass this test in order to graduate high school. Most of my students have lost the joy of reading for pleasure in and/or around 3rd grade when the state assessment begins. Why? Because we as teachers kill that joy.

My job is to reignite that love of reading because, of course, all state assessments ARE reading tests. Therefore, the class philosophy is to improve reading skills by improving the quantity of reading, which leads to the improvement of vocabulary, which leads to the improvement of writing.


Day 2 of school: I have the students create a list of things they are interested in. These interests can be anything as general as the topic of basketball to as specific as their favorite NBA team and/or player. Any information I can gather from them can help me assist them in finding a book they may be interested in reading.

Mr. Reluctant is an inspiration to me in that we all can find a few minutes to experience that sheer joy of reading for pleasure . . . just for the fun of it!

Mr. Reluctant entranced by his book.

Mr. Reluctant entranced by his book.

How do your students find books of interest? Do you cull out time for your students to read during your school day? Do you read with them? Do take your secondary students to the school library?


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PLNs Please

Reflection is a part of teaching. As summer begins every year, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Professional Learning Communities have been all the rage in the last few years. These PLCs can be defined by one’s common planning time/conference period, the entire core subject department, the grade level of the department and/or team teaching, but they do not have to be limited to these groups.

Regan suggests in her blog posting on Master Teaching that “teachers need time with their colleagues outside the classroom, . . .” and many teachers and administrators would agree, for how can one mentor another if they do not spend time together outside of the classroom? Too often we hear the quick response, “There’s not enough time!” Here is the clincher; we must make time to mentor new teachers. Moreover, we as veteran teachers  must make time to rejuvenate our teaching practices. It is important to stay relevant and have the ability to connect to our audience.

Collectively, all teachers need to asses their instruction to create better teaching. This is where teaching becomes a craft. Any great craftsman hones his craft, which makes him a better craftsman in his specific field. As teachers we have many options in professional development; however, what is better than analyzing and developing our own craft of teaching? Reflection, discussion and analysis can be great avenues in improving our teaching skills and assessment strategies. Collaborating with our peers and colleagues can allow for success all around – for new teachers, veteran teachers and students!

It is an ideal situation to be able to use our conference period(s) and/or common planning time(s) to meet with our colleagues in a physical PLC. What do you do about developing your PLC, if the ideal situation is not realistic on your campus? For example, what does a teacher do in this instance if her planning time is not the same as her mentor teacher’s planning time (imagine the endless possibilities of variables in public schools that create challenging schedules to accommodate our students, much less our teachers!)?

Professional Learning Networks not only can be far larger than one’s department, but also can be more accessible, more informed and resourceful and very positive. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest are just a few networks which allow teachers access to the entire world. I enjoy connecting with other teachers and administrators from other subjects, grades, districts, states and countries around the world via Twitter. There are numerous positive elements of using social media networks for professional learning and networking.

How do you create more effective instruction and assessment in your classroom? In your department?

Mentors and veteran teachers, what suggestions would you share with new teachers about perfecting his/her instruction and/or assessment?

Do you use an effective format for your PLC on your campus? Tell us how it works for you.

If you use Twitter (or any other social media network for your PLC) and you are willing to connect and network with other teachers, please feel free to comment and share your contact information and other resources.

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Filed under Best Practices, Master Teaching, Reflection

Core Values project via Animoto

Each spring after the state’s standardized testing, I knew my students would need a relevant, high-interest assignment to remain focused until summer vacation. In a Socratic Seminar fashion, we read selections from Tupac Shakur’s collection of poems “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.” Using Costa’s Level of Inquiry, my students created level two and level three questions to bring to class for discussion. Students also wrote reflections and/or summaries after each seminar. However, the culminating assignment for this poetry unit was a video based on personal core values.

One day we defined each word (personal, core and value), and created our definition of what personal core values were and made an accumulative list. Afterwards, I found another list of common values online and had my students compare it to their list.
The effort my students put into the Personal Core Values Animoto video assignment makes it the best assignment my students have ever approached and completed in my teaching career. The video had to include the following:
• At least 10 personal core values (PCV)
• At least 10 digital pictures, one to represent each PCV
• At least 2 video clips
• Video length must be at least 2 minutes and no longer than 5 minutes.
• Music that supports PCV
Animoto has a collection of music, digital pictures and video clips, but students may also upload their own as long as their media is original and meets Animoto’s guidelines. Animoto offers many features for the student to create their unique video, but the best feature is that Animoto does all the technical and difficult “stuff” for the students so they can remain focused on the assignment. The length of the video is based on the length of the song and/or the number of media pieces included in the project, whichever one ends first.

Animoto is web 2.0 friendly, so students can share their creations via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Photobucket, Picasa, iPhones and many other applications that support embedded codes. A teacher can apply for a code, so students can gain access to special accounts for education. Visit Animoto for education at http://animoto.com/education and use your school email address to apply for an educational account.

Because the account codes generally last for 180 days, my students were able to use their Animoto accounts over the summer for their own personal use. Talk about relevancy! Many students created videos of their prom, vacations, and summer outings. I had two students from last year come back this semester and ask for another code so they could use Animoto for their science project.

Do you use Web 2.0 tools in your class? How do you implement them?


Filed under Best Practices

Beginning with the End in Mind

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step 5: Perfect Instructional Practices and Assessment Skills

How does a teacher assess mastery of skills? When does the student receive feedback on his performance? How is what we are doing today relevant to me?

These are the three questions that project what activities I choose to assign on any given school day. The objectives need to be determined in order to create assessment. Assessment needs to be created before the assignment, lesson or mini-lesson is introduced. Why?

Assessment should drive the curriculum. The teacher should know from the beginning of a unit what objectives she wants her students to master. One can only prepare for this instruction if the assessment is created before the instruction is given. Instruction is more meaningful and relevant to the students if it is delivered with a destination and/or goal to be reached.

Instruction and activities lose their meaning and relevance if the student is simply completing an assignment for a grade. Purpose drives assessment. Purposeful instruction promotes and maintains motivation.

“Why are we doing this, Miss?” and “How is this going to help me in my ‘real’ life?” are questions we can avoid as teachers if we are prepared to guide our students with better instructional practices.

How can we instill the significance of sharing this better practice with other teachers on our hallway, in our department, or on our campus? How can we better mentor our new and/or young teachers in this better instructional practice?

Assessment of Self Study

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Curriculum Conundrum

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step#4 – Design Curriculum That Works

We often hear teachers say they do not have enough time. There are days where I wish I could just sit in my room and quietly grade papers. However, there are many more items on my to do list which are far more important that sitting still. Our world is changing, and we better start changing with it. If we as teachers do not embrace that change, we will be the ones left behind. Far gone are the days of the Mimeograph machine and using the same lessons that the kindergarten teacher used when we were in her class.

Curriculum is touchy word these days. I feel it is extremely important to have aligned curriculum, both vertical (k-12) and horizontal (across the department). Many teachers have often created their own curriculum, designed their own lessons, and made their own assessments using the Scope and Sequence the district offers and/or demands.

At a conference last summer, a teacher from Arkansas asked me about Common Core. I had not heard of it until then. I began discussing Common Core with a few other teachers and realized that the purpose of Common Core was to provide the continuity of curriculum across the nation. The problem with that is not all states will agree to one curriculum.

C-SCOPE is another name that has often surfaced in Texas Education. There are varying opinions of both Common Core and C-SCOPE. In Texas, we have TEKS, which are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and these TEKS are assessed by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS test, soon to be known as the STAAR test. My question has always been, does the test drive the curriculum, or does the curriculum drive the test?

My experience with a curriculum program in a suburbia area of Texas was positive. I see the value of having the same skills being covered during the same time frame. There was a time when our families were not as migrant and mobile. Education today is much different than it was 10, 20, and/or 30 years ago.

What are your thoughts on Common Core and/or C-SCOPE? Do you use a pre-planned curriculum? Did you have a part in planning it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.


Filed under Master Teaching

Logo is Up and Running!

The logo for the blog is finalized! I am so happy with this image, and I am very thankful for the work my friend put into it.

I hope to learn more about creating images in programs like Illustrator and Inkscape. I know my students would love to use this in class for projects.

As my friend and I worked to finalize this logo, I realized that I have much more work to do. As my students are drafting essays this weekend, and I am planning a lesson on revising; I realized that my outlook on this ‘project’ has been completely wrong.

Just as I view teaching as my calling and gift, I should view my blog as a journey in my experience. Where goal-setting is extremely important, I too, must remember to celebrate the process.

There is a difference between pre-writing and drafting. However, my students often want to skip pre-writing because they do not see the value in this necessary process of writing. Many students see pre-writing as more work instead of a fundamental foundation. Pre-writing is getting all of one’s thoughts on paper as quickly as possible.  This can be very messy but extremely rewarding later in the process of writing. Pre-writing is (for a lack of better words) the dump truck dumping out all the information on the said topic. This is a necessary step in the process of writing for two reasons: to clean the brain’s palate for drafting; and to make room for creativity and organization.

Drafting is the creative portion of writing where one crafts words, phrases and clauses to create diverse sentence structure. In this creation the brain begins to organize The Dump of pre-writing.

Today was not just a celebration of finalizing the logo, but also a brainstorming session on what I really want this blog to do. I, too, need to do more pre-writing instead of trying to skip a step in the process. Besides, there will be plenty of time for revision.

Today I stopped to smell the roses, and they are so beautifully sweet!

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Filed under Writing