Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reader's Notebook

We're going into our fifth week of school. Believe me my mind and body feel it. I'm excited though because this year I'm trying the Reader's Notebook with my kiddos. Just before the end of summer vacation, I reread the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and The Reading Zone by Nancy Atwell. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE both of these books.

In a nut shell, kids need to read books of their choice in order to improve in reading. I always wonder when the love of reading stops. I've been watching my son who is in the seventh grade now to see when he will begin to dislike reading. So far so good, but he doesn't seem to read as much as he used to. I tack that up to how busy his life has become with football practice and games, school, homework, church youth group, and family. However, there were times last year when he would come home and tell me what a boring story they were reading in English. He would do well on the tests, but some of the stories just weren't grabbing his attention and keeping it. I think our children begin to dislike reading when they have to read a story, answer questions about that story, and then take a test about the story. Is that fun?

I understand that with high stakes testing and grade level curriculum that most of us feel we have to teach reading this way. This year I'm expected to teach The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Night, and Left to Tell. And I will teach them. But in addition I'm trying something new - for me. The Reader's Notebook.

Each student purchased a composition notebook for the year. The notebook is divided up into the following sections: Table of Contents, Books I've Read, Someday Books, Genre Notes, Guidelines for Reading Workshop, Letters to Mrs. Wallace, Book Recommendations, Other Important Information.

In the books I've Read section students list the number of the book (whether it's their first book or their 20th), title, author, genre, date completed, and if it's Easy, Just Right, or Challenging. I had them begin their list with the summer reading book. Each student had to read either Quicksilver or Quiver by Stephanie Spinner. I'm setting the bar at 18 books for the year that each student must read. That's nine each semester. Breaking it down even further that's four books the first and third nine weeks and five books the second and fourth nine weeks. I think we can handle that. Yes. I said WE. I'm reading too and have my own Reader's Notebook.

In Someday Books students write the title, author, and genre of books that sound interesting to them, and they might want to read some day. Each week I give a book commercial about two to three minutes. Brief. Students will be doing book commercials as well beginning the second nine weeks. If a student hears about a book they want to read they add it to their Someday list. This way when they finish with their current book they can refer to their list and select their next book.

The Genre Notes are just that. Notes on different genres. Here are the genres I chose to use. Traditional Literature, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Adventure, and Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir. I chose these because most of the books on my classroom shelves can be easily distributed among these genres. After we discussed the different genres and they wrote the definitions in their Reader's Notebook, I had each class take the tubs of books off of my shelves and categorize them by genre. They had no idea that they were putting their notes into practice. They just thought they were helping me organize our library.

The Guidelines for Reading Workshop was a handout that we cut apart and glued or taped into our notebooks. This is information about reading requirements, how to choose a book, how to write a friendly letter, how to proofread, suggested topics for their letters, due dates for their Reader's Notebooks, and the rubric for grading their Reader's Notebook.

At the completion of each book my kiddos will write me a letter. It must be three paragraphs in length. It must also tell me something important about their story; not just plot development. I've given them a huge list of ideas to write about their book. Here a just a few examples: How did the main character change throughout the book? Describe in detail the setting of your book and how it fits with the story? Who was the culprit and explain how he/she was a good choice. Explain how the book reminds you of yourself, people you know, or of something that happened in your life. Do you agree with the point the author is making and why? ... Some of these I thought up on my own, but others I begged and borrowed from other teachers.

In Book Recommendations students will obviously write a book recommendation about each book they complete. They will initially write it in their Reader's Notebook, but then they will also type it up and print it out so we can add it to our classroom binder of Book Recommendations. This binder is just one more place students can go to find a good book to read.

I'm keeping the Reader's Notebooks in containers by alphabetical order in my classroom. They sit on the bookshelf. Students may get their notebooks at any time during independent class time to work in them. The containers also make it easy for me to carry the notebooks home since they have a lid with a handle.

So how are we going to read all of these books? We read for the first 10 minutes of class each day. On block day once a week we read for 20 minutes. So that is 50 minutes each week. My students know when they come through the door that they have entered the ZONE and must quietly sit down, get out their book of choice, and READ. They also read whenever they complete their assignments, quizzes, or tests. Plus I ask them to try to read for 30 minutes each night of the week. After I take attendance, I read with them. This coming week, I'm going to begin circulating around the room each period and ask what they're reading and where they are in the book.

So far, just through my observations the majority of my kiddos are reading and in the zone. I have a few that read for awhile and then stare at the wall. I've placed several different books into their hands, but as of yet nothing has hooked them. I'll keep trying to find just the right book for each of them.

What I like about the Reader's Notebook besides all of the reading is that students will also be writing. Writing letters to me about their books is like writing a literary analysis. Writing book recommendations is persuasive writing. They're writing about their reading. LOVE IT! Of course this won't be all of the writing they will do this year. I also like the conversations that have already been happening in class. My kids are talking about and sharing their books! Can you believe it?! "This is such a great book. You've got to read it." "I'm at the part where..." "Can I read it after you?"

I pray this works. I want my kids to fall in love with books all over again or maybe for the first time. I want their reading to improve. Please keep your fingers crossed.

Update: Reader's Notebook Turns Blog - A Teaching Moment

Monday, March 5, 2012

Snow Day Yipee!

I'm definitely as bad as my students and my son. We heard on the news that there was a possibility of snow for last night. So sticking with our typical tradition, we didn't want to jinx anything, Michael and I, as well as several other families that I know of, put our pajamas on inside out and backwards before going to bed. This doesn't make for a comfortable night's sleep. And I must admit, I went to bed planning on school.

I awoke ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Don't you hate that?! I rebelled and snuggled under the covers hitting the snooze at least once. It never occurred to me to look out the window. I just blindly got dressed to walk on the treadmill and headed down to the basement for my walk. While walking I watched a movie that Matt had left on the TV, Midnight in Paris. I love this movie! I walked for 30 minutes and headed back upstairs.

I quickly sat down at the kitchen table and created a quiz for the Count of Monte Cristo for my Honors English class before heading for the shower. (So if any of you are reading this, yes you have a quiz tomorrow over the reading - pages 192-288.) While typing my phone rang. It was school. We were on a two hour delay! YES! I jumped back on the computer to see if my son's school was also delayed. Sadly his was still on time. He was majorly bummed.

I ended up taking Michael to school instead of having him ride the bus. It's not often that I can drop him off at school. I came home, finally hopped my stinky, sweaty body in the shower, got ready, and graded some papers. I was just getting ready to head out the door to school when the phone rang again. It was school. CANCELLED! YES!

The rest of the morning I graded a stack of research papers. I so needed this time to grade. Unfortunately, I only made a small dent. For lunch I met my friend Amy at a Mexican restaurant in town and enjoyed a burrito and a margarita. YUM! I popped over to Pat Catan's for some crochet hooks and yarn. I'm teaching the Girl Scouts how to crochet on Wednesday.

The rest of the afternoon I read my Kindle until Michael came home. He was excited to see me home before him. Until he realized that I had a snow day and he didn't. I guess the pajama thing works. Thanks for the nice surprise of a snow day! I definitely enjoyed it!

So do you have any silly superstitions to make it snow for a day off of school? Please share!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cake Pops Yummy Yummy

Last Saturday I made cake pops (cake balls since I didn't place the cake onto sticks) to take for coffee fellowship at our church. I was tickled that people kept asking who made the cake balls. Adults and children both seemed to really like them. They were so easy to make. Here's how to make cake pops.

Here's what you'll need: a boxed cake mix any flavor. I used Devil's Food. One container of frosting. I used dark chocolate. I was in a chocolate mood. Can you tell? A 32 ounce bag of dipping chocolate. I dipped the pops in chocolate that I purchased from our local candy shop, Brummer's. It called for 32 ounces of chocolate, but I didn't end up using it all. You'll also need a 9 x 13 inch pan, two cookie sheets, a one inch cookie scoop, wax paper or parchment paper, a microwave safe bowl, and a spoon. 

Simply follow the directions on the back of the boxed cake mix. Mine called for eggs, water, and oil. 

Mom, if you're reading this...I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my mixer! My Mom gave me this mixer for Christmas three years ago. I've been a baking fool ever since.

Bake the cake in a 9 X 13 inch pan. When it's done let it cool. I baked this cake in the morning and let it cool all day. 

Once the cake is cooled cut it into fourths. Taking one fourth at a time crumble the cake into a bowl. Michael wanted to help with this part.

The crumbles need to be small. Once one fourth is crumbled add the next fourth and so on until the whole cake is in crumbs. 

Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of the next steps because Michael and I were having such a good time making the cake pops. Once the cake is in crumbs add three fourths of the jar of frosting. Mix the frosting into the crumbs well. All of the crumbs should be moist. Don't use all of the frosting or they will be sickeningly sweet.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Use a one inch cookie scoop to get the pops the same size. I didn't do this the first time. Oh well. Roll the cake into one inch balls and place them on the cookie sheet. Once the cookie sheet is filled place it in the freezer for 15 minutes and then move it to the refrigerator. Keep the cake balls in the refrigerator and only take out a few at a time for dipping.

Next, melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. I found that when I let the chocolate cool just a bit it was easier to work with and covered more evenly. Drop one ball at a time into the chocolate. Using a spoon cover the ball with the chocolate. Don't stir the cake ball around since it might leave crumbs in the chocolate. Scoop the ball out of the chocolate with the spoon and tap the spoon on the side of the bowl. This helps the chocolate cover evenly. Let the cake pop slide off of the spoon onto the cookie sheet. Allow the cake pops to cool. We ended up with 72 cake balls.  I let them sit on the counter until the chocolate was dry and then covered them with parchment paper. The next morning I placed them in an air tight container to transport to the church.


These were so easy, but the process does take some time. I already purchased some sticks to make the cake pops next time. I also purchased some small cookie cutters to mold the cake balls into shapes. Easter is coming and I can see cake pop eggs, bunnies, peeps, flowers, and butterflies. 

Have fun making cake pops!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Mentor, My Friend

My first year teaching English at my present school was almost my last year of teaching. I came from a smaller private school where the teachers and administrators were kind, considerate, helpful, and gracious. At the private school we collaborated on a daily basis. The time to collaborate wasn't worked into our day; we made time whenever and wherever we could. We shared new ideas, asked questions of each other, and most importantly we trusted one another. We wanted to be the best teachers we could possibly be, and we wanted to help each other to reach that goal. This community of educators taught me what it was like to be part of a team, part of a family. Sadly, I had a difficult time making ends meet while teaching at this school and moved on to my current school.

During my first year at my current school, I was teaching five sections consisting of sophomore honors English, senior college prep English, and yearbook. I was also the advisor for the fall play and coaching JV cheerleading. Whew! What a new teacher won't do.

MaryJo, a cutting edge veteran teacher, saw that I could use some help. She approached me saying, "I would be more than happy to answer questions for you or help you in whatever way I can. Just so you know. I'm the black sheep of the family around here, and it might come back to bite you in the end." That was the day I became a black sheep too. Baaa! Baaa!

This image is from:

MaryJo and I worked together that first year discussing curriculum, assessment, project ideas,... We shared our ups and downs in the classroom. From there we began teaching some of the same classes and worked together on curriculum maps and team teaching. We wrote curriculum maps for our courses, taught the lessons, and discussed what happened in our classrooms. We had great conversations reflecting on our teaching methods and the curriculum. What worked? What didn't work? How can we make this better for next year's kids?

We went to annual conferences and classes together: OCTELA (The Ohio Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts), Young Adult Literature, Wordpress for online school newspapers, NCTE (National Council of Teacher of English), MOWP (The MidOhio Writing Project), and NWP (The National Writing Project). I'm sure there's more, but you get the picture. After several years of going to these conferences to gain ideas to use in our classrooms, we began to present our own classroom ideas that were successful.

MaryJo and I became our own professional team. We wanted to be the best teachers we could be to help our students succeed. What I left behind and missed so much from the private school, I found in a black sheep named MaryJo. We have learned so much together over the course of 13 years. We've built a strong friendship.

On Wednesday, MaryJo retired. She taught k-12 for over 40 years. We threw a small surprise retirement party for her during lunch on her last day. It was difficult collecting donations from fellow teachers and administrators since MaryJo and I are almost always together. With the donations I was able to purchase several gifts for her. I also baked her favorite dessert, red velvet cake.

At our school we have a tradition of giving a wooden replica of the building signed by teachers and administrators. It's sitting in front of the flowers and cake.

MaryJo opens her first gift. It's a Kindle. She LOVES to read, but has run out of shelf room for her books.

This tote bag will come in handy when traveling to visit her grandchildren. She also received a matching wallet and Kindle cover.

Finally, MaryJo received a beautiful handmade quilt from one of our fellow teachers. This has also become a tradition in our building.

I'm going to miss MaryJo, my neighbor, my mentor, my friend. We would pop in and out of each other's rooms to share a new idea, a book, or ask a question. MaryJo, Mr. P, and I met each morning before school outside of Mr. P's classroom door to help "hold down the fort" in our hallway. Each day after school we'd sit in one or the other's classroom and share our day. We've had some of the same thoughts and finished each other's sentences.

Thank you, MaryJo. 
Baaaaa! Baaaaa!

This image comes from the following website:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Midweek Confessions

Not only did I kill my four adorable fishes that I've had since September, I also killed a new fish named Bettis. Yes, I killed them when I cleaned all of the algae out of my tank. Little did I know I was wreaking havoc on the biological kingdom of my tank. I have since spoken to a "professional" aquarist (is that a word?) and purchased and read cover to cover a book on how to care for my three new gold fish. Their names are Coco Chanel, Madeline, and Morgan.

Secret ingredient revealed. I have been baking chocolate chip cookies for years following my aunt's recipe. No one makes cookies as good as my aunt. Although I'm trying to come close. Monday I scored a home run! I baked chocolate chip cookies and tweaked the recipe yet again. My husband wishes I would just leave well enough alone. I didn't tell him I tweaked it, but he noticed anyway. He thinks this new batch is the bomb. Michael said they tasted exactly like my aunt's. Needless to say, the recipe she gave me is not exactly how I made them Monday. Creme of Tartar. Enough said.

I've enjoyed a blissful four day weekend doing absolutely nothing. Well, I did get sick. YUCK! Not a fun way to spend a holiday. While I was feeling under the weather I snuggled on the couch and watched Law and Order reruns I took a three and a half hour nap and still went to bed by ten on Saturday. I didn't get ANY grading done. BOO!

I'm so behind on reading my blogs, but I've finished two books and read 108 pages of the Count of Monte Cristo. My kids better have it read for class.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I'm a Murderer (Quite Unintentionally)

This is our aquarium that we've had for quite a long time. Many moons ago it housed numerous colorful fishes. Then one day we brought home the MONSTER - our Angel Fish. He was no angel. He (I'm not for certain if he was a he or a she) started out as a good housemate to the other fishes in the tank. He swam around with them, ate food, seemed quite content. BUT he grew! He got bigger and bigger and bigger. And meaner and meaner and meaner. Pretty soon our other little fishes began to disappear. Yes. The Monster ate them - all. of. them. I wish I had a photo of this monstrosity of a fish to share with you. He used to live in the aquarium pictured above. Imagine if you will his top angelic (cough) fin touching the top of the tank while his bottom fin touched the gravel. His body was about the size of a baseball. No kidding. Not thick wise just around wise. Does that make sense?

My birds are finally coming back! YEAH! Sorry for the interruption, but I've had seed out for days and no birds. We've had a hawk in the area scaring them off. I just looked up from my screen and there are two house finch on the bird feeder. WOOT!

Okay back to the fish. Monster finally died last September. This is going to sound awful, but I was NOT sad to see him go. My husband and I cleaned out the aquarium and brought it out of the basement. Wasn't that the perfect place for a monster fish to live? We placed the aquarium on the back porch. I love having it back here. I love to sit and watch my fishes swim around. It's so relaxing. For my birthday my husband decided to buy me fish for the aquarium. I've been wanting Oranda goldfish. They're the fish that get the big heads. The proper name for their large head is wen.

I borrowed this photo from google images.
Isn't he gorgeous? Well, we went to the pet store. I won't say which one. I selected four goldfish. All four were supposed to be Orandas. It wasn't until this week that I found out that NONE of them were Orandas. Again, I wish I had photos to show you of my adorable fishes. Their names were Harvey, Lucy, Marylin, Poseidon, and Ollie. Harvey came to us via the Fish Festival. Michael won him playing a game.

All of them were doing nicely until we decided to bring home two snails. We had an algae problem and I didn't want an algae eater. The last one we had grew to monster size like the Angel Fish. We brought the snails home in January. (So we had success with the tank for four months.) The snails seemed to enjoy chomping away at the algae, and the fish didn't seem to mind them. Two weeks went by, and Lucy didn't seem to be feeling well. She wasn't eating, and her beautiful tail looked like it was being eaten away. At about the same time the snails sealed themselves into their shells and wouldn't come out.

I removed the snails and treated the tank for bacteria, like ick and tail rot. I read that snails can die from the treatment. Unfortunately, Lucy died the next morning. This time I WAS sad. My poor Lucy! It happened so fast. The other fish seemed to be doing better, and we continued with the treatment. By the end of the week everybody seemed back to normal, swimming, eating, and playing tag. I placed the snails back in the tank because the algae was getting out of control. It was layered all over the glass and my decorations. The snails wouldn't budge out of their shells. Still sealed tight. I even picked them up and smelled them. If they smell fishy, they're dead. Eww! Luckily there was no fishy oder.

I waited a few days until the weekend, but the snails were still sealed up tighter than a drum. I decided I couldn't stand looking at all of that algae. I took out the decorations and scrubbed them off with water in the sink. I used our magnetic scraper and cleaned off the glass sides of the tank. Much better. I left the decorations out. They were only collecting algae afterall. By Sunday all of my fish looked AWFUL! What happened? I took out the snails AGAIN and began treatment. But the next day Ollie was dead. Ollie was black with telescope eyes. Sniff. I kept the treatment going hoping no one else would die. Sadly the very next morning Harvey, Poseidon, and Marylin were floating at the top of the tank. We had another fish funeral.

We cleaned out the tank again. Set everything up AGAIN and ran the tank for a week with no fish. Matt talked me into it, really. At first I didn't want anymore fish since I seemed to kill them all. Matt didn't think it was my fault. We went to a different pet shop in Amherst called the Ben Franklin store. The fish are kept in the basement of the store. The gentleman was quite knowledgable when it came to fish. When we told him what happened he asked, "Did you do weekly water changes?" Water changes? We thought that was more of a recommendation rather than a requirement.

He explained to use that the ammonia levels probably built up to the point where the fish couldn't survive. He said we need to do weekly water changes of 20 percent. What he didn't say was that I got rid of the algae that helped to break down the ammonia levels in the tank thus keeping my fish happy and living. I read about that later. We left the store with a water testing kit (I'm becoming quite the chemist.), an underwater filter and pump, live plants, food, and various additives for the water. Oh...and four new fish.

This is our Red Capped Oranda. I read somewhere that the Japanese think she brings luck. I could use all the help I can get. I named her Madeline for her red beret. Remember the story of Madeleine? "In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. They left the house at half past nine...The smallest one was Madeline."

This is our Chocolate Oranda. Her wen hasn't quite developed too much yet. I named her Coco Chanel. I must have been in a French mood that day. Actually I was really thinking of CHOCOLATE rather than the designer, but I liked the sound of it.

This is our Butterfly Moor. I named him Morgan after Morgan Freeman. Follow me here...Morgan Freeman played a Moor in Robin Hood. Butterfly Moor, Moor in Robin Hood. I love Morgan Freeman with his adorable freckles! Morgan the fish has a beautiful tail that when viewed from above looks like butterfly wings.

You might be wondering where the fourth fish is... Well, our Lionhead, (His name was Bettis after Jerome Bettis, the Bus, from the Steelers because he looked like a little bus.) didn't make it to the first water change. It was the Friday two days before our first water change. That morning when I went to feed my fishes their breakfast, they were all lying on the bottom of the tank. Still breathing, but struggling. Matt must have heard my cry of dismay because when I when I returned from taking Michael to school, Matt was already changing the water. Once we were finished, we tested the water to see what the levels read. The Ph was 7.6, the nitrite was 0, the nitrate was 5, and the ammonia was 2. I wonder what the ammonia had been before the water change? I kept vigil all day praying that our fish would make it.

To make a long story short...we went back to the Ben Franklin store later that afternoon and asked him what we did wrong. He said our tank is cycling, and it will take four to six weeks. He recommended we do water changes daily and then every other day and then weekly. It's a building process.

Yesterday was our third water change. I'm HAPPY to report that everyone in my fishy world is doing fine.

Here's all three hams mugging for the camera.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Midweek Confessions

Hey All! It's that time of the week again. Wednesdays sneak up on me so fast. So here's what I'm confessing this week. 

I have had an incurable sweet tooth this week. My friend and fellow teacher Danielle made cupcakes to share with the freshmen team yesterday at our meeting. I ate one and they were delicious! Thanks Danielle. Later after school at the staff meeting one of our secretaries Bev made cupcakes. I had a cupcake. Yummy! Two cupcakes in a two hour period. Whose the pig? I'm the pig. I can't keep my fingers out of the candy bowl. I have a candy dish at home filled with M & Ms both peanut and plain. They're almost gone. The same thing happens at school. When I go into the office I can't help taking a piece of candy from Jen's candy jar.

Last week I confessed that I'm addicted to my kindel. Well that hasn't changed. I love to curl up in bed under my heating blanket and read my kindel. I found I have another addiction...blogs. I enjoy reading everyone's blogs. Sometimes I think I enjoy reading blogs more than books. Maybe because they're about real life and people I can relate to. 

Because I've been spending so much time on my kindel reading my book and on the computer reading blogs I've been a total slacker. However, I finally tackled some laundry this week. Yeah! I only have three baskets to go.  It was really piling up. Oh. I also cleaned my house, swept, dusted, etc. But, only because my Dad called, while Matt, Michael, and I were shopping downtown, and announced they were in the area and wanted to stop by for a visit. We're not the drop kind of family. Dad said they would stop and eat dinner before getting there. Needless to say we flew home and scrubbed the house. Thanks to their visit our house is clean. 

I cut my bangs last night. I got my hair trimmed up two Saturdays ago and when she finished she asked what I thought. I said it looked so much better. However, when I got home I noticed my bangs were in my eyeballs and driving me nuts. Then when I went to curl it my layers had various lengths sticking up from my curling iron. I should go back and tell her to fix it, but I hate confrontation or hurting someone's feelings. I think I might go somewhere else and see if she can make my hair better.

These are my confessions this week. What do you want to confess this week?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bored With School?

My son Michael has always LOVED school. On his first day at Wee People, three-year-old preschool, he kept looking behind at my husband and saying, "Come on Daddy." Matt followed with the video camera because I wanted to capture every minute. I was already at school with my own students. Michael just couldn't wait to meet his teachers and all of his new friends. When Matt picked him up three hours later, Michael cried because he didn't want to go home. He wanted to stay at school. Matt just about died. Usually a child cries when being dropped off not when getting picked up. What would his teachers think?

Michael has loved every grade and every teacher just about every teacher. There was one. Anyway, he's in sixth grade this year and until the last two weeks has LOVED it.

THEN the math paper came home with a drawing on the back of a boy's face and a cloud coming out of his cartoon mouth that said, "I hate school." OMG! We were so shocked! STUNNED! Is this our little boy?

We sat Michael down at the kitchen table and asked him about the drawing. He explained that he had time left over in class and decided to draw a picture. The boy in the picture hated school. Not him. Teacher mode kicked into my brain and thought: Yes, but you drew the picture therefor it came from you so subconsciously you must hate school. After I gathered my thoughts a barrage of questions spewed from my mouth: Is someone bullying you at school? No. Are you upset with a teacher? No. (sigh of frustration from Michael) Did you have an argument with a friend? No. (another sigh from Michael) Michael reassured both of us that he did NOT hate school.

Three days later...Matt and I had been wondering when Michael would be bringing home his report card. We had asked him each day of the new nine weeks and both times he said he didn't get it yet. Then Matt and Michael drove to wrestling practice and had a conversation on the way.

Matt - "When are you getting your report card?"

Michael - "I don't know dad."

Matt - "Did you get it today?"

Michael - pause "No."

Matt knew something was up at this point.

Matt - "Do you have your report card?"

Michael - Long pause "Yeah."

Matt - "Where is it?"

Michael - "In my computer bag."

When they got home that night we had another sit down at the kitchen table. This seems to be the place where we hash things out in our family. Come to find out Michael had his report card for three days and kept it hidden from us. He was upset, worried that we would be mad at him for a bad grade in math. He received a C-. Now this kid has been bringing home A's and B's in math forever. Math and science were his strongest subjects. Go figure. When we looked at his grades online that night he had several homework assignments with low marks, whereas his test grades were high. How could this be?

Then I remembered how my husband was in school, or so I've been told. Matt is super smart. He never had to study to get good grades. He picks things up easily and has a memory like an elephant. I wonder where this saying came from? He told me that when he was in school he pulled C's because he never did the homework. Why bother when he could ace the tests without studying? He was BORED in school. While other kids worked on their homework Matt read books, until that didn't even keep his interest, and he began to get into trouble. Oh I did NOT want Michael to receive this gene from the Wallace side.

Michael explained that he went in for extra help during music class at the end of the day. Unfortunately, he had an F in music because he was getting extra help in math. Why must he take music when he plays the drum in band? And band is a year long course? I digress. Michael went on to say that he understands the math. He'll try harder. He'll get the grade up. Because he kept his grade card hidden from us (deceitful) we grounded him for a week. No TV, computer, or video games.

I emailed his teacher and she said Michael was bright in math. He participated every day and helped other students who had trouble with the material. She said Michael made careless mistakes in his calculations. Now we have told Michael umpteen thousand times to take his time and double check his work. She also said that he could fix any of the problems on his homework to earn full credit. The students have been allowed to do this all year. Why am I just now hearing this? Back to the kitchen table.

I shared the email with Michael. He smiled feeling pretty good about himself. Then I dropped the bomb about the homework. His face fell. "Oh, yeah. I forgot." We came up with a plan of attack.

Plan of Attack
Bring ALL papers home every night - no matter the grade
After school relax
When Mom gets home we'll both work on our school work together at the kitchen table ( I could use the time to grade papers.)
Get to bed by 9 pm
Take time and double check ALL work in ALL classes AND fix all errors on homework

Today Michael brought home his math test. He missed one and received a 98%. It brought his grade up to a higher C. He also brought his music grade up to an A since he's been attending class and completing the work. He felt good about it and called Grandma. She's been worried about him too. Hopefully we can keep things on track until the end of the year. I know he can do this.

Is it boredom? As a teacher I struggle with this everyday. I have many Matt's in my classroom, bright students who don't complete their homework, but do well on tests and quizzes. How do we reach these kids? How do we get it through to them that it's important to complete ALL of the work? Most of them settle for just passing. "I just want to pass." How about I want to do the best I can?

Is there anything you've tried in your classroom or with your children that works. If so please share.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

No Place But Here

I belong to a book club in which we are reading No Place But Here A Teacher's Vocation in a Rural Community by Garret Keizer. Our book club holds discussion on a wiki. We read a couple chapters and pose questions for discussion. This past week we read a chapter entitled "Sex and Faith." I wanted to share the post I wrote with you.

Kaizer struck a note with me in the chapter on “Sex and Faith.” I have not had many a young pregnant woman walk through my door.  But the first one that did made me look at her, really look at her and wonder how difficult it was to walk in her shoes.  I wanted to do everything I could to help her, whether that was extra time in her studies or offering advice on parenting, or just listening. Not that I’m a perfect parent, in fact at that point I wasn’t a parent at all. When I looked at her I saw my own mother, my biological mother.

When Tish was pregnant with me in 1967, I wonder what kind of support she had from her teachers? Not much I think. In that time being an unwed teen mother was still shameful, like wearing a scarlet letter on your bosom. Is it still as bad today? Tish was just a sophomore beginning her second semester in school, and my birthfather, Gary, a senior. Anyway, as soon as she found out she was pregnant and shared this with her mother, she dropped out of school. Her mother suggested it herself. When Tish began showing, she was shipped off to live with an older sister in Huron where no one knew her.

Tish didn’t like school, especially not English.  Oh the irony of finding your daughter is an English teacher. In both her freshmen and sophomore years she made cheerleading. However, she never cheered because she didn’t have the grades, which is sad because sometimes an interest in sports helps a student to do better in their studies. I’ve asked her about her teachers. She’s said she felt that some didn’t care about her. She tried coming back to school once I was born, but she was a year behind all of her friends since she took nine months off.  Suffering with the loss of a child and not having anyone to talk to about it must have been difficult. She eventually dropped out all together.

Kaizer said, “Dealing with a student who is pregnant or a mother is, for me, like offering condolences to the bereaved; it is something that I shall never do well,” (30).  Are any of us good in dealing with this situation? How difficult was it for Tish’s teachers in 1967 to come forward and help her? Upon answering the call to teach do future teachers understand that on any given day they will not only be teacher, but also mentor, coach, counselor, mother, friend,… Where was this in the job description? This is truly a profession of service in which most of us are called.

My student, a young mother, came back to finish school and graduate. She became a nurse. But at one time she was a young sophomore walking the halls of her school wearing a badge of shame on her chest like my own mother once wore. Like my former student, Tish went back to school and earned her GED. And in my humble opinion, both are warm and loving mothers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mid Week Confessions

In July we renovated our bathroom, new tub and shower, new walls and ceiling, and new floor. We still have to put up the chair rail, base board, and mirror. We have procrastination down to a science.

I have a bad habit of coming home, eating dinner, and parking my butt on the couch to watch television. I don't even watch current shows. I watch reruns of NCIS, Cold Case, Law and Order, and Criminal Minds. Can you tell I enjoy crime and mystery stories. Maybe I was a detective in another life.

I finally broke down and purchased a Kindel. I never thought that I would because I love the smell and feel of books when I read. But I LOVE it! In one click I can purchase a book, and it downloads instantly to my Kindel. Maybe that's not so good for a book junkie like me.

 Since I purchased my Kindel, I'm addicted. I can't seem to wait to get home and read my book. I do think I'm reading more since I'm able to carry my Kindel in my purse with me. If I'm waiting somewhere like the doctor's office I just pull out my Kindel and read my book.

I'm eyeballing a Vera Bradley bag for my Kindel. Yes I know I'm obsessed! However, the bag is a little big for my Kindle Touch. But it's so CUTE! So far it's still sitting at one of my favorite stores in town, Decidedly Different.

DId I mention I bought a Kindel Touch? Just asking.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thanks Parents!

Yesterday was extremely looooong. On top of our typical school day we held conferences at the high school. It was so nice to visit with several of my students and their parents. Conferences aren't always bad you know. Many of our parents are so supportive of their student and me as a teacher. Our school is one of the lucky ones. We are truly blessed with wonderful parents.

However, there are those that I called numerous times to schedule conferences, speaking with the parent or leaving a voice mail, and they either did not return my call or completely ignored me. For instance, with one phone call I placed it was connected and rang twice, but then I received a message on my phone that said the call was ended. Just like that. I thought I had done something wrong so I dialed again. I was connected, the phone rang twice, and the call was ended. No one ever picked it up. The line just went dead. Is that what happens when I hit ignore on my cell phone? Wouldn't the call at least go to voicemail? I hope I haven't been hanging up on people when I hit my ignore button. How awful if I have.

This year being on the freshmen team we decided to have team conferences where the parents can meet with all four core teachers at one time rather than schedule separate appointments for each. I believe this is much more effective than one on one. As a teacher it's good to hear that my concerns for a student are similar to the other teachers on my team.

The parents seem to like it as well. If their child is struggling in classes they do not have to hear it over and over for an hour. Instead it's like a shot in the arm, all at once. But once we get the concerns out of the way, we can work with the parent, and sometimes the child too when they come along, to devise a plan of attack to help the child to do better in the classroom.

Thanks parents for taking time out of your evening to attend conferences last night.  It means so much to me as a teacher.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How do teachers get their students to do the required reading?

Getting students to complete the assigned reading is becoming more and more of a problem for teachers these days. Teachers spend hours creating a fantastic lesson around the assigned reading only to find out that over half of the class didn't read it. This has happened to me to often to count. How am I supposed to complete a lesson with my students when they don't even read the assigned chapters in the novel?

For example, during the second nine weeks I taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to both my ninth grade regular and honors classes. The majority of my former students have loved the story about Scout, Atticus, Jem, Boo, and Tom Robinson. I tried to create some interesting activities to go along with the story in hopes to get them to read.

  • At times, students met in small groups to discuss their reading, other times we discussed the story as a whole class. 
  • We mapped out the town of Maycomb using clues we found as we read and learned how to properly cite the information. This was one way that helped curb the urge to copy the map from the internet. If they did not have the clues to back up the placement of a particular location then they did not get the point for that location. 
  • Students researched information from that time period, Jim Crow Laws, the Scotsboro boys, the Great Depression, the Dustbowl, to name a few. 
  • Students created their own questions to try and stump their classmates and me. 
  • Finally, students participated in a Socratic Seminar, which they loved and want to do again. YEAH! 

The honors class spent about three weeks on the novel, reading, writing and discussing the story. For the most part the majority of my honors students spent time both in the classroom and outside the classroom completing the required reading assignments. They had much more to read each night than did my regular classes, and they came to class prepared. This didn't surprise me out of honors students who care about their grade. Not to say that my regular students don't care about their grade. Some of them actually do care.

My regular class spent roughly seven weeks reading, writing, and discussing the novel. Well, not much discussion took place because my students did. not. read. I began the novel by reading out loud in my best southern accent while they followed along in their own books. At first there were some giggles, but my twang southern charm got their attention and they listened. I would stop periodically and ask questions to make sure they were paying attention and understanding. No problem.

When they began reading independently, I assigned questions for them to answer while they read, thinking this might help them continue reading. I'm not crazy about using study guide questions because anymore anybody with half a brain can find the answers online. When I give study guide questions as an assignment, I only give completion points for the grade because I also believe the little darlings love to share their answers with each other. During discussion my students were fantastic at answering the questions I gave them, but when it came to extending their answers or discussing something that wasn't on their study guide most of them did. not. have. a. clue. Gee. I wonder why.

I then resorted to pop quizzes, which after awhile were no longer "pop" quizzes because they knew they were coming after each reading assignment. These quizzes were pretty easy if one read the assignment. Many of the little darlings' grades sunk to extremely low levels. Even then, they. did. not. read. Instead they asked if I was going to offer extra credit. ARGH! Pirate speak for frustration.

These kids are on the internet 24/7 reading Facebook, Twitter, email, and on their phones reading their text messages. Why won't they read a BOOK?

The next novel I'm teaching is The Count of Monte Cristo.  Holy Cow! If they didn't read To Kill a Mockingbird which according to them was a "fat" book. How am I going to get them to read about the count, which is in FATTER? And how can I teach the lesson if they do not come prepared? What do I do with those kids who did not read?

What are your thoughts? Does anyone have ideas that have worked for you? Please leave a comment and share how you get kids to read their assigned reading.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nothing's Ever Easy

Our friend Don, who's a retired certified mechanic, told my husband Matt that it would be easy to fix a rear wheel cylinder on our Ford Focus. If you read my earlier post on Midweek Confessions, this would be the reason that I've been driving with only two brakes working. Anyway, Matt's pretty handy so he decided to give it a try rather than pay someone to do it.

The first road block was getting the lug nuts off of the tire. They were rusted. Matt had to use liquid wrench and a sledge hammer to finally get the lugs off. Now what would we have done if we had a flat tire on the side of the road? I guess I better stock up on liquid wrench and be sure the sledge hammer is in the trunk. 

The next road block: the wheel was rusted to the drum. (My apologies if I call something by the wrong name. I'm no expert on cars or their various parts and mechanisms.) Once he pried the wheel off he had to take the drum off of the car.

The next road block: Matt didn't have the correct size socket to fit the bolt attaching the drum to the car. Luckily the Grand Prix started (It's also not working right. Read the post called Give me the Choice.) and ran so that Matt and Michael could go to Advanced Auto Parts to buy the correct size socket for the wrench. After roughly ten trips there and back and leaving the Grand Prix running in the driveway or parking lot for fear it wouldn't start again, Matt found the correct size socket for our 2004 Ford Focus.

Now I must say that usually Matt would be blowing a gasket by now and spewing what Michael and I call Daddy speak. However, he remained rather calm throughout this challenge with the Focus.

As daylight was diminishing, Matt was trying to pry the drum from the car. Yes. It's rusted too. Either that or there is something besides rust holding it in place. Either way Matt can't get inside to replace the part so that I can drive the car tomorrow. He's going to do some research online tonight to see what he needs to do.

So much for this being an easy fix. I suppose if one had the right tools to begin with it would have been easier. It's never easy. I'll keep you posted.


Mid Week Confessions

Well my first confession would be that I'm confessing on Saturday rather than on Wednesday which is the mid week point.

I broke down and purchased a Kindel and I absolutely LOVE it so far! I can't wait to get home each day to read my Kindel. I'm looking for a carrier that I can put it in to protect it from the craziness of my purse. Then I can bring it with me. Have Kindel - will read.

I baked a pumpkin pie today for my family along with four dozen chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate chip cookies are for church. So far I've eaten five. YIKES! And we haven't even cut into the pie yet.

I had a Big Mac attack today. What is it with me and food today?

Instead of writing on my blog, I went walking with my son in downtown Vermilion today. We popped into several of the shops along the way.

I got my hair cut and my husband couldn't even tell. Is that good or bad? Hmmm.

I've been driving to school with only two breaks working. Yesterday's snow on the morning drive was frightful. If you see a silver Ford Focus with a white knuckled woman driving get out of the way!


ABC's All About Me

This morning while I was waiting for my pumpkin pie to bake, I was reading through the blogs I follow. I totally stole this idea for today's blog from Lisa at her blog Stop and Smell the Chocolates

Here are my ABC's:

Age: 44 - Not to bad so far.

Bed size: Queen - We said good bye to the king because it just didn't fit in our tiny house. More snuggling.

Chore you dislike: Am I allowed to say all of them? The only chore I don't mind is washing dishes. It reminds me of girl time with my MomMom and Aunt Danna.

Dogs: Isabella Rose my Yorkie, Sophia Mae my Chaweenie, and Jack Straw my Black Lab who is laying at my feet with his head under the chair. Sophia is in my lap making it difficult to type, and Isabella is laying on the kitchen floor wishing she were brave enough to jump down the one step to our back porch so she could join us. We also have a cat named Sebastian who sometimes thinks he's a dog. He would be irritated if I didn't include him somewhere.

Essential start to your day: A cup of tea.

Favorite color: Blue

Gold or silver: It dependes on my mood. Today - silver.

Height: 5'7"...ish That also seems to depend on the day.

Instruments you play(ed): Piano, clarinet, saxophone

Job title: Teacher

Kids: 1 joy of a boy

Live: Ohio - Go BUCKS!

Mom’s name: Sherry and Tish (I will probably share this story in the near future.)

Nicknames: Hopie, Inkie, Brown-eyed Doll, Hopeless, Hoppo, Boone - Some of these I have no idea where they came from.

Overnight hospital stays: Pneumonia when I was a child. When I gave birth to my son.

Pet Peeves: Poor customer service, people who only pretend to listen, automated telephones - you know, if you would like to speak to a live human being press any number you like because there aren't any here, and people who interrupt.

Quote from a movie: The first thing that popped into my mind was "Hakuna Matata!" 

Righty or Lefty: Righty

Siblings: This is also part of another story I might write about later. One older brother, two younger sisters, and six younger brothers.

Time you wake up: School - 5:30 am; Weekends and Summer - 8 ish.

Underwear: Yeah, I wear it!

Vegetables you don’t like: Brussel sprouts and Lima Beans!

What makes you run late: ME.  Poor time management.

X-Rays you’ve had: Chest (lungs), dental, and the one for ladies over 40.  :)

Yummy food you make: These are my husband and son's favorite things that I bake. Cheese cake, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and homemade macaroni and cheese.

Zoo animal favorite: Elephant

Now I've shared my ABC's. Please won't you share your ABC's with me? Use the linky below share your ABC's.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rest in Peace Coach Paterno

My heart broke when I heard the news that Coach Joe Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer this morning. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Paterno family, the coaches, players and fans. Joe Pa you will be sorely missed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Give Me the Choice

I hate to be negative on my blog, but something has really ticked me off.

We just had our car fixed here in town by a garage that we've done business with for years. I feel that we've built up a relationship with this place from tires, tire pressure monitors, oil changes, brakes,...This time it was the throttle body. Let me back up to Christmas night so you can get the full effect.

We left my mom and dad's around 11p.m. Christmas evening after spending a wonderful holiday with my family. My parents live about an hour and a half away. As we were pulling out of the driveway, the car packed to the ceiling with Michael's gifts, the engine light came on and a message read reduced engine power. The car crawled down the driveway toward the road. My husband stopped the car, turned off the engine, and restarted it. No engine light and no message. Good. We headed for home. Thank you God and what ever angels helped us make it safely home without a hitch.

On the Tuesday following Christmas day, I had some errands to run. I started the car and the engine light came on with the same message, reduced engine power. I turned off the car and restarted it. No engine light and no message. I went on my merry way. I went by McDonald's for a much needed peppermint mocha, stopped at the bank to make a deposit of Christmas cash, and went by the Dollar General for some paper towels, dish soap, and toilet paper. Everything was fine until my last stop. When I got back in the car and turned on the ignition the engine light came on and the message read reduced engine power. I turned the engine off and back on only to see the engine light and message. Five tries later nothing had changed.

I decided to try and make it to the garage since it was located in the same parking lot as the Dollar General. The car crept toward the garage. What normally takes five minutes took fifteen. I pulled up to the door and turned off the car. When I went inside I was thrilled to see my friend working. He's one of the managers. And he's really my friend. His wife and I taught together. Anyway, I just wanted to know if I would make it home. He was kind enough to pull it in and hook it up to that handy dandy machine that tells what's wrong with the car. You know the one; it spits out codes that only mechanics can decipher. My friend told me that it was the throttle body. The part would cost $270, but the labor wouldn't be bad because it wouldn't take much to fix. And yes, I would make it home, but I really shouldn't drive it once I got there.

We couldn't get the car fixed right at that moment since we just celebrated Christmas. You know how it is with gifts, food, driving all over God's green acre. We pretty much live from pay check to pay check. About a week of hitching rides later, (I live 30 minutes from school in a whole other town) we took the car in to get it fixed. My husband said while they had it they might as well change the oil and clean the fuel system. "No problem," the new manager said. In that week my friend quit for a newer, better job. Maybe that should have been a warning.

The next day, we picked up the car, paying $270. That's it? Wow! I thought the part alone would be that. They said everything was running good, and we shouldn't have anymore problems. The throttle body just needed a cleaning. The car ran great for four days until last Tuesday morning when I was ready to drive to work. You guessed it...engine light and message. UGH!!!!! Frantically I called my best friend to see if she had left town yet. She was already on her way and would have to turn around to come and get me, which she was willing to do, but it would make us late to school. I decided to call my other friend who lived on the way to school and see if I made it to her house if she'd take me the rest of the way to school. I drove the second car, our Ford Focus, which by the way is only running on two brakes at the moment. Yes, when we needed the second car the most the brakes went out on it. When it rains it pours.

That brings us up to the present. We took the car back in, and they hooked it up to their fancy code machine, only to find that the throttle body needed to be replaced. Gee. Didn't we already know that? It would cost $470 to fix the car. Now this is in addition to the $270 we already paid them to fix the throttle body in the first place. When my husband asked them why they just didn't replace it the first time, they said they were trying to save us some money. Now, I can appreciate that in this economy, but why not give me the choice to make.

The Choice they could have given me:
A) We can clean the throttle body, do the oil change and fuel system for $270. But, we can't guarantee how long the throttle body will last.

B) We can replace the throttle body with a new one at a cost of $470. Pretty much guarantee there would be no problems.

Yes, $470 is more than $270, but I would have a new throttle body and the assurance of knowing that my car would get me safely to and from school without breaking down. And do you think they will work with us on this?! NO! We've been round and round with them this week. They will not give us any kind of a refund on the first fix it job, nor a discount on the second repair. We brought the car home last night.

Bottom Line: They lost our business, and we will not refer anyone to get their car fixed in that garage again.

Thanks all for letting me rant and get this off of my chest.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A New Job for a Card Organizer

If you remember, I received a free card organizer from DaySpring with two packs of cards.

Well I've found a new job for my card organizer.

Back in the fall when I was planning my classroom, I wanted something to organize my papers to grade for each class. I saw an adorable hanging file bag that Elizabeth, on E, Myself and I, used in her classroom. I found the hanging file tote here:  Jamie Raquel Tote Store at a cost of $59.

I fell in love with the filing system because it looked like a cute bag I could carry over my shoulder or even set on my desk. It was stylish as far as teaching materials went. However, I just couldn't see the NEED to spend $59 on a file system, even though I really WANTED this particular one. We're trying to get a grip on our finances around here. I began searching around at WalMart, Target, etc. to see if anything came remotely close. Nothing.

Then I received my card organizer in the mail. It's an expandable file folder that can hold all of my papers. It has enough pockets for my six classes to have an IN folder and an OUT folder. My friend Danielle used her handy dandy label maker today to create labels for each class. She is an organization goddess! On each of the monthly file folders she placed a label for each class period. For example, Period One IN or Period One OUT, etc. They look so professional!

My plan of attack is this...When I collect my students' papers, I will mark them off as each student hands the assignment to me. This might sound like it will take a ton of my time, but this year I seem to have more students who claim they turned in the assignment and blame me for losing it. Me being the absent-minded 45-year-old teacher, how can I possibly remember which of my 130 students turned in their assignment on any given day? (insert sarcastic tone) This way each student will see me actually check the box by their name in my grade book. I've done this in the past and it works!

You know, it only takes one time to misplace a student assignment, and then any time thereafter when one of the little darlings says, "I turned it in. You must have lost it," I begin to doubt myself. Isn't that silly? But I do! What if it was my fault? What if I left it on the kitchen table when I was grading? What if it blew out the window of my car? I'm not perfect. I do make mistakes. Maybe that's why I doubt myself every time this conversation with a student or parent comes up. Does this happen to other teachers out there in blog land? If so please let me know so I'm not the only one.

Anyway, back to my plan of attack. Once I have collected their assignments, I will place them in the IN section for that particular class. The nice thing about the organizer is it can sit on my desk during the day, and I can carry it home to grade papers in the evening. When the papers are graded, I will place them in the OUT section of the organizer, and pass them back to students the next day. The papers will only travel from school and home and back again in this organizer. That way I know I will not have to search the thousand and one teacher bags for the "missing assignment." If it's not checked off and not in the organizer, then it was NOT turned in.