Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NCTE: Simply Amazing!

Ok. It's been more than a week since my feet came back down to the ground after the end of NCTE.

Why so long until this reflection?

Well, I've actually started three separate "creative" reflections.

An NCTE acrostic, an NCTE recipe and “How the week after NCTE is like the day after Thanksgiving.”

Here are those beginnings.

NCTE Acrostic:

Newbery Award-Winning Books and Authors
Nationally Recognized Speakers
New books to be signed by authors
Nerdy Book Club gatherings
Nervously approaching numerous teacher/author heroes
Navigating my way through the skyway system

Caldecott Award-Winning authors
Cameras full of “once in a lifetime” photos of authors, books and educator friends
Capacity-filled auditoriums, anxiously awaiting awesomeness
Catching book fever!
Celebrating the acquisition of an abundance of ARCs
Collapsing each night from exhaustion (and with a smile on my face)
Community-building with fellow book nerds
Confirming why I love teaching English

Talking with people I’ve only ever tweeted with
Tirelessly (and happily) lugging my bulging bags of books
Traversing the Minneapolis Convention Center to attend the many excellent sessions
Targeting sessions that either meet my fan girl needs or my teaching needs (or both)

Enjoying dinner with Kelly Gallagher & new friends, and hors d’oeuvres with Nerdy Book Club members
Educating myself on how to get the best out of NCTE
Emotional connections with Edu-heroes
Engaging in book conversations while waiting in author-signing lines
Escaping the “real world” by immersing myself in this fantasy
Exceeding my wildest expectations
Exercise for the body, the mind and the soul

Recipe for NCTE 2015

Book-Loving Educators
Famous/published Children's and YA authors
Media Specialists
Budding writers
Administration interested in expanding their staff’s mindsets (and classroom libraries)
Lots and lots of new and well-loved books and series
Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)

Invite all ingredients to the Minneapolis Convention Center for three engaging days and three eventful nights, November 19-22, 2015. Let the ingredients stir themselves up however they want. Watch the magic happen. Repeat in 2016.

How the week after NCTE is like the day after Thanksgiving

Both leave you stuffed (full of ideas).
Both cause you to feel exhausted from all of the visiting and talking (about books).
Both generate lots of leftovers (books for book talks and for passing along to students).
Both lead to happiness because of the wonderful time you had.
Both leave you wanting to do it all over again, although realizing that we need to focus on the rest of the holiday season (school year).
Both create new (teacher and author) friendships.
Both lead to slight frustration when looking at other attendees’ pictures. Despite what you experienced, there's someone who had a dish (connected with an author) you did not, leaving you slightly envious.
Both make you wish that Thanksgiving (and NCTE) could happen more than once per year.
In my case, both made me happy that my drive there and back was close.

I'm not really happy with any of those ideas because I was trying too hard to capture the magic of NCTE with some type of gimmick or cute idea.

That was my mistake. There’s no need for gimmicks or cute ideas.

NCTE needs none of that.

NCTE is amazing, plain and simple.

No need for name dropping...my PicCollages say it all.
No need for recaps of each session. Look at those pictures and you’ll know they were incredible.
No need for rationale supporting how NCTE reignites an English teacher's passion for teaching, reading, writing and speaking. Ask anyone who was there. Read their blogs...their tweets...their FB posts.
No need for an explanation about NCTE's impact on my students. The excited looks on their faces as they tore into books with wild abandonment was enough for me. They reap the benefits of having a connected teacher.
No need for any more words to describe my first NCTE experience. Words don't do it justice.

Thanks to my principal and district for supporting my NCTE attendance, and celebrating my first time presenting (with the wonderful Erik Palmer and Dave Stuart, Jr.). Thanks to the many incredible Twitter and Facebook educator friends I met face to face. Thanks to my family (especially my son, who turned 18 the Saturday of NCTE) since they carried on without me for four days while I lived out my dream. Thanks to my home state of Minnesota for hosting NCTE...my commute couldn't have been easier.

Thanks, NCTE 2015!


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Raised By Pirates

My Dad is My Pirate Role Model!

The more I have learned about Teach Like a Pirate (Dave Burgess), the more I believe that my dad is a pirate, too. Not in the same way that educators are, but in his own unique way.

Passion: My Dad has an incredible passion for softball, playing in the over-70 league. He has played ever since grade school. Dad played on work teams throughout his career. Ever since he and my mom retired, he has played for the church league down in Bella Vista, Arkansas. In addition, he has been on various traveling senior softball leagues, playing in tournaments all over the south. He's won a wealth of accolades, including MVP of the World Senior Softball Championship. Did I mention that, in addition to his place as an incredible hitter and all-star outfielder, he's also his team's runner? Amazing!

Immersion: My parents both supported my siblings and I, attending every one of our games, concerts and ceremonies. Now that we are grown, they are still interested in our activities and achievements, although they don't always get to see us in person. Immersing themselves in softball, my mom and dad travel all over the country so my dad and his teammates can show those younger guys that they still got it. My mom lovingly keeps score of every game in her notebook (and has kept all these notebooks dating back through the years). She also brings along a cooler with ice and cold rags to put over my dad's neck to cool him down in extreme heat. My folks don't just dip their toes in the softball water...they dive right in during every season.

Rapport: My dad has a sly sense of humor, and my mom can talk to just about anyone. They get along with everyone they meet, and take on any responsibility needed to help their teams (and their community). My dad has helped coach and create the lineups, and both of them like to socialize with the players and their wives during the out-of-town tournaments. My own family (husband and two children) has joined them for at least one softball tournament each summer, and we are always amazed at the camaraderie among the group. My son, who is almost 18, has joined the team as their bat boy for 10+ seasons. My dad's warmth and team spirit always made him feel like one of the guys. It has been amazing to witness their grandfather-son relationship grow stronger each year.

Ask & Analyze: My dad and I are Twins fans, and enjoy talking about our favorite team's wins, losses and player/team stats. Although he doesn't live in Minnesota anymore, my dad follows every game. We can talk each other's ear off about our shared love of Twins baseball. As for senior softball, after just about every game (and especially at tournaments), my mom will call or text the breakdown of my dad's successes. She shares how many hits (broken down by base), catches and runs he scored. It's almost like I was there. (Remember that it's all written down in mom's notebooks.) MLB statisticians have nothing on her.

Transformation: My parents have transformed what could have been a relaxing retirement into an engaging whirlwind of activity. They have also transformed an office space into a shrine to all things baseball, displaying every trophy, ribbon, medal and accolade my dad earned over his softball career. A few years ago, my mom had many of my dad's t-shirts from his tournaments made into a quilt (which is displayed in that room). It's like a softball museum in there.

Enthusiasm: Despite a scare years ago regarding his eyesight, my dad plays his heart out every game, and wouldn't miss a game or tournament if he can help it. In addition, you should just see my mom and the other softball wives rooting for their husbands. These guys play in the 100+ degree heat, with a genuine love for the game oozing out of their pores. They play for the pure joy. However, the championship rings, trophies, medals, ribbons, and plaques sure are nice.

So, I am the daughter of a pirate (actually two pirates). I owe my success to these incredible pirates who raised me.

Happy 75th birthday, dad! I love you!

(As further proof of their pirate-ness, they are going zip lining on my dad's birthday tomorrow. Another adventure for these amazing people in the prime of their lives.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My NerdCon Story

Last weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to engage with other book nerds and fans of the spoken word. The event was the inaugural NerdCon:Stories, created by Hank Green and Patrick Rothfuss. They wanted an event that celebrated stories and the way we tell stories (print & audio books, podcasts, performances, spoken word poetry). Sure, there's Comic Con and VidCon, but nothing like that existed for stories and storytelling.

Can I say how incredible it is that Hank and Patrick decided on Minneapolis for this first ever event? You see, I live right outside the city. When I first heard of NerdCon:Stories last spring, I signed up right away. The initial vision and potential lineup itself would have been enough encouragement, but it was more than that for me. I could tell that this had potential to be something life-changing for everyone involved. Yes, the location couldn't be beat, but I would have traveled a great distance (as many people did) to engage with these masters of their craft. Plans for author panels, live performances, author signings and storytelling circles sounded intriguing, and I couldn't quite envision how it would all work out. Judging from Hank Green's welcome on Day 1, neither could he.

I was star struck when Hank took the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center on the morning of October 9th, but what he said about this innovative idea showed his humility. Hank bemoaned the fact that many creators tell their users exactly how to use their new product or idea. That's ironic, since it was creativity that led to that product or idea in the first place. NerdCon:Stories is a new idea. Neither Hank nor Patrick Rothfuss were certain how the two days would play out. They knew that this filled a void in the "Con" world, and they compiled a varied schedule and an enviable lineup. However, as Hank explained, the experience of NerdCon:Stories would be created by the lucky people (like me) who took a risk and signed up. That "here's my idea, and now I'll stand back while you make it into something better than I imagined" philosophy shared by Hank during that Day 1 welcome set the tone. This would be like no other convention. However I chose to experience NerdCon:Stories would be the way I was meant to experience it. My way.

What was my experience? Let me tell you my story...

Day one started with that humbling welcome by Hank Green (who I'll admit I knew best as the brother of John Green...sorry Hank).

Wait a minute...my day actually started with an "out in public" sighting of Storm DiCostanzo, half of the comedy/music duo Paul and Storm (who I had not heard of, but who my colleague Leona was thrilled to see). Yes, she took a picture of me holding up my program, and just HAPPENED to include Storm in the photo. Unfortunately (which reminds me of one of the storytelling games in the opening session), we were not that close to storytelling celebrities during the rest of the convention. However, I had 3rd or 4th row seats for many of the events. Closer than I would have thought I'd ever be to such brilliance.

Back to that first session. What a treat to see Paul Sabourin (the other half of Paul and Storm) share a brief history of storytelling, complete with visuals, humorous anecdotes and a plethora of "inside joke" literary references. It was the first of many "Why Stories Matter' episodes. Very entertaining, and I think I even learned a few things. Next up was a game called "Who Said That?" including Jacqueline Carey, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. I'll use the cliche "hilarity ensued" to describe the audience reaction to this activity, which required the three participants to determine whether Kanye West, Donald Trump, Hank Green or Mindy Kaling uttered random (often nonsensical) quotes. I immediately thought of ways (as I always do) to use this idea with my 6th grade students. Maybe I'll use their pop-culture icons.

More "inside my head lesson planning" occurred during the storytelling game that followed. The host, Desiree Burch, assembled quite a lineup of creative storytelling minds for a few rounds of Fortunately/Unfortunately. I have no doubt that we'll be doing a lot of this in my classroom since I love teaching speaking and presentation skills. What an engaging way to do both. The final activity was a Celebrity Artemis, which I had no idea about. A panel, led by captain Patrick Rothfuss, comedically piloted a spaceship (projected on the large screen) in a video game of sorts. I've since viewed a few others on YouTube, and feel lucky to have experienced a live version. Storm DiCostanzo wrapped up this opening session with another compelling "Why Stories Matter" monologue.

Here's where my NerdCon:Stories experience became uniquely mine.

While my colleague Leona left for a different auditorium for Telling the Truth and Honing Your Craft sessions, I moved to the third row and remained there for the remainder of the day. You see, John Green, Holly Black, Matt de la Pena and Maureen Johnson were going to chat about book adaptations. I couldn't miss hearing and learning from these incredible authors. It was an insightful panel, but also one that helped me remember that these celebrity authors are real people. How refreshing. While waiting for the panel to start, I had a great chat with a high school English teacher from rural Arkansas. We swapped ideas. I told her about Erik Palmer, an incredible speaker/author of books that help educators teach speaking and listening skills. She followed him on Twitter @Erik_Palmer and added his book to her list. I learned about C-Span's StudentCam competition. How fitting that we shared resources for helping our students share their voices at a convention celebrating storytelling.

I moved even closer for the next session, which was a Nerdfighter Q & A with John and Hank Green. It was hosted by the hilarious, but extremely-skilled-at-not-laughing-herself, Maureen Johnson. I don't know what was funnier: Maureen's post-it questions that contained variations of spiders (which John shared with the crowd), the brotherly banter between John and Hank, or the repayment of a $1.00 debt owed to Maureen after winning a bet from John that she wouldn't cry over The Fault in Our Stars. I'm not surprised that she didn't cry, since like I mentioned above-she's like an emotionless stone statue. An extremely hilarious emotionless stone statue.

At 2:00, the third panel began, and my colleague joined me to hear from Jacqueline Woodson, Dylan Marron and others about the benefits of diverse stories. I have been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson, and adore her autobiographical book, Brown Girl Dreaming. She shared amazing insight and commented on diverse books that helped shape her as an author and a human. Jacqueline shared that books can be windows or mirrors, an idea that my friend Jess shares with her students (and I plan to share with mine). I'm still amazed to have been in her presence. Surprising for me was Dylan Marron. I had heard of the Every Single Word project, but didn't connect that to Dylan until this panel. I was mesmerized by his passion for telling more than one story of race and more than one story of LBGTQ. Dylan's comments and pleas were heartfelt, and came from a place of hurt and healing. All stories matter, and the members of this panel championed that fact. Blessed to have been there.

Again, like I mentioned, I stayed right where I was for the afternoon full group session. There was the hilarious Juvenalia, with authors Holly Black and Matt de la Pena, David Nadelberg (creator of Mortified) and Mara Wilson (lifelong storyteller, but best known to me as Matilda and the adorable little girl in Mrs. Doubtfire). Each of these talented storytellers read from their childhood writing, in all its embarrassing horribleness. Although Matt's writing was actually good (according to his peers), Holly's was a humorous fantasy romp, complete with fairies and amethyst. Last up was David Nadelberg, who had the entire crowd ROFL with his erotic bagpipe poem, including the ASL interpreter. One of those, "you have to be there" moments that I'm so glad I was.

I was sad that I had to leave after that session, since I missed the evening storytelling circle, super fight, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and open mic. Fortunately, word on the street is that NerdCon:Stories will return. I'll try not to miss out next time.

Day two began with a timely "Why Stories Matter" welcome by John Green. I had seats in the 4th row, and was engaged in John's story about his OCD being like a prison for his body. The idea that stories are a release from that prison resonated with me. I thought of my many students, who use books to escape. Stories are powerful that way. How fitting that John shared these thoughts on World Mental Health Day.

Following John Green, was another incredible speaking activity called Rapid Fire Q & A. Of course, I immediately thought of how I will use this in my classroom as a speaking warm-up. Participants lined up and answered random questions, with an original goal of answering them quickly (like the rapid fire part of the activity's name). However, when you assemble a crew of creative storytellers (and a giant squid), it's no surprise that they needed to wait for laughter to die down in between answers.

The poetry readings came next. As entertaining as Kevin R Free's French poem performance was, I was struck by Jeffrey Cranor's first-time-in-public emotional poetry reading. Haunting. Perfectly paced. Great use of pauses as a dramatic effect. Memorable! Then, we were all fortunate to hear Dylan Marron speak about why stories matter to him. First, he showed a few examples of his Every Single Word project (where he removes every word spoken by white actors, leaving very few lines spoken by people of color). Shocking, to say the least. He also shared an earlier experience of his desire to be in the remake of Home Alone, but realizing that he would not have the opportunity because of his race. Although that's not what was written on the casting call, Dylan's experience that day said otherwise. He is a champion for the rights and voices of everyone.

My first break-out session on day two was a panel of amazing authors and writers, who shared their experiences with post-success. This panel included: Tea Obreht (I ordered her best seller The Tiger's Wife after hearing John sing its praises), John Green (no introduction necessary), Rainbow Rowell (again, no introduction necessary, but I also ordered her latest book, Carry On), and rapper/writer Dessa Darling. They shared their struggles with learning to make choices and deciding whether to say yes or no to projects based on which will lead them in the direction they desire. This coming after a time when they were desperate to receive any offers at all. John Green referred to theirs as "privileged problems," yet he lamented about the difficulty many successful authors/performers face when trying to stay true to themselves. I appreciated their perspectives.

After a session on storytelling through song, I returned to the main auditorium for a panel on Serial Storytelling, moderated by John Scalzi. Featured storytellers were Holly Black (blue hair, blue lipstick and all), Leslie Datsis (One Time Stories), Joseph Fink (creator of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which I had not heard of before this) and Darin Ross (creator of Find the Starlight). From their collective experience, I garnered many nuggets of wisdom to share with my young writers, like Holly Black hooking her readers by leaving little untold stories that she can return to and elaborate. Joseph Fink talked about having a partner (or co-writer) who can check your writing for inconsistencies. Another great focus for peer editing in my classroom. Being an English teacher, it was impossible not to consider my students when hearing this writing advice.

After checking out the vendor area and purchasing a NerdCon:Stories poster signed by both John and Hank Green, I sadly left the convention to head back home for my daughter's dance show. I missed out on another open mic, and the highly entertaining Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind performance, presented by the NY Neo-Futurists. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this personalized experience, thanks to Hank Green's promise to back away and let us make this convention our own.

Next year, I hope to attend once again and add the evening experiences to my itinerary.

 I know that there will never be another inaugural NerdCon:Stories for me, but each year I have the opportunity to create the experience I need and want at that time.

As Hank Green said, "we are made of stories," and in the words of Patrick Rothfuss, "without words, we die."

Thank you, NerdCon:Stories, for honoring the art of storytelling and giving all who attended a place to be nerdy and proud.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wait Before You Get Your Group On

We know that students need to learn to work in groups. As adults, few of us have jobs where we work in isolation all the time. I've often told students that they need to work in a group because they will have to learn to work with fellow employees. I've told them they need to learn how to get along with others, like neighbors, roommates and and future family members. I've told them they will need to learn to compromise on ideas in order to get a work project done, contribute to an athletic committee, decide on a school musical or plan a fundraiser.

I've watched enough horrifying, hand-over-the-eyes Project Runway "group challenges" and American Idol "group round all-night practice sessions" to know how wrong group work can end up.

All are valid reasons to engage students in different types of group work, or group "projects" so they can be successful later on. That skill, along with effective speaking and listening, are what I would consider life skills.

However, a recent question brought to our MN Educator Voxer group by a fellow teacher, who is also a parent, caused me to reflect on the use of groups in our classrooms. The frequency of group work, the weight of group work, and the skills needed for group work.

As I prepared for my first observation by my instructional coach (Erik), my use of group work was on my mind.

I've been touting the benefits of teaching speaking and listening skills for a long time (see this post about teaching PVLEGS ). I know that it takes a concentrated effort to include lessons on effective speaking in my daily routines. Once the ball gets rolling, like it has this year, practicing speaking just becomes part of what we do. I don't assume that my students are great speakers just because they can talk to their friends. I teach them.

What about working in groups? Do we assume that students are good at it because they've been working in groups since Kindergarten? Because they gather in groups in the hallway? Because they have been part of athletic groups, church groups, online video game groups?

Are we overlooking the fact that our students need direct teaching about how to work effectively in groups? What about informally assessing their ability to work in groups? Teaching specific lessons, with modeling and formative feedback.

In my class, once we have learned the PVLEGS of effective speaking, we'll watch strong examples as models. We'll videotape ourselves speaking, and then analyze the good, bad and ugly in order to make improvements. We'll have multiple opportunities to try speaking for various purposes and in front of various audiences. All this, before we ever give a big speech, or get graded on how well we speak.

Why then, don't we do the same for working collaboratively in groups? Why do we put students in groups on the first day, or even the first week, and expect them to work well together from the outset? Why are we surprised when there are arguments, when their work takes longer because they can't make decisions or compromise, when their workload is lopsided? Have we taught them how? Have we modeled what it looks like? Have we observed each other working in groups or videotaped group work and then analyzed it as a class? Have we showed part of an episode of a Project Runway group challenge or an American Idol group round where the members worked together effectively and were successful? Have we given students "mentor texts" for group work, like we do for writing?

Finally, are we monitoring the use of group work as a whole in our classrooms? Like how often we ask students to work in groups? Do they choose, or do we assign? How large are the groups? Halfway through my four sections of ELA today, I realized that I was asking students to work in groups of 5-6 to analyze a read-aloud. I hadn't given them enough time and practice working in groups of 3-4. Next time, I'll do better.

As middle school and high school teachers, do we check with our colleagues to even out the group work among our classes? Are they working in groups for each of us? How much is too much group work? Can we have too much of a good thing? Don't we need to work by ourselves sometimes, too?

I'm not offering any quick answers. However, thanks to this incredible colleague's Voxer question yesterday, I am giving the teaching and assigning of group work serious consideration.

It's a start.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Return of #stu2stuchat

     With any positive experience, it's natural to want to replicate it if at all possible. In this case, I'm talking about my little #stu2stuchat (Read this post to learn more.) 

     Last fall, I had the idea to start a student Twitter chat among students in my PLN members' classes. After teaching/modeling/practicing the basics of Twitter chats,  my students got pretty good at tweet-chatting. I had two English classes, and they each were able to engage in the chats once per month (since our schedule was every other week, alternating morning and afternoon). By the end of the year, we had discussed many topics and graduated from being Twitter novices to Twitter veterans. We kept track of the locations of the other classes, and looked for differences between comments from younger and older students. We explored choice books, geniuses/passions, student leadership opportunities, #youmatter (visited by Angela Maiers), writing activities, speaking and listening skills, and ways to continue learning throughout the summer.

This year, I moved from elementary school to middle school. Among other changes, I now have four sections of ELA (and one advisory block). I knew I wanted to continue #stu2stuchat, and had heard from past participants that they wanted their students to chat again as well. After considering the new logistics of making this chat work for an older, larger group with varied schedules, I needed to make some changes.

  1. An easy change was involving a broader age group. Instead of focusing on 4-6, like last year, I would love students in grades 4-12 to join in the conversation.Hearing from different age levels will give all students multiple perspectives on the same topic.
  2. Another necessary and painless change is transitioning from a scheduled live chat to a slow chat. Instead of scheduling and tweeting all questions within a 20 minute time frame, questions will be posted one per day, with students tweeting/commenting when they have time.
  3. Finally, #stu2stuchat will likely become a once-per-month activity since the chat will stretch out over the whole week.

I'll try to Storify each chat, so that you have the opportunity to review the comments made throughout the week. I'm not sure if I'll storify each day or each week; it will depend on the number of participants and tweets.

What will stay the same?

  1. After the initial teaching and modeling of Twitter and Twitter chats, students will be mostly responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the monthly chats.
  2. Students will write the questions, and students will work together to answer the questions.
  3. For me, students will continue to only tweet from our classroom, using our class account @gotwinsandy (with me logging in to Tweetdeck with my password). My students aren't old enough for their own Twitter accounts.
  4. Students will tweet in small groups. Great for discussion and collaboration. Too many tweeters (tweeting alone) clogs up the chat feed.

     I can't wait to introduce my students to the magic of Twitter chats on Monday. I'm sure they will soon see the benefits of chatting with other students outside our school/district/state. They'll likely learn valuable digital citizenship skills before, during and after each chat. Another benefit is the online communication practice they'll get (whether speaking/typing or listening/reading & responding). Many of these skills are not assessed on state tests, but they are valuable life skills.

     Our first slow chat topic, starting on Monday, September 29, is book recommendations. I think of it as a mini #titletalk. Each day will focus on a different genre, and the daily question will be posted by 7:00 EST. You and your class can tweet, reteweet and favorite as much or as little as you want, with no specific timeframe. You might even tweet in the morning, and then come back later in the day to see what was shared and whether anyone commented on your tweets.

So, get your students ready to talk about their book recommendations (and support their choices) all next week. I know that I can't wait!!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Owning My Teacher Failures

 I was talking with some teacher friends about what we share on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our blogs. We wondered why people seem to only share the good ideas, events, or lessons. Online, most appear to be phenomenal teachers, always saying just the right thing to inspire that frustrated student. Finding just the right book to turn that reluctant reader into a hungry reader. Finding the perfect way to meet with all of their groups and conferring with each student. Choosing the perfect texts that lead to enriched literature circles, where all voices are heard and respected. Developing a writing conference system that encourages peer editing, gives timely feedback, and helps all writers flourish. Making every class period an experience, while having time to write a reflective blog post during their lunch hour.

      I'll be the first to admit that I only post the highlights of my days, the lessons that worked, the pictures of happy children reading their books or displaying their play-doh creations with smiling faces. I tweet out fantastic ideas and inspiring comments about my educational philosophy. But the truth is, there were an equal number of times when things didn't go so well.

Spoiler alert: I didn't rush to social media to share them.

Here's how I have failed these past two weeks. Brace yourselves...it ain't pretty.

  1. On the first day of school, we were supposed to have a picnic lunch with our advisory class on the soccer field. I brought out a Would You Rather book and planned to pose questions, leading to an engaging debate while we ate. In reality, I asked about 10 of these situations to the students right around me. However, many other students didn't quite get the message that we should sit together and ate elsewhere. We ended up going inside early, where I tried to give a school tour of a building I was still trying to find my way around.
  2. On our second day of ELA, I organized a book pass with newer books from our classroom library. However, I didn't think to have them take pictures of book covers with their iPads until later sections, had too many books in each bin (and wasn't careful to include a variety of genres in each one) and didn't leave enough time for them to share out before class was over.
  3. I knew Dot Day would look different this year, since I would only have each section for 50 minutes. I thought I wouldn't have time (in 45 min) to do dot art, so tried a shared/unique circle discussion activity that didn't quite meet the "make your mark" philosophy. I felt that I tried to do too much with this one activity and tried too hard to make a connection to the book The Dot that I'd read aloud the day before. I should have just had them make unique dot art or contribute to a group dot and called it a day.
  4. I introduced Biblionasium and Kidblogs on the same day, planning to get both icons on their home screen, and even thought I could have them write their first blog post. I forgot how long it takes for large large groups to accomplish this, especially with new iPads. I realized then, as I have many times since then, how much hand holding the students are used to from elementary. We barely got the initial login done. Then, the next day, I thought we could blog AND run through Article of the Week. Who was I kidding? Logging in and writing a first post (and publishing it) took most of our time. Oh well, my teammate Melissa said the benefit is that I am now planned for Monday.
  5. Finally, I engaged my advisory students in a Harmful/Harmless activity to inspire conversations about presenting a fake identity online (one of our digital citizenship lessons). However, there was too much movement that distracted attention away from the lesson they were to learn. After a few scenarios, I noticed the students gathering in clumps to chat before we could discuss why they made the choice they did. I should have had them stand/sit, face the side or given thumbs up and thumbs down to indicate how they felt. It would have allowed more time to share their reasoning. In addition, I missed a valuable opportunity to practice speaking.

However, I did do a few things right during the same time.

  • I read some incredible picture books, and started displaying them in the hall like Jilian Heise. Yes, I read aloud to my middle schoolers every day...picture books!
  • I gave my students read to self time for at least 10 minutes every day, which is one of my non-negotiables.
  • I taught specific lessons on speaking skills, and consistently identified, reinforced, corrected, and praised them as much as I could.
  • I book talked countless books to my students as they searched for just the right book for them, leading to many excited students who continue to read them.
  • I started an online community where my students can share their book love through weekly blogging on Kidblogs and their bookshelves on Biblionasium.
  • I learned all but a few names of the 140 students in my classes. Pretty good for just 8 days, with less than 50 minutes each. In addition, I built rapport with many and can comment on something specific about their hobbies or interests.

I'd say that's pretty good for the first week and a half.

My failures haven't made it onto social media, until now. Maybe if we all admitted when things didn't work out as planned, our tweets would better mirror our reality. We shouldn't be airbrushing our failures or photo-shopping out the "not so great lessons." It's those humbling experiences that inspire us to reflect and become even better teachers. Like my good friend Laura Wagenman shared with me recently, "When brain researchers watched people make mistakes and hooked them up to EKGs, they found their synapses were firing stronger, creating more learning. Thus, mistakes make greater connections in the brain and you get smarter."

If that's the case, I must be one of the smartest teachers around.

Who knows, I might be even smarter at the end of next week, too.

Will you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Today, I Felt Like a Reading Teacher!

It was the day my students had been waiting for.

After a few days of gearing them up for reading, talking about books, modeling read-alouds and sharing my reading life (as well as making it past the multiple schedule changes), we were ready.

  • I had explained that they would have time to read IN CLASS every day.
  • I had shared how I've lovingly collected books for our classroom library over the past years, carefully selecting ones that current students would enjoy...hoping that my next year's students would as well.
  • I had shared how these books are like my babies, and we need to treat them carefully and keep them organized so others can find them.
  • I had reassured them that I trusted them to take these books home. (How else were they going to become WILD readers?)
  • I had book talked some favorites, and engaged the students in a book pass of recent acquisitions last week.

Today was the day they had been waiting for, ever since they walked into our classroom and saw the wall of books.

Anticipation had been mounting. Students had been asking..."When can we check out these books?"

Today was a day that I felt lucky to have four sections of ELA. Lucky to have 140 students. Lucky that I have this incredible job..

Today, I experienced the joy of students having pure, unadulterated BOOK CHOICE.
No required reading levels.
No limits.
No interference, other than to book talk and recommend favorites.

I was one of them, rediscovering favorite books among the bins.
We oohed and aahed as books were taken off shelves, held excitedly in our hands.
Front covers begged us to pick them up. Back covers assured us that this one or that one may be just the right book.

Students checked out my babies. Books I have read and loved. Books I wish I could reverse time so I could read them again without knowing what happens. However, a few students were rereading a favorite, and that thrilled me as well.

I had many incredible book conversations and witnessed books flying off our classroom library shelves.

What a beautiful thing to then see them start reading. Right there in the classroom.
OUR classroom, where choice reading is valued, where independent reading time is a non-negotiable.

This teacher is a reader. I model WILD reading and encourage my students to become WILD readers, too.

In this room we read.
In this room, choice is encouraged and respected.

Today, I felt like a reading teacher.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I'm Not in Kansas Anymore

I just finished my first week as a middle school teacher. Yes, that's right...middle school. After more than 20 years as an elementary teacher (a generalist, a jack-of-all-trades), I finally made the move to secondary. What a difference.

One of my former administrators once said, "An elementary teacher loves her students, while a secondary teacher loves her subject." There is much truth in that statement. Over the past few years, I've found myself more and more drawn to one subject in particular...English.

Ok, it's more like I live and breathe reading, writing and speaking. I read book after book. I have added hundreds of books to my classroom library over the past few months. Most of my Twitter chats and Voxer conversations involve English-related topics. Even my edu-heroes (Men(tors) on Sticks post and Multiple Personalities) are teachers of reading, writing and/or speaking.

My career move to teaching middle school English was exactly right for me.

If that's true, then why does it feel so strange? Why have I spent so much time pondering how to do what I've been doing for the past few years? Why have I second-guessed myself? Why have I felt defeated because I haven't connected with every student and we aren't as "far" as we were the last few years?

I'm not in Kansas (elementary) anymore. It took a wise secondary English teacher (Erik, who is also my instructional coach) to help me realize that.

Thursday morning, Erik wandered in my room during my prep to chat since my door was open. We started talking, and I shared my frustrations with not knowing all my students' names and not having time to get to know their reading preferences. I'm used to having a few full days with my classes (two instead of my current four..and much smaller class sizes) to build our classroom community, engage in writing activities to express & reflect, and share hopes and dreams for the year.

Instead, every day there have been changes to my class lists. Students added, students transferred to other sections due to scheduling. So many faces I can't seem to remember without looking at their name tags. Minutes shaved off each class due to kids getting used to passing time and me getting used to taking attendance every hour. Locker issues and iPad distribution issues. Class sizes that range from 20 (my third hour) to 39 in my sixth hour.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love this age and I love my students. They are wide-eyed and excited to be in middle school. They are still young and adorable. They love my humor and work best when we keep busy (which we have). They love listening to my stories and listening to me read picture books. They love having a choice of where to sit and having opportunities to talk and stand up when needed.

Some of my best middle school moments have involved giving my students the freedom they didn't have last year, but desperately needed. The freedom to talk in the halls (since they are such social creatures), the freedom to move freely around the school between classes, and the freedom to walk to lunch on their own. On the first day, when I opened the door and said, "Have a great lunch," a few students looked at me and couldn't believe I wasn't walking them to the cafeteria. No more taking lunch count in the morning. No more bringing down the cold lunch bucket. No more waiting for bus numbers to be called at the end of the day. And, drum roll please...no more recess (which in MN meant many indoor recess days)!

After talking with Erik on Thursday, I realized that although I knew my way around Kansas (elementary) and knew how to teach in Kansas, I would eventually learn how to navigate my way through this new place, too. He asked me to think about the rapport I built with my one class in the first week (having the entire day) and how it might take four times as long with four classes (and only 50 minutes each day). I was trying to be the same elementary teacher with a middle school schedule and increased student number. He predicted I'd drive myself crazy if I expected to do the same and be the same as before. What great advice.

I know I'll get to know all of my students. Not just their names, but their interests, their reading preferences and their writing styles. We'll become comfortable speaking and sharing with each other. We'll enjoy many books, take risks and make mistakes. We'll connect with other classrooms and share our voices on social media.

We aren't there yet. But I'm giving myself a break. Teaching middle school means it will take more time to develop my community of readers, writers and speakers.

I'm not in Kansas anymore. However, I sure like where my house landed.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The POWER of a PLN

Recently, I asked a question of one of my Voxer groups...a valued and trusted part of my PLN. The response and subsequent conversation was incredible. In fact, we are still in the middle of the discussion.

This experience caused me to reflect on the power of having a PLN. I have many different groups of educators in my PLN. This particular group of teachers all started off in 5th grade, yet despite a few grade level moves and one cross-country move, we continue to connect. They are: Jess-a 5th grade teacher from Chicago (@JessLif), Rob-a 5th grade teacher from NY (@Mr_U79), Rosy-a 5th grade teacher recently transplanted to Delaware (@rosy_burke), Cara-a former 5th, now 4th grade teacher from Kansas City (@cahillcara) and me...who recently made a job switch to 6th ELA in middle school. Quite an eclectic bunch, yet a close-knit and friendly bunch.

Today was a question about writers notebooks, reading response journals and/or iPads. My students will be 1:1 iPads, and I wanted advice about whether to use them for all writing or not. After this thoughtful discussion, I have a better understanding of the benefits and limitations of both tools, and I have a plan. Change is always a little scary, and hardly ever gets going without a hitch. Good educators question and seek advice on best practice. They reach out, as I did.

My PLN was there for me today.

I have another incredible PLN of Minnesota educators, who connect via Voxer. My "besties" Kim (@khurdhorst) and Jenny (@JennyWamsley), incredible principals like Brad (@GustafsonBrad), Mark (@PrincipalFrech), Dawn (@dawnbrown11), Jen (@jenhegna), Sharon (@SharonHendrix1), Tech leaders like Chris (@TurnbullChris), Leslie (@LPralleKeehn) and Andrea (@halversonandrea) and fellow teachers Kory (@korytellers) and Sarah (@SarahBosche1). We chat about life as MN educators, often discussing current issues and sharing ideas and accomplishments.

Then, there are my Twitter chat PLNs: #tlap, #5thchat, #6thchat, #sstlap, #satchatwc, #titletalk, #whatisschool, and most recently #2ndaryela and #ditchbook. Led by some of the greatest educators/authors/speakers and game-changers in the field of education, and joined by incredible educators from all over the globe, these chats push me and inspire me.

My PLN has expanded with a couple of new and exciting additions: Facebook groups. I feel lucky to connect with other like-minded educators in FB communities such as Notice & Note, 7th-9th grade ELA Teachers, and Kelly Gallagher Inspired Teachers. Members of these groups ask questions, share resources, vent, and seek advice. There is no hierarchy in this group. No fees collected. Just open, generous, incredibly knowledgeable educators with shared goals. These teachers want what's best for their students and know that more heads are better than one.

Of course, there is my new group of 16 teachers (including me) on my 6th grade middle school team. This is my daily face-to-face PLN. Except for one of us, Leona (@luinien), we all came from elementary. It's our first time at the middle school rodeo, and we will need each other for support, laughter, some tears, and camaraderie.

I am a better teacher because of the POWER of my PLN

I'm Ready For My Students

I'm ready for my students.

I'm done organizing and arranging my new classroom.

                                       My books are ready to be read.
                    My graffiti wall is ready for metallic penned book quotes.
                    My Wonder Wall is ready for questions and inquiry.
                    My door is ready to display students' summer reading.
                    My circle of tables/chairs is ready for discussions.
                    My counter is ready for the picture book read-aloud display.
                    My heart and mind are ready for their joys and struggles, their laughter,
                    their insight, their teaching, their stories, their hopes and their dreams.

      My classroom is not complete without my students.

      I'm ready for them.

      I'm ready for it to become OUR classroom.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reading Freedom

I'm reading The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner, and the incredible experience has made me think about what I must do for my students.

I am falling in love with this book and I want to talk about my confusion, ask questions, quote favorite parts and talk to the author. There's no worksheet with pre-made questions. They wouldn't interest me anyway because they aren't my questions. I don't have a study guide and I certainly didn't study any vocabulary words before reading. I'm not creating a plot pyramid or creating a character web. I certainly hope there won't be any essay questions at the end.

I might just read this book straight through tonight because I have nothing else I'd rather do at the moment.

Wouldn't it be sad if I had to stop at chapter 12? What if this book was a genre that I'd already read too many books from? Or, heaven forbid, it wasn't in my reading level and I was discouraged from checking it out?

I want to create these types of reading experiences for my students as often as possible.

In order to inspire and engage my 150 middle schoolers, they need to have reading freedom. Freedom to choose books that interest them. Freedom to read without answering prescribed questions or defining/writing sentences for vocabulary words some company thought they needed to know. Freedom to read as much of a book as they want, or even to finish a book in one setting.

Freedom to ask their own questions. Freedom to reread or stop and talk about their book with someone else. Freedom to ask/tweet the author (if possible) to gain insight or express their emotional reactions. Freedom to write/blog about their experience for a broad audience (and not just the students in their class).

Reading freedom.

I've had it all summer. I've chosen every one of the 50+ books I've read since school let out. I've read more on some days, and less on busier ones. I sometimes read a few at once. I've tweeted authors, and often heard back from them. (A thrill every single time) I've talked with my Twitter PLN, both online and in person, about these books. I've bought copies of many of these books for my new classroom so I can book talk them to my students (and have great discussions). I've chosen whatever I felt like reading at the time: many recommended by respected fellow book nerds.

I've had plenty of reading freedom. If I want students to love reading like I do, I need to free their reading experiences, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I Say Yes to the Desk

     Today's post is inspired by my good friend, Jess Lifshitz (@JessLif), who boldly claimed to have a not-so-fancy classroom. Here is Jess' post She said she prepared her room with a reading theme, not one she copied from Pinterest, and not one where everything had to match or be a specific color. She designed her classroom for function and with her students in mind. Places for them to find books, read books, talk about books and share books. There is space for exploring their writing lives, as well as space to gather together and celebrate reading and writing. Jess has made supplies and a plethora of books easy accessible for when her students need them.

     I moved schools this year, and my classroom (converted from a collaborative math teacher space to a 6th grade classroom) is not quite ready for me to make it my own. However, I have been dreaming about and envisioning ways to recreate the wonderful aspects of my previous classroom. You see, my theme has always been focused on reading, writing, speaking and listening. Books are everywhere. That's the way I like it.

     In addition my classroom library of books, I display and hang up various MN Twins items I've collected over the years. This tells my students about me as a person, just like Jess' duck collection shares a bit about herself with hers.

That said, I'm going to make a bold statement myself...

I'm not giving up my teacher desk.

There, I said it. I'm saying yes to the desk!

     For the same reasons I'm not going to stop putting a little of myself in my room before the students arrive, I'm going to have a teacher desk for my belongings. A place for me to do my work when the students aren't in the room (prep, lunch, before/after school). A place that says that I am important in this classroom, too.

     Just like students have lockers and desks, I want and need a place to make my own. The rest of the room is shared with my students. There will be a place for supplies, alternate seating, and many places to spread out and collaborate. Students will be part of almost every decision, and we will cultivate a classroom where our geniuses are celebrated and respected.

     You see, having a teacher desk doesn't mean that I can't have a student-led classroom. It doesn't mean that I feel like I am more important than my students. It doesn't mean that I feel superior. It just means that I'll have a place for my belongings, pictures of my family, and MN Twins memorabilia that help me feel comfortable in our shared space. Before long, student work will fill the walls and be visible through the classroom.

     I am speaking up on behalf of teachers who don't feel that keeping a teacher desk makes us any less able to connect with our students. Those who know that they don't sit behind it while the students work, but who only use it when students are not in the room. Those who don't feel that having a teacher desk makes our students feel less a part of the classroom.

So I have Twins memorabilia up. It helps my students know more about me and might encourage them to share about themselves. It doesn't mean all students have to like the Twins.

So I have an all-star author wall, showcasing incredible MG and YA authors. It helps my students give different authors a chance. It doesn't mean those are the only authors my students can read, or that I won't add their favorites throughout the year.

So I have a classroom door that proudly displays all of the books I have read over the summer. It helps me connect with students through book talks. It helps my students start sharing their reading lives with me and their classmates. It doesn't mean that my book choices are the only ones.

So, I have a teacher desk. It helps me feel like I am a part of our classroom. It doesn't mean that I have to have control of my students and make sure they know that. It's not a power trip. It's just a desk.

If you got rid of your teacher desk, that's your decision and I respect that.

I, for one, am saying yes to the desk.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Men(tors) On Sticks

Ok, I'll admit to having men on sticks in my classroom.

Let me explain.

They are pictures of men's faces. They are laminated and affixed to Popsicle sticks. These men  are actually my edu-heroes...my teaching mentors. I use them for educational purposes.

Here's how it started:

I had been using the reading/writing books and ideas of master high school English teacher/author Kelly Gallagher for years. Then came the speaking & listening books of communication guru/teacher/speaker/author Erik Palmer. Next, it was the student engagement "create experiences" teacher/author/educational pirate entertainer Dave Burgess (of Teach Like a Pirate fame). Most recently, I came to know the student-led-classroom work of award-winning teacher (before he was a published author) Paul Solarz.

As I prepared for the 2014-15 school year, excited to tap into my inner (insert any one of the above mentioned gentlemen), I pondered how I could help connect their lessons and ideas to my students. I thought, "wouldn't it be wonderful to have these educators do the teaching?" Knowing that wasn't possible for obvious reasons, I decided to do the next best thing: put their faces on sticks and hold them up in front of my face when I introduced a new concept or strategy. Yes, you heard that right. Essentially, I wore masks of these fine men.

I became Kelly Gallagher when I taught my students the six real-world writing purposes and shared  reasons to read. When I showed them how to sneeze on their papers to get their ideas out. When I avoided Readicide by NOT teaching a book or short story to death.

I became Erik Palmer when I taught and modeled PVLEGS so my students could speak effectively. When I gave them numerous speaking and listening opportunities so they could become better. When I taught them the five types of evidence and introduced them to syllogisms and ACOVA.

I became Dave Burgess when I had my students use play doh on the first day of school to share
something about themselves. When I immersed myself in my passion, encouraging my students to do the same. When I used many of his incredible hooks to create experiences for them, and not just lessons. When I covered all my walls with black plastic tablecloths and hosted campfire flashlight reading day.

I became Paul Solarz when I introduced student e-portfolios. When we started Mystery Skypes. When I started using Paul's book ideas like "Give Me Five" to help create my version of a student-led classroom.

Although my students have seen their teacher wear these educator masks to help them learn so many incredible things, they've also been fortunate to meet most of these men either virtually or face to face. We Skyped with Dave Burgess back in September and did a Mystery Skype with Paul Solarz and his class this spring. Most incredibly, we Skyped with Erik Palmer numerous times, and had an actual 2-day face to face visit from him in May. A highlight of our year for sure!

Are there other men(tors) I'd like to put onto sticks? Yes, there's Matt Miller for when I ditch my textbook and add something new to my digital classroom. There's Michael Matera for when I introduce some gamification. There's Don Wettrick for when I introduce Genius Hour again.

However, I better add a few women(tors) too. My students thought it wasn't fair that females
were originally left out. Very soon, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Pernille Ripp, Julie Smith and Kyleen Beers (with Bob Probst) will be added to my collection.

Now that you know the backstory, I'll bet my men(tors) on sticks idea doesn't seem so weird.

Naaah,  it probably still does. :)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

53 Precious Minutes

53 Minutes


53 minutes?

I only have 53 minutes with each of my ELA classes?

How can I possibly teach my Ss reading, writing, speaking and listening using highly engaging, outside-the-box, globally connected activities in just 53 minutes each day?

I don't care about "covering" curriculum, but I do care about getting to know the reading interests of each and every one of my 140 students. I do care about knowing where they've been as readers. I do care about who they are as writers: what interests them and what they need to improve. I do care about developing and nurturing communication skills, which are life skills.

I care so much that I want to make the most of the time I have with my students. Here are 53 experiences to engage my students in those 53 minutes.

1. Weekly book blogs on Kidblogs

2. Socratic and Platonic seminars

3. Literature circles

4. Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons

5. Notice & Note Fiction Signposts

6. Non-Fiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts & Strategies

7. Reading Minutes

8. Daily Independent Reading

9. Classroom Library Choice Reading

10. QR code book trailers

11. Blind Dating Books

12. Speed Dating Books

13. Book Talks

14. Author Skypes

15. Global Read Aloud

16. Biblionasium bookshelves and recommendations

17. Voxer chats with other classes

18. Articles of the Week (from Kelly Gallagher)

19. Writing Sneezes

20. Gallagher's Six Real-World Writing Purposes

21. March Madness Book Battles

22. E-Portfolios

23. PVLEGS & ACOVA lessons and practice (from Erik Palmer)

24. makerspace opportunities

25. Student-selected reading goals (similar to Donalyn's 40-book challenge)

26. Book Shelfies

27. Craft Writing Lessons

28. Editing Lessons (Sentence of the Week, from Kelly Gallagher)

29. Campfire/flashlight reading

30. Flipgrid videos

31. Legos and Play doh experiences (no, I'm serious)

32. Class Twitter to share our experiences

33. Student Twitter chats

34. GHO with other classes

35. Six Thinking Hats

36. Found Poetry and Blackout poetry

37. World Read-Aloud Day

38. Mentor Texts

39. Read-alouds

40. Cardboard Challenge

41. Shared Google Documents

42. Sketch notes to show learning

43. Global School Day of Play

44. Touchcast (green screen)

45. Augmented Reality

46. Pirate Hooks

47. International Dot Day

48. TodaysMeet book clubs

49. Padlet Walls for books we've read

50. Genius Hour/Passion Time

51. TPFASTT for poetry/song lyrics

52. Flashback Friday

53. #youmatter

I'm sure we will fill up our 53 minutes with many more opportunities throughout the year. That's the beauty of a connected classroom with a connected teacher.

Every minute is precious!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Twitter Chat Menu

Tuesday night's #6thchat got me thinking.

It was hosted by Michael Matera (gamification guru), who I had the extreme pleasure to meet in person at Summer Spark in June. The chat obviously focused on how teachers can gamify their classrooms. This is an area I don't know much about, and I was drawn in to the possibilities for my ELA classes. I was nervous at first, wondering if my ideas were way off base. Soon though, Michael tweeted encouraging words, and before I knew it, I had a list of personalized gamification ideas.

I was jazzed after the chat ended. It got me thinking about what I get out of the chats I choose to join (or host). That #6thchat felt different: I was a gamification novice all the way through. I didn't have much teacher experience to throw into the ring.

That was ok since my purpose was not to share or lead, but to listen and learn.

I realized that when I join or host a chat, I choose from different options; a Twitter Chat Menu of sorts.

  • I share: book titles in #titletalk, activities I've done in #5thchat, ways I've pirated my classroom in #tlap, resources in ##2ndaryela, #5thchat, #6thchat, funny thoughts about that night's topic in #weirded 

  • I discuss: pedagogy in #nbtchat and #whatisschool, strategies for teaching speaking & listening in #5thchat, teaching English in #2ndaryELA, #nctechat, #bproots, and #aplitchat, leadership qualities in #satchat, #satchatwc and #mnlead

  • I learn: ways to implement book ideas in #tlap, #ditchbook, #learnlap, writing strategies in #teachwriting, information about many relevant topics in #5thchat, #6thchat and now #2ndaryela

  • I stretch: myself to apply best practice and fresh ideas to my content, like in #6thchat tonight, often in #sstlap, I expand my thinking of education on a global scale with #whatisschool

Sometimes I know what I will choose from the Twitter Chat Menu, making a decision based on my current tastes and dietary needs. Other times, I don't know what I will choose until I get there. Speaking of that, I'll admit that I wasn't sure gamification would work in my ELA classroom until I was in the chat. Thinking I would just lurk and learn, I found myself sampling more and more from the Stretch part of the menu.

When choosing Twitter chats, I think it's important to visit all parts of the menu. Sometimes I share my experience and ideas, while other times I am in the mood for a deep discussion, like in the past 6 weeks (and continuing tonight) of #ditchbook. I feel that I always sample learning in whatever chat I join, but need to select the stretch portion more often.

On my menu tonight:
Discussing and Sharing in tonight's #LitLead at 8 CST, focused on differentiatng instruction
Stretching in tonight's #sstlap, also at 8 CST, applying ideas in video clips for use in our classrooms
Discussing and Stretching in tonight's #ditchbook at 9 CST, focusing on Matt Miller's "The Digital Pirate"

What's on your Twitter Chat Menu?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Put Yourself Out There!

How is my recent experience hosting a six-week #ditchbook (Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller) Twitter book study chat connected to a Kelly Gallagher writing workshop?

Let's check out the six degrees of separation that fell into place when I put myself out there.

1- I attended a 3-day Kelly Gallagher writing conference in Eau Claire, WI.  Kelly Gallagher encouraged me (and the other attendees) to join Twitter. Of course, I did.

2- I started lurking in Twitter chats, until I joined one (#tlap), and was welcomed by the author of Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess @burgessdave. This chat became a part of my Monday night routine and I met many wonderful pirate educators, including Heidi Jones @MrsJones_Merton (a fabulous 5th grade teacher from WI).

3- From the educators in #tlap, I found out about the Thursday #sstlap (Teach Like a Pirate for Social Studies teachers), and began participating in that chat. I met more pirate teachers, including host Ben Brazeau @Braz74 and rock star SS teachers like Chuck Taft @Chucktaft.

4- This spring, Chuck Taft shared information about an incredible new edcamp/unconference opportunity called Summer Spark @USMSpark, held at the University School of Milwaukee (where Chuck Taft teaches). Not only was Dave Burgess the keynote speaker, but I volunteered to present about teaching speaking and listening, and Chuck approved my session. If that wasn't incredible enough, I asked Heidi Jones (who lives close to USM) to stay at her house and go together. She said yes, and plans were made.

5- Heidi and I attended Summer Spark in June. Among many other phenomenal members of my Twitter PLN, I met Dave Burgess, Chuck Taft, and teacher Matt Miller @jmattmiller (author of Ditch That Textbook) face to face. That first night of the conference, Heidi and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Dave Burgess and Matt Miller (with a few other fabulous educators), after which we live tweeted that night's #tlap chat. I had just bought Matt's book and he and I had some great conversation between tweets.

6- Once I returned home and read the book, I asked Matt if anyone was planning a #ditchbook book study or chat. My good friend (and health/PE teacher) Jenny Wamsley @JennyWamsley had contacted Matt about starting a #ditchbook Voxer group. Matt was on board for both, so we made plans and started the chat on July 2nd.

As Heidi would say, "Awesomesauce!" 

There is my six degrees of separation connection between Kelly Gallagher and Matt Miller.

I put myself out there. 
I tried new things. 
I took advantage of opportunities. 
I connected with other educators.  

When I think about all the awesome experiences I've had over the past few years, their roots can all be traced back to putting myself out there and connecting with educators via Twitter or Voxer.

My former colleague Laura Wagenman just started putting herself out there. She became more active on Twitter, presented her awesome math strategies at a summer teacher workshop, and recently started blogging. I'd encourage you to follow her journey @laura_wagenman  http://believeinthegood1.blogspot.com/?m=1 

I am excited for the year ahead and all of the amazing opportunities for me and for my students.
Many will be the subjects of future blog posts. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about all of the incredible educators, authors, leaders and friends in my PLN. 

Who knows who/what you're six degrees away from? 

Amazing things can happen when you put yourself out there. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I'm a Bookaholic

My name is Sandy, and I'm a bookaholic. 

I love opening up the first page of a new book and discovering the creative way this author will draw me in to their story. I relish being in the middle of a book: far enough in to be completely lost in the characters and their dilemmas, yet quite a distance from the end that I know anything can still happen. Then, there are the final few chapters, when I simultaneously drag my feet (not wanting it to be over) and speed read to discover the plot's resolution. 

I enjoy watching my bookmark make its way through the pages of a mammoth novel, traveling through the story's highs and lows with beloved and despised characters. Yet, I stick a shorter one in there from time to time so I can devour it in one sitting. My favorite genre is science fiction, but I love an emotional YA realistic fiction filled with drama and teenage angst. Granted, there was plenty of teenage angst and drama in most of the science fiction I've read this summer. 

I brought home a box of about 50 books from my classroom library to read over the summer. Books that I bought during the year that I haven't yet had a chance to read. Books that students raved about and were never on my library shelves. Books outside my preferred genre that I decided deserved a chance. Books I want to read so I can book talk them to my new students (channeling Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne). 

I'm such a book junkie, however, that I've hardly touched that box. Instead, I've engaged in my summer addiction at the public library. My heart races every time I head to the YA section to see which new titles are available. I'll spend time reading the book flaps to see which stories I want to dive into. I'll scan the shelves for books the librarian stood with covers facing out to entice us readers. I do the same in my classroom, so I know they are books worth checking out. I'll seek out authors I've read and loved since they're also solid choices. Then, there are the titles suggested via tweets or blog posts by respected book junkies like myself. Chats like #titletalk increase the likelihood of another huge stack at the public library checkout counter. I've read over 30 books this summer that I didn't even know existed at the end of last school year. I'm so glad I did, but that original box of 50 is still waiting.

Today, I am driving ten hours home from a wonderful visit with family. After finishing a book, I Am Shadow, last night, I had a slight case of withdrawals when I started driving this morning. I have no current book. No first pages read and no characters that I'm getting to know. No plot that's thickening. No twists or a-ha moments. No bookmark in any book. No worries since I have many books to choose from while my son takes over driving for a few hours. (I brought a large book bag full.) 

I'm excited as I consider which book to sink my teeth into next. I know there's another engaging plot and interesting characters to discover, all contained in its pages. Maybe it will be one of my favorites: science fiction or realistic fiction. Maybe that exciting new fantasy everyone's talking about. Maybe one of the books I brought home back in June. 

I love all of these feelings, and I want classes full of bookaholics next year. Students who enjoy reading for pleasure. Students who have and rely on either physical or online book stacks. Students who move their bookmarks as fast or slow as their lives allow. Students who have a favorite genre, but give other books a chance when a peer (or teacher) recommends them. Students who are addicted to reading and might even experience similar "I'm in between books" withdrawal. Students who don't need an incentive or reading log for motivation. 

If I do my job well, I'll create or stimulate students' book additions. When that happens, consider my ELA class one big self-help group.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Who I Read For

Every summer, I read lots of books. I mean lots! Yes, I read for pleasure because I truly love reading. However, I also read for my students. Students I haven't met. Lives I know nothing about. Struggles I have yet to hear. Joys I have yet to share. Children whose lives will soon become intertwined with mine. Names, faces, and hearts that will become part of my world. So, yes, I read books in the hope that I can find titles and stories that my students need. Books that I can put in their hands at just the right time. So far this summer, here's who I read for.

I read We All Looked Up for students who need to appreciate the little moments in life. Those who enjoy stories of the "what ifs" of catastrophic events. Those who have read books like Life as We Know it

I read Shooter for students who may have questions about gun control laws or who struggle with feelings of isolation. Those who like books written in a different format. Those who liked Nineteen Minutes.

I read Memory Key for fans of science fiction. Those who find government control of people's minds creepy, yet alluring. Fans of Bar Code Tattoo and Unwind.

I read Make Lemonade for students who like down-on-your-luck stories with a plucky main character. Those who need an "I can overcome obstacles" tale, especially one with a female lead.

I read Between the Lines for students who like Jodi Picoult books with teen main characters, like My Sister's Keeper and The Pact. Those who are interested in the idea of characters from a book interacting (and falling in love) with their readers. Those who are intrigued by the idea that book characters lead a different life when the book is shut. (The companion book, Off the Page, is on my book stack. I'm sure my students and I will enjoy it as well.)

I read Ignite Me and Unravel Me for students who read and loved the first book in the trilogy, Shatter Me. Those who wonder what it would be like to never be able to touch anyone, for fear of killing them. Those who fear the idea of the wrong people harnessing that power for evil.

I read This World We Live In, The Dead and the Gone, and The Shade of the Moon for students who loved Life as We Knew It. Those who want to hear other perspectives of a world where a meteor pushes the moon off its axis, causing havoc. Those who need other points of view to help make sense of a tragedy.

I read Blood Wounds for students who like Susan Beth Pfeffer and realistic fiction stories with characters who are either hunted or on the run. Also, for those who like a back story that the main character didn't see coming.

I read Blood Will Tell for students who (like me) love April Henry "Point Last Seen" mysteries. Those who would like to put themselves in the shoes of a teenage search and rescue team, and who love trying to solve the crime before the main character does. Those who think adults don't give kids enough credit.

I read Claim to Fame and House on the Gulf for fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix books (like Game Changer, Double Identity, Turnabout and Full Ride). Those who liked the Among the Hidden and The Missing series and who sometimes want a little science fiction mixed in with their realistic fiction. Those who want science fiction books with female main characters and not much romance or violence.

I read The Bunker Diary for students who like a good kidnapping/adventure story. Those who revel in ambiguity: who are ok with all the loose ends not necessarily being tied up. Those who like to analyze a criminal's motives.

I read What Waits in the Woods for students who like to get a little scared when they read. Those who think hiking in the woods with the feeling like someone is watching you is exciting and terrifying. Those who like scary movies.

I read The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley for students who like to root for the misunderstood or isolated kids. Those who may have trouble fitting in, or those who like family and relationship drama.

I read Bruiser for fans of Neal Shusterman (like me). For those who like science fiction with the emotional pull of realistic fiction. Those who appreciate a loner they will care deeply about within the first few pages. Those who love a good story of friendship.

I read Grasshopper Jungle for students who like gory science fiction-the more unrealistic, the better. Those who like a story written the way teenagers think, like Winger. Relatable, raw and real. (Excited to read and introduce students to Andrew Smith's new book Stand-Off, due out in September.)

I read Boys Don't Knit (in Public) for students who feel they need to keep their hobbies and interests secret for fear of ridicule. Those who are intrigued by the title and maybe even those who want to learn the ins and outs of the knitting world.

I read Challenger Deep for students who are ready for a fabulous ride through the mind of someone with mental illness. Those who love Neal Shusterman's writing and wonder how he can blend an adventure tale on the high seas a la Pirates of the Caribbean with teenage life in a mental hospital.

I read Lost in the Sun for students who feel for characters who can't catch a break. Those who relate to small incidents that seem to magnify in the middle school setting. Those who loved Fish in a Tree and Absolutely Almost.

I read 13 Story Treehouse for students who like series books. Those who appreciate lots of pictures in their chapter books. Those who like wild stories and creativity. Fans of Timmy Failure, My Life as a _____, and The Creature From My Closet books.

I read None of the Above for students who feel disconnected with their gender, for whatever reason. Those who are misunderstood, or those who need to understand others' differences. Those who love a great story of friendship and acceptance.

I read Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You for students as intrigued as I was about a story told only in lists. Those who have a gay parent, friend or family member. Those who struggle with who they are supposed to be. Those who like stories with characters on a journey of self-discovery.

I read Call Me By My Name for students who seek to understand a time when the color of one's  skin directly affected friendships and opportunities. Those who need to read about characters who are brave in the face of hatred. Fans of The Lions of Little Rock. Those who like a good football glory story.

I read Vanishing Girls for students who are fans of Lauren Oliver books like Panic, Before I Fall, and the Delirium trilogy. Those who like a great teenage rebellion drama. Those who like mysterious circumstances and twists. (I can't wait to introduce students to her new MG book, Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, out in September)

I read Be Not Afraid for students who like horror movies. Fans of supernatural and creepy stories. Those who can handle being scared out of their wits.

I read Awkward for students who love graphic novels. Those who worry about fitting into middle school and wonder if they would be upstanders or bystanders. Those who liked Drama, Sisters, Smile and Roller Girl.

I read A Handful of Stars for students who like a good dog story. Those who enjoy stories of unlikely friendships and characters who challenge norms and expectations. those who liked Because of Winn Dixie.

I read Pivot Point for students who have a tough time making decisions and would jump at the opportunity to search into the futures of both choices. Those who wonder what would happen if we could harness more of our brain's potential. (I am excited to recommend the sequel, Split Second, out earlier this year.)

I read Cut for students who struggle with self-injury. Those who are trying to understand a peer who cuts to escape the pain. Those who want to root for a character to find a way to deal with her mental illness.

I read By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead for any student either contemplating suicide or with symptoms of depression. Those who have been bullied and need to read about a character like themselves. Or those who seek to understand what goes on inside the heads of teens who think death is the only option. Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why would like this story.

I read Circus Mirandus for students who love magic, the circus, mean old aunts, and wonderfully mysterious old grandfathers. Those who enjoy unlikely friendships and fantastical journeys. Those who hope for a happy ending right up until the last page. Those who loved The Real Boy.

I read Extraordinary Means for students who are intrigued by the possibility of previously eradicated plagues resurfacing. Those who wonder what they would do if infected with tuberculosis. Those who loved John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
I read Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (graphic novel) for students who are not ready for the novels, but need a gateway. Those who like Greek mythology and/or other graphic novels.

Currently, I am reading I Become Shadow for students who love science fiction. Those who think the idea of people trained to be human weapons, protecting valuable citizens of the future, sounds right up their alley. Fans of Hunger Games and Divergent.

Next, I will read Tesla's Attic for students who love Neal Shusterman's books. (I guess I read a few books for these students. Yes, I am a Neal Shusterman fan.) Those who like the idea of a strange magnetic vortex in the attic, which causes objects to have extraordinary properties. Those interested in Nikola Tesla and a book with scientific details as explanations for wild occurrences.

I read for myself and my students. I'll keep reading on their behalf.

Maybe my next book will be the perfect one to recommend to a student who just hasn't found the right book. YET.