Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emergency Repair Day Wednesday

When I left school on Monday, I prepared my classroom for the possibility of being out. I wrote out the entire week's activities and taped it to the overhead. I wrote a new homework assignment on the homework board. I got copies together and clearly labeled who they were to go to and when.

Imagine my disgust on Wednesday, when I entered my room. The plans were no longer on the overhead. The homework board was blank. The worksheets I'd left were still on my desk, piled haphazardly but otherwise clearly untouched. There was a pile of math worksheets that someone had done with one of my classes. Around the room I found some worksheets I'd made for my next coverage, and which were sitting in a bin on my desk. Later in the day I found the plan sheet, shoved in the bottom left-hand drawer.

I was disgusted and pissed off. I tried to make things as easy as possible, and the staff IN MY OWN BUILDING refuse to follow my instructions, willfully breaking the plans *and* pillaging my desk? Oh, hell no.

People suck.

Another thing that sucks is the chair situation. Two of the chairs in my room have detached/broken seats. I have thirty-six desks and thirty-six students (in my biggest class), but only thirty-five chairs. Clearly, two unusable chairs is quite unacceptable. They have been broken for months now. Isn't that ridiculous? I have mentioned it to a couple people, but of course nothing is to be done. I don't even think anyone cares. I'm quite sure that many of the classrooms on the upper floors don't have enough chairs, period.

Anyway, I decided to do some emergency surgery, with the teacher's best friend, TAPE. That's right, I TAPED the seats back on the chairs.
Here they are, post-op:

Can you say GHETTO?
This is just one of the myriad reasons I'm exhausted with the state of teaching in New York City. This kind of stuff makes me want to flee to the suburbs, in a different state.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sh...Free Day

So Tuesday ended up being pretty awesome. I didn't have to get up until 7.15 (although, annoyingly, I was pretty awake starting about 6.25), and the courthouse is close enough to walk in less than fifteen minutes. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, already nearly warm at eight AM.

I brought two books and my grades bubbling sheets with me, which I about finished while waiting for the announcements to begin. I went to ask them about travel and trip plans, and the guy told me that if I left before a trial was over, I'd get no 'credit' for the service. Or that I could leave for now and get another summons in a few months.

Because of my trip next week, and my dread about leaving the students in incapable hands (control freak much?), I left. I want to serve, but now isn't the right time (I know, who cares, right?). But I'll definitely do it next time.

So then I had the rest of the beautiful day to myself! I got my eyebrows done and went into the city. Lunch with Boyfriend, then a relaxed couple hours at Central Park.

Detail on the Bell of Hope behind St Paul's Church, given by the City of London in commemoration of September 11. It was made at the same foundry as the Liberty Bell and Big Ben!

Sun, tree, and reflections.

I like taking pictures of the sun.

How cute is this?

Lying on the grass, in the sun, listening to music, reading, taking pictures.
Seriously, can you have a better day?

Monday, March 26, 2007 is still Monday?

Wow, Mondays always seem like a whole week to me. Am I the only one?

Anyway, it went fine. My afternoon class had their first chance at l!t c!rcles. Last week we did a fishbowl with one group, and evaluated what they did well and need to improve. So today we started by reminding ourselves what a good discussion is like. Then it was time to actually try it. Ack, it was loud and I could tell that half the groups were totally not on task. I didn't say anything though. They quickly wrote a reflection of how it went, what their group did well and what they need to improve. Each group shared with the class. Many of them were upfront about the good and the bad, freely admitting that not everyone was on task, or that they need to work on taking turns.

When I got home, I had to call in about jury duty. And I have to report tomorrow morning! Hurrah!

Fortunately, I was expecting this, so I stayed after school to write down plans for the whole rest of the week, and have copies ready (for l!t c!rcle comprehension questions), and display them all neatly on my desk. I even changed the homework and wrote up the spring break assignment, just in case.

It's always exciting for me to have a change of pace, and do something out of the ordinary. And jury duty is a totally legit way to not be at school! Maybe it's wrong, but that makes me happy. :)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Conferences!

On Friday after school, I attended the fourth session of the UFTTC literacy workshop series. The topic has on to improving students' writing. The facilitators did a 'word splash', where the 'students' brainstormed words beginning with each letter, related to the topic of global warming. Then we watched the first 20 minutes or so of An Inconvenient Truth. It was engaging and fascinating, and I can't wait to show it to my kids and instill some outrage in them. Oh, and we were supposed to keep track of new vocabulary words for our word splash, and also do a "They say/I say" but I forgot.

After the video clip, we did a quick-write focused on a question, which was something about evidence of global warming.

The facilitators handed out examples of student work. I think the papers were in-progress essays based on the quick write, or something. At our tables we were supposed to come up with a list of positives and negatives about the worst paper, and figure out what to work on in the conference with the student. Then we had to share. Blah, stupid group work.

We got some interesting handouts in the workshop. One was the scale of writers, from emergent to advanced. I'd seen it before, obviously, but this time I looked at it through the lens (nice edu-speak!) of my current students and realized that most of my students are still beginning writers, with a few independents thrown in for good measure. Wow. At twelve years old, still not independent writers! Scary.

Another handout was a student writing rubric. There were scales of four for these topics: Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. Obviously I've seen these kinds of things before too (Six Traits, anyone?), but I liked getting it again and reminding myself how useful this could be for me and the students. I hope.

On Saturday, I left Boyfriend's at 7.15 to travel northward, to the NYCWP Teacher to Teacher conference in the Bronx. The breakfast spread was impressive and abundant: fruit platters, bagels, donuts, coffee, orange juice. Yum! The keynote speaker was Walter Dean Myers, and everyone was thrilled about it. He's all famous and stuff! He had such wonderful, down-to-earth, yet passionate things to say about writing and stories.

He described his process for us, how every day he has several hours for pre-writing one book, revising another, and writing a third. Every day! He spends an entire month pre-writing for each idea. After that month, he can tell whether it will be a book or not. He said that the planning helps free him, because he can use language and imagination better and easier. For fiction, he creates a six-square outline, and four for non-fiction. All stories must start with an interesting character and an interesting problem. Books should begin with the character in crisis. Since kids don't like to read long chunks of text, the character needs someone else to talk to, instead of drawn-out internal monologue.

He mentioned that for each book he works on, his wife creates a mural, showing pictures of the character and a couple scenes from the book. The mural hangs behind the computer, so he sees it each time he writes about it. Isn't that wonderful? To have a different format of your story to look at for inspiration.

I loved this idea and want to have my students work on it. They can definitely create a collage/mural for the main characters in their l!t c!rcle books this week, and if we work on fiction writing later, they can create that first, along with their outline. Then, one hopes, they can have a clearer picture of the character and what's happening to him or her, so the student can write their story easier.

During the book signing, he told us (two of my like-minded colleagues came to the conference too) that he picks up fast-food job applications, and fills them out for his characters. If you do that, you know some concrete things about the character: where they live, what they've done in school, and that creates a more real, more concrete character, which I would imagine makes it easier to write.

For non-fiction, he explained that you can't simply write facts and anecdotes. You must begin with a question, and your research must provide the answers, so that your reader can look for the answers. Your work will be focused and more interesting and original if it's focused on answering on a specific question. And of course, plentiful evidence is necessary.

He said that writers aren't geniuses spewing out genius work on their first try; writers are craftspeople who constantly work on their craft. He said that his ideas come from his life and his interest, and that his books reflect who he is. He loves the process of writing and never suffers from writer's block.

Isn't this all so wonderful? I was intrigued and charmed and excited about getting his message to my students. I also hope to take some of his advice to my own 'craft' and practicing writing along with the kids.

For the first workshop after his keynote session, I attended one called "What Makes a Hero?" about creating a monologue. To begin, there were some charts posted around the little room, with questions on them, ready to be answered with markers. What inspires you to write? What makes a hero? Who are some of your heroes? Why? Do societies need heroes? Do individuals need heroes?

The facilitator, a tall, mellow man with big dimples, then had us do some free writes about those same questions. We shared our ideas in small groups. My group had some overlap about the hero definition. We all thought of firefighters, but also every-day types of heroes. Personally, I think the fire/police hero thing has been shoved down our throats by the media, and so I sort of resent the fact that they come to mind so quickly. While they certainly are heroic and brave, putting their lives on the line, there are many more kinds of heroics than that. Which then makes everyone think of Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks, who fought for what they believed in, sacrificing parts of themselves or their own life. But again, there are heroes who aren't famous or who don't die tragically, but who persevere through struggles, who stand up for what they believe in, for trying to inspire others with conviction and purpose.

We were supposed to create a character and start some ideas about him or her and a monologue for them, but I totally didn't. That kind of open writing kind of paralyzes me, because I don't really have that kind of imagination. I've never been the type who can just create something out of thin air, and I've kind of cheated my students by never pushing myself to be a good writer, or at least a practicing writer, which I suppose is all anyone can do.

The second workshop was by an ESL teacher who shared her unit on gender inequity. It was utterly fascinating for me, because I love that topic (hence, my BA in women studies), and she told us about the incredible work her students did. She brought in NYTimes articles and did guided listening activities (giving them questions to answer, then reading to the article to them, letting them compare answers, then writing an essay about the topic and questions), and her students researched their own topics related to gender inequity around the globe.

One strategy she did with us was called the One-Question Interview. Each person gets an open-ended question, and asks it to a bunch of people, recording answers on paper. Then you can analyze the results and write about your conclusions. My question was, In your country, would you rather be a man or a woman and why? Another similar question someone asked me was, Do you think it's easier to be a man or a woman, and why? Fascinating!

The packet she gave us included a bunch of actual lesson outlines she does, along with useful articles, research project guidelines and peer feedback form, websites related to the topic--all so clear and easy to take in. I love getting those kinds of materials, because it's so easy to get excited about and adapt to my own class or philosophy. I'd much rather get actual examples of the article and questions, rather than the vague explanation, "Well, I read them an article and they had to answer the questions while they listened." For me, that is interesting, but then thinking about finding my own article (Google? NYTimes article that costs money to retrieve? Ugh!) and creating questions? Won't happen. Seeing the actual article and the actual questions is like, oh man, I can totally do this!

And I do plan on reading the article (a discussion of roles, rules, and restrictions for women before the 19th Amendment) to my students, with the questions, but then I'll feel more able to find more on my own, and I'll know what kind of questions to write. I definitely need that structure and guidance to take something back to my own classroom.


So, along with last week's conference, which now I hardly remember, I've got tons of ideas in my head, and I found myself planning, while pretending to sleep in, how to incorporate pieces of these conferences and workshops.

I love attending conferences and workshops because they get me to think, they get me out of my cranky rut, and they get me excited again! Often in the last three months, I have felt so blah and in despair of this ridiculous job, but these workshops really help me feel like striving to be a better teacher.

Since two of my colleagues were there, one of whom is my good friend N, and they're in my same department, we all had plenty to talk about. We lamented the lack of department PD and collaboration in our school. I think that is so vital to an effective and cohesive program across the grades. Working and sharing inspires everyone. But too often, some colleagues don't share, only take, ideas, or are too new to have much to bring to the table, or are resentful of any meeting, or are out on their own planet.

So I suggested to N that we organize our own PD. We'll ask people if they want to meet and talk together. If not, it won't be required or anything, but we can try to create some bonds with our own grade peers and others. Wouldn't it be great if I knew that I didn't need to worry about my students mastering sentence diagrams, because I knew that the next two years, other competent teachers will help them practice and understand it better? That there was an atmosphere of sharing and coming up with ideas and plans together, talking out the kinks and creating interesting projects and follow-ups? And then having other people to support you and help you actually follow through with all the good ideas? That's always my downfall; I have these great ideas, but I rarely follow through, or I have to abandon them, because of student apathy or curriculum restrictions.

Our AP is so fantastic this year that I know she would support us, even if we had to deviate a little from the curriculum. Because, we all created the curriculum together last year, and she and the lit coach have already been talking with us about adaptations for next year, rather than berating us for not doing things "right." I'm so grateful, and I want to make the admin proud of what we do, and I want to get the kids interested, and I want to get more work out of them.


I emailed Nancy and suggested that we add conferences to our NYC Teacher Blogger calendar (see button on sidebar). So if you know of any conferences, let one of us know, so we can get the word out to others!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday Photos

This was for a Utata project (although it needed sepia tone; other requirements were a chair and back of a human body), but it's also an everyday sight in school. It took a few tries and zooms and propping on grammar books for the right angle, but this is the one I wanted. Look at my cute skirt and what I hope are shapely calves (I'm on tippytoe)!

These crocuses (croci??) were buried in snow a week ago as buds, but look at them now!

I don't know if there's a purpose to this mustard stiletto sitting on this driveway post, or if it's a joke or social experiment or something. Regardless, it's pretty entertaining.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mid-week Break!

This is the first day of spring, it's my 1111th post (a neat number), and I got to miss school for a legitimate reason! What a nice day.

I went to CPR training, which, since it benefits the school, won't count against my attendance record. Sweet! And it's free through the DOE. Double sweet! My friend N had discovered it, so I got to hang out with her, which is always fun. She teaches a different grade than I do, so we don't get tons of hang out time at school.

The people at the training were fun and friendly (well, except for the idiot woman next to me), although the facilitator was pretty icky. His ego was the size of his waistline, which was also too large. But the time went quickly, and we learned all the "new" ways to do CPR. (Does anyone else find it strange and/or alarming that CPR techniques change?)

Oh, and I had time to grade two classes of tests from Tuesday. Excellent!

We were done before 2pm, so N and I went for a leisurely lunch (we hadn't had a break all day and were both starving). We talked a lot about ideas and plans and possibilities for next year. She's the quiet star teacher of her grade, and I really admire her work, both with curriculum and with her students. But like many of us, she's tired of the same old crap at school and in the NYC system, so she's going to leave next year.

Our grade department has a vacancy this year and next year two more will be leaving. Besides me, the other teacher is older, on her own planet, never comes to meetings, etc, so she doesn't really count. If I stay, I'll be the only returning teacher in our grade department. That's kind of a lot of pressure, and next year I wouldn't have any competent peers with whom to collaborate.

I've got lots of things swirling around in my mind about next year, and I want to do a separate post about it, which will hopefully help me organize and prioritize my thoughts.

Anyway, after our pleasant lunch, I got home and did my laundry, hurrah!, and then got to work on grades. Double hurrah! They're due next Wednesday and I have done no inputting so far this quarter. Tonight I got two classes completely up to date! HURRAH for me finally doing some work at home!

When we got the grades yesterday, I told myself that I would work on them a little at home. But once I was home, after playing around on the internet, I decided I would rather clean the bathroom and take some pictures for an older Utata Iron Photographer. Nice priorities, right?

I love having a day off in the middle of the week. I hope that my kids were decent today and got their work done. Two more days this week; I'll be finishing up the diagramming by doing some prepositions and pronouns.

Next week--which is the last week before spring break! woohoo!!--I simply must get to work on some real writing. I've been letting my grammar work take up a whole period, partly because I know the students work well with structure and rules, partly because they really need grammar work, and partly because I didn't want to teach a new project and have half the class do none of the work.

So we've had two weeks of grammar and reading, and I hope that next week they're ready to do some real writing and attempt l!t c!rcles (for the two lower classes). Wish us all luck, and wish me patience!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Weekend Conference

On Saturday, I attended a conference hosted by Teachers Network.
The conference was very interesting, for many reasons.

--One, Deborah Meier, famous teacher and author, was the keynote speaker. She had some very interesting things to talk about, but unfortunately I had a hard time focusing. She spoke quietly, and there was lots of ambient noise in the auditorium as well what sounded like a drum workshop somewhere upstairs. And some woman kept taking these flash pictures; it took an hour for my right eye to feel normal again!

So, sadly, I wasn't able to take too much away after her speech. But I do remember her talking about control--all the layers of bureaucracy are just to control each level, not to empower the children. She also talked about collaboration, how it used to be a dirty word, and now people know that it's really important to education.

Mostly, I decided that I should definitely pick up one of her books!

--Two, Carmen Farina led one of the workshop sessions. I'd never heard her speak before, but I'd heard vague good things about her. And at the workshop, I loved her immediately. She was warm but firm, knowledgeable but not haughty. Best of all, she was passionate.

One thing she mentioned was that our definition of literacy, and the way we teach it, must encompass speaking, listening, reading and writing. And that vocabulary is essential!

Her main point was Book of the Month, a project she's been involved with for years. She chooses books for a specific reason that the audience can relate to, and writes a letter so that all the teachers understand the reason and can feel some ownership. The point is to open a discussion and exchange, between parents, students, teachers, and administrators, NOT to skill-build. Wow! That's a pretty radical thing in this test-madness day and age, and I LOVE it.

At the end, as an aside, she mentioned how idiotic balanced literacy is, and how no teacher should stay at a school that employs it. Hurrah!

--Three, I met a fellow NYC teacher blogger, Nicole! I recognized her name and had to introduce myself. It's so cool to meet people face to face after reading a blog. I made sure to invite her to our teacher-blogger get-togethers. She showed me some really neat examples of 3-D graphic organizers that I hope she posts on her blog!

--Four, we got complimentary copies of An Inconvenient Truth. I haven't seen it yet, and it's free.

--Fifth, the "Lunch with an Author" was really fun. I chose to go to the session with Caroline Hickey. She's got her first novel coming out soon, and she was candid about her experience as a writer. It was really interesting! Even better, she does author visits, and I think that could be a great tool not only for my kids, but for me, to re-focus and re-excite me about writing.

The 'digital storytelling' workshop also got me re-interested in writing and fun projects to do. Using iMovie or Photo Story 3, that kind of thing. I hope I can follow up on that kind of stuff.

--The other day, Nancy posted a comment about this Saturday's NYCWP Teacher-to-Teacher conference. Very cool!)

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Snowy Day


It is Friday! I hate being so cliche, but it's such a relief to get to the end of the week. Despite some kid horrors in my afternoon class, the week went pretty quickly.

I must say that I'm impressed with my students, and with ME, this week. We had the math test, but I didn't give them the afternoons 'off'; we still did our regular work. And today, it was all snowy and stuff (I know! WTF?!), but it was their best-behaved day all week!

Because of the Hydras' (and I suppose I can't call them that anymore, since they're behaving so much better) efforts to apologize and improve, and I've been holding them to that, and making them feel guilty if the whole class isn't showing excellence, I issued them a challenge. I told them they haven't been a level 5 since the end of January, and let's see if we can stay a Level 5 all period. And they did it!

Next week we will continue the challenge. Wish us all luck.

The afternoon class (which needs a name) listened well to chapter five of our l!t c!rcle book, and then when it was over, settled quietly into working on the chapter questions! I was very proud and happy.

I'm attending a teacher conference tomorrow. I hope it's interesting!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Notes from Students

From the Hydra Class yesterday:

Dear, Miss ___
Sorry for being rude and disrespectful the speach that you gave us made a lot of sense. We are very sorry for throwing papers, and talking and making all kinds of noises. I hope except this letter you are write we can be excellence!

[signatures from all the students]

From a kid in the same class who has been making good efforts to turn around, but who's been a bit talky and not-worky the last two days, after I mentioned that I might need to make a 'correction' phone call:

Ms. ____ this is the best class I have because when I walk into your class room I just feel good I don't know why. But to me I think you are the best teacher I have. Ms. ___ I just love EL @ because of you. So that's all I want to tell you and I like your shirt!!

I had to laugh and said, "Nice try! Sucking up doesn't work, but it's entertaining." And another kid calls out to the first one, "Oh man, you stole my technique!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Picture Post!

Our l!t c!rcle artifacts! I'm so proud:

The cute dress I bought a couple weeks ago, just in time for spring...

I am Proud of Myself Today

In backwards order:

--I worked out after school, for the second time this week! Other than walking for a week on vacation, I hadn't worked out for like a month. Eek.

--I made four parent phone calls!

--Two of them were "good job" calls!!

--I put charts back up in my room, after two months of bleak, industrial bare walls.

--Last week, the Hydras were throwing paper and making excess noise (like whistling), all week. It continued a bit into this week, and I had to keep them for after school detention yesterday, in their homeroom classroom (the science teacher). I gave them a lecture about respecting themselves and their time, and making sure they and the people around them are doing their job.

Apparently the science teacher talked to them and so the class elected somebody to write a letter to me, apologizing. Then they passed it around the class so every student signed it. They presented it to me in the middle of me discussing Good Listening Habits. I asked a student to read it aloud. It took like five minutes to get them to be quiet enough to listen to the letter.

And sure enough, there was no paper throwing (that I saw, anyway) or excess noise. There was a bit too much regular noise and talking at times, but it wasn't malicious. I thought it was sweet that even though the science teacher told them to apologize, they took it seriously enough to at least say they really meant it.

I told them I would put it up to remind all of us that this can be a new start, that every person is capable of being excellent. I told them how proud I was of their work and success with clauses and sentence diagrams. I emphasized that what I'm doing is trying to help them respect themselves and the people around them, and that these 'rules' apply not just in my classroom, but everywhere in life.

So today was finally a good day with that class, which quite honestly feels more like a relief than a victory at this point in the year. Because I hate feeling so tired and ineffective.

Music Stories

Kelly tagged me for a music meme, and I'm gonna do it all wrong, because I'm annoying like that. :) Here goes!

Name 10 songs, and tell the story of each:

1. Most frequently played in iTunes (or the equivalent).
In iTunes (which I don't really use alone), Haley Bonar, Daisy Girls: my favorite track on her second album, Lure the Fox. On iPod, Jason Mraz, The Boy is Gone, from his first album. I like his softer stuff a lot.

2. Set to skip in iTunes.
I heart Billy Joel and Simon & Garfunkel, but I skip Piano Man and Mrs Robinson, respectively, because they've been massively overplayed and I much prefer the other tracks.

3. A lyric you love.
God, so many! I even started a list in a notebook back in high school. Here are three that come to mind as still being great:

I ain't gonna be the same,
but who's to say that's a bad thing?
--Deborah Falconer, Tabs

A restaurant that never has to close
Breakfast every hour,
it could save the world
--Tori Amos, Purple People

that god damn bitch of life she made me cry,
so I'd like to poke her squarely in the eye
--Groove Armada, Think Twice

4. Makes you dance.
I can't not bop around to Jack Johnson. Ask my students! Though, they can't help bopping too. Same with all Grammar Rock. Coolness goes out the window once they hear those catchy tunes!

And you can't forget about Justin Timberlake. Ooh, does he know how to make you move.

5. Different from the rest of your musical taste.
I own an Eminem album, but it's not on my computer. I have a cheesy French rap-type song called "Sexy Pour Moi" by Tragedie that entertains me to no end.

6. You know all the words.
Like all true members of my generation: Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

And way more. Like, I sing along with all my favorite albums. Come on, people! What a silly question!

7. Have liked for the longest amount of time.
I was going to say Whitney Houston's pop album, My Name is Not Susan. She was my favorite singer of all time in elementary school, and probably one of the few contemporary artists I was even aware of at the time.
But then I realized that the music I was exposed before then to was folk rock like Neil Diamond, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, and Billy Joel. So I suppose they're the ones I've liked the longest.
Other than that, I've loved Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, and Alanis Morrissette since high school. Little Earthquakes and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy got me through the end of high school and are in my Top Ten Albums list.
Uh oh, that made me think of my other Top Albums, and so actually Pearl Jam's Ten has to be the one I've loved the longest. Represented by Jeremy, of course. That came out in sixth grade and I came to love it in eighth and ninth grades. I bought Nirvana's Unplugged album during either junior or senior year, and that's the second of my favorites of All Time.

I told you I was going to do this thing wrong. :)

8. Most recent addition.
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat. I bought the album after hearing this song. I'm a sucker for clear, acoustic melodies.

9. Reminds you of a relationship.
The slower Grace is Gone, Dave Matthews Band: Takes me right back to Chimney Corner with my AmeriCorps team. I can see the rafters (critters Mo and Fo and all) and smell the fireplace, everything. That whole album (well, it was the Lost Lillywhite Tapes, most of which became faster and the album Busted Stuff), plus Poe's Haunted, can do that as well. But also, my teammates turned me on to Jack Johnson and Pete Yorn, for which I am quite grateful.

10. Played at a memorable concert.
Hm. I was going to be at a loss for this one, because I've been to only a handful of concerts: Whitney Houston in 6th grade, Janet Jackson in 8th (velvet rope tour), and Smokey Robinson (at the Puyallup Fair). But I've seen a couple live shows in my post-collegiate life, and a couple songs do stand out.

First is Show of Hands, by Deborah Falconer. She played a benefit show of the Groundlings that I got to attend (very cool!), and later we saw some of her shows at the Coffee House, where Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire, plus Leo DiCaprio and his posse, were in attendance (star-struck! squee!). But that first song was lovely and melancholy, which are two of my favorite qualities in a song. And she's put it on a couple of her indie discs, so I've got several versions.

Next is Drinking Again, by Haley Bonar. I saw her sing that one song, and Mason Jennings was singing with her, harmonizing (it was his show; she was his opener, but I missed her set). It was gorgeous enough for me to remember for a year, when I finally got around to buying her album. And she has become one of my all-time favorites.

See? All done wrong, but I can't help myself. I love to talk, and I love to jabber on about my favorite songs. Check out my list/links in the sidebar.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Take that, Balanced Literacy!

For the last two days, I have been instructing my students in diagramming sentences. And guess what: they are getting it, and they are liking it!


Monday, March 12, 2007

Integrating Travel and Writing (for teachers and students!)

Okay, so I have hardly mentioned our trip that was now three weeks ago. Ack. I'll get to it, someday, I hope. Although I seem to remember that I didn't really ever talk about last February's trip to Prague. I hope I posted enough from Amsterdam in December. Note to self: quit being a lazy blogger! Gah.

Anyway, one of my favorite things from this London/Paris trip is Mouse Man. I only mentioned him briefly a couple weeks ago. So now I want to discuss it more.

We were at St Paul's Cathedral. It's gorgeous and beautiful and an amazing structure and I love it. Taking random pictures on the front steps, I noticed something that didn't fit. There was a mouse action figure just chilling at the base of a little lamppost.

I said, "Why hello there, new friend! You look like you want an adventure."

So I picked him up and took him exploring on a grand journey. I was inspired by the movie Amelie (for some reason, no one at my school has seen it!), wherein Amelie sends her father's garden gnome out with her flight attendant friend. Then the friend sends home photos of the gnome at famous places. Eventually Amelie's father gets the picture and takes himself on a long-deserved vacation.

I took pictures of MouseMan (I'm not terribly creative at naming, so I went with the obvious, just to make things easy) all over the place. It was great fun to involve him in Boyfriend's and my travels and even eating, drinking and checking email.

A couple days into this, we had a great idea to pass him along to continue his adventures, with other travelers, and to have them take more pictures, and have a blog to chronicle all of this. Doesn't this sound fantastic and fun? I think so.

Then I had another blast of inspiration. Since the teaching thing never really leaves your brain, even when you're busy being a non-teacher, I came up with a way to involve my students in this fun project.

After I got home and printed photos of Mouse Man all over the place, I brought him and the pics to school. There were enough pictures for each student to take one (I put them in a deck, fanned out face down). The name of the place was on the back.

You'll see them on Mouse Man's

First the students had to research their place. Then, the real project was to take that information and create a postcard that Mouse Man could send home from that place.
This means the kids:
--practiced researching
--learned about another country
--wrote facts
--wrote opinions
--remembered letter and postcard format
--wrote in the voice of Mouse Man
--practiced entertaining writing
--were supposed to use the four types of sentences (that was another challenge I added, related to our warm up practice)

Finally, each student was to read their postcard aloud to the class, and the class would vote on the most effective postcard, and that writer would win a prize. We didn't end up having time to finish all this, unfortunately. I'd actually wanted to extend the project a bit, writing postcards this time to Mouse Man, telling him which place they liked the most and wanted to visit, and suggesting new places for him to visit on future adventures.

The postcards are now up on my bulletin board, and I think it is a really neat project. I wanted the kids to get excited about traveling to other places, and to practice real writing strategies, because postcard writing is a real-life skill!

I would love for other teachers to use or extend this project. You could use the pictures on Mouse Man's blog (or if you want my Snapfish album of all of them, email me), or you could find your own inanimate friend and you or your students could take photos of him or her anywhere. You could do a pen pal project with this, with each other or with other classes or other schools.

In a couple weeks, Mouse Man will be going on another international adventure with Nancy, and then on some domestic journeys with me. So look for more pictures!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hurrah for Fridays!

As always, today was a mix of good and bad. I'm continuing to work on my calmer but still strict demeanor; it's going well.

This week the kids started reading their LC books. The two not-so-high classes have been actually listening and reading along, and that part is going well. As of today, they've learned all the roles they're to use in the circles, starting maybe next week.

For warm ups, we've been doing clause work, and it's gone swimmingly! I gave a quiz on Wednesday, and the scores were not terrible, but not great either. So, yesterday we did another pretend quiz, and I returned their real quizzes. They needed to figure out what they got wrong and correct it. They did that very well! if a bit noisily. Then today I gave them another quiz. I've only graded the high class so far, but the majority of scores were 100%!! Most excellent.

So that's all that's been going on in class this week. Sentence work, and reading. Sweet. Nice and simple, and effective.

But I felt a little lazy and guilty, and plus I wanted to get the students involved a bit more and make sure they're thinking and understanding. So we made character maps in class today, together.

For L!dd!e (and by the way, the authors and titles were assigned to us; we only got to choose from there), we discussed her traits and her situations, the important people in her life and how she relates to them. There was some great discussion and understanding of her personality and motives! And for Br!dge, we did two maps. One of J#ss and his traits, which they got pretty easily, and then one for his relationships.

I felt really good about these discussions; it made me feel like a real English teacher like not many things do. I felt good because the students were right there with me; I was leading them a bit, but I wasn't telling them anything. They came up with the ideas just like I hoped they would. I was proud of them for paying attention and being able to verbalize these characters.

And, I'm excited to have some valuable charts to hang up. I know that sounds really silly, but for one, I haven't put anything on the walls since January, so things are bleak. Additionally, I think it will be a good resource for the kids as they read. I made sure to tell them that the reason we were doing this was to get in the character's head and see their world at the beginning of the story, so that we can see and understand their journey as the story continues. So it's my hope that they and I can refer back to this information in a positive and useful manner.

I want to add that Nancy's thoughtful posts, especially the ones where she includes her charts and maps, have definitely inspired me. I like the way that she leads the students to understanding things in a deeper way, and I know that my kids, at a low level in only sixth grade, will really need these skills now and later. So thanks for your hard work, and keep it up!

One other good thing abou today: a good seventh-grade coverage! They read a play from a Scholastic magazine, and we reviewed some grammar. They were a little chatty but good-hearting and fairly hard-working. I had a good time. Shocking!

Now for the bad: both my not-high-level classes are misbehaving. A good portion of each still does an excellent job, but the bad ones are infecting the fence-sitters (you know, the kids that can go either way). The middle class, which I have now dubbed the Hydras (I hope you get the reference), I have for one period on Fridays and usually they're not bad. Today, with a quiz and then more notes, and with the AP in the room for most of it, were very quiet. Within two minutes of her departure, however, paper began flying. Goddammit. And then I don't know what's going on with the afternoon class. So much noise! Two kids were being really disruptive, but that wasn't explaining all of it. I couldn't tell, but I was certainly very frustrated, and so were some of the good kids. Poor kids.

Ack, argh, bah. The good discussion that some of us were having was really affected by the noise. I had to stop so often to count down and/or wait for quiet. Which only lasted for a minute or two before starting up again. I kept them after school for a couple minutes, for the second day in a row. Grr!

Anyway. There was some good work done by some students. I suppose I should focus on that, because nothing I'm doing is really working to prevent or treat the problems in the class. Which makes me feel very ineffective and extremely frustrated, and like I'm letting down the good kids. I had hoped that that feeling would finish with my first year. So maybe I'm not so great like I thought I was. Ack!

It's Friday! There's a blogger event tomorrow evening in Manhattan. Please join us!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Aw, I made a friend!

I was walking along the Seine, west from Les Halles. And the whole north side of the street was plant shops and, randomly, pet shops as well.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Who turned the heat off?

Dude! It's been so cozy and toasty in my apartment all winter. All evening I've been sitting here, wearing two pairs of socks, two pairs of sweats, long sleeve shirt and sweater, gloves, and a blanket. And I still can't really feel my fingers. Damn!

I finally finished up my online photo albums on Snapfish for our trip. Check your inbox, I might have sent it to you. If I missed you, send me an email. Or look at my Flickr page in the next couple days, I hope to have made more progress there by then.

Also, I bought a ticket for spring break! Just for a few days to chill out, nothing big. Still leaving myself room on both sides to SLEEP. And hang out for Someone's and my one-year anniversary. Yay. :)

Let's see. Tuesday 5th period seems to be the Time of the Demon. Third period goes fine with that troublesome class, then they have lunch and come back crazies. Kids around the room whistle surreptiously, and freely giggle and disrupt themselves. A solid bunch of good, hardworking kids in that class, and each day that I see them at this time, their time and mine is being wasted. I'm still doing better at not reacting harshly; I calmly erased class points. When they ran out, the class earned a detention, just like I told them.

Argh! Behave, you weirdos! Quit giving us all such a hard time!

I let the other two classes begin today with l!t c!rcles! We discussed two more roles, did a quick book walk, and I let them go to it. They did so well! Especially the afternoon class, who got to listen and read along. It was silent and they were all engrossed, wanting to do more. Stopping the tape seemed to wake them from hypnosis. I'm so totally cool with that. It's Br!dge to T*rab!thia (BtT) for the two lower classes, and Lydd!e for the higher-level class. I'm quite worried about how the midde, squirrelly class will do with this independent reading and role work. Grr! But for the other two groups, I am very pleased and I hope to continue having positive things to report to all you friendly readers. :)

It's already late; I should get to bed. I'm glad I have a cozy nest of a bed to snuggle in! Hope everyone else is plenty warm tonight.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Taking One Day at a Time

Alright people, today I continued working on my goal to take it a little easier, to stay calmer. Today went pretty well, and I feel good about it. I'm now counting down from five, because they can hear that and it quiets quicker than just the quiet hand signal. I'm really working on my patience and fighting the urge to automatically snap or be harsh, and just be still strict but a little quieter.

We're continuing work with some language activities on overheads. Currently we're practicing combining sentences and phrases, and identifying clauses. They were intimidated at first by the big words (subordinate etc), but once they saw we'd done it last week and examples together, they started to get it. I'm taking it nice and slow, and assigned them to write and identify their own tonight. We'll do more tomorrow in class and as homework. I like that.

I also introduced l!t c!rcles, and one of the roles. I think this week we'll focus mainly on those, practicing, and let that go into 'writing workshop' as well. The students are *supposed* to read two books by the same author by the end of the month. Ha, ha, yeah right. So I've got to move quickly to get things off the ground. If you can believe it, I already heard some complaints about the book! Before we even started! Judgmental little buggers. I'll do my best to just nudge them through all the questions and vocabulary, because I WILL give quizzes and tests. I'm going to have each class doing a book together, instead of having different groups reading different books. It's my hope that this way, we can all discuss things together as a class and get them used to thinking, but they can also practice doing roles in a small group. Wish us all luck, man, we'll need it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Back from a mini-break

On Friday morning, I left for Chicago. My grandma turned 90 on Saturday, and there was a get-together. Originally, my dad and all them were supposed to come out too, but it didn't work out. For me, I got the day off school and a cheap flight, so I still went. It was fun. It's always relaxing, hanging out with the 'active seniors'. My kind of pace--sleeping in, eating, reading.

And, I saw some cousins and further-out cousins that I'd either never met or hadn't seen in over ten years, some of whom have multiple children.

In fact, on Friday night, I couldn't physically keep my eyes open past 9pm (10 in NY), and Grandma had to wake me at 10.30am! I felt so much better after that, though; I'd clearly needed that all week. This morning I got up on my own, just before 7am (after going to sleep at 10).

This morning, while getting my things together, my pinky caught on something and cracked too far the wrong direction. And oh, it hurts. Twice already today I've moved it just so, and cried out in surprised agony. I can bend it and move it around a bit, but I can't hold it tight enough to make a fist or anything. Ow, ow. To my great dismay and misfortune, I believe Tuesday is the earliest I can see my (new, non-ghetto) doctor. Since the office is closed on Sunday, I'll have to remember to call as soon as I can tomorrow.

After a long talk with my awesome AP the other day, I've been thinking about things to do starting this week. We'll be starting l!t c!rcles for reading, and I suppose story-writing for well, writing. I'm going to focus on more structured activities (which will NOT be easy for writing stories!! ack, help!!) as well as making assignments easier and more routine. Mainly in the line of, "write five sentences and ______". You know, underline the subject; using ten pronouns; circling prepositions; that kind of thing. One at a time, of course. And I hope to try some reading homework. But we'll see.

But it's still only Sunday afternoon. I got on an earlier flight out of Chicago, and took a cab home, so I have plenty of time to rest and, theoretically anyway, plan for the week.