I've Got Writes!

Teacher, Writer, Proofreader

What I use to Engage Students Before Reading a Novel

How does a reading or English teacher get students excited about reading a novel? Perhaps you’ve used the following strategies:

  • Fill out and discuss anticipation guides.
  • Preview text features.
  • Examine the picture on the book cover.
  • Read the summary on the back of the book.

I’ve used all of the above pre-reading activities during my twelve years of teaching. Not a huge fan of any of them. I mean, they’re fine if that’s what you want to use. Maybe you’re much better at using those methods to get kids geared up to read a story than I am. However, I’ve used something for 4 years now that sucks them in more effectively and is tons more fun for me!

About five years ago, I watched a teacher on Teaching Channel who created a bulletin board full of objects, pictures, and words that related to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If I remember correctly, she used it to give the kids a heads-up on some unfamiliar vocabulary and to provide some background knowledge to help them understand what they would be reading before each chapter. I loved the idea of using tangible items, not just pictures.

Since I do not have time or motivation to be changing my bulletin boards with any kind of frequency, I modified this idea. Also, I wanted something I didn’t have to tear down. I wanted to create something that I could use year after year. Something easy to store. So I did.

I created a prediction board for The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer. (I’ve blogged about it before.) I used words and objects that related to the story, but did not give any details away. See photo below of the original:

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This is the first one that lasted me 3 years.

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This is the new and improved version. I added two more words and two more images.

This one board creates more questions, more curiosity, more class discussion, and more fodder for writing a prediction paper than any other strategy I’ve used.

More details later . . .

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Fidget Spinners to Loaded Guns

Last year my colleagues and I had a collection of fidget spinners that we’d confiscated. They’re supposed to help kids with attention problems to be more focused. Well, they were more focused. On watching the damn thing spin around, not on doing their school work. They were trading them, changing the colors or whatever—anything besides being focused on their jobs. We were all sick of seeing them. The spinners, I mean. (Well, if I were being totally honest, we kind of get sick of seeing certain kids, too. Don’t judge. If you’re a teacher, you get it. If you’re a parent, I’m assuming you get it, too. We all know that you can’t wait for them to go back to school after a long break because they’re driving you nuts.)

Though we do not have metal detectors and don’t search backpacks at the door, we did search pockets and shoes on the last day of school last year in order to be sure that no one brought anything they weren’t supposed to bring. Specifically, yep, you guessed it, fidget spinners. Of course, we still confiscated some because most middle schoolers think they’re slick and won’t get caught.

Fast forward to January 2018. Not even a year after the fidget spinner chaos and crack-down. Now we’re wishing that those damn spinning things were the most distracting items found at our school. They seem to have disappeared. I suppose the craze has worn off.

What’s rattling us now? The fact that our kids can hide guns in their hoodies and shoes. Two of our students proved it. Last week. Unsettling? Startling? To say the least. Not that we are naive enough to rule out that possibility, but we thought things were going fine. We have cameras in all of the hallways. We haven’t had major problems in our school for several years. (Since before I started working there.)

But now, we’re on high alert. Cracking down on procedures and rules that we’ve been lax with and implementing new procedures to help prevent this from happening again. Do I think no other student in our school has ever brought a gun to school? Nope. But, I really hadn’t thought about it before, not at this school anyway. Do I think there’s a possibility that another student was carrying even after this incident? Definitely won’t rule it out.

To think about a kid sitting in my class with a loaded gun hidden on their person scares the shit out of me. You never know what’s really going on with a kid. When you have over 20 kids in your class at once and see about 120 walk through your class per day, it’s kind of tricky keeping up with who’s in what kind of mood, who’s on an IEP, who’s got a difficult home life, etc. I tend to piss students off from time to time. Goes with the territory when you’re trying to push kids to do their best. I’d rather the child whom I’ve angered NOT have possession of a firearm.

I’d welcome fidget spinners now if it would eliminate the possibility of guns in the hands of my students.

 

Today’s Roller-Coaster Moods

I was on an emotional roller coaster today. Weepy. Grateful. Thanking God that all my students and colleagues are safe. Thinking, “Why am I responding so strongly? I wasn’t even in the mix of what happened. I was just working in my room while everything unfolded.” It could have been so much worse. The potential was brewing, but no one was hurt. Too many students and teachers eslewhere have experienced so much more. Horrific, graphic tragedies. We didn’t. But, I was still emotional. I guess it’s the realization of what could have transpired. I’m sure there’s a scientific or medical term for it, but I don’t feel like looking it up right now.

My colleagues who responded, running on fear and adrenaline, kept the situation under control. Kept us safe. My heart expands for them. Much respect. Much gratitude.

I’m sad for the two who made wrong choices because they are receiving consequences for their actions that will change the course of their lives, at least for several years.

To be honest, one thing that might be playing in to my emotional state is the fact that I went two days without my hormones. Makes it a little more intense. I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep tonight. I should schedule a massage soon. I need the stress worked out. The weekend is coming up. Love me some weekend relaxation.

This isn’t going to make my 500 words, but I’m rambling to sort out some thoughts before I go to bed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write something more significant, or more cohesive.

 

Potential Tragedy Snuffed

I don’t usually answer my phone when I don’t recognize the number, but for some reason, I did today.

My colleagues, parents, and I received a recorded phone message this afternoon from our principal briefly explaining an incident that occurred right after school. Apparently, two students were arrested for possession of guns. One, a real gun and the other a BB-gun.

I’m certainly grateful for whomever alerted our leaders to this situation. I’m also thankful that those guns did not go off at school. My assumption at this time is that the students were carrying the weapons around in their pockets or backpacks, or that perhaps they stowed them away in their lockers for the day. I don’t know, but I’m really glad that one of them didn’t get pissed off at somebody and make a fatal decision.

I suppose we were not put on lockdown because the situation unfolded after all the students were out of the building? I’ve never really thought this through before, but do we not put the building on lockdown if there’s a situation and only the faculty is in the building? I have a few questions. I’m hoping some will be answered in the emergency meeting that’s set for tomorrow after school.

Why the hell did middle schoolers think bringing guns to school was a stellar idea? Maybe they were scared of a bully and wanted to bring some protection? Maybe they wanted to impress their friends? Maybe they had a plan? Maybe they are in a gang or are heavily influenced by someone else who is coercing them to join?  Maybe they hunt or a family member collects guns as hobby?

I don’t know the answer. I only hope that the investigation reveals some sort of answer that can be addressed effectively in order to prevent such an occasion from arising again.

I’ll admit, my brain was rattled after that phone call. Should I end my teaching career at 12 years and call it good? Should I apply immediately to an online school? Should I apply ANYWHERE else? Should I just let it roll off, just like every other situation that has risen along the way?

Again, I don’t know. This seemed different. There was no way we would have known which kid had a weapon and which kid just might get angry enough to do something tragic.

God, thank you for your protection today. And, thank you in advance for protection tomorrow. Send someone to connect with those kids and their families to help them navigate safely through our society.

No more statistics, please.

No more.

I want to go to work to teach and train, not to lose my life or watch others lose theirs at the hands of a hurting and hurtful young person.

Keep us safe and guide us in spreading love, not hate. Kindness, not rudeness. Peace, not chaos. Truth, not deceit.

Keep me alert, agile, swift, and wise.

Rampant Apathy and Learned Helplessness

Twelve years ago in central Oklahoma, I began my teaching career in middle school in an area infested with gangs. I’ve probably learned boatloads more than I’ve taught. I’ve had roughly 1200 students pass through my classroom door. (Would’ve been more, but I looped with a group of kids through their middle school years.) I’ve witnessed and experienced a lot of sadness, joy, apathy, excitement, fear, fury, bat-shit craziness, “you can’t fix stupid,” and straight-up “I can’t make this shit up!” Any educator should know exactly what I’m talking about.

Which brings me to today. This school year with sixth graders. I have many hard-working, creative, and well-mannered kiddos for whom I’m grateful. It’s the “others” that are a problem. A problem not just for me because they’re in my class and make me question why the hell I did this to myself, but a problem for you and everyone else in society who will have to deal with their “idiosyncrasies.”

All kids are self-centered and think the world revolves around them and think the world owes them something and think that every adult in their presence is a complete idiot. It’s the age. It’s normal. Irritating as hell, but normal. We all did it to some extent.

Here comes the “but” …

BUT, THIS GROUP! Holy freakin’ cow! The apathy, the learned helplessness, the unwillingness to participate in any way in their own learning is ABSOLUTELY ASTOUNDING! I’m truly frightened for anyone who has to deal with them as adults. I can only pray and hope that somewhere along the line, someone will be able to connect with them and motivate them toward excellence, or some semblance of it, at least.

 

Strong and Steady

Strong and steady is our love. Love is different this time. Why? Could be that I’m not 20 or 30 years old any more. Could be that I’m wiser. Could be that I’ve been “established” on my own for many years and have learned to be independent, even when it wasn’t fun. Could be that I’m “set in my ways.” Could be that my libido is lower and doesn’t overpower conversation or reason. Or the need to sleep. Ha!

Could be that I never really needed the “type” of person that I thought I needed. Could be that chains of legalistic religious viewpoints have clinked to the ground and changed my perspective. Could be that I’m not as judgmental as I used to be, given the aforementioned release from legalism. Could be that I can love more unconditionally than I used to be capable of (although, that’s a trait I always strived to attain and live by). Could be that I take my people (my loved ones) for granted less and less as reality taunts that none of us are promised another minute, day, week, or year on this earth. Make the most of each moment, be aware and available. Make memories. Make friends. Make love.

Am I head-over-heels in love? I don’t know. Does my love for him grow daily? Absolutely. I think I prefer the latter. Is he my soul-mate? I don’t know, but based on how things have been going the past 10 months, I think we could grow to be soul-mates. It’s about the journey together. The experiences together. The gains. The losses. The trying new things. The nostalgia. The disagreements. The times when I feel that he gets me. The times we shake our heads, utterly confused by the other.

It’s still new. Still floundering. Still discovering. I hope that one never stops. Keeps it interesting. I need some adventure. I also need stability. Comfort. I feel that with him. Comfortable, that is. He is stable. He’s not quite an adventurer, though maybe the fact that he chose to be with me is adventure enough for him. {smile} Suffice to say, I’m enjoying the ride. I’m enjoying loving him and being loved by him.

 

The Mailbox Prep

So, I’m about to embark on the 5th time teaching The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer to my 6th graders. I’ve refreshed my prediction board because it was starting to look a little sad. I’ve added a couple of words (foster care and PTSD). It looks great, even if I say so myself. What do you think?

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I’ve also loaded links into Google Classroom that will be used as extended activities or added background information that connect to the story. I haven’t specifically nailed down the order in which I’ll share these with my kids, though. This is the first year all my kids have had their own iPads and have quick and easy access to internet searches. So, I’ll try to keep detailed notes and plans on how and when I’ve used them. I don’t want to spoil anything. Also, I’m thinking that some of these might be used when we must be “flexible” because circumstances outside of our control will change my class times, or will take some of my kids out of my class. (ELL testing, assemblies, snow days, etc.) See those links below:

In addition, I have loaded vocabulary words from the first chapter into Quizlet.com. One word, however, is not in the chapter. It’s dialect. Most of my kiddos don’t yet know what this is. Every time Uncle Vernon speaks, he is using his dialect, which tends to throw them off. You could have a mini-lesson on dialect, using examples from other books. I will probably only have time to brush over it, which is why I added it to the vocabulary list.

Ideally, I will load words from each chapter onto Quizlet, or maybe later into the book, I will use some other vocabulary lesson. I know there are better ways to teach vocabulary, but my kiddos need something that will help them learn a boat load of words in a short amount of time. Most of them are English as second language learners.

Now, notice I said ideally. Once we get going, I’m going to be pressed for time.  I’ll be spending weekend time, like right now, on prepping for this. At some point, being with my family and taking care of my personal life will take precedence. I’m planning on starting the book after next week. Or, at least, creating and building anticipation and excitement in my students for the book. It makes a difference. It captures the attention of more kiddos, even those who haven’t paid attention or given a flip about school since day one. That should be something else I keep track of, come to think of it–the individual kids who haven’t participated in their own learning during the first semester.

Sidebar: I’ve missed a few days of my 500-words-a-day challenge. So, I’m going to do a couple more posts today to try and catch up.

31 Day Writing Habit Begins Now!

So, last year I tried upping my word count with a month’s worth of daily prompts. I believe I made it to eleven. Day eleven, that is, not a word count of eleven.

(Total sidebar here: Eleven makes me think of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” I have only begun the 2nd season, so no spoilers, please.)

This year, I signed up with Jeff Goins for his 500-words daily challenge for 31 days.

The goal is to write 500 words per day, no matter the quality. That part will work itself out later. The problem that most writers (I assume) have is that we read about writing, think about writing, edit other people’s writing, teach writing skills, but don’t plant our asses in the chair (in my case, I’m currently on my bed) and put our fingers on the keys to, you know, make words from our brains appear on the screen.

I’m hoping to do better this time. My mind works in stream-of-consciousness, and my editing brain seeks to fix things along the way instead of letting me just be free to write/type. Perhaps I should just go back to paper/pencil journaling. I think it does have its place for creative juices to flow.

I’m a teacher, a frequently disgruntled one. Disgruntled at some students, yes. Disgruntled at some admin from far above, yes. Disgruntled with some parents, yes. But, mostly, disgruntled with our education system. It sucks. It doesn’t follow researched data on how kids develop and learn. The powers that be say it does, but it doesn’t. They bark “Test scores! Data-driven!” It’s only data from the standardized tests that they care about, not data from brain science, behavioral science, child development, etc.

What moves the system (the education monster) is just what moves the big corporations, the testing companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, etc. The seductive dollar.

Let me inform you, parents. To the “Man”, your children are numbers. That’s it.

To most of their teachers and principals, they are real, live humans. With needs. With different learning styles that can’t be accommodated with standardized tests. With skills that can’t be tested by choosing (a), (b), (c), or (d). With knowledge and experiences that can’t be shown on pie charts or by percentages. With dreams, desires, goals, likes, dislikes, that your child’s teachers might know if they aren’t overwhelmed by discipline problems or crowd control issues. But, the general public only sees those scores, charts, numbers that cannot possibly sum up who your child is or where they’re headed in life.

I’m a for public education. I’m also for private education, when people can afford it. I’m also for online schools that can take out the classroom chaos, and countless distractions that come with corralling large numbers of students in schools with limited staff to supervise. I’m an educator who loves learning and teaching.  As long as greedy people who don’t really care about humanity and real learning continue to be in charge of the education monster, we will continue the cycle that causes teachers to throw their hands up and quit their field.

We will choose other ways to educate those around us.

Well, there’s my 500 words, plus a few more!

Disclaimer: I am posting this without much editing in an attempt to establish my new habit of writing 500 words per day. 

 

 

Element of Heat

I did it! I replaced the heating element in my dryer! It took me a couple of hours, some flagrant curse words, and a few phone calls and texts questioning my brother and a friend, but I got that bugger switched out. It’s funny how giddy I was about drying my clothes!

Writing Prompt Day 11: Favorite Foods

Oh, where to begin?? This would be easier if it were foods I hate. Like, sardines, liver, intestines …

I like pizza, pasta, chicken, steak, fried potatoes, most veggies, dark chocolate (duh), chocolate malts from Braum’s (a cure-all according to my dad), fruit, coconut milk yogurt, chai tea, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, mini powdered donuts, and SO MUCH MORE!

Salsa on salad or with chips. I can make pretty good fresh salsa. Speaking of salsa …

I LOVE CILANTRO! I always order “lots of cilantro” at any Mexian restaurant. Lots. I love to smell the batches of cilantro in the grocery store. Don’t judge!

 

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