Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oh what fun it is to give

Four and a half decades ago, when I was immersed in my college education classes, the fact that teaching was an extremely isolated  job never, ever occurred to me. This reality became clear after the first week of thirty-seven and a half hours spent with adolescents and nary any other adults- except for brief hallway encounters.

With barely time to breathe that first week of school, the introductions to the school staff, the PTA-sponsored food fests and the camaraderie of the teacher work days were relegated to my memory bank. Classrooms forty-three years ago proved that one could be lonely in a crowd. Today, the nature of teaching still can make us feel isolated from our colleagues.Now, though, antidotes for the loneliness of the full-time teacher are found in the plethora of social media sites.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for three, offer
  • opportunities for connecting with teachers around the world
  • insight into issues that affect educators, 
  • places to vent about the frustrations and to share the successes of this most honorable profession, and oh so important in connecting teachers with the world outside of the classroom,
  • treasure chests overflowing with teaching tips, activities and classroom management ideas. 

Two sites that I love give teachers the opportunity to collect lessons that they can use in the classroom.

Academic Help
A few months ago, Nicholas Klacsanzky, the Content Coordinator of AcademicHelp (http://academichelp.net/) contacted me on LinkedIn about this site. It hooked me with its How To content for virtually any type of Academic or non-Academic writing. Classroom teachers as well as tutors will find detailed writing guides and activities to augment their own writing plans. Here is AcademicHelp's site intro-in their own words:

"AcademicHelp.net is a free writing guide with tutoring material on practically any type of academic or non-academic writing task.

Our writing guides and samples cover a variety of life’s spheres where you might face the challenge of having to write a document, a paper, or a reference. All our guides, along with their related samples, are logically organized in sections and subsections. AcademicHelp.net is a free resource aimed at nothing but helping us all become better writers."

Just reading their Table of Contents made my heart palpitate with the What If excitement I experienced when I was still in the teaching trenches and found ways to empower my students to be better writers.

The About Us link (http://academichelp.net/about-us.html) explains that

"AcademicHelp.net is:
  • a completely free resource.
  • a great teacher, with countless guides to teach you how to complete any writing assignment.
  • a collection of hundreds of samples to show you examples of format, style, and the quality that is expected.
  • forum for asking questions about your assignments – answered by our experts.
  • plagiarism checker to make sure that your content is free of accidental plagiarism."
Take a breather, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, or open a bottle of water, and check out their myriad writing ideas. Also, stop back every day for writing updates and not-to-be-missed posts.

Marjan Glavac writes and publishes an amazing FREE newsletter, The Busy Educator Newsletter every week (http://news.thebusyeducator.com/).  This on-line source provides articles focused on specific teaching ideas, issues, stories, technology updates, videos, health-related pieces, and leisure items from around the web that will hook teachers' interests. Another plus is that Mr. Glavac welcomes teachers-yes, you- to share your lesson ideas.
The Busy Educator

Not only is Mr. Glavac a retired teacher and a newsletter publisher, but he is also an author. He is offered two  inspiring reads for teachers.

 How to Thrive and Survive in Your Classroom is on sale for half price until December 31, 2013.
How to Thrive and Survive in Your Classroom book cover
In his book blurb he asks, "Do You Want To Know How To Create Your Ideal Classroom, Motivate Your Students, Maintain Their Attention And Keep Them On Task Without Screaming, Pleading Or Burning Yourself Out?” This marvelous book is a practical guide for everything from setting up a classroom, to time management, to instructional and behavioral techniques. Check it out.

How many times have you thought about writing your teaching memoirs?  I know I have- I even have a title, What I need is the time, energy and inspiration to create an idea outline with the anecdotes I want to include. Here is Mr. Glavac's memoir, Teaching Is: Moments that Inspire and Motivate Teachers to Make a Difference. Need a gift for a colleague, a retired teacher, or yourself? if so, you can find this five-star book on Amazon.com.

This post blossomed from my desire to share these sites that have kept me connected to educational matters, to the classroom and to my teaching colleagues-from my days in the classroom as well as from my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn friends. In this season of giving, I wanted to tell you about these sites, if you haven't found them already. They have kept me inspired, in the education loop, passionate about this profession that I love. Because of these sites and oh, so many more, teachers might be alone in the classroom, but they aren't lonely.

Thank you all, my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn connections and my followers on this site, for giving me the gift of friendship and for sharing your inspiring teaching ideas, your frustrations and your joys.

Seasons Greetings to all of you, and

Happy Teaching,

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

2013 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies - Grades 7-12 Edition

2013 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies  cover
What do grades 7-12 teachers need more than anything these last few weeks before Winter Vacation?
A. Sleep
B. Chocolate
C. Coffee/Tea
D. Teaching Tips and Free Activities
E. Time
F. Some of the Above (Specify)
G. None of the Above
H. All of the Above

I would imagine that the vast majority of teachers would choose: H. All of the Above. Many a year, I remember wishing that when I opened the door of Room 216, the Santa Claus of teachers would have visited the night before and left choices A-D on my desk (With C in a covered, thermal mug).
If this magical event happened, choice D. Teaching Tips and Free Activities would assure me that my December days would be filled with on-task adolescents instead of hyper teens bouncing off the classroom walls in anticipation of a few school-free weeks. And my evenings and weekends?  They would be free for me to complete my holiday Have-To list with smiles instead of frowns.

Knowing that our colleagues still in the trenches needed a quality holiday gift, some TpT sellers organized four Holiday Ebooks and asked for TpT sellers to each contribute a page that included a free activity and a teaching tip. Here is the outstanding 2013 Winter Tips and Freebies Grades 7-12 book, thanks to its awesome editor, Addie Williams.

Whether you need Art, English, Foreign Language (Spanish), Math, Music, Science or Social Studies lessons, you will find them in this 53-page Ebook.  Download this incredible FREEBIE from
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/2013-Winter-Holidays-Tips-and-Freebies-Grades-7-12-Edition-1008261. Although many of the activities are winter and holiday related, teachers can adapt most of the Teaching Tips  for lessons throughout the year. What a bonus that is!

Kudos to the hardworking editors who divided the Ebooks into four grade levels:

Ebook 1    PreK-K    Krissy Minor
Ebook 2    1-2            Hilary Lewis
Ebook 3    3-6            Rachel Lynette
Ebook 4    7-12          Addie Williams

Grade 7-12 teachers, like all of your colleagues leading classrooms, you deserve the gift of time- time for yourself instead of for planning lessons or completing other professional duties.  Do not delay- download  the 2013 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies - Grades 7-12 today  You can find my free activity and teaching tip is on page 13.

And to all: Happy Holidays and Winter Vacation.

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knowledge and Experience have the power…don’t they?

The Huffington Post article, “These 11 Leaders Are Running Education But Have Never Taught,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/education-leaders-never-teachers_n_4235177.html, has grabbed hold of my brain and won’t let go.  For two weeks, the material in this piece has made a home in my subconscious jabbing it a few times a day for kicks and giggles, and invading my dreams during the night just to be perverse.

Although, like Elvis, I have left the school building, any insight or activity that benefits teachers teaching and students learning will always fuel my passion.  The downside of the coin-and everything positive has a flip side, are people who become involved in the world of education for political or monetary gain, or who are on power trips. Any policy that keeps young people from becoming lifelong learners or that doesn’t support the teaching profession just fuels my ire.  The problem with this article is- it does both.

I have an issue with people who have never, ever spent a day trying to motivate, inspire, cajole, manage and discipline a room full of children to jump off the curb and join their teachers on the Learning Path pushing their policies on those who have walked the walk and talked the talk.

About a week into my first teaching job after college, I realized that my professors did an A+ job preparing me in my subject area and in how to plan and create lesson plans, but a C- job in showing me the realities of the classroom.  Why? They had probably never taught below the college level and were theory-smart but reality-lacking.

The eleven headliners mentioned in this article experience the same Ivy Tower vs. Classroom Reality complexity. Most of them hold post-high school degrees, although not in any areas touching on education. All of them are politically savvy, and some of them reside in the financial stratosphere. Like the majority of people in this country, they care about the education of our children-our future. That’s laudable. Education needs all of the support and all of the sincere concern that it can get. Any concepts, perceptions and perspectives that will support teachers, teaching and learning should be considered if children are to succeed academically.

But…but… these directives should not be adopted and pushed on school districts just because their originators and compatriots are a part of the Who I Know Club instead of the What I Know League.
My parents raised me with the understanding that What I Know would prevail.  Even when a comment by the president and CEO of a coal company, the father of one of my best friends, stomach-punched me with the comment, “Oh, Connie, this is a Who you Know world. What you know is secondary-at best,” I refused to bury my belief. Call me naïve, but I have always let knowledge be my guide.

During my career in education, I never strayed from teaching the components of secondary English: literature comprehension, all types of writing, grammar, vocabulary and oral speaking. Did I try to teach history because I have spent years talking with my M.A. in History husband about historical issues? No.  Did I try to teach any area of math? Now that would have been an audacious joke since Math and I have never understood each other.  

The House of Comprehension cover
My writing successes have stemmed from What I Know as well as the hours, days and years that I have spent transposing my thoughts to paper.  Well, this is slightly untrue.  A Virginia politician and a former student’s media-connected sister and her friend have aimed a spotlight at my book, The House of Comprehension, but only after they expressed their beliefs that it had merit.  Now, though, I need to develop an understanding of marketing techniques, if I want that light to shine. Once again, the What I Know, or in this case, what I don’t know but have to learn, comes into play.

Why, then, can people whose college majors, and whose professional lives, though brilliant in many capacities, but who haven’t sat in a classroom since high school be allowed to impact teachers and students so strongly? Why should those who, if at all, have only experienced teaching realities through the work of parents or spouses hold such sway over the careers of those on both sides of the desk? Does their concern about education give them the power to dictate what teachers should teach, as well as how and when they should communicate the material? Shouldn’t the thoughts and opinions of those who have been successful in the classroom trenches year after year after year have more value?

If an interest is all that it takes to be influential, than I should be a surgeon because I love learning about the body, what ails it and what fixes it, and as a child, I spent many a happy hour studying the body and all of the overlays (skeletal, muscular, etc.) in my parents’ encyclopedias. Or, I could be a Supreme Court Judge because I have strong opinions about many subjects that are based in constitutional laws.  Why shouldn’t I start at the top instead of grabbing onto the lowliest rung of the Influencing the Lives of Millions of People ladder as these eleven have done with educational matters?

Why not? Because I would be undermining  the grueling hours of learning to earn the degrees necessary to become a doctor, a judge, a teacher, or anyone whose career depends on the knowledge and understanding of specific material. Mere interest and opinions that could be detrimental instead of beneficial to others should not wield more power. 

Why not? Because I believe that book knowledge + on the job experience are crucial criteria if one’s policies are to affect millions of people.

Why not?  Because I will always stand on the principle that What People Know should always trump Who People Know in decision-making situations.

Is this naïve of me? Yes.

Would I rather the doctor I trust to diagnose my symptoms or the judge passing laws that affect my life have the knowledge, understanding and experience to walk the walk and talk the talk? Yes.

Do I believe that these views that I hold are the realities that we live?

No. And that bothers me.

Until next week,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Literature Review: Tying it All Together

Tying it All Together cover
How can we teachers assess our students' understanding of a work of fiction before an assessment?

How can we teachers prepare our students to confidently analyze an excerpt from a literary work during a standards of learning exam?

How can we teachers empower our students to build durable comprehension homes that will last them for a lifetime? 

We can make sure that we use the building blocks of any short story or novel: the elements of literature.

If they are to withstand the test of time, stories must build durable structures, be they short pieces or novels.To do so, authors use the elements of literature for the framing, the finish work and the decorations. Each student's level of knowledge forms his/her understanding and creates this person's own house of comprehension.

Understanding how the elements of literature create resilient structures empowers students to
Tying it All Together-Character
build sturdy academic homes. I use this principle as the foundation for all of my unit plans and individual literature-based lesson plans.  In fact, I feel that its importance is so crucial to students' learning that I used it for a teaching program that I developed in my book, The House of Comprehension (www.teachitwrite.com).  

This FREE 10-page activity is no exception. It offers teachers 8 activities: one each for Character, Plot, Conflict, Setting, Theme, Symbols, Point of View and Closure. Each activity supports Common Core Standards. Depending on each student's skill, ability and understanding level, teachers may choose to have their charges complete one, some, or all of the activities. When all are completed, students will advance their understanding of each aspect of Bloom's Taxonomy: Remember/Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create. This enables them to develop their higher level thinking skills, a crucial aspect of learning.

Tying it All Together-Symbols
Because the activities are open-ended, teachers can have students who need reinforcement in any of the areas complete any of them after the assessment, or in future literature studies.

Download this FREEBIE from my Teachers pay Teachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Activity-Tying-it-All-Together-975182 and help your students to add some bricks to their academic homes.

How do you promote reading comprehension in your lessons? I would love to hear your ideas. Please share them in the Comment section with links.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lesson Up Express: A Cornucopia of November Narratives

November Narratives
November is a short month, and one that calls for a variety of activities since it includes a highly anticipated vacation. Sometimes I feel like I have just changed the calendar to this, the 11th month, and suddenly, December is upon us. 

This 8-page FREE product offers two detailed lessons and two alternative outlined lesson ideas. Any or all will keep students engaged and motivated, giving teachers breathing room.

Lesson 1: Visualize This: Creating Word Pictures has students creating original names that reveal traits about the people, places, objects and
Visualize This- Creating Word Pictures
ideas that they select. After they finish this, they choose from seven different projects to complete. Time Frame-a few days to a month, depending on how much class time teachers give the students, and whether they will assign lighter homework loads.

A Dinner to Remember
Lesson 2: A Dinner to Remember asks students to choose a quartet of characters from stories that they have studied this school year to join together for dinner. Each guest must bring a food that is representative of some aspect of his/her story. The Host must prepare the entree and two side dishes. After they eat, each character finishes the sentence, "I am thankful for ______.  For a really enticing Presentation Day to accompany this lesson, have each student bring in one of the dishes his/her Host or Guest would bring. After students share their answers, everyone can eat. Time Frame- Students can finish this in 30-40 minutes, leaving time for class discussions.

Lesson 3: Since November is National Novel Writing Month, I offer information and links for this writing project. As most students will not be able to complete the 50,000 word challenge, I suggest alternative word amounts. You can use daily warm-ups or closure time to help students meet the writing goal that you set according to your students' skills and abilities. The link for educators presents excellent help to incorporate this into their classes. Time Frame: one month

Lesson 4: I already offer this activity in my Freebies category: Activity: In Honor of Soldiers-
Veteran's Day Activity
Every One: A Veteran's or Memorial Day Project (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Activity-In-Honor-of-Soldiers-Every-One-A-Veterans-or-Memorial-Day-Project-381681). I include it here to remind teachers that this is a project for May and November. Time Frame- have students choose their book to read by Veteran's Day, but give them until the week before winter break or right after the new year to complete the reading and projects.  You could integrate this reading with the December literature you will be studying if it can have a war/military theme, also. This creates comprehension connections for the students.

Every student has a story to tell. The Lesson Up Express November Narratives give students a chance to do just that. Download this FREE product from http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Activity-Lesson-Up-ExpressNovember-Narratives-958904

Happy Teaching,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Writing College Recommendations: Helpful Hints and Points to Ponder

Writing college recommendations
Although October ushers in the dreaded Flu season, it also heralds the Frazzled Fall Syndrome (FFS). Although any secondary teachers can be affected with this virus, it mostly infects high school instructors-specifically those who lead juniors and seniors.

For teachers of seniors  FFS can hit especially hard since students look to their educators for letters of recommendation that will separate them from the mass of applicants and move their application packets to the acceptance stack. On top of planning, grading, teaching and all of the other professional duties that cause teachers stress, the addition of writing recommendation letters can be daunting. Whether a student has demonstrated superior, above average or average capabilities in the various aspects of their adolescent life, writing a concise and precise letter that addresses the senior’s academic, athletic, extracurricular and community strengths in a way that allows that person to stand out from other equally capable applicants is really stressful. 

When college admission deans are down to the last few finalist folders they must make a crucial decision: Which applications are slipped into the Accept pile and which ones aren't. Even if they have read these letters before, once again the deans turn to the recommendation written by those who know each applicant's academic abilities best- their high school teachers.

To ease this stress I have compiled a packet that will benefit teachers, from veterans who desire another
Recommendation for a superior student
option in their repertoire, to new hires who have never written a recommendation letter.  Topics address: What to Include, Points to Consider, What to Avoid, Letter Format, a Useful List of Adjectives, Nouns and Verb Phrases, and three Sample Letters.These letters show how all of the necessary points can be meshed into a cohesive letter: one each for Superior, Above Average and one for Average students.

My goal is to share my fifteen years of experience writing recommendation letters with you, and, hopefully, ease your qualms when one of your charges pleads, “Could you please, please write me a recommendation letter?” 

Although 99% of the products I include in my blogs are Free, this one costs $3.50. Is it worth the money? Of course I think it is,but so do teachers who have bought this product and rated it 4.0. As you peruse it, consider your valuable time and then check it out in my Teachers pay teachers store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-to-Write-Recommendation-Letters-for-Seniors-Applying-to-College-164973

Happy Letter Writing,

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cliches cause mental rashes

No Cliches
For the love of Pete, make no bones about it, but the use of clichés is making me mad as a hatter. I mean, seriously, we all need to bite the bullet and put our brains in gear before we put our mouths in gear and our fingers to the keyboards. The writing is on the wall: Vapor-lock of the brain occurs when clichés collide with original thought.

I am not going to beat around the bush.  We must vow to put a sock in annoying expressions that are not worth a plug nickel. Now is the time for people to jumpstart unique oral and written expressions by declaring zero tolerance for words, words, words that are beyond the pale. The buck stops with these:

· Hot Mess: The Urban Dictionary’s first definition of this phrase says that it as a situation where, “ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.” Most people seem to follow their third definition, “a derogatory term describing a situation, behavior, appearance, etc. that is disastrously bad,” (http://www.urbandictionary.com).  Examples: “His haircut, her outfit, or, their chilled avocado soup is a hot mess.” Umm, how can a cold soup be a hot mess?  It has become the go-to descriptive phrase, and takes the cake for triteness.

· Forever home: Every human and animal deserves a place of safety filled with love and comfort. I will not demean this serious and heartfelt hope with any worn-out words.  Why, then does every real estate-oriented television show and every piece of mail that I get from animal rescue organizations dilute this most basic necessity with overuse?

· Make it my own. I am at my wits end with this idiotic idiom.  Let’s say that Jack’s job has panned out and he has found a place to call home. Since he is footing the bill, of course he’s going to remodel, redecorate, and renovate it in a way that reflects his tastes- not his bosses, his brother’s or his best bud’s.

·  That’s how I roll. As far as I know, Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives coined this phrase. People should not try to, “Make it their own,” but should coin their own phrase that shows how they live. The phrase has fallen into the Mundane Zone because too many people use it instead of mining their minds for a fresh phrase.

· Be there for me/Has been there for me. I saved this one for last because just typing it makes my hands shake and my head hurt. Besides starting the phrase with it or there and a to be verb which is just weak writing, the people using this expression never tell where there is. Instead, they need to choose a verb that shows not only the action- support- but also the emotion behind the action. Any of these synonyms would be a far, far better choice: encourage, back, assist, sponsor, defend, boost, promote, confirm, verify, validate, substantiate or endorse.

Now is the time to face the music, or this mental rash will coat our brains with banality.

Now is the time to quit wool gathering and to pull out all of the stops to end this epidemic.

Now is the time to put a sock in this week’s post.

Until next week,

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

VanquishStudent Writing Idea Vacuums

Writing Warm-ups: Mental Stretches
Patrick Henry pleaded for liberty in his Liberty or Death speech, John Proctor demanded, “Leave me my name,” in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and contemporary headlines stipulate, “No Negotiation.” Obviously, the voices behind these ultimatums did not suffer from writers’ laryngitis. Unfortunately, in today’s schools and homes, too many students endure this malady because they perceive writing as a chore, a bore, and a punishment.

Watch young children at play. They are imagining, concocting, fantasizing and inventing drama after drama, adventure after adventure, and dialogue after dialogue. Their mental voices as well as their actual ones carry them through their days and their dreams loudly, clearly and without restraint.

Around third grade, teachers and writing standards implement what to write, when to write and how to write, while parents review what and how their offspring have written.  Under siege from all sides of life, children’s writing voices, afflicted with laryngitis, crawl into the beds in their brains. Standardization has bullied their imaginations into submission, allowing this world of possibilities to appear only on demand.

For students, showing writing proficiency on Standards of Learning tests has become the demarcation between loving writing and hating writing. Children who spent their pre-high school years immersed in meeting writing standards now reveal much trepidation about how to write, and even more confusion about what to write.  When I was in the classroom, in each class on the first September school day I would say, “Okay, let’s write for twenty minutes.”

I’d settle into my desk chair, pick up my writing journal and start to fill the page with my thoughts. After about a minute, my skin puckering with that, “I am being watched” sensation, I’d glance up and see about 95% of my students staring at me. When I asked, “Why aren’t you writing?” some brave soul would respond, “Well, what do we write?” as their peers nodded their agreement.  I would smile and chirp, “Whatever you want.” My happiness vanished like a jar of Costco’s Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut clusters in my kitchen when my charges met my words with blank stares.

Sadly, I would nod and stand up. I knew that I was facing another group of writers with their imaginations in foreclosure, their writing voices stilled, and their confidence in expressing their thoughts on paper trashed. They had no idea how to choose an idea to explore because they had always been told what to write. This affliction had to be stopped before their brains turned to microchips and their writing voices all sounded like the Garmin lady, “Turn right at the next intersection.”

Over the years, I devised a few antidotes for the I Hate Writing epidemic.  At the beginning of every school year, I presented them to my students.  On Back to School nights, during Touching Base mini-meetings, and in e-mails I shared them with parents.
1. Just Write! Every day, students should spend a minimum of twenty minutes freeing the ideas,
dreams, and passions clamoring at the walls of their hearts by writing. They should not stop to punctuate a sentence, to check spelling or to mine their brains for that perfect word.  Here the only writing rule that they should follow is the one that Sean Connery’s character, William Forrester, avowed in the movie, Finding Forrester, “First write from the heart, and then from the head.”  In later drafts, they will have chance after chance to write from the head as they find that perfect word, convey an idea more clearly, and develop that generality.  At this point, though, they should not stop the flow of ideas, but just write.
2. Own the Writing! When children are permitted to choose their topics and ideas, they are building ownership because they are learning that their ideas have merit. In high school, I suffered from Idea Insignificance when my teachers owned the topic that I had to respond to instead of me.  What if I had no thoughts about or interest in their topic? Maybe I wanted to write about how Mercutio was so alluring that Shakespeare had to kill him off so he wouldn’t overshadow Romeo. Instead, the teacher demanded my response to why Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers. Talk about a chore, a bore and a punishment!
Every writing session shouldn’t be turned into a lesson, either. When a young person asks, “What do I write about for ___(Insert subject)?” the adult that they are speaking to should respond, “What do you want to write about? When the writing calls for a more analytic topic, such as addressing an idea in literature, instead of dictating the choices, teachers and parents can lead a brainstorming session to show the young writers how to formulate their ideas into viable topics. Writing to prescribed prompts alone stifles ownership.

3. Prowess Leads to Proficiency. As students gain courage in choosing their topics, they will develop writing prowess in what they are saying. This confidence leads to stronger writing skills in how they are expressing themselves.  Now is the time for them to, “Write from the head.” At this point, teachers and parents may to use the response to build skills in basic writing format, grammar and mechanics.  When their hearts and heads join forces on the paper, young authors will achieve writing proficiency.
During conferencing, teachers can deal with issues evident in a student’s writing. When the same issue occurs in a number of papers, they can review and teach or reteach the concept, followed by time for the students to revise their writing in their words. At home, parents can review their young person’s writing by circling any spelling, grammatical or writing issues and discussing them together- but never making the revisions.  By the high school years, teens might not want to share their writing. Parents should make it clear that they respect this autonomy, but that they are available if their young person needs some help or clarification.

4. Read, Read, Read. What does this have to do with writing? Reading forms the building blocks on which writing will flourish. Simply, the more people read, the better they will write because while they are reading, they are deciding what styles they would like to emulate, formulating responses to ideas that they encounter, and opening their minds to thoughts that they want to articulate.

5. Express Yourself! Just like people develop individual fashion sense, they also form their own writing styles. Word choice, sentence structures, and the length of the piece are how they express their writing personalities. This is what is meant by Voice. For example, I have always admired minimalist writers. It amazes me how they can clearly and succinctly paint word pictures in so few sentences.  No one will ever describe my style as minimalist.

Think of this like a verbal “Say It” game that mirrors the “Name That Tune” concept. Some writers can Say it in three paragraphs… others in 33. Some writers create extended metaphors; others choose a specific but terse style. You say, “Tomato,” and I say, “A juicy, crimson orb.” As teachers and parents, we will come across writing voices that might grate on our nerves.  So what? Maybe ours cause the gnashing of teeth. These emotional responses are a reflection of the writer’s Voice.

Will young people turn their writing animosity into a love fest when the adults in their lives utilize these antidotes? Maybe…maybe not.

Will these antidotes cure writing laryngitis? Maybe…maybe not.

Will these antidotes keep students from thinking of writing as a chore, a bore and a punishment?  Quite possibly.

They’re worth a shot,though… aren’t they?

Download this product that will put a stop to Idea Vacuums and that will spark students' desire to write  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Writing-Warmups-Mental-Stretches-19032
What do you do to keep students loving writing? Please share your ideas here.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, October 7, 2013

Introducing: The Novice Tutor E-Book

The Novice Tutor e-book cover
Now that I'm a curriculum developer and not in the classroom, teachers' blogs, sites that offer lesson ideas, and educational insight keep me current about my colleagues' inspirations and needs. Through my continual quest to stay informed about any resource that helps to create lifelong learners, I landed on a website, http://thetutorhouse.blogspot.com/, run by Adrianne Meldrum that grabbed my attention.

Ms. Meldrum, a certified teacher, owns a tutoring business along with this site. Her passion is assisting tutors to succeed in this educational endeavor. She has gathered her wealth of ideas in an E-Book, The Novice Tutor, a cornucopia of material for teachers, tutors and stay-at-home curriculum developers.

When my now adult children were still toddling around the house, I wanted to earn some money to help alleviate my husband’s and my expenses. Not ready to return to the classroom-full or part time- I thought, “Well this is a no-brainer.  I have my Secondary English teaching degree, so I’ll tutor.” Since this was pre-Internet, pre-every-tech-thing, and pre-The Novice Tutor, Ms. Adrianne Meldrum’s very informational e-book, my tutoring scheme crashed and burned.

Knowledgeable about teaching but clueless about business, I created some flyers on my Underwood-Olivetti typewriter and pinned them up in local businesses and schools. Then I made a few phone calls to principals, colleagues and friends. Nothing happened, so I deferred that dream.

Today, if I did that, Ms. Meldrum would quote from page 7 of her book that details the five qualities that successful tutors possess. Her first suggestion comes under her sub-topic Patience. After speaking of the need for this attribute when dealing with children and adults, she refers to the necessity of it in the business world when she says, “Running a business takes patience, too. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race!”
Is Tutoring For Me?

Patience is essential to absolutely any aspect of life, but is crucial when starting and building a business.  The author adds a quartet of virtues, Kind but Firm, Knowledgeable, Being a Life-Long Learner and Self-Starter to her Patience Foundation that together will turn any entrepreneur into a savvy and successful business person.

Meldrum advises fledgling tutors to start with what they know.  Since she has an elementary school degree, when she first began her venture, she chose her strong point-math. She did not stop with that subject, though. Here, and throughout this detailed book, she urges her readers to challenge themselves, like she did- by studying other academic areas to add to their tutoring repertoires. On page 11, she offers an extensive tutoring list by subject area and charges readers to, “Be willing to go out of your comfort zone. You might just surprise yourself and discover a new passion!”

This successful tutor and business owner’s passion for this field is apparent on every one of the 44 pages in this book.  Even when she is discussing dry business topics such as How Much Do I Charge with the subtopics: Experience, Location, Don’t Undervalue and Raising Rates (pages 12-14), and Where Do I Advertise (pages 14-15) her energetic, optimistic tone engages readers.

She allays new tutors’ fears concerning: The Phone is Ringing! What do I ask Parents?, and  I Have a Student, Now What? with details regarding listening, asking, and diplomacy. In these sections she addresses dealing with parents who share their children’s needs as well as their complaints about teachers and developing lessons. Under the last topic, What About the Next Session?, she urges instructors to think outside of the box because students who need extra instruction have probably turned off their learning channels, which now need jump-started into action.

How Do I Grow My Business?
The segment  How Do I Grow My Business? introduces what she calls, The Force, or Social Media. She offers worthwhile suggestions for using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to build name and business recognition. Posting business-related cartoons, funny and inspirational quotes, and showcasing any services in the top row of Pinterest boards are noteworthy and crucial to any business. Most importantly, she details the value of creating a website. “Whether you like it or not, business is done online these days,” she states on page 22. Her links on how to create, build and maintain a site are vital to a novice tutor, or any neophyte business person.

Another section that shows Ms. Meldrum’s respect and understanding for those starting a business is Tutor Resources. What a fount of advice! After speaking about how beginning tutors are probably, “…strapped for cash” on page 23, she offers nine invaluable resources : Public Libraries, Garage Sales, Dollar Stores, Tutor Libraries, Amazon, Teachers pay Teachers, Educents,  Pinterest Boards and My Shop.  This last one explains what goodies tutors can find on Meldrum's site, http://thetutorhouse.blogspot.com/p/shop.html, and in her Teachers pay Teachers store, http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/The-Tutor-House.

Would You Rather task cardsThe last 16 pages before one with directions on accessing a private, Just for Tutors Facebook Group and About Me page-both with even  more important links for tutors-are where Ms. Meldrum shares some engaging  games sure to break the ice with nervous, and often defensive, students.  The Would You Rather… task cards are a sure winner with topics like, “Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino,” and “Would you rather get first dibs or the last laugh?”.

Adrianne Meldrum titles her e-book, The Novice Tutor because she feels that every day is a chance to learn something new. With such a priceless and positive attitude, every reader can rest assured that she is absolutely no novice at tutoring and building a tutoring business.  

If you have always dreamed about starting your own tutoring business but don’t know the first steps to success, download The Novice Tutor: Answers to Your Questions About Running a Successful Tutor Business from http://TheNoviceTutor.com. Before you open this book, be sure to sharpen your pencils. After reading Ms. Meldrum’s advice, you will be able to count on the fact that your students will gain academic confidence, their parents will be satisfied customers and you will be on your way to a successful venture.

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, October 3, 2013

ELA Activities and Assessments :Novel Necessities

Novel Necessities Cover
With all of the demands on you these days, sometimes a few warm-ups for a novel, or a generic list of projects that will fit any text will spark a, “Phew!  I needed that!” respite during a stressful day.  Many school districts ask you to re-test any student who earned less than a on an assessment for comprehension mastery. In these cases, an extra, ready-to-print test will serve the purpose. You may use the three tests in this packet as the main assessment or an alternative one. Let them fit your needs.

The material in these activities offers you a variety of uses. Although the various Warm-Up topics are endemic to the unit specified on the top of each one’s page, you can use them as: warm-ups, for a quick short answer quiz or for a full-length essay. The Individual Novel Projects may be applied to any book-fiction or narrative non-fiction. A few can be adjusted to become group projects, too. At first glance, the Othello projects seem to fit only that play. A closer look, though, reveals that by deleting the names of the characters developed in this play and inserting those of the protagonist, antagonist or any other person from another book, you have ten more project ideas to add to your repertoire.

All you have to do to adapt the Dialogue Writing Project is to once again change the names of the
Individual Novel Projects
characters that students are to use, and adjust Point 3 to fit your book’s philosophical stance.

The FREE material in this packet fits: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Into the Wild, Night, Othello, and The Stranger.

All of the activities enable students to develop their understanding of the elements of literature and to see how these modules intertwine to help them build solid comprehension homes.

Give yourselves some well-deserved Rest and Relaxation time. Download this packet from my Teachers pay Teachers Store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/ELA-Activities-and-AssessmentsNovel-Necessities-908916.

Note:  All of this material is included in my complete unit plan for each book. I created the Night Warm-Ups from the quizzes in the unit.Here, the Individual Novel Projects are for any book, but many of them are included in the unit plan for each book.  There, they are novel-specific. Look in my Novel Ideas custom category in my TpT Store for the complete units.

Happy Teaching,

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's the Idea?

What's the Idea? cover
Texts that are difficult to understand can turn off students to reading and analyzing the fictional and non-fictional pieces that they study in school. They need to push aside their comprehension fear factors and turn their, "I don't understand this; it's too hard," frowns into, "Wow! Now I get it," smiles. 

They can accomplish this by practicing to deconstruct complicated texts so that they can understand them, and, subsequently, the whole piece. In this free activity, students will select a passage that they find difficult to understand.

Teachers will divide the students into groups of four; each person will share his/her confusing passage with the other three group members. The students will read and revise their group members' passages for clarity.

When their original papers are returned, they will choose the revision that they feel best clarifies the passage, and will discuss, in writing, how/why the revision accomplishes this. Finally they will analyze the meaning of the original passage and explain its importance to the whole piece.

Teachers can use this activity again and again to check the development of their students’ comprehension as well as how they utilize their higher level thinking skills orally and in writing.
“What’s the Idea?” reduces students’ fear factor when they read challenging fiction and non-fiction. This Freebie is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy, and includes a detailed “Teachers’ Notes” page.

Download this free activity from http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Language-Arts-Activity-Whats-the-Idea-889395 and say, "Good bye," to reluctant readers. Your students will be fist pumping to, "I read it, I thought about it, I wrote about it and now I get it! YES!"

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Means Should Justify the Ends

Instead of a Lesson Idea this morning, I thought that I' share a few thoughts From My Side of the Desk.

cheating hand-scientificamerican.com
When they are growing up, children hear the adage, “Cheaters Never Win,” echoed from homes, the classrooms, places of worship, and seemingly every mountain top and television set. Each time this adage is reiterated, they nod seriously as if they had never, ever before heard this warning, and share eye rolls with each other while they mouth the words, “Yes they do.” 

From the moment that they learn right from wrong,
·         Children see Aunt Judy, who was instructed by her cardiologist to lose 45 pounds, sneaking that piece of pecan pie she just said, “No,” to at dinner.
·         In the living room, they hear Grandpa Bob chortling about how he just happened to hear the hush hush rumor that XYZ Inc. was ousting their ineffective CEO for the dynamo of Awesome Tech a few days before this news was made public. “I sold the mega-shares of stock I purchased at $11.75 as soon as I got home that afternoon. The price skyrocketed into the three digit range after Super CEO’s first quarter earnings soared and I made a killing.”
·         They see Mom out by the garbage can sneaking a few puffs from that pack of Marlboros  she hid in August when she threw out the  six remaining packs in the carton because she was going to, “… quit for good this time.”
·         They hear their cousins whispering about their football coach who has ‘a guy’ that figured out how to hack into the opposing coach’s headsets during the games so he could hear their planned plays.
·         Through the Internet, social media, newspapers and magazines, they hear and read about celebrity’s cheating hearts, athletes denials about using performance enhancing drugs, illegal drugs, or having prescription addictions, politicians blustering about not accepting gifts from campaign contributors, and school administrators renouncing allegations  that someone(s) at their school changed grades on tests, college admission grades or students’ quarterly grades.
·         They know that Harry writes the definitions to the week’s vocabulary words on a two inch square piece of paper that he sticks to the bottom of his left shoe with packing tape at lunch the day of the quiz, and that
·         Jack was never kicked off the football team, even though all the kids in his junior English class know that Jill wrote every one of his essays (then and now) so he would remain academically eligible his senior year.
·         As for Jill, everyone in hearing range of booming voice knows that she never volunteered at a near-by assisted living home which she wrote so poignantly about in her personal essay for her college application. “Ewue,” she had pronounced repeatedly after her first and only five-minute visit, “It smelled like old people.” The Ivy League college that accepted her never checked.
And so it goes.

Even though they might not understand what Grandpa Bob was talking about or what difference it makes if
Game Over-lemon64.com
some athlete took some ‘vitamins’ to bulk up, they know in their hearts, minds and souls that these actions are wrong, wrong, wrong.  Time and time again, the lessons in their social studies books have revealed the downfalls, disgraces and deaths of many despots who allowed their greed and lust for power to lead them down the End Justifies the Means Road, but see history repeating itself month after month after month.
 And when they question the rightness of any of the above situations, they are told, “You don’t understand the whole situation,”  “It’s complicated,” or, “Oh, goodness, that isn’t any business of ours.” The message is clear- it doesn’t matter how you get to the top of the finance, fame and fortune mountain… just get there.

And so it goes.

Why people act shocked when they hear stories about a cheating scandal in any walk of life is beyond my understanding.  After all, duplicitous deeds have been attached to the underbelly of life, and edging their way into the world’s common knowledge sector since Oog borrowed Moog’s wheel concept idea, smoothed out the rough edges and sold it for millions of Magnon Money and a penthouse cave. Outrage at each new immoral action fuels these stories until it turns to ash and is brushed aside, awaiting the next incident. 

And so it goes.

Instead of wasting the ink and air space on the Whats, we should search out the Whys.  Haven’t researchers done that for many diseases which have been eradicated, such as smallpox and measles? And although progress has been made for lessening the terminal rate of many cancers, scientists are expending their knowledge and energies on finding even more cures instead of questioning its horrific existence.

Can’t we relegate cheating stories to the small print back pages, instead of feigning shock at bold, black headlines that scream about the newest nefarious escapade? We should demand that cheaters show responsibility for their actions and pay their dues. Organizations that stand to lose financial gain, fame and fortune due to these nefarious conducts should accept this reality, too, as should their fan base.

If sports teams are fined for the illegal actions of players and this leads to publicity that could cost the organization millions of dollars in revenue… so be it.

If schools face not making AYP, and need to expend their time and energy turning students into lifelong learners instead of mere test takers… so be it.

If applicants for colleges, jobs, and top secret clearances are denied acceptance because of deception, deceit or fraud…so be it.

No Cheating-girlsbestfriendandcoblog.com
We need to quit excusing those who think that they can buck the system but still retain their glow in the public eye, and demand that they pay the consequences for all immoral and illegal actions.
We need to be willing to see our teams lose, our idols fall off their pedestals, and our schools-from kindergarten through college-face up to uncomfortable situations when students or employees ignore the Honor Code.
We need to teach our children that their school work is their responsibility-that grades lower than perfect are acceptable as long as they honestly tried their very best, and that making the team, the cast, the class presidency or the Honor Roll is something to be earned and not achieved by stepping on their peers, bullying or spreading rumors.

We need to love and accept our children for who they are personally, academically and socially, even if…especially if they don’t measure up to our hopes and dreams, or the accomplishments of the children of our neighbors, family, work colleagues, or anyone else.

We need to do the same for ourselves.

The means should always justify the ends.

Thanks for stopping by. Until next week,
Happy Teaching.