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