Saturday, August 5, 2017

5 Classroom Non-Essentials That I Can't Live Without



Back in July of 2013, I wrote a blog post called Classroom Must-Haves for the First-Year Teacher. It has been one of my most popular posts to date. As I've been preparing my classroom this week for the 2017-2018 school year, I've noticed that the things I suggested as must-haves back then are still must-haves now (though I would probably add the Classroom Operations Binder as a must-have now). I've also realized that there are a few splurge items that are by no means essentials... but I don't think I could live without them now! So if you're at the point in your career where you are ready to splurge a little on some non-essential-but-hella-useful items, allow me to suggest five.

Quick note: I'm not being paid by any of these companies to say any of these nice things. I just like these products.

1. Flair Pens
My social media scouting has led me to believe that I am not the only educator taking part in an ardent love affair with Paper Mate Flair Pens. They don't smear, they don't bleed (unless your paper quality is poor), the felt tip doesn't become misshapen with use, they offer vivid pops of color, and they last forever! What is not to love?*

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*As a lover of all things Sharpie, author John Green would beg to differ. But what does he know anyway? (Besides everything.)

2. Scotch Laminator
I bought one of these last year and I don't know how I lived without one! There's a fairly strict and unspoken no-one-touches-the-laminator-besides-the-librarian rule in my building, so I just never laminated anything. Now that I have the Scotch Laminator, I laminate ALL THE THINGS. Don't worry, you'll see when I post my 2017-2018 Classroom Tour. Everything is super shiny and safely sealed in plastic!

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3. Storage Ottomans
I bought one of these collapsible storage ottomans last year and got a ton of use out of it. So, naturally, I bought two more this year. They are currently all pushed together to create a bench. They are deep, so they can store tons of supplies, and they are sturdy so they can serve as alternative seating. Love them!

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4. Document Camera
I was fortunate enough to have a Point 2 View IPEVO document camera donated to my classroom a few years ago. At only $69, it is an inexpensive option with high utility. I love that I can detach the camera from the stand and move it around. The quality isn't as crisp as I would like for it to be (in fact, I am hoping to upgrade this year), but it serves its purpose. I use my document camera multiple times a week.

Source

5. Teacher's Pet Board Eraser
I received one of these from the folks at Teacher's Pet to try out and, I gotta say, I'm in love with this thing. Have you ever noticed how the typical eraser wipes up the ink and you get little bits and pieces of ink dust or residue or whatever that rains down on your chalk tray or on the floor or your khaki pants if you are quite vigorous with the erasing? This big old cutie is made of microfiber, so it grabs the ink residue and holds onto it. The best part is you can throw it in your washing machine! As a teacher, I like worthy investments that will save me money in the long run. No more broken Styrofoam erasers or ink sprinkles everywhere!

Source

The cool people at Teacher's Pet were kind enough to give me four extra Teacher's Pets to give away to four lucky readers! Enter to win below!


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What are your non-essentials that you love love love?

School starts next week for me! Wish me luck!


P.S. - 2017-2018 Classroom Tour coming soon!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Seven Tips for Building Strong Relationships with High School Students



Dr. Rita Pierson is one of my personal teacher heroes. In her May 2013 TED Talk, Dr. Pierson asserted that “every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” Her talk was one that gifted me with a worldview shift. I spent my college years in my education classes learning how to be the authority figure that students needed and, in some ways, I think I forgot one of the more important parts of the job: being a good person in the lives of my students. Dr. Pierson’s talk reminded me that we must foster relationships with our students; this is the key to getting kids to work for you and to work for themselves. I have since focused just as much energy on cultivating positive relationships with my students as I have on my lesson plans. Building a classroom community and one-on-one relationships with students is an art; it takes time, effort, and thoughtfulness to craft a rock-solid foundation on which to build the rest of your classroom dynamic. In my experience, though, laying the groundwork made of trust, honesty, and enjoyment in each other’s company will radically change the work that happens both in and out of the classroom.
Here are seven essential tips I have discovered for building strong classroom relationships with your secondary students.

Show interest in their lives outside of the classroom.
From day one in the classroom, I start looking for hints into students’ interests outside of my English classroom: a football jersey on Friday nights, a gamer’s guide stacked in among the spiral bound notebooks, family photos slid into the front covers of binders, the music that blasts out of their ear buds. I take note of these little things, and I wait for the opportunity to engage students in a conversation. I wish them luck at the game that night, or I might mention that if they like playing Fallout 4 then I’ve got some book suggestions for them, or I might play a certain genre of music in class that day to start a conversation. Students are perceptive, despite the fact we often wonder if they are aware of anything going on around them. If you show interest in who they are, they will often respond by showing interest in who you are. This unlocks the chance to share your enthusiasm for your subject and to hopefully hook them.

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Stay relevant.
I’m not recommending that you start flipping bottles, playing with fidget spinners, or using teenager lingo. I do suggest that you read the books they are reading, try to see the movies they are watching, listen to the songs they recommend, and check out the Netflix shows they are talking about. It is a lot easier to make a connection with someone if you have common ground, so put in effort at maintaining those commonalities.

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Be yourself.
During my first year teaching, I adopted this “ultimate teacher” persona, a weird mix of my favorite teachers from high school. The problem with picking and choosing personality quirks from various others was that I became strangely inconsistent in my classroom management techniques and I was often questioning myself, wondering what those other teachers would have done. By the end of the school day, I was exhausted trying to be all of these other really amazing teachers, so my after-school drama club kids just got… me. Just myself. That was the first group of students with whom I developed a real connection. By the time I started my second year teaching, I decided to just accept myself and to own my teaching identity. Pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting. Embrace your own flavor of teaching, and don’t be afraid to reveal your quirks to your students. Authenticity breeds connection.

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Be vulnerable.
We ask our students – our angsty, self-conscious, uncomfortably awkward teenage students – to be vulnerable all the time. Try solving this problem on the board while everyone watches for you to make a mistake. Read this passage from the book aloud while your peers silently judge your pronunciation and pace. Swap essays with your elbow partner and let them criticize your work. We often forget, I think, how utterly terrifying it can be to be vulnerable like that, because we spend so much of our classroom time building up our walls and pedestals. I encourage you, teachers, to be vulnerable too. Let students read your writing. Be sincere about your feelings while still maintaining professionalism. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and acknowledge those mistakes. Vulnerability allows you to experience true connection, and students will be more likely to open up to you in return.

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Be honest.
Vulnerability and honesty go hand in hand because they require one another. In Rita Pierson’s TED Talk, she told a story about having to apologize to her class for teaching an entire lesson wrong. I have apologized to my students for lessons that failed, grading errors I’ve made, or plans that have fallen through. I am also completely honest about my lack of knowledge. I do not claim to know it all, and my students know that. They are comfortable asking me questions because they know that if I don’t have the answer, I will work with them to find the answer. They can trust me because they know I will be honest with them.

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Enjoy your time together.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a classroom teacher turned teacher advocate who said, “The year you aren’t excited to buy a new outfit for the first day of school is the year you should consider changing your career.” The thought of being in your classroom and working with your students should be an exciting one! Think about how much time you spend with those students. If you’re anything like me, you probably spend more time with your students every day than you do your own families. Shouldn’t that time together be enjoyable? Do things together that bring you all joy! Find the fun in your lessons, allow laughter and conversation to have its time and place in your classroom, and take a moment to just enjoy being with these crazy young people.

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Treat your students like family.
I spent roughly 1170 hours with students in my English classroom last school year. That number does not take into account my after-school responsibilities, nor does it account for time spent during lunch, prep periods, before school, or after school tutoring students or talking them through life’s problems. These students become my second family, so I treat them like they are my family. My advisory class celebrates birthdays with donuts or cupcakes. My theatre students share meals together before shows and during long practices. We celebrate successes, victories, and good news. We lament bad days and raw deals and life’s ugly moments. We laugh, we complain, we cry, we vent, we lift each other up. It is so worth the time and the emotional toll it takes to invest love in your students. Linda Cliatt-Wayman, another education hero of mine, said, “If someone asks me my real secret, it’s that I love my students, and I believe in their possibilities unconditionally. I see only what they can become.”
We are charged with the lives of kids. Our work is important, and our impact is powerful. It can be life-changing. Building strong, positive relationships with our students affects their success both in and out of the classroom. Make the most of your classroom experience by opening up the heart that brought you to this worthy line of work.

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What do you do in your own classroom to foster positive classroom relationships?

Happy Planning!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Classroom Operations Binder Pages Now Available!

New goodies are now available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!


Classroom Operations Binder Pages

Remember this post and this post where I talked about how useful this binder was during the second semester of the year? These pages are now available to you!


This customizable Word document has been designed to help you create your own How-To Guide for operating your classroom.

This document includes:
  • Customizable Binder Cover – edit to include your name, room number, and school name
  • Class Roster – edit to include your course name, period or section, and up to 35 students
  • Board Planner – edit to include your course name; print, slip into a page protector, and plan your board layout each day using a dry erase marker (great information to leave for a sub!)
  • Here’s What We Did Today – edit to include up to three course names; print, complete, and put these in your Absent Binder!
  • Emergency Sub Plans Cover Page – put a set of emergency plans in your Classroom Operations Binder and use this page with a sticky tab to indicate where these plans are located in the binder
Check it out here!

Happy Planning!




Monday, June 26, 2017

5 Nifty Google Tricks for Your Classroom



I recently completed my Google Educator Level 1 certification. Our English department received a shared Chromebook cart last fall, and I am dedicating a large part of my summer to learning how to better use these fantastic tools that are now at our fingertips. Over the last year I’ve learned some pretty cool little Google tools tricks that I’d like to share with you. These are all tricks that you and your students can use right away, even if you don’t have access to G Suite for Education in your building. All you and your students need is a free Google account to get started.

Priority Inbox for Gmail

What is it? My email inbox is probably the biggest time suck of my school day. If your school corporation is anything like mine, you guys probably do 95% of your communication through email. Pretty much all in-house information, meeting reminders, parent contact, questions for teachers in other parts of the building, etc. all happen through email. My inbox gets out of control quickly. Fortunately, my school email is through Google, so this summer I was able to switch to Gmail’s priority inbox feature. It is working well so far; Gmail pays attention to the emails that I respond to, the emails I delete immediately, the emails I star, etc. and then it sorts them accordingly so the important emails show up at the top and everything else shows up at the bottom.

What’s it look like? Here’s what my inbox looks like now that I have priority inbox enabled.

You'll notice that I also like to email myself reminders and resources. Anybody else do that?

How do I do it? To switch to a priority inbox, choose the Gears icon and choose Settings


Click the Inbox tab, and then from the Inbox type dropdown, choose Priority Inbox. Change other settings as you desire.



Message Filters for Gmail

What is it? Another nifty trick Google offers to streamline your email experience is the option to filter your emails and set actions to them. If you have an issue with important emails getting lost in the mess or emails that you want to look at later without them cluttering your inbox, then this setting can save you a lot of trouble. You can filter through your emails using sets of criteria and then order those emails to be automatically deleted, filed, marked as important, and more.

How do I do it? Select an email that you want to use to establish a filter. For example, I’ve selected this email from Samuel French, a theatre publishing company. I like to read about the new plays they have in stock, but it isn’t something that is a priority for me, so I want to get rid of the Samuel French clutter from my inbox since they email me weekly. After you select an email, click the More button and choose Filter messages like these.


You will next see the filter box. Here you have the option of adding additional message filters. Click Create filter with this search.



You will now see list of actions you can apply to emails of this type. You can choose to have these emails automatically deleted (great for junk mail), you can apply a previously-created label (I will apply the theatre label to my Samuel French emails), mark emails as important, etc. After you’ve selected the actions, click Create filter and this action will be automatically applied to these types of emails.



Suggesting Mode

What is it? Students can collaborate on work in Google Docs through real-time editing, where everyone can edit a document at the same time. As one student makes a change in the document, another student can instantly see the change and who made that change. This is a great option for collaborative projects, but there might be times where you don’t want someone to have editing power and instead you just want them to be able to write suggestions. Peer or teacher feedback on student essays would be a great example of this. In Google Docs, you can switch to suggesting mode, so that edits to a document become suggestions and the creator of the original can choose to accept those changes or remove them.

What’s it look like? This is a student essay that I am editing in suggesting mode. You can see my edits marked in green, and the changes I have made pop up in boxes on the right side of the screen.



This is what that same essay looks like from the student creator’s point of view. She can see my suggested edits and has the option to accept the changes I made by clicking the check mark or rejecting my suggestions by clicking the x.



How do I do it? To switch to editing mode, simply choose the dropdown that says Editing in the top right corner of the screen and switch to Suggesting. You can also click the View tab, hover over Mode, and choose Suggesting. Note that only the editor needs to be in Suggesting mode; the creator does not need to be in suggesting mode to see the suggestions.



Direct Comments to Specific Users

What is it? If multiple students are collaborating on a project, you can direct comments directly towards certain students. They will receive notification that they have been tagged in a comment. As a bonus, you can assign a comment to a specific student and they will be required to mark it as done.

What’s it look like? This is a student essay that I have commented on. The blurred out email address and name tell me which student I have tagged in this comment.



This is the student’s view of that same comment. It shows that the comment has been assigned to the student and they can mark it as done.



How do I do it? Highlight the word or section of the document on which you would like to make a comment. The Add a comment button will pop up in the right margin of the document. Click that button.



To tag someone in the comment, type the + sign and then their email address. Additionally, if you want to assign the comment to that person, put a check in the Assign box.



Embedding Videos into Google Slides

What is it? Have you ever wanted to show your students a YouTube video without the distraction of the comments, sidebar video suggestions, and pop-up ads? You can very easily embed YouTube videos into a Google Slides presentation to get rid of all of those distractions. Plus, this is a great way to leave videos for substitute teachers. This particular slide deck was one I left for a substitute. It contains three different videos, so the sub did not have to worry about clicking on a bunch of links or trying to find the videos on their own. It was all there, ready to go. The sub just had to click present.

What’s it look like? This is what it looks like when you embed a video into a Google Slide. You can adjust the size of the video like you can any object. 



The full screen option is also still available when you embed a video in Google Slides.



How do I do it? In your Google Slides presentation, click Insert and Video.


You are presented with three options: Search, By URL, and Google Drive. If you already have the video saved elsewhere, just paste the URL link in or pull it from Google Drive. Or you can simply search for the video you want, as I have done here, click it, and hit the Select button.


These five little Google tricks are designed to help you manage your time, your work load, and your sanity. Hopefully these tips will make your life in the classroom a little bit easier!

Did you learn something today? Do me a favor and Pin the image below so other teachers can find this post!



Happy Summertime Planning!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Disrupting Thinking Book Review and Giveaway!

I received a copy of this book for free from Scholastic in exchange for sharing it with my readers. The opinions presented here are purely my own.

My son is two and a half and a voracious "reader." He isn't truly reading yet, but he already has an intense love of books. We read four or five books every night before bed. He requests things like "a hippopotamus book" or "a book about cows" or "dinosaur books" when we head into the library. He can often be found sitting among a pile of stuffed animals or perched atop a mountain of pillows with books scattered all around. He will read aloud to himself by either reciting portions of favorite books he has memorized or by just talking about what he sees on each page. I am thrilled we have successfully instilled a love of reading in him.

I do worry, though, because something is happening to so many kids as they grow up, and I don't want it to happen to him. By the time they reach their freshmen year of high school, they hate reading. One of the greatest frustrations for me as an English teacher and a book lover is when a student is an apathetic reader, meaning they no longer care to read at all. For these students, reading books has lost all meaning.

It is easy to see why our students are losing their love of reading. Reading has become a painful endeavor in the classroom; the standardized testing environment in which we are being forced to teach has managed to suck all of the fun out of reading as we dig and dig to find the answer and we dig deeper to find support for the answer. I imagine you could take any hobby that you love and then pick it apart incessantly until there's nothing left to love. That's what is happening to reading.


What is this product?
Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters calls into question several common English classroom practices, including reading for supporting evidence, classroom discussions that revolve around answering questions, and the whole-class novel. The premise presented by Beers and Probst is that "disruptive thinking" is the thought that something needs to be better. They provide anecdotes about various inventions and entrepreneurs and how these came about from disruptive thinking and two important questions:

1. What needs to change?
2. What assumptions make that change hard?

This book is ultimately about how we can change common classroom practices that lead to apathetic, frustrated student readers to instead make sure we are helping students become readers who are responsive, responsible, compassionate, and determined.

Beers and Probst say that, if we want to change something ineffective, we must be willing to:
  • Be brave.
  • Accept failure.
  • Be open.
  • Be connected.
  • Get uncomfortable.
This book, divided into three parts, is somewhat backwards designed. Part I focuses on the readers we ultimately want to create, the kind that are responsive, responsible, and compassionate. Part II is where Beers and Probst start getting practical, by offering a framework for building this kind of reader. Part III is where we get uncomfortable as the authors hold up a mirror to common classroom practices and show us how we are killing a love of reading.


The Good and the Bad
Far and away, the greatest takeaway from this book was the BHH (Book, Head, Heart) Framework. This framework encourages readers to think about what was in the book, what is in their heads, and what is in their hearts. Readers are able to respond to a text and provide support for their thoughts, but students are also given the opportunity to explore their own learning as they read and how the reading changes them in some way. The book mentions several other strategies that students can use while reading, but the BHH Framework is definitely the most useful.

Another thing I really liked about this book is the way the authors were able to take a topic (like the BHH Framework) and show how it can be applied across grade levels. I worried that this book would be heavily geared towards upper elementary, the age at which kids start reading to learn instead of learning to read, but I was pleasantly surprised. The authors even had the thoughtfulness to include feedback from college students. I think most of the ideas presented in the book could be applied to any grade level.

The biggest let-down of this book, for me, was the idealism of changing how we do reading in the classroom without truly taking into consideration the current educational climate. It is clear that Beers and Probst are really against all of this standardized testing (I mean, aren't we all?), but ultimately their call to action is a hard one to do. They want us to be brave and open and willing to accept failure, they want us to change the way we teach our readers, but at the same time I felt there was some disconnect between the authors and reality. I agree with them that focused silent reading is probably the best thing a child could do to improve their literacy, and I love the ideas about having students asking the questions instead of answering them... but those things are not as practical when so many teachers have an administration breathing down the backs of their necks trying to boost test scores. I wish that Beers and Probst would have offered some direction for implementing these reading strategies without completely tossing the test-based questions and requirements that we are forced to deal with.


Final Thought
Ultimately, I believe this book is worth any English teacher's time (although the $34.99 price tag is maybe a bit high for what it is). There are some great strategies to take back to your classroom, and the book does have a way of feeling inspirational.

Let's Have a Giveaway!
I have one brand-new copy of Disrupting Thinking ready for one lucky reader! Join the giveaway for your chance to win a copy for free!



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Happy Reading!