Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Semester Memories

at Two Writing Teachers!
This week is exam week for my students, and it's fun to see how far they've come during our short not-quite-a-semester together.  (We still have about 2 weeks of the semester after break, but exams are this week instead of right after break.)  I'm pretty pleased with the exams I created, which are full of authentic tasks in all four language areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

As we think about all we've learned (because I've definitely been learning at least as much as they have!), I'm amazed by how much we've really done.  Students who weren't able to choose a book anywhere near their level are now self-selecting "just right" books. Students who didn't know what the plot diagram was (oh yes, that's the size of the gaps my high school ELLs have!) are able to independently read a short story and identify all the major narrative elements. Students who declared "I can't write" are utilizing a variety of prewriting techniques, drafting, and revising.

Unfortunately, I've been so busy that I haven't had time to document the everyday small successes that lead us here.  I'm going to capture a few of my favorites today, before time makes them fade hazily away:

I started putting up an "Idiom of the Week", which we discuss on Monday and try to use during the week.  This lead to two of my favorite little moments:

  • The first week we did the Idiom of the Week, my Advanced class begged me to let them play "boys vs. girls" during a game of Jeopardy. They did some friendly trash-talking as we got ready to play.  We play in groups, and each student has a whiteboard so they can write answers and ideas to share with each other so the other group doesn't hear. (And of course, to make sure that everyone is thinking about the answer!)  As soon I passed out the whiteboards, one of the girls wrote "Girls will win!" and held it up toward the boys' table.  In response, one of the boys wrote "Put your money where your mouth is!" -- our idiom of the week!  Awesome.  (Ever since, that idiom has been kind of a "thing" in that class.)
  • Now that they know what an idiom is, several students in several classes have approached me to point out new idioms in their independent reading books!
Before I started this job, one of the things I most looked forward to was making connections with my students by sharing and responding to our writing.  And this really has been one of my favorite parts of the job!
  • My beginner students and I write to each other on "dialogue calendars" twice a week.  Most of them have really been having some great conversations with me on paper.  For example, one of my band girls has been asking all about the OSU marching band and my band experiences.
  • Last week, I had my intermediate students do a timed writing about a special friend.  So many of their stories were incredibly poignant, describing friends who were like brothers or sisters to them, many of whom live far away in the students' home countries.  I had tears in my eyes as I wrote comments to them about my own special friends who now live far away.  
  • Earlier this year, my intermediate and advanced students tried out Kate Messner's place description exercise.  With the short, focused bursts of timed prewriting, they produced a wealth of rich, descriptive details unlike anything I'd seen them write before.  The next day, before I had them respond to each other's writing, we practiced making specific, positive comments about my own paragraph.  One girl said, "I like the beginning because it sounds like something a poet would say."
And while I'm certainly not "The Book Whisperer" by any means, some of my non-readers are beginning to develop into readers!  
  • M, who surprised the other kids by checking out Origami Yoda on one of the first days of school, has been devouring the entire Bone series... even when he doesn't have to be reading!  During our resource study center, he often spends most of the class period reading now! This morning, during the speaking part of the exam, he talked about how his feelings about reading have changed because he reads more now than he used to.
  • Last time we did a Friday reflection, one of my other boys wrote that he learned "that a book is just like watching tv": 
(He's really into Stormbreaker right now!)
What are your favorite little victories so far this year?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

virtual hugs

Ever since I started blogging, I've been amazed at the power that blogging has to build connections between people.  Last week, I discovered a new type of connection when Valerie gave me the "Liebster" award.
I love the heart on the badge!  It feels just like a virtual hug!
When I Googled the Liebster to find out more about it, I found lots of different versions with myriad variations.  However, they all seemed to agree on a few important points:

  • You can give it to blogs who have less than 200 followers.  
  • The name comes from the German "Liebe", which means love.  (That's my favorite part!) 
  • You have to post some fun facts about yourself.  (From what I saw, the number varies from 5 to 11!)  In some versions, you also have to post questions for other people.
  • You have to pass it on to some other blogs that you love. (Again, the number varies widely!)

Since I don't exactly have copious free time right now, I'm going to go for the light end of the rules. So, here are my answers to 5 of the questions Valerie wrote for me:

  • Favorite book: A Tale of Two Cities... or The Velveteen Rabbit... or In the Time of the Butterflies... or Make Way for Ducklings... or To Kill a Mockingbird... or... well, I can't really choose just one book!
  • Friday evening ritual: Blog in Spanish for Spanish Friday if I can, then out to dinner with Husband, come back and relax to some recorded TV shows.
  • Heels or sneakers: SNEAKERS!!! (Although I call them "tennies".)  Definitely.  I hate dressing up and would wear sweats and tennies every single day if I could!  I hate wearing heels and have a very hard time finding shoes to teach in, partially because I have weird feet.
  • Morning person or night owl: Night owl, if I had my choice.  I HATE mornings.  And I really, really like to sleep.  Since I have to get up so early for school, I'm actually neither because I go to bed early in a somewhat futile attempt to make the morning more bearable!
  • A person I admire: my mom.  She has so much energy and is so passionate about helping her students.  (She's a high school principal.)  She's also really positive and loves to have fun.  People think she's way younger than she is because that's how she lives.

And here are my 5 nominees, a few blogs that I LOVE! (Remember, "Liebster" comes from "Liebe"!)  I think it would be nice to share WHY I love each blog:

  • Dana at She Writes Because (I love the way she shares celebrations of student learning.)
  • Deb at Coffee With Chloe (I love the way her blog shows her passion for her students.)
  • Elsie at Elsie Tries Writing (I love her unique descriptions of life and her ability to transform ANYTHING into a magically delightful writing topic.)
  • Linda at TeacherDance (I love her honesty, wisdom, and the caring she shows through her comments.)
  • Christy at Living (I love her deep reflections that always leave me thinking.)

Finally, here are 5 questions I'd love to know about my nominees (and anyone else who wants to answer them!)

  1. Favorite book(s)?
  2. Dream vacation?
  3. Favorite thing about teaching?
  4. Most memorable moment with a student?
  5. Favorite quotation?

It's so much fun getting to know each other through all of these "slices" of our lives.  I'm glad you all are with me on this crazy journey of teaching!  (Some days, I don't know how I'd do it without it!)

Even if you think little blog "awards" are silly, I hope you think of it as a virtual hug. We certainly all could use more hugs!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

true love

at Two Writing Teachers!
Husband is the best husband in the world.  I know some of you may beg to differ, but he is.  At least, he's the best husband for me!  (And I'm so happy for you if you've found your own best!)

Reason # billion:  He loves me even when I am stressed out, and he knows what to do about it.  He puts dinner in the crockpot.  He picks up dinner on the way home.  He lets me ramble crazily and he lets me sit silently.  He lets me work-work-work on schoolwork... and he lets me curl up on the couch and do nothing.

AND he does adorable things to make me happy, like:

This note in my lunch box yesterday:
Did I mention he often PACKS MY LUNCH?!  <3
and this greeting me when I came home from school today:
Last night I couldn't find my stuffed Christmas moose, Evergreen.
Husband found him for me this morning and set him up like this on the stairs!
Grin. Giggle. Back muscles loosen as stress goes flying away...

Love. <3

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In their shoes

at Two Writing Teachers!
Yesterday, in the midst of shortened classes after an IEP meeting that followed a two-hour delay due to a bomb threat (oh yes, there were so many stories I could have written yesterday!), I got a little reminder of what life is really like for my students and their families.

note: if I'm talking with my student or her parents, it's happening in Spanish. 

V. (one of my Spanish-speaking Beginner students) comes up to me during Resource (supported study center) with a problem: "Before Thanksgiving, the lunch lady said I owe $9 and some change, but we applied for free lunch."

It's 5th period and lunch starts in about 40 minutes, so we'd better get this taken care of. "Umm, do you want to go to the office and see what the problem is?  I'll come with you." V. and I walk down to the office, but when we get there, none of the assistant principals are in their offices.

Hesitantly, I stick my head into the principal's office. "My student is supposed to be on free lunch but she says the lunch ladies told her she owes $9..."

"I've got it, come on over here..." Before the principal can give much of an answer, his secretary, (who's basically the "mom" of everyone in the building) interrupts.  We scurry over to her office and she clicks and types and eventually says that she'll go with us to talk to the lunch ladies.

When we get to the lunch room, she marches straight behind the lines and starts explaining the situation to the head of the cafeteria staff.  "Hmmm, let's see how she rings up on our computers," the lady says, motioning for V. to punch in her lunch number.  To our surprise, V. rings up regular price.  "Well, that's why she's being charged!"  The lady scrolls around for a few minutes and discovers something interesting: "I see, she was free lunch until Nov. 12 and then it changed to full price.  That's right about the day there was an audit.  Did her parents get some paperwork at home?"

I translate, and V. says maybe.  I explain that they don't speak any English, so they wouldn't have known what to do with it if they did get it!  The cafeteria lady tells us that about 10% of the free lunch families were selected to be audited.  We can find out if V.'s family was one of them by calling someone at Central Office.  If so, her parents will need to prove that their income is low enough to qualify for the program. "She can be on free lunch until it gets sorted out."  Back to the office.

As the secretary dials, I look at the clock and realize that lunch is about to start!  I send V. back to the classroom so she won't be late too lunch, and I stay to wait for the call to go through. "I'll let you know when I find something out!"

After a few minutes and a lot of name-spelling, we verify that V.'s family is one of the audited families. "If they're on food stamps, they can give us the food stamp number.  If not, they'll have to send in copies of their pay stubs.  Can you call and explain that in Spanish?"  Alright, need to look up how to say "audit", "food stamps", and "pay stub"...

I race back to my room, grab my lunch, and scurry to the workroom.  Almost 20 minutes of lunch left, that's not too bad!  I wash my hands, take a few bites of my peanut butter sandwich, and take a few deep breaths.

That's when sharp, fast knocks rap on the workroom door.

Since I'm sitting at the end of the table, I get up to answer the door, but somehow I know it's V. before I even open it.  Her face is flushed, her hair is flying in her face, and her words are tumbling out in rapid-fire Spanish.  "My parents are here and they don't know who to ask for and they can't talk to anybody..." I follow her down the hallway, telling her not to worry.  She must have called them on the way to lunch and asked them to come.

Now that I know what information we need, I fill V. in on what the Central Office lady said. "Do you know if you get food stamps to buy food?" (Obviously, I didn't have a chance to look up "food stamps", so I make up something that seems like it could be right...)  "No... we go to a church that gives us food."  Hmm, I wonder if they should be on food stamps?  Seems like they should if they're going to a food pantry. Maybe they don't know about them?  I should find out if they're eligible.

As we round the corner into the back part of the office, I can see a small Hispanic man and lady sitting nervously on the couches in the waiting area.  They look frightened and lost.  Their faces light up when V. says "She speaks Spanish!"  We start to chat, and V. interrupts. "Do I have to stay, or can I go back to lunch?"  "Oh yeah, go back to lunch!" I grin at her, and start to explain the situation to her parents, with plenty of circumlocution.

"The government has chosen some families to verify if they qualify for food stamps.  Did you get a letter from the government?"  They start rummaging through piles of papers they brought, pulling out school newsletters, permission forms, district information... "No.... no... no.... look, it doesn't really matter if you have the letter, don't worry.  You just need to prove how much money you make.  Do you get food stamps to buy food?  No?  Ok, then you'll need to bring in a copy of... umm, the paper you get from your job that says how much money you make."  "The paycheck?"  "Oh yes, um, your copy of the paycheck, the part that says how much money you make.  Do you both have a job?  You'll both need to bring in the paper so we can see how much money you make.  You can send them in with V.  Is that ok?  Ok."

I notice that tears are threatening to spill out of the mom's eyes, and I remember that she told me she's undocumented.  Not only are they overwhelmed by the school and the system and their inability to communicate with anyone, but they're probably scared to death that any situation like this could lead to deportation.  "Don't worry, it's ok, they just want to check to see how much money you make, and probably V. will still get to be on free lunch.  It's just that the government chose some random families to verify."

Their shoulders and eyes relax a little, and suddenly they're shoving the rest of the papers they brought at me.   "Could you tell us what this one says too?"  "Oh, that's to tell you that V. qualifies for a special program for students who have trouble reading, to help her improve her reading skills.  Sign it down here to say that you want her to participate in this special reading program."  "Can she bring this back too?"  "Oh yes, that's fine, she can bring it back. You don't have to mail it."

"Oh and what was that phone call we got this morning?  We understood two hours, but we didn't get the rest..."  "Oh, umm, the principals received..." Man, I can't remember the word for threat! "... a message that someone was going to put a bomb in one of the schools.  So we had to wait for two hours so the police could come and check all the schools to be sure there wasn't a bomb.  But there's no bomb, don't worry!"

"Can we come back here to you if we get more papers like this that we don't understand?"  "Oh yes, of course!  Please come here when you need help, or you can call me!"  "Oh thank you, teacher! Who should we ask for?  We didn't know who to ask for today and nobody knew what teacher we wanted."  Ugh.  Poor things.  The front office should have known to get me or the bilingual aide. I'll have to talk to them.  I grab a piece of paper from the secretaries' desk and write my name, my voicemail number, and the Spanish bilingual aide's name.  "If you come here, you can ask for me or this other teacher who speaks Spanish.  Or you can call this number and leave me a message."  "Oh ok, teacher, thank you so much."  I grin.  So that's why V. always calls me "teacher": now I know where she gets it from!  "On your way out, make sure you sign out at the desk where you got your visitor badges!"  About 5 minutes of lunch left.  Good thing it's the crazy late start schedule so I have my plan period next so I can eat!

I treasure every glimpse I get into my students' lives, and I'm glad I got this reminder of what they and their families deal with every day.  What would it be like to navigate an unfamiliar world in a completely unknown language?  Some of the parents know far less English than their kids, since they don't have the advantage of going to school!  What can we do to help them?

Friday, November 16, 2012

¿Qué es el amor?

at Latinaish!
¡Vaya!  Hace muchas semanas que no he participado en Spanish Friday!  Me alegro que por fin puedo volver a escribir en español.

Sólo llevo tres meses enseñado el inglés, y ya echo de menos el español.  Me encanta enseñar el inglés como segunda idioma, pero a veces extraño los días de mostrarles el mundo a mis estudiantes: de traer Pan de Muertos y hacer viajes imaginarios a los países hispanohablantes.

Pero de todos modos, todavía utilizo mi español en este trabajo nuevo, aunque en una manera distinta.  A mis estudiantes hispanos les encanta hablar en español conmigo, y a veces ellos necesitan hacerlo.  Y a veces, ellos me recuerdan que no sólo están en busca de un futuro mejor, sino también en busca de sis mismos.

-- ¡Maestra! -- V. me está señalando con la mano.  (Siempre me llama Maestra, en vez de Mrs. M.) -- Tengo una pregunta. --

-- Sí...--

-- ¿Qué es el amor? --

-- ¿En inglés? -- V. no tiene poco inglés y muchas veces traduzco para ella.

-- No...en español. -- Sus ojos grandes y tranquilos me miran como los de un cervato. -- ¿Qué es? --

-- eh, pues... -- ¿Qué es el amor? ¿en mi segunda idioma? -- Pues, el amor es... cuando tienes mucho cariño para alguien...y, eh... (Pienso en su novio, un chico que a veces se comporta con algo de machismo.) -- Pues, el amor es... cuando quieres que la otra persona siempre esté feliz.  Sólo quieres lo mejor para la otra persona. Éste es el amor verdadero, cuando todo lo que quieres es la felicidad de la otra persona.

-- ah. -- V. se fija sus ojos en los míos y se asienta con la cabeza. -- Gracias. --

(¡Creo que le di una respuesta bastante bien, para una pregunta así, inesperada, en mi segunda idioma!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Strong Schools Matter

at Two Writing Teachers!
Since our levy failed last year, my district is back on the ballot again this year. Another Tuesday of knots in my stomach and blood thumping through my body more powerfully than usual.  Another Tuesday of waiting and hoping.

This year, the committee of parents and staff members committed to passing the levy decided to collect stories about the impact our schools have made on people's lives.  They posted the stories to Facebook and their website, created videos, and even organized Twitter chats so current and former students could share what our district has meant to them.

I attended our district K-12 and know that I would not be who I am today without the amazing experiences I had in our schools.  Even though I've still been swamped with work lately, I knew I could not pass up the opportunity to share my story, so I dropped everything Friday evening and sat down to write.  But could I make a difference?  Would anyone even read it?

Within a few hours, more than 60 people (some of my colleagues, some of my former teachers, and some strangers!) had liked my post on Facebook.  My mom called me to say that her staff members were telling her about how good my post was, and she said that it brought tears to her eyes.  My writing had moved people!  It was just like slicing!

Since it's Tuesday, I'd love to share it with all of you:

My husband makes fun of the fact that I can name every teacher I had K-12, and he laughs at the childlike adoration with which I still talk about them.  But he didn’t attend Dublin City Schools.  He didn’t have the thousands (perhaps millions) of unique, memorable learning opportunities that I had.

In first grade, Dr. Wright had a cardboard spaceship that we could read in during our space unit.  In LEAP, Mrs. Lytle helped us embrace our creativity and stretch our brains with thematic units like a simulation of ancient Japan. She also taught us the most important lesson that a perfectionistic gifted kid can learn: “I am lovable and capable.” During middle school, I lived for the fun goofiness of Mr. Prosser’s Funky Rubber Chickens (Odyssey of the Mind) but also embraced the serious skill-building of Power of the Pen.  And even as athletically challenged as I am, the opportunity to try out middle school track taught me to overcome my fears by running hurdles… even though I was only 4’10”!

I can’t even begin to list all of the amazing learning experiences I experienced at Coffman High School.  From building a model house with real circuits in Ms. Milanovich’s physics class to traveling to Boston to make American Lit and AP US History come alive, my classes were full of authentic, real-world learning.  The fantastic Spanish program enabled me to score a 5 on the AP test, ultimately allowing me to jump directly into 400-level Spanish courses at Ohio State.  And nothing taught me more about persistence, hard work, collaboration, and striving for excellence than being in the Coffman Marching Band under Dr. Keller. 
While these incredible experiences certainly made a huge difference in my learning, the best part of Dublin City Schools was knowing that my teachers cared about me.  In third grade, Dr. Kumpf let me spend my indoor recesses using my inventions (like the “Sankey Staple Pick-up and Bucket”) to help her.  When my reading level surpassed all the books available at Scottish Corners, I was allowed to miss class to go into the hallway and talk about reading with an older student who was also a voracious reader.  At Sells, Ms. Ward went out of her way to nurture my interest in Native Americans, like the time she let me help her tan deer hides in the traditional way during Indian Day at Highbanks Metro Park.  After our last contest my senior year, gruff Dr. Keller choked up while telling us that our score was just 0.3 points away from our class goal of surpassing the highest score in DCHSMB history.  As we stood around him in the dark parking lot, we all knew that he cared about us just as much as we had wanted to do well for him. 
If I really wanted to describe each moment in my educational experience that had this type of impact on me, I’d end up writing a book.  Instead, I’ll just say that being a student in Dublin City Schools changed my life.  Because of Dublin City Schools, I was able to excel academically in so many different subjects that I had trouble deciding what I wanted to be.  I became a National Merit Finalist and got a full scholarship to the only university I ever wanted to attend: Ohio State.  After the engaging and challenging learning opportunities I had K-12, most of my college courses seemed boring and easy.  When I made The Ohio State University Marching Band in a regular spot, the rigorous practices were just a natural continuation of my marching band experience at Coffman.  (Honestly, the band’s rehearsal discipline seemed a little lax to me!)

All around me, I saw students from other school districts who struggled with the workload in their classes and were not prepared for the marching and musical demands of the marching band.  I started to feel pride fill my chest when I told people that I was from Dublin, because I discovered that they knew what that meant.  No matter where they were from, my fellow band members and classmates had heard of Dublin.  They knew it was a district of academic excellence and a cradle of future TBDBITLers.  When I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, one of my Dublin Coffman classmates was right beside me.  I realized that growing up in Dublin was a gift that had a profound impact on my future. Now, as a Dublin teacher, I strive every day to give my students that same gift: to provide them with unique, challenging learning experiences and show them that I care. 
Please vote YES on Issue 48 for my students, because Dublin City Schools can change their lives. That’s what it did for me.
(cross-posted at the Dublin Good Schools Committee) 
Now it's just time to wait.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Africa

at Two Writing Teachers!
Those tests are nestled tight in my magenta accordion folder, waiting to be graded.  I can hear them calling to me from the layers of polka-dot file folders that are enveloped by the bright outer plastic.

But the sun is shining.  And this story has been calling to me too.  It's been calling for seven weeks now, patiently tumbling around inside my head.  Some days it just whispers, but on Tuesdays it pokes and prods and screams.

So today, I spread open the drapes, settle onto the bed, and take a few deep glances out the window.  Slanting sunlight on the slanting roof, green leaves still obscuring the orange and red ones across the street.  I breathe in the world.  Time to write...

It's Friday afternoon of the first week of school and my advanced class is halfway through their country sharing.  A Mexican-American boy and girl have just finished a spontaneous joint sharing session because, coincidentally, they both brought images of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  After a spirited discussion about Mexico, Mary, Catholicism, and religions, the usual between-presentations chaos fills the room for a minute: whispering, giggling, squirming.

W. gets up and touches the SMARTboard to make a star on the map for where he's from.  The star lands on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"What did you bring to share?"  I prompt him.
"I have a map of Africa."
Uh oh, kinda missed the point.  There's not much to share about a map.  My brain starts spinning with guiding questions.  "What do you want to tell us about Africa?"

"In Africa, life is very hard."  His rich, musical accent is a soft but deep rumble through the room.  I lean forward to try to decipher the words through the accent.

"What'd he say?" I'm not the only one who's having a little trouble.  A few giggles scatter through the room.  They aren't mean giggles.  The kids are just hyped up from the liveliness of the last presentation and it's hard not to be filled with a kind of curious delight as you listen to the rhythm of his voice.

"He said life is hard there.  Why is it hard, W.?"

"In Africa, many people can't get a job.  There is not enough food.  Sometimes you only eat 1 meal a day."  The room is still now.  No whispering, no squirming, definitely no giggling.  "That's why many people want to come to America."  W. shuffles around in front of the room and scratches his head.

Time for one of those guiding questions my brain was working on earlier.  "What was school like in your country?  What do you think of our schools here?"

W. grins and nods.  "Oh, America schools is so good.  They give you books to study."

"So in your country, you didn't have books at school?"

"If you pay, you can have a book.  But books is expensive and so many people cannot pay to have a book.  Here, it's easy to study because everyone can have a book."  Now the kids are leaning forward, eyes shining with interest.  "And school language is French, but at home we speak Lingala."

A hand shoots up off to my left.  "Wait, so you speak TWO languages?!"
"3 -- don't forget English!" I add.

W's bright white teeth light up his face.  "I speak four languages: Lingala and French, also Swahili and [he makes some clicking noises]."  Whoa. I've never actually met someone who spoke one of those clicking languages. So cool.  

"That's 5 -- don't forget English!"  I grin at him.  He shrugs as if he's not so sure if he should count English just yet.

The astonishment and admiration swirling inside me are mirrored on the faces of the other students.
"No way!"  "5 languages!"  "That's so cool!"

More hands shoot up. "What do you eat in your country?"  He mentions a few special dishes and then, "We eat dog and cat.  Here nobody would eat it but it's so good."

"Dog and cat?"  "You actually like it?"  "Does it taste like chicken?"

"Oh yes, cat is sweeter than chicken. I wish I could go back to my country just to eat cat!"

Nobody says "eww" or "gross".  Their heads are full of new thoughts: eating only once a day, having to buy textbooks, and speaking five languages.  And yes, eating cat.

New thoughts make minds grow.  Growing minds make a community.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How do you do it?

at Two Writing Teachers!
Ok superteachers, how do you do it?

You craft amazing lessons.  You love your students and inspire them to grow in incredible ways.

You learn from your colleagues and they learn from you.  And you become friends with them!

You read teaching books.  You read young-adult and children's books to share with your students.  You blog.  You tweet. You write for your students.  And sometimes, you even read and write just for yourselves!

AND you have lives! You go on walks.  You go on bike rides.  You go on trips.  You play with dogs.  You take care of children.  You exercise.  You cook.

I assume that you also sleep at some point.

Just one question: HOW?

There are not enough hours in the day.  Right now, I go to school when it's dark and come home 11 hours later, when it's getting dark again.  Sometimes, I do more work when I get home.  Then I go to bed.  (A reasonable amount of sleep is non-negotiable for me.  Maybe that's my problem?)

I know: I have 3 new preps in a new subject at a new school with a new age level.  It will get better.

But I could use a dose of your super-ness.  Any tips?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sometimes it's worth it.

at Two Writing Teachers!
Chook.  I look over to see one of my students snapping a picture of the SMARTboard with his phone.  Cute.

"Lo puedo grabar?" (Can I record it?) asks another, grabbing her phone. Didn't expect that! 
"Sure!" I grin and sit back.

A few are in our school's marching band.  Some have never even seen a marching band.  I don't think any of them have been to an OSU football game.  Some haven't been to an American football game.

I watch and listen to them watching and listening.

Wide eyes.  Wiggly bodies.  Pointing arms.

"Where is it going to make the Ohio?"

"No look, there's four of them, all over!"

"We did like this last week for Homecoming!"  (Once a year, our town's high school bands have always done a simplified version, with our town's name instead of Ohio.)

"WHOA, that is so cool, how do you guys go through each other like that?"

"Oh yeah, look, they have to go through each other right there!"

"Isn't it hard to march like that while you're playing?"

"Who's taking the video?"

"Sweet, look, I see how it's making Ohio!"

"Aw, they separated you and your husband?"

"How did you guys ever learn how to do that?"

"You guys practiced that a lot, right?"

"3:30 in the morning?!"

"How come the guy who makes the dot is so special?"

"WHOA look at the 4 Ohios!"

"Wow, how many people are in that stadium?"

Sometimes it's worth it to take five minutes of class time to weave the threads of a connection that will last all year.  Just like sometimes it's worth it to practice even when you're too tired, to get up at 3:30 in the morning, and to cram another thing into your already busy schedule.

Tradition is worth it.  Pride is worth it.  Connections are worth it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where I'm From

at Two Writing Teachers!
This Saturday is the annual Alumni Band Reunion, where over 500 alumni will come back to march on the field at Ohio Stadium "just one more time".  It's a week full of fun, friends, and LOTS of hard work... just like my 5 years in TBDBITL!

Unfortunately, right now that means squeezing marching practice, full band rehearsals, and music memorization into my already overcrowded-with-schoolwork schedule.  (Sorry kids, you're going to have to wait just a little longer than usual to get those assignments back!)

However, I just couldn't miss out on writing this week!  Last week, my Intermediate and Advanced student wrote their own "Where I'm From" poems, modeled after the original by George Ella Lyon. As I try to do with any major assignment, I wrote my own first and shared my writing process with them as we worked through the process in class.

We got our brains going with a 3 minute freewrite on "home" and then expanded to lists, since that's how George Ella Lyon said her poem took shape.
Students: "How long did that take you?!"  Me: "About 45 min. I just got going..."
I think I need to write a few more poems, because there were so many things I wanted to write about that just didn't fit into the poem!  Maybe I'll write a new one each year?  :-)

Anyway, here's what I ended up with:

"Where I'm From" (based on the original poem by George Ella Lyon)

I am from bicycles,
from Legos and fuzzy stuffed friends.
I am from balancing on fallen logs.
(My muddy pink shoes
following Daddy's huge footsteps.)
I am from cherry trees
filling flaky pies,
portulaca who slept and awakened 
like faithful friends.

I'm from raspberries and neon bows,
from Ann, Wade, and Joshie Dave.
I'm from the engineers
and the poem-keepers,
from "Be a Marine" and "Hum a little, Marion."
I'm from How Great Thou Art,
soaring handbells and squirming choirs
and Silent Night with glowing candles aloft.

I'm from the Oval and the Shoe,
simmering spaghetti sauce and steaming Nani Soup.
From my Grandaddy's shuffling limp, a bullet
buried in his spine,
to the coiled fawn on my brother's grave.

Smiles shine out of thick blue albums,
bookshelves boast tattered storytime edges.
A puzzle piece of crinkly eyes,
Sweet Pea with a swinging golden braid.
Warm hugs and laughter light my path.

It was a blast sharing my writing with my students, and they did an amazing job with their poems.  I hope to share some of their special lines with you soon!  (Like, after I make it through this week!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do you like kids like us?

at Two Writing Teachers!
I finally feel like a normal person today!  School is finally becoming slightly less of a whirlwind and I no longer have to work non-stop until 9pm just to get ready for the next day.  I even cooked a real dinner tonight, for possibly the first time in several weeks!   (To be clear, a "real dinner" means that I managed to throw some prepared chicken in the oven and heat up some Ready Rice... as opposed to just heating up leftovers, dipping out a crockpot meal that Husband started in the morning, or having him pick up Chinese on the way home.  I didn't say I was a cook!)

Anyway, the first two weeks of school have been AMAZING, in addition to tiring.  Here are some of my favorite snapshots:

  • My mom came to my school after one of the teacher workdays and brought me this awesome care package!  She is so proud of me for getting this new position! (And so excited that I'm teaching high school now: after all, she is a high school principal.)  It's full of all kinds of useful school supplies and I feel like I'm getting a hug from her whenever I use one of them.
My mom is awesome!
  • On the first day, after my usual "about me" talk, I let the students ask me whatever they want.  One girl, who had told me earlier that she doesn't like little kids, asked if I like little kids.  (I do!)  Then a boy (who I have since learned is one of the sweetest high school boys you could possibly work with) raised his hand and asked, "Do you like kids like us?"  (Of course I do!)  That simple question took my breath away.  After all, isn't that what all kids want (and need) to know on the first day of school?!  Do you like kids like us?  Sadly, my predecessor in this position apparently did not, especially boys of his ethnicity.  I hope I show them every day that I do.
  • On the first Friday, the school I now work at played the school I graduated from in football!  It was surreal and a blast, and the kids got a kick out of asking me who I was rooting for.  (My new school, of course!)
  • I found out that one of my sophomores had a baby last year.  Wow.  And she is such a hard worker!  I don't know how she does it, and I admire her persistence a lot.
  • After we talked about choosing a "just right" book and I recommended a few books to them, many students were excited to check out books.  In the afternoon, I mentioned that some of my highest recommendations were already checked out by some of my morning students.  I didn't expect this reaction: "M. checked out a book?!"  "Are you serious? He doesn't check out books!"  "Yeah, M. doesn't read!"  All the hours I spent organizing the mess of books into bins, buying new books so the kids will have high-quality books for choice reading, and making cute book bin labels are already paying off.  (By the way, the book was Origami Yoda.)
  • I always have my students bring in a special object from their country's culture and share with us about their country.  I was pleasantly surprised by the amount and quality of questions that students asked in all classes.  (I had planned to make each group come up with a question for each person, but I didn't even have to tell them to!)  Moreover, in my afternoon class the sharing turned into the most amazing discussions! (I hope to write more about this another day.)  It was awesome to see the students genuinely interested in each other's countries and valuing each other's cultures.
  • I've already had an amazing time writing for my students and sharing my writing with them.  This is one of the things I was most excited about in this new position, and it's as wonderful as I had hoped!
  • To top it all off, we have a gorgeous view from the classroom window and we had incredible visitors in 3rd period today!  It was a great chance to crowd around the window, let nature seep into our souls, and have a quick discussion about how writers have to be good "noticers"!
a mid-morning surprise!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


at Two Writing Teachers!
The school year has started!  Today we had the "first teacher day": quotation marks because I've been in and out of school for weeks, as I know many of you have!

For me, today was an exciting and crazy whirlwind of a day: new building, new position, new age level, new colleagues... My head is spinning.  

A few recurring thoughts from the day:
  • High schools are BIG.  Really big!
  • What was it I wanted to ask?
  • Oh, I met that person earlier... (Insert their name OR what they teach, but never both!
  • Umm, ok... need to find out what that is...
  • Oh dear, I need to add that to my never-ending to-do list!
This was my brain today...
As overwhelming as everything is at this point, I've found some really nice people to latch onto for help.  I discovered I know a few more people in this building than I thought I would.  And everyone keeps telling me how excited they are to have me and how they love my smile, which makes me feel like they're hugging me with words.

I think it will be a good year.  (Everyone keeps telling me this too, which is kind of nice but also somewhat unnerving, as if they're convincing themselves and me.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing; at least they are trying to be positive!)

Friday, August 17, 2012

El acueducto (viaje, p.3)

at Latinaish.com

 El segundo día de nuestro  viaje a España, fuimos a Segovia.  Lo he visitado cuatro veces, y me parece más encantador cada vez.  Y cada vez, el acueducto me impresiona como si lo no hubiera visto nunca.

El acueducto.  De repente el autobús (de la nueva estación RENFE, muy conveniente) giró a la izquierda y alcanzamos a verlo, justo allí, cuesta arriba.  Ancho y alto, con el cielo tan azul a fondo de sus arcos perfectos.  Dos mil años de historia.  Me saltaron lagrimitas porque de veras, Esposo y yo estuvimos aquí.  Juntos.  En medio de mi pueblo favorito de todo España, ¡de todo el mundo! Segovia, al otro lado del mundo que nuestro hogar, pero siempre tan cerquita en mi corazón.
¡la primera foto que saqué... lo siento que no es muy buena, pero estuve tan emocionada!
Casi corrimos a su base.  - ¡Lo podemos tocar! - exclamó Esposo con reverencia.  Me reí de él... pero lo tocamos.  Y me puso piel de gallina.  Dos mil años antes, los romanos tocaron esos bloques mientras levantaban el acueducto.  ¡Y ahora los estuvimos tocando nosotros! 

- Podría gastar todo el día sacando fotos del acueducto desde distintos puntos de vista - le dije después de más de una hora caminando de un lado de acueducto a otro.
Sé que la leyenda cuenta que el diablo se lo levantó, pero ¡me parece más bien un trabajo de ángeles!
Casi no es posible creer que los romanos construyeran algo así hace dos mil años.
¡Nuestro punto de vista desde la mesa a la hora de comer!
¡y cenamos con una vista bonita también!
Me parece más bonito cada vez que lo veo.
No queríamos partirnos nunca de este sitio tan bello... pero tomamos el último tren a Madrid. ¡Hasta luego, acueducto!  (Sí, regresamos un día de estos...)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Still a New Teacher

at Two Writing Teachers!
Earlier this summer, I ran across a book on the floor of the computer room: Letters to a New Teacher.  Someone gave it to me before my first year of teaching, and being a new teacher, I promptly shoved it aside in the midst of my new-teacher-frenzy.  It got thrown in a box when we moved to our current house, and there it sat until taking up residence on the floor as Husband works on unpacking the remaining boxes.  (No, we did NOT just move, and no, I will not admit how long we've been in this house...)

image: Amazon.com
Because it was summer and I "had time", I started flipping through pages, expecting it to be cheesy.  An hour later, I was wishing Jim Burke could be MY mentor!*  Through Jim's deep reflections on his teaching, it was obvious that he truly lives the life of a reader and writer all the time.  (His letters are filled with bits of poems and experiences from his writing life, as well as from his classroom!)  He is the kind of educator I want to be: passionate about student learning, caring about students' lives, and continually reflective.

Joy, the first-year teacher, was asking all of the deepest questions I still wrestle with after five years of teaching!  Not to mention the fact that they're both English teachers, and I really will be a new English teacher this year in my new ELL position.  The authentic, heartfelt dialogue between the two (while the book is made mostly of Jim's letters, Joy's questions and a few of her letters are sprinkled throughout) was inspiring, poignant, and encouraging.  I think Husband had to go pick up dinner as I fell into Joy and Jim's world!  After all, it is my world...

As I read, the book really made me reflect on my own teaching life: how far I've come, yet how I still feel Joy's questions every day; how needy I still am of a mentor like Jim.  Maybe I will find one this year in my new school?

Of course, really I'm lucky because I have LOTS of mentors: all of you, my slicing friends!  Over the past year, you have inspired me, encouraged me, and made me feel as if I'm not alone... sometimes without even knowing it!  You couldn't come into my room, observe my classes or talk to me.  But your words spoke to me.  Your ideas called me to stretch myself. Your comments gave me advice or encouragement or just touched a place in my heart that had been yearning for someone to understand.

And it's largely because of all of you that I've finally committed to an idea that's been rattling around in my head for a while: I joined Twitter!  Right when I joined, I got a big rush of enthusiasm because I could follow so many of my slicing friends!  (In fact, Diana sent me a direct message right away, which I didn't even know how to do but it was really fun!)  Posting my first tweet still brought the same sweaty hands and heavy stomach that I had when I wrote my first blog post... but excitement quickly took over because I already "knew" people.

I've only been on for a few days, but I can already see that it's a lot like the slicing community (except waaaay bigger and, um, scarier!): full of enthusiastic, positive teachers who love to share ideas!  Several people (they must be the Lindas of Twitter!) reached out to me and helped me find hashtags to follow, which really made me feel welcome.  It's still kind of overwhelming (which is why I had put off joining...) but it's also invigorating.  Oddly, it's comforting too, because I know that when I need help, I now have a TON of experienced, knowledgeable mentors to ask!

While I still hope to find a mentor in my new building, it's nice to know that I won't be lost if no "Jim" appears.  After all, I now have two communities full of them!

* Now that I'm on Twitter, I'm following Jim (@englishcomp), which I think is so cool!  Over just the past few days, he's posted several tweets that are as inspiring as the content of his letters in the book!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

artsy info-gaps!

As you know if you read my blog regularly, info-gaps are some my favorite activities because students have a real purpose for communication.  I'd like to share a type of info-gap activity that's often a student favorite as well: drawing info-gaps.  I fell in love with them when I read about an activity called "Dress the Bear" in Curtain & Dahlberg's (2003) fantastic book, Languages and Children, Making the Match. (One of the few grad school textbooks that I seriously enjoyed reading!)

Ever since, I've adapted the activity several times to suit my students and courses.  In my versions for 6th and 7th grade Spanish, the students performed 3 basic steps:
  1. Draw and color something (2 different examples below).  (Be sure to emphasize that their creation is a SECRET or they will get sooooo excited they'll announce what they're drawing and ruin part 3!)
  2. Write sentences to describe what you created. (I found that my beginning learners needed this support to prepare themselves for the communicative part.  Moreover, this was a great chance for me to circulate and help students who were struggling with the grammar constructions.)
  3. Pair up for communication! Take turns reading your sentences to your partner and listening to theirs.  As you listen, draw & color what they describe.
Here are a couple of the handouts that my students used for these activities. 
  • 7th grade clothing & colors unit: "Dress Brutus"! Even students who weren't OSU fans LOVED "giving Brutus a makeover", converting Brutus to their team's colors (ugh...), making a girlfriend for Brutus, etc!  (Sorry, I didn't think to scan any actual student work, but these were usually hilarious!)
They drew a new outfit on the left Brutus, then drew their partner's description on the right-hand one.
  •  6th grade animals & colors unit: "Wacky animals!"  My students LOVED any activity where they got to color animals crazy colors, including this one!
For this one, students designed their animals on the front and then used the blank back of the handout to draw their partner's animals.

I'll admit that I had my students do so many info-gap activities that they'd get tired of some of the simpler types.  (However, they would still rate them as activities they LEARNED the most from in post-unit surveys!)  Nevertheless, the creative element in these artistic ones has always generated high enthusiasm, even though they came later in the trimester.

If you're struggling to get your students excited about speaking in the target language, try an activity like this!  You'll be astonished as the energy level in your room skyrockets (in the TL)!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blended Learning

Yesterday I presented at the Central Ohio Technology Summit for the second year.  It was an awesome day of learning, as always!  I love sharing with other teachers (and learning from them!), and the enthusiasm at COTS is invigorating every year.  Moreover, the low-key, supportive atmosphere of this conference really builds my confidence that I can share worthwhile ideas effectively!  (Much like the positive community of bloggers I've found here!)

This year I presented about Blended Learning, and while the sessions weren't as packed as my sessions last year (about using SMARTboards in truly interactive ways), I still had quite a few attendees.  More importantly, they gave me very positive feedback about how much they learned, and that's the most important thing!

Here's my presentation, which highlights the digital components I include in my Moodle classes for my students. (Most can be applied to other systems if you don't have Moodle!):

mobius strip photo credit: bored-now via photo pin cc

If you have any questions or want to know more about any of the content from my presentation, just leave a comment!  :-)

Friday, August 10, 2012

la comida española (viaje, p.2)

at Latinaish.com
¡tantos jamones!
La semana pasada, escribí un poquito de nuestro viaje a España.  Durante las semanas que vienen, escribiré sobre otros aspectos del viaje.  Hoy me gustaría enseñarles un elemento distinto del país: la comida.

Si soy honesta, no me encanta la comida tradicional española.  No me gusta el jamón, entonces no aprecio los famosos jamones serranos / ibéricos. ¡Y hay jamones de todos lados en España!  No quiero que los mariscos tengan sus ojos, pieles, escalas, alas, piernas, y huesos... como si todavía estuvieran vivos en mi plato. 
¿Os apetecen?

No me encanta el sabor fuerte de la paella ni las carnes misteriosas mezcladas en ella.  Y después de pocos días, estoy harta del uso entusiasto del aceite de oliva. 

¡tanto aceite de oliva en el supermercado!
 Pero cada viaje, pruebo las comidas tradicionales... y a veces me sorprenden.  He comido un sándwich de calamares riquísimo en Madrid, aunque no como calamares nunca en los EEUU.  Cada viaje, como un bocadillo de jamón, aunque no sea mi comida favorita.

Además, sí hay algunas comidas españolas que me encantan.  Hasta echo de menos estas comidas cuando he estado en los EEUU por mucho tiempo sin ellas.  Sueño con oler, sentir, y saborearlas.  Aquí están mis favoritas, al estilo "Top Ten":

8. la sangría: Pues, usualmente no me gusta el alcohol, pero he probado unas sangrías en España que puedo tolerar, y hasta disfrutar.  Bebimos una sangría bien rica en Botín, el restaurante más antiguo del mundo.

 7. el pollo asado: ¡Me encanta el pollo!  y los asados de Castilla-León son deliciosos.
¡Comí un pollo asado riquísimo en Botín!

un Doner Kebap en Segovia
6. los "Doner Kebap" (Pues, no son españoles, ¡pero sí hay muchos en España!)  Son muy parecidos a los "gyros" griegos, pero el pan es un poco distinto. Para mi, los "Doner Kebap" son los burritos Chipotle de Europa.  Son baratos, grandes, y muy sabrosos.  ¿Acaso los tendremos aquí en EEUU un día de estos?

una ración de patatas gratis en Toledo
5. las tapas: Mis tapas favoritas son la tortilla española y el queso manchego, pero un costumbre encantador de España es el de traer una ración de tapas gratis con la cena o una tapa gratis con la bebida.  Ha desaparecido en las ciudades grandes como Madrid, pero todavía permanece en muchos restaurantes de los pueblos más pequeños y en ciertas regiones.  ¡Que sorpresa más agradable cuando, de repente, aparece el camarero con algo apetecible para picar mientras esperamos la comida!
queso manchego y jamón serrano o ibérico en Madrid
4. los pimientos rellenos: Ojalá que se sirvieran los pimientos rellenos en toda España, en vez de usualmente en el sur.  ¡Pediría unos pimientos rellenos con cada cena si fueran disponibles!
unos pimientos rellenos deliciosos en Toledo
3. los helados de los puestos heladeros: Cuando vivía en Madrid, la señal clara del verano fue la llegada de los puestos heladeros.  Aunque los Magnum sí son disponibles en los EEUU por fin, hay muchos helados más que también están riquísimos, y echo de menos los puestitos con colores brillantes.
¡los puestos de Frigo son mis favoritos!
2. los churros con chocolate: mmmmmmmm.  ¡el postre (y merienda, y desayuno...) más rico de todo el mundo!  Imaginad: ¡una taza del chocolate más rico, espeso, y sabroso que jámas habéis probado... y con unas largas ramas de masa para poder mojarlas en el chocolate!  (Bueno, ahora tengo ganas de salivar...)
churros con chocolate en la churrería San Gines... ¡fuimos cuatro veces!
¡mi favorita!
 1. Fanta Naranja: Siempre cuando estoy en España, pido Fanta Naranja para beber en cada restaurante.  No es la Fanta Naranja de los EEUU, que es sencillamente un refresco de sabor naranja, como Orange Crush.  ¡La Fanta Naranja de España es distinta!  En España, tiene 8% jugo de naranja y entonces es más natural y cremosa.  Y casi siempre se sirve con un pedazo de naranja en el vaso... ¡encantadora!  Además, este viaje un camarero nos enseñó que también hay Fanta Naranja Sin Gas, que es muy sabroso también.

¿Tenéis comidas favoritas de vuestros viajes?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Magical summer moments

at Two Writing Teachers!
Hello slicing friends!  I've missed you, although I had a wonderful break!  My brain is very tired from our district's voluntary summer PD today, so I thought I'd share a few highlights of the time I spent away from you the past month:
  • Husband and I traveled to Spain, a trip I planned as a fifth-anniversary present for us.  It was AWESOME and I'll be sharing more about it for the next few Fridays for Spanish Fridays. While there, I journaled each day in my Spanish travel journal. (the same one I had with me when I lived there!)  I also got in some just-for-fun reading in the planes, trains, and parks!  Best of all, I lived with joy the whole time.
  • A few days after we got back, my mom and I went out to Arizona to visit relatives for a few days.  My oldest cousin's family is shipping out to Turkey for two years (her husband is a JAG) and it was really special to spend some time with them before they left.
  • Husband and I celebrated our anniversary this past Saturday.  The trip was my present to him, but he got me a present that was just as thoughtful and personal: a spiral notebook of the emails we wrote back and forth to each other while I was studying abroad in Spain.  We were dating at the time, and he wrote me an email every day with a different snippet of a love song in the subject line.  For the present, he compiled and formatted them all (to and from) into this notebook:
a powerful reminder of how writing connected us from faraway
  • We performed with the Alumni Band at the State Fair and then got to become little kids again.  (Doesn't the fair make everyone into a kid?)  We petted all the animals, dangled our feet on the skyride, and ate waaaaaay too much junk food.  (Including fried Buckeyes -- yummy!)
  • I've been loving following the incredible moments of triumph, courage, and community in the Olympics.  For me, these 2012 Olympics are even more special because I met my New Zealand pen pal in the 1992 Olympic pen pal program... and we are still writing (and now emailing and Facebooking) 20 years later!  (I am planning a slice or two on this special connection soon!)
I know a lot of you took breaks as well, so I hope you had as many adventures, special moments, and relaxing times as I did! 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Doce días de encanto (p.1)

at Latinaish.com
Durante el mes de julio, fui a España con mi esposo por dos semanas.  Yo no había   visitado este país tan querido desde 2005, cuando estudiaba allí por un semestre.  Mi esposo no había estado fuera de los Estados Unidos nunca.  ¡Claro que tuvimos un viaje divertido y lleno de aventuras, que nos ha dejado con muchísimos recuerdos lindos!

Por unas semanas, quiero utilizar los "Spanish Fridays" para compartir algunos de estos recuerdos.  Si no hais estado en España (¡mirad, que empecé de utilizar el "vosotros" de nuevo!), es un país que vale la pena visitar muchas veces.  ¡Qué lo disfrutéis!

Nos quedamos en Madrid por 12 días, con viajes por tren a otros pueblos varios días.  (Vivía en Madrid cuando era estudiante y me encanta esta ciudad y todo el centro de España.)  Un día de estos, viajaremos más allá, al sur (también me encanta Sevilla) y al norte, pero ¡hay tantas cosas interesantes allí mismo en el centro!

Bueno, pues... me encanta Madrid porque:

¡Hay una historia riquísima...
La Plaza Mayor, mi sitio favorito
... mezclada con la modernidad.
las torres cerca de Chamartín, vistas desde nuestra habitación
Hay arte y arquitectura impresionante ...
El Palacio Real, visto desde el Templo de Debod
... y cultura viva.
fuimos a un tablao flamenco de Cardamomo: ¡increíble!
Para moverse, ¡es fácil utilizar el transporte público!  Metro, autobús, Cercanías... ¡tan cómodo!
tren del metro moderno, de la línea 10
Pero lo que me encanta más de todo es el estilo de vida.
remando en el Retiro... ¡que descanso!
¡Mi Madrid: emocionante y tranquila, pero siempre encantadora!