Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Building Vocabulary

So...I love vocab.  I know there is a lot of criticism out there for the way that vocab is currently taught, and many teachers have eliminated structured vocabulary lessons altogether, but I personally think it's incredibly beneficial for students to continually be increasing their word-knowledge.  I also think that a broad vocabulary helps with standardized tests, not to mention a better understanding of what the students are currently reading.  Here is my basic Freshman vocab work for a typical week:

Hand out vocabulary word list with 10 words.  Students work with a partner, and each partner group finds the definition for 1 of the word.  They must also come up with either a drawing or a sentence that accurately demonstrates the meaning of the word.  Once each group is finished, they share their definition and example with the class.  This takes about 15 minutes.

Students have been asked to correctly use 3 of their vocab words in their Monday personal-response journal.  They are also given a homework assignment to practice their vocab words for 10 minutes using Quizlet.  This takes no classroom time.

Vocab review day.  I alternate weekly between the following review games, and each one really takes no more than 15 minutes:
1. Vocabulary skits - Students in groups of 2-3 create a 30 second skit demonstrating the vocab word.  All students in the group must have a role in the skit, and they must actually use the vocab word aloud.
2. Vocabulary "Win-Lose-or-Draw" - students in groups of 2-3 take turns drawing a picture on the board that corresponds with one of the vocab words while the other students attempt to guess the answer.  The group that gets the answer right has to then explain why and how the picture corresponds to the word in order to receive a point.
3. Vocabulary stories - Students get into groups of 2 or 3 (again) and have to come up with a short (10-15 sentence) story using all of the vocab words. When they are finished, they trade stories with another group for reading.  Students peer edit the use of each other's vocab words.  1 or 2 of the stories are read in front of the class if there is time.

Quiz Day!! All of my vocab quizzes are context quizzes - no multiple choice or matching here.  Students are given 10 sentences (usually based on their reading for the week) and they are asked to match each vocab word to the sentence that best correlates.  The first time they encounter this type of quiz it usually throws them for a loop ("What do you mean we don't have to just memorize the definition?!") But they get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Well, this is how I do vocabulary...how about you? Any other thoughts or ideas?  I'd love to hear them!

Mrs. V.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pink Slipped!

No! I did not get laid-off, thank goodness...but I did get creative.  I'm sure many of you have seen the following "pink slip" on Pinterest...

It was originally featured in an article by the infamous Harry and Rosemary Wong in a 2006 article on Teachers.net. While I don't agree with everything in the article (don't give your students homework until week 3 - ummm, that's not happening), I do love the way that proponents of the pink slip mention that it gives students a bit more responsibility and accountability for their work...and this is what I need...accountability!

I'm sure many of us have the same dilemma...

Me: Turn in your work to the back
Student #1: I don't have a printer at home, can I turn it in tomorrow
Me: Sure, just remind me

Three weeks later...
Student #1: Why did I get a zero on that assingment
Me: It was never turned in
Student #1: But remember, I didn't have a printer
Me: Hmmm...*Glazed over look as I diligently try to decipher the 150,000 conversations I've had with my students in the past 3 weeks*
Student #1: I'm sure I turned it in late
Me: Hmmmm...I'll look for it...which turns into days of frustration for me, my student, and their parent. 

I'm hoping that my personal version of the pink slip will change that this year...student didn't turn in homework on time? No problem, I know exactly when and why.  Parents can't image that their child wouldn't turn in work? Guess what...here's their signature! And to top it all off, the late grading scale is right on it, and the students has to actually fill it in themselves; I love this because there is then no mistaking how many percentage points were taken off and why...I love classroom clarity!

Below is my personal version: It obviously is not pink...because I don't actually know how to use my computer well enough to make the background a different color (seriously...all these cute downloadables from teachers make me a bit jealous...I'll eventually get there).  Fortunately I have bright pink printer paper that will make these babies bright enough not to get lost, and if I'm honest, I'm hoping it gives a bit of the "walk of shame" when my students have to fess up to a late assignment in front of everyone.  Feel free to use this in your own classroom...I'd make a downloadable version...but of course, I don't know how...cut and paste, maybe? Anyway, enjoy!

And of course, so as not to plagiarize...here is the link to the Wongs' article.
Happy Pink Slipping!

Mrs. V.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

10 Things...


Thank you Miss Kindergarten for the "10 things I've learned from teaching" link-up.  While most teachers are posting about what they've learned in the elementary classroom, here are 10 things I've learned from teaching high school...

1.  Boys cannot keep a writing utensil on their person for more than 24 hours (probably less, however, that's how often I see them.  In order to rectify the situation I have learned that...

2. Most girls carry around a very organized binder with a pink or purple pencil case filled with pens, pencils, highlighters, a mini pencil sharpener, and heart shaped paperclips...I never provide pens for the boys, instead I direct them to the nearest girl.

 3. Blow-pops make great prizes.  Students will do just about anything to be able to have a Blow-pop in class...vocab charades contest? No problem! Highest quiz grade? Yup!  They are a cheap and easy investment with a high return.

4. Students like to talk about themselves.  Give them in-depth writing prompts and pretty soon you'll find out exactly how they feel about their mom, best friend, fried ice cream, whatever.  Don't be afraid to challenge them.  "What are you struggling with?" has been a great writing prompt that students have answered openly and honestly and helped me get to know them more.

5. Whatever "it" is, don't let them get away with it the first time.  The minute they realize that you let them get away with one extra tardy, you will never see them on time again. 

6. Stay away from the inevitable teacher-gossip and teacher-complaining in the staff room.  It will just make you cranky and bitter.

7. Attend as many of your students' out-of-school activities as you can.  Basketball games, plays, band concerts, whatever...your students, and more importantly, their parents will be incredibly grateful, and it will help you build rapport.

Watching a Warrior baseball game...check out Little Buddy right in the middle of the action.

8. Remember that students have hormones, family problems, self-consciousness, acne, and body odor...sometimes when they are acting like a pain...it's about much more than your class.

9. Be flexible.  Nothing ever goes exactly the way that you plan...remember that your students don't know that.  They will always be under the assumption that what you teach during your class period is exactly what you planned to teach during your class period.

10. Take a break.  Always being "on" is hard.  Every once in a while it's perfectly fine to let your students silent read for an extra 15 minutes, or show a movie (here are a few of my faves for the classroom), or throw out a prompt and have them work at their seats on a short story.  Give yourself some grace...spending your days with 16-year-olds certainly entitles you to some!

How do we take a break in AP Lit? A British tea party day of course!!
Here are my 10 things...what about you?

Mrs. V.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peer Editing Pro

If your students are anything like mine, every time I have them peer edit each other's work, they end up making comments like "looks good," and "so-and-so did everything right!" Meanwhile in writing-land, so-and-so's paper is a hot mess and Johnny the peer editor is off working on his next class's homework.  After about a year or so of struggling with peer editing, I came up with a handy-dandy way to make peer editing easier and student accountability higher: mailing label rubrics!  They have been a game-changer for me, and I hope they help you out too!

Aside from daily free writing, my students are also assigned one graded reading-response journal entry a week.  The prompts for these are specific to in-class or whole-class reading and typically vary between analytical and evaluative personal responses.  Students are required to have a title and date, an indent, and a hook that is either a fact, question, thought or quote.  I also assign a Focus Content Area (FCA) which is typically a usage, grammar, or sentence structure issue that they must include.
They need to also include 3 correctly used vocabulary words (new vocab lists are given out each Monday), it must be on topic, and it must be a minimum of 250 words. 

On grading day students trade journals and affix a mailing label to the end of their partner's journal entry.  They need to highlight the writer's FCA and vocabulary words, fill in the rubric, and sign their name.

Once these are turned in, I double check the highlighted portions of the journal to make sure the FCA is correct and the vocabulary words are used correctly...if they're not, I change the grade and make a note for the student.  If they are correct, I place a checkmark next to the student-given grade and record it in the gradebook.

By learning how to peer edit, students become more and more knowledgeable about the writing expectations.  And let's face it...I don't have time to read 80 Freshmen journals every week...this helps me focus on the main concerns without spending my entire weekend doing it!

Hope this is something you can try in your classroom!


Mrs. V.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Movie Mayhem

I know there is quite a bit of controversy out there about movies in the classroom...some schools have even banned movies altogether (what do you do the day before Spring Break?? Kidding...Sort of.) Our school hasn't totally banned movies, but we do have to fill out paperwork ahead of time regarding each movie we are going to show, and it has to go through an approval process with the curriculum committee before being shown...this includes YouTube videos (which really ticked of the Social Studies department) and any other video-based clips (this is what happens when the French teacher shows French movies that show naked breasts and lesbian love scenes...yes. that happened.)

So anyway, here is the list of movies that I am putting together for the curriculum committee...

Romeo and Juliet, 9th grade: I've taught R & J for 7 years now, and although in the past I used clips from both the Franco Zefferelli and Baz Luhrman versions, I've found that students much prefer the one by Zefferelli.  First of all, Romeo looks like Zac Efron, and frankly, that kind of makes all the difference.  I do use a clip from the balcony scene of the Luhrman version...but mostly because I like to see Claire Danes in her wings.

The Odyssey, 9th grade: I use just a few clips from this one, including Scylla and Charybdis eating the men, and Odysseus killing all of Penelope's suitors almost single-handedly.  I always skip Odysseus on the islands of Circe and Calypso, because frankly, as much as I appreciate Vanessa Williams, no 15 year old boy needs to see that much of her body while sitting in my classroom...awkward (*said in high pitched, sing-song voice)

Madagascar, 9th grade: This one is my favorite.  I usually end freshmen year with a study of Lord of the Flies, and we usually finish it right before exams.  I have the students watch it and make a list of all of the similarities between the movie and the book...once you watch it again, you will be amazed at how many similarities there are (a dead parachutist, a "fun" side of the island, a fire that burns out of control, Alex the Lion returning to his basic primal state.)  I always award a prize to the person that has the most, legitimate similarities.

Dead Poet's Society, 12th grade Brit Lit: I love this movie!  I don't show it every year, but when I have the time, I make sure to get it in during our study of Romantic Poetry.  Even if I don't have enough time for the whole movie, I make sure to show the clip where John Keating bashes the traditional textbook study of poetry and tells his students to just listen to the beauty of the words...powerful.  I also like to pair this with a reading of Emily Dickinson's "Much Madness"...basically a "go against the grain" type of lesson.

Macbeth, 12th grade Brit Lit/AP Lit: I use Roman Polanski's version.  It was Rated R in 1972, but every time I tell my students that it's a bit graphic they start laughing, a prop-like ax stuck in the back of Fleance does nothing for them in this day and age of horror and bloodfest movies.  Either way, I usually skip the naked-witches scene (because really, who wants to watch 100, naked, 80-year old hags (Shakespeare's word, not mine) dance around a cauldron...umm...not me.) But in truth, every student really needs to watch Shakespeare acted out in order to actually understand the play...it alleviates the "I have no idea what's going on" comments, and often, I show each act of the play in movie form as we go along, instead of reading the whole thing and then watching the movie.

Pride and Prejudice, AP Lit: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy...'nuff said. Sigh.

Oh, there are a few more movies and YouTube clips out there, Les Miserables for one, my AP students read it over the summer, and now that Hugh Jackman is in it, I'm sure we will try to watch it at some point this year, but in general, the 6 movies above are ones that I continually show year after year...now if only I could get the curriculum committee to approve The Notebook...that would pretty much make my day!

What movies are you using in your classroom? Any other suggestions? Let me know!


Mrs. V.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Reading: Elementary (ish) Edition

Little Buddy has been reading for 15 minutes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. This is noteworthy because A.) He is hostile towards books (it seriously gives me chest pains), and B.) Well, he would rather be "spanked" than read.  Case in point...yesterday at the pool

Me: 5 more minutes
LB: Awww mom.  What happens if I don't get out in 5 minutes?
Me: A Big Ol' Spankin' (don't judge, it's all I could come up with)
LB: Oh, that's OK then
Me: With a wooden spoon
LB: Still OK
Me: I'll make you read extra

Yup, no response because he was already out of the pool drying off.  Ok, so I wasn't really going to spank him...he's 9, come on, and yes, I know that reading as a punishment is bad...I get it...but it worked.  Regardless, he is consistently doing his 15 minutes a day (and not a second more), and it's all because of his amaz-o 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. T.  Seriously.  She's a miracle worker.

At the end of the school year she sent home a reading passport for each of her students.  It looks like this...

It has 10 different states on it with a little fact about each state.  The passport has blanks for the date, the number of minutes reading, and a parent signature.  She left it up to the parents to determine the amount of time spent reading for each state, and the prize that would go along with each passport locale.  She even sent home a list of suggested prizes for the parents, but knowing that earning a bottle of water after reading through Minnesota (the land of 10,000 lakes) wouldn't motivate Little Bud, we came up with our own list.

So far Bud has:
Made his own Popsicles (Minnesota also has a lot of ice)

Homemade grape pops: Boil grapes with water and honey, mash them through a strainer, freeze for 24 hours

Earned $3.00 in gold coins (Nevada has 3 of the biggest gold mines in the U.S....who knew?!)
Gone mini-golfing (Augusta, GA - home of the Master's)

Little Buddy and my brother Alex at Putter's Creek

And in honor of Garret's Popcorn in Chicago, IL, bought popcorn from Popcorn Paradise - in dill pickle, bacon cheddar, and cookies and cream flavors.

Currently Little Buddy is 30 reading minutes away from a basketball t-shirt celebrating Florida, home of the Orlando Magic basketball team, and the rest...well who knows how far we'll get, but he's gunning for 8 more hours of reading which will earn him a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.  Bribery? Yes.  Worth it? Definitely!

I was super inspired by Mrs. T's awesome passport, so I decided to try a little reading-bribery of my own this coming year... Here's a Reading Bingo card that I made for my Freshies.

I will have my freshmen for 24 weeks this upcoming year, so I figure 9 books is completely feasible.  This will be optional, but seriously, who wouldn't want to have an off-campus lunch party. with me. I'll let you know how it goes.

Mrs. V

A Liebster Award!

A Liebster! How exciting! My very first blogging award.  A big thanks to Stephanie at Tales of Teaching in Heels for the nomination! 

So, you're probably thinking...A Liebster? What the H is a Liebster?? Well, it's an award for bloggers with less than 200 followers (and I have 1, so this is great!) I just started blogging a few weeks ago, and I'm so excited to share my passion for teaching and family with others...now, if I could just get some followers, right?

Anyway, here are the 11 questions that Steph asked me to answer:

1. How long have you been teaching?
I'm just about to begin my 7th year, time flies!

2. What's your favorite teaching/coaching moment?
I have so many favorites, but last summer I received an email from a former student that said, "Mrs. V, thanks to you I can no longer read a book without thinking about it more deeply! I just wanted to enjoy this beach read, and all of a sudden I'm looking for symbolism and analyzing the author's perspective." It pretty much made my day!

3. What's your favorite blogging site? (it doesn't have to be related to teaching)
I'm new to the blogging community, not only writing, but also reading...and I love them all.  One of my favorite non-teaching blogs is victoriaelizabethbarnes.com

4. Which store is your favorite place to buy things for your classroom?
I don't have an educational supply store near me, so I buy most things online or at The Bookman, a great little hometown bookstore.

5. What advice do you wish you got as a new teacher?
Be flexible!! You can lesson plan all you want, but lesson plans never factor in the reality of a classroom full of 16 year olds.  Be willing to adapt on the fly.

6. What three things are always in your teaching bag?
Red pens (yes, I know about the studies against red pens...I still love them), Grading rubrics (I use a specific set of rubrics for EVERY single paper...I carry them around so I can grade papers anywhere), Athletic tape (My cheer girls always need it, and I seem to continuously collect 1/2 used rolls)

7. What teacher inspired you as a student?
Hands down, Sharon Rocker, my AP Lit teacher.  I teach Pride and Prejudice to my seniors every year in honor of her.

8. What do you love most/worst about teaching?
I love those AHA! moments when a student all-of-a-sudden "gets" it.  And I love when students tell me that they love such-and-such a novel...especially when they've been non-readers all of their lives.

9. What's your favorite piece of technology to use in the classroom? How do you use it?
I use Moodle All. The. Time.  I use it as a discussion forum for my students, and I also use the chat room feature.  I place half of my students in an inner circle for book discussion, and I place the second half in an outer circle with computers (we have a mobile laptop cart) logged on to the chat room.  The outer circle is required to comment on the inner circle's conversation but they are not allowed to speak out loud - only through the chat.  Half way through class the two groups switch.  They love it, and it's a great way to have the entire class participate in a discussion.

10. How do you plan to incorporate the new Common Core Standards this next year?
The CCS are pretty similar to the former Michigan state standards, so I don't have too much changing to do.  I have added some more non-fiction selections to my book lists, but overall the change isn't too drastic.

11. What do you love to do when you aren't teaching?
I love hanging with my kiddos.  I love cheer.  I love the beach (we live less than a mile away). I love to read.  I'm sort of writing a novel, but it's about 3 years and 150 pages in and I just can't get motivated to finish.  Ugh.

Here are 11 random things about me:

1. I am 1/2 Dominican, so I speak Spanish pretty well and can do the merenge and salsa.
2. My daughter and my brother will both be freshmen in high school this year.
3.  My all-time favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird.
4. I call my husband Chris Hottie...and so do most of my students.
5. I am a huge baseball fan. 
6. This year I will both teach and coach my daughter...should be interesting.
7. I have a strawberry, blueberry, and mango smoothie for breakfast almost every day.
8. I'm obsessed with Tide with Febreeze laundry detergent...I love the smell!
9. I love John Mayer, Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, and Hillsong Live...random.
10. I used to be a yoga instructor, but now I just take classes whenever I can.
11. I am the 1993 Michigan state gymnastics champion in the Floor Exercise...woohoo!

Now, 11 questions for my nominees:
1. How long have you been teaching
2. What subjects/grades do you teach, and which is your favorite
3. How do you feel about the Oxford comma?
4. What advice would you give to a first-time teacher?
5. What three things are always in your teaching bag?
6. What is one classroom activity that is always a hit with your students?
7. What is one of your favorite blogs out there?
8. Who is your role model?
9. What is your favorite piece of technology to use in the classroom? How do you use it?
10. What is the best piece of teaching advice you've ever received?
11. What do you love to do when you aren't teaching?

And the nominees are... 

Thanks again Steph! And best of luck to the newest Liebsters!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

This is the worst day ever...

...said Little Buddy as he left his 3rd grade classroom this year.

Me: Really? The worst day?

Him: Yes!

Me: It's the first day of summer, I'm taking you out for ice cream.

Him: I don't want to leave Mrs. Terborg

And there you have it.  The teacher of the year award definitely goes to Little Buddy's 3rd grade teacher who turned the first day of summer into the worst day ever just by being so dang awesome...and she was!  I too shed a tear (or 50) when it was time to say goodbye, she pushed my little man so hard and with so much love, that by the time June 8th came around, I hardly recognized my reading, dividing, confident "little" boy.  And he could barely contain his "little boy" tears.  The consolation was that Mrs. T is so awesome that she set up a mid-summer pool party for her graduating class!  I mean, who does that?  Certainly not me, I send my seniors off with a heartfelt hug and lots of writing knowledge, but a pool party?  And let me tell you...every one of Little Buddy's classmates was there to get one more hug from Mrs. T.

Not only was she a great teacher for Little Bud, but she was also a great role model for me.  We may teach very different ages, but in the end, seniors act just like preschoolers, so there's really not all that much difference.  She has 20 years of teaching experience to my 7, and I'm always up for learning something new, so here are a few things that I learned from the awesome Mrs. T.

1. Communication.
I don't know about you, but my least favorite part of teaching is the parents. Ugh. I like kids...which is why I went into education...self-explanatory.  But Mrs. T was so good about making me feel like we were partners in Little Bud's progress.  She sent home a progress report EVERY FRIDAY!! With personalized notes and everything...who has time for that!!?? Apparently her.  Anyway, she also asked for weekly feedback, and when I would write a note back on the progress report, she would send an email by noon on Monday thanking me for feedback, or answering a question that I asked.  She was so great at letting us know what was going on...not only with the class as a whole, but with each child personally.  It was invaluable!

2. Sillibrations.
Every time one of the kids in class would accomplish a new goal, she would celebrate (or sillibrate as she called it) as a class.  Whether it was that they finished a book, accomplished a math objective, or scored well on a test, each child would give the others a sillibration.  Seriously, I'm so busy grousing over who didn't study for the weekly vocab quiz that I forget to celebrate those who scored a 100%.  Celebrating the "little" accomplishments might challenge the kids to push harder to reach a larger goal.

3. Learning styles:
Mrs. T was so good about teaching through all of the learning styles.  Little Bud had hand motions for memorizing the passage ways of the Native Americans through the Great Lakes, a super-cool rap with matching dance moves for all of his multiplication tables, and he also learned how to take notes - dang! Some of my seniors still can't take notes to save their lives.  She was a great reminder to add some pizzazz (I almost wrote pizza there) and shake things up.

4. Reading!
Little Bud can read (which is good since he's going into 4th grade).  Later this week I'll post on some of the creative and exciting ways she encouraged a love of reading in a normally book-hostile child...

Mrs. T was an awesome teacher. I hope that I have students that on the last day of school say it is "the worst day ever," because they don't get to see me after graduation (except they're seniors and they're going to college, so probs not...) either way, I look forward to incorporating her elementary ideas into my secondary classroom.  Anyone else have a favorite teacher? What did they do that made them memorable and special?

Here are some pics from the pool party:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Little Bit of Cheer

Cheer camp is this week, and it's a crazy, fun, busy, exhausting week.  The morning camp is for elementary grades (2-6), while the afternoon camp is for middle and high school.  We are only into our 3rd year of having a competitive cheer team at school, so 21 elementary students and 10 ms/hs students is a great turn out.  We don't have tryouts until the fall, so all of the high school girls are either returners or are hoping to go out for the sport in November.  Team camp (the afternoon session) is from 12-5 every day, and it can be a very long week, but here are a couple of things I've learned over the past 7 years of various cheer camps to help make it go smoothly.

1.  Use your resources - aside from my awesome assistant coaches Kimmy and Ali, I have two college students coming in this week to help - Deon is a former competitive gymnast, and a few years ago, he helped me out as a student assistant.  He's so great to have around to spot all of the tumbling, and the girls love him.  Erin is also a college student and one of my former varsity competitors.  Having their extra knowledge and expertise in the gym let me break up the girls into smaller groups and get so much more done - plus, the girls love hearing feedback other than mine!

2. Fun it up - We began our day on Monday with a Zumba session with the amazing Tirza Fierros-Snuffer.  She was so full of energy and life, that even though we were exhausted, we just laughed and danced, and shimmied our hearts out.  It was a great way to start.  We had a yoga instructor come in yesterday, and on Thursday, the last 2.5 hours will be at the beach - its a party/stuntfest in the sand!

3. Give incentive - Throughout the day I break my girls into mini-teams and have them go head to head in a variety of competitions - who can do the best jump sequence, who can put together the best cheer in 5 minutes, who can hold their handstand the longest.  I bring prizes from the dollar store which amazingly gets them pumped up, but overall it's just great to get them working together with their mini-team to be the best.

4. Focus - Our focus this week is Rise Up!  It's based on Isaiah 40:30, and it's a reminder that "Those whose hope is in the Lord...will soar as on wings of eagles."  I love that verse and that image.  We've been cheering, jumping and tumbling our hearts out...but above all we've been placing our hope and our trust in the Lord.  After 20 hours of seriously hard work, we are always refreshed when reminded that we will "run and not be weary."

We have one day left with team awards (silly things like "Best Lipsyncher" and "Most likely to accidentally have a laughing fit in the middle of a cheer,"  and then it's a weekend of (hopefully) rest and relaxation.

Here are a couple of fun pics from this week:
The cheer team taking a break from gymnastics training at Gonyon's Gymnastics

Hanging out with Zumba instructor extraordinaire Tirza Fierros - Snuffer

Building old-school pyramids during some down time

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July Currently

So I haven't exactly learned how to "link up" to another blog, but I think (?) I'm on the right track with this July Currently from Farley.  Even though it's already the 7th (gulp...where does time go??)
Here's what I'm working on for July...

 1. Listening to Little Buddy's cereal spoon clank against his bowl as he watches Disney Channel in the other room.  My kids could live on cereal - and since my mom only bought us Mueslix and Grape Nuts growing up, I have now become one of those moms who buys Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms on a regular basis.

2. Loving my assistant cheer coaches.  Team camp starts tomorrow, and they were both over here in the middle of their busy Sunday afternoons to go over some last minute details.  They are both simply amazing!

3. Thinking about how much I'll miss Baby Girl this week - she heads out to Ignite camp - which is a week-long overnight camp down in Indiana.  She'll be gone for the week, but every year she comes back so fired up for the Lord that I am just so excited for her.

4. Wanting to head down to Worship on the Waterfront tonight, but it looks like it might rain.  Every Sunday night in the summer our community has different Christian artists come in to lead worship on the waterfront (hence the name). Tonight is Phil someone or other - but he was on American Idol a few years back, and I'm really hoping the rain stays away!

5. Needing black ink for my printer. Ugh.  I hate it when it runs low!

6. Tips, Tricks, or Hints: The more you write, the better writer you become.

Happy July!!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Reading: Freshman Edition

This is the first year that our school has required summer reading for incoming Freshmen.  Because we are a private high school, we get incoming Freshmen from a variety of area middle schools, some with strong reading programs, some without, so we decided to get all of our newbies started on the right foot with a unified reading requirement.  We debated (like every other English department in America) whether to require a specific book for reading or let students choose their own, but in the end we decided to do both.  We assigned one required book, Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris, as well as a list of novels to choose from that cover a variety of genres, lexile levels, and subject matter.  Below is the list of required reading:

Required Text:

Do Hard Things - Alex and Brett Harris (click here for the authors' amazing blog called the Rebelution)

Choose one book from the following:

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
A Voice in the Wind - Francine Rivers
Tears of a Tiger - Sharon Draper
Eragon (or another title from the Inheritance Cycle) - Christopher Paolini
The Lost Hero (or another title from the Heroes of Olympus) - Rick Riordan
The Lord of the Rings (of another title from the Lord of the Rings series) J.R.R. Tolkein
Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to get Back on Board - Bethany Hamilton
42: The Jackie Robinson Story - Aaron Rosenburg

One of the hardest things about teaching at a Christian school, is that all parents have strong opinions about the type of literature that we should be teaching in our classrooms.  Some parents feel that we should only teach "Christian" books (another blog post on that later - that can get quite lengthy...sigh), while others approve of any and everything.  Our department felt that the list above gave students (and parents) a wide choice with options that (hopefully) appeal to everyone.

Baby Girl is going to be a Freshmen this year, check out her book choices below (don't you just love when that Amazon.com box shows up on your doorstep!)

I'm planning to use NCTE's "50 alternatives to the Book Report" to start the school year.  Students will have to choose 3 of the options for their "choice" book as their 1st project of the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  Any others assign summer reading?  What's on your list? What assignment do you give in the fall?

Friday, July 5, 2013

5 for Friday

So, I've seen a few other bloggers write a "5 for Friday" post, and I thought I'd try it out...5 things that I've been working on this week...

1. Blogging!  It's been awhile since I've written anything, and I love to write, I just feel like I never really make the time.  I'm excited to be back at it, and if you want a good laugh, head over to Confessions of a Florida Chick, a blog I wrote while living in South Florida - some of the posts still crack me up!

2. Fourth of July!!  I truly love celebrating our country's independence.  I love the camaraderie felt by all as we sit around looking into the sky at fireworks.  I'm not at all crafty, but check out the last-minute tshirt that Little Buddy and I made - I'm feeling quite Pinteresty if I do say so myself (a plain tshirt and fabric markers - go me!).  And we can't forget Leo the Cat - such a festive little feline!

3.  Enjoying our hometown!  If you've never been to the west coast of Michigan, well come on down!  We boast a great waterfront with one of the best boardwalks ever.  My hubby (who my students affectionately call Chris Hottie, because that's the title for him on my cell phone) and I have been walking the boardwalk and the pier almost every single day.  Today we started the day with a great walk, and my legs have been feeling it since!

The view from the Grand Haven Boardwalk

4. Strawberry Picking!  This is the first year that we have been strawberry picking, but it was a blast...I mean, sort of, we had to squat a lot, and it was really hot out, but in the end I have so many strawberries for my morning smoothie - and we were with friends, so that makes all the difference! We went to Cook's Berry Farm in Coopersville, Michigan.  They don't have a website, but they are a great place to go for u-pick berries!

Baby Girl with her flat of hand picked berries

Baby Girl and Friend Sam getting down in the patch

Friend Sam, Little Buddy, and Baby Girl with their yummy berries.

5.  Making lists! Every morning I send the kids a text (yes, Little Buddy has an iPod...don't judge) with their list for the day, it's 4-5 things that they must complete before they head out for their respective days of fun (Baby Girl is usually hanging out with friends at the beach, and Little Buddy is usually riding around the block on his scooter or bike with the neighbors.)  They both have 15 minutes of reading and their daily devotions to complete, which doesn't change day-to-day, but then they each have 2-3 chores that they need to complete depending on the state of the house.  Here's an example of one of Little Buddy's lists:

Well, that's been my week, I'd love to hear about yours!  What do you love to do in your hometown?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Summer Reading: Advanced Placement Edition

It's the 4th of July!  Stars, stripes, fireworks, freedom! So many things to be grateful for, and yet I'm always reminded on the 4th how quickly time flies.  I feel like just yesterday I was unwrapping my new Vera Bradley school bag for Christmas (I so love Vera), and then it was Spring Break (in which I sat home and pouted), and then Graduation (lots of Kleenex; my baby girl graduated from 8th grade in the same week that my baby seniors graduated from H.S.), and now here we are,  halfway through 2013.

Summer vacation for my students also brings with it summer reading.  My Advanced Placement students are required to read the wonderful, 1232 page Les Miserables.  And believe me, it makes about half of them "miserables." But in the end, I've never had a student finish it that didn't love it.  Hugo may go on random 200 page tangents about some miniscule, plot-unnecessary detail, but in the end, the themes of faith, love, redemption, freedom, mercy, and citizenship ring out (perfect for a 4th of July post!), and most students fall completely in love.

Assigning Les Mis for summer reading does a few things, first, it narrows the field.  It's amazing how many students decide they no longer want to take an AP course when they realize that they will have to give up chunks of summer relaxation reading about the corrupt French political structure of the 1800s.  My class number dropped from 28 to 20 in the first 2 weeks of vacation.  Summer reading also gives students the understanding that this truly is an advanced class, and that they can take seriously the disclaimer to only enroll if they are ready for a college-level experience.  Just to put a cherry on top, I assign summer work (you should've heard the collective sigh when this was mentioned). 

Using Moodle, (one of my favorite online/tech tools!) the students are required to post a response to a question on June 30th, July 31st, and August 25.  This ensures that they are reading throughout the summer and not cramming 1000 pages of reading into the last two weeks of break, and it also gives students the understanding that I am serious about their learning process.  AP Lit is not an easy class, but it is worth it in the end, and when they head off to college next year, and have to take summer coursework, the summer reading assignment for AP Lit will have been a piece of Marie Antoinette's cake (yes, of course I know Les Mis isn't really about the French Revolution, but it's a good fit!).

Here's a snippet of my Moodle page.  It's not completely set up for the school year, but when they are ready to write their response, they click on the "Topic" icon and it leads them into a forum where they can read the question and post a response.

And as you can see, just in case my students feel like writing a response based on Anne Hathaway's Oscar-winning performance, I always make sure to ask for specific examples/evidence/lines from the novel for support - this is necessary in general, but especially when there is a brand-new musical version out there with Aaron Tveit as Enjolras (can I just say...amazing!) I can't guarantee that there hasn't been any sparknoting or movie-watching, but in general, the responses from the students are pretty thorough and well written.

And a special pic of my Vera school bag - you know you were wondering which print it was!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why now?

Like all good teachers, I always (most of the time) write the homework for each of my classes up on the board every morning; in fact, I have a whole white board dedicated solely to the daily schedule and the daily homework...and if you teach at a small, private school like me, you know why I need an entire board...I have 5 preps (yes, 5).  English 9, English 9H, English 10H, AP Lit, and Creative Writing.  About once per trimester I have a breakdown that sounds something like this, *high pitched and whiny* "I can't do this anymore! I am in the middle of reading 4 different novels, and sometimes I can't remember whether or not Raskolnikov found a pig's head on an island, was one half of Dr. Jekyll, or is a psychopathic murderer...wait, every character is a psychopathic murderer right now! Ugh!"  To which my curriculum director pats me on the back, whispers, "There, there," and plies me with dark chocolate. Sigh.

But I digress...the homework board - 5 different classes, with 5 days of homework, each in a different expo color (love the rainbow brites package) each neatly labeled, So imagine my surprise when one day, about 2 years ago, I walked into my classroom to find my AP Lit heading erased and scrawled (unneatly, may I add) with the title "Hangin' with Hekken."  Rather than being upset, I was forever endeared to the goofy and amazingly lit-savvy Andrew P., who let me know that AP Lit was more than just a class, it was a time to "hang out and discuss major works of literature with *ahem* the best teacher around." Now, I'm not naive to the fact that he was in the midst of a major moment of B.S.  In fact, it's more than probable that he had forgotten to turn in a literary analysis paper that was due, and he was hoping for a little grace; however, grace is rarely shown in an AP level class, but his point was made, and my seniors have taken "Hangin' with Hekken" instead of AP Lit ever since.

I'm not a perfect teacher.  In fact, I read blog posts and scour Pinterest and teacher message boards all the time which clearly remind me how imperfect I am (I mean, have you seen some of these amazing binders? Who has time for that!!)  But I love to teach, I love my students, I love my school, and I am blessed to have a family that lets me commit most of my waking hours to my job. (Actually, they get Taco Bell at least once a week because, really, who has time to cook? They feel that it's the perk of having a working mom). So anyway, I thought I'd take the chance and see if there are others out there who I can inspire, encourage, partner with, and learn from as we navigate this ever-changing, common-core, hands-on, technology-laden, read-and-write-across-the-curriculum world of Education.

The aforementioned Andrew P. on the right (and let's not forget his buddy Devin K.)

An AP Lit debate table

My Taco Bell-loving kiddos