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 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!