February 2015 - Room 213

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February Friday Flashback

Happy Friday! I'm linking up with Julie, of Faulkner's Fast Five, for her new series Friday Flashback to reflect back on this crazy, snowy month.

1. I can't think about or write about February without using that nasty four letter word that has been haunting so many of us this year.  Snow has covered my world and made this month almost a write off with my students.  The new semester was suppossed to start on the second, but it was delayed by three days, and since then it's been a blur of cancellations and a massive amount of shovelling.  Now, I'm a Canadian.  I know snow.  And we always get snow days.  But this has been unprecedented in my twenty year career.  However, as always, there isn't much we can do about it, so we have to adapt and find ways to roll with it.  And, you know what?  It is kind of pretty around here.  Check out the fox who used the huge banks as an opportunity to look in my living room window!

2.  The weather forced us to get really creative as far as finding ways to keep things rolling with classes that we were just getting to know.  The first of semester is an important time for establishing routines and expectations, yet our only routine was that school was getting cancelled!  Luckily, I have a class website, so I could give my students work every day (boy, were they impressed...).  One of the days that we were actually in school this week, I offered to teach a group of teachers how to use Google Drive, so they could keep their students on track too.  I blogged about using it earlier this month, so if you'd like more info for your own snowy days, check it out here.

3. Early in the month, my husband and I got a lovely surprise in the mailbox.   Our daughter, who is away at university, sent us a four page, hand-written letter!  I don't think I've gotten a letter like that since I was in university.  We were touched at such a thoughtful gesture on her part.  We're used to one line texts, and an occasional FaceTime session, so it meant a lot that she would take the time to sit down and actually pen a letter (with soooo much information).  It was such a gift. 

4. A big project has begun at our school.  We are trying to light a match under our charges and teach them to be a little more gritty.  We are finding that they give up way too easily and are ok with passing in work that is just not good enough.  Just not their best.  So we are launching a campaign that promotes grit and resiliency.  This starts, of course, with teachers.  If we accept work that is not complete, with blank answers and underdeveloped paragraphs, then we are part of the problem.  So, the hope is that if we all work together and make hard work a priority, then everyone will win.  As part of out "campaign" we are using posters and anchor charts to remind students to do their best.

5.  Finally, on one of those days that I had with my lovely new students, we started to assemble their reader's notebooks.  I've never used them quite like this before and am so excited about the possibilities.  I don't have time for all of the cutting and pasting of many of the interactive notebooks out there, but I did want to help them create something that would be personal, fun and easy to use.  Most importantly, I wanted them to be a place that they could independently reflect on the texts they are reading.  I don't do "chapter questions" and work hard to get them to analyze the works on their own, without me telling them what to look for.  I can't wait to get more time with my class so we can really dig into these.

So, happy March to all of you!  May you have a lot of sun shining through those snowy tunnels.  The tulips and daffodils will be here soon.  Hang on.


Getting Gritty

Many of my students have a problem. They give up way too easily.  Too often they pass in work that is half finished or done at the last minute.  I know they can do better.  And I need to do better at teaching them how.

I truly believe that one of the biggest obstacles that keeps them from trying their best is a fear of failure.  And that's partly our fault.  Failure is usually a big old F-word in school; yet we all know the importance of failure in the learning process.

So, I'm on a mission to turn that around in my classroom.  I want my students to take risks so that they are able to grow. One of the best ways to do that is to use formative assessment, and give them ample opportunities to practice and learn before the assessment "counts".  I find that once the fear of being "marked" is gone, students will loosen up and try things they wouldn't usually try.

The next part of my mission is to actually spend time teaching them about goal setting.  I blab on and on about it all the time, but I've never really taught them how to do it.  Next week we are going to learn about SMART goals and then they will set some for themselves.  I want them to think about areas they'd like to improve and then set a realistic action plan that they can work toward.

Feel free to use the jpegs here to make a poster for your own classroom.  They are both part of my latest product, Teaching Grit.  If you would like to be entered for a chance to win it, share some of your successes with teaching students to be more resilient.

Leave your ideas in the comments and a winner will be announced March 1st!


February Funnies from the Secondary Smorgasbord

I'm linking up with the gals from Desktop Learning Adventures and The ELA Buffet to share some funny stories from our classrooms.

Having taught high school for twenty years or so, there have been many funny moments, but one of the funniest happened just after Christmas break this year.

I had a twelfth grade student named Donald. You know Donald.  He's a hockey jock.  He wears the ever-present ball cap on top of his lovely mullet.  He never has his work done, but he always has a smart answer.  Despite this, he's loveable and fun to have around.

The first day after break he appeared with his arm in a sling.  He had arrived late, as usual, and when I asked him what happened, he announced to the class, "I had to have surgery on my labia."

"Um, are you sure? " I asked, trying my best not to burst out laughing.

"Yeah, Mrs. C., I did.  I tore my labia playing hockey."

I'm not sure who was suppressing the laughter more, me or the two girls beside me. "Donald, honey," I said.  "Unless there's something you've been hiding from us, I don't think you tore your labia."

He looked at me like I'm crazy, and I told him to get out his phone, and look up labia.  He did.  He snorted with glee and exclaimed, "Right again, Mrs. C!"   As he swaggered back to his desk, many of the boys were also looking up the term, while the girls collapsed in a fit of giggles.

In the end, we found out that Donald had torn his labrum, and the whole class had gotten an anatomy lesson in English class.


Feeling the Love with Reader's Notebooks

This semester, I've decided to approach my novel studies differently, whether it be for independent reading or for full class novels.  I've always loved the idea of interactive notebooks.  I love to cut and paste and doodle and create. And I know many of my students do too.  But I also know the reality of my job -- the clock keeps ticking and the calendar pages keep turning as we hurtle toward June with oh-so-many outcomes to cover.  (I believe this stands in the way of real learning, but that's another story for another time).  This reality keeps me from fully embracing interactive notebooks, because we just don't have time.

So, I have come up with an notebook that will allow my students to be reflective, analytical and independent.  It is one that they can personalize and make their own.  And it is also one that requires cutting and pasting for the initial set up only.  After that, the students will have a place to record their responses, questions and analysis as they read. They can use the notebooks for reference during discussions, Socratic seminars and assessments.

The first step -- and the most fun one -- is to get the students to create their covers and tabs.  I will print off a title page for them, or they can get creative and make their own.  You can click on any of these images to see my instructions for making the covers, wrapping them in packing tape for added protection, and creating tabs to keep everything all organized.

The next step is adhering the pages inside the journal.  I will give the students a list that explains the order I want the pages to appear, as well as where to affix their tabs.  I will ask them to leave a few blank pages between each section, as some of them will need more space.

The pages inside the journal will provide them with a space to question, respond and analyze as they work their way through their texts.  I don't do chapter questions; instead, I want students to discover important ideas on their own--with guidance of course!  The notebooks will be important tools for them to use as they learn how to make meaning of the texts they read.

Next week my pre-IB students will put together their first one for independent reading, and later they will make one for A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird.  I'm excited about the possibilities.  Most of all I'm excited about that high I mention, the one I get when I try something new.

You can check out my Reader's Notebooks here:

Notebook for Any Text
To Kill a Mockingbird
A Separate Peace


Technology Love

So we had a lot of snow days last week. Three, in fact.  It was a lot of snow to shovel and a lot of school to miss.  The second semester had just begun, and we only got one day in before old Mother Nature interfered.  It wasn't such a big deal for my new classes, but my IB class goes all year, at a furious pace, and three days was a lot to miss.

That's where technology love comes in. This class is well versed with Google Drive, as it's a tool we have used many times.   During the storm, it became the vehicle we used for the discussion we would have had in class.

On the day before the storm, I had introduced Macbeth to the class and assigned the first three scenes to read.  We were to discuss them the next day, but alas, that was not meant to be.  Instead of letting them rest and relax (I'm so mean) I made up three Google docs--Macbeth's character, Banquo's character and Significance of the Scenes--and emailed them to everyone.  Their task?  To get on the doc and discuss, just as they would have in class, the important elements of the scenes and the character development.

When they are on Google Drive, they can chat on the side and write the ideas they want to save on the document.  Each person has a different coloured cursor, so they can keep track of who is typing what.  Had I wanted to, I could have joined in, or hovered in the conversation, but we've done this enough times that I gave them their privacy.  Now, tomorrow I can do a quick wrap up and move on.  Love it!

In my other class, we are just getting started.  I always begin with a non-fiction section, with articles that have ideas the students can really sink their teeth into.  I also want them to learn the art of dialogue so they can have really good discussions, ones where they aren't afraid to disagree with each other.  I do love good debate.

Because the students are just getting to know each other, I start with blogging, as they are generally less shy when armoured with a computer screen.  I divide the students into groups and assign articles to read and videos to watch. The first theme is failure.  After reading and viewing, students will post a response on their group's blog.  Later, they will have to find a point made by classmate that they agree with --and extend it with a different idea or example.  They will also have to find an idea they would like to refute, again with evidence.  It's an assignment I look forward to every year.  The set up takes a bit of time, but it is certainly time well spent.  I can't wait for the debate to begin!

As much as I sometimes curse my students' addiction to technology, it certainly can be a useful tool for their learning.  I'd love to hear any of your ideas for using technology in your classroom.  Please feel free to share in the comments section below!


Valentine's Day Blog Hop 2015

'Tis the season of Valentine's love, and I'm excited to be joining some amazing secondary bloggers in this blog hop hosted by The Language Arts ClassroomFaulkner’s Fast Five, and The Literary Maven.

I have a lot to feel grateful for on Valentine's day; my husband, children, parents, siblings and friends let me know that I am loved pretty regularly.  But my personal life isn't why you're reading this blog, so this post is about what I LOVE about teaching.

1. The one thing I love the most about teaching is the interaction I have with the students.  There is no better high as a teacher than when your charges are engaged in a lesson, interacting with you and with each other in a way that shows they are learning--and they are having fun too!  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not living on a cloud of teaching joy where this happens all the time.  But when it does, it makes everything else worthwhile.
2. The resource I love using the most, is one of the first ones I created for TpT, because I loved using it with my students.  When I teach writing, I use a workshop approach and, as I do with everything, I stress the process.  I want my students to know that they will always create better pieces of writing when they take their time and think about the best way to get their ideas across to their readers.  This resource takes students through the process of writing an essay, one that can't happen the night before it's due.  And, I usually get some believers, for many will comment on how much better their essays are because they took the time to revise.  You can find the product with the lessons I use HERE.

3.  This year, I'm giving a special Valentine's message to my students.
February is change-of-semester time in high school, so we don't always know our students very well at this point. However, my IB class has been with me since this time last year, and I've come to admire and appreciate things about each of them.  So, when they get an assignment back next week, I'm going to staple a Valentine's message to the top of it.  If you'd like to do the same for your students, you can download my

4. I would love for all of my students to understand that working hard will pay great dividends for them.  It's a song I sing all of the time, but recently I discovered a youtube video where a teacher spreads the word in a much more effective way than I do.  I plan to play this for all of my new classes this week in the hopes that some of them get inspired to do their best this semester:

5.  I love Penny Kittle's books, Book Love and Write Beside Them.  She has a no-nonsense approach to reading and writing workshops that put the focus on student engagement and real learning.  I am planning to incorporate many of her great ideas into my teaching this semester.  Look forward to some blog posts as I try some new things!

Happy Valentine's Day!


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