Saturday, September 30, 2006


For several reasons:

--I fell asleep at 10.15 last night, and woke up just before 9am. Ahhh, rest.

--This weekend marks six months with the Very Special Someone. More on that later, including cute pictures!

--Yesterday in class, we finished our work with the crest essay. Their assignment the night before was to finish the first draft of putting their squares into paragraphs. Two of the classes had half an hour in class to work on it, so it wasn't too much to ask. One class had one hundred percent homework--everyone had their draft!

--A handful of kids in each class had not actually finished their drafts (I know that sounds like a direct contradiction of what I just said, but I still counted it because they all had work in front of them, which is a huge step), so I told them they could not take part in our activity, since they had to work on their drafts. By god, they all did. They worked quietly and independently while the rest of the class was doing stuff around them. Wow.

--I had them do some quick round-robin editing and revision. First we reviewed what each means, and what things to look for. T
hen I had them pass their papers to the right one time. First they looked for capitals.
Pass it again. Look for punctuation.
Pass again. Look for spelling.
Pass again. Look for grammar (skipped words, agreement, plurals, etc).
Pass again. Now revision: pretend you're me. What am I always saying to add? Details!" (Sweet, they already know this, after only two weeks of writing! Maybe soon it will actually sink in!) So look through the paper in front of you and see where the writer could add more detail and explanation.
In the next ten seconds, get your paper back. (Eek, chaos! But I limit it to a very short amount of time, and the kids can calm themselves as I keep counting down. Hurrah!) Now to the last question of revision: How can I make it sound more interesting? Eventually I got them to see 'sensory details'. We briefly reviewed the senses and I tried to get them to give examples of using them in sentences. Meh, it was just a start. We'll see what happens.

In any case, I was happy with the activity. I think the moving of papers made it a little more fun, and I think it's a good idea to separate out the things to look for, at least at first. All I wanted them to do was get a taste of editing and revision, and I think it worked out very well.

--There's this boy in my middle class that I'm having a hard time with, but not for the normal reasons. He seems to be attentive in class. He got the only 100% on the first noun quiz in his class. The math teacher says he does really well in math. So obviously he's intelligent. But he never does any homework in EL @. And rarely, if ever, does any classwork. It's so frustrating! I've pulled him aside to talk to him, I've sat with him to get him started with writing. Even coming up with a brainstormed list of possible topics was worse than pulling teeth. Not necessarily because he was being passive or resistant; it seemed beyond him. He seems to need a lot of time to process. There's a significant lag time between a question I ask and his reply. He's super calm and sometimes pulls that extra-blank face, when I ask why his homework isn't done. GRR! That is definitely my biggest pet peeve.

Anyway, so every time I see him, I try to encourage him and show that I'm not giving up on him. Tentatively, things seem to be getting better. The other day in class, he wrote an entire paragraph. Not the whole page that everyone else was able to do, but it was a huge improvement for him. I praised him and told him to keep up the good work. Yesterday while the editing madness was going on, he wrote at least one more full paragraph. Hurrah! Big progress. I caught him on the way out, and he told me that yes, he would finish and type it this weekend. Cross your fingers!

--In an hour and a half, I will be taking the ATS-W. Please cross your fingers and think good thoughts for me!

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Did you know that we in NYC don't have school on Monday? I didn't either! Boyfriend had to tell me, and I didn't believe him at first.

And actually, we have the next Monday off as well! Two three-day weekends in a row. Wow!

Today I gave the quiz to my poor children. Bwahaha, I am evil. In fact, later when it was writing time, I said warningly, "Alright, I'm coming around with my clipboard...of DOOM!"

I just use it to keep track of who I speak with and about what, for my assessment notes. There's no way I can do sit-down conferences with the kids--they need constant supervision and me moving through the room.

Also, my friend who's now a part-time coach hooked me up with some copies of worksheets this afternoon. Also awesome!

Because, and I haven't mentioned this yet, our copy machine situation has unbelievably gotten worse. For the last two years, the faculty had access to ONE machine.

However, to get access to this machine, we have to pay ten bucks to get a copy code, with a limit of 5,000. (Which no one would ever get near, but still, it's the principle.)

And yet! Not only that. We had to bring OUR OWN PAPER. Three bucks per ream really adds up, and the paper just goes and goes.

Not only all that, but many times the stupid thing would jam, or run out of toner, or have a line of five anxious teachers waiting on it.

So how, you ask, could it possibly get any worse than this? Oh-ho, just wait, my friend.

The teachers' lounge on the second floor had to be reclaimed for classroom space. The lounge was relocated to somebody's closet-sized office on the fourth floor. There's no room for the full-size fridge, or more than a couple chairs, let alone a copy machine.

Well, unsurprisingly to those of you who have ever worked in an office, copy machine company policies are rather sticky. To be precise, the machine cannot be moved by anyone other than the company. It sort of makes sense, because it is a large and unwieldy machine, and we do not have the luxury of an elevator in our five-floor school building. We wouldn't want any damages being put on us and being denied coverage or whatever.

And of course, the person who has been dealing with the machine and the company for as long as I've been there has left the school completely, due to health.

So we are about to finish our FOURTH week of ZERO copy machine.

We do not get to make copies! No machine for us! What teacher needs copies, anyway?

I am adamant about not spending any money on copies this year. I made that promise to myself before school started, and I have kept it up in the face of this terrible adversity. I've gotten a couple things copied from my coach and/or AP. But it is a PAIN in the butt to not have that simple technology at our disposal.


On a happy note, tonight I completed an application. Not a new job, per se, but a delegation leader for the student ambassad*r program that initiated my travel bug, back in 1993 at the ripe old age of thirteen. The travel happens in the summer, and they send groups all over the world, but mostly to Europe and Australia/NZ, with some to China and Egypt as well.

I'm really excited about this potential opportunity! The trip involves 24-hour supervision by the leaders, but the trip is free. I love helping kids open their eyes to the world outside their own community.

Speaking of travel with kids, we have distributed fliers for an information meeting next week, for the D*C spring trip. Whee! Another teacher apparently has some excellent contacts and might get us in some good places for a bit cheaper. Doing the bus and the hotel separately is pretty cheap, as it turns out. I'm looking forward to getting numbers set so we can actually start booking everything.

Tomorrow is Friday. On Saturday, I'm taking the ATS-W. Then I have a long weekend to enjoy! It's gonna be a special one, too. Hurrah!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"This is fun"

Kids are actually saying this! In class!

We did the genre activity that I mentioned the other day. It took a long time, but I didn't care. The kids took a few minutes to get that yes, they were supposed to get up and match the genre with the category. I suppose it would have looked chaotic, but strangely, I didn't care. Usually noise for any reason bugs me, but I was calm because I saw that everyone was involved in figuring out where the correct thing was and then getting there. Awesome!

During the definition part, which was definitely the longest, I couldn't help myself. I showed them a bit of parsing and root work. After they had gotten 'biography' and 'autobiography' as terms, I asked what the terms had in common. Then I wrote this word: "Biology. What does this mean?" When I put a slash after bio-, they knew that meant life, and then -ology meant study of. Then I wrote 'graphite.' "What is that? Hint: most of you are holding it in your hands right now." A pencil (point)! "What do you do with graphite?" "Write!" "What is an automobile?" "A car." "What's a car?" That one took them a bit. They got that it was transportation, that it moved. "-Mobile--what's that? Movement. Now how does a car move?" "Fuel, engine, energy..." Here I gently tugged a nearby student's arm. "I can supply the energy or force to move him from there to here. How else can he get from there to here?" "Walking, feet, etc." "Where is the energy coming from? Who is supplying the force?" "He is, his own self!" "Yes! 'auto-' means self. A car, an automobile, moves itself."

I gave a bit of my "words as legos" speech. One kid said several times, "This is cool!" I agreed with him.

Blah blah, eventually we finished the definitions and they had to classify the pile of books on their table. One table had a perfect conversation that I had them re-enact for the class:
A boy picked up a book called "Michelangelo" and said, "I think this book is a biography." Another boy at the table: "How do you know it's not an autobiography?" First boy: "It says the author is Barbara something, and the book's about Michelangelo, and she's not Michelangelo." Second boy: "Ah, okay."

So cool!

Let's see. So this took a really long time, but it was totally worth it, and the kids seemed to get it and enjoy it. Sweet!

We had like twenty minutes, or less in two cases, to review some of the vocabulary words. Last night they had to write a sentence for each word, and today they switched papers to evaluate. Then we went over them together and I tried to correct misusages. Things like, "I said veto to my sister" or "I rashed on my math test". Yeah, I don't know either. Quiz tomorrow!

Also tomorrow, I swear to god that I am really going to begin independent reading. The genre activity was actually my first official reading workshop, and tomorrow I'll have them build a rubric for independent, which really shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes. Then they can just read for a bit, no questions or anything yet.

For writing, we'll pick up from where we left off yesterday. Yesterday we moved our lists of crest squares into a new set of squares, except it was real writing this time. Actually, I posted about that part already. So tomorrow we will take the rough square paragraphs and start a clean draft of a real essay, and also add more interesting details. I rewrote my paragraph about gymnastics and acting, adding some more interesting pieces. Like how "I like the balance beam, but floor is my favorite. When the music starts, the world melts away and I'm not even breathing as I dance and tumble across the mat."

So far it's working well to actually have them do the bulk of writing in class, if only because I know everyone is actually doing it. And by golly, even the ones who don't do much, or who don't always pay attention, they're all studiously writing and drawing! Because it's about themselves, which they're experts at. And with this new format that I used, they can do more than one thing in each square, and it becomes much more individualized. And this is why the kids are saying, "This is fun!"

Friday we'll do our first revision/editing of the year, and they'll exchange papers looking for mistakes or places to add more/cut out unnecessary stuff. Over the weekend they'll do a final draft of the essay and do a final draft of the crest itself. All that will go on the bulletin board! My principal chided me a little for slacking on this month's bulletin board, because I didn't put up a rubric or comments. But it was a poem about 9/11 and there really weren't any guidelines. Bad on me. But this crest stuff is going to be great. I just wrote the rubric, in fact.

Let's see. It's Wednesday, I think. Some nice tv on in a bit. I should get in the shower so I can get some more sleep.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tired Again?!

Last night I barely made it to 10.15 still awake. Right now it's EIGHT and I could fall asleep right here at the computer.

As I was heading home from school, I thought about posting about my plans for this week and next, talking it out, so to speak, figure things out. I like to do that. Also, I had a couple small successes today that I could share. But, tired.

But instead, I am oh so sleepy and I still need to shower. At least nothing's on tv tonight, so perhaps I can force myself to pick up a book for a little bit. I can't go to bed before 9pm, can I?

Here's a pretty picture to enjoy instead of an actual post. I hope I haven't posted it before.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Miscellaneous Europe Trivium

Please tell me I am really late on this train, that there is a train at all: Why, oh why, does Fergie's "London Bridge" feature shot after shot of the Tower Bridge??

The original London Bridge--redone in stone nearly a thousand years ago--was bought and rebuilt in Arizona. The new, new bridge is also stone, a low and unpossessing structure.

The colorful drawbridge at the Tower of London is a well-known symbol of London. Why didn't somebody do any research? Any, at all? A Google search at the very least? I really hope they did it intentionally, figuring the American public is ignorant and/or doesn't care.

Ahem. Am I the only one bothered by this?

I am officially far too old--at twenty-six, mind you--for MTV. Harrumph. Get off my lawn, you whippersnappers! You and your loud music should go home!

Because I'm a whore for Euro-travel, I enjoy Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown. This afternoon they showed an episode about Munich, Germany. The main square was lovely, and reminded me of other places I've been. Check it out:


Brussels Grand Place:

Ah, gorgeous!

Weekend Productivity--Sweet!

It's only 10.40 and I've already been very productive! I guess that happens when you're awake before eight on a Sunday.

I started by cleaning the bathtub, then finished marking the second noun quiz. The scores were worse in some cases! After we reviewed the first one together, piece by piece. Argh!

So then I input all the homework, quiz, and classwork grades to my grading program. Excellent! I printed out reports for everyone getting Ds and Fs. Those children will need to get them signed by parents. I'm planning on calling each of the parents to let them know it's coming, and to make sure the kids don't throw them away and/or feign ignorance.

The first book orders were collected on Friday, and yesterday I put all the orders together. I still need to submit the order after getting a clarification from one student. I'm gonna get a whole bunch of free books with the bonus points! Including the Harry Potter 6-book paperback box set, and the children's book version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. So excited! I love books! Squee!

Back before school started, I planned out a whole month. Obviously, I'm way, WAY behind. So what I've been doing is going back and correcting each day with what we actually did. This way I will have a record of an actual month of school, including homework assignments and quizzes.

My next assignment is to plan this week. Tuesday each class is going to the library, so I'll have to plan around that. I must make the kids finish their book letters, because it's been like a week already. We need to work on the vocabulary words for sure. Also genres.

I've got a bulletin board set, a paper bookcase. It's got each category, like fiction, non-fiction, fables, poetry/drama. Then there are matching-color smaller circles for each genre--fairy tales, fantasy, biography, etc. What I'm thinking is another pin-the-tail-on-the-whatever activity: post each category on a different wall, and give a pile of genre cards to each table. They must look around and figure out where each belongs, and then they will go put them on the correct category. Then we'll review definitions of each. There will be a pile of books on each of their table, a mix of genres. They will then work together as a table to classify each book as the correct genre.

It will probably take an entire class period to do this. If there's any time left, they can start reading one of the books on the table, or their own book.

On Thursday, I introduced the family crest/coat of arms project, talking about identity, community, what makes us unique. It seemed to go okay, but the homework assignment was totally off. The vast majority of the students did not do what was assigned. So that, plus the fact that I found a better, more specific template, means that I refined the project on Friday. On a shield shape divided into roughly four equal parts, the students first brainstormed notes to go in these categories: goals and dreams, things I'm proud of, things I like to do, people important to me. Along the bottom I asked them to put their name and what it means/why it's special.

They did that part well, and in two of the classes we began the next step. (Because I'm doing my best to be very clear and go slowly, step by step, with everything. These kids need that.) I had them turn to a fresh page and divide it into four parts. Then I wrote and narrated this in one square on the overhead:

One of my goals is to be an Olympic gymnast. I've been doing gymnastics since I was a toddler and I really love it. Plus it would be wonderful to compete and win a medal. Another dream is to act. Performing in front of people is a huge thrill for me--I don't even get nervous! How awesome would it be to act in a movie with my favorite stars? Talk about a dream come true!

I asked the students, "what did you see me do here?" A student answered, "You listed your goals and then expained why." "Yes! We are going to build this brainstorm into an essay. In each square, begin writing about what you chose and why you chose it, why it's important. Then later, these will become paragraphs and this will become an essay. Bam! Easy!"

They got to work, and it was good. As I walked around during these activities, I loved the fact that A) everyone was thinking and writing and really working, and B) I got to learn interesting stuff about the kids. One tiny girl loves karate. Another knows how to do all kinds of dance, including hip hop, salsa and Irish. One boy likes to hang out with his girlfriend and her friends while eating pizza, and also plays basketball at the park, where he meets and plays with another girl in the class. One girl has a strange/unique name, but on her paper she described how her name comes from parts of her mom's, dad's, and aunt's names. Another girl wants to be a forensic anthropologist just like Bones.

Seriously, really cool stuff! I loved it. I saw that they really needed to share with each other these interesting stories if we were going to build an atmosphere of respect and understanding of differences (we've got cultures from many countries and continents). They were very excited to talk to each other about themselves. I can't wait for the final projects; they'll get to present and maybe even demonstrate some of their skills. I've got a piece of a thought to turn it into a cultural festival show thing....but I don't know. Time is really tight. We'll see. it's 11.20 and I better get to work with all this stuff. Back to the grind!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

So glad tomorrow's Friday

I really shouldn't have gone to school today.

First, though I went to bed at 10.30, I just really did not want to get up this morning. So, so tired. It feels like retribution for the other night when I didn't sleep at all. It does catch up with you!

The congestion has fully migrated from my head to my chest. Accordingly, the persistent dry cough of yesterday has now become a rattly-phlegm cough. In fact, this morning, I accidentally breathed in too deeply and disturbed the phlegm. And thus began a ridiculous fit of bent-over, coughing, hacking, gagging, choking. Dead sexy! During this enjoyable feast, I made my way to the bathroom, where I very nearly threw up. No dice, though. I guess that's a good thing?

So yeah, I was a little shaky beginning my day. Walking and standing were a bit of work at first.

Talking is another story. My voice was rough and scratchy, and very frog-like at times, when the phlegm was rising. (Wouldn't that be a fun story? "The Phlegm Also Rises!" Heh)

Ho hum, what did I actually do today? I know that I spent all of fourth and fifth in the book room. With the help of current and former students, the piles of math books are dwindling. Sadly, I keep finding more math books inside the room to re-stuff the pile.

I cleared another aisle, cleaned out a few boxes, organized some shelves, and found some great stuff. One was a whole box of books-on-tape and the books they go with--brand new. A bunch of "Beauty" and "Wanted," plus some Narnia books, some "Black Boy," and about fifteen old hardcovers of "The Hobbit."

In the classroom, today we started by reviewing the noun quiz of the other day. The scores really disappointed me! In two of my classes, there were only a handful of high numbers, and far too many low numbers.

We continued our work on friendly letters recommending books, and I introduced the family crest project. There was only time for them to start a brainstormed list of elements to include, and tonight they are to narrow it down to four items, and explain why each is significant to them. This will become a primitive four-square, and then it will become an essay. I think it will be easy for them to see why a new paragraph must begin, if they are discussing four concrete items. Let's hope so, anyway.

In October, we are apparently doing a myth/fable/fairy tale study, writing one (short story unit), and writing a compare/contrast essay. There are tons of stories to work from, and generally thinking about it, it could be a fun and diverse month of study!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I can't win!

The night before, I simply could not breathe. Well, not properly, and not at all enough to sleep. That really sucked. All day yesterday, the congestion festered, occasionally flaring up while I was trying to teach.

Last night, the congestion faded a bit, as a dry, phlegmy cough invaded. My ears still would not clear. The humidity seemed to make it worse. I went to bed at 10 and woke up on my own around six, which was great.

Unfortunately, my throat has not cleared and I've been coughing dryly and in fits, all day long, in and out of teaching. And my throat just won't clear, and my chest hurts. And it's only going to get worse from here.

Boo! Waah!

The only thing attempting to keep me otherwise occupied (other than upcoming tv shows) is LibraryThing, helpfully linked by Carly. Thank you! It is indeed one of the most awesomest things ever! Check out the badge to the right for a glimpse into my library. And remember, I'm a teacher...and that's why I like so many young adult books. Yep.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Meh Monday

The good news:
I mailed off the papers for both my salary differential (master's degree, baby!), and my certification papers (approval from the college). Now I just need to take the ATS-W (next weekend) and pay for the certificate application, and I will be on my way to being a real, certified New York teacher!

The bad news:
The scratchy throat was not a fluke. Yesterday, in addition to that, I developed a nasty sinus pressure headache. All day today, my nose has been running and my ears haven't been normal. I've been rubbing at my ears like a little kid. It's not easy using a projected voice around students when it sounds all echoey in your own ears.

Some okay news:
I had an eighth-grade coverage (which will probably happen a lot on Mondays), with a class made up of at least a handful of kids I knew. I hounded them and called out a few times, and I did the noun classification activity, and then a little bit about prepositions (Graycie's excellent 'where did the mouse run?' prompt). There was too much talking for most of it, but at least half the class was paying attention and seemed to get it easily. Hurrah! We did five minutes of Brain Quest at the end. I was proud of myself for sticking to my guns--doing something productive, and encouraging students to be on task--and not going crazy like coverages usually make me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another week is about to begin.

All last week I could not sleep enough. I was certainly relieved to be sleeping at all. But feeling extra drowsy at nine pm is, to say the least, not hot. Each night I got at least eight hours of sleep, but it was never enough.

Perhaps that is why last night I conked out at 9.30. On a Saturday night. Without even meaning to. And didn't wake up til after 8.30 this morning.


It's not surprising, I suppose. My days have been crazy. Both Thursday and Friday were non-stop teaching, grading, meeting, or book room. I spent an hour to an hour and a half in there each day, sweating, sneezing, getting dirty, and making progress. Then taking my disheveled self back to a room with other normal humans and trying to get back into a teacher frame of mind. Argh.

Here are some updated pictures!

You can actually walk in the shelf aisles now! Two of the four of them, actually. And look at the piles--they are progressing and showing a modicum of improving organization. Below, the far end of the showerhead room, which until last week was buried under piles of math books. Now it's just buried under dust, dirt and random texts. Definitely an improvement.
On Friday, we continued our journey with nouns. The Warm Up asked the students about these terms: singular, plural, common, proper. Many of the kids went straight for the dictionaries, which probably didn't help much. But it was great that they had a resource to consult and knew how to.

I began by asking if anyone knew what these words were about. In the first two classes, one or more kids knew they were types of nouns. My last class, no such luck.

The night before, while trying to fall asleep, I had a most excellent idea, if I do say so myself. The last two years, all the students didn't seem to fully understand that each noun falls in TWO categories. So my tired mind came up with a great strategy: making a table. Here's a sample I made for you:

For the kids, I drew a blank table and put in the terms. Together I guided them in defining each. Singular and plural were easy, and two of the classes had at least heard of proper nouns. Again, last class? Not a one. For all, I probably gave them the definition for common noun.

I asked a student for a noun. Let's say they said 'house.' I started on the left rows: is it one thing, or more than one? One. Okay, it's a singular noun. Now, is it a general thing, or one specific thing with a name? A general thing. So it's a singular, common noun! And we put it in the appropriate box.

We continued until we had several in each box. I asked if they were understanding, for questions, if they got that each noun must have two categories. They seemed to get it! I'm proud of myself.

On Monday, I'm going to give each table a bunch of nouns. On the board will be a large blank noun table. I was thinking about putting the nouns on index cards, and the kids could stick up the cards in the right box, but I don't have any index cards. So I think I'll put up sentence strips in each box, and the kids will get to write with a white-board marker on the sentence strip. They get a kick out of that anyway. So I'll give them all a couple minutes to decide where each of their nouns will go, and then call up one table at a time. I'll have the rest of the class watch, and agree or disagree with the classifications.

Tuesday, I think I'll give a quiz. I shall just tell them to draw a large noun table, and give them a list of nouns that they must classify. I'd give them copies of a quiz, but we are going into week THREE without our own copier to use. So they'll have to write it themselves. I think it will be a very authentic assessment, since it will be just like the activities we'll have done. It should be a good grade to start the kids' test scores this year, and hopefully encourage them to continue paying attention and showing them that they can achieve success.

This week we're going to start getting into the Sourcebook (what Ralph Fletcher calls the Writer's Notebook). I introduced it on Friday, and this weekend they were supposed to continue their list of brainstormed topics, and complete a page of writing on one of their topics. Monday or Tuesday, I'm going to do the memory map lesson that Nancy wrote up so well. Nancy, let us know how your follow-up lessons have gone with that!

So far, it's only been two days of teaching. I think the year is getting off to a decent start. I need to stay on them about the chatter and noise. I must get tougher about taking class points quicker. I must keep up the parent phone calls...I made a bunch last Sunday, and a few more in the middle of last week. I fully meant to make a bunch more today, but I'm not in the mood, and my throat is getting scratchy.

Tomorrow is Monday again. Time to gear up! soon as I lay down and read a whole chicklit book while listening to Fiona Apple.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

First Teaching Day, Seven Days Late

Today was the first day that I actually did lessons! I was a little nervous, to tell you the truth; I'd been coasting with all the tests and formalities of the beginning of the year.
Regardless, it was a pretty fun and effective day.

My warm up was this question: "What is a mnemonic device? Write the definition. You may use a dictionary if you like."

There were dictionaries on all the tables, and the students faithfully got to work, busily paging through, confused about the spelling of that word.

After a couple minutes, I asked for a volunteer to share what they found. The dictionary definition for 'mnemonic' was "assisting or aiding in memory; related to memory." Then I asked them for a definition in their own words. They understood it was about helping remember. So I asked about a 'device.' They mostly compared it to electronics, or a gadget or invention. I said, "Yes, you're on the right track. Another word for 'device' could be 'tool.' So we could say that a mnemonic device is a tool to help you remember something."

Then I put these words up on the board: etymology and Mnemosyne. I explained that we'll be learning lots of new words, some bigger than others, and that sometimes we will learn about the etymology, or history of a word. Many of our words come from a place like this one: Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory. Mnemosyne is the origin of the word mnemonic, as well as memory.

Then I came back to the mnemonic device, and said, I bet you already know one. Anyone ever heard of..."Please Excuse..." "my dear Aunt Sally!" they all chorused. "And what does that mean?" and the went through the oper*tions. "Exactly! So PEM*DAS helps you remember the order of oper*tions."

"So why am I talking about this? What does this have to do with anything?"

In each class, at least one kid realized or recalled that, "Yesterday you told us to memorize this sentence because it would help us." "Yes!"

We reviewed what I'll call the Speech Sentence: Pre!ty A*rdvarks N*ver V*ote Ins!de Crumbl!ng P!nk Aren*as. I wrote those beginning letters in a column on the board, and asked if anyone wanted to predict what things we'd be using this device for. My first class, the supposed high-level one, someone did guess, I think. The other ones, I had to prompt them: "Eight...Parts...of...Speech" "Oh!"

The kids knew some of the parts, like nouns and adjectives and verbs. I gave them all eight and said we're going to learn about all of them. I asked if anyone would like to predict which one we'll learn about first. Each class was able to guess 'nouns', and they said that because tonight's homework involves underlining nouns in writing. Very good!

I walked over and stood by my pretty computers, and gave a brief speech about the wonders of these tools, how extremely lucky we all are to have them, and how much we need to respect and take care of them. They seemed to get it.

Then I finally said, okay to learn about these parts of speech we're going to watch some videos, so let's all gather round the computer, kind of like carpet time in elementary school. I explained these are cartoons and songs that teach something. Finally we got to watch the Noun song, from the DVD in the computer. It doesn't go terribly loudly, so they had to stay very quiet. They did so well, all watching carefully.

When the song was over, I stopped it and said, "Okay, here's what's next: in the next eight seconds, go get your notebooks and come right back." When they did: "You're going to watch it again, and write down as many nouns that you hear as you can. Ready?" And they did really well.

At the end of the second viewing, I sent them back to their seats so we could review what they saw. We made a list of about fifteen nouns from the song. Then I told them to look at signs around the room and find nouns they would underline. They did that well too.

Tomorrow, now that they can all definitely define and identify nouns, we will begin classifying nouns as singular or plural, and common or proper.

All this took a whole class period, because I was doing a couple extra things. Then I had them transition to reading, where we got to practice group work and accountable talk (which they all did flawlessly and I made sure to praise them for it, specifying and reinforcing the behavior that I want to see) in making a list of ways to choose a book. They got really excited when we got to things like "favorite author" or "favorite series" or "genre that you like" (and most kids seem to know that word, if not exactly how to spell it), because I asked them to share their own favorites as examples. Hands waving all over the room! Very exciting.

When we got to "Look at the cover," I shared an experience of my own. I'd seen The Phantom Tollbooth, heard generically that it was good, blah blah. But the cover really seemed stupid, and that's honestly the reason I never read it. Then, though, someone t--oops! I almost gave one away! The kids got that: Get a friend's opinion or recommendation. And yes, someone I knew said they really liked it, so I finally picked it up. Sure enough, I really loved the book. And only one or two kids in each class have read it, so I might try to read it aloud to them, because I really think all kids will love it.

Then, my last class had a few extra minutes. I had a great idea while we were making our list: I had them turn the page and write a letter to a friend, recommending a book. I gave them five minutes and they all busily got to work. About half didn't know correct letter format, so that will have to be something we review together.

Then I realized that tomorrow or Monday, they can finish their drafts, then revise them on looseleaf, and I will put them up around the room. Their work will be displayed and they can get ideas for new books to read.

I think that one of the positive things I bring to the classroom is my passion for books and reading. I love sharing books that I enjoy, and that always gets the kids excited, and almost always gets the kids excited to share about books that they enjoy.

Tomorrow, after nouns, we'll work on book letters, then I'll let them choose books from my bins, read, then we'll do our first writing workshop, setting up the Writing Sourcebook. I'll have them start making a list or t-chart, and then do at least one free-write.

Also, this is the day I don't teach for three periods in a row. Fourth is my lunch, fifth is a prep not in my room, and sixth is common planning. Fourth and fifth, my AP (who was our literacy coach last year, and who I so enjoy working with!) and I spent the whole time in the book room. We made lots of progress! She grabbed a few kids to bring anthologies and grammar books to a few teachers' classrooms, and we continued weeding out the math books, and wading through the haphazard piles. We found all kinds of great materials! Lots of them were brand-spanking-new, still in the box even. I'm really glad that this dusty, messy, frustrating cleaning work will very soon benefit teachers who need resources, and students who need help.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Helpful Children!

Yesterday I made my first official foray into the book room. I was wearing a nice outfit, and I didn't have a ton of time, plus I steeled myself not to think too hard about the enormity of the task before me. So I just took a few minutes to survey the damage and conceive a battle plan. I unpacked a couple boxes of brand-new boxes and tried to organize part of a single shelf.

Then I left, because a)too overwhelming and b)I had to be back in my room. On the way though, I ran into my friendly lunch girls from last year, the sweet students who helped out and hung out and sometimes let me steal their tater tots.

They smiled and exclaimed hello. I said, hey, want to help next period with the books? They said, okay, sure!

So a group of them met me in the hallway and I led them into the disaster area. There are two rooms to this mess, which used to be a locker room. The main room has the huge shelves and there's a slightly smaller room next to it with showerheads still intact.

The showerhead room is lined with full file cabinets, and the rest of the walls are lined and piled with stacks of books, buried behind other stacks and piles of books. I saw that many of these books were math texts. I knew that I would never be able to do anything with the morass of shelves unless I had some space in the other room.

My method for organizing is usually to take everything out, throw it on the floor and make a giant mess, and then sort through it and put things together again. I'm actually hoping to do a slightly smaller-scale version of this with the books and piles and stacks. Yes, I am crazy, actually. Glad we're all on the same page now.

So anyway, I told the girls--seven or eight of them--to get in a fire line (my favorite!) from me, at the far end of the showerhead room, to the door. Methodically we passed the math books to the landing outside the book room door.

We were there about twenty minutes, and got most of the math books out! It was amazing to see such progress. I'm so grateful to these girls! They got a little dusty and sneezy, but they were happy to help. The pile of books outside the door is HUGE. I need to take a photo to appreciate the difference.

So now the littler room is still nowhere near being clear (there are six large boxes of a teacher's social studies materials, for some reason, those need to go asap), but nearly all the remaining piles are EL @ books. And I will have the space to organize those piles, finding mates for all the assorted anthologies and workbooks. Then, once those parts are finished, I'll tackle the junkpiles between the shelves. Eventually I'll get to the shelves themselves. Someday. If I'm lucky and keep getting innocent children to help.

Thanks, girls!

Today I had my middle class before and after lunch. I kept a couple kids to chat for a sec, and I mentioned that if anyone wanted to stay and help out, they could.

So four boys decided to stay and help out. First a couple of them took the broom around to tidy. Then I gave them the pile of book order catalogs. I have three (maybe four?) sets of catalogs that needed to be separated. I gave them bins (I bought twelve more bins/crates yesterday after school, along with gloves and masks for future book room work) to put them in, and they happily chattered and separated. How sweet!

Then, after school three of the same girls from the book help came by to help me my paperwork. All the tests we have to give are supposed to be graded by Friday, input in the notebook, and submitted to the AP by Monday, written on separate forms. If I didn't have, you know, a full-time teaching job to do, that would be so easy.

So far I've run the scantrons, and this morning I put all the scores into my notebook. So the three girls, in about twenty minutes, got names and scores input on the other sheets. I kept working on grade one class's book 2. Two more sets of book 2, then three sets of book 3. Yeah, so much for teaching or homework grading. I'll have to keep assigning homework that doesn't require me to collect and/or read anything. Get ready to read and respond in notebooks, children!

I think it's Tuesday by now. But I'm not sure. This year so far has been too busy for me to decide how I feel about it, and the kids are starting to show their true colors (many of those colors are LAZY), but I suppose, based on the above, that it's not bad.

Keep it up, kids. You might be the key to maintaining a shred of my sanity.

New Beginnings, for real

This year is unique for many of us because we have no data on our new students. Since the state exam scores have yet to arrive, the students are blank slates to us. No previous information to start the year. Our kids are just names, since we're getting them from other schools. At least the grades above us can talk to teachers in the building.

At first, it worried me. I was anxious, fretting about, "What kind of kids am I getting? How will I group them? Do I have a 'real' high-level class this year?" Like a good NCLB automaton, I didn't know what to do when faced with the prospect of real students without meaningless numbers assigned to them.

Fortunately, I quickly realized the stupidity of that line of thinking.

Actually, when I thought about it, it was liberating! We've got these kids, and their names are all we know about them. We truly have no agenda in meeting them, we have no preconceived notions of what they can or cannot do.

It's strange--we actually have to evaluate the students in class to figure out where they are! Wow. We get to know them as learners, not as numbers.

As I may have mentioned, our year is beginning with assessment benchmark tests, to find out exactly where the kids are right now. I've never done that before. I had just sort of gotten a general sense, over time in class, about where the kids were. Nothing specific for more than a handful of students.

Our principal has spearheaded an effort in data-driven instruction, through record-keeping by the teachers, in an assessment notebook. It's a *lot* of time and work, and sometimes it's a pain the behind, especially when we are told we have a deadline or other expectation. You know, getting tests graded and scores recorded.

I was called into a meeting the other day to discuss my 'exemplary' notebook, and I made sure to tell the principal and the official people several things: most of the things in a notebook like this are already in the teacher's head; it's just a matter of writing things down. But knowing that I had all these pages to fill--one for each student, as streamlined as I could make it--encouraged me to pay more attention to each child and their ability. I wrote down test scores and types of questions missed. I wrote down differentiated groupings or extra work assigned based on those scores. I wrote down reading conference information, when I had time for a reading conference.

But I also wrote down real student things. Like all teachers, I get to know the kids as people, not just test-takers or homework-doers. So I like to write down the kind of book a kid loves, or whether they are shy. I wrote down special, impressive, or troubling things they did in their homework or in class. When they had to read poems, I kept track of their public speaking ability.

I tried to get that idea across to the bigwigs obsessed with data: it's not just numbers, it's not just tests. We have to use everything we see in the kid.

So this year, with this freedom from preconceptions, as I read the students' work, I'm already filling in the sheets, with strengths and weaknesses. I'm reading the work as always, but with a more critical eye, and I'm making an effort to keep track of it in writing.

Patterns have emerged very quickly. It's only been a handful of days I've seen these kids (and I got three new ones and lost another today), but already I'm upset because they seem to just not get anything. Their skill level seems really low, almost across the board.

My second homework assignment was to write one page about your family's culture. The directions included: describe it, give interesting facts and details, and tell what you like about it.

Almost all the students handed in papers with no paragraph breaks, and no sense of organization.
Six students plagiarized.
A handful have no grasp of basic spelling and/or punctuation.
A bigger handful have no grasp of sentence structure.
Nearly all of them write in very simple, short sentences.
Several kids in each class have a writing voice.
Too many kids (not a ton, but any is too many) did the "Hi, my name is..."
One kid SIGNED his essay! "Sincerely, A." !?

God, it was *really* depressing.

But! I know where they are! They're nearly all below grade level, but at least I know. I can work with that. I'm keeping track of these patterns, in writing. It really makes clear the exact way I need to adapt and plan lessons and work.

I'm already planning some hands-on activities for paragraph writing. Something akin to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. You know, "pin the sentence on the paragraph it belongs with." Sentence strips and construction paper will be involved.

As a kind of before/after experiment, for the weekend assignment (write a one-page essay about yourself) I made sure to include this phrase: "Use paragraphs to organize your ideas."

I wasn't sure what to expect with the results. They were definitely better; some of the ones who wrote big chunks did successfully use paragraphs *and* use them correctly. Sadly, many more divided their random facts into paragraph chunks.

So another lesson that needs to be really explicit is to take an idea and develop it. And make it interesting.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A bit more normal, at long last

The not-sleeping all week really kicked my ass. I was fading well before 9pm on Friday, but somehow didn't actually go to bed until about 10.30. I slept well until about 8, and then went to bed from 9-10.15.

I'd thought that getting a good night's sleep would help. Silly me! A whole week's of sleep can't be made up at once.

ALL.DAY. Saturday I felt like the waking dead. My head wasn't clear; my limbs were weak. Under normal circumstances, I am a fast, striding walker who weaves in and out of the stupid slow folks. All day Saturday, I became a plodder, a trudger who was keeping up with the stupid slow ones.

I ate some and thought that would help. Nope.

After a successful trip to Costco (ie, getting what I needed and somehow keeping it well under $100), I came home and had a nice big dinner and two big glasses of ice water. Yum.

About an hour later, I noticed that the dreary drudge head had disappeared; I was miraculously feeling normal again! I was fully awake and aware, and not once did my eyelids droop the rest of the evening. In fact, I stayed up fairly easily until midnight.

Behold, the power of nutrition and hydration!

I only slept six hours, and got up at seven. I cleaned my bathroom and got started on looking up lesson ideas and materials online. (Much more on that very soon.)

It's now noon and I'm still feeling good. I had a breakfast of (sugary, oops) cereal, mango juice, and a nectarine. I'm thinking about a baked potato, snap peas, and a pear for lunch. And more water, of course. Yum!

Excellent Link for Reading, Writing, Grammar, Math

Visit the BBC Skillswise site!

It's got printable factsheets and worksheets, online games and leveled quizzes. (I copy and paste the quiz questions to create printable quizzes) There are also links "For Tutors" to other printables and lesson ideas. It is really a fantastic resource, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Today in school we just about finished our list of things to do, or really, things for me to tell them about. It wasn't terribly fun after yesterday's choruses of "EXCELLENCE!"

Tomorrow the assessment starts--the full state test from last year. We'll be giving the sections during regular class, which makes it difficult since each requires between 55 and 60 minutes. Argh.

However, that does mean there will be some time left over for some 'instruction.' We'll probably start with independent reading, maybe 'how to choose a book.' Possibly start some free writing in their sourcebooks. Not sure yet. I'll figure it out in the morning!

It's only 9.30 and I feel like a fully-wilted flower. Last night I slept better, but not enough. Pray for me to catch up very soon. My daytime patience is waning a bit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Second Day

This morning I was even more tired than yesterday.

The nerves are all gone. I've got a handful or two of names in each class already.

One class had time to do the entire theme activity (do a mental scavenger hunt, try to figure out the theme of the room, share with a partner, share with the class, theme is "expect excellence", write about what excellence means to you, share with class), practice the call and response, and move into how the class rules will help everyone be their best. Another class got to start theme but not finish it. The first class didn't get to at all, because it took the whole period to collect homework and start the map activity.

The middle class did not understand that I really meant it when I told them to enter silently, immediately sit down and get to work, silently. So three times I sent them back to line up outside the door and lectured them about the many things we have to do, and the waste of time it is for me to wait for them to do their job. The third time they did it, and after the theme stuff, they were so with me, enjoying themselves, speaking up, and I really felt some affection for them.

The last class was again chatty during class. So I introduced the quiet signal and the noise chart and the class points. I put up the numbers on the board and erased the 5 and 4 since I'd had to stop two times already. After that, though, they were great. They kept their eyes out for the quiet signal, and when I had them do pair talking, they did it perfectly. The silent activities they did well, and when their peers were speaking, the whole room was respectfully listening quietly. I praised them several times for doing well and at the end of the period said that I hope tomorrow we'll stay at 5 points.

My first class again did well. They seem to be a friendly and alert lot, eager to work hard and please the teacher.

Tomorrow we'll go over the daily procedures, finish theme, rules and consequences,

Yesterday the students received the newsletter, which included my email address and AIM name. The same evening, two students IM'd me! One boy, one girl said hi. I thought that was pretty cool.

This afternoon I chatted with another student from last year, and she also volunteered to put the newbies in their place if they gave me any trouble. Then she asked if I gave them homework. My reply: "silly goose, have you ever MET me? you should know the answer to that!" Her reply: "that was a pointless question. of course you gave them homework." Heh.

A bit ago, the new girl from yesterday IM'd me again to say hi and ask me random questions like do I have myspace, what is my favorite song, how long is the homework assignment, and about other teachers. All her chatspeak is like this: "who do u think is da meanest man teacher in da skool" Not even a question mark to appease the punctuation gods! Hoo boy.

Once again I was all hyped up at the end of the day, but soon that faded and the full-body fatigue came back. On the way home, I stopped by the grocery store and gobbled a big meal when I got back. After watching some recorded tv (have I mentioned lately how IN LURVE I am with my DVR?!), I just had to close my eyes and nap. AT SIX PM.

Around seven I forced myself up, but I'm not feeling much more rested. Last night I went to bed at 10.30, exhausted in body but in mind things were still churning. Eventually I slept, dreaming anxiously of having to move all my things in less than a week with no notice. I hope to go to bed at a decent time and actually sleep better. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Whew! Yeah!

I feel *so* much better now that the anticipation and the first day are over!

Wow, it went fast. It felt like it should have been longer, for some reason. I know, I'm crazy.

Anyway, it went pretty well, I think. I saw each of my classes. A bunch of people not there, and a handful new add-ons in each one.

In the morning, I actually got up at 6.30, bleary-eyed and feeling hung-over from not enough real sleep. I left about 7.15, hit some traffic on the freeway but got to school about 7.40. I brought in the two bags of things I got at the dollar store (crates, candy, brooms), and rushed around my room finishing up. There were a couple things needing tidying, and I had to write the week's agenda and the homework up.

This year we are getting time for homeroom, which I'm thankful for. The older teachers last year were all, "Boo, homeroom, lots of paperwork." But in reality, though we didn't have separate times for it, we still had to do all things, and it cut into classroom time. So now they get ten minutes to do attendance and lockers and announcements. The last two years, announcements came any old time, anywhere from first to third period. Now it will be more structured, which means that our class time will (in theory) be actually all for, you know, class. And learning and stuff.

So because I have the book room as my menu item, I don't have a homeroom assignment. However, my morning class is in my classroom for homeroom, with a traveling teacher. Today and for probably a couple more days, I was with her to pick up the kids and start the homeroom stuff. That way I got to see them and immediately give them my guidelines for entering and things like that.

Oh man, while finishing up my room and while waiting for the kids, I was so nervous. I felt all flushed and anxious. Occasionally my stomach actually hurt. But, once I was in front of the kids, it all went away. I love public speaking on its own, and I love being in front of my own classroom, and thank god I seem to be not bad at both.

I have one high-level class, and two average. Last year it was the opposite, and I will miss it for sure, along with the actual students.

One class looks to be a full 33. I have 36 desks in my room but only 33 chairs, so I really hope those absent kids stay absent.

I had my morning class for technically two periods, but it was more like one and a half. The middle class I saw for one period, and the afternoon class for two full periods.

In all three, I had them fill out the contact card, and then handed out the parent newsletter (with a welcome letter, my contact info, supply list, expectations, unit list, and signature page). I went through parts of that with the class, not all of it though. Important things like no late homework, no bathroom, book orders, field trip, etc.

The middle class I had to rush through both of those and didn't really finish. My last class I got through them and got to go through my homework rubric. I drilled into them that the expectations are very reasonable, everyone is definitely capable of them, and following them will result in a 4 (out of 4).

That last class got a little chatty when it was time to write down tonight's assignment. I said very sharply and loudly, 'If you cannot handle writing down homework without chatting, we will have a very tough year. There is no reason to talk.'

Ai yi. I'm always nervous about management. I need to introduce the quiet signal and the class point things. Must add them to the agenda on the board.

I saw a handful of last year's students. It was neat to see them! Here's something cool: one of my worst kids from two years ago (who has somehow been promoted to the eighth grade on time, don't ask me how) walked by when I was in the hall with a class. He said to them, "You gotta good teacher, you better listen to her." Awesome!

And I got an instant message from a Class 3 girl right away, asking about the kids. She said this: "if they don't listen to you call me and every body from last year, will put them into place for you". I said in response, "Sweet! Thanks! :)"

So adorable.

So far I got a couple kids' names, I think. I noticed several were definitely more participatory, but they were well-behaved. One thing I need to work on is calling on many different students, and not only the ones with hands up. Yes, definitely. If I had a bit more money and organization, I might do that popsicle-stick-with-names thing. But then I'd have to have three jars and it would just be another thing I'd have to find a place for.

Once things got underway this morning, I was all like, "Yeah, let's go! Let's get this thing started!" Like, excited to start the year and start implementing good systems. And again, I felt like the day was over too soon. I was all hopped up on adrenaline, ready for more. Hurrah!

But now I'm glad I'm home. My shoes were hurting my feet a bit, and nylons are uncomfortable. I wore a black skirt suit with a light blue button-down shirt, one of my pearl necklaces, and my hair in a bun. The picture of a professional educator! Not the most comfortable attire; I'm always grateful to change into sweats or pj's.

I am going to add in the new names to my rosters tonight, but I figure they'll keep changing for a day or two. I'll tweak my week's plan because now the testing will be on our own and not lockdown, and starting on Friday instead, and because we now have an assembly first period tomorrow.

Alright, let's go! How was everyone else's (NYC) first day?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Trying to Believe It

I want to put my head in the sand and shriek, "I can't see you! Lalala! There's no school starting any time! Lalala! Can't see you!"

I'm nervous.

My first year was really tough in part because I was coming into a situation that was already set up. So in a way, some of the toughness didn't feel like my fault.

My second year and this year, I am really nervous because the situation is only what *I* make it. Last year it worked; I worked. I ended up loving my kids and feeling like I was doing my job well. The kids did their jobs well.

This year I'm worried about the kids. What if last year was a fluke because the kids were extra good? I had two very smart classes and one average class; I don't know if I really reached the average class.

So what if these groups are more like my first year? Those students, individually, were mostly sweet, if not highly skilled. Together though, they jelled into pains in the behind, who talked and talked back all too often, without doing work.

What if I got spoiled last year and my behavior management won't be good enough? What if I've lost whatever I thought I had? What if *I'm* not good enough?

I'm also anxious because of scheduling changes this first week. There will be lockdown for testing and whatnot three of the days, which means that I won't see the classes an equal amount of time, in terms of having them for a regular class. My afternoon class I will see an extra period a week anyway, and this week I'll see them two or three periods more than the others. I'm not sure what I should do with that extra time. If I move ahead with my scheduled activities, I'll be on different pages with each class. And that makes me anxious by itself, keeping track of who has done what.

I have a big table with plans for the entire month of September, which I'm pretty proud of. Who knows if I'll actually do everything when I planned to, but I feel good about having so much planned. If anything takes too long or too little, I can move ahead or take longer without worrying.

All last week I slept poorly. This weekend it sort of seems like I've caught up, but I just know that the anxiety will really manifest itself while I'm attempting to rest.

Tomorrow is really the first day of school. Oh my god. I think at this point I just want to get it over with so I can stop fretting and freaking out!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Advice Mini-Carnival

I love reading posts about advice, even though I'm not a newbie anymore. I like being reminded of important issues as I go into the school year. It's important to continue self-evaluation well beyond the first year.

So, here are some excellent advice posts by my teacher/blogger colleagues. I'm saving this list for future reference. If there are any good posts you'd like to recommend, please do so and I'll add it to the list!

A Shrewdness of Apes

NYC Educator

Syntactic Gymnastics

Are We Doing Anything Today? Part One, Part Two

The Esteemed Drs. Wong

NEA: Management Tips

Education World's Tips from "Sophomore" Teachers

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Holy cow, SO.TIRED.

My eyelids were drooping by 8.30 but I stayed up til about 10.45. I set the alarm for 9, because I need to go to two stores and then school before noon. It's now 9.45 and I still feel weak and utterly exhausted. After TEN hours asleep!

All week I haven't slept well. It's taken a really long time for me to sleep and it just wasn't fun. So last night was the first in a week that I was really out. Boy, was I out. I had four crazy dreams, one of which involved a wallet stealer breaking in to a place I was housesitting, and I had to fight back. Grr.

School the last two days has been fine. We had a few meetings in the mornings and had lots of time for room set-up. Somehow I'm still not totally done yet. There's always more little things to do!

In fact, right now I need to print out my Expect Excellence signs so that at school I can color them and put them up. My first day won't work without those!