First Week Reflections for the 2017-2018 School Year

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. 

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

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.

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How To Makeover a Middle School Syllabus Using Canva

How To Makeover a Middle School Syllabus Using Canva

The fall inevitably brings about the desire and need to change and update your course syllabus. I have been reflective this summer in trying to make all activities and handouts in my room purposeful and intentional. The syllabus is no different because it should be the means to an end in the method of communication regarding basic rules of the classroom. 

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Ideas to Spark Your Culturally Responsive Teaching Mindset in Writers' Workshop

Ideas to Spark Your Culturally Responsive Teaching Mindset in Writers' Workshop

I just finished re-reading Zaretta Hammond's book Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Something about this read resonated more with me than previous times I have read this book. Perhaps it is all my focus on writers' workshop as I prepare for back to school, or maybe it is while I get ready to help facilitate back-to-school professional development on this topic to my colleagues that I paid more attention to the conversation or lack thereof about culturally responsive teaching in the English classroom.  Either way, I like to call this the "brain-on-fire syndrome." You wake up thinking about an issue and have to write, talk, or meditate it out in order to get it through your teaching processing system. Culturally responsive teaching involves a shift in mindset about students in my classroom, but more specifically about students that I often will label as "struggling writers." It is not a coincidence in teaching that the term "culturally responsive teaching" often is parallel to conversations about students of color, English language learners, or students of lower socioeconomic status. My general education classroom looks entirely different from my advanced education classroom.

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Paper Problem Series Post 3: Make a Plan

Paper Problem Series Post 3: Make a Plan

After confessing the reason I would leave teaching, I wanted to tackle the whole paper problem head on. I often will get an idea in my head and have that "brain-on-fire" type of feeling when it comes to teaching. It is one of the reasons why I teach. However, taking on too huge of a problem without a step-by-step plan is going to lead to burnout.  I feel like the whole "paper problem" is too much to chew on before I am back practicing in real life in the classroom. I want to think about implementing some key changes that I took away from my readings over summer break to change not only my methods, but perhaps the way I do business. From my post where I identified the main problems that exist in my systems and mindset, I have concluded to focus on these three main areas for going back to school:

1.) Using mentors for the teaching of writing. 

2.) Restructuring the writing workshop. Students will write more in class, participate in stations, collaborate with each other and me, etc.

3.) Streamline processes that I have in place so that I am taking less paper home that does not need to go home. (I.E. paper that does not require extra feedback)

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Paper Problem Series Post 2: Reviewing My Systems

Paper Problem Series Post 2: Reviewing My Systems

One of the biggest pieces of advice that I give to new teachers is to always be prepared. Not just the regular "I have got a plan prepared," but the "I have a plan and 2 backup plans just in case this whole thing goes to the birds" type of prepared. The term "systems" always has sounded fancy to me, but the instructional routines, expectations, and actual structures that are in place in any classroom dictate the quality of the learning environment and level of success regarding classroom management. Simply, the routines of how we do business in the day-to-day in my classroom impacts learning on all levels. I have a type of organized process for many things...and then for some things I don't. After coming to terms with the paper problem, I wanted to start by reviewing the systems I have in place so that I can take on the school year in the fall ready to give high-quality feedback in a high quantity without going completely insane. 

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I Don't Hate the Five-Paragraph Essay

I Don't Hate the Five-Paragraph Essay

I have been spending some time reading books, blog posts, and other resources on the internet about how to manage giving quality feedback without going insane. It is part of my Paper Problem Series I am working on because I believe that if I can figure out how to maintain the level of feedback I am giving AND not work 15 or more hours on a weekend-I can stay teaching. A lot of the books, articles, and other resources I am looking at bring up (to no surprise) the five-paragraph essay. I cringe whenever I read these parts. I think back to a moment that has happened many times over the past seven years. One of my students will come up to my desk and state: "Mrs. H I have a ton more reasons for my thinking, do I have to narrow it down to three for my essay?” I always die a little on the inside. For the given assignment? Yes, you have to narrow it down. For the real world? Not at all. Another one of my students bit the proverbial dust of the five-paragraph essay form. This happens each year because I would like to admit right away...I teach the five-paragraph essay. 

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Paper Problem Series Post 1: Identify the Problem

Paper Problem Series Post 1: Identify the Problem

I love a good problem. Problems that seem to have impossible solutions seem to be the best puzzles to try to solve in the field of education. Something like getting Math teachers to love writing or eliminating tracking in student schedules or figuring out how to motivate the one student that seems like no strategy, plan, solution, or special team can figure out a plan to help. The problem that I am trying to tackle involves English teachers and how to take in, process, utilize, and implement grading practices/feedback during writing instruction and in the day-to-day ELA classroom. 

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The Reason I Would Leave Teaching

The Reason I Would Leave Teaching

The post is titled "The Reason I Would Leave Teaching" because the reason I am going to discuss is the only and main reason I would ever consider getting a different profession. I could easily go to nonprofit work or even sit behind a desk. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to pee whenever I wanted to or to be able to go on a lunch hour to a spot "around the corner." These are luxuries that teachers don't have. And many reasons that teachers leave do not involve my main reason for contemplating leaving. In fact, I am in love with classroom management. I love tough kids. I see many teachers leave the profession because they are not getting the support when it comes to classroom management or organization. I also see teachers leave due to pay, working conditions, lack of supplies, lack of support from administration, class sizes, etc. Eddie B Comedy offers some amazing jokes about teacher issues and the Michigan Education Association wrote a pretty great article titled "The Disappearing Educator." I often give this article to interns to make sure they know what they are getting into in terms of this profession.

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Second Week of Creative Writing Camp in Review

Second Week of Creative Writing Camp in Review

Creative writing camp got done almost a week ago on June 30. If you remember my last post, Third Coast Writing Project and the McGinnis Reading Center teamed up to do something awesome this summer: reach out to kids to develop skills and have fun with reading and writing at Western Michigan University. The second week was all about the revision of drafts of creative works of fiction. This post will include the goals for the week, show a sample daily breakdown, highlight some amazing pictures/highlights, and show a key peer revision skill called clockwork editing. 

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First Week of Creative Writing Camp in Review

First Week of Creative Writing Camp in Review

The McGinnis Reading Center and Third Coast Writing Project Camp for Young Writers have teamed up this year to put on a MEGA reading and writing camp! We had our first week this past week with Middle Schoolers focusing on WorldBuilding: Taking the Scenic Route. Students started to create the elements of their own worlds focusing on character, setting, plot, and conflict.

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Last Project of the Year: Students Design Their Own ELA Class

Last Project of the Year: Students Design Their Own ELA Class

What is it that students want?

This was the question I asked my sixth graders in an alternative assignment to giving them an end of the year survey. I know some of the usual answers that sometimes we as teachers don't take as seriously (and maybe should) and I also was hopeful of the answers that may seem surprising and shocking. I have included both in this post to start a conversation. 

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Starting Fresh: A Reflection to Start Summer

Starting Fresh: A Reflection to Start Summer

The past week has been a whirlwind of starting to wind down and say goodbye to the 2016-2017 school year. Students finished their Common Growth Assessment writing test and also their last blog post. The final days are both bittersweet and painful. Mainly because everyone wants a break, but also because it isn't any fun to say goodbye. 

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Where Have I Been? Joy Writing With Them (Part 1)

Where Have I Been? Joy Writing With Them (Part 1)

I started to write this post and something distracted me. I looked at my calendar and then back to my blog post. Calendar-blog-calendar-blog. Where did the month of May go? I am amazed at the utter loss of time and also trying to balance that feeling that almost all teachers I know get in the month of May. You know the feeling. We look at each other with empathy. We make jokes. We give words of wisdom on social media and to each other in person. We try to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is summer. However, especially with state testing in May for many of us, it can get difficult to find joy. 

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My Plan to Get Through May State Testing...Alive

My Plan to Get Through May State Testing...Alive

May 1st is Monday. I have laid out my last six weeks of school in calendar printables and I am marking off the days that I actually have instruction. How many days am I actually teaching you ask? ELEVEN. Yes, you heard right. I am only teaching eleven days in the month of May. When June comes that is something different, June is a different beast at the end of the year. I like to take my time to look at May at a glance.

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Using Writing Frames to Help Struggling Writers

Using Writing Frames to Help Struggling Writers

If you haven't picked up on my vibes that I have been throwing out so far...the Achievement Gap is my nemesis. Not the kind that you read about in text books. Not that kind with data...necessarily. The kind where my general English Language Arts students and my advanced English Language Arts students are more than 3 grade levels on average apart from each other in terms of reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. 

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Genre Remix Project: MLA Research Papers Reimagined

Genre Remix Project: MLA Research Papers Reimagined

I finally finished written feedback for the last round of second submission rough drafts of an MLA Research Paper. While I love research papers, the idea of feedback makes me cringe because it is 1.) time-consuming at school 2.) time-consuming at home and 3.) soul-sucking because it forces much needed reflection. I am always thinking about what could have gone...better. I also ALWAYS am thinking about the state of academic writing that contains little creativity and ingenuity. So, the lightbulb went off.

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Using Kahoot to Engage Student Learning

Using Kahoot to Engage Student Learning

Kahoot is a site that creates fun learning games for kids in the classroom. I didn't think much of it when I first heard about it from the social studies teacher on my interdisciplinary team. Now, i'm addicted. Here is how it works: Kids get a technological device (1:1 is key because they need to be able to play) that can be a phone, an iPad, or a chromebook/laptop. However, there are also group/team options. The game site gives a code for the kids to log in with using a numeric password. Then, the fun begins. They get to choose a username and enter the game. If a student chooses an inappropriate username, the teacher can simply click on the name to make it disappear and have the student try again. This is genius. When all the players are loaded in the game, the game begins. 

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Using Flowers to Help Personal Narrative Writing

Using Flowers to Help Personal Narrative Writing

Thus, despite being rainy, I was thinking of ways to use flowers as a guide to help students of writing with personal narrative assignments. It also seems very "springy" of me to do. Not only are flowers beautiful, but their scent and how they seemingly "pop-up" in different aspects of life can help the writer get in tune with themselves. All four of these "flower power" prompts/activities that will be talked about in this post can be used in combination with each other, or they can be used as stand alone assignments to get students talking and writing about their own lives. Remember, identity work is they key to getting to know the writer. Nothing is more powerful than the personal narratives that bind a classroom together. 

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