Tagged: reading

Goals and Projects for 2017

goals and projects for 2017I know. Everyone writes about goals and projects at the start of a new year, right? Considering I’m posting this on January 9th, I’m a little late getting on the “let’s talk about resolutions” bandwagon. The funny thing is I wasn’t planning to write anything or set any goals for the year. Last year was brutal, and by the middle of December, all I wanted was to hide and hibernate until sometime next spring. However, after the break from work and with a push from a few friends, I’m excited about the potential of 2017. With that in mind, I’ve embraced a few goals and projects for 2017, and experience tells me I’m more likely to succeed if I make my efforts public.

Two Goals

With encouragement from my friend A.J. Juliani, I’ve decided to return to this space. I have missed writing and spending more time reflecting and sharing openly. I’m a better teacher when I take my reflection to the next level and share it with others. I’m able to clarify what’s happening and how I think and feel about it.

For now, my plan will be to post each Monday. I’m writing daily in my leather-bound journal and my DayOne app, and I thought I’d polish something and post on Fridays or Saturdays. Instead, I’ve decided it’s better for me to have the weekend to clean up something to share. We’ll see how things go. However, sharing here isn’t the only thing I’m working on at the start of 2017.

In addition to writing more and sharing publicly, I’m working on tracking what I eat and drink. According to several different BMI calculators, my current BMI is around 27.2, so I need to drop a few pounds. I’m tracking my consumption on MyFitnessPal, and I’m using my Fitbit to motivate me to exercise more. I’ll occasionally post here for added accountability.

A Few Additional Projects

In addition to these goals, I’ve got a few other projects on which I’m working. First, I’m again attempting to capture a photo a day on Instagram. Perhaps this year I’ll make it past March. Second, I’ve set a goal of reading a book a week this year, and I’ll be logging my reading progress on Goodreads. (I’m halfway through my first book: Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life.) My third project is my “3 things I am thankful for today” records which I keep in my Day One app.

Thanks to this blog post from Bill Ferriter, my fourth project is writing more comments on blog posts. Right now I’m trying to write one good comment a day. I know that isn’t much, but it’s more than I have done in a while. I’m hoping it’ll help me reconnect with some of my fellow educators with whom I’ve connected through the years.

My last project for 2017 is working to learn Spanish through Duolingo. I’m only spending a few minutes a day on it, but I’m trying to be consistent.

I realize that I’m tackling way too much at one time and that I won’t keep up with all of this all year-long. Some of this will most likely fall by the wayside. Of these things, losing some weight to improve my BMI is primary. Unfortunately, it’s the least fun of all these goals and projects. Writing and sharing here is the second most important goal. The rest are ongoing projects that I hope to work on throughout the year.

What about you? Did you make any goals or resolutions for 2017? On what projects are working now?

Why I Run

Why I runA few years ago, my friend Todd told me that he and another friend had started training for their first half marathon. They had just finished a Couch to 5K program and were looking for a new challenge. As I listened to my friend, I realized I was jealous. My friend was getting in shape and I wasn’t. He was taking care of himself and I wasn’t. In fact, I was headed in the opposite direction, and I needed to do something about it. School was almost out for summer so I bought some Nike running shoes at the nearest outlet store, downloaded a #C25K app for my iPhone, and hit my neighborhood streets. By the time summer ended, I was ready for a 5K race and feeling better about my physical health.

I started running for health reasons. I needed to lower my cholesterol; I wanted to lose some weight. I hoped it might help me live long enough to escort my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. My motives were primarily selfish, but they got me out the front door to the street each morning. They helped me accomplish a few goals and brought others within reach.

So I was running right along somewhat proud of my accomplishments when I realized something: I’m a terrible runner. I’m not being humble. I’m really not. I wish I were just being hard on myself, but I’m not. I suck at running. I’m awful at it. I’m slow–painfully slow, and it doesn’t bring me lots of joy the way it does many of my runner friends. Instead, I see running as really hard work and on most days I’d rather crawl back under the covers when my alarm sounds at 4:30 AM.

Races are usually discouraging. More people pass me than I am able to pass, and my personal records are beyond my reach these days. I cannot remember the last time I beat my best time at any distance.

I’ve also become injury prone. I suffer from bad knees and take supplements to relieve the joint pain. Last year, when I complained to my doctor about some neck and upper back pain, he noticed my shoulders are somewhat asymmetrical. X-rays confirmed a mild case of scoliosis so now my recovery from long runs often includes taking a muscle relaxer, and I hate the way it makes me feel.

Running is hard. I suck at it. It hurts, and I find it completely discouraging. So, why do I run? Why put myself through it? I run because I suck at it. I suck, but I keep trying to get better.

I’m competent at most of what I choose to do in life. I’m pretty confident in all my roles. For example, I’m a pretty good teacher. I know how to develop my students’ thinking. I know how to design learning experiences and how to manage a learning environment. I also know my subject well. I love reading and writing, and I know what it takes to be a good reader and writer. I’m able to develop strong relationships with my students and my colleagues. And I’m able to leverage these things to continually improve my practice. Being in a classroom is “in my wheelhouse.”

However, I know the same isn’t true for all my students. For many of them, being in a classroom is hard work. School is discouraging. When their alarms go off each morning, they want to crawl back under the covers and not get up for school. They may find my class to be painful or uncomfortable. They may think they “suck” at reading and writing. They may have learning difficulties to overcome each day, and they may get tired of learning always being so hard.

So I run. I run to empathize. I run to better understand. I run because quitting isn’t always an option. Running is hard, but I’m a better teacher having ran.

Chief Instagram Officers

InstagramLast year I wanted to involve my students in sharing the learning taking place in my classroom. I decided to try this by creating a rotating “executive office” I dubbed the Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) for each class. After recognizing (and giving in to) the growing popularity of Instagram, I decided to add another executive office this year, our Chief Instagram Officer (CIO). (So you know, I also have a Chief Operating Officer (COO), a Chief Distributions Officer (CDO), and a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) on my rotating executive staff. I serve as the CEO.)

Our class Surface tablet is still designated for use by our CTO. Instead of having both social media executives share the tablet, the Chief Instagram Officer uses my iPad 2. I wasn’t completely comfortable with this idea at first. I use my iPad quite a bit, and it syncs with all my email accounts, my Evernote, my Google Drive, and all my personal social media accounts. I love and trust my students, but I’m not sure I want them to have that much access to my information.

My solution to this problem is to lock the iPad to just the Instagram app using Guided Access. I love the way the Guided Access works because I can “gray out” any area on the app that I don’t want students to use. So far it is working pretty well. I introduced the role by talking about the need to share our story of learning over the course of the year. We discussed how pictures help tell stories and what types of things we could capture and share about our learning. We also discussed the things we shouldn’t share and talked about the need to represent ourselves, our class, and our school honestly and respectfully. I’m sure we’ll continue those discussions all year. You can check out the stream here.

I’m not sure if there are other middle-level classes using Instagram, but I’m hoping we’ll find a few to connect with and follow. I’m interested to see how the role will develop as the year goes and see what my students decide to share. I’m already finding it interesting and informative to see the pictures the boys capture and to read the captions they write. I’m learning much about their perspectives.

Here are a few of my favorite images so far:


 
 

One logistical thing I changed from last year is that my officers serve for a full week at a time this year instead of changing daily. This gives the students more time to grow comfortable in the role and to become more adept at using the tool to share our learning.

So what do you think? What questions or feedback do you have about the idea? I’d love to read your thoughts. If you are an educator, we’d love to connect with you or your class. You can find us sharing online here or here.

An Idea: ELA Quads

Rectangle ABCD
by Illustrative Mathematics licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

One of the changes we’ve made in 6th grade this year is to combine our English and reading instruction into one English Language Arts (ELA) class. We still have two teachers and two classrooms. Marjorie focuses on writing instruction through Writers’ Workshop while I focus on reading through Readers’ Workshop, but instead of having separate classes and separate schedules. Two homerooms are scheduled to have us during a two-hour English Language Arts block. This is a step towards developing the humanities class we are planning to shift to in the future. I’m excited about the shift to (ELA) because it allows Marjorie and I to collaborate more closely integrating our teaching and it allows us greater flexibility and more control over individual student schedules.

With thirty-eight boys scheduled for a two-hour block of ELA at one time, we’ve been imagining ways to play with how our classes will flow and how boys will shift between the two workshops. We considered a block schedule grouping the boys and having them spend both hours with one teacher on alternating days, but we decided for now we prefer the boys both to read and write daily. We also prefer to divide up having our boys travel by homerooms.

In wrestling with these constraints, Marjorie and I designed a plan. Each boys will be assigned to an ELA quad. Within the quad each boy will have a reading partner and a writing partner, but their partners will differ depending on the workshop. The quads will travel together to the different classrooms and work together for small group lessons for the entire first trimester. The quad consists of boys A, B, C, and D. A and B are reading partners, and C and D are reading partners. A and D are writing partners, and B and C are writing partners.  The whole quad also doubles as a small group. At the end of the trimester we will “turnover the fruit basket” and place the boys in new quads with new partners. Because we are still getting to know the students and their personal learning needs, our first quads will be of mixed ability levels. However, we may adjust how we group the students as the year goes along.

I’m excited about the idea and the flexibility it affords us while providing some structure for the students. Our plan is to name each quad after an NFL team during the fall trimester, after an NBA team during the winter term, and after an MLB team during the spring third. (We want to avoid having groups of bluebirds and red birds.)

What do you think of the idea? What else do we need to consider? I’d love to receive your feedback about the ELA quad idea and ways we can make it better.


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

Prioritizing Thinking

See/Think/WonderPerhaps the most important thing my students need to know about me and our class as we begin the school year is the value we will place on thinking. Our class content focuses on reading, but the primary learning goal is to become more thoughtful–to be better thinkers. So on the first day, we start by prioritizing thinking. I don’t want our focus to be on procedures, rules, or even our classroom community. Those things are important, but the main core of everything we do is with the goal of becoming better, more thoughtful thinkers.

With that in mind one of the first activities we did is a See-Think-Wonder about 6th grade reading and our classroom. I gave my students a few Post-It notes and asked them to spend a few minutes exploring the classroom and writing down the things they saw. We talked about the need to gather evidence and pay attention to details. (These are skills we will use to help us become better readers, too.) The whole room was open to the students. I encouraged to explore every facet of the classroom including the closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and drawers. I challenged them “to research” the room thoroughly. After a few minutes, I called them back to their seats to complete their lists and share what they found.

Once we talked  about their “I See” lists, I asked them to begin interpreting, drawing conclusions, and making inferences about the things they noticed (Again, these are skills we will use to grow as readers, too.) They developed a set of “I think” statements. I gave them a few minutes to come up with as fluent of a list as they could; then, I dared them to come up with a few more. Their conclusions fascinated me. As they shared their thinking, I reinforced how important it is to base our conclusions and inferences on evidence by asking, “What makes you say that?” so that had to support their reasoning.

Finally, I challenged the students to take their thinking to a deeper level. We discussed that best way to push our thinking is to ask good questions. We talked about the value of questioning and concluded that “good questions” inspire us to think deeper–to explore our ideas further. (Yep, a skill we will use to further develop as readers.) “Good answers” can be helpful sometimes, but they tend to curb thinking more than deepen it. I asked the students to consider their “I think” statements and take them to a deeper level by developing “I wonder” statements about their original conclusions.  Again, we shared our thinking with our partners and with the class. Then, we prominently posted our thinking where it can be seen by everyone in class and any visitors we may have.

Again, the goal was to help the students understand (from the very first activity) their thinking is highly valued. Here are a few random pictures I captured of different students’ thinking about the class, our space, or me:

I see. . .

See 1 See 2 See 3

I think. . .

Think 3 Think 2 Think 1

I wonder. . .

Wonder 3 Wonder 2 Wonder 1

I’ve written previous posts about this first-day activity in past years. You can read those posts here and here.



This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Book ReviewAs part of my professional development goal for 2014-2015, I read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. My goal was to consider the novel as a text for my sixth grade students to read during their study of World War I. The book is told from the viewpoint of Joey, the war horse, and focuses primarily on Joey’s relationship with a boy named Albert and on Joey’s experiences serving on both sides in France during the war.

The novel’s primary theme is the universal suffering that occurs through evils war.  The book is short (only 165 pages), and the plot is easy enough to follow. I think it will be a good text for us to use early in the year while I’m still trying to get to know the students and their reading skills. While the book has some sad parts, I don’t think it is too much so, and I feel those parts of the story help develop the primary theme. I also think the story will tie easily into my school’s character education program and give us ample opportunities to discuss several of “the virtues of manhood.”

Overall, I think the novel is worth reading and is useful for our newly developing approach. I’d like to find some additional reading to tie in with it, and I’d love to watch the movie after we’ve finished to compare it to the novel. I haven’t taught much literature connected to World War I so I’m looking for more resources and ideas I can find.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

 

Book Review: Circa Now

Book Review“What if you could photoshop the fantastical into existence?”

Every now and then I read a book that resonates deep inside me and I cannot stop thinking about the characters and the story long after I’ve put the book back on the shelf. I’ve read a lot of books, but there have only been a handful of novels that I cannot truly put away–books that I must revisit time and again. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are two books that through the years have beckoned me to read them over and over. They are powerful stories, and I have made deep connections to them. Amber Turner’s Circa Now is another one.

The book is beautifully written. Turner has an amazing way with words. Her well-crafted prose pulled me into the story quickly, but the main character, twelve-year-old Circa Monroe, held me there. Two chapters into the story Circa’s world falls apart when her father dies unexpectedly, and as a reader I was transported back to when I, too, was twelve and my mother died. Circa’s story isn’t all sad, though (and neither was mine). As Circa and her mother try to put their lives back together, a mysterious boy arrives at their door who seems to be magically connected to the Monroe family.

I won’t spoil the story because you need to read this book. If you are a middle school teacher, you should add it to your must-read list. The book gives insight into students who’ve suffered the loss of a parent, but it is also just a great story with a touch of magic and filled with hope. I’m planning to use it as a read aloud this year with my sixth graders, and I’m planning to host an author visit with Mrs. Turner, too.

Teachers, one cool resource Turner created to go along with the book is a collection of “Shopt” Story Starters. These photoshopped pictures are wonderful creative writing prompts and tie in perfectly with the book. My own children had a big time writing their own “shopt stories” at the book launch last month.

I’m out of writing time, but do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Circa Now. You’ll be glad you did. I rated Circa Now a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Full Disclosure: Amber McRee Turner is a dear friend. Our friendship dates back 30-plus years to junior high school, and I’m proud to call her my pal. Nevertheless, her work stands on its own. She’s a true talent and you ought to check out her work regardless of her connection to me. However, I did receive an ARC of Circa Now from Amber to read and share with my 6th grade students. (I also bought a copy when the book released because I’m going to need extra copies.)


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

My Professional Development Goal for 2014-2015

Professional Development

Professional Development Goal: Every year each teacher at PDS participates in a yearlong conversation with his/her administrator and colleagues that includes the following components: reading and research, reflection, goal setting, planning, collaboration, implementation and feedback.

As part of this process, each teacher will identify a professional development goal that relates directly to classroom teaching and learning. It should have practical application and impact in the current year, and it should align with the school’s broad institutional goals and/or institutional philosophies about teaching and learning. The goal should be measurable. Teachers who fully achieve their goal will earn $500.

Goal: Work together with the other members of the 6th grade team to transition from our departmental approach to reading, social studies, and English to an interdisciplinary approach to humanities that will merge the essential skills and understandings from the original classes.

Steps to Achieve Goal:  (Please include a list of books/articles/ videos that you plan to read or view during the summer.)

1.    Read the following texts to decide their appropriateness as reading selections for the course:

2.    Meet as a Humanities team 2-3 times this summer to plan for the upcoming school year.

3.    Meet weekly as a team during the 2014-2015 school year to continue developing curriculum, to check our progress, and to make revisions.

4.    Coordinate our plans with the STEM team to ensure seamless implementation and begin considering how reading and writing can be threaded into science and math instruction also.

Final Product: Our product will be ongoing observations and conversations with Susan and the team with a culminating discussion at the end of each trimester about the progress.

Note: I submitted this goal to my administrator in May before the end of this past school year. I’m just now getting around to posting it here as I attempt to re-establish my writing practices. Two of my teammates share this goal with me, and we are working on it together. I’m posting this on my blog for my own personal documentation and accountability. I also hope to track my personal progress toward the goal by blogging about it over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.

 

7 Reasons You Should Read Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard #wendellwednesday

Drawing by John Spencer
Drawing by John Spencer

Yesterday J. C. (John & Christy) Spencer released their book Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard. I was fortunate to receive a preview copy of the book, and am loving it. I’m a little over halfway through the book and cannot wait to read what will happen next. I’m planning to read it aloud to my class after we finish the books we paused during the Global Read Aloud.

In honor of John and Christy’s accomplishment and to help spread the word about the book, I’ve decided today will be a #WendellWednesday. I’m planning to tweet and share about the book in my social media spaces throughout the day. Feel free to share about Wendell with your friends, too.

Here are my 7 Reasons You Should Read Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard by J. C. Spencer.

7. Maker culture is all the rage, and Wendell is a designer, tinkerer, and maker. But does that make him a Misfit? Read the book. Find out.

6. The story celebrates creativity and imagination both through the characters and their complications and through the authors’ use of words and humor.

5. The book is fill of fun, original illustrations that pull you deeper into the characters and story, and the authors are creating a list of fun activities that connect to the book.

4. Robots, zombies, wizards, gnomes and trolls–what kind of person doesn’t like a story with those kinds of characters? Okay, so nobody likes a troll, but brain-intolerant zombies? You know you’re curious.

3. Wendell’s big brother Greg is a real pain, but Wendell is the title character. Purchase the book and you’ll be sticking it to irritating big brothers everywhere. Yeah. Take that!

2. In The Help, Aibileen Clark said, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You wouldn’t want to prove her wrong, would you? Buy the book and we’ll know she was right about you.

1. The book has wonderful lessons and reminders like “magic is all around if I’m willing to see it.” Who doesn’t need that kind of occasional reminders?

So go ahead and give Wendell a try. You can preview the first three chapters, but you’d probably rather go ahead and purchase a copy from Amazon. You know you want to.

Chief Tweeting Officers

twitter in classI’m trying something new this year using Twitter in class. I’ve designated a Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) role in my 6th grade reading class. I created a class Twitter account, @MrCsClass, a couple of years ago, but I never really did much with it. Occasionally, I used it to share things my students were learning and doing in class, but it was always from my perspective and I used it very inconsistently. I want this year to be different. I want my students to have a greater voice and I want us to share regularly. I hope our rotating CTO job will help us down that road.

Our school has a dedicated hashtag #PDSmem, and in my room have a dedicated Twitter device, too. While at ISTE 2013 this summer I received a free Surface tablet that I wanted to integrate into our learning environment. Using the Surface allows me administrative control, but gives the students the easy access they need. So far, I’m liking the way that it’s working for us.

When introducing my classes to Twitter, I gave the students a handout at the beginning of class to use for Practice Tweets (PDF). (Let me know if you’d prefer a Word document.) We talked about what kinds of things people might want to know about our learning and how we might use Twitter to connect with learners around the world. We discussed including images, hashtags, and links and the importance of adding value to others with what we share. The students had to write two or three tweets during class time while we went about our other class activities.  The handout had to be submitted back at the end of class as a “ticket out the door.” Here’s the handout I created (each space represents a character):

twitter in class

(Next time, I might have students send their tweets through a Google form, but for this first exercise I wanted them to use the hashed lines to see the number of characters available.)

I took my class rosters and have assigned students different days where they will serve as our CTO (Chief Tweeting Officer). When the CTO enters the room, he picks up the Surface tablet so he can tweet a few times during the class period. We’ve only been at it a few days, but the boys have done a good job so far. Here is a sample of some of their tweets

As I said, it’s a good start. Hopefully, as the semester goes we’ll be able to connect with some other learners and other classes. We’d love to make some global connections and develop some friendships around the world as we go.

Do your students use Twitter in class? We’d love to hear how they use it. We’d also love to connect with other middle school classes. Consider following us at http://twitter.com/MrCsClass. We’d love to hear from you.