Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Extracurriculars Matter: What They Can Do for You as a Teacher

I began the job hunt immediately after graduating college. Of course there were schools that I really wanted to be part of, most of which were local, but according to the Stones, you can't always get what you want. Once it became apparent that I wasn't going to get a job at a local school, I had to broaden my horizons and I ultimately took a job at a high school that was almost fifty miles away. It was a pretty long commute, but that certainly wasn't the greatest challenge. I think the greatest challenge was that I was not part of that community. I knew one person there - my eighth grade English teacher (who I loved and adored!) now taught in that same building, and thank God for that. Like I said in last Sunday's post, making friends is not my area of specialty, for lots of reasons. So the greatest challenge for me was the fact that, aside from Kim, I didn't know a soul. I had no connections to this building, these people, this community. I was a total outsider.

I can say, though, that by the end of my year there, I was slowly but surely becoming part of the culture there, and it wasn't because of my wit, charm, or hilarious stories. It was because I was the theatre lady.

I took lots of theatre classes in college (I'm actually only two classes shy of my minor), but never did I believe I would have the opportunity to direct a school's theatre program. I just hoped I would be able to assist with some theatre stuff in whatever school I found myself at. Little did I know that my background in theatre and willingness to take on this mega task would be part of the reason that I got both my first and my current teaching appointments.

There are several perks to taking on an extracurricular activity. If you (for whatever delusional reason) only took on a teaching job for the "summers off" and the "short work days" and the "snow days" and stuff... well, I have nothing to say to you, except don't even bother sponsoring an activity. Those kids will see through you in a second. You big phony. However, if you are a teacher who wants to make the most of their teaching experience, who wants to make a difference and enjoy doing so, then allow me to elaborate on five reasons you should take on an extracurricular activity.

  1. It will save your sanity. I always encourage my graduating seniors to take a "sanity class" every semester. College can be miserable if it's all work, no play. I always tell students that they should take electives that make them happy, that further them as a person. I encourage you to do the same by choosing an extracurricular activity that you enjoy! If you enjoy volleyball, volunteer to coach or assist with the volleyball team! If you love research and learning, the academic team might be the place for you. Perhaps you, too, are a video game aficionado; why not get together with the younger gamers in your building and geek out together? (If I had the time, I would found this club in a hot second.) You should become part of something extra that will make even the worst school days bearable, because you have your activity to look forward to! My love of drama club gets me through the tough days and there is no way I would possibly survive test prep season if it wasn't for knowing I could go vent out some frustration on the stage at the end of the day by playing improv games.
  2. It will help you become a presence in your building. Being the new teacher in the building is just as bad as being the new kid in school (because, as you teachers know, teachers are just big students). It will be all-too-easy to slip through the cracks and go unnoticed in your building, especially if your corporation has had an unfortunate turn-over rate lately. Don't get me wrong... I'm an introvert. I love being a wallflower and sometimes being invisible is nice. But sometimes it's really frustrating to be invisible! Being in charge of an activity makes you more more noticeable in a positive way. It shows that you care about being there and that you care about the kids and that you are a responsible person. All of that stuff is really important when your administrators are filling out those pesky evaluations.
  3. It can also help you build relationships with your coworkers. This is one step up from being a "presence." Teaching is lonely business, people! If you're not careful, you can go the whole day without talking to someone who is eligible to vote or can legally buy alcohol. You need people to talk to. I don't mean small talk (yuck); I mean real talk. People to commiserate with, veterans who can offer you advice, fellow tech gurus to share resources with, and other people with common interests! If you coach a sport, there's probably a pretty good chance that you'll get along well enough with other coaches. If you sponsor an art program, you'll probably get along with most of the other artsy people. If you get to tag-team an activity, that has potential to be a built-in friendship. (Or a little hell, but let's not talk about that. Positivity reigns here!)
  4. You are one step closer to becoming integrated into the community. At my first school, the one that was fifty miles away, it didn't take long being the drama club lady before I got in touch with some drama club parents. I love drama club parents... they are there to help out and offer support whenever and however they can without being overbearing. I don't know if you've realized this yet (dependent, of course, on your years of classroom experience) but teachers are local celebrities. Students can sniff you out a mile away, and you're apparently extra pungent if your tattoo is showing or you have a cocktail in your hand. Being a club sponsor or a coach kind of ups the celebrity level... but that's okay when you're trying to become a face in a community. (Funny little anecdote: when I was hospitalized back in January - at a hospital in a different county - a phlebotomist came in, smiled at me, and said, "Are you the drama club teacher?" And I can't imagine the dumbfounded look that must have graced my drugged-up features, but she laughed and said, "I'm Cheyenne's mom!" Second funny little thing: when my husband and I are out and about, I'll just start counting aloud. "One. Two. Three, four, and five." And he knows that I'm counting students seen out in the wild. When I say, "Dear God, number six, hide, hide, hide!" he knows what's going on. Also, I kind of love it when students see me outside of the building, only because I think they forget that teachers actually exist outside of school. They always look at me like I'm a dog walking on its hind legs.)
  5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you sponsor an extracurricular activity for any reason at all, it should be this one: you will build relationships with students. Anyone who's been reading my unsolicited advice for the last three years knows that my number one piece of advice for having a well-managed classroom is to build relationships with students. I get emails all the time asking how to make that happen. This is one HUGE way to do it. You have to show your students that you are a person with interests outside of the pythagorean theorem, the civil war, or cellular reproduction. They need to be able to relate to you outside of the classroom. Lots of teachers are capable of building relationships without tackling an extracurricular, and that's awesome. But I think that sponsoring an extracurricular activity is a surefire way to open yourselves up to students in a professional capacity. My theatre kids seek me out on the regular, often for things that have absolutely nothing to do with theatre. They need help with their English paper for another teacher. They have a bad thing going on at home and need someone to talk to. They need advice on trivial stuff like clothes and books to read, or on serious stuff, like colleges to look at or how to deal with a problem. Most often, though, they find me just because they need someone to talk to. I especially love having those kids in class, because their open communication with me often makes other students realize that I am open and available to talk to them, to help them out, that they don't need to be afraid to ask me a question. (Fun fact: I was once described by a student as "pants-pissing scary" which is probably the highest compliment I have ever received.)

I hope that these five reasons have given you reason to consider my cause. I think every teacher should dabble in an extracurricular activity. I'm not saying everyone should dedicate 10+ hours a week to their activity in addition to teaching time, but would it be so bad to sponsor a club that meets for thirty minutes once a month?

The benefits are many, but honestly, there is no greater benefit for me than seeing the pride my students have in their work.

Dracula. Fall 2014.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Extracurriculars Matter: What They Did for Me as a Student

I'm going to take just a little break from blogging about classroom stuff because I feel really driven right now to talk about something that I believe is very important in school: extracurricular activities. In particular, I really want to focus on the importance of these activities in the lives of both students and teachers. 

Wikipedia (which is not to be trusted for 100% credibility in research writing but works well enough for everyday research to end marital and social disputes) defines "extracurricular activities" as 
"those that fall outside the realm of the normal curriculum of school or university education, performed by students. Extracurricular activities exist for all students... Such activities are generally voluntary (as opposed to mandatory), non-paying, social, philanthropic (as opposed to scholastic), and often involve others of the same age. Students often organize and direct these activities under faculty sponsorship, although student-led initiatives, such as independent newspapers, are common." (Source)
Some of the things that stand out to me about this definition:
  • "fall outside the realm of the normal curriculum" - meaning that an extracurricular activity is still part of the educational process, though it isn't part of the regular school day plan. You're still supposed to learn stuff.
  • "performed by students" and "students often organize and direct these activities under faculty sponsorship" - the students should be doing the majority of the work in a successful extracurricular activity. Our job is to sponsor the program and to guide student success, not to do everything to make it happen.
  • "extracurricular activities exist for all students" - and if they don't exist for all students, it is our duty (and the duty of the students who want the new activity) to make it happen!

Extracurriculars matter. They matter a great deal to the students who participate in them, and they should matter to you, the teacher.

Okay, I know. They take up time. Depending on the activity you sponsor, they can take up a lot of time. There are points that I spend considerably more of my personal time working on my activity than I do working on my classroom. There already aren't enough hours in the day for a teacher, I get that. But if you're a teacher who is just getting started, or if you are a veteran who has never really bothered with the extracurricular activities scene, then I hope you'll hear me out.

Before I climb up on my soapbox about this, I think it is only fair for you to know where I'm coming from. Sometimes we get so far into "the dark side" (a.k.a. teaching) that we forget what it was like to be a student. I'm going to start off with some student perspective.

This is going to be a long one, kids, so you might go get a cup of coffee or some tea or vodka or something. Get a snack while you're at it. And go pee.

My love of theatre began in seventh grade. I attended a very small private elementary school that was heavily focused on academics and had little focus on extracurricular activities for the students (most likely due to funding problems). They started building basketball and cheer programs as I moved through the building, but those weren’t for me. Despite several years of playing soccer and basketball, I’m just no good at any version of sportsball. I was in cheer at my tiny school for a year or two, which was fun, but I honestly really hated all of the travel for games. I gave band a try my sixth grade year, but I was required to leave my school with a couple other band kids, travel to the local public school for band class where I knew no one (and I’m really, really terrible at making friends, even to this day, because I’m really, really bad at social interaction), get berated by the director (who I thought was an asshat at the time, though I later learned he was just a really tough old asshat with a heart of gold and a passion for marching band), and then go back. Ultimately it felt more like a punishment than anything else. So what I’m trying to get at here is that there really wasn’t a place for a kid like me in my little school except for the mandatory music classes (which were not exactly of the highest quality, although I did get to do some really cool state choir stuff, but I’m rambling here).

They hired a new teacher – a male teacher – the year I went into 7th grade. Mr. B was pretty much the coolest teacher I had met up to that point (perhaps with the exception of Sister Joyce, who was a nun with a penchant for balls-to-the-wall kickball tournaments). I didn’t know teachers like Mr. B existed until that point. He was inspiring in the classroom. We had a pet scorpion and sometimes we got to watch as Mr. B fed Diablo a live mouse. He was the new basketball coach and he was seriously one of the only two math teachers I’ve ever liked because he made math make sense. #thatssomeharrypottershitrightthere I think he really threw our building for a loop, actually.

So Mr. B decided to start a little theatre program for our school, which was something totally foreign to us. He started really small with a little one-act murder mystery that fall. (I honestly can’t recall the name. Must find out.) I don’t think we had to audition for this play... I’m pretty sure we just signed up and he gave us roles. I was a maid. #typicalfirstrole I really don’t remember much about this play at all, except that we had to perform it in the public middle school’s gym/auditorium and **SPOILER ALERT** the butler did it. #seriously

What I do remember, so very clearly, was the spring play, because Mr. B got brave. It was The Diary of Anne Frank. This time, we had to audition. I knew nothing about the play, so I went home and read the book before auditions and by God, I was absolutely determined to get to play Anne. There was this little supply closet that also housed a hot water heater in the back of the classroom, which is where auditions were held. I can so clearly remember reading from that script for the first time with Mr. B and him saying, “Wow. That was really impressive.”

There are so many little details of that production that I will never forget. I will never forget the way the blood pounded in my ears when I saw my name next to “Anne Frank” on that cast list. How could I possibly forget the really horribly awkward first time I had to start taking off layers of clothes during a dress rehearsal practice? (Some context for those of you that are freaking out: when the Franks went to the secret annex, they had to walk in the streets and couldn’t carry suitcases or people would know they were on the run, so they had to wear layers and layers of clothes. Anne is this really brash, unashamed person at the beginning of the play and she just starts stripping down to her first layer of clothes when the Franks meet the Van Daans for the first time. Her mother finally gets after her when she starts taking off multiple pairs of underwear.) I got my first kiss from a boy in that play (although it was just on the cheek… y’know… 7th grade private school). I clearly remember good old Mr. B being so seriously pissed off at the cast for not knowing their lines by deadline that he told everyone to go home and write all of their lines by hand… and I already knew my lines… and I had a ton of lines… but I did it anyway… and I was the only one who did it… and when I turned in this stack of notebook paper to him the next morning with every word of my lines, I will never forget the look on his face. It was the combination of “I didn’t really mean that, I was just pissed” and “you’re fucking crazy for doing this” and “you’re a good kid” and “I’m proud of you.” I will never forget Mr. B coming up to me after opening night and telling me that when I was on Broadway starring in West Side Story one day that I had to send him tickets. (I never made it to Broadway. Never even attempted it. A little regret there, honestly.)

There is one thing that stands out in my mind most of all about that play, and it’s the whole reason I’m telling you this story. This was the first show I performed on a real stage. The local high school agreed to let us use their auditorium, with the folding stadium seats and glossy wooden stage and catwalk full of bright stage lights and the sound system that made my voice fill the room. I will never forget the bright flash of lights on my face as I walked onto that stage and became a completely different person for two hours. I had never felt so free in my entire life as I did that moment. Because for two hours each night, I didn’t have to be me – this chunky, horribly non-athletic, awkward-as-hell, book wormish girl who was really bad at making friends. I got to be someone else, someone brave and beautiful and gregarious and obnoxious and teasing and playful and so, so alive.

Since being Anne Frank, I’ve been thirteen other someones, including a hillbilly, a crotchety Irish mother, a vampire bride, a prep, a Jersey girl, a dancing villager, a woman whose son died, and a fat villainous opera singer. My love of theatre has grown and evolved for many years now, taking me from my little elementary school plays to high school and community theatre productions, from taking theatre classes in college to coaching students in acting. The strange thing about getting to be someone else for a little while is that it teaches you how to be yourself. I truly believe that all of my years in theatre have helped me to be me. Theatre teaches teamwork, introspection, critical thinking, public speaking, leadership, and so many other skills, but I think the greatest thing I learned from theatre is empathy. Stepping into someone else’s shoes, even for just a little while, even on a stage and with a script, is an eye-opening experience. It broadens horizons and builds compassion for other people and their battles.

My 7th grade theatre experience met Wikipedia's definition of "extracurricular activity." I learned so many things that I would have never learned in the classroom that year. Mr. B was a true coach... he pushed the students to do the work. While the shows wouldn't have been possible without his leadership, he wasn't doing everything. We had to work to make that show happen. The part of the Wikipedia definition that makes me shudder a little, though, is the third bullet I pointed out. Extracurricular activities exist for all students. My activity that brought me to life almost didn't exist at all in that school! If it wasn't for Mr. B taking the time out of his life to do this thing, I would have never known about this great love I was secretly harboring for theatre. Teachers have the power to influence their students outside of the classroom too. If it wasn’t for Mr. B, I don’t know that I would have ever found my "activity." I likely wouldn’t have tried it in high school because I was too chicken shit to try new things in high school. I would’ve never had the opportunity to work with another highly influential teacher on the stage. I would have never taken on the responsibilities of this highly-demanding extracurricular activity now, as a teacher. Hell, I may have never even become a teacher if it wasn’t for those two inspiring teachers.

Students need these activities - be it drama or baseball or art guild or choir or track or marching band or anime club or any other activity - to help them find themselves, and they need teachers like you to give them a voice in the school building. Never forget the influence you have on your students. Make sure your impact is positive, and make sure you tell them you’re proud of them, and make sure they know their worth. It might seem like a drop in the bucket, but you don’t know where that ripple could take them.

I'll be back later with Extracurriculars Matter: What They Can Do for You as a Teacher.

Happy Church Picnic Season!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015-2016 Calendar is Now Available!

Shamelessly exploiting my child for blog hits since his birth. ;)

The 2015-2016 Calendar is now available to you, free as always! Never used the Eat.Write.Teach. calendar before? Okay, well, it looks like this.

Ta da! (Except, ya know, it isn't just August. It's got all 12 months, from August 2015 to July 2016.)
The Eat.Write.Teach. Sanity Saver Calendar was a result of my dissatisfaction with all of the calendars I've used in the past for my classroom. I don't like the space a desktop calendar requires (and I could never find any I liked because I'm picky and fussy). I'm lousy at keeping my digital calendars synced up. My school planner (the same one the students get) is nice, but there's not enough space for additional note-taking. I knew that when I started using my own Sanity Saver a calendar would be a must. Something simple, with lots of space for writing. And I decided it might help someone else out too! I've always gotten lots of positive feedback on the calendars, so here's the 2015-2016 Calendar, ready to go and free for you because you, my friend, are a rockstar. An organization rockstar.

Get the editable Word document version here. THIS CALENDAR WILL NOT LOOK RIGHT IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE CORRECT FONT! Seriously, it looks all kinds of cray-cray and you'll be all, "What the eff, Steph? What is this shit?" So if you want the editable Word document version, be sure to download the font! It's called Rolina, it is free for personal use, and you can get it here.

If you don't want to mess with all the editing and the font downloading and the stuff, there's a PDF version! Just print and you're ready to rock and roll, organization-style. You can find the PDF here or here.

Of course, if you follow Eat.Write.Teach. on The Facebook you already knew this. :)

Happy Heat Advisory!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Smash Books Part 3: Creating Content

Welcome back to the final installment in the Smash Book mini-series. (Need to get caught up? Check out Smash Books Part 1 and Part 2.) Today I want to talk about creating content for your classroom interactive notebooks.

First, you should know that there really is no absolute need to create your own interactive notebook material. There are so many interactive notebook resources out there nowadays! You can find lots of freebies (hello Pinterest, you sexy beast), and if you are looking for something specific, chances are pretty good you can find it in a Teachers Pay Teachers store.

As for me, I really enjoy creating my own classroom content. For me, that's one of the many perks to teaching. This kind of stuff is a creative outlet for me. (I was almost a graphic design major.) I'm also a ridiculously uptight perfectionist partial to designing material that suits the needs of my students and me. If any of this sounds like you and you would like some tips for creating interactive notebook content, read on!

Remember that I am not a pro at this. Not even close. I'm only one year into my interactive notebook journey. I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. These are just some of the things I learned along the way. There is a steep learning curve here, but it's so interesting and so worth it!

I have organized my own Smash Book content into four general categories:

  • Housekeeping Documents - these are items that could go in any interactive notebook, regardless of class. These are documents like the D.O.K. chart, a table of contents form, grade charts, generic rubrics, etc.
  • Resources - these are content-area specific items, but they are just reference materials. These are things like MLA Handbook information, glossaries, a list of the parts of speech, etc.
  • Input Items - these are items that give students information or where students write down information given to them. They go on the left side of the Smash Book.
  • Output Items - these are items the students use to practice a skill, process newly-learned information, and express ideas. They on the right side of the Smash Book.
The key word when we talk about ISNs is "interactive." It's not enough to call your composition books a Smash Book, but then stick to the same old routine of lecture notes and book homework. The heart and soul of this is for the students to "interact" with the material. This should heavily appeal to both your visual learners and your tactile learners, which will be the large majority of your class.

How do students interact with the notebook contents?
  • They physically handle the materials by cutting, pasting, folding, etc. This requires more concentration and engagement on the part of the student.
  • They use colored pencils/pens/markers to color-code information.*
  • They use graphic organizers to process new information.
  • The "output" side requires higher-order thinking skills, such as application, analysis, evaluation, and creation
*Note: Please keep in mind that color-coding does not work for every student. While most visual and tactile learners will benefit from this (even though they'll grumble a bit about it), some students will be distracted by the constant shuffling of colors. Encourage students to use color-coding for their notes, but if a student is obviously distressed by the idea, let it go.

To me, one of the most valuable traits of the Smash Book is that it becomes a work of art throughout the school year. Students put a lot of effort into them - and many go above and beyond to make the Smash Book their own - so they really value them. The Smash Book is very strong evidence that the class isn't about "absorbing"... it's about "doing."

Okay, so here are some of tips for actually creating materials.
  • Plan out your foldables and printables on scrap paper beforehand. Make sure you understand what will need folded/cut/glued. Where will the information go? What will students "do" with it?
  • Make sure it's going to fit. Composition books are smaller than your average sheet of printer paper. You will need to format accordingly. PRO TIP: If you make an extra blank page in a Microsoft Word Document and add a comment, it will change the size of your document (to scale) so that it will fit better in a composition book.
  • Fill one out and put it in your Smash Book before you make all those copies. Put that bad boy through a trail run. Make sure it all works like you want it to.
  • Make it interesting! This is my favorite part. Visually appealing printables go a long way with kids! It should be fun to look at (but don't get carried away and make it too crazy). Follow some design basics and common sense. This link/infographic is EXTREMELY useful in this area! Love it so much. (P.S. - I get my fonts from www.dafont.com.)
  • Understand which "category" it belongs in. To keep to the true spirit of the interactive notebook, your materials should very clearly be meant for input or output, for example, and not some weird input/output lovechild Frankenfoldable.
Alrighty, so now that I've lived this for a year and plan to continue, I've decided to start adding some interactive notebook resources and lessons to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Also, I really like you guys a lot and I'm so appreciative of all of the support and encouragement and internet love that you've given me. So for the next 32 hours I am offering you guys two full lessons and an additional printable (valued at $37.00) for free. All three lessons are English-class-related, but even if you don't teach English, maybe you would benefit from taking a gander at what I've made? Maybe? I don't really know.

Here's what I'm giving you:
  • Annotating Text Lesson - the activity plan, a PowerPoint, and a foldable with instructions (honestly, I think this is useful in any subject where you read... so all of them.)
  • 12 Literary Elements and Techniques Lesson - the activity plan, a PowerPoint, and a foldable with instructions
  • Styles of Poetry Practice Printable - enough space for students to practice ten different styles of poetry using only one notebook page
If you're interested, you can find these items (for free) here. Again, this is only lasting for 32 hours (ends at Thursday, 06/25 at 5:00 p.m. eastern time) so no time to lose!

Activity Plan for the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques Lesson

Foldable for the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques

One slide from the PowerPoint on the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques

(If you miss the free window, you can still find these items in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.)

I hope this mini-series has answered some questions and maybe inspired you to jump into the interactive notebooks game! Good luck in your endeavors!

Happy Teaching!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Smash Books Part 2: Implementation

As discussed here, I implemented interactive student notebooks (nicknamed "Smash Books" in my classroom) this year in both my Honors English 9 and General English 10 classes. This post is a follow-up to the post where I first started mulling over this idea.

Success Story
I am here to tell you that these things work. It's no wonder they're all the rave in the education world right now. They're pretty freaking brilliant, actually. Overall, my students maintained their Smash Books so much better than I've ever had classes maintain binders in the past.

***The Problem with Binders***
They completely fall apart.
They are easily broken in a crammed backpack or locker.
Unless you buy the fancy reinforced loose leaf paper, the papers are easily torn out (and lost).
They become a catch-all for every class ever.
They take up a lot of space on a desktop.
They make that really terribly annoying **CLACK** sound every time you snap the rings open/close.
They're just kind of a pain in the ass.

***How the Smash Book Solved These Problems***
They hold up well AS LONG AS YOU GET THE ONES WITH THE CARDBOARD COVERS. (The vinyl covers didn't hold up quite as well, though still much better than a binder.)
They're ultra sturdy and survived the test of time in lockers and backpacks.
You ever tried tearing paper out of one of these things? Kinda challenging and makes a really ugly jagged edge. Needless to say, no floating papers.
They couldn't become a catch all because all of the space in the book was assigned.
It was easy for students to have them on their desks along with their books; it was easy for me to collect them because they didn't take up a lot of real estate.
They're quiet!
They were far from being a pain in the ass. They were like a balm for the ass... or something.

Guys, I wouldn't be telling you about how awesome these things were if they really didn't work for me. I was just so impressed with them this year that I need to share the love. Below, I will detail some basic guidelines and tips (based off of my experience) on how to implement the interactive student notebook in your high school classroom.

***A Disclaimer***
There is quite a bit of upfront work to do with interactive student notebooks. There's also quite a bit of copying to be done. You will also need to implement a procedure system to get these things working the way they have the potential to work. But if you're willing to put in the work ahead and keep up with the copies, you're gonna be okay, kid.

***A Second Disclaimer***
I am by no means an expert. This is just what worked in my classroom. And don't forget... secondary is my area of expertise. Implementing these in an elementary classroom would likely be a whole different adventure.

The Materials List (for both teacher and student)
- a composition notebook (I recommend the good old-fashioned cardboard covers)
- a set of colors (colored pencils, fine-tipped markers, pens, etc.)
- scissors
- a glue stick
- tape

The Prep Work (to do before the first day of school)
You will need to determine the basic set-up of your ISN. Remember that this book is meant to be the very essence of your classroom. What are the absolute essentials in your classroom? Maybe a math or physics teacher would include a page for formulas. A U.S. History teacher might want a map of the U.S. A chemistry teacher might want a periodic table. I included a basic writing rubric (the ECA rubric for my state). The Words Worth Knowing section will likely be essential for most subject areas.

Here were the basic sections of my Smash Book (the italicized items are the things I plan to add to my books this year).
  • The first page: Title Page (student name, teacher name, class, period, date - this also served as a reminder for the heading of an MLA essay)
  • The second to fifth pages: Table of Contents (This year I'm only going to use the second and third pages... never filled the fourth or fifth pages.)
  • The sixth - ninth pages: Words Worth Knowing - this is the essential classroom vocabulary, the words students absolutely had to know and understand to be able to carry on a conversation in English class (things like plot, protagonist, theme, figurative language, thesis statement, etc.) This did not include extraneous vocabulary. (That's still a problem I haven't solved.) (This year I'm adding two pages because we ran out of room! So my W.W.K. section will be the fourth - ninth pages.)
  • The back cover included the ECA writing rubric and the Depth of Knowledge wheel.
  • We made the second to last page a little pocket folder for the things they cut out but never quite managed to glue in that class period.
  • Fourth page from the back: grade tracking page (I'm going to do something more with this page this year, but I'm not sure what it will be.)
  • This year I plan to add a "resources" section. I plan to include commonly confused words, some grammar tricks, a list of book recommendations, and a couple other things.
  • A colleague of mine who is implementing ISNs this year told me about clock partners so I'm seriously considering putting something like this in my book for pair-and-share type stuff.
  • We started numbering and putting in our material after the Words Worth Knowing section. Basically the whole middle of the composition book is dedicated to your notes and "smashed" material.
Smash Book Procedure
You will want to implement a procedure starting Day 1 to get this off to a great start. Staying consistent in your procedure is key to success. Here's my procedure:

1. Students walk through the door and pick up any handouts from their basket by the door.

I recommend different colors for different classes and even then, you'll have sophomores picking up the freshmen handout. SMH.

2. If it is a Smash Book day, I post the following information on the board:

The font used here is a free font called "Peanut Butter Cookies" and it can be found here.
3. Students fill out their Smash Books, based off of the information on the board. (T.O.C. - table of contents and the headings of the notes pages; W.W.K. - Words Worth Knowing)

4. Students put together the handout for the day. If it is a style we've done in the past, they can usually figure out how to set-up the handout. If it is something new, I provide directions on the board. If it's a particularly complex foldable, I will demonstrate the set-up with the help of my document camera.

This has essentially taken the place of bell ringers (at least on Smash Book days). It usually takes anywhere from five to ten minutes to get their books ready for the day, which allows me time to take attendance (well, try to take attendance... I'm so bad at this), check email, etc. I should mention that when I say "Smash Book Day" I mean that we're going to be adding notes to the Smash Books. We actually use the Smash Books almost daily, but often times we are using them as a reference tool or for practicing a skill.

Overall, I stayed true to the idea of the left side of the book being the INPUT side and the right side being the OUTPUT side.

*Model everything! You're going to want to be pretty particular about these books from the get-go to maintain order. Show them EXACTLY how you want this done and practice, practice, practice!
*These require some organization and planning on your part. Don't wait until the morning of the lesson to create your ISN materials.
*Not so creative? There are lots of ISN resources to be found online! You can purchase lots of items from a Teachers Pay Teachers store (I will be adding lots of goodies to my store this summer!) but there are lots of freebies out there too. Follow my new Interactive Student Notebooks board on Pinterest for lots of great ideas!
*Just like any classroom procedure, this will take some time and you'll have to do some reteaching. The more procedures you can model or post in your classroom, the easier life will be.
*The time you front with these at the get-go will be repaid to you double in time saved later in the classroom. Be patient.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone did a bunch of the dirty work for you? Like, if someone said, "Hey, would you like to have a teacher Smash Book all set-up and ready to go FOR FREE?"

Well, that would be swell, and that's why I'm hosting a giveaway!

FIVE lucky winners will receive a personalized, prepped-and-ready teacher Smash Book. This Smash Book will have a personalized cover and title page and will already be organized into sections and ready to use! I will also throw in a bunch of my own Smash Book printables, useful for any class! The raffle will run until midnight, 06/22. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to Kim H., Katie L., Sarah R-K., Caitlyn K., and Victoria P.! You are the winners of the Smash Book giveaway!

I'll be back later with Smash Books Part 3: Creating Content. Until then...

Happy Smashing!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tough Teacher/Tips for Aspiring Teachers

Ever since I read this article last year proclaiming that between forty and fifty percent of teachers quit within five years, I have been haunted by that statistic. The primary reason teachers leave: overall dissatisfaction with the field. I think anyone who has any amount of teaching experience can relate to that feeling of dissatisfaction.

But I'm not in the business of reiterating the negatives of our field. I'm in the business of helping other teachers in whatever way I can - through crazy anecdotes, my trial-and-error classroom experiments, printables for better organization, and profanity-laden enthusiasm.

This year, I crossed the five-year finish line and it felt so good.

As a matter of fact, it felt so good that I think I'm gonna run this race again. I'm going to try for another five.

And because it felt so good to say that I made it to the five-year mark, I want other teachers to know what that feels like.

Like, I think this is what those crazy-ass Tough Mudders and Spartan Racers and Warrior Dashers feel like when they finish a race. Sure, they've literally dragged themselves through the mud. And yeah, they might be bleeding in various places. They might ache for days in body parts they didn't know were capable of aching. They might lose shoes in mud pits and get splinters under their nails and fall into patches of thorns and have to leap over some goddamn fire to get to the finish line. But when they finish? It feels so good. And then they drink beer in celebration and then it really feels so good. And then they find other crazy-ass mofos and they talk about how great it all was, and the crazy things they did, and their insane tactics for climbing over this wall or crossing that pit or avoiding thirty burpees from the evil jackasses who are running the show and they all feel so damn good that they start recruiting other people and they say, "This was the hardest damn thing I've ever done in my life and YOU HAVE TO DO THIS because it feels so good to finish!"

Oh, yeah, did I mention these crazy-ass people PAY for this torture?

I'm seeing a ridiculous number of similarities here between obstacle racing and teaching. Do we not drag ourselves through the mud (figuratively, of course... usually...) to obtain our goal? Don't we sometimes get hung up in a brier patch along the way? There's blood and tears (or is that just me?). Sometimes there are some evil jackasses running the show (hint: they're kids). We deal with obstacle after obstacle every day of the year and I'm not sure there is a more perfect simile out there for that last little bit of the year than leaping over some goddamn fire to get to the finish line. But then, those of us who make it, those of us who cross the finish line, what do we do? I'll tell you what I did the last teacher-day of the year. After grades were in and room was clean-ish and I'd wiped some of the mud out of my eyes, I went out with a dozen or so other teachers, and we talked about how good it felt to be at the end of the year, and then we drank beer* and the finish line was even better. We talked about how great it was all-in-all and the ridiculous things we did that school year and the crazy obstacles we had to deal with and we're going to do it all over again.

Original Tough Mudder logo found here.

*In the spirit of transparency, I should confess that I don't really drink beer unless that's the only option and I really need a drink, if you know what I mean. I drank Angry Orchard Hard Cider, which is thebomb.com.

Here's the thing, kids: I'm a crazy-ass teacher and I really want other people to experience teaching because it is the hardest damn thing I've ever done in my life and YOU HAVE TO DO THIS because it feels so good. I recently chatted with Joe from the career resource site TheLadders and we both agreed that there is a great deal of comfort to be had from hearing other people's stories and advice when journeying into a new career. So I have some tips for anyone who might be looking into starting their career as a teacher.

Disclaimer first: teaching is not just a career... it is a calling. I truly believe that. True teachers are drawn to this field. It's the only path that just makes sense. Someone who is not really meant to be a teacher likely won't be helped by any advice that I (or anyone else) have to to offer. So I think the first thing you must do is to decide if this is really what you want to do. You can't half-ass this shit; you have to want it with your whole ass. Wait, what?

Advice for College Students Going Into Education

1. Get to know who you want to work with.
Which teacher are you at heart?
A. Pre-school/early childhood teacher
B. Elementary teacher
C. Middle school teacher
D. Secondary teacher
E. Post-secondary teacher
If you don't know, find out now. Spend time in all of these classrooms, not as a student, but as an observer. I was very fortunate in my first year of college to have an education class that required us to spend fifteen hours in an elementary school and in a secondary setting. I always thought I would be better suited to the older crowd of students, but this experience solidified that for me.

2. Don't go in with rose-colored lenses; experience the world outside of your hometown. Some of us aren't lucky enough to get to teach in our top choice school, which might be in our hometown. Prepare yourself to teach in a completely different environment. I'm a small town girl who went to a private elementary school and a rural public high school. I had absolutely no idea what it would be like to teach in an urban setting until I started my education classes. Again, my university required us to go to schools outside of our comfort zone and I'm so glad they did. If your university lets you choose to observe and do your practicum anywhere you like, choose outside of your comfort zone.

3. If you are going into secondary, take as many classes as you can in your field. Then, take electives that will be useful in your field. It seems that many of us who choose secondary education actually choose it because we love our content area first and the students second. You will probably have a passion for a particular part of your content. For me, it's British literature, while I tend to steer clear of American literature. I think it's important to have exposure to the content area as a whole (I was required to take British literature, American literature, and world literature classes), so take as many classes as you can. But then, as electives, I took British literature classes that would lend to my knowledge of the subject. (My Arthurian literature class was amazing and I have no regrets about taking three Shakespeare classes.)

4. Start getting organized NOW. If you are a member of any institution worth its salt, you will be inundated with resources. Keep them and organize them. DO NOT just throw all of this stuff in a folder or a file box and forget about it. There will come a time (after the honeymoon period, of course) where you won't actually want to "reinvent the wheel" with all of your lessons. Fortunately, chances are pretty good that someone has already done at least the ground work for you. Figure out how you are going to keep all of these resources organized and at hand.

5. Talk to other teachers - veterans, newbies, and wannabes. Network with other teachers. Hunt up some of your favorite teachers from when you were a little whippersnapper to figure out what it was that made them so awesome and what you can steal from them. Talk to new teachers to figure out the mistakes they are making (I promise they are making them, and you will too) and hopefully learn from those. Talk to the fellow wannabes in your class to figure what's making everyone tick. Always have someone you can talk to about education.

Advice for College Graduates Seeking Their First Teaching Position

1. Show 'em what you got. While interviewing for my current teaching position, the principal informed me that this would likely only be a one-year job because the position would probably be getting cut, to which I replied that I only needed one year (to show them that they needed me there). Make yourself absolutely necessary. Show your interviewers everything that you can bring to the table. There is a line between cocky and confident. Walk that line.

2. Be prepared to take a job that you may not love. My first teaching job was at a school forty miles away. I had a lot of different classes to prep for. I was in a community that I was not familiar with at all. My first year teaching was a shit show, but I learned a lot about the craft and I learned a lot about myself as a teacher. I'm a firm believer in the adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." You may find yourself in a situation that is less than ideal, but you will learn and you will be better for it.

3. Be willing to take on an extracurricular activity (or two). Oh yeah, and LOVE THE HELL OUT OF IT. Administrators just aren't in the business of hiring someone who plans to clock in at 8:00 and clock out at 3:00 without showing their faces outside of their classrooms. Honestly, though, you knew that going in, right? One of my absolute FAVORITE things about being a teacher is getting to do the extracurricular stuff! That's the fun in being a student, and it's a lot of the fun of being a teacher. Honestly, I live for drama club! Sometimes that is the only thing that gets me through the regular school day. I always advise my seniors-bound-for-college to take one "sanity" class a semester to keep things fun and interesting. You will need a fun extracurricular activity to save your sanity!

Advice for Making It to the Finish Line
(Be that the five-year line, the ten, or longer!)

  • Rekindle the romance by attending professional development opportunities (especially those that are specifically geared towards people like you). We often leave these sessions feeling much more enthusiastic than we did before.
  • If you haven't done it yet, take on an extracurricular activity and LOVE THE HELL OUT OF IT. (See above.)
  • Find the joy in your work and focus on that. Get the hell away from the negativity. Don't read those articles online that bitch about teaching and don't talk to the naysayers in your building. Seek positivity! Along with that...
  • ...stop along the way to smell the roses. (I'm a criminal when it comes to using cliches and I don't even care.) Have you ever had a really awesome classroom experience and then thought to yourself afterwards, "Oh my God, I get paid to do this!" Those moments will give you the boost you need to get through the rest of the day.
  • There are students that need you. You are indeed making an impact. Never has this been more obvious to me than this year. This teaching gig may feel thankless at first, but then something amazing will happen and you will discover how appreciated you really are. My senior drama club members made this very clear to me this year with a scrapbook full of heartfelt letters that left me in a puddle of my own tears. On the really tough days, think of those kids, the ones who make it all worth it, and stick through it. If you can't do the job for you that day, do it for your kids.

So what about you all? What positive/uplifting advice do you have for someone who is planning to become a teacher?

Friday, June 5, 2015

2014-2015: What Worked and What Didn't

I'm a big believer in reflection as the school year comes to a close. Before I get lost in a hazy summertime reverie, I think it's important to make a little record of the stuff that worked and the stuff that didn't that school year. I've done this every year since student teaching, and I think it's really helpful in figuring out what needs to be changed again for next year. This year I thought I would share my reflection with you guys!

Smash Books
I first introduced my plans for my interactive student notebooks (Smash Books) in this post. I said that my ultimate goal for the Smash Books was for the students to use them as a reference and a tool for success in English class. I think it's safe to say that this was absolutely the case for the majority of my students. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I go back through and look at my completed Smash Book for the year, and the kids have expressed the same feelings. Several have called it a "work of art" and a couple said they would be keeping it as a reference tool for future classes. I definitely learned a lot using these for the first time and I'll make some minor changes. but overall I was so pleased with these! I plan to go into greater detail about the success of the Smash Books in a future post, but for now, I can say that Smash Books worked! 

Desk Pods
In my 2014 Classroom Tour I revealed that, for the first time, I decided to group my students' desks into pods rather than my traditional spin on the even more traditional rows. Unfortunately, the pods didn't last beyond my maternity leave. For starters, my class sizes kept growing and growing, all the way into the second semester! It was impossible to keep them in pods when there were thirty-eight kids in two of the classes. The pods also caused some difficulties for my maternity leave sub, whom I encouraged to do whatever necessary to make her time in my classroom go well, so she switched back to rows. Ultimately, I'm not sure I'll go back to the pods, even if I do have smaller class sizes. I won't say that they didn't work, necessarily... they just didn't work for me.

Supplies Bins
One word: BUST. I grew to loathe this system. They just required way too much class time to maintain for my liking. I spent a fortune in supplies this year and the bins were never tidy enough to my satisfaction. My classroom always looked messy because of these things. Those were half-heartedly ditched when the pods went away, but I completely ditched them about halfway through third quarter. I prefer my old student supply center for classroom basics and for students to bring some of their own supplies. These just did not work for me.

Early Finishers/Support Assignments Wall
I pretty quickly realized that I just did not have time to keep up with this, which makes me sad. I need to figure out a way to support my high-achievers and my low-level learners. This wasn't it for me. It didn't work.

Skills-Based Curriculum
One huge change I made this year was to focus my curriculum more heavily on skills and less on recalling information. I wanted to up the rigor in my classroom by having students work on higher level thinking. We still had some recall components (I'm a firm believer in learning the context to further understanding of literature), but the majority of the year was spent on skills. We ended up with twenty-seven skills in Honors English 9 and thirty skills in English 10. I honestly think the focus on skills was a big reason my sophomores were so successful with their English 10 ECAs this year. Ultimately I feel like more real, significant learning happened in my classroom this year than ever before. Skills-based curriculum worked great and I will definitely continue this next year!

Skills-Based Grading
Along with my skills-based curriculum change, I decided to try skills-based grading (discussed in this post). In short, this went to shit really fast.
A few problems:
1. Our antiquated grade book software is not conducive to this system. It is clunky at the best of times, inflexible and downright useless the majority of the time. (To be fair I got really spoiled my first year of teaching. That school's software was incredible.)
2. I am a firm believer in being as objective as possible when it comes to student grades. The wording of my skills-based grading rubric made it very subjective and I started being inconsistent in my grading. #nobueno
3. Since I was unfamiliar with this little system myself there was no way I was going to expect my maternity leave substitute (who already had to put up with way too many of my other hairbrained ideas) to try to do this. So this bird flew out the window in November and never came back.
I haven't decided if I'm going to stick with using points instead of weighted grades. Ultimately, though, I think that I was able to evaluate students' capabilities regarding these skills without this system. Skills-based grading just did not work the way I hoped it would.

Class Rewards Card
I kind of forgot about these... #badteacher. We never got in a routine with using these things. I'm going to chalk it up to being a very weird year and I'm going to give this another shot next year. So... kinda worked?

Class Rosters on a Lanyard
YES. A million times yes. This is a MUST. It was so damn handy to have this thing! I used it all the time! I really thought I would only use it during emergency drills, but it was so convenient to have a little class list just hanging out by the door. I referenced it very frequently, especially with my giant classes. This will be a staple in my room FOR-EV-ER because it totally worked.

Handout Baskets by the Door
It took a little training, but these were serious time savers! I think we're all trying to trim back on the amount of class time we spend doing tedious management tasks. This saved so much time distributing papers, especially since I had so many more this year with the use of the Smash Books. After a little training, this definitely worked.

What about you all? What awesome thing worked for you this year? Did you have any busts like I did?

Happy Summer!