Paper Grading the Pomodoro Way

I woke up last Saturday morning and said to myself, "I have a plan today." As I typed those words I chuckled because the best-laid plans are often disastrous. And by disastrous, I mean bargaining with myself to put off chunks of grading so I can take in or on other aspects of my life.  My plot involved getting through 94 argumentative essay drafts in one day. These were the final writing assignment given to my Advanced students before the writing post-tests. This was also the last step I had to take before going through test preparation and state testing

How to Rock a Focused Writing Warm-Up

I am not sure what I did before warm-ups. I think what I did before warm-ups when I was first starting out was make a warm-up activity that was catered to each and every lesson. As a new teacher, this was exhausting. After doing some research a couple of summers ago, I moved to canned warm-ups, and I have loved every minute of them. What I mean by canned warm-ups is that each day has a theme and each week uses a specific form. In other terms, there is a plan. 

How to Make a Research Unit Plan in Three Hours

Whether you have one of those moments where you decide to change your whole game plan up, or if you have something (like I did) that caused you to go into an unexpected mad scramble, sometimes it is helpful to know how someone else tackled a difficult task in a short amount of time. Research is the mother of all daunting tasks that may be the hardest thing to accomplish imaginably...in a small amount of time. 

Weekly Blog Round Up: Growth Mindset

...Her concepts of the growth mindset and fixed mindset were not new, but the way they were phrased was profound and interesting to the English educator giving feedback. I initially keyed in on the type of feedback I was giving students. I wanted to make sure I said more than "good job." I was also saying things like, "I love the way you added detail" and "great job revising your paper" to give specific feedback. This idea of rewards and feedback was just one single aspect of growth mindset studies; it does not capture the entire picture. The best way to describe growth mindset is how you build new pathways to learning...without giving up. I have adopted this mantra with the teaching of writing.  I mean...my blog is called writing MINDSET after all. How we think about teaching, writing, and learning. This is what matters. It would be negligent to not discuss growth mindset in my practice as it has directly impacted how I think about teaching outside of the classroom in meaningful and significant ways

How Hop-Checks Keep the Writing Teacher Sane

I first starting calling these things labeled "hop-checks" as a joke. I was talking with my teaching buddy on our plan time, and she was telling me about her "class list" system that she uses during class. "So, you just hop around with a pen and pencil and check off what they are doing?" I asked. Her response was "Absolutely, I do." Little did I know that hop-checks would become not only common practice- but exemplary practice- in my writing classroom. 

Weekly Blog Round Up: Grammar Instruction

For the first every weekly blog round-up, I wanted to start with one of the hardest and most controversial topics to teach when it comes to English Language Arts and writing instruction: grammar. Understanding grammar is essential to understanding how to put thought on paper, and yet it often falls off to the side of any planbook because we get stuck on ideas, content, voice, and organization. Even with my new rubric coding following the six traits of writing, I grade voice, organization, and ideas first, and only then do I go back in and help students edit and revise in terms of conventions, grammar, word choice, and sentence fluency. 

The Writing Teacher's Guide to Sub Plans

I waited tables at a restaurant during college as many of my pre-education partners-in-crime did. I hated whenever I had to order something OTF or On The Fly. Why? Because immediacy demanded attention out of me, the cook line, and everyone else around me. I would dare say that the entire field of education operates under OTF standards. Every thing is an emergency in education, yet there is no fear like the fear that sets in when sub plans have to be made. In my 105 Ways to Make the Most of Winter Break post, I remind everyone to schedule those sick days...even if you aren't sick. However, the ultimate fear of scheduling sick/sub days-planned or not planned-is making sub plans. These lessons take hours, are a giant hassle, and sometimes will get printed or setup correctly, and then sometimes not. This post strives to give 25 different sub plan ideas for the writing teacher. These could be used for any teacher, but they are particularly helpful if you are an English teacher that focuses on writing. 

Update and Reflection on Using Rubric Codes

My #goals are constantly around trying to get unburied from a stack of paper. This week, I got through 64 argumentative essay rough drafts. I spent three hours total. Insert dramatic pause for reflection, thought, and awe. For any English or writing teacher, this may be making your brain go all fuzzy or blurry because before rubric coding I was spending 5-6 minutes per paper. That would have been 6.4 hours. How did I cut this time in half you ask? The power of rubric codes. 

Journal Entry: Reflection on Routine Paragraph Warm-Ups

Observation #1: This writing every day thing is more difficult than imagined. Even if it is a quick write. 

Observation #2: I am to the part of the school year where I am evaluating on a macro level what strategies and routines are working...and which ones are not. 

One of the changes I made this year was to routine paragraph warm-ups. I was sitting in a professional development in August, and the facilitator asked the question, "who uses warm-ups to start class?" I had decided to change, but the overwhelming majority of people do use warm-ups. My question, as a person who never used warm-ups and had anticipatory sets for all lessons for each day, I was curious as to what was working and what was not. Many people use Daily 5, etc. However, I was interested in having all students write a paragraph-no ifs, ands, buts, about it. 5-7 sentences is the expectation for the daily warm-up, and all students, I repeat, all students are hitting this benchmark at this point in the school year. Routine paragraphs are expected routines on a given thematic concept for each day. They involve note-taking, opinion, or critical-thinking.

Snaps: Theme Stations with Novel Study

Today, I want to share some snaps of students who were working on "putting the puzzle pieces together" regarding theme. This is also a shoutout to the resource from Room 213 on Teachers Pay Teachers titled "Discovering Theme Learning Stations. I love stations. Whenever I can get students moving, I can. It is critical for engagement, and it is conducive to how they learn as young people (and old people, too). These theme stations had the concept of puzzle pieces. You could use them after any piece of text read; however, I am using them after we read the novel text Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. Students are still trying to sort out plot elements and what they mean in sixth grade so I am having them rotate to each station with their book, and then look at the guiding questions at each station. 

Strategy: Narrative Summary and Pixar Shorts

Today's quick strategy focuses on using Pixar Shorts to teach the Narrative Summary Strategy Somebody Wanted But So Then. Somebody Wanted But So Then is a widely taught strategy for teaching summary while reading fiction. While the materials for SWBST are vast, I often find the easiest way to teach this memorable technique is through the use of quick shorts or Pixar shorts that are available on YouTube. I use the gradual release of responsibility model that focuses no I Do, We Do, You Do. This technique is best applied as a scaffolding technique to reach a higher level goal. 

Sneak Peek: November Blogging Challenge!

So, after a busy weekend, I am coming around to looking at my take-home-and-grade bag and I am also looking at Writing Mindset. It was October 13 the last time I posted on the blog. My grading bag is still full and I am feeling like I am not reaching my goals of taking less paperwork home. I gave myself some time to feel overwhelmed, and then I formulated a plan. Time to rejuvenate! This is an overview post of what you will see over the next month. I won't post over Thanksgiving break...but every other day? You are about to see plenty of words...in a different way. 

Completely Change How You Grade With Rubric Codes

This started on a Saturday, the Saturday before the Monday when I had to hand back rough drafts to my students. I wanted no part of them. I wanted nothing to do with them. Glancing at my comfy blanket and cup of coffee, I was a human replica of the emoji "ugh." Not wanting to embrace my stack of papers, I started texting a fellow English teacher about her method of using rubric codes. She uses numbers to correspond with different points on a rubric that come up over and over. We have had this discussion before, yet, I was resistant because I had always wanted to follow "traditional" feedback routes. Things I love: ink over typeface, writing in the margins, and seeing a child's face go, "You spent alllll that time on my paper?" Yes, yes I did. I have had many conversations about the writing process lately because it seems as ELA teachers, we all tackle this beast differently. I am not willing to budge on giving feedback on rough drafts, even though some instructional models no longer call for this step in the process. Rubric codes never seemed to fit...until it did. 

Why the First Skill I Teach is Annotation

Even though I am up to my eyeballs in testing and pre-testing, I still want to take a moment to pause and acknowledge the first skill that I teach students every school year: annotation in reading. I use the Article of the Week to implement this right away because it establishes routine, and it also is a skill that we will use the most throughout the rest of the year in a variety of ways. I have sixth graders and seventh graders this year, so I teach and review this skill right away. In this post, I will outline how I go about teaching annotation skills, providing purpose for annotation, and how to keep mixing it up to keep kids interested. 

First Week Reflections for the 2017-2018 School Year

It doesn't seem right that the school year is already heading into week three. I wanted to take a moment to pause as we approach the end of week two, and to take the time to reflect on how the first two weeks of school have gone. The goals for the first two weeks involves setting foundations, establishing systems, building community, and getting know to know each other in Writing Lab 615. There have been highs, mids, and lows in these two weeks. I am teaching on the split team this year. This means that I have two sections of General English 6, two sections of Advanced English 6, and one section of Advanced English 7. 

Classroom Tour: Chalk Brights, Rainbows, and Burlap....Oh, My!

I always show my husband my classroom each year. I get the same feeling that I am sure Chip and Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper from HGTV get when they ask, "____, do you want to see your fixer upper?" Except, I'm like...."Honey, do you want to see where all of that Target and Hobby Lobby shopping went?" So begins the classroom tour. I went a little brighter this year with a Rainbow Chalk theme. Students from last year have already stopped by and asked why I am so fancy this year. The short answer? Because I can be. Each part of the Writing Lab has a purpose. Even though the cliche exists that elementary school teachers make the best decorated classrooms, I am hoping to inspire some secondary educators as well to setup classrooms in way that these rooms are also colorful, inviting, and meaningful.