December 2014 - Room 213

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We're Half Way There!

It's hard to believe, but we are rounding the halfway point of our school year.  It's a new year and a great time to stock up on lessons from some amazing secondary sellers.  On December 31st and January 1st, most stores below are offering a 20% discount, including me.  Get your wish lists ready!


I'm crossing back to the other side

No, I haven't seen any white lights; it's not that dramatic.  But it is an important moment, nonetheless.  I decided today that I will go back to an old love, one that I didn't realize I missed so much until I found myself at Indigo, surrounded by stacks and stacks of books. And, before you get any other ideas, I did not lock eyes with an old beau; I just suddenly realized how much I missed holding a book in my hands.

Yes, I'm giving up the e-reader.  No more Kobo or iPad reading for me.  I want that delicious feeling of cracking open a new read and feeling those crisp pages in my hands as I turn them.  I want to feel that weight in my hands. I want to be able to see that I'm half-way or three-quarters through my book so I can pace myself to the end.  If it's a good read, I don't want it over too soon.  Too many times, while swiping my screen, hoping to have another chapter appear before me, I have felt bitter disappointment.

I started using a Kobo two summers ago.  We were off to the cottage and I wanted the ease of being able to download a new book without having to wait until the next time we went into the city (the meagre selection in the town near our cottage was never enough to sustain me).  I also liked that the e-readers are better for the environment; the thought of fewer books on the shelf seemed like a good thing.

I wanted to like my reading on a screen.  I really did.  And for the last two years, I have committed to reading on the Kobo or my iPad.  However, I found that I was reading less. I blamed it on work, on creating for TpT, on the myriad other distractions in my connected life.  The Kobo just became one of the many things on my bookcase that gathered dust.  It was not like me to not have two or three books on the go.  And I missed it. Deeply.

So, today, at the bookstore, I made a decision.  I'm going back.  I want to line my shelves with books and have several taking up space on the coffee table, on top of the iPad, not below.  Tonight, these three have that illustrious spot, stacked there, beckoning like old friends.  I'm off to crack a spine...

What are your thoughts?  Do any of you love your e-reader?

Doodling Your Way to Understanding

Recently, I saw this image on Pinterest and I was immediately drawn to it, probably because I'm a doodler myself.  It led me to watch this TEDtalk by Sunni Brown: Doodlers, Unite!   During her talk, she presents some pretty solid points about why doodling helps us to think. My favourite quote is this one: We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but in reality, it is a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus.  Additionally, it has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing.  Well.

I kept looking and found, A Field Guide to TED Graphic Notes, by Becky Chung. She states that graphic note-taking requires the doodler to not only actively listen to the information presented, but also to synthesize it and then create personal meaning--sounds like a pretty amazing critical thinking exercise, doesn't it?

All of this makes me think of Jarrod, a kid I had in a grade twelve class about ten years ago.  He would sit at the front of the room and doodle, making amazing intricate cartoons of everything I said.  He was amazingly talented and I would tell him so every day.  But I never gave him any credit for it.  In fact, he barely passed the course, because he didn't pass many assignments in.

When I was teaching Jarrod, I was putting so much of my focus on only one of the strands of our ELA curriculum: writing.  I used reading and viewing as my "source" but would always assess my students through their writing. Yes, I gave a nod to representing at the end of a unit, allowing students to do a project as an "add on", never to really represent their learning.

Thankfully, times --and I-- have changed, and we are giving more weight to all three strands of the curriculum (reading/viewing, writing/representing and speaking/listening).  Doodling. as pointed out by Sunni Brown in her TEDtalk, hits every one of those quite nicely.  Imagine if I had given Jarrod credit for all of those lovely doodles that were proof he was listening, focused, engaged and learning? He would have gotten a better grade on his report card, but he would also have felt better about himself because I would have acknowledge his learning in a way that I didn't through tests and writing assignments.  So sorry, Jarrod.

Use doodling and graphics to help understand student texts
One of my new year plans is to explore this whole idea of graphic note-taking with my students.  I've done a little bit with my Macbeth posters, but I want to explore it further.  Stay tuned for updates!

What do you think?  How do you reach your visual and tactile learners? What creative ways do you use to assess learning?  I'd love to hear from you!


Thanks for the Liebster Award!

I am excited to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by both Literary Sherri and Brynn Allison from The Literary Maven.  Thank you for the recognition, ladies and fellow bloggers!

The Liebster Award is awarded to bloggers by other bloggers as a way of both recognizing and welcoming them as they begin their blogging journey.  It is an award that “pays it forward” and helps new bloggers realize that there is someone out there, someone who is reading! So, if you are out there and reading, here are the answers to my eleven Liebster Award questions:

Why and how long ago did you start blogging? I started my first blog to use as a class website for my students. It began as an information source only but morphed into a place where students “meet” to discuss class work.  When I started selling on TpT last year, I began a wordpress blog to reach out to teachers.  Recently I switched over here to use blogger.

What is one word that sums up the heart of my blog?  Relevancy.  I want my students to see the relevancy of what they are doing—otherwise, I don’t get much buy in.  If they see a connection to their lives in the work we do, they are much more likely to engage.  So,  I like to use my blog to offer teachers ideas about how they can do that too.

    Is there something  you learned late in your blog journey that you wished you knew before?  Yes.  I started with wordpress and realized there were a couple of things I couldn’t do with it, like joining a linky with other teachers.  So just recently I switched to blogger.  Right now my blog has a bit of a split personality as I’m posting in both to try to reach my old followers.  Right now I'm trying to figure out the best way to incorporate some of my favourite posts from the old blog into the new one.  Any suggestions?

What is my favourite pastime other than blogging? Making products for TpT!  I love the creative process and I had been ignoring that all-important part of myself for so long.  When I discovered TpT, I knew I had found the perfect outlet.  It never feels like work!

How many hours a week do you dedicate to your blog?  Hmmmm…probably one.  It is something that I want to develop further, though, so I’m going to have to start dedicating more time to it.

What category of blog posts do you like the most? I love knowing that what I am doing is helping someone else, so any post that saves another teacher time is a good one.

Where does your blog inspiration come from?  That one’s easy: my students!  They are always a source of inspiration. If an idea or lesson works with them, I want to share it so other teachers can try it too.

Which of your posts are you most proud of?  My favourite post, and the one that has gotten the most views, is about the unit I call, tongue-in-cheek, my Disney is the Devil unit.  It is one that challenges the students and gets them thinking--I love it!  You can find it at my old blog, HERE.  

Is there any post you've been planning to do, but you've been postponing? Not really. My head is always swimming with ideas, but once I settle on one, I'm pretty good to sit down and write about it.  I do, however, want to think more about the blog and how I want it to evolve.

What is my favourite aspect of blogging? I love knowing that I might be helping a teacher save some time in his/her busy life.  I also like being able to connect and share with other bloggers.  I'm having a lot of fun with it and look forward to seeing where it takes me.

Which idea from my nominators' blogs would I like to try? Brynn, from The Literary Maven, posted this lesson on her blog: 
I love this idea!  Colour is such a big part of our lives, and whether they've consciously thought about it or not, students will have associations with certain colours.  It's a great creative exercise that gets them thinking.

Literary Sherri  wrote a post about using cups to signal understanding--it's an excellent tool for the formative assessment toolkit!

And my nominees for the Leibster are:

Tammy Manor from Juggling ELA
Shey from The Classroom Sparrow
Mary  Beth from Brainwaves Instruction
Michelle from Mrs. Brosseau's Binder
Sara from Secondary Sara
Mrs E from Mrs E Teaches Math

If you’d like to accept the coveted Liebster Award, here are the “official rules” . . . 
1. Follow the blogger who nominated you and give her (or him) a shout-out with a link back to his or her post in your own Liebster post.
2. Answer the 11 questions above.
3. Nominate 11 blogs of your choice that each have fewer than 200 followers.
4. Let your nominees know that they've been nominated and provide them with a link to your post so that they can accept.
5. Send your nominator a link to your post so that (s)he can learn more about you as well! (You can just put your post link in the comments below!)

Thanks for taking the time to read about me and my blogging journey!

Giving Back

During the holiday season, we can get so caught up in materialism; wish lists and wants preoccupy our minds, whether it be our own or the fulfillment of others'.  It is so important, then, to take a step back and think about the real reason for the season.  To that end, I am joining with some amazing TpT sellers to give all of my profits from sales on Sunday to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a service group at my church that helps those in the community who are living below the poverty line.

I have also created some freebies that teachers can use in their classrooms next week.  The week before vacation is always a difficult one--minds are elsewhere, students are excited, curriculum must still be covered.  Inspired by the wonderful clipart of Krista Walden, Teaching in the Tongass and The 3 am Teacher, I am paying it forward by doing my small part in helping teachers get through the next week.  You can download some free activities HERE.

Happy holidays!

Check out these TpT sellers who are also giving back:


Secondary Smorgasbord: The Tradition of Christmas Giving

I'm excited to be linking up with some amazing bloggers as they share their Christmas traditions. Many thanks to  ELA Buffet's blog and Desktop Learning Adventures.

Several years ago, our Student Services team decided they'd like to host a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for all those students who don't get to have one.  However, they didn't want to have it just for those kids.  No one wants to be singled out for a dinner, no matter how yummy, because his/her family can't afford to buy a turkey.  So, we decided to open it up for the whole school.  And thus began one of the most loved traditions at our school.

On the day of the Christmas dinner, many of our 950 students walk away from the Learning Center with a plate that looks like this.  But this plate of deliciousness, which usually gets inhaled in less than five minutes, is the end result of weeks of planning and a huge, well-oiled machine of volunteers.

The planning begins weeks before the dinner, with the organization committee putting out calls for donations.  Our staff supplies around twenty turkeys, many, many pounds of potatoes, carrots, sweet potato and corn.  Then there is the dressing and the chicken stock and the butter and the desserts and get the picture.  We bring in one huge pile of food.

In the days leading up the the dinner the frenzy begins as committee members run around like crazy, making sure all of the donations are ready to go.  A huge crew of volunteers arrive very early the morning of the dinner and spend hours peeling and chopping veggies, making dressing and gravy. It's almost impossible to teach that morning with the amazing smells drifting through the halls.  And, at lunch time, the hallway leading into the Learning Center is teaming with people, as the line up snakes out the door, down the hall past the cafeteria and into the foyer for the gym.

Miraculously, every one gets a plate--and back to class on time.  Meanwhile, another team of volunteers is on clean up duty, while all around them, happy, satiated students and teachers go about the business of learning (wishing for a nap).  It's a big day at our school.  The power of teamwork is evident; smiling faces are everywhere.  Students who never get a dinner like this get to experience not only the food, but the joy that goes along with coming together with your friends to enjoy good food and good company. Good times.

In my classroom, I like to get my students to focus on giving, rather than just their wishlists, during the holiday season.  Some years it's just a can to collect change so we can donate to World Vision.  If time allows, I have them do a real-life research assignment where they research the service organizations in our city, and then find a way to help them.  It's an awesome activity to get students thinking about giving back--and working on some important ELA skills! You can find the assignment HERE. 

Visit the following Secondary Smorgasbord blogs to get a little taste of our most treasured traditions:
An InLinkz Link-up

Today in Room 213

Sadly, I'm getting close to the end of Macbeth.  We are tackling Act V today, beginning with Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene.  It's a fun scene to do, plus it's a good chance to see how much the kids know and remember, because she references so many things from earlier in the play as she spills her guilty guts.  Before we begin to listen to the scene (I have a CD), I tell them to take note of any quotes/ideas from earlier in the play.  I usually have some candy for the person who finds the most as an added incentive.

I made a slide show to guide the discussion we will have after we listen and thought I'd share. You can find it HEREEnjoy!

All new followers during the month of December will be entered into a draw for a $25 gift certificate to my TpT store.

Teaching Macbeth?  Check out my Macbeth products on TpT.


Getting Nerdy with Mel & Gerdy

Good Saturday morning.  I'm excited to be linking up with Mel and Gerdy's new and nerdy link up, Nerd Libs, a fun way to get to know some bloggers.  Here's mine:
Oh, how I wish I'd wake up to the sound of an alarm clock.  What might be the worst sound in the world to you lucky folks who can sleep would be the sweetest sound to me.  You see, I've been suffering from insomnia for about a year and a half. I have no problem falling asleep, but I sure can't stay that way.  I'm well acquainted with the wee hours of the morning.  Checking the Ipad, I know, is that last thing I should do, but curiosity gets the best of me.  I know I need to use it to turn on my Oprah meditations to see if I can go back to sleep.  Next time...

When it is time to get ready for the day, I reach for one of my many cozy sweaters and head to the kitchen for my favourite part of the day--that first drink of strong, black java.  God, I love my coffee.  I only have two steaming cups a day, and I cherish them. Once I get my caffeine kick, I jump in the flying beetle, my lime green Volkswagen and head to school.  I love my bug.  I never thought I'd love a car, but I love this one.  My husband gave it to me for Christmas two years ago.  Best. Gift. Ever.  (Not as amazing as it sounds though--we were getting a new car anyway, we share the same bank account.  But it was a great thought that counted!)

Every morning at school, I'm greeted first thing by two of my favourite colleagues, Lon and Aivars. They're early birds like me, and they are always good for a laugh (or advice) before I head to my classroom. Once there, I hook up my laptop to six different cords so it can perform all of its duties for the day.  Every time I look at it, I think the poor thing is in the ICU.  But once it's hooked up, we are both ready to start the day!

~I have recently switched my blog from wordpress to blogger.  I'm hoping my old followers make the switch with me, and as a little incentive, I'm having a draw for a $25 gift certificate to my store for all who join me here during the month of December.  Just click the bloglovin' button up above.  Thanks!

Get More Engagement with a No-Hands Policy

One would think that the sight of many hands waving in the air would be a teacher's dream.  It would mean that students were engaged and eager to participate in class discussions.  And it does for those students who belong to the hands.  Unfortunately, in most classes, a number of students are happy to participate--and an equal or greater number are happy to sit back and let those students do their thinking for them.  In fact, they know they can just tune out, go to their happy place, and let the discussion carry on with out them. If you adopt a no-hands policy, you can ensure that every student is paying attention and, more importantly, thinking.

One way to do this is with the random word generator option on Smart.  You just need to input the names of your students and it will randomly select a student to provide an answer.

Another method is to write the names of your students on Popsicle sticks.  Put them in a jar and choose a stick each time you ask a question.  Make sure you put the stick back in, so students don't think they're "off the hook" once their names have been drawn.

Just randomly selecting participants will not ensure engagement, however.  There are other techniques you can use to help students feel safe to answer.  Be very careful of how you respond to answers.  Do you use an excited tone to say "that's right!" or "Yes! Good point!"?  And then, if the answer is incorrect, do you respond with a very different tone?  Most of us do, whether we are aware of it or not.  When we celebrate the right answer and downgrade the wrong one, we don't create an environment that encourages risk taking and that says failure is ok--as long as you learn from it!

You can also further the discussion with the Popsicle sticks by asking multiple students to answer.  Leave each stick out until you get a variety of answers, and then ask those who responded to debate which answer is the best.  By involving only those who answered, the students will not feel "judged" by the rest of the class.

This method is not foolproof; no method ever is.  You will still have shy students who cringe at the thought of being called upon to answer.  But, when the whole class knows that their names may be selected, there tends to be less pressure.  You can also allow students to "pass" while encouraging them to participate at a later time.

If you'd like more speaking and listening activities, check this out.


2014 Holiday Blog Hop

This Christmas is going to be extra special.  Four months ago, we put our daughter on a plane for Toronto, where she has been going to university.  I haven't seen her since then, so one of the most important things on my holiday bucket list is to spend lots of time with her.  I know that she'll have plans with her friends, but I'll take as much as I can!  I also have to bring out those vegetarian recipes again.  I used to think it was a pain to have to cook two meals, but now I can't wait!
Christmas Eve is my favourite part of the holiday.  My siblings and their families will gather at my parents and we spend the afternoon and early evening together, eating bacon-wrapped scallops and my father's famous seafood chowder.  Then, we will go to mass and come home where my children will open one present.  It's always new jammies, and they always act so surprised!

The best gift is always one that shows that you have thought about the recipient.  What does s/he really like?  What would they love to have but never think to get for themselves?  I'm going to put together a basket of treasures for my daughter to take back to school.  A couple of good books, warm socks, some packets of David's tea, chocolate covered almonds, an iTunes gift card, etc.  She doesn't have a lot of extra money to spend on herself while she's at school, so I want her to have some treats that will give her some comfort.

The Christmas season is so focused on materialistic pursuits, so during that time, I like to have my students focus on giving and helping others.  This real-life research project has them finding out about the service organizations in their community and finding ways to help them.  The project incorporates many important ELA skills and students will be researching, writing, speaking and listening, all while they learn about the joy of serving others in thier community.

The last few days before the holiday can be difficult--no one's mind is on school, yet you have to keep teaching.  It's tempting to watch Elf or Home Alone, but why not plan something fun that will keep the students learning and working?  This freebie gives you ideas that help you turn your classroom into a coffee house as well as some to inspire your students to write some poetry.


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