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Making Connections

Like all reading teachers across the state, I am being challenged to prepare for a test that has new components.  One thing that will be new for students will be an audio portion of text that they will have to listen to. They will not have text to follow along with but will be required to answer questions related to what is being read aloud.

To help my students, I have built listening activities into my weekly lessons.  A great resource that another teacher initially found was NPR.  She and I have begun printing scripts from interviews that involve topics our students are interested in and having students write short-response answers as they listen.

I stumbled across another section of NPR’s website that I had to share with you!

If you are a teacher, I strongly encourage you to visit the link for Teenage Diaries Revisited.

In 1996, NPR gave out audio recorders to various teenagers who then turned around and documented part of their lives.  The stories they tell are heartbreaking and so easy for today’s teens to relate to.

As I listened to Frankie’s Diary, I began crafting questions for my students to answer as they listened.  We have been working on citing evidence, so this was a great assignment to reinforce newly-acquired skills.

Frankie was a young man, seventeen at the time he recorded his story, who was living in Alabama.  He told about how he didn’t fit in until he joined the football team…about he he wore Levis to school but Wranglers at home…just so he wouldn’t be made fun of.  He talked about the car his father bought him.

Then, he told the story of how his father was nabbed by the FBI for a sixteen-year-old crime he was falsely convicted of.

Folks, Part 1 was sixteen minutes long.

You would have thought it was fewer than five, the way my students sat in rapt attention.

They laughed at parts, and they swayed to the music that played.

Then, things turned serious.

You should have seen my kids writing afterward.  You could have heard a pin drop in what is usually a loud classroom.



I brought their responses home to grade and Oh.  My.  Gosh.

Here is what the assignment looked like on my Smartboard…just so you’ll see the questions I asked…

The stories my students told in response to question number one absolutely broke my heart.

I pride myself on knowing my students well.

Um, yeah.

I learned more about them with this one question than nine weeks of instructional time.

I wish I could give you details, but I don’t want to get in trouble for sharing things I’m not supposed to.

Just trust me.  The stories you hear on TV about what kids are going through…they are not exaggerations.

Students who NEVER participate willingly in classroom discussions shared very personal things.

Question number two allowed me glimpses into the empathy my young charges have for others.

You know that I’ve had a difficult time this year with my attitude and stress level.

Reading my students’ responses brought a joy to my heart and reminded me how privileged I am to impact young minds.

Another Turn at the Hodgepodge

This week’s Hodgepodge, courtesy of our fantastic hostess, Joyce, has a decidedly autumn feel now that we’re knee deep into October.  Fun times are just around the corner with the first holiday quickly approaching!  Let’s get on with the questions!

1.  Elizabeth Lawrence is quoted as saying, ‘Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.” So have you done just that? And what did you leave undone in order to do so?

I am starting to do just that!  I think I’ve found a new system that works for me as far as lesson planning goes.  As you guys are aware, I spend upwards of ten to fifteen hours each week on my lesson plans.  This is not time I spend at school because of all of the things that manage to encroach into what the district has termed my “planning period.”  Ahem.

In the last two weeks, I’ve discovered that if I stay up until midnight a couple of weeknights, I can get my plans finished and have everything copied before the weekend.  Then, the only thing I do is grade reading logs when I get home on Friday, enter the grades, and send out progress reports and classroom updates.

Although I have many more things I could be doing, I’m choosing not to.

I actually sat on my porch on Sunday and took in a few rays while the dogs enjoyed the fresh air with me.

I care not that other things on my never-ending to-do list aren’t getting done in my typical overachiever way.

Those things are getting taken care of…eventually.

This girl needs time to rest.

2.  Since we’re talking turning…what’s one thing you feel you’re doing ‘every time you turn around‘?

I feel as though I’m constantly picking off dog hair from everything!!!  My dogs shed big time, and the hair is everywhere!  Ugh!!!!

3.  How hard is it for you to ‘turn the other cheek?’

It depends on who’s doing the insulting.  I can, at times, have a quick temper and will lash out in self defense; however, there are a lot of times when I don’t speak up for myself and allow people to walk all over me.

I’m starting to develop a backbone though.


4.  When did you last turn a drawer, your car, a room, or your entire house upside down looking for something? Did you find it?

I recently began hunting for my Shiver series, a wonderful trilogy that I know I had in my classroom.  The entire box is missing, and I cannot, for the life of me, remember where it is!  I have a feeling I loaned it to someone.  Why else would the ENTIRE box be missing?  Still, I turned over everything and looked in every corner for this set.  I still have not found it.  Ugh.

5.  ‘One good turn deserves another‘…were you most recently on the giving or receiving end of that sentiment?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend picked me up and gave me a ride to school.  My car was in the shop, and she works with me.  She lives across the street from me, so it’s very convenient.  To pay her back after two days of bumming rides, I treated her to Starbucks on the way to school.  When we pulled up to the window, we were informed that the car in front of us had paid for our order!!!  We were shocked, to say the least.  The guy told us that the car in front of that car had paid for the one in front of ours.  Naturally, I paid for the car behind us.  I never got a receipt, and to this day, I have no idea if I spent $50 or $5.  What a fun thing to be a part of and a special feeling to know that someone cared enough about me to pay for me!!

6.  Red, yellow, and orange are the colors of fall. Also the colors of fruit. If you were permitted only one color of fruit in your diet, which would you choose? This question isn’t as easy as it sounds, at least not for me.

I’m going with orange because I love oranges and cantaloupes.

7.  The Hunt for Red October, October Sky, Halloween…which ‘October‘ film is your favorite?

I’ll go with The Hunt for Red October.  I read the book when I was a teenager, and the movie is a bit of a classic for me.  I love a good spy film!

8.  My Random Thought

I’m still thinking about Question #1.  Working on lessons during the week is leading to productive weekends.

Puppy pedicures…

Black bean soup…homemade…


And naps (well, I always indulge in these!)…

Creating Margins

I recently finished a devotion series about creating margins in your life.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that you put boundaries around yourself so you can have time to relax and recharge.

This is something I have not done well…or at all…since I began working on my college degree in 2006.  I’ve pretty much worked non-stop.

All work and not as much play have taken their toll on me, and I am finally recognizing the need to plan better and slow down.

It’s challenging because teaching does not allow for much free time.  I get paid for 7.5 hours of work each day.

This is laughable.

I work between ten and twelve hours a day and still cannot get everything done.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m beginning to prioritize.

Lesson plans always come first followed by things with deadlines (my IPDP is due on the 24th…I’m done already).  The rest of the things on my to-do list come last.

Lesson planning is hard for me.  I’m very meticulous and try to envision how the lessons will come across to my students.  Planning for ninety-minute class periods, five days a week, is a lot of work.  I cannot imagine how elementary teachers plan for entire days with multiple subjects to cover each day!

I’ve begun working on my lesson plans on weeknights and try to finish before the weekend.  This is allowing me to create a buffer of two days during which I do not allow myself to do ANYTHING work-related.

It’s been refreshing to come home and just be

I’ve managed to do some knitting in the middle of the week…after my lesson plans have been finished…

I even made a healthy dinner, although I’ll admit that it was my second choice, eaten only AFTER my local Mexican restaurant totally screwed up my phone-in order and added cheese to my bean burritos.  This happens frequently…and they had the nerve to charge me even when I went back to get a refund.  I’ll be the unpleasant person raising a ruckus later today…

Friday afternoon, I got my nails done after school (before I headed home to grade my last set of reading logs and head to the football game)…

Go ahead and be jealous of my bejeweled nails…

Relaxing, though, is tough.  It’s hard to catch up on rest when you constantly deny yourself the pleasure of sleeping.  Evidence of this manifested itself at the game when I heard an announcement over the PA system that someone had lost their keys and a sheriff’s deputy could be seen about it.

I decided to do a look-see to make sure I had mine.

Of course I didn’t.

The keys were mine, and I’d had no clue…less than eight minutes before the end of the game.

God is good, is He not?

I’m slowly learning the importance of saying no to things.

I don’t feel badly for not taking on additional responsibilities such as club sponsorships at school.

I know myself well and don’t think I can manage anything else.

Being self-aware is a good thing, I think.

I may change my mind when I get to work and take another look at my to-do list…

Maeva Socks

Thanks to the Harry Potter Knit/Crochet forum that I participate in on Ravelry, I haven’t completely given up on my yarn fun, despite being so busy with school responsibilities.

My latest creation is my pair of Maeva Socks, which is the first of three planned pairs for this term’s OWL.

These took me just over a month to complete because I only managed to find time on the weekends…usually on Sundays.  I did take advantage of Fall Break and knit two of my four days off, finishing up that Monday.

I used Malabrigo yarn I purchased a few months ago and knit with size 0 needles.  For those of you non-knitting peeps, they are itsy bitsy needles.

The pattern wasn’t really all that difficult, but it did require a bit of concentration because of the cables.  Honestly, I probably could have finished these in a couple of weeks if I’d had less distractions…such as work.


I’m pretty happy with the final product.  They fit well and are warm.  I’m sure I’ll begin wearing them soon with fall weather upon us and the temperatures slowly growing cooler.

A Grumpy Hodgepodge

Hola all!  I didn’t participate in last week’s Hodgepodge because I was so darned tired from work that putting more than two coherent words together proved too difficult.  I’m still tired, so I ask for your forgiveness ahead of time if my answers seem off.

Thanks, Joyce, for being the hostess with the most-ess.  :)

1.  What’s your favorite time of day? Why?

I love late night because it’s when I finally get to decompress from a long day…when everyone is asleep…when I get some of my best ideas.  Sure wish I could sleep in late every day to compensate!!

2.  Waffle iron, toaster, coffee maker, mixer, blender…which small appliance would you say most needs replacing in your house?

I don’t own a waffle iron, and the other appliances listed above are in great shape.  Now, if we were naming big appliances, I’d definitely have an answer…my refrigerator!  It’s making a horrible humming noise that a repair guy thought he had fixed.  He didn’t.  We suspect that the compressor is going bad, but we don’t have the funds to buy a new one yet.  Maybe in a year.  We shall see.

3.  It’s National Grouch Day (October 15)…what’s something that makes you feel grouchy?

At the moment, it’s the administrative responsibilities of my job.  I absolutely love being with my students, even on trying days, but trying to keep up with the ever-growing list of duties that don’t directly impact my students is going to push me over the edge.

Teachers are expected to accomplish TOO MUCH for the time allotted in our work day, making it nearly impossible to have home lives that don’t include work.

I’m completely frustrated because I feel myself burning out already, and this has kept me grouchy since school began.

4.  Ever been to Canada? Is that a country you’d like to visit? According to Trip Advisor, the top ten best destinations in Canada are-Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Victoria, Calgary, Niagara on the Lake, Niagara Falls, Whistler, and Halifax. Which city would you most like to see?

I have been to Canada and am proud to say I was born in Newfoundland, although I don’t remember that part of the country.  I visited Quebec when I was a teenager and four years ago visited Victoria while on an Alaskan cruise.  I’ve gotta say that I loved Victoria.  It’s so metropolitan!!  I was amazed by the tall buildings.  It also had at least one yarn store!  :)

Oh, and I almost forgot that I visited Niagra Falls…the Canadian side…when I was a teenager.  Loved it so much and have never forgotten the experience!!  Last week, my students read a fluency passage about a brother and sister who went over the falls in the 60’s and lived!  I got to share my personal story about visiting.  My students were amazed at the fluency story and just, in general, what they learned.

Who says reading has to be boring!

5.  What was your favorite food (or one of your favorites) when you were a child? Is that still a favorite?

I loved pork chops with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and broccoli with cheese sauce.

I don’t eat meat now but still love things with mushrooms in them.  I adore mashed potatoes and have learned to make them without milk or butter (go me!).  Broccoli is still a favorite vegetable too, minus the cheese.

6.  Do you cry easily?

Did you read my answer for #3?


I cry a lot.

I suspect my hormones, at the age of 44 1/2, are partly to blame as well.

I cry when I’m overwhelmed and overtired.

I’ve been both since August.


7.  Have you started your (gasp!) Christmas shopping? If so when, and how much? If not, when will you even begin thinking about it?

Once again, I refer you to Exhibit 3…I mean Question 3.

No, I haven’t started shopping, although I do have an idea for my sister.  The Mr. does most of our shopping, so whenever he gets started, it happens…usually after Thanksgiving.  I have no idea how much he spends.  Terrible, eh?  I’m an easy kind of gal who just goes with the flow as far as gifting things goes.

8.  My Random Thought

We just finished our Fall Break, and what a wonderful respite it was!!

I managed to have all of my most pressing work finished by Friday evening, so I relaxed the rest of the weekend.

I did a lot of this…

I ran much-needed errands…

So that we would have a full pantry…

I even managed to cook a hot meal for the guys…

I spent a lot of quality time with my babies, who were shocked at four days in a row of sleeping in…

The weather wasn’t all rainy…

Getting up yesterday morning at O’Dark 30 was not fun…

The silver lining is that I only have to wait 38 days until we leave for our Thanksgiving cruise.  The entire family is going, so I’ll have a blissful week of being able to talk to my Chicky whenever I want…and she won’t be able to run far from me (I know she’s thrilled at the prospect…LOL).

How a Teacher Enjoys Fall Break

My poor blog.

It has really been suffering of late.

This school year is kicking my butt along with that of every teacher I know.

That’s one reason why I am incredibly thankful that my district is enjoying Fall Break.  It began yesterday.

I’m sure that I’m like many teachers, though, because the thought of four days in a row of not running to meetings makes me think of time I have to catch up on work responsibilities…uninterrupted.

So, that is how I started my break.

We have this thing called an IPDP (Individual Professional Development Plan) that we have to complete yearly as part of our evaluation process.  The purpose is to identify students in our classes who share common weaknesses.  We drill down our groups to subsets according to various criteria and then use these students as a control group to target specialized instruction.  Such instruction is supposed to improve our teaching practices by requiring us to do research into the selected strategies we are going to use to improve learning.  We reflect several times during the year as we analyze assessments related to our chosen groups.

Creating an IPDP is a lengthy, time-consuming task, let me tell you.  It’s also one of the components of our VAM scores that we can control, so it’s imperative that we do everything possible to get highly effective.  There are too many factors affecting students when they take State-mandated exams in the spring, so their test scores are kind of out of our control, which can drive our VAM scores down.  VAM scores determine if we get pay increases and have to do other things to improve performance in our classes.

So, it was with the goal of writing my IPDP that I began my first day of Fall Break.

Fun, eh?

I spent a couple of hours on it and then took a break to meet my friend, Cinda, at Starbucks.  I first met her four years ago when she was assigned as my mentor, later discovering that she attends my church.  We became fast friends, and she has often provided a shoulder to cry on when days go awry.  She’s been assigned to three different schools this year, so I don’t get to see her often.  We correspond through email and text messages and on Sundays when I see her at church.

Meeting up at Starbucks and chatting for a couple of hours was a balm to my stressed out soul.  She has an energy that everyone soaks up.  She’s one of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met.

Before we parted ways, she surprised me with the the following teacher treasures…

The bags are for a Book-in-a-Bag book report project.  The clear sleeves are going to prove very useful when I have handouts I want to reuse from one class period to the next.  The book is for my reading pleasure and to add to my classroom library.

When I got home, I got back to work on my IPDP, finished extrapolating data, and had a couple of paragraphs written before taking another break to meet my Small Group at a local Mexican restaurant for dinner.

Many of us are teachers, so it was a time to connect, talk about common concerns, and lift each other in the Lord.

I love them.

The Mr. and I got home after 9pm, and…you guessed it…I began working on my IPDP again, determined to finish before I went to bed.

I did…at 10:30!

Talk about excited!

I’m working with another teacher who shares many of the same students with me, so I’m going to have her read over everything, put in her thoughts, and then finalize it early next week.

As soon as I finished, I put my school bag in the car (I had completed my lesson plans by making myself work nine hours over two evenings this past week), determined not to pull it out until I arrive at school on Tuesday…

This is one teacher who is officially on Fall Break, and I intend to enjoy every moment!

Turning Things Around

I almost titled this post “Why I Love ClassDojo” but decided that the above title was even more fitting today.

I’ve had a good week and a half in my classroom, and I believe one of the biggest reasons has to do with my implementation of ClassDojo, a behavior management tool that is internet-based and FREE!

I spoke of it a bit during last week’s Hodgepodge post, but after Friday’s talk with my second period class, I thought I’d post more details.

The way ClassDojo works is you set up your classes, add students, and create positive and negative classroom behaviors.  You decide how many points get added and deducted.  For ease of use, I accepted the default of one point per behavior.

After demonstrating with students, we began the strategy in earnest.

Students were fascinated with the sounds that both behaviors made when I awarded them.

At first, things were chaotic as students argued with me or with each other (when negative points were awarded).

Soon, though, something magical happened.

I observed how students began helping each other…and noticing.  Of course, they were quick to point those times out to me so I could give them points.

It’s evolved to the point where they know who and what a negative sound is for, and they give each other the “What For” look.


You’ve just got to love it!

I had to laugh yesterday when one of my girls, who had my permission to come late to class from Guidance, tried to enter the room.  One of my guys wouldn’t let her in.  When I admonished him, he said, “I was waiting for you to give us points for being on time before she came in…that way you couldn’t take them away.”

You see, I award the entire class (one point per student present) points for arriving to class on time.  If even one student is late, they do not get points.  It a huge chunk of points at one time, let me tell you, but well worth it.  The number of tardies in my classes has dropped significantly!

For the record, that student did let her in, and the class was given its points.

One of the neatest conversations happened yesterday during with my first class when, between class sessions (we have two 45-minute sessions per group of students), we began looking at their points and some of the reports available.

We began analyzing each week, reflecting on things that had changed.

This class had -4 points the first week we began doing this.

That hurt…especially because they could see other classes’ point totals.

They worked hard that next week and brought their total up to 99 points. They were pleased.

On Friday, they were up to 284!!!

They sat up straighter in their chairs.

This is not an exaggeration.

I wish you could have seen the look in their eyes.

They were proud of themselves.

I told them that we still have work to do, and how I could have taken away more points; however, I’d noticed how respectful they had gotten when I had been asking them to stop talking during class.

Students had been apologizing, and I could see the sincerity in their eyes.

To me, that was worth NOT taking points away.

That’s what I said to them, almost verbatim.

They nodded their heads in understanding.

I then explained that I sensed a growing respect between us.  They agreed as well.

Then, I asked if there was anything they thought I had done to help them improve their behavior.

They told me that I’d eased up the tension…in how I carried myself…and that they weren’t feeding off of that any more.

Talk about powerful…and humbling!

This is a group that is tough, let me tell you, but taking the time to get to know them, give them space when they need it, and hold them accountable through write-ups (yes, I have had to write some up for tardies and a couple of classroom issues) has made them realize that we are in this for the long haul, that I am going to be consistent, and that I am able to forgive their infractions and move on.  It’s what I hope they will do for me, for I admit that I am not perfect.  :)

We still have a ways to go, but turning a corner has been the highlight of my week with these kiddos.  The mutual respect and genuine desire to do a good job reminds me that kids do care and do want to be acknowledged and appreciated for even the smallest thing such as sharing a pencil.


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