Monday, December 24, 2012

Common Core and Text Selection

Everyone knows about the Common Core and text complexity by now. But the real question is "what do we do with it and how do we justify the texts we are choosing?"
I am lucky to work in a school with a principal who allows me to choose the texts I want to use in my language arts classes. But the question still remains, "what texts should I choose?"

I look at the Lexile scores of the texts that I choose but that is only one criteria. I can choose a text with a Lexile score in the range that Common Core says it should be for the grade level I am teaching, but if that text will hold no interest for the group of students I am teaching, I won't accomplish much in the way of learning. So I believe it is also important to consider the population being taught when choosing a piece of literature or nonfiction text. Yes, it is also important to choose a quality piece of work, one that has the components of what it is you wish to teach, but if the piece does not interest the students, you might get a few who actually follow along and learn something, but the majority will just turn you off.
Some might not agree, but I have found that middle school students need to be at least a little bit interested in what you are talking about if you want them to become active learners.

One theory about text selection is that texts should not be judged based on genre, difficulty, or intensity. This stems from the idea that each reader responds differently to text. A reader may form strong connections to a text that is traditionally classified as unchallenging or unsophisticated and weak connections with texts that are considered to be the greatest works of all time (Lewis, 1961). "In the end, what makes a text worthwhile is the reader's interpretation, not the genre or popular viewpoint." Philomena Marinaccio-Eckel

It is impossible to choose texts that will make all the students excited, therefore we need to make sure that we are allowing students to choose their own reading materials.
The value of self-selected books and TIME to read are what is important. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all classrooms have lots of texts available for students to check out and read. Since I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts (reading and english) in two period blocks, I have the luxury of allowing my students TIME to choose books and read in my class. It is a running joke with my principal that when she comes in my room, sometimes the students are JUST reading!! She says this because when she was a teacher and her principal would come in the room and the students were reading quietly, the principal would leave because they were JUST reading, like that was not important. Luckily, my principal sees the importance of time to read!!!

So, is Common Core just reinventing the wheel? Is it just returning to the type of educational system that was in place 60+ years ago? Is it just reaffirming what we Language Arts teachers have known all along, that reading is the key to good education?

I hope that teachers everywhere are finally figuring out that we don't HAVE TO TEACH EVERYTHING! In our ever evolving world, we need to teach students "how to learn." Teach students where to find information and stop with all the memorization of useless facts. Spark curiosity, but don't give all the answers. (as if we even could!)
Is Common Core good? Well, I am definitely a fan since it is allowing me to actually teach with the intensity I have always desired.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Common Core Question Stems Informational Texts

Common Core Question Stems Informational Texts | Informational Texts Extended Response Question Stems

Common Core Aligned Extended Response Informational Texts Test Question Stems

Explain how the article uses reasons and evidence to support a particular points regarding the …

Identify the overall structure of ideas, concepts, and information in the text and compare and contrast the schemes employed by the author.

Interpret the visual graph/chart that accompanies the text and explain how the information found within contributes to an understanding of how the concept is explained.

Explain the relationship between the hypotheses and the data using specific information drawn from the text.

Determine the meaning of domain-specific words or phrases, such as crust, mantle, magma, and lava, and important general academic words and phrases that appear in…

Compare and contrast a firsthand account of an incident to a secondhand account of the same incident, attending to the focus of each account and the information provided by each.

Quote accurately and explicitly from …; explain statements made and the ideas that are inferred regarding the statements.

Determine the main idea of the article and create a summary by explaining how key details support distinctions regarding different types of …

Common Core Question Stems | Higher Order Thinking Questions | Plot, Theme, Inference, Compare and Contrast, and Poetry

What connections can me made between the visual presentation (illustrations) of … and the text of the story?

Can you identify how the pictures of … relate specifically to imagery vocabulary?

Explain the selfish, mean, odd behavior of … and make inferences regarding the reason they demonstrate these emotions and or actions.

Describe how the narrator’s point of view in … are described and how the reader perceives the character of …

Summarize the plot of …and then reflect on the challenges facing the characters in the story.

Discuss and explore the theme of the story as it relates to plot.

Describe in depth the idyllic, treacherous, sparse or unrealistic setting of the story, drawing on specific details in the text.

Compare and contrast … and … by identifying similar themes and plots, examining the stories’ approach to the topic of ….

Refer to the elements of poetry (e.g., simile, metaphor, symbolism, imagery, verse, rhythm, meter) of … when analyzing a poem and contrasting the impact and differences of those elements to a prose summary of the poem.

Determine the meaning of the metaphor of … and contrast that figurative language to the meaning of the simile in …

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Student Teacher

Wow, this year is going by so fast I don't have time to blink. I switched from a contained class where I taught all the subjects to being the 6th, 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher this year and I am LOVING it!!! Reading and writing have always been my passion and I am delighted to be back in the saddle again. Unfortunately, this is the year I have been given a student teacher. She arrives in one week and I have to say I am not looking forward to this at all. I absolutely love what I am doing and I do not want to give it up!! Where were all the student teachers when I was stuck with a self-contained room that was driving me nuts????
I know that student teachers need places to learn too, but why me, why this year, why now???? (ok, I know I am whining!!!)
It's just that I love all my classes and I enjoy teaching them and I don't want to stop. I figure that if she arrives on October 22, I will have to relinquish my classes to her by the 1st of Novemeber and I won't get them back until the end of January.
Do I really have to give her ALL my classes??? I mean, I could keep one or two, right?? She has to have some time to watch a seasoned teacher at work, yes???? UGH!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Mean Teacher


A “Mean” Teacher

By Laura M. Staunton & Barbara Erickson

A “mean” teacher insists that each student do their best.

A “mean” teacher insists that students hand in their assignments on time.

A “mean” teacher does not accept any excuses for work not being completed.

A “mean” teacher requires each student to think carefully and to make his/her own decisions.

A “mean” teacher holds each student responsible for his/her behavior and class work.

A “mean” teacher insists that there be no talking during a test.

A “mean” teacher puts a ZERO on the test of any student talking during a test.

A “mean” teacher gives homework regularly, sometimes even on weekends.

A “mean” teacher calls on students who don’t raise their hands to answer

A “mean” teacher requires all students to treat each other with respect, all the time.

A “mean” teacher makes life miserable for all students by insisting that they
always do their best work.

A “mean” teacher produces students who are respectful, responsible, and


“MEAN” = Making Excellence A Necessity

I guess my students will have a "mean" teacher for Language Arts this year!!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ever Tried Glogster???

This is hilarious! Anyone out there use Glogster? If I can figure it out I will be using it with my classes!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is it just me?

Is it just me or are there other people out there who are noticing that even the new units being presented for sale are no more in depth than the "pre" common core units? It seems like people are just splashing the CCSS on them, saying they meet this or that standard but they don't.
As far as I can tell, the CCSS is asking us to be much more rigorous in our teaching and assessment, yet as I look through "new" units out there for sale, I see the same surface level type of assessments. The old "cookie cutter" approach. It seems that I will have to reinvent the wheel for all my teaching.
I am wondering if all these publishers are just trying to unload their materials. I, for one, will not be buying them!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Planning with the CCSS

After spending most of my summer vacation reading and researching, I have finally begun to write my writing and reading units. Today I worked on Argumentative writing. I am so glad that I am teaching all 3 middle school levels because the CCSS pretty much says the same thing for each level with just a bit more added to 7th and 8th grade. This makes writing the unit much easier. I simply have to make adjustments for the higher levels and of course go into a bit more depth. I plan on teaching my grammar in conjunction with the writing, so now that I have this unit structured, I am figuring out what I want to focus on at each grade level, still keeping an eye on the CCSS.

Anyone else out there planning with the CCSS in mind? I figure it is best to just jump in with both feet and as I teach I will fill in the gaps. I know the students will be lacking in areas, especially in the area of writing, so I will teach what I need to teach as I find out where they are lacking.

I sure would appreciate any information anyone may have relating to the CCSS.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Results from the ASCD teacher survey on summative assessment

Check this out.  Says something about what really counts. Just click on the first word, Check, above to be directed to the site.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Effective Grading Practices

This was taken from ASCD Educational Leadership Magazine, Fer. 2008/Volume 65/Number 5

Gives you something to think about as we head into another school year.

Effective Grading Practices

Douglas B. Reeves

If you wanted to make just one change that would immediately reduce student failure rates, then the most effective place to start would be challenging prevailing grading practices. How can I be so sure? Try this experiment in your next faculty meeting. Ask your colleagues to calculate the final grade for a student who receives the following 10 grades during a semester: C, C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A. I have done this experiment with thousands of teachers and administrators in the United States, Canada, and Argentina. Every time—bar none—I get the same results: The final grades range from F to A and include everything in between.

As this experiment demonstrates, the difference between failure and the honor roll often depends on the grading policies of the teacher. To reduce the failure rate, schools don't need a new curriculum, a new principal, new teachers, or new technology. They just need a better grading system.

Ineffective Grading

The results of my experiment are not surprising. Guskey and Bailey (2001) and Marzano (2000) have synthesized decades of research with similar findings. Neither the weight of scholarship nor common sense seems to have influenced grading policies in many schools. Practices vary greatly among teachers in the same school—and even worse, the practices best supported by research are rarely in evidence.

For example, the most effective grading practices provide accurate, specific, timely feedback designed to improve student performance (Marzano 2000, 2007; O'Connor, 2007). In the best classrooms, grades are only one of many types of feedback provided to students. Music teachers and athletic coaches routinely provide abundant feedback to students and only occasionally associate a grade with the feedback. Teachers in visual arts, drafting, culinary arts, or computer programming allow students to create a portfolio to show their best work, knowing that the mistakes made in the course of the semester were not failures, but lessons learned on the way to success. In each of these cases, "failures" along the way are not averaged into a calculation of the final grade.

Contrast these effective practices with three commonly used grading policies that are so ineffective they can be labeled as toxic. First is the use of zeroes for missing work. Despite evidence that grading as punishment does not work (Guskey, 2000) and the mathematical flaw in the use of the zero on a 100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), many teachers routinely maintain this policy in the mistaken belief that it will lead to improved student performance. Defenders of the zero claim that students need to have consequences for flouting the teacher's authority and failing to turn in work on time. They're right, but the appropriate consequence is not a zero; it's completing the work—before, during, or after school, during study periods, at "quiet tables" at lunch, or in other settings.

Second is the practice of using the average of all scores throughout the semester, a formula that presumes that the learning early in the semester is as important as learning at the end of the semester (Marzano, 2000; O'Connor, 2007). Interestingly, when teachers and administrators have been students in my graduate courses, they routinely insist that they should be evaluated on the basis of their understanding at the end of the semester rather than their work throughout the term.

Third is the use of the "semester killer"—the single project, test, lab, paper, or other assignment that will make or break students. This practice puts 18 weeks of work at risk based on a project that might, at most, have consumed four weeks of the semester.

A small but growing number of school systems are tackling the issue head-on with comprehensive plans for effective grading practices. (The policy developed by one such district, Grand Island Public Schools in Nebraska, is available at

But even in districts that have attempted to put effective grading policies in place, enforcement is often inconsistent. Grading seems to be regarded as the last frontier of individual teacher discretion. The same school leaders and community members who would be indignant if sports referees were inconsistent in their rulings continue to tolerate inconsistencies that have devastating effects on student achievement.

High-Stakes Grading

The Alliance for Excellent Education estimated that the annual cost of high school failure exceeds $330 billion ("An Economic Case," 2007). Some of these failures are no doubt caused by excessive absences and poor student performance. But, as the experiment at the beginning of this column clearly indicates, many failures are caused by the differences in teacher grading policies.

Do another experiment: Randomly select 30 course failures from the last semester, and determine the cause for failure. Two common causes are missing homework and poor performance on a single major assignment—a term paper, lab, or project. What would it mean to your school if you could reduce the number of failing grades resulting solely from uncompleted homework?

The stakes of grading practices are not limited to student failure. When grading policies improve, discipline and morale almost always follow. For example, Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, achieved a remarkable reduction in course failures through focused attention on improved feedback and intervention for students (Reeves, 2006). I recently checked in with the school, and Principal Joel McKinney reported that the success of this challenging urban school (74 percent free and reduced-price lunch, high mobility, and increasing numbers of English language learners) did not stop with reducing 9th and 10th grade failures. As of fall 2007, enrollment in advanced placement classes had increased 32 percent; suspensions had declined 67 percent; elective opportunities in music, art, and technology had increased; class cuts and tardiness had fallen significantly; teacher morale and school climate had noticeably improved—and the course failure rate had continued to decline (personal communication, December 5, 2007). When schools take steps to reduce failures, lots of good things happen.

The Steps to Take

Although changing grading systems is a challenging leadership task, the benefits are so great that it's worth doing.

First, create a sense of urgency. Identify the exact cost of inconsistent grading practices. How many failures can we prevent this semester if we improve our grading practices?

Second, identify teacher leaders who are already improving policies. Chances are that some teachers in your school have already eliminated the use of the average and the zero on a 100-point scale and created meaningful opportunities for corrective feedback outside of grades. Provide a forum for these teachers to share their insights with colleagues and lead the effort to develop improved policies.

Third, get the facts; gather evidence that will create a rationale for decision making. At the end of the day, your choices about teaching practice must be guided by evidence, not opinions. For example, although many people sincerely believe that giving poor grades as a punishment is effective, Guskey (2000) has marshaled 90 years of evidence to the contrary.

Fourth, reassure parents, students, and teachers that certain things will not change. Students will still have letter grades, transcripts, honor rolls, individualized education plans, and everything else that they have counted on as part of their grading system. What they won't have is irrational grading policies that give students widely different grades for the same work.

The benefits of effective grading practices are not limited to a reduced failure rate—although that benefit alone is sufficient to justify change. When student failures decrease, student behavior improves, faculty morale is better, resources allocated to remedial courses and course repetitions are reduced, and resources invested in electives and advanced courses increase. When was the last time a single change in your school accomplished all that?


An economic case for high school reform (Editorial). (2007, November 1). Minneapolis Star Tribune. Available:

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards … and how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29.

Guskey, T. R., & Bailey, J. M. (2001). Developing grading and reporting systems for student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Marzano, R. J. (2000). Transforming classroom grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

O'Connor, K. (2007). A repair kit for grading: 15 fixes for broken grades. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

Reeves, D. B. (2004). The case against zero. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4), 324–325.

Reeves, D. B. (2006). Leading to change: Preventing 1,000 failures. Educational Leadership, 64(3), 88–89.

Dr. Douglas Reeves Toxic Grading Practices

Dr. Douglas Reeves Toxic Grading Practices


I found this great site about the book Wonder. It tells about the author and has ideas to use with the book. The Choose Kind site has a pledge that you can sign that says you agree that bullying is awful and that you are going to stand up against it. I put the picture on my sidebar but when you click the picture it won't go to the site. Right underneath it I put just the link and that one does really work! I don't always understand Blogger!!!

If you haven't read Wonder by R.J. Palacio you absolutely have to get the book and read it. This is how it is described on Goodreads:

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July Already!!!!

I can't believe how fast June has skated past and now it is the 4th of July and I still need to do a lot of planning for my classes!!! I am very excited to be teaching only Language Arts (reading and writing) this coming year. I will be teaching 6,7 and 8th grade LA. I have been accumulating books this summer and I have several texts picked out already. I am trying to choose novels that have the recommended Lexile rankings of between 955 and 1155 but I have to tell you that it is difficult. I know for a fact that my 7th grade class is below average so I can't just drop them in a complicated book or I will lose them. There are also several titles that I feel teach a good lesson that aren't at the lexile rankings that the CCSS wants us to be at. I am going to take poetic license and do what I think is best. For my 8th grade class I will start the year with To Kill a Mockingbird and focus on the theme of racism. I already taught this group the Holocaust so they should be able to transfer to this theme pretty seamlessly. I will possibly follow with Animal Farm but I am not for sure on that yet. In 6th grade I plan on starting with Wringer, I know, it has a low Lexile but I need to get a handle on where this group is before I throw them something too tough. Then I plan on having them read Holes. Both of these books will speak to the peer pressure and bullying themes. Both of which I think this group will be able to relate. Especially since they are just entering those crazy adolescent years. But 7th grade is stumping me. I think I will start with Things Not Seen but I am not sure of a theme for this book. If I don't catch this group with an interesting novel to start, they turn off and it is HARD to get them motivated again. I could start with Surviving the Applewhites, that would be a funny book and then we could debate homeschooling versus traditional schooling. Of course we will also be doing reading and writing workshop and word study and grammar. Our school report cards still have a spelling grade required so I will choose from their vocabulary for spelling. I personally think time is better spent in other areas besides spelling at the middle school level. Just my opinion! Anyone out there know of a good site or book for teaching Greek and Latin roots. I think this is an important area to approach since so many of our words stem from these roots. And all the research says that those who know lots of words end up doing better in school. I have perused a few things but I am not sold on anything thus far. Suggestions would be appreciated. I am planning on using a classroom blog with the 8th grade too, I just haven't figured out exactly how I want to use it. I already set up my 8th grade using kidblog because it looks the most secure. I want to start simple, and see what I am getting myself into before I jump in with both feet. I would like to have a place where my students could put their writing so we aren't using so much ink and paper. (since I end up buying most of it!) Anyone out there with any good ideas please share! Those are my plans for now, they could change by this evening!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Workshop with Kelly Gallagher

I spent two days this past week in a workshop with Kelly Gallagher. If you don't know who he is and you teach middle or high school language arts, you really need to read his books and if you get the chance, hear him speak. I have been teaching for 20+ years so you can imagine how many workshops I have been to and I have to say this was one of the BEST and most informative. I couldn't believe when 3:00 p.m. rolled around and he said it was time to leave. I felt like I could sit there and listen to him forever. He spent the first day talking about the importance of writing and using mentor texts. He also spoke of the importance of modeling for the students. He gave us a plethora of ideas to work from. He talked about how you don't have to grade everything they write, in fact, you don't even have to READ everything they write! He uses somewhat of a workshop type of organization, but a bit more structured. He stressed the importance of having students read and write EVERY DAY! Less us talking and more them working! I highly recommend: If you look on Amazon you can find them used for much cheaper than list price. These are 4 books that every middle and high school teacher should have in their library. I also met a lovely woman who teaches in a different district than I, and we exchanged lots of great book titles and she gave me some wonderful bulletin board ideas! We are both on Goodreads, so we will follow each other and we have exchanged email addresses too! It is always wonderful to find someone who has the same love of reading myself. I have another workshop in July through the Illinois Holocaust Museum. This is a week long workshop. Its topic is Genocide and Racism. I am really excited about this workshop because I already teach the Holocaust and now I will be adding this unit to be taught in conjunction with To Kill a Mockingbird which I will be teaching to my eighth grade LA class. I know this class and they are bright and motivated and I think they will do a great job with both the novel and the topic of genocide. In August I am attending an inquiry based reading 2 day workshop through the Great Books foundation. Anybody out there ever been to one of their workshops? I don't know much about it but I am hoping that it will be good. Then that will take me right to the start of school! No, we don't have any vacation plans. Last winter we went to St. Maartin over Christmas break and we loved it so much we decided to do another island vacation this coming Christmas break. It is so nice to get away from the cold Chicago winters in December!!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Give-away over at The Mixed Up Files of....

You absolutely must visit the following blog for information about a new book that middle school students will LOVE! The blog, From the Mixed Up Files of... is an absolutely fabulous place to learn about new books and authors. On this blog you will find this offer: One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid. Leave a comment below and our random generator will choose a lucky winner on Saturday, June 23. You’ll get extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter. So head on over there for your chance to win! I couldn't figure out how to make the link so you just clicked on the name to get to the blog because evidently I am a blog/computer idiot, but the blog is listed on my blog roll to the right so just scroll down until you find it and click and it'll take you right to the blog. I did figure out how to get the trailer for the book however!!!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dog Attack!

Ok, this has absolutely nothing to do with school things, just a very upset me letting off some steam. I have a whippet. He is 14 years old, mostly blind, deaf and losing his strength in his back legs. I have lived in this same neighborhood for 28 years and so have walked him on the same streets for his entire life. This afternoon, I was taking him on his usual walk and out of nowhere this dog comes and bites him on the rump. He kept attacking my dog and I am beating the dog with my hands trying to get him off my dog. I finally get him by the collar and yank him off my dog and then the collar comes off. Yep, I thought, oh s___, now what!! The dog finally ran off and then the owner comes out and starts telling me that I shouldn't be walking down her street and that no one on the block likes my dog etc, etc, etc. How is any of this relevant??? Here I stand, totally shaken with a bleeding elderly dog and she doesn't even apologize or offer me any help. When I called the police to file a report she accused me of wanting her dog put down. All I know is that I need to file a report and then get my dog to the vet. I ended up carrying a 32 pound injured whippet 4 blocks home. We got to the vet, after hours mind you, so it is an emergency visit and he ended up with stitches and mega antibiotics since I guess dog bites carry lots of germs. The vet told me that in Illinois the owner of the dog that did the biting is legally responsible for the dog and anything it did and will have to pay the vet bill. Also, our town has a leash law so there will be a citation for that. They will need to take their dog in to be observed for rabies. My dog couldn't defend itself if it wanted to. It is old and frail and was just enjoying his afternoon stroll. What is most upsetting to me now, knowing that he will be ok, is that this woman took no responsibility for her dog attacking my dog at all. Seriously, what is this world coming to????? This is what his poor little behind looks like after the vet visit! Here is his sad little face resting on his bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Teacher's Funeral, A Comedy in 3 Parts.

Let me just say that my eighth grade LA class will be reading this book this year!!! I found it to be quite humorous and opened the door for discussing dialect. The Lexile score on this one is only 750, so isn't in the range that the new common core standards say eighth graders should be reading, but I think it is increased in difficulty because of the language and the background knowledge that I know my students don't have. I will probably start the year with this book and do some CLOSE reading with it. I think the kids will connect with the characters since it is all about their trials with going to school. I have several other books by this author so I am thinking I could make this an author study. Hmmm... I'll have to do some more thinking on this!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Vacation?

School's out! My last day with kids was June 1. Teachers had to return this week to finish packing up rooms. I spent all day Saturday at school with my husband and friends, putting together the interactive whiteboards that were purchased for the school by an anonymous donor. It was quite a day!!! The boards are on mobile carts so they can be shared between rooms. The carts had a zillion pieces so it was kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle! You know, the kind where all the pieces are the same color and shape!!!! I am glad that is done! I finished packing up my room on Tuesday. The pastor came through with a guy who had to serve community service hours and he left him with me so I got done about 3 hours sooner than I thought I would. That was a wonderful surprise! Now I am gearing up to work on new units for next year. I am changing from a self-contained sixth grade where I taught all subjects, to teaching only LA to sixth, seventh and eighth grade. I am really looking forward to NOT teaching math and science. Those are probably my weakest areas. I LOVE language arts (although the grammar area is a bit boring. After this last class where the students were not motivated to learn at all, I will enjoy having different groups. This way, if one group is not motivated I have the chance to get another group that will be motivated. Unfortunately, I will have the same group I had this year for 2 periods. Oh well, at least I won't have them all day!! No travel plans for the summer. My husband and I went to St. Maarten over Christmas this past year and we loved it soooooo much that we have decided to do our traveling at that time of the year. It is nice to be able to get away when it is so cold here in Chicago. And I will enjoy being able to relax in my own house all summer! If anyone out there has any ideas for novels aligned to the Common Core, could you point me in that direction. I really don't want to have to reinvent the wheel!!!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Must Read!

I just finished Empty by Suzanne Weyn.  Wow!  It was fantastic.  I recommend it to EVERYONE!  It is about running out of oil and what will happen to the U.S. when that happens.  I am going to use it with my class next year!

What are you reading?

I just finished the book The Eleventh Plague and I have to say I was a little disappointed.  All the reviews for it claimed that it was on the same level as The Hunger Games, but it was definitely not.  I am not saying that it was awful, it just didn't have the same level of excitement.  I would recommend it to my students because I do think that it will interest them, but I won't build it up to be like The Hunger Games. 
It is about a young boy named Stephen who loses his family and has to make it in a world that was devastated by war and disease.  It is definitely futuristic and somewhat dystopian.  It was easy to read and the story line isn't that complicated so even my reluctant readers will be able to follow and enjoy. 

I just started Empty.  This book seems like it might be a bit more interesting.  It is set in the U.S. in the future when gas prices are $20 or more a gallon.  Not too hard to imagine, yes?  I think it will be an easy read also. 

The Bar Code TattooI just ordered 10 books from Scholastic that I think my class will enjoy.  Some of my students have already read The Bar Code Tattoo so I ordered the sequel.  I hope it is as good as the first book.  I have already read The Maze Runner Trilogy and loved it so I ordered the books for my classroom.  I also ordered a few other titles that follow the same dystopian theme.  This is what seems to hold my students' interest.  As long as they are reading I am HAPPY!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

First grade summer fun!

You really need to hop over to Teacher Tams blog to check out her Common Core packet for first grade!  I have a friend who teaches first grade and I know she will love it.  What wonderful ideas!  You could even start to use it now if you are running out of great ideas to finish the school year!!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Please read to the end!

Wow, I haven't posted for awhile again!!!  I just don't seem to have enough time in a day to keep this up to date.  I am envious of those who religiously update daily and are always adding pictures, etc.

I have been trying to get everything done with my class before the end of the quarter.  Friday was it, and some of my kids still did not finish all their required work.  By this time in sixth grade they should know time management.  Plus, I am on them constantly!  I was happy with some of the work that came in, but that was from the students that I expected to do well.  I had one student out all week so I just have to figure her grades on what she already had in, which wasn't much and wasn't done well.  Just when I think I am making progress with this group, something like this happens and I wonder if ANYTHING I do makes a difference. 

I was also working on a proposal for interactive whiteboards for our school.  An anonymous donor wants to donate money so that we can purchase some and I had to do the research to find the best boards that would do what we wanted them to do.  On top of that, I had to research what we needed to replace our server since it is archaic and won't survive to do the job we need it to do if we get these whiteboards.  Mind you, I am not the tech person, just a plain, old, sixth grade teacher so all of this was Greek to me!  With the help of my husband, a friend of his who is an IT person, the people at CDW and the Poly Vision rep, I finally got it all together and submitted the proposal on Friday.  Now we just wait to see if the donor approves and gives us the money. 

My next job is trying to find ways to raise tons of money for our school.  You see, we are a small Catholic school in a very depressed community and many of our parents cannot pay full tuition.  Our public school system is overcrowded and rife with problems.  Our parents want to have their children at our school because we offer a safe environment and a better education.  Many of our students are first generation Mexican Americans whose parents want better for them they what they have had.  They are willing to sacrifice, but they can barely put food on the table much less pay tuition.  It is not uncommon to find more than one family living in the same house because they just can't afford anything else. 

Like everywhere, our school has fallen on big financial woes.  The parish can't/won't support the school at the amount of money that we need and the archdiocese doesn't look kindly on giving out big loans.  If we don't find a source of money, and soon, our little school will be closed and these children will have nowhere to go except the public school system.  Our parents don't want that.  Students are drafted into gangs as early as 4th grade.  It is just not a good environment to be in.  So, I am wracking my brain trying to figure out to whom I can plead our case. 

It is sad that we can't apply for so many of the grants that are available for education because we are a Catholic school.  We accept students of all denominations.  We even have Hindu and Jewish students in our school.  We don't discriminate against anyone and we offer a better product than the public school on MUCH less money.  Our students graduate and go on to the public high school far ahead of their public school peers.  Most of our students enter honors classes.  This is the advantage that our parents want for their children, yet without help, it might not be available for much longer. 

So if anyone out there has any great ideas, I'd appreciate it if you would share them with me.  If anyone would like to send donations to our school, they can be sent to:
St. Joseph Elementary School
118 Lincoln Ave.
Round Lake, IL  60073

Thanks to anyone who can give us any support or advice.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Are You Kidding Me????

Ok, so we are reading The Hunger Games in class.  When we started the book, I emphasized how important it was that NO ONE read ahead.  We are using this novel as our teaching novel and since it has so much symbolism and so many themes interspersed in it, I explained to the students that we needed to walk through it together.  It also has quite a bit of difficult vocabulary, so I need to make sure they understand the words to fully understand the novel. 
Anyway, every child in the room was fully aware of my instructions.  Now, we have readers workshop so they have lots and lots of time to read ANYTHING they would like to read, they just can't read ahead in The Hunger Games.  Seems simple enough, right?

Well, this past week, I found out that 7 of my students decided to finish the novel, brag about it to their classmates, yet sit in class and act as though they hadn't gone ahead at all.  I wondered why some of these same students were so spot on with certain answers and predictions.  Well, come to find out it was because they did EXACTLY  what I told them NOT  to do. 

Ok, so I call them out on it.  First, I called them out on the fact that when I had asked them point blank, if they had read ahead, they told me no.  That is what is called a LIE.  There is no other way around it, they lied to me.  Secondly, I called them out on the fact that they had an unfair advantage over the students who had not read ahead.  They could make better predictions (of course they could, they already knew what would happen) and could design better responses to essay questions since they knew exactly what was going to happen next.  (like I said, I wondered about their ability to be so spot on with their responses)  To me, when you have an unfair advantage over another student, that is cheating. 
So, because they decided to do EXACTLY what I instructed them not to do, and because they lied about it, I told them they didn't need me.  They were obviously way ahead of everyone else so they could take the final test on Monday and then I would give them other reading assignments because I wouldn't want to bore them with going through the novel again. 
I also told them that they needed to write an explanation of what they had done and why it was wrong and have their parents sign it.  Silly me, I figured parents would want to know that their child disobeyed their teacher and lied about it. 

Now the good part!  I get an email from a parent upset that I called their son out on this.  First they said that he didn't know he wasn't supposed to read ahead, which is a bold faced LIE, then they said they told him it was ok to read ahead, just don't tell anyone.  Well, if it was ok, and you weren't doing something you knew you shouldn't be doing, why not tell people?  These people are actually encouraging their child to NOT listen to the teacher, disregard what she says and lie about it.  To me, doing something you know you aren't supposed to do and then not saying anything about it, is tantamount to lieing.  They actually think this is ok.  Then they are trying to shift the blame to me. 
They say they can't understand why I would punish a child for reading.  I AM NOT PUNISHING A CHILD FOR READING!!!  I am giving a CONSEQUENCE TO A CHILD FOR DISREGARDING MY EXPLICIT INSTRUCTIONS!  I do nothing but encourage reading in my class.  I buy books out of my own money, I have book talks to get kids excited about books, I obtain for my students any books they show interest in reading.  I have nearly killed myself this year trying to get this group excited about anything.  And these parents have the gall to try to turn this situation around on me. 

In their email to me, they put it in such a way that they would give me a chance to tell my side of the story.  HA!  They don't want to hear anything, they just want their son to not be made to deal with the consequences of his actions.  It is not like I am giving detentions or anything.  All I am doing is giving them the same test all the other students will take when we finish the novel, just earlier than the rest of the class.  After all, they are done with the novel so they should be ready for the test.  AND, I can't very well have them continue with the activities that we are doing as a class with the novel because they already know what it going to happen, so I am giving them alternate reading assignments.  I still want them to be learning, they just have to do it with a different piece of work.  IN FACT, I am actually making MORE work for myself by having to come up with different lessons for these students. 

But, I am the bad guy here.  When will parents ever learn that making excuses for your child will NOT  help them in the future????

Luckily, my principal knows all about what occurred and how I handled it, so when this crazy parent contacts her she won't be caught off guard.  I just hate that she has to deal with it right now.  She has some serious health issues and she doesn't need any more stress. 

Anyone out there have CRAZY parents to deal with besides me?  I bet that is a silly question!  What teacher has not had at least one parent who was difficult, right?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

RTI? Really?

Ok, so I recommend a student for testing from the public school system (I teach in a Catholic school) and they complete the testing (they had to because the parents wrote a letter so by law they are required to do at least this much).  We have a meeting and the test results show that the child has a deficit in working memory and processing speed.  Both of these scores, plus the fact that the child has extreme difficulty in the classroom, coupled with the fact that this child has had these same learning issues since preschool, should indicate to anyone with half a brain, that this child needs special services.  Now mind you, I have already been working with the child in the classroom, have made accomodations for him, work with him before school and the parents work with him at home.  He is still behind and having difficulty learning and achieving at the sixth grade level. 
So back to my original statement.  The child is tested and we meet to discuss eligibility.  The public school system decides that he doesn't qualify because we didn't complete all the RTI interventions they want completed.  It doesn't matter that all the research on working memory shows that the traditional RTI interventions don't work with children with working memory deficits, all they do is delay the services the child does need.  The public school system won't budge.

So the parents and I go back and do more research, all the while still helping this child who struggles in the classroom.  We go back for a second meeting and this is where it gets interesting.  Wait, let me first tell you what transpired in the weeks before this second meeting. 

The psychologist (who, by the way, acted very unprofessional during the initial meeting, leaving the room crying because she felt she was being "attacked,"  we were simply asking questions about the results.)  was supposed to get the results of the testing to the parents within 3 days of the meeting.  She also promised this mother that she would get a whole list of different interventions that we could do with the child to her and me so that we could try a different approach with the child.  Well, days turned into weeks and the mother received nothing.  The psychologist had forgotten to get the eligibility form signed at the meeting so she dropped it by the school and asked me to have the parents sign it and let her know when they did so she could pick it up.  This was 3 days after the meeting.  She could have dropped off the test results and the interventions at this time so I could deliver them to the parents, but she didn't.  Anyway, I let the mom know that I have this paper for her to sign and she decides that she will sign it when she receives the paperwork promised.  Seems fair to me.  So every few days I get an email from the psychologist asking if the paper has been signed.  I just respond no.  I did ask, after about 10 days, if she had the paperwork ready for the parents and she responded, "working on it."  So after 20 days, the mom has had enough.  She sends an email to the psychologist complaining that she has no results, no promised list of interventions, nothing.  She writes her email as a mom who is desperately trying to get help for her child.  The psychologist calls her, angry and yelling so the mom tells her that they are both angry and they won't get anywhere this way so she is going to hang up.  Which she does.  The psychologist calls back!  The mom doesn't answer because she knows this will go nowhere.  So the psychologist calls the husband at work and cries to him (yes, literally cries) that his wife yelled at him, etc. etc. etc.  Now you tell me, what professional does this????  Who pits a husband against a wife???? 

Ok, so now onto the second meeting.  Only the head of the special education services comes to the meeting.  The parents and I have done our research and come prepared to this meeting.  The mom has her information all typed out, with documents marked and attached, to contest the eligibility decision.  She gives us all a copy and the public school man doesn't even look at it.  The mom starts to go through everything step by step and he just nods and smiles.  Adding a few things here and there.  Finally, when the mom is so frustrated that nothing is happening, no discussion, nothing, she pleads, with tears in her eyes, and says to the guy, how would you feel if this were you son or grandson, wouldn't you want help for them.  This man from the public school YELLS  at this poor woman.  Tells her she has crossed the line and how dare she do that and that her email to the psychologist had crossed the line and that the psychologist is trying to have a baby and is having difficulty and how dare she make this personal. 

Are you shocked now???  Of course this is personal, it is about the mother's child.  All she wants is help.  She didn't say anything wrong, she was pleading with this man to give her child the help he needs.  He had no right to act the way he did and neither did the psychologist.  But they turned it around on this mother and left the meeting making her feel defeated, with nowhere to turn.  This is what we deal with every time we try to get help for our kids.  The same kids whose parents pay taxes to the public school system yet don't tax the system by putting their kids in the schools.  Why can't they get the services they need???

I have asked teachers in different public school systems how they feel about this whole RTI policy now mandated by our state and they all respond that they think all it does is delay the services for the children who really need them.  Sure it helps some, but those who need special services just have to run through a maze for a year or longer before they really get the help they need.  Why is this allowed to happen??? 

How do the rest of you feel about RTI?  Do you think it truly benefits the students or is it just a way for the states to save some money but keeping kids out of special ed.????

And anyone out there from a private school, how does your public school system deal with the kids you refer for services??  Can anyone relate to my nightmare?????

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Books! Books! Books!

Ok, I really need to stay out of bookstores and  There are so many books out there that I want to purchase to help me with my students but I can't keep buying them all!!!  And now, with my ipad, it is so easy to just click the kindle edition and poof, I have the book in seconds. 
This morning, I already have found several that I want to purchase and I already purchased 3 books this weekend. 
Add to that, all the fiction books that I want for my classroom and you see that I really need to be winning the lottery!!! 
I purchased In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, a Fontas and Pinnell book called Guiding Readers and Writers and Janet Allen's Tools for Teaching Content Literacy. 
All of this resulted from attending a workshop on Friday!!!  Is there anyone else out there that has this problem???

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Makes You Think

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the WORLD. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among the top 8% of the worlds WEALTHY. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more BLESSED than the MILLION people who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation you are luckier than 500 MILLION PEOPLE ALIVE AND SUFFERING. If you can READ this message you are more fortunate than 3 BILLION people in the world who cannot read at all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are you sick of "highly paid" teachers?

I saw this on the Reading is Thinking blog and followed it over to!  This is amazing.  I hope all those people who think teachers get paid too much really stop and think about all of this.   


Are You Sick Of ‘Highly Paid’ Teachers?

November 13, 2011
By Author Unknown (if you know who wrote it, PLEASE let me know)
Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit!
We can get that for less than minimum wage.
That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).
Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.
That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).
What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!
The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!
Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.

Off the Grid

Wow, I can't believe I haven't posted for so long.  So much has been going on the past few weeks that although I have had time to catch up on others blogs, I didn't have time to sit down and post anything on mine. 
I have so many things going on right now that I would like to have input on, that I don't even know where to start.
I guess I'll start with the Common Core Standards.  Illinois doesn't seem to be doing much in the area of really helping teachers understand the standards and all the changes involved.  I have had to do much web searching to see what other states are doing to find out more information.  I teach in a private school, so we don't have a team of curriculum specialists that are laying out steps to incorporate the core into what we are doing now.  And most of the people I work with think that just reading the standard will tell them exactly what they need to do and what changes to make.  I am finding that it is just not that simple.  Especially with the ELA standards.  Sometimes I wonder why they have to word things so abstractly and make you look for what it is that should be taught.  We only have 2 years before the testing changes to reflect these standards so if we don't get on board now, our results won't look so good!  I am supposed to be changing from a sixth grade self-contained room to teaching the junior high language arts next year and I have to say that planning for this is a daunting job.  There is so much conflicting information out there that I don't even know where to begin. 

Now, if you add to this the fact that our school is in a very depressed area and is lacking in money, that ups the anty even more.  We have to prove ourselves with standards we don't totally understand, no team of curriculum people to help us, and a population of students that are already challenged.  And no real support from home.  We don't have the technology that so many other schools are touting and no money to obtain it. 

I have to say I get pretty angry when I see things like and they won't let teachers from private schools participate.  Do they think WE don't need things too?  Or that our students don't deserve the same as those in the public schools?  The school I teach in is a Catholic preK -8 in a highly hispanic community with an overcrowded public school system that scores poorly on state testing and has numerous safety issues.  The parents that choose our school do so because we can provide a safer environment for their children and an overall better education.  They sacrifice immensely to send their children here.  Many are on reduced tuition or scholarships and free lunch.  We have children with learning disabilities yet the public school system only shares a pittance of its massive special education money with us.  They share only what the state says they absolutely have to share.  To service all the students with special needs in our building, they only give us $3000 a year.  That is total, not per child!  The parents still pay taxes to support the public school system, so why shouldn't they have access to the funds that are allocated for their child????  I don't know if a voucher system is the way to go, but something needs to change.  It isn't fair for the students in our building to receive less just because they are not in the public school system.  Who, as a parent, wouldn't choose a safer environment for their child?  But they are now punished by the govt. because of it???  And why is it that Catholic schools consistently score higher on all standardized tests then the public schools yet we educate with far fewer dollars.  And don't say it's because we don't have all the special ed kids that the public school has.  Percentage wise I could assure you it is comparable.   So why is it that we don't have access to the same things as the public school system?  All of our teachers hold the same certifications that are required in the public school system and are required to accumulate the same hours of professional growth, so what is the big deal?  We are accredited by the state, have to pass the same tests and regulations and follow the same rules, the only difference between us and the public school system is we teach religion and talk about God.  So don't give us any money for that.  But to not realize that our students deserve the same as those who choose public education is a crime.  We are not allowed to even apply for certain grants because we are a private school.  That is ridiculous.  I can already hear people out there saying, "well, the parents choose that so they just have to deal with the fact that they won't have access to the same things" or "you choose to teach in a private school so deal with it."  That is a bunch of horse manure!  ALL children deserve the same opportunities no matter where you send them to school.  If a public school system isn't meeting the needs of its community, then why shouldn't a parent be able to send their child to a private school that is doing a better job AND be afforded the same opportunities there that their tax dollars pay for in the public schools????  

I guess this is a pretty long post so I should save some of my other topics for another time.  If there is anyone out there reading this, maybe you have some ideas you'd like to share. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What a Great Blog!

If you want lots and lots of freebies and great ideas for teaching, this is the place to go.  I can't believe I hadn't found this blog already.  Just click on the link below to go to Cooperative Learning 365!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Liebster Award

Thanks to Jena at Caught in the Middle who nominated me for this award.
The rules are you have to thank the person who nominated you, nominate 5 blogs with less than 200 followers and post it on your blog. I am not very good with trying to add links so if they don't work someone help me!!!!

I am nominating the following blogs!
1. Guys Lit Wire
2. A Teaching Life
3. Literate Lives
4. atychiphobia
5. Literacy Minute

Saturday, January 7, 2012

HA! Love this quote!

"Peeing is like a good book in that it is very, very hard to stop once you start."
From: Paper Towns by John Green

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

First Day Back!

Well, the first day back was a busy one. We started the day with some grammar review. I am disappointed that most of my class still does not know the eight parts of speech. We will continue to work on this! I had them identify what the eight parts of speech are, write a sentence, identifying the given part of speech and tomorrow they will make an illustration for each part. Maybe some visualization techniques will help them to remember.
We began literature circles today. It took much longer than I expected to get the children organized. Most seemed happy with their groups and novels. I am having the high group read Mudshark by Gary Paulsen. I just love that author!! My two middle groups are reading Shiloh and Holes and my low group will be working on Esperanza Rising. I tried to match ability groups with Lexile scores, since that is what the common core is heading towards. My high group thought they had the easiest book because it is the shortest! Wait till they try to figure out themes and character development!!!!
In social studies we picked an important person to research. I actually had a list of people and the students picked a slip with a name on it and that was the person they were assigned. I can't believe that they didn't know people like John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and FDR. UGH! Anyway, for this project they will be gathering some information about birth, country of origin and achievements and then they will write a short essay about their person. As a class, we will construct a timeline and each student will place their person on the timeline according to major achievements. Did I mention this is an illustrated timeline!! To top it off, we will make pop bottle people to represent our person! I found that cute idea on Pinterest!!!
Common Core has a focus on research in sixth grade, but not necessarily long research projects. This is a mini-research project that I feel meets the requirements of the Common Core.
Finally, we practiced a choral reading for Martin Luther King Jr. day. I still do not have all the parts finalized but I think after a few more read throughs tomorrow I will be able to assign all the parts and begin practice in earnest.
In math we started our unit on multiplication and division of decimals. We started slow with a review of estimating. I can't believe the number of students who have forgotten how to estimate, not to mention those that needed to ask what a product and a quotient were! Do you feel my pain???
In science, we finished our science fair papers and discussed any questions they had on finishing their display boards that are due on Friday. Anybody want to make a wager on how many DON'T bring it in on Friday!!!
We are finishing our unit on ancient Egypt in social studies. The students are working on second drafts of their informative essays, final copies of their group illustrated dictionaries and newspaper articles on their topics of research. I expect to have trifold boards completed for Open House at the end of the month. Wish me luck!!
Whew, it was a busy day! And I still have 3 more to go. For those of you who don't go back until tomorrow, I envy your 3 day week!

Sunday, January 1, 2012