All in Teaching Strategy

Summer School Round Up: Week 1

I can't believe the whirlwind of the first week of summer school is over. There always seems like there are two camps in education: Those that can see why people work summer school and those that think we are crazy. The former camp has been refreshing to return to after working writing camps at the university for the past few summers. And really, teaching is teaching. Isn't it? That depends on who you are talking to. I wonder sometimes if why we all often get into teaching is something we feel renewed with on a day-to-day basis. Do I have to remind myself, what is my why for teaching? Yes. And often. 

5 Ways to Respond When You Are Asked to Censor Classroom Material

Imagine the plate spinner at a circus performance. So many intricacies of hand-eye coordination, focus, and practice have gone into making sure that the plates don't fall to their demise and break into thousands of pieces. Censorship in the classroom is best described as the plate spinner. There is an intricate balance that goes into contemporary content, current events and issues, parent and family input, school curriculum, administrative support, and more. Sometimes, you will find teachers not wanting to put themselves in that fight. All of these factors lend to the dizzying effect of plate spinning, but the question is what breaks when we don't present this content to students? Controversial content comes with major risks and rewards. The American Library Association has put together a pretty cohesive timeline of banning content in the past 30 years. Words like "censorship" and "banning" are used with intention in this purpose because often we are asked as educators to keep information from our students. 

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. 

Weekly Blog Roundup: Teacher Bullet Journaling

I stumbled upon bullet journaling one day on Pinterest when I was looking for a new planner. As a middle school teacher, I, like many others, am addicted to office supplies. I know what pens I like, I know what size sticky notes I prefer, and I know that the idea of a fresh new notebook makes me almost giddy. I even started making my own notebooks with my dad as a hobby because I love notebooks so much.

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 Best of Writing Mindset in 2017

Last year at New Years, my friends and I dubbed 2017 the #yearofselfish. What this meant was engage in more awareness when it came to self-care, workout, invest in personal opportunity, meditate, seek out a work to life balance, and try new things. I definitely tried new things. Writing Mindset was a leap out of nowhere that constantly challenged me on one end because I thought of it as a personal business move, but I also saw it as a way to reflect on teaching. Writing Mindset simply was a way to connect to my teaching and share my teaching with others. I set up my LLC, invested in a website hosting platform that I thought was aesthetically pleasing, and then tried to write a lot. Then, I realized that writing and working full-time were more difficult than I ever imagined. 

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.

Research: Closing the Gap with the Gutter (Graphic Novels in the Classroom)

Today's research quick post is about comics and graphic novels. I am a comic fan. Graphic novels, comic books, images and words put together on the page...you name it. I like it. Yesterday, I picked up Marvel's Black Panther for library day today. The appreciation I have for Coates' writing and the illustrations in this text are nothing short of a work of art. Amazed. However, the whole time I was reading today I had a bugging/nagging/tingling feeling in my mind about my struggling readers that may gravitate to this genre, but may not understand the words. Considering that the ever popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney is a 950 Lexile (Above 6th grade level), many of my students are reading around the 3rd-4th grade level range. Yet, they are able to make sense of these images with the pictures. They beg for these books to the point where the small graphic novel section is always checked out. Why? And why is this section sometimes scary in education?

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.