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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions? Heck no. I'm sticking to a word.

I have spent a great deal of time this winter break familiarizing myself with social media outlets that I have never used or never understood. Twitter has quickly become a favorite for all of the teacher-networking I have been able to do. Ideas and book suggestions galore!

This morning, I read a blog posted via Twitter from Michelle Haseltine: "From Still to Risk, 2014 Word of the Year." Rather than making resolutions, Michelle chooses a word to help define her year (an idea she got from another blog). How can I not steal an idea like that?

Coming up with a word was easy. It popped into my head immediately: BREATHE

I was really excited about turning forty, but forty and I have not been getting along. The past four months have been some of the most stressful of my life: my son moved out, my daughter started middle school, some friendships have been strained,  issues at work with colleagues and students and my own best interests make my head spin, problems with my house are never-ending, and of course, issues with getting older in general are taking a toll on me. 

I constantly find myself breathing shallowly or barely breathing at all. The only time I find myself breathing deeply is when I sit down to do a guided meditation - and I am not doing that consistently -  and it usually results in my falling asleep from being so stressed out to begin with. 

So in 2014, I will BREATHE.

I will BREATHE when I think of my son. I will BREATHE when I remember that he is an adult capable of making his own decisions. 

I will BREATHE when I look at my daughter's grades and wonder why she thinks it is acceptable to get some of the marks she does. I will BREATHE every time I look at her and see her developing into a woman. I will BREATHE when she makes independent decisions, just like I have taught her to do. 

I will BREATHE when certain friends seem to forget that they know me. 

I will BREATHE when that colleague... well, everything with that colleague. I will simply BREATHE

I will BREATHE when my students are working my nerves. I will BREATHE and remember that they are still children, after all, and not quite the grown folks they think they are. 

I will BREATHE when I the washing machine breaks and the tub starts leaking and a window gets broken. 

I will BREATHE when I pull a muscle. I will BREATHE when my back hurts. I will BREATHE when I forget to take my meds, and I become super emotional. 

No matter what the situation, when that stress starts to kick in, I will BREATHE

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Non-resolutions for students

I had put together a haiku lesson for the first day back to school, but I am going to push that off to the second day. Over the break, I have discovered The Daily Create, and it has been giving me more ideas to use in my classroom than I can keep up with. 

After writing my New Year's non-resolutions (inspired by The Daily Create), I have decided that I am going to have my students create the most outrageous non-resolutions list they can come up with when we return to school. I know they are going to be tired (so will I), and the Chromebooks will not be charged for use this day. Maybe, just maybe, this will get their brains working a bit without causing too much harm to the brain. 

My New Year's NON-resolutions

The Daily Create has suckered me in once again with today's assignment: write ten things you will not accomplish in 2014. 

  1. I will not go to Alaska in 2014. 
  2. I will not swim with sharks. 
  3. I will not suddenly like mustard. 
  4. I will not breakdance (although, my dancing often results in something being broken). 
  5. I will not get married. 
  6. I will not meet Jillian Michaels. 
  7. I will not adopt an elephant. 
  8. I will not read a law book.
  9. I will not blow up my house (and there are days that I really, really want to). 
  10. I will not give up my career to become a hobo. 
I love this. Things I will not do! And I think this may be my first day back-to-school assignment, especially now that I have a list written to share with my students. 

But this idea got me thinking about things that I really do not want to do in the future, at least for the next year. So in addition to the goofy list of things that will I will not accomplish in 2014, I have written a somewhat-goofy list of things I will not do in the next year - and I can accomplish these. 

Numero uno: I will not go on a date in 2014. 

  • For 2013, one of my resolutions was to go on one date. Well, it's December 30. I don't see that happening. And I have learned that I actually enjoy ridin' solo. I have been single for multiple years now, and the thought of dating causes me massive anxiety. I have learned that I enjoy my space, and I am far too busy (and exhausted) raising my twelve-year-old daughter and coping with my nineteen-year-old son to care anymore. 
B. I will not break down and begin drinking Diet Coke again. 
  • Thanks to the Twitter #nerdlution, I gave up my biggest addiction thirty days ago. This is the longest I can ever remember going without it, and I feel a gazillion times better without it. 

Three: I will not stop my imaginary relationship with Adam Levine. 
  • I tried. I broke up with him. He begged for me back. What can I say. I'm irresistible with my introversion and tomboyish ways. 

4. I will not stop being an overachiever. 
  • Hey, somebody's gotta do it. 
Cinco: I will not buy any more books until I finish all of the ones I currently have. 
  • Hey, a girl can dream, can't she...?

Next: I will not stop being opinionated. 
  • Opinions are the result of thinking. And boy, do I think. I think, therefore, I opine. 
G. I will not stop working out and trying to get you to be more active. 
  • Being active is good. Get off your lazy butts, people. It won't kill you. Plus, the more you workout, the more you can eat. 

Eight: I will not stop wearing deodorant. No explanation needed.

9. I will not stop complaining every time my dog farts while sitting next to me. Damn dog

And finally.... I will not grow up. 
  • There is a reason I work with with middle schoolers. They make me laugh. They keep me youthful. 

Why did Tigger look in the toilet?
He was looking for Pooh! 

Happy New Year from me to you. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Stolen Ideas" - Definitions and Photography

I have mentioned before that my school is part of a state grant, the Texas Literacy Initiative, and the focus this year is on vocabulary. I stumbled upon this in my Twitter feed today, and my brain has been twitching with ideas ever since. I said I would wait until Saturday before I started doing anything school related, but my brain does not agree with that decision after 6 /2 days of little educational stimulation. 

Today's Daily Create (@ds106dc) assignment: Using's word of the day, take and share a photographic representation of the meaning. 

How easy and wonderful is that. Not only can I use this with a word of the day to expose my students to more vocabulary, I can also assign words from our readings for them to do this with. We are a Bring Your Own Technology school, and most of my students have some sort of camera. For those who do not, they can always draw something. They can also use photo editing apps to add some creativity. 

Of course, what is a great idea without some practice? 

Today's word:  

As a former daytime soap opera addict (I am only a nighttime soap opera addict now), I know this meaning. The second definition, however, caught me off guard. I decided to go with that one because it is new to me and because I cooked a turkey Christmas Eve. 

So without further ado, here is my photographic representation of schmaltz:


Now I need someone to teach me how to use Flickr because I have not logged into the site in years. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'Tis the season to be annoyed

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, everyone else was sleeping but me because, seriously, who needs sleep anyway, right? Especially the night before dealing with pure chaos. With too much on my mind, I tossed and turned for hours, catching a few zzzs here and there, only to be batted in the face by a cat paw when Pepper decided it was time for me to get up at 2 and 3 and 4 and 5. By 5:30, I caved in, getting up to feed the minions. My thinking was I would take care of that, then curl up on the couch with one of the dogs for a bit more sleep. 

Lo and behold, we had a midnight visitor in the shape of...well, um, dog vomit doesn't really have a shape to it. Groaning, I scrambled to take the dogs out, then return to clean up the mess. As we crept silently to the door, trying not to wake the slumbering son on the couch, I glanced to my left and discovered a wonderland of red. Yes, the lovely puppers must have been thirsty in the night, for they knocked over a pitcher of fruit punch Crystal Light. For the next fifteen minutes, I fed pets and scrubbed floors. 

Time to rest? Of course not. Daisy's Adventures in Vomiting were just beginning, and she threw up all over the blankets on one of the couches. And on the floor. My guess is this is the result of stealing my entire batch of chocolate/peanut butter chip cookies yesterday when I ran to the store. 

Then the daughter came downstairs - and was immediately sent back up to bed. I needed more time before I could deal with twelve-year-old Christmas day excitement. 

I huffed and I puffed my way back to my bedroom, intent on getting some more sleep. I put on Investigation Discovery (because sick and twisted murder stories help me rest) and started playing Candy Crush Saga for the next hour. So much for sleep. Stupid new levels. 

I crawled back out of bed to fill the children's stockings. 

Then I cleaned up more dog vomit. 

Then my daughter got up. 

Then I worked on my son's laundry that he brought home. 

Then I cleaned up some more dog vomit. 

Then my daughter and I decided to make eggs and cinnamon buns and sausage and bacon for a grand ol' Christmas breakfast feast! 

While my child scrambled the eggs, I took the sick dog out, and my son's dog escaped. My son leaped from the couch like twelve lords, running out the door, all the while yelling at me for letting Jenny out. Say what! For the next fifteen minutes, we chased her around our cul de sac and up and down the street, persuading her with treats and a ride in the car. Despite our best efforts to catch her, she eventually ran back to the house and through the door behind my daughter, whom I had sent back to the house to protect the food (Ha! The eggs had been devoured by Minnie). Grumpy son proceeded to retch his brains out, as physical activity is truly not his thing. 

After all this fun, what more could Christmas have in store? I began to question why I even celebrate this holiday, as I am agnostic, and Christmas means nothing more to me than Santa Claus and an annual day to give presents. 

An hour later, after some time for everyone to cool off, we decided to open presents. I swear my mother has some secret plot against me. A Dyson vacuum cleaner - because my vacuum isn't good enough. Does she know how much I could buy for the cost of that vacuum? A bracelet three inches too big - and I do not wear jewelry). A t-shirt that is likely to be too small (they always are; she must not realize after forty years that I am a bit more endowed than she). Chili mix - because I don't like to cook. 

I promise that I know there is some positive thought in there. Why don't I buy Kirsten a nice new vacuum since hers is getting old? Why don't I buy this t-shirt with this lovely quote about misbehaving women? She'll get a kick out of that! Why don't I buy her something to make an easy meal? Plus it's from a foundation that helps out-of-work women find a way to make some income. But I always sense an ulterior motive, whether it is there or not. 

The kids racked up gift cards galore and began planning how and when to spend, when all of a sudden, my son falls apart about not being able to pay his bills (he decided to move two hours away a month ago without any planning). Let the shouting match ensue! But we're not yelling. We're just Italian. 

At this point, I made a big announcement: NO. MORE. CHRISTMAS. When it is the three of us, it is always a disaster. Last year, I was in my room crying, although I cannot remember why. But I was upset. Enough is enough. 

I then my son to pack his stuff up and head back to Austin if he was going to continue to disrupt our newly peaceful home. Things calmed down quickly. I made spinach pie, we had lunch, and I took a nap. The afternoon has been quiet, aside from Jenny ripping apart a giant cardboard box and some ferocious dog flatulence floating in the air. 

We are now off to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The Christmas afternoon movie has become a tradition over the past few years. 

If nothing else, I get two hours of no one talking to me. What could possibly to wrong with that?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Out of the mouths of not-quite-babes

I serve many roles on my campus, one of which is to head up our Sunshine Committee. The purpose of the group is to help make lives a little brighter. 

At the moment, I have been taking up a secret collection to buy our new-this-year principal a birthday/end-of-semester/we-are-glad-to-have-you present. My students have seen my colleagues randomly handing me cash in the cafeteria, hallways, and my classroom. 

A minute ago, another teacher stopped by to bring me a few last minute dollars for the collection. My students began asking why other teachers are always giving me money. I told them I would leave it to their active imaginations rather than to explain. 

On that note, I bring you the top two explanations as to why I am the recipient of dollar bills:

  • Number 2 - Ms. Foti is a crack dealer, and the other teachers are making their purchases from me. Obviously, Ms. Foti does not smoke it herself, but some of the others might.
  • Number 1: Ms. Foti forces her co-workers to give her their lunch money in order to avoid being beaten up. 

Seriously, Winter Break, can you get here already?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter Break Haikus

Now that I am actually learning how to use Twitter effectively, I have seen a lot of postings about haikus. My students need to write an original poem at some point this year, and since the haiku is pretty simple, I have decided to use it as my first lesson back from winter break (yeah, I'm already planning ahead; classic overachiever syndrome). 

I am using a haiku idea from My students will be creating haiku comics to reflect upon their winter break. Although the haiku can be a bit challenging, it is a simple enough lesson to get their brains (and mine) warmed up after 17 1/2 days off from school. I will also save these to hang up for our parent open house sometime in the spring. many days left until summer vacation?

Nightmares from Middle School

Eighth grade. Mrs. Ames' history class. J.S., one of the cutest boys in my orbit, sat in the back of the classroom. I was in the front. 

One day, J.S. was not feeling so well. Fortunately, his seat was next to Mrs. Ames' desk and a garbage can. I am sure you can see where this is going without my having to spell it out for you. 

For eleven years, I have shared this story with my students. I do not know how the topic always comes up (pun intended), but it does. I have had lengthy discussions about what to do should one feel the need to blow chunks: RUN OUT OF THE CLASSROOM IMMEDIATELY. 

After ten and a half years, the inevitable happened. A student came to me, asking if she could go to the nurse. I never ask questions about needing the nurse. I pointed the student in the direction of the clinic passes and asked her to fill it out. On her way to grab a pencil, she mistook my classroom carpet for the porcelain god. 

As the rest of the class groaned and giggled (and watched), I grabbed the phone, unsure of who to call. I resorted to screaming at my assistant principal that I had an emergency situation. I evacuated my class to the hallway to study for their final exam while we waited for the custodial staff to address the messy situation. 

The student, much to my dismay, returned to class, telling us all that she felt fine. The issue was two bags of Hot Cheetos - a no-longer favorite delight o' mine. 

Unfortunately, the Eau de Yak is still lingering in my room today. I have sprayed enough Febreeze to drown myself in, and I am waiting for my honeysuckle candle to melt and envelop my senses. 

Fun times. What more can I say. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Memories of third grade

While teaching "Forgotten Language" for our review, I found myself reminiscing about being a child to help my students understand the content better. While doing this, one of my classes asked me about my favorite grade as a student. Without hesitation, I replied third. 

So what was it about third grade over the others that I made it such a memorable year, when for the most part? I have to admit that I am pretty blown away by how much I can recall thirty-two years later. 

  • Mrs. Laskowski was the nicest teacher ever. 
  • All the cute boys were in my class - Ed K., Brian M., Brian P., Jeremy M., John G. 
  • Jeremy M. used to borrow pencils, dent them with teeth marks, then try to return them. 
  • Becky W. (she is going to kill me for this one) would chew on crayons and tell us what flavors each was. 
  • John G. and I were two of only a few students who stayed for science club with Mrs. L. We got to build dinosaurs out of clay, then his dad would pick us up from school. 
  • We had guinea pigs that we rotated taking home for weekends. When I took them home, we had to make sure our cats did not eat them before I got them back to school. 
  • Mrs. L. read us Island of the Blue Dolphins (at least I think that was it; there is one that stands out in my brain more than others). 
  • We performed Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for our third grade play. I played one of Charlie's grandmothers for the first part. My one line was, "Hooray! Hooray! He found the golden ticket." The shawls the grandmother's wore in the scene were my mother's. In a later scene, I was a squirrel. I managed to drop the nut I was carrying and had to kick it across the stage during my exit. 
  • I wrote a paper on Epiphany to make my father happy. I put the paper in a green construction paper folder. The paper hung up on the class wall for quite some time, and that's when I first learned that I was capable of writing well. Until a few years ago, I still had that paper. 
  • I had the chicken pox directly prior to winter break. I was out of school for almost a full month. 
  • Casey E. was the last one in our class to have a birthday for the calendar year. 
  • I vividly remember passing out Valentine's Day cards. 
  • I remember wearing a Pilgrim hat for our Thanksgiving celebration. 
The thoughts are scattered in my brain, but I can see images flash through my mind. I know how the classroom was set up. I can see Mrs. L's desk in the room. I can see how our desks were arranged. I can visualize the little cubby room that held our jackets and backpacks. 

What grade was your favorite? What do you remember?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creating Analogies (Part 2): The Giver and Milkweed

From my analogy lesson with The Giver, I learned that I added a bit too much for my academic students to understand and left out a piece that is necessary for my understanding of student work. As I worked through my classes, I was having to modify the lesson. For my Pre-AP class analogy lesson with Milkweed, I have made some adjustments. 

The iceberg is gone in the Pre-AP lesson. My academic students were struggling enough with creating the analogies. Trying to make the animal analogies fit the iceberg was one step too much for them. With my co-teach class (academic and special education students), I never even introduced the iceberg. With another class, I had the students create the analogies, then determine where they would fit on the iceberg. Since we did the lesson as a workshop, I simply had them explain this element to me to see if they were grasping the idea. 

I have added an explanation piece to the Pre-AP lesson. As my academic students were showing me their analogies, I found myself repeatedly asking, "What do you mean by this? What is the connection?" Sometimes I forget that their thinking is not always going to be clear in their writing. I needed this extra step with them in order to not be guessing at their thinking. Every now and then they surprise me with a thought that I would never assume they had without the explanation of it. 

My academic classes only read the first five chapters of The Giver, while my Pre-AP students have read all of Milkweed. I am not sure that there was really enough information about Jonas in the first five chapters to get the analogy work that I wanted. For Pre-AP, however, they have a wealth of information to work with. Because of this, I have added two analogies that they must create: cockroach and milkweed. The cockroach image shows up repeatedly in the novel, and I want my students to put some thought into why. Milkweed is only mentioned a couple of times, but since it is the title of the novel, there must be a reason for it. I want to see what their thoughts about this are, as well. 

We will see how the revised lesson goes. Samples to come. 

"Forgotten Language" by Shel Silverstein

My students took their first curriculum assessment of the year a few weeks ago. I intentionally set the test aside and saved it for our fall semester exam review. I am also hoping that the kids will have forgotten most of their thinking from before Thanksgiving, and we can look the reading passages with a fresh perspective..

Review for me is not just looking at answer choices. I will teach the passages from the test in an effort to model how they should be thinking about any reading, not just to answer test questions, but to gain something from the reading. Hefty goal on my part, I know. To them, it is simply a test with stuff to read.

The first passage we are going to look at is Shel Silverstein's "Forgotten Language." There were only three questions on the test regarding this poem, but my students struggle with poetry, and three questions failed are three questions failed. 

To teach this poem, I have incorporated a number of strategies:

  • From Notice and Note, I will be using the Again & Again signpost to focus on the meaning of Once and the significance of the repeated last line in connection to the rest of the poem. 
  • From Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading, I am using two strategies. For the second reading, we will focus on answering three questions: What does it say? What does it mean? What does it matter? I have also added the reflective question, What is the most valuable idea that you can take from this poem?
  • I am going to be using Nearpod for students to respond to all questions in the lesson. Because this review is also helping them prepare for their fall final exam, I need all students thinking and showing their thinking. I do not want them being passive and allowing others to answer questions for them. By being able to see their responses (thinking), I will be able to determine who is understanding or not understanding what. (Plus I just got Chromebooks and the kids are anxious to start using them.)
The only thing that makes this a test-related lesson is the incorporation of the test questions. I loathe multiple-choice questions, but such is the mandate of federal regulations; therefore, they must be taught at some point in time. More importantly, though, I hope they discover that Shel Silverstein is much more than a goofy poem writer. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Milkweed: Found Poetry Samples

My Pre-AP students truly struggled with this lesson, but in the end, there was some fantastic work. 

I didn't even know this student was
working on the assignment. 

Completely unexpected product from
this student. 

I have shared from this student before. He is very introverted,
but he speaks volumes when he writes for me. 
This student struggles a bit, but I have
to admit that I am very pleased with her
final product. 

This student asked for permission to modify
the topic. She is a wonderful overachiever, so
she received special permission.

The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch (#bookaday)

Twitter and I have only recently become friends, and one of the feeds (is that what they are called?) I follow is #bookaday. Initially, I couldn't figure out how people were doing this. Initially, I thought most #bookaday posts were for full-length novels. I read a ton, but not even I can manage that. It took some exploring to discover that most of the books are children's books. 

I have children's books to teach with, and they are wonderful. Most are witty beyond the level of the child reader, filled with delight for the adult reader. I never thought to sit down and start reading them on my own - until today. This morning, battling the icing roads, I ventured to the library to grab a backpack-ful of children's books. 

My first read: The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch by Anne Isaacs. This is a delightful tall-tale. Here is some of what I like about the book:

  • Great one-liners: 
    • "It's stranger than a square tomato!" 
    • "It's odder than a skunk selling perfume."
  • Awesome exaggeration
    • a man so thin he rented himself out as a pencil
    • a man so scrawny he couldn't cast a shadow
    • ants so big they can pull a stagecoach
  • Oddball characters
    • a sheep as strong as an elephant
    • a horse who likes to climb hills
    • a dog who bounces like a rubber ball
    • a gang of singing ghostly gold-diggers
    • the fastest running girl in the west
  • Lots of concepts that kids will miss
    • sign posted by ghosts: 
      • "You don't stand a ghost of a chance."
      • "Dead Man Mine"
    • towns with names like Poverty Town, Destitution Ridge, Pig Wallow, Last Chance, Lost Cause, Doom City, Busted Flat, and Dead Broke
  • Challenging vocabulary
    • destitution, prospector, hasty, varmints, quarrel, commenced, spectacles

The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch is a fun story, and I tried to read it for pure enjoyment. It is so rich for teaching that I could not help but see all the possibilities. I may have to hang on to this one for a read-aloud this last full week of classes before winter break. 

Icemaggedon (or what I did while most of you were working)

We knew the bad weather was coming, but that's what the meteorologists told us two weeks ago, and nothing happened. So I did not want to get my hopes up, or my daughter's, or my students'. But this storm was clearly coming, so I prepared everyone. 

My district is always the last to close. Being located in the center of the DFW metroplex, Arlington will wait for every other district to close first, and they usually wait until 6 AM the day of. But by 6 PM the night before, we were already watching every other district around us close. When the Fort Worth call came around 7, I knew it would only be a matter of minutes. 

My daughter and I curled up on the couches with the dogs and some TV, and I was asleep long before 8. I have been pushing myself to extremes lately, and exhaustion caught up to me. 

Around midnight, the power started flickering on and off, but when I got up at 5:30, we were in good shape. I checked outside to see the accumulating layer of ice (and all of my plants dying), took the dogs out, and started my tea kettle. 

Ten minutes later, the power was out. For eighteen hours. During an ice storm and below-freezing temperatures. 

I attempted to get some cleaning done, but it is really hard to want to do anything when it is that cold. I started charging my Nook, Ipad, phone, and computer in my car so I would have something to do if the power was not out by the time it got dark at 6 (I'm glad I did). I spent the rest of the day reading and napping and dreaming of hot tea. 

Had the power been on, I very likely would have spent it grading papers and working on my final exam. As much as I hated being buried under blankets and living on Crystal Light and peanut butter and jelly, the day forced me to relax and read. 

I finished this one after five weeks of trying. I always struggle with her writing, but I know it is going to be worth it in the long run. I am glad I stuck it out, and I am sure the library will be happy to get this one back.

This is book three of four in a series I started with my daughter. She lost interest quickly, but I love teen fantasy novels. I had to stop reading this once it got too dark to see my paperbacks any more. 

I said no non-fiction, but my Nook was glitching, and I only had a couple of books downloaded on my Nook app on the Ipad. I read a few chapters of this one in the dark. Very interesting so far. I have always been pretty introverted, but I am actually discovering that I am more extroverted than I realized.

I have been working on this one on-and-off. Once my Nook started behaving, I read about a third of it. Very good story so far. I think I am going to finish this one before finishing any of the others. (Ha, I am always reading a minimum of four books.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Milkweed Chapters 10-21: Found Poetry

I was so mad at my Pre-AP students for not reading their assigned chapters by the due dates that I assigned them holiday break reading. That is totally uncharacteristic of me, but they were messing up my teaching mojo. 

They have now completed two journal-entry blog assignments as the main character Stopthief. Before I bore them with monotony, I decided I needed to do something new for this holiday reading assignment. I was flipping through one of my AVID books and spotted a lesson on found poetry. I have used this strategy before but not for a few years now. I am trying to work in some different writing genres, however, so I am glad I ran across this when I did. 

Here is what they will be doing (for some reason, my spacing on Kidblog is not working this evening):


For this assignment, you will be writing a found poem.
Due Date: Wednesday, December 4

What is a found poem?
A found poem is one composed of phrases from another text (Milkweed).

How do I write a found poem?

1. Choose one of the following topics (you must identify this at the beginning of your blog post).
              a. identity
              b. hope
              c. discrimination
              d. survival
              e. justice

2. Choose a minimum of one phrase from each of chapters 10 - 21 that relates to the topic you have chosen.

3. Create your poem.

             a. Your phrases do not have to be in the same order as the book.
             b. You may change punctuation as needed to make your poem work.
             c. You may add, delete, or revise words to make your poem work.
            d. Your poem must be a minimum of 11 lines (one phrase per chapter),
             a maximum of 22 lines (two phrases per chapter).
             e. You must include the chapter number and page number at the end of each phrase.
             f. Your poem must have an original title.

You may use this Word Mover once you have your phrases chosen. You can type them in and then rearrange them until you have the poem you want.


Samples to come!

The Giver 3-5: Creating Analogies

My next lesson for The Giver is ready, and it is going to make some brains in my classroom explode. This lesson has been pieced together from two sources:  I have used Kelly Gallagher's iceberg metaphor strategy from Deeper Reading and the Synectic Analogous Thinking lesson from AVID's The Write Path -  English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading. Both lessons require students to write comparisons to show attributes of a character through metaphorical thinking. I have used both lessons separately in previous years and finally figured out that they essentially are the same thing.

Students will need to create three analogiesThe steps in the lesson are designed to explicitly teach what I am expecting the students to do, and I will have them create the first analogy step-by-step with me. 

Two analogies will show the visible characteristics of Jonas (the top of the iceberg). The third will represent Jonas's hidden side (below the surface). I am only having them do one of these for now because I have a feeling that this part will be very difficult for them, especially so early in the story. Advanced students will have to create two, but I like to keep that part a secret until I actually tell them. 

The lesson also reinforces the use of text evidence. The kids are usually pretty good at finding the information from the text that they want to use, but this year in particular, we are struggling with how to correctly punctuate and site the information from the book. This gives me yet another opportunity to reteach this skill. 

I love this lesson and am likely to extend it to my Milkweed assignments with Pre-AP. I will be sure to share samples on this one. 

Vocabulary Routine for Milkweed: Ghetto

Now that turkey break is coming to a close, it is time to get back to the daily grind. That means Sunday lesson planning! 

My Pre-AP class is reading Milkweed. This is not a difficult read, and I have not pulled out any vocabulary so far. But we are now traveling to the ghetto in the story, and this is definitely a word I feel needs to be taught explicitly. 

I admit it. I'm guilty of using this as a slang term, then turning around with my old lady voice and saying,"Do you have any idea what that word really means?"

Although some of my Pre-AP students will understand the word in context, some will not. I am sure some have been doing their reading over the break with an image such as this in mind:

My apologies if this is a picture of
any of my readers and/or family/friends/
acquaintances of my readers.
Blame Google Images. 

I have worked at the same school for 10 1/2 years now. I know my students. This kind of image, or one similar, is going to come to mind when reading the World War II story as soon as they see the word ghetto

So, I have put together their vocabulary routine lesson, complete with various images from 1940s Warsaw, to ensure that they never forget what ghetto really means. I did add an end piece asking them to briefly write about how they think the 1940s definition used in the book has turned into the slang definition we use today. I am curious to see what they come up with. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Giver: Chapter 2

Two day weeks are so hard to plan for, but I got this! I'm a supah stah!

After taking baby steps through chapter one of The Giver, I set my kids up for independent work with chapter 2. We began by setting up a Tree Map (Thinking Map). I am a Thinking Maps trainer for my school, but with so many useful strategies out there, I often forget to use these. This is the first one I incorporated this year. 

I established the purpose - to classify and define the rituals associated with different age groups in the community. Although more ages are mentioned in the chapter, I only focused on three (1, 9, 12). For age eight, we connected back to the reference to animals in chapter 1 and did a mini-lesson on inference. 

Once they read through the chapter and identified the rituals for the ages, my students had to summarize the information in writing, plus add a text-to-self response: What are your thoughts about receiving a lifelong job at age 12? Since my students are 13 and 14, this freaked them out pretty fast. 

This was not a complex lesson, but it was enough for a short week before a holiday. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekly Learning Logs: Take 2

The children are not understanding the point of the learning log. 

  1. There is a great deal of confusion about which class they are supposed to be writing about. I cannot figure this one out. You are in English class; write about English class. When you are in science, write about science. 
  2. I keep hearing, "But we didn't learn anything this week." Are you kidding me? I am the hardest working teacher I know, and we didn't learn anything? This week, we worked on vocabulary strategies, identifying Contrasts & Contradictions, making predictions, and explaining what we have learned using complete sentences. Yep, nothing. 
  3. The kids want a sentence limit. I keep telling them to write enough to tell me what they learned. Next time, I am going to say, with an echo, "One hundred sentences sentences sentences." 
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am willing to learn from my knuckleheads, even if they think they are learning nothing from me. So I am going to make some changes for week three. 

I talked to a couple of science teachers about how they are using the learning log. I was told that they are giving the students a specific question about the material covered during the week, then they follow the same rubric that I established. (One teacher did ask why I had not added spelling. I responded that there is only so much we can focus on at one time, and I had to pick and choose my battles on this one.)

The next time we do the learning log, I am going to give some more structure. As I am writing this, I realized that I actually gave my students to focused questions regarding what they had learned from our reading of The Giver, then I asked them to complete the learning log a day later. I really gave the same assignment twice. Since their answers to the following questions were more specific, I will use this format as the learning log the next time we complete this assignment. In addition to the one hundred sentences sentences sentences, of course. 

This assignment focused on the Contrasts & Contradictions that we had
discussed throughout chapter 1.

This one focused on our vocabulary routine for the week.

Milkweed 1-4: Sample Blog Posts

At 2:30 PM Friday afternoon, I was cursing myself to giving this assignment: Create a blog as the character Stopthief in Milkweed. Create an entry that fits the character's life based on the parts we have read. This is not complicated, people!

My school mascot is a bear;
hence the angry bear. 
I went over the assignment Monday so my Pre-AP kids could start thinking about it. By Thursday, they were clueless about everything I discussed Monday. Because I had to reteach everything from Monday, I had to extend the due date for the assignment until the end of class Friday. By the end of class Friday, I had kids who still couldn't figure out what to do. Grrrr!

Between answering the same questions eight gazillion trillion uberillion times, I started looking at the posts from the kids who did understand the lesson. Right at that moment I had hit rock bottom, the sun started shining brilliantly. I am here to share some of that brilliance with you. These are my two favorites:

I love the approach this student took, and I feel like this entry captures
an eight-year-old voice.
This is from one of my quietest students. I was impressed to see his creativity.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Another silly moment

I have some boys with big crushes this year. I don't mind, as long as it does not get out of control. I did have to threaten to remove one boy from my class, but I never want them to feel like a crush is not a normal teenage experience. Heck, I remember my seventh grade crush on Mr. K., my shop teacher. 

Anyway, in chapter 1 of The Giver, a teacher tells Asher that he was not distraught but distracted. The crusher of my class said, "Ms. Foti, I am distraught by your beauty." 

I insisted that he might be distracted, but I certainly do not want him to be distraught over anything regarding me. 

"No, Miss. I'm distraught. It upsets me."

Aw. Poor thing. 

Identifying Contrasts & Contradictions in The Giver (Chapter 1)

Before beginning The Giver, I explained to my students that we would be going through the first chapter slowly, as we often do not give enough thought to all the information being presented in this introductory piece. Since I have read the story, of course I know that there are certain things I want them to catch, so this was very much a baby-step assignment. 

I established the purpose of our reading of chapter 1: focus on identifying Contrasts & Contradictions, a skill we have been working on for weeks now. I liked them before, but I now believe I am head-over-heels in love with Contrasts & Contradictions. Adam Levine may be People's sexiest man alive, but he ain't got nothin' on 25 students asking some deep questions.

Before I present the list, let me preface by saying this: I helped point out some of the CCs, but any discussion afterward was left to my students. There was oohing, aaahing, and oh-my-goshing from them and a lot of shoulder shrugging and playing stupid from me. 

So here is what "we" uncovered in chapter 1:

  • Jets flying overhead is not frightening to us, especially since we live in proximity to the DFW airport, but this is not the same for the people in the community. 
  • We do not have speaker systems set up in our neighborhoods with unknown voices telling us what to do. We have a speaker system at school, but students often to not even pay attention when an administrator comes on because they deem it unimportant. In the community, these not only exist, but any directions are followed immediately. 
  • Being released from class is a good thing, but being released in the community does not appear to be a good thing at all. The kids did discuss what the possibilities might be. They suggested everything from death to banishment to the desert.
  • Jonas is concerned about word choice, but we say whatever they think whenever they think it. 
  • We do not tend to recognize when apologies are necessary, but in the community, they are required. (The kids also noted that the repetition of the apology was an Again & Again signpost.)
  • We don't share feelings with our parents. Eeeew! Jonas and family have to discuss feelings because it is a rule. 
  • Jonas and Lily do not know what animals are. (Although they identified this one, many of my students were quite confused about how this could possibly be. I am curious to see how they react when they learn why.)
  • Job roles are reversed in the story based on our stereotypical views (nurses are women; law enforcement workers are men). 
  • In our culture, we are not given spouses. (This did lead to some discussion of different cultures and religions around the world. I also started giving them classmates and spouses, and they were not happy.)
  • In our culture, there is not a limit on the number of kids or specified genders. (Some of the classes discussed that the babies must be given like the spouses because that's the only way this arrangement could happen. As they talked about this, they began to realize that the babies must be made in some unnatural way.)
I am proud of myself for a much better start to teaching this novel than I had last year, and I am proud of my students for showing that their brains do work right before a holiday.