Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Love A Rainy Summer Day

Sometimes I love a good rainy summer day. I do indoor projects for home or work without feeling guilty that I'm not enjoying the sunshine! Jack thought for a minute about getting up, and then thought better of it... he loves rainy days, too :P All the dogs are quiet, actually. Yes, we now live with THREE big dogs between us.

Thankfully, the roomie and I did an impromptu trip to the beach and to visit some friends yesterday, so we took full advantage of the gorgeous day, and I don't feel guilty at all about staying inside!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Music in the Classroom

Headphones Icon by GDJ

I love listening to music in my high school classroom when we're doing independent work, writing, working on homework, or pretty much any time when their attention does not need to be wrapped up in someone speaking. Many times they'll ask me if they can listen to their own music (with headphones) when they're doing independent or small partner work, and most of the time, I say yes. They're more motivated, focused, and quite frankly, a lot less talkative!! The only problem I run into is when a student keeps clicking on his phone and says he's "looking for a new song." Even if he is, it can be really distracting, so I tell them that they need to put on a playlist and stick to it--if the phone looks too distracting they have to put it away.

The first day of first grade summer school I didn't have on any music and it was a BIG.MISTAKE. I needed it for my mood and sanity. Starting Day 2 when the kids came in I had a Jack Johnson Children's playlist from Pandora playing in the background, and it was on the entire day unless we were reading, or using a SmartBoard game that had sound. It was glorious.

Do you use music in your classroom? What are your rules for student music?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fixing Small Spaces for Big Results

I am notorious for letting clutter pile up, one day getting incredibly sick of it, and completely organizing whatever is a mess. Today was one of those days where all of the small nagging spots got me!

On my front steps I had this ugly welcome mat, rain boots full of dirt and cobwebs, and doggy poop bags that hadn't made it to the trash yet. (By the way, the bags on my porch is what sparked my whole organization project! Couldn't stand having them out anymore!).
This is before. Ew.

This is after. The little trash can is for the poop bags ;)

It's amazing how a small change entering the house can make you feel. I've always read about how your environment and external spaces are internal reflections, or at the very least, the clutter and mess limits productivity. I feel better already. My plant still looks terrible, though :\. It died while I was visiting family in NJ. I'm hoping if I keep watering it that it will spring back to life!

Next project was fixing the bottom of this curtain to be pulled taut in the window. Jack pulled it off so he could gaze outside, and I never fixed it. It was a huge pain in the butt flapping in the wind and getting stuck in the door every time I opened it!

The "junk/tool/random" drawer in the kitchen was next. I've organized it once before, but I really needed some space dividers and holders to really keep things in place and not slide around. 
Before dividers:


I also figured out the "mystery keys" left by the previous owners. Minus the two with ? marks... no idea what those go to...

Lastly (for now, taking a quick break!) I invested in a sponge holder for the sink, and instead of getting more Scrub Daddys(ies?) I got a Sponge Daddy :P 

What have you done to organize or spruce up your space this summer?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Revamp Designs!

I revamped another of my covers to my most popular product, my Sandra Cisneros and Mango Street Introduction.

It went from: 

Another popular product, Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes PowerPoint also got a makeover. 

From this:
 To this:
My Introduction to the Puritans PowerPoint for American Literature is pretty popular, but the cover left something to be desired. 

Old cover:

New, spicy cover (the Puritans wouldn't like it, but I do):

My last edit is a product that I believe is one of the best teaching tools I have, but has not gained a lot of traction, probably due to its old, unappealing cover. This product is all about how to help students discover and write a thematic statement for a story through understanding character development. I'll write a lengthier post on this in the future, but this guide is the best way I've discovered to help them understand theme. 
Old, yucky cover:

New cover:

I'm so glad I've been taking the time to watch the great videos and read awesome posts by other TpT sellers on how to really create awesome looking products and covers. Can't wait for the sale on the 3rd and 4th to buy more graphic designs!! I think my store looks better already :D

Friday, July 31, 2015

Upgrading Product Design

I bought my first backgrounds and borders pack today from RedPepper which I love :). I tinkered around and updated my cover for Realism, Naturalism and Modernism American Literature Teaching Pack. I may be biased, but I like the new look!

  It went from this:
To this:
I updated the product earlier in the summer to clean up some of the PowerPoint slides and check all of the video links. I've been finding it hard to find my "product style" as a secondary teacher so that it is still visually appealing and nice, but not too elementary looking. So far I'm liking this look and will update my other product covers over the next few days :). What have you done to spice up your own TpT products?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

TpT Back to School Sale!

Okay, so I don't go back to school until the end of August, and it hurts my heart a little to see so much back-to-school stuff. I don't mind that I obsessively think and plan by myself about school, but other people talking about it gives me the jitters!

Anywho, whether you're ready or not, might as well get those TeachersPayTeachers resources sitting in your wishlist at 20% off! Back to school might not be a fun thought, but saving money sure is.

My whole store is 20% off August 3-4. Enjoy! :)

Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Know Every Student's Personality on the First Day of School

Frankly, I don't like the first day of school. I feel equal parts of boring, and like I'm giving a sales pitch. My first two years or so I tried get-to-know-you activities, but I've always dreaded them when asked to do them myself. I know, I know, even if at first they seem awkward, they usually help the atmosphere and "break the ice." I know that, but I just don't like them. None of them seemed "sophisticated" enough for high school. Then I started thinking about a workshop I attended back in college, and out popped an idea that I don't hate, and I think students will enjoy.

Who are people most interested in? Themselves. This activity gets people to think about themselves in a new way, and later, get to know and bond with others. I was attending a workshop at my college in the summer for student orientation leaders. This animated facilitator walks in the room and hands us four sheets of colored handouts: blue, gold, green, and orange. He hands us circle stickers of the same colors, and an index card. He explained that each of the colors are four basic personality types (each explained on its corresponding color), and although each of us have elements of all of the colors, we would really identify with one in particular. We were to then take the stickers, and order our colors from most like us, to least like us, on the card. After we all did this he broke us up into our four color groups, and had us brainstorm with the others the BEST part about being our color, and the WORST part, or what people didn't understand about us. After we brainstormed for a while, each group shared out to the whole, and he added in a ton of relevant information, ranging from why Golds and Oranges clash in group work, to what the best kind of date for a Blue would be. It was a fascinating exercise that let us know ourselves better, and why we get along or struggle with other people. I started thinking, how could I bring this into the classroom? First, a snapshot of what the different colors mean:

Knowing which color YOU are as a teacher is important first. It will help you understand why you relate better to certain students, and why others tend to grate on your nerves. In full disclosure, I did have a question about the colors on a student questionnaire one year, but did not try the actual activity I'm doing this year. I found out that one period was 90% Blue, and one period was about 40% Orange (guess which class drove me crazy). For all who are wondering, I am a Blue. Not surprisingly, a lot of teachers tend to be Blue. So, my suggestion on the first day is to try the activity, and skip just going over the syllabus. Students will immediately have connections to other people in their color, and learn a lot more about themselves. (You can probably also tell immediately who will do every homework assignment, and who will do it when they feel like it! That's a joke, but really, you probably could ;). 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What 1st Grade Taught Me about High School

So it's my last day of summer 1st grade, and I've realized:

I couldn't do this all year.

Seriously, elementary peeps, I'm talking to you--I don't know how you do this all year. "There's a crayon on the floor!" "He took my turn at the Frozen game!" "He farted!!" Okay, so that last one is true for high school, too. They're always happy to call out who farted.

I've always thought of the kids as tiny adolescents, but really, my high schoolers are large children who hide things better. The first graders really wear their emotions, and call out what's on their mind, and tell you when they're frustrated. I had one student who came in happy every day, but as soon as we did an activity that was challenging his face would change, he would put his head down and refuse to participate. I realized that this behavior is exactly what my older kids do, too, they're just not as forthcoming about it. It shows up as attitude, apathy, and acting out (The Triple A Smackdown!). Adolescents have the same feelings that kids do (so do adults!) they've just gotten better at disguising it.

Teaching first grade also put a glaring spotlight on an area of my teaching I've been told to improve since student teaching: I don't give enough praise. It's just not my nature. I don't like gushing over something unless I really feel it's fantastic, or a great effort was put forth. With the first graders, I realized on day one that unless I gave praise for their work and efforts they didn't want to do the next lesson. High schoolers would never be as emotionally blatant, but if I'm thinking of them now as cleverly disguised large children, I guess it wouldn't kill me to praise more.

Cheers to the last day, and enjoying the rest of summer!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Toeing the Line with Controversial Literature

Connecticut may not seem as tight-lipped in educational choices as some other, perhaps more conservative states, but this was quite a year for reprimanding teachers in their choices of controversial literature. From the highly publicized story of Olio, an award-winning veteran teacher terminated for allowing the reading of the Ginsberg poem, "Please Master," to the quiet announcement of our neighboring town banning The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it's been an interesting year for English teachers in Connecticut. An older ideology used to be that if you have tenure, you're less likely to be fired--this exception was obviously shot down in Olio's case. I think every teacher (especially English teachers) who heard about his termination immediately sought out to read this poem to see what the big deal really was. Some of us sat down to lunch together, and began to read it. I'm not going to lie, I was blushing after reading just a few lines. Would I want to read this with my students? Hell no. But that doesn't mean what's not right for me and my classroom isn't a good learning opportunity for someone else in his classroom who has the right tools and knowledge to teach this poem. Where do we draw the line when it comes to controversial material?

I myself taught a "controversial" book in my 10th grade class this year. It began back in the fall of 2014 while taking my second to last graduate course, "The Dynamics of Personality," a psychology course that studies psychopathology in personalities. In my final project/paper, I proposed to write an analysis of the emotional and personality development of the characters in a young adult novel, AND how to use the novel in the classroom as not only a literary study, but to enhance social-emotional development, something I feel has gone by the wayside in the development of the Common Core. After a significant amount of reading, and research, I wrote a twelve-page analysis of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and how to use it in the classroom. Fast-forward to this past spring, and after much deliberation I decided to add the book to my curriculum. I felt that I had done enough research, and knew my students well enough by the fourth quarter that this would be a suitable book for them. This particular group of students are definitely what you would call the "reluctant readers," and were pretty vocal about their disdain for reading. We read the memoir Night right before we started this unit, and although they were engaged, and thoughtful readers, none of them were hankering to read it on their own without an assignment from me. Part-Time Indian was a total game-changer. My students LOVED the book, and told me that it was the first book they ever read in school that they enjoyed. They read ahead. Some of them finished it the first week it was assigned. The comprehension level is about 7th grade, so they didn't have any trouble understanding it, but the themes are mature, making it perfect for older students. The proudest moment I had with my students was when they started making connections to the ghettos and how the Jews were treated in Night, to the reservations and how the "Indians" were treated in Part-Time Indian. They were really doing some higher-order thinking and analysis, and it was on their OWN.

Other teachers in the building heard that I was going to read this book, and jumped on board. Three other 10th grade classes read it, along with an Authors Study senior elective. At one point in the semester it felt like the whole school was reading the book. In one sense, it was exciting, and felt a little validating that I had "picked a good one"! On the other hand, I was afraid that since it was being read by a much wider audience, that there was a greater chance for backlash. Thankfully, there was no backlash (that I heard of), and about 100 students had the pleasure of reading it this year. I'm not teaching 10th grade English again next year, but if I was, I would go through the same questions I asked myself this year before introducing a "controversial" novel to my students: Who are my students personally? Are they mature enough to read this? Who might have difficulty with it? Ultimately, every group of students is different, and we always alter our teaching practices and materials from year to year. "Controversial" material should be treated and questioned like any other lesson plan or story that we decide to keep, or skip, for that year. This year, the rewards outweighed the risks, and I'm glad I took a chance.

Weigh In: Have you ever taught controversial material? How did you decide to teach it?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

First Day of School and Camp!

So the first day of school was... eventful! At least I know the one thing first graders and high schoolers have in common--their ferocity for games and their rules! I also had no idea about things like line rules and reading mat rules...be assured, they quickly told me. I'm figuring it out. First graders get so excited when they learn something new. They also ask A LOT of questions. I can't keep up with all the questions! I'm certainly not an expert with them by any means, but we're learning every day.

I haven't taught riding at camp in about two years, so I was nervous to say the least. It all ended up coming back as soon as I stepped in the ring, and I felt like myself five years ago. It was a good place to be in. Funny how some things bring us right back to who we think are/were. Everyone at camp was so friendly and happy to see me, and I felt right at home :). Pictures to come!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Goals and Relaxation

Summer is the time of year when I do a "reset" on myself. I get to focus on ME and my goals, sans the pressure of my normal job. I've never actually taken a summer "off." I've always worked, and been in graduate school, but despite those responsibilities, it's less time consuming than the normal school year, and I always have time to reflect, plan, and focus on myself moving forward. I always have lofty summer goals, but this year I'd like to simplify. Focus on:

1. Reading
2. Relaxation
3. Family/Friends/Fun
4. Healthy habits
5. Being prepared for the new year

I always feel at my best and most accomplished when I have a project to work on, and of course besides this blog, I can be my own project. Most people make their resolutions in January, but I always make my best resolutions during the summer reset. What are your goals this summer, and how do you go about accomplishing them?

Hello! It's Me, Ms. P!

Hello! I'm Ms. P, a twenty-something teacher living in the middle of Connecticut with my best friend, and my dog, Jack. I love to read, write, horseback ride, cook, and teach! I teach various English courses in grades 9-12 in an awesome school just outside of Hartford. I also create teaching resources on TeachersPayTeachers, and I love the community of educators who create and share their products to reach students all over the country. This summer I will be day-lighting (like moon-lighting, but during the day... you get the idea!) as a first grade teacher in our district's elementary summer program. I have NO idea how to teach first grade, so comments are welcome! I look forward to connecting with all of you. Happy summer!