Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Making the Most of Our Life Maps

What Do Your "Maps" Say About You?

Dear Readers,

As soon as I started reading this, I made connections to how I might use similar concepts and ideas with my middle school students. 

"How is your current map impacting your actions and outcomes?" (pg. 6)

Being a Language and Literature teacher I have the incredible opportunity of using literature to teach perspective and empathy. Endless resources are at my fingertips and are constantly changing and updating. 

One concept my students often have a difficult time grasping is perspective. For our purpose, perspective is how an individual reacts to a given situation based on his or her past experiences. I love novels like Lost Boy, Lost Girl or A Long Walk to Water that flip flop between perspectives and characters. We have many discussions on how story elements impact one another, including how the main character(s) responds. 

The same can be true for real life. Each of us has our own unique map that has been shaped by our past. Those experiences influence how we react to others. As we learn and grow, new information integrates into what we already know to be true. 

I explain to my students the importance of gathering information, considering various outlooks and putting all that knowledge together to make informed judgments or decisions. Often when we debate, their initial claim changes or is at least reconsidered as they hear counterarguments. 

"Students and colleagues are constantly picking up cues about your beliefs and expectations." (pg. 10)

A mentor once told me, as I was going through my administrative program, that I will always leave an impression on people. It may be good, bad or neutral, but even the person sitting in the farthest back corner of the room will form an opinion of me. That being said, I can control my actions and words, however cannot control how people react to me. My intention is always to be confident, comfortable in my own skin and transparent. 

In the past, there had been times where I would allow myself to react negatively to other people. As I reflected on that, I realized it was also leaving people with an impression of me, that might not be so positive, when I engaged in the conflict circle or rose to the "bait". 

I use those experiences to talk to my students. I am quite open with them about presenting themselves as they want others to see them. We have had many conversations about negative reactions to social media posts, impulsively saying something about someone or making assumptions about others. In fact, we had a class norm "Some Things Are Better Kept in Your Head". I recall having a conversation with a student that although sometimes we want to say something to our best friend about someone who we feel wronged us, doing it while walking in the hall is neither the time nor the place.

"But you can always control your response to change." (pg. 20)

As someone who embraces change, sometimes it is difficult for me to look through the eyes of someone who does not. I thrive when I am challenged or am taking on new roles. Being a related service provider, I have always had a "revolving door" of students coming in and out of my room. Consequently, it also provided me many opportunities to work with various colleagues. I feel extremely lucky to have worked with so many students and educators over the years.

I remember when I worked at the high school, it was exam week in June and a social studies teacher came to me and said, "I heard you are really easy going." What she meant was, I was someone who would adapt as needed and go with the flow. She wanted me to change proctoring assignments and of course I agreed. 

Change in life is inevitable. It will always be there for good or for worse. The key is how we adapt to it. There are numerous times that I have consulted my students about a change that needed to happen whether it be due dates, schedules, etc. By sharing with them what is happening, discussing impact of those changes and showing them it will work out, I am modeling how to effectively deal with adjustments to what we thought was going to be.

As a young person, I experienced some rather traumatic events in my life. Although I would never wish anyone to go through them, they made me who I am today. I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and we are given what we can handle. As I went through different experiences, I knew that I would come out alright. I had shown myself how resilient I was in the past, so this time would be no different. Whether it be life changing events or daily changes, we are healthier when we can accept them.

"When we know what we should do, and choose not to do it, we damage relationships." (pg. 59)

I have posed this thought to others, "We have to accept people for who they are, not who we expect them to be." When someone has a reaction to another's response, I think he/she needs to look in the mirror and reflect. Am I upset because that individual did not respond the way I think he or she should have? Why am I really upset or angry?

Working with middle schoolers, there priority and mental space revolves around their social world. They are learning how to navigate relationships with family, friends, teachers, teammates, etc. As a trusted adult, I find myself giving them skills and strategies to help them function in these social environments. Sometimes they heed my advice, other times they choose not to, which is absolutely fine. However, I tell them the choices they make can impact friendships, positively or negatively. They have to be prepared for the outcome, whichever way it falls. 

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book! Whether you are a teacher, leader or administrator the skills and strategies will help you reflect on your maps. May you all embark on a wonderful journey!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Hunger Games Comes to #tlap

Hunger Games Inspired Chat

Dear Readers,

The Hunger Games trilogy is never on my shelves, it is constantly being checked out by students. Many of them have read the books and/or seen the movies. In fact, I have found myself referencing the plot or characters consistently throughout my Language and Literature instruction, whether we are discussing character traits (such as President Snow and his need to exert power through control) or government (such as President Snow manipulating fighting among the districts). It has become a pop culture phenomenon.

A task I love to engage students with in 8th grade is to create their Ideal School Environment and the Worst School Environment. The ideal school is always depicted in bright colors, positive words or messages and smiling students. On the other hand, the worst school is usually in grays or blacks, has some kind of reference to a jail (such as bars on the windows) and frowning students. It reminds me of the capital vs. District 12. The images of pop culture transcend into our classrooms and student work.

As we have discussed and studied various types of "power", the students initial reaction is usually to choose the one who exhibits physical power. Then as we discuss different types of power, such as reading, writing, speaking and listening, their thoughts change. It reminded me of President Snow who tries to turn the districts against one another and forces participation in the Hunger Games with the ultimate sacrifice...death. While Katniss led people to a rebellion using the power of problem solving, collaboration, knowledge and words.

I love incorporating music, visuals and different types of media into my instruction. In the past I have used the song and lyrics Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift. We have used the video while playing the song and other times we focus on lyric analysis. 

Other songs from the movie:

Eyes Open (Taylor Swift)

We Remain (Christina Aguilera)

The Hanging Tree  (Jennifer Lawrence)

One of my favorite ways to challenge myself and connect to students is to bring their worlds into learning. I find pop culture, including music and movies, is a fantastic way to do that! It is an added bonus when it ties into literature as well!

I hope you join me for tonight's #tlap chat! The questions are below!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Few Bumps Along the Way

Every Challenge Makes Us Stronger

Dear Readers,

It has been a tough week. My dad's birthday was last Monday and tomorrow is Father's Day. Even though he has been gone for over 11 years now, it is still a difficult month.  I remember meeting a woman once who had lost her daughter to suicide. She said that she gave herself permission to cry and feel sad when she needed it. In the beginning it was daily and over time decreased. Not being one to show my emotions publicly, that has always stayed in the back of my mind. It is normal to have sad moments and let ourselves feel them. I have definitely had my moments this week where I have taken that advice to heart.

I have always believed that people are sent into our lives for a reason. This morning I was putting groceries in the car and someone paid me the nicest compliment. Not long after that, someone gifted me with a random act of kindness. It was like they knew it was a tough weekend for me and I needed a little "pick me up". Isn't it funny how things happen when you need them?

My life has been filled with highs and lows, positives and negatives, traumas and triumphs. However, I believe everything that has happened to me has made me who I am today. I live very much in the present, I try not to dwell in the past, nor do I look too far forward into the future. It allows me to really live in the moment.  In Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, the "I" in PIRATE stands for "Immersion". On page 14 it states, "Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully "be" with your students is an awesome and unmistakably powerful technique." 

Transitions can be difficult for me, including ending the school year and heading into summer. However, fortunately my birthday is at the end of the month and always something to look forward to. Additionally, I have planned a big vacation this summer which is completely uncharacteristic of me, but it is a milestone birthday so why not? I also have work days already incorporated into my schedule. Going into the summer with a plan is essential for me. Especially those first few weeks off.

Some of my students have commented this week that they do not want school to end. I know it is for different reasons. Some like the structure and routine of school, some are very involved in the school environment (music, sports, clubs, friends, etc.) while others face uncertainty. Some see school as a safe haven. It is where they feel cared for, safe and loved.

While we celebrate the end of another fantastic year and look forward to sunny, hot, lazy days, let us not forget those who will be counting down the days to September.

I wish all of my students a relaxing and restful summer. May they all feel safe, cared for and loved. I hope they know how much I will miss them and look forward to seeing them in the fall.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

LAUNCH Day 2017

Put On Your Creative Thinking Caps!

Dear Readers,

After reading LAUNCH, I have implemented a LAUNCH Day at the end of the year. 


I gather boxes and purchase a few materials such as streamers, pool noodles, pipe cleaners and most importantly DUCT TAPE! I also scrounge up items I already have in the classroom such as stickers, plastic cups, tissue paper, markers, pencils, construction paper and wrapping paper.


Day 1 (L-A-U-N)

  • Getting into pre-determined groups.
  • Each group had a piece of chart paper.
  • (Modified "L") Think about something we have a need for in the classroom or something that would be fun to have for next year. (Jot down ideas and then share out.)
  • (Modified "A") Think about what materials you would need. How can you make something sturdy enough to be mobile and last through next school year?
  • (Modified "U") Open yours boxes, look at materials and think about what materials could you use to create something?
  • (Modified "N") Choose an idea and sketch a prototype!

Reflection: The students got in their groups and came up with both realistic and unrealistic ideas. Some of them looked around the room to see what we needed, while others were focused on what they wanted. They shared ideas and collaboration seemed to be going well. I heard some students offer their perspective to other ideas and why something may or may not work. Many wanted to start building before planning out the prototype. It was hard for some not to skip to the creating.

Day 2 (C)

  • (Modified "C") Today was really all about creating. The final ideas were a "materials" holder that would attach to the side of the desks, a pencil dispenser and a basketball hoop.
  • Students were trying out the different materials to see what worked and what didn't.

Reflection: Most of the groups appeared to be having fun. I saw a lot of smiles and heard a lot of laughter. I was picking up all kinds of scraps that had been discarded. Students were working together with minimal disagreements. I began to notice who was jumping right in and trying things out and who was sitting back and letting the others take the lead. I also noticed who was trying to look as though they were contributing, but upon closer examination were not really as collaborative as they seemed.

Day 3 (H)

  • (Modified "H") Definitely had some project fatigue today.
  • "Materials" Holder fell off the desk during the night. That was probably the biggest set-back. The students had a prototype that needed to be improved. They had to rethink purpose and function. 
  • Basketball Hoop: They ran out of duct tape. They had to problem solve using yarn and pipe cleaners. They also had to improve on their "hoop" as it was ripping when they threw the basketball in.
  • Pencil Dispenser: They had to figure out how to get the pencils to slide down because there was a hole in the box they were getting stuck on.

Reflection: Students definitely "hit a wall" when we started class today. They were frustrated for different reasons (as stated above) and I noticed communication started to break down. In one group, a student took over the lead, but was not allowing others to participate. In another group, one student kept trying to improve the product, but the rest of the group was just watching. In another group, two students were working on the product while two others were chatting. I went around and used the term project fatigue and explained exactly what I was observing. 


  • The basketball hoop was functional. I even brought out a whiteboard so they could keep score.
  • Material Holders were created for four tables. Instead of hanging off the side, they are created to sit on the table. They even have a pool noddle to hold pencils (stick right through Styrofoam) or a plastic cup.
  • The Pencil Dispenser is functional. As students take pencils, more fall through.

Student Reflections:

  • Overall, they seemed to agree the "C" (creating) was one of the easier steps. Some also thought the "L" (listen, look, learn) was easy because they came up with ideas.
  • On the other hand, most agreed the "H" was the most challenging. They thought trying to improve on their products after the initial "building" posed many obstacles.
  • About 50% of the group enjoyed the task and proceeding through the LAUNCH Cycle, while others were wishy washy about their feelings.
  • A few said they would like to try it again, however would like to choose their own groups.

Final Reflection

  • I was able to tell liked the freedom of being handed a box with little direction, while others struggled not knowing exactly what to do.
  • I saw natural leaders in the group who dove right in, I saw collaborative group members who jumped in to help and I saw some who were more observers than participants.
  • I was able to witness collaborative skills and strategies by listening to how they responded to one another. I was also able to hear how they disagreed with one another, whether it was respectful or not.
  • I watched them deal with set backs in an optimistic and growth minded way, while others seemed to sit back appearing to give up.
  • I saw some of them push through the project fatigue and seeing it as a way to improve and grow.

May all you find that creative spark this summer!


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Building Our Writing Lives as a Classroom Community

We Are All Authors!

Dear Readers,

I often hear, "I stink at writing," from my 7th graders. In fact I have heard it several times this past week as we were finishing up a writing piece. I had an interesting conversation with a student. He said to me, "When I take a test I feel confident that I did well. But when I write, I always think I did bad." I responded, "I am the exact opposite. When I write I am confident I did well, but when I take tests I am not sure."

Many of our students see themselves as readers, but not necessarily writers. In the same respect, I would argue that many adults also see themselves as readers before writers. It is rare that a student will choose writing as a preferred activity, however many love to curl up in the book corner with independent reading books or browsing books.

If I want my students to see themselves as writers, I need to share my writing life with them as well. I have spent the past few years really focusing on writing instruction and looking at it through a different lens. Traditionally, my students see writing as "essays" or "research" papers. I have tried to break the mold with different skills and strategies. 

Writing Is......

Communication with One Another: 
Whether it be a letter, a message of the day or a welcome to visitors.

Portable Word Walls:
We have mobile word walls of themes, character traits and transition words. The students have the freedom to get them out and use them as they need them. 

Stationary Word Walls:
Depending on our writing piece and where we are in the writing process, our word walls change. Sometimes they are content specific to Language & Literature, while other times they are vocabulary specific to the theme or big idea we are studying.

Often I will have students sketch ideas instead of traditional writing. For example, when we watch a video clip, listen to a song or what we are visualizing when listening to a read aloud such as a text excerpt. I also incorporate Sketchnotes into my instruction instead of traditional anchor charts.

Creative Control:
Students need a place that they have designed to write in, organize and own. I give little direction on how to maintain their writer's notebooks.

I use post-it notes as tabs in my notebooks. I tape mini-anchor charts, rubrics, examples, etc. into the notebook. I have a note section, reflection section and reading log section. I model how to draft, cross out (not erase), revise or edit. I also tell them the messier the better! The more thinking that is happening!

Mission Statements:
Writing a mission statement was not an easy task. I had to jot down ideas about myself, think about my passions, consider what is important to me in order to come up with this sentence. It was critical I had the words believe, dream, imagine, learner and positive influence.

"Language & Literature Manipulatives":
We used chart paper for the story arc, index cards to collect vocabulary, a "trunk" for artifacts, books for research/ideas, post-it notes for events/emotions/senses/etc. and lots of room to be messy!

Incorporating pop Culture into Our Lessons

Believe it or not, I used the concept of The Walking Dead to kick off our informational writing unit. We did song analysis from Wicked. Taking what students know and incorporating their lives into our classrooms increases engagement and is more authentic.

In Conclusion

Those are a few of the ways I have incorporated different genres of writing into our classroom. 

A few resources I would highly recommend include......

I would also add to this list, Feedback That Moves Writers Forward by Patty McGee.

Happy writing!