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9 Amazon Back to School Products for the High School Classroom

When back to school season rolls around, I always have my guard up when it comes to shopping.  There is always SO MUCH that I WANT, and so little that I actually NEED. What I’ve done for the past few years is this:  I set a budget and I set a limit on my projects. The point of summer break is to recharge and relax, but for me, part of that recharging does involve some school work - the fun stuff that I never have time to get to during the year!  But, also knowing myself, my list of projects can get unreasonably long, and so can my impulse buying at Target.  

Here are a few questions I ask myself before making a purchase or starting a project:

  • What is the longevity of the item or project?  Will it/should it last?

  • Does this help solve a problem or frustration in my classroom?

  • Does this contribute to a classroom management strategy?

  • How often will I make use out of this product?

  • How does this benefit students?

Armed with those questions, I spend my summer browsing.  I use the save feature on Instagram, I get on Pinterest, and I mostly look for inspiration for things that will help me solve problems or pet peeves I have in my classroom.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I never do things that are cute simply because they’re cute - I do! But I try my best to make sure my time and money are spent on things that are functional and long-term solutions for my classroom.

These are my top 9 Amazon purchases for my high school English classroom:

I did not make these purchases all in one summer; I have accumulated these items over time and I only recommend them because they’ve actually worked and I’ve been able to answer my questions above in purchasing them.

  

CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT:

Wireless Doorbell

I can’t think of a strategy that I use more frequently than stations.  At the start of the year, one thing I do is practice my routines (more about that here).  As my students move through stations, I use the wireless doorbell to signal when it’s time to rotate.  The kiddos get a kick out of it and love that I can change the ring tone.  

3-Tier Cart for Classroom Library

This one was my new purchase for the 2019 back to school season.  My classroom library had always been a disorganized mess, so I decided to reprioritize and makeover my library.  I ended up with a mini library on this rolling cart. The money spent on this cart has solved so many problems that I once faced in my classroom and makes an impact on students every single day.  Totally worth it!

Power strip & shoe hanger

My go-to classroom management strategy with cell phones is to use a charging station.  Using a shoe hanger and a sweet power strip, I’m able to encourage students to stay off their phones and focus on the work we need to get done. More on that policy here!




CLASSROOM ATMOSPHERE:

Vertical String Lights & Fairy Lights with USB

For ten years, I taught in a classroom with enormous, gorgeous windows.  I never turned my lights on and I never needed any lighting solutions for my classroom.  Then, I changed schools and my new classroom is a box with some tiny little windows around the upper perimeter of the room, and when my lights are off, it’s a dark place to be!  I can’t stand flourescent lighting and floor lamps are obnoxious with teenagers, so I opted for a sting light solution. These lights I hung across my ceiling and they are BEAUTIFUL.  They bring plenty of light into the room and set a peaceful mood in the room. Paired with these fairy lights (they come in a two-pack...I bought them for my house and only needed one set!), my room twinkles and glows.  

Essential Oils Diffuser

And, for whatever reason, my classroom (and schools in general) always have such a distinct, unpleasant smell.  Enter: essential oils diffuser. This one is my favorite and I use whatever oils I have lying around. The scent is light and I’ve never had a student complain of the smell being to overwhelming, so so far, a win!

CLASSROOM SUPPLIES

Crayola boxed marker set & boxed colored pencils

This is the list that tempts me the most to overspend, but, simply put, after over a decade of teaching, these are my three favorite school supplies.  The boxed Crayola markers and pencils last the entire school year. They’re already organized in their own box (no more supply caddies per table!). I can put them away and take them out easily, there’s plenty to share, and it’s a one stop shop.  They’re a little expensive (I always make sure to request them from my department - don’t pay for them yourselves!), but I used to just run out of supplies halfway through the year and have to replenish anyway. I’ve never had to do that with these boxes!

Bic intensity dry erase markers

Now these dry erase markers fit virtually none of my listed criteria that I shared with you at the beginning of this post, however, they’re still my favorites!  These dry erase markers on Amazon are only 12.00 (and there are 12 markers), they’re bold, and they seem to last forever. You should just try them and see for yourself!

 

Looking for more favorites? Check out the rest of my Amazon favorites here!







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My Classroom Library Makeover: Downsizing & Prioritizing

In my own classroom, the library has never really functioned the way I wanted it to in my dream scenario.  The time, effort, and focus that it takes to truly run the library the way it deserves to be run never really seemed to be worth it. I am already dedicating so much time to other things that the classroom library feels like a chore. That corner of the room is always a disaster.  I never know what’s there -- it seems like all of the good, favorite books disappear and I’ll I’m left with are the random books from garage sales that I’ve never read (and no kids want to read either!).  But when I was a young teacher, I believed that MORE BOOKS meant a BETTER LIBRARY. I have decided that this simply cannot be true.  

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How the Keeping the Wonder Workshop Can Change the Future of Teacher PD

We have all been to our fair share of professional development that has felt like a total waste of time.  Yes, even a PD junkie like me who finds the sunshine in everything can admit that. But boring PD doesn’t have to be that way, and admin needs to know this.  This summer, I had the pleasure of both presenting and attending one particularly groundbreaking event: the Keeping the Wonder Workshop.  This full-day workshop is leading the charge as an example of how PD for English teachers can be invigorating, inspiring, and infectious.  

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10 Must-See Back to School Teacher Supply Hauls

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10 Must-See Back to School Teacher Supply Hauls

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE WATCHING HAUL VIDEOS. Truly. Grocery hauls, Target hauls, makeup hauls, you name it, I LOVE IT! There’s something so satisfying about watching other people unpack their shopping.

These back to school hauls I watched straight through in one afternoon and I knew that I absolutely had to share about them here. Because these are teachers doing back to school hauls, there’s something even more satisfying about watching these videos: each video gave me a unique idea to take into my classroom, and not all of them even required shopping!

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The First Ten Days of School - Routines, Rigor, and Relationships

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The First Ten Days of School - Routines, Rigor, and Relationships

It’s every teacher’s most stressful, most highly anticipated, and most powerful time of the year:  back to school! After over a decade of first days back to school, I’ve finally found a plan for the first ten days that streamlines the three most important things for me:  routines, rigor, and relationships. Here, I will outline for you the importance of routines, rigor, and relationships, then, provide my daily plans for the first ten days.

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Summer Reading:  5 Problems & 5 Solutions

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Summer Reading: 5 Problems & 5 Solutions

The “summer slide” is a powerful force that knocks students off track who were making progress.  Students struggling with literacy all school year fall further behind during the summer months when the “faucet” (an analogy described by the Brookings Institute) is turned off.  We NEED to do something, but in high school, we face a plethora of challenges.

For this article, I interviewed teachers on social media and drew from my experiences at two different districts.  Here are the problems I found and some solutions that I propose. I’d love to hear your feedback and additional suggestions because we are in this together!

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The End of the Year in ELA

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The End of the Year in ELA

As the school year comes to a close, you might be looking at your calendar thinking, what on earth am I going to do with these random extra days?  Or maybe you have room on your calendar for a final unit, but no idea what to do with your students.  I’ve got your solution right here! Here is a roundup of 13 ideas for ELA mini-units and lessons that can effectively and meaningfully fill between 3-5 days at the end of the year.  

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The Cento Poem

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The Cento Poem

The word CENTO means “patchwork”.  The goal of a cento poem is to pull together lines and phrases from the writers and world around you and arrange them in a meaningful way to create something new.  If scraps of fabric can form a brand new object (a quilt), then so can language form a brand new poem. And that’s what I love to teach my high school students.

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30 Poems to Teach Using The Big Six

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30 Poems to Teach Using The Big Six

I love this poem. I love the imagery, the title, the metaphor, but most of all, I love how teachable it is. The poem has a great deal of mystery and room for debatable discussions about author’s intent, but it’s also accessible to students who might feel intimidated by poetry - or even just intimidated by language.

That was the goal I had in mind while making this list: I wanted to find poems that were challenging and worth discussing in class, but also poems that could be tackled by students in one or two class periods. As a guide, I used The Big Six as my foundational analysis tool . If you’ve never used it, get on board!

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The Literary Analysis Essay: A Teacher's Guide

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The Literary Analysis Essay: A Teacher's Guide

Teaching essay writing is no simple task:

  1. The pressure is on:  this is a skill that students need, are tested on, and will need to harness for the next grade level all the way into college.  

  2. Students somehow forget what they’ve learned in between assignments.  I mean...how many times do I have to teach you what CLAIM is?!?! We JUST went over it!

  3. There are just TOO MANY skills all depending on each other.  Every time we teach an essay, we feel compelled to teach and grade everything, from selecting best evidence to writing a correct MLA header!

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How to Teach a Long Novel

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How to Teach a Long Novel

No matter whether you love or loathe the long novel you teach, the same struggles pop up every time we come around to teaching it year after year.  For me, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s a 400 page monster!  It’s fun dawdling around with setting and making maps of Maycomb and then rolling through Boo Radley anecdotes.  Before we know it, August has turned into December. I’m kidding, of course, but time truly does have a way of slipping away as we work through a long text.  And there’s nothing worse for kids than dragging out a book for too long! Here are my best suggestions for getting through your version of my Mockingbird.

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Teaching Annotation with Google Keep

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Teaching Annotation with Google Keep

Over a decade of teaching, I feel like I’ve heard it all!  This year, however, I feel like I’ve found a new and sustainable way of reframing how I look at annotation.   Yes, it does involve some tech, but don’t be intimidated! It’s a low-tech approach and works on multiple devices.

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How To Build A New Novel Unit From Scratch

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How To Build A New Novel Unit From Scratch

After teaching for ten years and then switching schools, I was very quickly reminded of how much work goes into writing curriculum from scratch. For a long time, I was in a happy place of continual revision of curriculum that I liked, but was tweaking here and there for relevance, rigor, and for fun.  

Now?  It’s the Wild West.  It’s intergalactic chaos.  It’s constant guessing and unpredictability.  All that aside, however, it’s also invigorating and exciting.  I would call myself “a curriculum person” because this kind of blank slate challenges me in a way that sparks joy in my life, despite the chaos, so I’d like to share with you how to most easily navigate through a first attempt at writing and implementing a new curriculum for a new novel in your secondary ELA classroom.

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10 Adventurous Teaching Ideas for 2019

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10 Adventurous Teaching Ideas for 2019

Teacher burnout is a real thing.  Exhaustion from the myriad demands placed on our shoulders year in and year out can make anyone question why on earth they started in this profession in the first place.  

As a teacher in the US, the winter break gives me a chance to reevaluate my “why” in teaching.   Why do it? Why work so hard? Why work to the point of burnout every single year? When there’s actually time to slow down and remember the answer to that question, the answer is so simple - why?  Because I love watching kids learn. That’s it. It’s that simple. And when does burnout start to feel so painful? It’s when the job has become something other than dedicating time to helping students learn and experience new things.

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"How to Be A Person" A Spoken Word Poem to Reset Your Classroom Culture

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"How to Be A Person" A Spoken Word Poem to Reset Your Classroom Culture

Whether I’m starting a brand new school year, returning after winter break, or even just starting a new quarter, there’s always this itch in my gut that tells me to take a breather on those first few days together to regroup and reset our classroom culture and community. It’s vitally important to take the temperature of your classroom - has it been feeling toxic lately? Are students there to be the best versions of themselves? Are we having fun but not working hard? Are we working really hard and don’t know each other at all?

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24 Days of ELA - Fun, Fresh Ideas for your Classroom

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24 Days of ELA - Fun, Fresh Ideas for your Classroom

To celebrate the end of another wonderful year and the countdown to our winter breaks (in the US, that is!) twenty four talented, creative English teachers have come together on Instagram with ideas, handouts, strategies, games, and more to inspire your teaching spirit.  These ideas are ready for English teachers around the world to be reinvigorated by and launch them into a fabulous 2019.

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Making Essential Questions ESSENTIAL

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Making Essential Questions ESSENTIAL

Making Essential Questions ESSENTIAL

(and why your curriculum feels clunky)

**If you’re new to the world of essential questions, I highly recommend you do a bit more background reading before continuing on with this post.  Check out Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe to start.**

Many teachers and districts have hopped on the essential questions trend, but time and time again in my conversations with teachers and administrators across the country, many are missing the point.  Writing an essential question is more than just filling in another box on a curriculum map. They’re more than just a way to kick off a unit. Essential questions should be the vehicles that carry students to their essential understandings of each unit.

So where are teachers and curriculum writers taking a wrong turn?  From my recreational “research” (casual conversations online and in person with teachers), there appear to be three big issues that are making essential questions in curriculum feel clunky.

1.  Essential questions are created without backwards design

Backwards design is a cornerstone in curriculum development.  When designing units (and school years), beginning with the end of the unit must be the first step for a team to take.  When curriculum teams start building a unit with an essential question and NOT with a conversation about the essential understandings that teachers want students to have by the end of the unit, the essential question itself is doomed to fail in doing its job.  

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In a freshman English unit, for example, teachers might want students to end a unit by writing a narrative.  If this is the case, elements of narrative and narrative-type assessments should be the focal point all throughout the unit.  The essential question, too, must drive students to consider how narrative works. Perhaps the question might be, “To what extent can narrative transport a reader?”  Now, the question is designed to drive the unit all the way through whatever selected texts are used AND ensure that students are not blindly walking into an assessment disconnected from the rest of the unit.  The question also naturally calls for students to develop an opinion about narrative that should evolve across the course of studying the unit. By the time students get to the end of the unit, they should be well versed in the components of narrative that make it transformational for a reader and then able to attempt one of their own.  

Instead, we have “required assessments” put in place from district offices.  Then, a year or two later, well meaning teachers are told to include essential questions.  Instead of starting with the assessment, they start with the themes of the novel they’re studying or a major skill that they perceive to be important.  And although now essential questions are on the curriculum map, they’re not driving students to understanding or teachers to instructing.

2.  There are too many essential questions on the table

If you’re struggling with using and revisiting essential questions in your classroom, consider this:  do you have too many? Wiggins generally suggests having an OAEQ (overarching essential question) and then one other essential question that is a bit more specific.  In terms of a English school year, I like to think of one overarching question for the year (all of English 2) and then an essential question that drives each unit. I’ve seen so many curriculum maps with four or five essential questions for just a single unit and wonder to myself so...which one is ESSENTIAL?  

For students to delve deeply into the question, there need only be one or two to consider.  Make it juicy, make it cultivate curiosity, and make it open to a wide variety of lenses. Then, ask that question over and over and over again as students learn more and see more of the world that you expose to them through the unit.

3.  Students never respond to the essential question

They’re on the map, they’re on the handouts, and sometimes they’re even on the school website, but if essential questions are not in front of students to respond to during the unit, then how are they meaningful?

Many teachers start with good intentions.  It’s an easy gateway to explore students first thoughts on the question at the start of a unit.  But, so often, the question fades into the background and the content takes over. The novel or play takes over.  The world war takes over. Intentionally designing opportunities for students to respond to the essential question formally and informally throughout the unit allows them to track how their thinking has grown and shifted.  It’s how we help students make sense of why they’re learning what they’re learning.


Getting started with EQs and synthesis writing…

If you want to explore some mini-units that utilize essential questions, I’ve got a few you should try. These mini units provide teachers with an essential question, non fiction articles that respond to the question, a synthesis writing prompt, and writing outlines. As you get more comfortable with essential question units, these questions can incorporate more texts, novels even, and you can sprinkle the nonfiction articles throughout the semester.


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6 Ways to get Started with Stations

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6 Ways to get Started with Stations

When I first started teaching, I remember trying so many different ideas all the time in my classroom. It was exhausting running a new small group scenario or differentiation strategy several times per week, and over my many years of teaching, I’ve come to master a handful of strategies that are versatile and work EVERY time (at least NOW they do!). For me, learning stations are the way to go. I’d say at least once a week, I have my students engaging with content through a learning stations setup and I love it.

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Using Padlet to Teach Claim Writing

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Using Padlet to Teach Claim Writing

Writing the claim.  It’s the sentence we hype up, the “one sentence that holds the WHOLE PAPER TOGETHER!!!”  No pressure, right?

Well the truth is, there IS a lot of pressure to get this sentence right and a lot of pressure on us to help students write them.  My kids want a formula, which I give them, but only as a starting point. The strongest claims exist beyond the “three pronged claim” formula and getting kids to write better statements organically is a seemingly insurmountable task.

Enter: PADLET.

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My Favorite Ways to Practice Teacher Self Care!

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My Favorite Ways to Practice Teacher Self Care!

It took me a long time to prioritize and understand how important self-care is as a teacher.  For the first eight years of my career I burned through hours of grading, planning, rearranging, and constantly making myself available to students.  Those eight years were rewarding and I sure learned a lot about my profession, but I also felt (and still feel) the physical and mental health consequences of making y life 100% dedicated to teaching.

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