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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Notice and Note Reflections: "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Today was day two of my lesson over "The Tell-Tale Heart." Yesterday was all about modeling and explicit teaching. I built upon our Contrasts & Contradictions and Sketch to Stretch lessons, then added in the new signpost, Again & Again. 

I am always concerned when I start a new text with close reading strategies. I went through the first three paragraphs one at a time, and I was afraid that it was going to take away from the overall suspense of the story. Wrong! It actually seems to have helped. By the end of class, there were a number of comments from the kids regarding what was going to happen next and how much they wanted to continue the story. 

The text itself also led to some confusion with Contrasts & Contradictions that I was not expecting. Because the narrator is already doing things that are contrary to our personal selves, some of the students were having difficulties identifying the CCs. My informal assessment of the situation is that they were overthinking it, but it was something to note for future reference. 

Today we started collaborative work on identify CCs and AAs. The students listened to a chunk of the text (through the murder), focused on identifying the elements we have been focused on. Right away, I knew there was an issue. As I walked about the classroom, I saw that the only thing being noted on the text was the vocabulary words. 

The first thing I did was address comprehension issues. We went through a simple who/what/when/where/why routine to make sure they understood the text to be able to identify the elements. No big issues. I did have to explain the difference in mattresses from the mid-1800s until now, but that certainly didn't impede their ability to locate information. 

In reflection, I think I need to allow them to listen/read first, then go back and listen/reread a second time. I believe I was asking them to do too much at the same time. Or maybe they were simply engrossed in the story. 

Their next step was to work with their groups to discuss what they had (had not) identified and add it to their reading log. As they worked together, I wandered the classroom, stopping to ask and answer questions. 

On the positive side, some of the students made Contrast & Contradiction connections that I had not even considered. For example, one student noted that despite the narrator's attempts to be stealthy, slow, and cautious, when it came to the actual murder, he leaped into the room. The student determined that this went against everything the character had done up until that time. (I <3 when I learn from my knuckleheads.)

I also noted that there were some great conversations taking place, even when the kids were not quite getting the particular skills. The groups were debating ideas and why they did or did not work. Oh my gosh! Students focused on the actual lesson! A group of my girls was very interested in the narrator's discovery of his own powers. 

Of course, we also had some negatives. I did an informal assessment on the work they did today to determine if they were understanding what I was asking them to do. These are some of the issues I saw:

  • The kids were easily able to recognize the Again & Again moments, since "TTH" is full of it. Explaining it, however, is not going well. The focus question for AA is, "Why does this keep showing up again and again?" Most of the responses stated that a word or phrase was repeated by did not address the why

  • There were also some issues regarding specificity and clarity. Take the following example. I discussed this with the group. They explained their idea in great detail. When it came to putting the thought on paper, some details were left out. 

The next step in my lesson is to have them create individual entries to show understanding. I do not think we are ready for that yet. When we pick back up with the lesson, we will need to return to their notes from today and work on elaboration and clarification, a skill we just used for our personal narrative. I will use some of their examples to model my expectations and allow them to make revisions to their work. The students who caught on quickly and completed exemplary work will become my back-up teachers (I do this frequently). 

Despite the negatives, I feel we are headed in the right direction. This was new for them, but it is also new for me. Today's work showed me where I can be more explicit in my own teaching to create an even better learning experience. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

SLANT: Day One

The rundown: Got to school. Printed my SLANT sign. Made twenty copies. Started posting. 

No, I didn't really post all twenty. I did post six, and I used a seventh at my data projector. My students sit in groups, and I am going to laminate some copies to put in the center of their seating arrangements for a constant reminder. And my version of laminating is usually putting a paper in a sheet protector, but I ran out at school today. 

The strategy worked wonderfully with my first two classes. I went over it with them, having them model what the parts should look like. They responded positively and were quick to point out when someone else was not on task with one of the expectations. I could call and name and say SLANT, and corrections were made quickly. 

My third class of the day is my co-teach class. Co-teach is a mix of special education and academic kids. In this grouping, I also have ESL, GT, and AVID students, in addition to  some moderate behavioral issues. 

While introducing the strategy, I only had one student not paying attention, and it showed throughout the rest of the class when his classmates were responding to SLANT re-directions. He kept asking questions regarding the acronym, and I kept ignoring him. His classmates continuously pointed out the signs all over the classroom. 

My talkers still talked, but they were not as disruptive today. It is difficult to be upset with talking when they are talking about and participating in the lesson.  Because they talked less, I actually had more hesitant students raising their hands today. Small victory! 

My post-lunch group did not respond so well. This group loves to talk. When I discussed the SLANT expectations, one of the first questions I received was, "When do we get to talk?" Tomorrow is another day, I suppose. 

The biggest challenge of my day was my Pre-AP class. I was a bit apprehensive about introducing this to them. As usual, they came in noisy. That never bothers me. I believe in allowing kids a couple of minutes to socialize while they are following my posted instructions and preparing for class while I take attendance. 

While they continued their noise, I displayed the SLANT handout on the data projector. Then I stared (that teacher/mom stare works wonderfully sometimes). It only took a few seconds before they began associating the displayed information to what I wanted from them. My AVID students, who are already familiar with SLANT, did a bit of groaning (and trying to correct some of my letters). 

I very firmly conveyed my new classroom SLANT procedure. I do not think they were breathing the entire time. I am pretty laid back, and this was quite a contradiction to the usually peppy, happy Ms. Foti that they are accustomed to. I did have one student asking lots of questions about this, mostly about how long the classroom was going to be like it was today. It seemed to be unsettling her a little bit. 

Overall, I was quite pleased. My goal for tomorrow is to make sure that they understand that this was not a one day redirection. 

Did you give it a shot? How did things go for you?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Strategy of the Week: Teach Like a Champion - SLANT

I own Teach Like a Champion (both the original book and the field guide). The book is filled with strategies for high expectations (academic and behavioral), structuring and delivering lessons, engaging students, creating a strong classroom culture, and building character and trust. I use many of the strategies naturally, but there are others I always say I will go back and add that I haven't. Well, I pushing myself to get to it. If I post it, I have to hold myself accountable...right?

This week, I am going to put Technique #32: SLANT into affect to help create a strong classroom climate. I have used this technique before, but I never seem to stick with it long term. It has been on my to-do list since school started in August, especially since it is also an AVID strategy, and I am an AVID classroom. 

SLANT is an acronym with different possibilities:

  1. Sit up  OR Sit up straight
  2. Lean forward  OR Listen
  3. Ask Questions  OR Ask and answer
  4. Nod yes or no OR  No talking
  5. Track the speaker OR Talk with teachers or Take Notes
Based on the classroom issues I need to address, I am choosing the following:

  • Sit up straight. - I don't know what is up with my students this year. Certainly not them. I have an incredibly slouchy group, and I am spending far too much time telling them to sit up straight. Straighter. No even straighter. Oh my gosh, straighter than that!
  • Listen. - I am always going to have kids who zone out. I am hoping by posting this near some particular students, I can simply point to it rather than distracting myself with a verbal redirection. 
  • Ask and Answer. 
  • No talking. - I have a very verbal classroom. I like conversation. Some of my students, however, are under the impression that every time I pause to breathe, that is permission for them to speak. 
  • Take Notes. - This is the first year I have students who will not copy down notes without being told numerous times. They will pay attention, follow along with the lesson, participate... Then there is a disconnect when we get to the note-taking. 
Teach Like a Champion encourages the teacher to reinforce or correct these behaviors nonverbally. This is definitely going to take some practice. I say most of this in class on a regular basis. I am hoping that a visual reminder helps curb some of the negative behaviors I have seen lately. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Close Reading Strategies with "The Tell-Tale Heart" (Planning)

It has taken hours, and my back is killing me, but I believe I have put together a quality close reading lesson for "The Tell-Tale Heart" using two of the signposts from Notice and Note: Contrasts & Contradictions and Again & Again. 

My goals for this lesson were to:

  • have students connect our Sketch and Stretch vocabulary lesson to the words within the text
  • connect our introductory lesson for Contrasts & Contradictions in "The Horror" to "The Tell-Tale Heart"
  • teach a second signpost, Again & Again
  • be EXPLICIT in all teaching
I began by reading "The Tell-Tale Heart," marking up my text, identifying the above elements and making some teaching notes:

As I was reading, I was making a sample CC/AA reading log. You can see that I do not always think in order. 

Using all of my notes, I created my presentation, adding my nerdy sense of humor throughout. I have an underlying goal to educate on all things 1980s. If I had to endure the torture, so should they!

I am definitely going to have to do some proofreading tomorrow. I am a bit delirious at this point (and not Eddie Murphy style), but I was determined to crank this baby out tonight. Any and all feedback is welcomed. 

As always, I will post feedback from the lesson as we progress through the next week. 

Kylene Beers read my blog!

Ok, this is truly me being a braggart. I take great pride in the work I do, and to receive a comment like this back from the author of the book has had me smiling all day:

What modeling writing ends up looking like in my classroom

Pardon my braggadocio, but I have really good rapport with my students. That characteristic is not always a positive, but it does allow me to be a bit zany with my examples (maybe more than a bit). It is really important to model skills with students. I know not all teachers are comfortable being goofy in the classroom, but that has been my style since (almost) day one. I had another example about my true first fear, but they this one was much more effective for teaching. 

This is one of the writing samples I produced for our personal narrative about fears:

We were working on elaborating and clarifying with sentence stems from Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers. 

I turned 40 right before school started this year.
One of my students told me,
"But I thought you were 48."
It is now a running class joke. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

TLI Vocabulary Routine: Round 2 (Reflection)

I love this strategy. I love love love love love this strategy. Did I mention that I love this strategy? I do. I love it. I loved it the first time. I loved it this second time

The Texas Literacy Initiative vocabulary strategy engages students. The kids are actively involved in learning the material. 

1. They repeat the word. I have them do this in different ways for my own enjoyment - say the word, say it like a cat, say it like a dog, say it like a boss. I definitely see some future actors and actresses coming from my classroom. 

2. They are analyzing usage and providing informal assessment information with a thumbs up/thumbs down response. I can scan the room and visually see who is understanding within a matter of seconds. Both times I have conducted the routine, when a student provides an incorrect answer, he/she will go back to the sentence and process again until he/she figures it out. Watching a student take the initiative to actually correct himself is pretty impressive. 

3. I learn a great deal about my students through my examples and non-examples. Case in point: Today, one of my sentences said that parents are vexed when kids take the initiative to wash dishes on their own. One boy told me that he is not allowed to wash dishes because his parents think he is does not clean them well enough. I think this is one smart child!

4. The kids are speaking to one another in complete sentences with the Seven-Up Sentences. I did not complete this part of the activity last time. This time, I added it, and the practice was magical. I am one of two eighth-grade ELA ESL teachers, and getting my ELLs to speak in front of others can be a struggle sometimes. This was a no pressure partner conversation, and everyone was talking, in addition to working with the given word. 

5. They are learning. It has been a few weeks since we went through our first vocabulary routine. When I referred back to our gripes lesson, I was immediately barraged with a chorus of "to complain." Sure, a few kids forgot, but after a few seconds, the first lesson seemed to pop right back into their brains. 

6. They made connections between two lessons and were able to write about it using the words

I have not yet taught this strategy to my campus colleagues, but the training is coming up soon. I cannot wait to share and model how this works with them. 

Vocabulary Strategy: Sketch to Stretch is a hit!

A few days, I posted my vocabulary lesson  for "The Tell-Tale Heart." I truly felt I had something good, but as always, the children have surpassed my expectations. 

You know it's a good strategy when the kids start drawing you for the assignment. Of course, this student thought he was the first and only child to ever come up with an idea like this.

I used this as my example for the rest of the day, telling them I have never lied about being a model. This is the proof! The lips are too big, however. No Botox for me, thank you very much. 

Here are some other examples:

This was fun and engaging for the students and for me. 

Reasons for Teaching

I am a well-liked teacher on campus, and I am aware of that. But sometimes, time with the students is like time with my own children, and I do not always feel the appreciation. Then, when I need it the most, a student will walk and give me something like this, and everything I do becomes worthwhile again: 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Midnight Lesson Planning: Close Reading with Contrasts & Contradictions

I tend to do my greatest lesson planning in the middle of the night. For some of you, midnight might be bedtime, but for me, it is usually hours into sleep. Unfortunately, I'm a light sleeper, and most everything wakes me up, including my constantly working brain. 

A few days ago, I posted about a passage I found to connect to "The Tell-Tale Heart." I was excited about the prospect of the piece, but in my rush to incorporate it into class, I had not thoroughly processed the potential - at least not until waking up in the wee hours of the morning. 

My new favorite book (Don't I say that about every book?) for reading comprehension strategies is Notice & Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. The strategies are almost so simple, one wonders why one didn't think of it on her own (her being me). 

With my midnight genius, I realized that "The Horror" is a perfect piece to introduce the signpost Contrast & Contradictions, especially as a contrast piece itself to "The Tell-Tale Heart." I already had my presentation for this strategy created, and a first period conference time allowed me to do some quick editing and revising to teach this concept today. 

The idea behind the strategy (and the others in the book) is for students to look for repetitive patterns to help understand text. With Contrasts & Contradictions, the kids look for (notice) character actions that are the opposite of what we expect. 

We began the lesson by discussing the concepts in the slide - everything from the stop sign, what notice and note mean, and examples of contrasts and contradictions. Now, as an edutainer, I have no problem making fun of myself, so coming up with real-life examples to teach this was easy:

  • If Ms. Foti came to school in a dress, you would be asking... (this is where they all chime in with, "Why?"). 
  • If Ms. Foti was mean to you for a day, you would be asking...
  • If Ms. Foti got married this weekend, you would be asking...
Hook, line, and sinker, all in one. 

Before reading the piece, I set the mood. I turned the lights off (I have a big window). I got everyone quiet. I reminded them that we were focused on identifying contrasts and contradictions within the reading. Then I read "The Horror" as if it was the scariest, most frightening, terrifying work ever written. 

I didn't even have to teach after that. Each class period, the kids were already commenting about everything that was "not right" with the passage. The contrasts and contradictions stood out like me in a dress (for those readers who do not know me personally, I am a bit of a tomboy and do not even own a dress). Of course, we did discuss afterward, identifying and labeling (noting) the CCs. But I would not call what I had to do at that point work. It certainly helps to have middle school students who are horror movie connoisseurs. 

I have to give a genius student credit for pointing out an obvious CC that I completely overlooked. At the beginning of the text, Eggers sets up Sandra as fearful, yet by age thirty, she is ready to write a horror novel. Can Ms. Foti say contradiction?

It always feels fantastic when students grasp a concept (and quickly), but the best reward is watching them enjoy education. Today ranks as one of the best learning days of the year. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Something New: A Connection Piece for "The Tell-Tale Heart"

I got a new book. Yes, I am an addict, but this one was actually a school purchase and not my own. I am not sure that really helps, but it makes me feel better.

Within this book, I found a passage called "The Horror" by Dave Eggers. It is an interesting little passage about a woman who decides to write a horror novel. All of her ideas, however, are exactly the opposite of horror. 

I am going to have my students read this prior to starting "The Tell-Tale Heart." Their purpose will be to identify the details of Sandra's horror story - daylight hours, full nights of sleep, no death, no threats. Irony? (I'm asking because I struggle in teaching this.) Once we read "TTH," I will have the kids contrast how Poe's story has the opposite elements of Eggers'. 

I need to delve into this a little more to see what else I can do with it, but I believe it will make an interesting paired passage. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vocabulary Strategies for "The Tell-Tale Heart"

I will begin teaching "The Tell-Tale Heart" later this week. I am working on two vocabulary strategies for this lesson to mix things up: the Texas Literacy Initiative vocabulary routine and another strategy called Sketch to Stretch. 

I will start the vocabulary work with the vocabulary routine for the word vex. I chose this word because it ties in well with our last vocabulary routine for the word gripe. I want my students to be able to view words in connection to one another, rather than isolated pieces from different readings. I have heard my students using the word gripe - correctly - in conversation with one another, so I will be curious to see if they pick up on vex the same way. 

The second strategy, Sketch to Stretch, comes from Vocabulary Strategies that Work, a book provided by the Texas Literacy Initiative as part of our vocabulary focus. Sketch to Stretch was originally created as a reading comprehension strategy for visualization (I am going to use that as a connection piece at the end of the reading). In this process, students read a section of text, then create a reaction drawing. By the end of the reading, they have a series of drawings to help them recall information. [If you search this strategy online, you will find a great deal of information.]

Wilfong has adapted this strategy for vocabulary study. Students read a chunk of text, then they choose a word from that section that they feel is vital to the meaning of the selection. They then draw what they think the word means in the given context. 

Since this is the first time I will be using this strategy, and because "TTH" tends to be complicated enough for my students to understand, I have modified Wilfong's strategy to suit my own needs. Rather than use Poe's text, I am giving my students modern-language sentences with selected words from the story. They will create their drawings and definitions based on this information to help them apply it to "TTH".

Follow-up to come after I teach this Thursday or Friday. Stay tuned.

Personalization v. Differentiation v. Personalization

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Teaching in Metaphor: Writing Sentences with Coordinating and Subordinating Conjunctions

Sentence variety. Aaaah. As much as I love understanding how sentences are constructed, for some reason (cough-cough) my students simply do not find it terribly exciting. But with my unique teaching style, I am comfortable totally nerding out over sentence construction. This year, I managed to take it farther than ever before. 

For starters, I use Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing  to teach many writing skills. The man is a genius, and his books have been some of my best investments. And he has already done so much of the work that I really only have to put my presentations together. 

This past week, we worked on writing with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions for their sentence revisions. I had the kids copy the mini-poster slides and examples in their resource journals while I explained the basic structures of the sentences. So far, so not-very-exciting. Then I pulled out the metaphor!

I have used this for years now, and it works. At first, I get the you-are-such-a-nerd look (to which I respond with my own duh-I-have-a-poster-of-Darth-Vader-on-the-wall look). It doesn't take long, however, for the kids to become pretty impressed with my genius on this one - or maybe it is just what I am showing them and connecting to sentence building. 

What is this magical metaphor, you ask? Let me leave you in suspense no longer. The magic is in the Lego. I teach my students that sentences are simply Legos in word form. Different pieces are different types of Lego blocks, and we can put those blocks together in multiple ways to create unbelievable creations and works of art. You will see in my presentation that there are even boxes around different elements, and when the kids write for me, they draw these "blocks" to show how they build their sentences. 

Now, explanation alone is not good enough for the kids to get this. This is a true "a picture speaks a thousand words" moment.  This year, I showed a recent article from The Huffington Post that I ran across just a couple of days before I taught this lesson (you can also find a gazillion amazing Lego creations with an image search). I compared the different levels of design to the different levels of sentences that one can write. I explained that some students would write dessert-level creation sentences and some would write castle-level creation sentences. Either way, both would be fantastic. The group I have this year is highly competitive, and they were not about to settle for dessert-level writing. I have to admit that I was shocked by how some of their eyes lit up when I read their work and responded with, "You wrote a castle!"

Don't be afraid to get your nerdy on. It is all about the passion you express. Let it be contagious. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blind Rewrites

As we continue our writing journey with the personal narrative, I added another new element that I got from Jeff Anderson's 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know: blind rewrites. 

After the power writing, speed drafts, and a peer questioning activity, I gave my students four minutes to thoroughly read over what they had written. Their objective was to focus on the important details, particularly what their classmates felt they should add to their work. Once the four minutes were up, I collected their original papers. 

When I presented the next step, I was blatantly accused of torture, to which I replied, "Torture for you; entertainment for me." The uproar continued, but I smiled my way through it. 

Their concern? I told my lovelies that they had to rewrite their entire paper in seven minutes. Without looking. 

Sure, I heard a lot of "but I can't remember." But they did. Within that seven minutes, almost every student in class had at least a half page written, and a few were quick to point out that they only remembered the important parts. Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner!

Tomorrow, we will be contrasting the first draft with the second draft. I want them to determine if they included the information that was truly important to the meaning. If they left anything out that they deem necessary to the rewrite, they can add it back in. 

After that, sentence revisions. Oh, how I love complex sentences!

Seriously? Am I speaking English?

I am having one of those days when nothing makes sense to my students. I am modeling, explaining, explaining some more, modeling some more, and explaining again. Then when I ask if there are any questions, I am being asked the same things I just went over. 

Sometimes I know it is me. I can acknowledge when I am not making sense. I am not above my own self in this regard. But today, I really feel like it is not me. 

"Stop. Put your papers down," I demanded of my second class of the day. We are working on elaboration and clarification, and I had determined that I was not elaborating and clarifying enough. 

"Help me help you," I pleaded." I must not be explaining something well if two classes have not understood me. I am missing a step on my end."

Good teacher move, right? I am putting my guard down and letting them know that I am not perfect, expecting lots of questions from the minions. 

"No, Miss. You explained it right."

Seriously? Now I am confused. Does someone have a wall into which I may bang my head?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Speed Drafts

Before I move on to today's topic, let me follow-up on my Power Writing post:

  • This was a continued success with my academic students. The best response I heard all day was a whispered, "This is aaaaaawesome." In addition, I heard requests for more rounds. 
  • One of my science colleagues (anonymous shoutout) used Power Writing with her students today as a review of academic terms. We are both part of our Texas Literacy Initiative Campus Based Leadership Team, and we are working on reading and writing skills in all classrooms. The teacher provided this feedback: "They LOVE this. I was afraid they wouldn't buy in to writing in science but they did and then some!! Thank you" 

The power rounds were used in anticipation of a personal narrative writing assignment. Traditionally, in assigning a personal narrative, I would model brainstorming and Thinking Maps planning before approaching a rough draft. This time I decided to try something different based on informal observations. The  biggest issue the kids have is getting started, and the more time they are given, the more time they will take. Well, I am not into wasting time (at least not too much; we all need our moments). 

Extending on my Power Writing lesson, today I added Speed Drafts. After presenting the topic and giving the kids a few minutes to discuss their ideas with one another, I provided them with a very limited amount of time to write as much as they could about their topic - 5 minutes for Pre-AP; 7 minutes for academic. By no means did I expect them to have a completed draft. Working with a time limit, however, ensured that they had something written with which we can work on skills such as elaboration, clarification, complex sentences, and basic editing. 

I did expect some grumbling, but what I did hear was about hand cramps. I have never seen my students write so much in one day, nor have I seen them exhibit such pride in accomplishing a small feat for the day. One student came up to me with a huge smile and said, "Miss. I wrote 260 words. Can you believe it?"

I would not have believed any of it had I not seen it with my own eyes. I set a personal goal to challenge my students more this year, and this small victory ensures me that I am doing the right thing for them and for me. 

Tomorrow, rewriting without looking!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Power Writing

Last year, one of my curriculum instruction specialists included a writing activity called Power Rounds from Jeff Anderson's 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know in a professional development session. I was hooked from the first second, even though I was unsure how my students would react to the lesson. 

Here is the gist:

  • Students are shown two words. 
  • From the two words, each student chooses one. 
  • Students write for one minute about the word without stopping. 
  • Once the round is completed, students count how many words they have written.
  • Two more rounds are completed. 
I love this activity because it can be used in so many ways - an introduction, a review, a brainstorm, a time-filler. 

After learning about this strategy, I invited my curriculum instruction specialist to campus to see the lesson in action. I used it as an introduction to The Hobbit with my Pre-AP students. I made it like a boxing match, with matches and rounds and using a boxing bell for my timer, and not only did my students love it, I received positive reviews from my curriculum instructional specialist. 

Knowing how well this strategy worked last year, I have been anxious to try it again this year. My students are starting a personal narrative, and I managed to work Power Writing into the lesson as a brainstorming piece. Last Friday, my Pre-AP class completed their Power Writing. I am by no means modest about my prowess as a teacher, but I have to admit that I was blown away but how much this class loved the assignment. 

After the first round, we did a tally on how many words each student had written. The range was from zero to 28. Once that tally was complete, something happened in their crazy little minds. This extreme competitiveness came out of I-don't-know-where, and it was GAME ON for round two. They were actually trying to steal one another's papers in order to get more words written. When the timer beeped after sixty seconds, I was having to yell for them to stop writing because they wanted to continue. Most importantly, for me at least, they all wrote considerably more the second time than they had the first. 

By the third round, students were running around the room trying to hide from one another in order to protect their work. Each was determined to write more than anyone else. Again, I was begging them to stop writing, and they were begging to continue - so much so that they asked me for a bonus round. Is this really happening? I kept thinking. They want to write more? Getting students to write is usually like pulling teeth. 

I know to many of you that this may seem like pure chaos, and more often that not, my classroom looks like a disaster to the outsider. But I teach in a world where edu-tainment is a real term, and if the students are not entertained, we are very likely to lose them. I am far from an old-school teacher. The full engagement of 29 students is a dream come true. I am excited to complete this lesson with my academic classes in the next few days, and with this much success, this strategy will play a role in my classroom for years to come. 

Friday, October 11, 2013


For as long as I can remember, there are two names that I have been called. One is know-it-all. The other is a consequence of being a know-it-all (I'm trying to keep the blog PG). I learned early on to consider both of these titles compliments rather than derogatory statements. 

I am curious and curiouser. I want to know everything I can possibly know. I want my brain so full of information that I can hold a conversation anywhere with anyone. And like a colleague of mine mentioned last night, "Even if Foti doesn't know it, she speaks with enough confidence to make you think she does."

I read everything I can get my hands on, fiction and nonfiction alike. I'll read fantasy, historical fiction, and classic literature, then turn around to read educational materials, health and nutrition books, and memoirs. I also read environmental and tech news, gossip columns, and book reviews. No bit of information is out-of-league for this brain of mine. 

So here is the thing: If you feel the need to call me a know-it-all in a derogatory manner, then do not come to me when you need any of the following:

  • technology help
  • classroom management strategies
  • teaching ideas
  • ESL resources
  • rapport-building strategies
  • book recommendations
  • scaffolding recommendations
  • websites
Do I need to go on, or do you get the point?

The information in my brain is for me. I share because I am capable. And beware with whom who use my name negatively. It will get back to Ms. Know-It-All. She knows-it-all. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Were our teachers like this?

I love spirit week, mostly because I get to wear jeans. I was thinking about my own teachers today, trying to remember any of them participating in events like tacky day and crazy hat/sock day. Did we even have these things? Were our teachers too lame to participate? Or am I lame for participating?

Boy Bands Throughout Time

Today is cutting and pasting day in class, so I have music on for the kids. In my current class, I have a die-hard One Direction fan. She knows I won't listen to them, but we compromised by putting on the New Kids on the Block station on Pandora. We have been listening to N'Sync, Def Lepard, Tiffany, Journey, Backstreet Boys...

An NKOTB song came on that my One Direction fan looooooooooooooves! One of the boys sneaked up to the computer and clicked the skip button. Fangirl lost it. She actually had to leave the classroom because she started crying. 

Ah, to be young again... 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Humility or Humiliation? Part 2

1:26 P.M.: The countdown has begun. In less than two hours, I will be making a fool of myself on the football field, solely for the pure entertainment of the children. I am a bit more nervous than anticipated, probably because I received a message a few hours ago telling me what exactly I will be doing:

1. 10 yards of high knees over the tires.

2. 10 Zig Zag through the dummies.

3. Last 10 yards sprint to the line. 
  4. Then throw the football at the dummy. Retrieve the ball and then return through the obstacle course. YOU MUST HIT THE DUMMY WITH THE FOOTBALL BEFORE YOU RETURN THROUGH THE OBSTACLE COURSE. 

5. Do the course in reverse to cross the line you started. 

Seriously?!?!?!?! Are these people crazy? I can handle 1, 2, and 3, but I might be stuck on number 4 for awhile.

To be continued...


2:35 P.M.: I heard it's hot outside. What if I have heat stroke?


3:02 P.M.: Gettin' my mean-mug on for the competition. If this is the same face I use in class, I now understand why they never take me seriously. 


6:10 P.M.: I survived Pep Rally 2013!

All the mean-muggin' practice was wasted. Last year, the obstacle course was teacher versus teacher. This year, it was teachers versus students. Do I need to tell ya that the teachers won?

Ok, so we cheated a little. There were nine of us. I think there were ten of them. I did not quite hit the dummy with the thrown football (it was close). Someone may not have run through all the big football thingies. In our defense, kids cheat all the time. When do we ever get a chance? 

So what was the final student response to my lunacy, you ask? 

"Ms. Foti, you run funny!"

Can someone please remind me why I do this? 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Humility or humiliation? Part 1

Despite what my friends and colleagues may believe, I embarrass quite easily, particularly when doing something by choice: singing my "best" for Teacher Idol, trying to do the Charlie Brown dance at an anti-drug rally, being a cheerleader for a teacher/student basketball game. Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do when I know it is going to cause me such mental anguish. It never takes long to remember that I do it for the knuckleheads because I love them. [I wish someone had warned me about that nonsense before I started teaching.]

Last October, I got a phone call to participate in a pep rally obstacle course for our Homecoming football game just a few hours before it occurred. Although I jumped on board, I was not prepared with adequate attire for this venture (ya hearin' me, ladies?). But I still got out there and made a fool of myself, throwing a football, running backwards - coming in last! 

I suppose my willingness to act-a-fool is what has roped me back into another pep rally. I have no idea what to expect with tomorrow's obstacle course, but fortunately, I was given a 24-hour notice to prepare myself - and by prepare myself, I mean bring the sports bra! 

Stay turned for all the exciting details of tomorrow's humiliation. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Texas Literacy Initiative: Vocabulary Routine

This year, my school has become part of the Texas Literacy Initiative. This is a grant that helps support literacy efforts from ages 0 -18. The focus for 2013-2014 is vocabulary instruction. Our at-risk students come to school with a significantly lower vocabulary knowledge-base than students from other family backgrounds. If we want out students to make it to college (or simply get by in a future workplace), it is imperative that we find effective ways to provide vocabulary instruction. 

I am serving as a pseudo-instructional coach for my school regarding this grant. I have already had the opportunity to attend professional development with state representatives that I am bringing back to my campus for my students and colleagues.

This week, I incorporated the TLI vocabulary routine into my classroom instruction. In the professional development sessions, the routine seemed extremely time-consuming and very dorky. Boy, was I wrong on both counts. The entire routine took no more than ten minutes, and it only lasted that long because the students were so engrossed in what we were doing. 

I conducted the vocabulary routine with the word gripes to accompany a news article. The first group I completed the lesson with was my Pre-AP students. I thought for sure that my group of 29 was going to hate this activity. Wrong! By the time we finished, one of my girls called me over and said, "Are we going to do more words this way? This was fun!" Out of all my students, she was one of the last I expected to hear this from. 

My favorite experience was with my co-teach class, a combination of special education and academic students. My co-teacher and I struggled to pull in the reigns with this group. Not only were they fully engaged with the routine, but they managed to turn it into a song. My classroom was full of singing, dancing, and clapping. How is that for vocabulary instruction?

I honestly thought most kids would know this word, but a quick show of hands throughout all my classes showed the contradictory. I think it is incredibly important to point that out because we often assume that our students know more than they actually do. I am working hard to break that mindset, and this vocabulary routine has provided me with an entertaining avenue to break through to my students.