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Friday, July 3, 2015

July Book Recommendations

Today, I am starting a new monthly installment of book recommendations.   This year, I have challenged myself to read more, and I am documenting it on my Reading List page.  On the first Friday of each month, I will be telling about my favorite books I read the previous month to hopefully entice you to read them as well!

1.  The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad 

Published in 2002 and written during the spring after the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, this non-fiction memoir-like story tells readers of a proud Afgahni bookseller and his family.   The novel was written by a female Norwegian journalist who befriended the bookseller and was able to live with them for some time.  She gained incredible insight into the workings of a world that is unknown to so many.   

While this story takes place in a world so unlike the U.S., readers will be able to connect to the characters in the story - a son who is forced to follow his father's rules, a daughter searching for love, a wife who feels unloved and unnoticed.   

This novel is not for the faint of heart - it details the history of Afghanistan by intermixing it with heart-wrentching stories of poverty, power, pride, and forbidden love.   While I believe it is impossible to know what was like to live under the Taliban's vicious rule, this book allows the reader to begin to understand what it was like to live then- painting a picture of freedom being squashed, of destruction of a once rising country, and of rampant devastation.   

2.  Across the Universe by Beth Revis 

I flew through this novel while I was at the beach.   This dystopian novel was one of the best dystopians I've read recently.  First, it is narrated by both a girl named Amy, who was cryogenically frozen to be unfrozen in 300 years, and a boy named Elder, who will become the future leader of his space ship that will arrive at a new planet 300 years after Amy was frozen.   Amy is unfrozen early on the spaceship by a mysterious chance of events, and Elder and her become friends.

The society on the ship has rules unlike earth to which Amy must adjust.  First, everyone is the same (all same ethnicity - which causes Amy to stand out with her bright red hair), all creative people are in the 'crazy ward,' and there seem to be lots of secrets (not unlike a good dystopian novel to have these!).

As Amy and Elder begin to search for the person who unfroze Amy and is unfreezing others who are dying, they begin to discover more disastrous secrets of the ship.

Overall,  this novel reminded me of  a more action packed version of The Giver; however, the adults in this book are not as wise as the Giver and Amy and Elder must work to solve the ship's secrets before it is too late.  

**** Also, you can also check out a few summer reading recommendations I made before I left for vacation a few weeks ago if you are looking for other good reads!

What are you reading currently that I should add to my to-read list??? 

In Other News: 

Also,  earlier in June, I accepted a new teaching position within my building.  This school year, I will be the 9th and 10th grade intervention specialist.  I am very excited about this new opportunity and the blog, while still focusing on ELA, may take a more in-depth at special education resources geared toward ELA.

One item I am currently in search of is High Interest Low Readability Books for high school students.   I want my students to be reading independently no matter their independent reading ability.  To do this-- I need to be well-versed in books that are at many different reading levels and interests.   So far, the search has led me to my local librarian who is also going to do some reseach with me.  On the fly, she recommended a series called Bad Kitty which has picture books and chapter graphic novels that are between K-2 reading level yet are funny and relatable for students who are at a higher age level.  I'm going to check these out soon.  Hopefully, they will be in August's book review!

Please feel free to comment below if you know of any HI-LO Readability Books for high school students!   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

5 Things To Do In July To Get Ready For Back To School

It is July 1st, Ya'll!  I cannot believe that one month of summer is already over!  I know we all don't want to think about the countdown to the start of school and all the work that back to school in August brings.   Yet, there are a few things that we can be doing now to help get us ready for August.

1.  Have lunch with your colleagues

July is a great time to schedule a lunch, or a delicious brunch (my favorite meal!) with a colleage or two.  You have time in July to catch up, talk about vacations, fun Pinterest ideas, and whatever else you feel.  If you wait until August when you are back in the building, these types of conversations can be distrating and cause you to be less productive.  If you catch up over a delicious Greek salad or coffee and pie now, it will save you time during a busy season of school.   Plus, it's an excuse to eat pie- or whatever your vice may be :-)

Coffee is always a good option for catching up!
image source

2.  Finish reading that professional development book, deep cleaning that room, or other to-do list item

Now is the time to pull out that book that you ordered last May that you've been wanting to read, clean that closet you've been putting off, or organizing your Pinterest, and more.   Waiting until August - a very busy month for teachers, means you realistically won't get those things done. So stop procrastinating and do it! Really- stop reading and go takle that to do list! (Well, maybe finish this post first...) If you are looking for a professional development book, check out my list of must reads and to-be read soon professional books.  


3.  Plan classroom organization ideas

While my last point was to get ya'll to quit procrastinating, I know some of you will still ignore it- so planning classroom organization ideas is a great way to procrastinate and be productive in July.  Start thinking about the problem areas of you classroom- mine is filing the handouts I use (they often are thrown in a giant pile that I neve organize) and a system for student information.   Earlier this summer, I organized my Pinterest (one of the best things I've done all summer) and now I'm able to find the things that I pin rather than sifting through 1,000s of pins.  I plan to start looking for solutions to my classroom problems and pinning them to the appropriate boards so that in August I can determine the best ways to go about organizing and preventing organizational issues in the fall.  

4.  Choose one thing to organize in your classroom this month 

Think about clearing the files in the back of the cabinet, planning a new system for classroom library check out, organizing your files on your flashdrive/ computer, etc.  It will just make life easier in August.  Trust me.

5.  Carve out relaxation time

With basically one month left of summer, make sure you enjoy it!  Sit by the pool and enjoy the sun (if you are in a part of the country lucky enough to get it-- its poured for the last week here!), have weekly game nights with family or friends, read a great book (note: Friday's post will be all about the great reads I discovered over break or you can also check out my reading list tab), or enjoy a great Nexflix's series.  I plan on starting Dr. Who soon.  My students told me I would love it.  I told them I would have to give it a try and I must be true to my word :) Below is a fun pin I found a while back to encourage binging on Netflix.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Creating Stronger Test Takers

This past week, I tutored students to pass the Ohio Graduation Test.  Students who need intervention to pass the OGT tend to fall into two categories - 1) students who have not learned content like how to identify main idea, make inferences, and apply literary terms and their affects to a passage, and 2) students who struggle with test taking due to test anxiety and/or how to approach standardized test questions.  The first group needs direct instruction in content with a mix of small group and individual practice.   The latter group needs confidence building and modeling of approaches to answering standardized test questions (multiple choice and extended response).

One of the things I saw the most success with was showing students writing models (when taking the writing OGT).   I used 3 expository essays all answering the same prompt each essay showing a different level of writing.  One example scored a 5 on the applications rubric.  Another example scored a 4.  The final example scored a 1.  Students then analyzed each pice of writing- explaining the strengths and weaknesses.  We talked about organizational patterns and what the writer could have done to improve their essay.   I had students who continued to refer back to these essays, especially the organizational structure, as they wrote their own essay.

I also modeled extended response answers with my students who were studying for the reading OGT. I found extended response answers on ODE's website for scoring the practice test.  I followed a similar pattern as I did for the writing - asking students to explain strengths and weaknesses as well as an improvement strategy for students.   I modeled this process with students for one of the questions and then allowed pairs of students to follow the model to look a another prompt.

Many students who do not do well on standardized tests need to improve on their test taking skills.  Each day we spend time discussing test taking strategies, practicing them as a class, and practicing them independently.  I laugh as I tell students that by the end of the week, they will be so sick of telling me the steps to answer multiple choice and extended response questions; however, I know that it will be ingrained in them when they take the test.   I ask students to approach test strategies by highlighting with a highlighter the important ideas in the questions, highlighting in the text as they read to help them answer the questions, and marking up the text.   I've had students explain how to do this to each other through think-pair-share models, use chart paper to explain their process of answering a question, and practice it independently on practice tests.

Often times, students who struggle with test taking have extreme anxiety about tests causing them to not do well even if they know the information.   A fun strategy I use to reduce student anxiety is called a snowball fight.  You give students several half sheets of paper.  On each sheet they write one thing that stresses them out (test taking or life).  After writing time, students then wad up their papers and have a "snowball fight."   While this task seems silly, studies show that having students write their anxiety or stress down helps reduce their stress.  See this article by the Huffington Post for more info on these studies.  The snowball fight allows students to get up and move and also add some fun to a usually stressful environment.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Building Relationships with Other Teachers

Sometimes, when I don't know another teacher in my building very well, I feel awkward and unsure of how to approach them.  The copy room can become an uncomfortable space when you don't know a teacher and don't know what to say.   Over the last few years, I have realized a few things to help you get to know the teachers you work with better!


Smiling is the number one thing I get frustrated about with colleagues I don't know.  I feel like a teacher doesn't like me if they don't smile at time in the hall.  (I know, I know - I'm being self-conscious.  Sometimes others are in a hurry, etc.  I just feel that it is common curtesy to smile!) If a colleague smiles and nods their head as we pass in the hallway, it shows that they are kind and approachable.   A relationship is more likely to be built between to teachers if they feel that the other is approachable.  Plus, smiling at someone makes them feel good about themselves- and everyone like to feel good!  

2.   Listen 

So much of building relationships with colleagues is listening and asking questions that require the person to talk to you.  If you listen to what the other teacher says- things they are teaching, problem students, frustrations, positive ideas for the classroom, their summer vacation,  the car problems they are having, and more, then you will be able to ask them about it the next time you talk.  This makes people feel like you care!  I know from experience!  When people remember things about me, it makes me feel important and in turn will help build a good relationship with me.


Every teacher likes to share their own ideas about how they approach a topic.  Whether it is writing an essay, dealing with a problem student, or implementing a new intervention strategy, all teachers like to share their way of doing things.  Advice giving encourages teachers to feel confident in their own decisions by sharing creative ideas to help others.

I have also found that good relationships can be build with teachers with whom I share students.  If we begin talking about a student, not only do we attempt to help that student do well, we also give advice to each other based on how we've handled that student in the past.  This allows us to build a stronger relationship- leaning upon each other for shared resources.

4.  Build positive social time into the school year 

Two years ago, when I moved to the language hallway of our school, I was welcomed into a large family.   We regularly celebrate each other's successes and are almost always looking for an "excuse" to throw a carry in lunch held in a classroom during our shared lunch time.   We celebrate birthdays, babies, graduations, house purchases, retirements, and so much more.   These people are there to share in my successes and I in theirs.

We also plan a back to school brunch held at a colleague's home the last week of summer so that we can catch up, discuss classroom ideas and summer vacations, and share our lives.  We invite the new teachers in our departments so that they can feel welcomed - and we can get to know them! I look forward to these brunches each year.  The positive atmosphere we create makes it hard to not feel like we have positive relationships.   I cannot say how much I appreciate these teachers and their impact in my life. Looking for ways to build your own positive time with teachers is important for teachers sanity.   Seek out ways to make this time with your own hallway/ department.

Some of my hallway's crazy get togethers:
Wedding celebration for my hubby and me

80s day during Homecoming Week 

Retirement lunch 

How do you build relationships with your colleagues???

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How To Organize Your Pinterest Education Boards

When one of my college friends introduced me to this site called "Pinterest" I had no idea the great wonder that the site would become in my life.  Three years later I found myself with 73 boards and over 3,000 pins.  What is even crazier is that I had almost 1,000 pins to a board entitled "Schoolie Stuff"!  All my teaching pins in one place, but I couldn't find anything because there was SO MUCH on this board.   Thus, "organize Pinterest boards" made its way to my summer to-do list.

First, I decided to organize my boards mostly by standards because I structure my classroom objectives around the standard(s) I want my students to learn.  This will make is much easier to find pins to help me lesson plan.   I create the following boards based on CCSS:

Note:  when re-organizing your pins, DO NOT "pin" them again.  Instead, create the boards you want.  Then, go into the old board.  Hit "Move Pins" in the upper right hand corner.  Click on pins to move to a specific board.  Click "Move."  Choose the board for the pin.   If you click "pin" it will just copy the pin to the new board, but not move it.   

After sorting through my pins and organizing them based on the standards, I realized that I had pins relating to several other different categories.  I created the following boards to hold those pins:  
I still had a lot of pins left relating to classroom management, organization, memes, and other goodies.  These pins all stayed in my original board which I renamed Classroom Fun: Memes, Organization, and More.   

I also made sure that my board were able to benefit other Pinterest users by:  
    • changing all board categories to "Education"
    • summarizing each board's content by writing a specific description in the box provided
    • choosing a cover that best fits the content in the board 
      • All of the above can be done by choosing the "edit board" button 
Lastly, I pulled these boards to the very top of my Pinterest page because my education boards are the ones I used most often- quickly followed by my cooking boards and workout boards.

Here is the finished product :)

Monday, June 15, 2015

How To Get Struggling Readers/Writers Engaged In Test Prep

This week, I am spending my mornings tutoring students in Reading and Writing to prep them to retake the Ohio Graduation Test.   These students took the OGT previously and did not receive proficient scores- here in Ohio, they must pass with a proficient score in order to receive their high school diploma.   Some of these students admitted to me that they just did not put their full effort into the first test; however, many of these students are missing reading, test taking, or writing skills to pass.   As I prepped each day, I kept the following engagement strategies in mind.

1.  Modeling   

Students who are missing skills are in serious need of a model to follow, whether it be writing, reading, or test taking strategies.  This week I spend time doing think-alouds with students as I brainstormed for writing prompts, discussed sample test passages/questions, and practiced using test taking strategies.  Some modeling was done as a whole group while other modeling was done in individualized ways based on what students needed.  

Modeling is one of the most successful strategies I've used as a teacher because think aloud are a research based instructional strategy that helps students move through their cognitive zones of proximal development to a new zone of actual development.  During think-alouds, I model a task for students explaining my thinking as I work.  As the think-aloud progresses, I ask the student, or students, to begin to practice their own thinking aloud with us as a class (or with a partner).  Students take their prior skills and then build upon this by adding the new strategies I have modeled for them.  I almost immediately see an increase in student confidence after completing a think-aloud with them. And, confidence is one of the biggest things that needs built in a struggling student.  

2.  Group work  

Group work and/or paired work allows students to practice their skills in a more active way.  I always try to make group work go beyond a worksheet and often want students out of their seats to help get my kinetic learners more engaged.   

One way I utilized group work for test prep was an activity that required students to practice test taking skills.  I took sample passage and questions from the OGT Success site.  After pairing students, I gave each of them a piece of chart paper, two copies of the sample passage, and one question from that passage.  Students had to decide on the best steps to take to answer the question and outline that on the chart paper.   Student then had to answer the question and be able to explain to their classmates how they answered the question.   This activity took place after I had spent significant time modeling how to answer questions and practicing test strategies together.   Students were engaged in this activity because the chart paper got them out of their seats, they had to work with another person, and explain their thinking.  This group work time also gave me time to gather formative assessment on students and give immediate feedback.   As we went over the sample passage and questions together, each group explained the answer and how they came to it.   This helped chunk the large passage and questions because struggling readers often become disengaged with a large passage.   After this activity, I had students practice another passage on their own.  

3.  Vocabulary Games 

Vocabulary games are another way to engage students in test prep.  Vocabulary is something that teachers often create worksheets for students to complete; however, current studies show that just looking up the definitions of vocabulary terms do not help students retain the new knowledge.   While I do believe there is a time and a place for vocabulary practice via worksheets to make connections for the student (i.e., concept maps, connections to another text, the world, or themselves, etc.),
I try to incorporate more active learning into vocabulary, especially with test prep, such as the following.. 

  • Skits: Give students an environment (i.e. the hallways at school, a football game, a newscast, or pretty much anywhere else) and tell them they must write and act out a script that uses so many vocabulary words.  The first time I did this I allowed students to choose their own environment and four girls made a hilarious skit that took place a "deh club."  They kept the skit appropriate, used all of the vocabulary words correctly, and had the whole class engaged!  
  • Memory:  Have students create a memory game set on notecards for this game by writing the word on one card and the definition on another.  Students will then pair up and play the classic game of memory trying to match the definitions with the terms.   
  • "I have... who has?..":  This is an new game that I just tried this week.   Before class, create a card set one side with the terms and one side with the definitions. Be sure that the term and definition do not match on the individual cards.   During the activity, each student gets one card.   The teacher starts the game by saying "Who has ______________" reading a definition to a term.  The student then says "I have ___________" reading the term on their card.  They then say "who has ________________" and giving a new definition on the back of their card.  The student who has that term then says "I have ____________".  The process repeats until all cards are done.  

-- Feel free to comment below with other ways we can engage our struggling readers! -- 


Scholastic's Resources on Think-Alouds

My Pintrest Vocabulary and Grammar Board

A great video from The Teaching Channel to help with vocabulary instruction: 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Summer Reading

Summer Bliss.... 

In just a few short days, I will be heading to this beautiful beach on the gulf coast of Florida for a girls' week of relaxation with my best friend from college, her mom, and her mom's best friend.  I know that most of us teachers out there plan to spend some time relaxing this summer.  For me, relaxing involves shopping, laying out waterside (pool, lake, ocean), and most of all, reading.   In lieu of that- here is my personal must read list for summer and a few suggestions for those of you looking for a good read!  

A few notes: 
1. I try to mix up what I'm reading, but I am almost always drawn to good realistic, YA fiction.  
2. I'm trying to challenge myself this summer to read more than usual- I want to have a good base of book knowledge for my kiddos.  
3.  I'm challenging myself to read outside of my favorite genres- feel free to comment on your favorite books for me to try!  

To Read This Summer... 

  1. Tuesday's With Moorie by Mitch Albom :  I've heard so much good about this book.  It looks like a heartwarming, quick read!  
  2. Across the Universe by Beth Revis : My librarian recommended this to me.  She said it is her all time favorite book - she actually re-reads it once a year.  Plus, it is a all time favorite of  Leonard's, from Big Bang Theory.  
  3. Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissenger : I've checked this book out three times this year, but I keep returning it because I've been busy and its been due at the library.   I'm determined to read this before school starts.  
  4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand :  This is another book that's been on my nightstand for a while.  A friend recommended it two summer's ago and I purchased it, but never read it.   Last summer, I took it on our honeymoon, but it didn't get read.  This summer I'm determined to read it too! 
  5. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad: Branching out into international waters with this one.  
  6. Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles:  The cover on this book made me pick it up.  Plus, it was on YALSA's must read list.
  7. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler:  This is another one where the cover got me.  Such beautiful artwork throughout the book.  
  8. Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner: I'm struggling to find books for my non-reading boys.  Especially the ones who aren't really interested in sports and tell me their favorite TV shows are South Park or Family Guy.  When I googled books like Family Guy for high school students, this book appeared.  This is one of the categories of books I struggle to find.  
  9. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:  This was also a book put on the humor category for high school students.  I've seen lots of teachers refer to this book as a good one so I'm going to give it a try.  
  10. Paper towns by John Green:  The movie comes out soon.. and Looking for Alaska is one of my all time favorite books... need I say more.  


  1. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore : This book still has me thinking after I finished it.  It is part memoir, part biography.  Wes Moore pairs his life with another man named Wes Moore.  Both men have many similarities - from the projects of Baltimore, African American, fatherless; yet, their lives could not have turned out more different.   This book gave me inside into drug culture, incarceration,  poverty,  the power of education and mentorship, and identity while still keeping me enthralled with a narrative I couldn't put down! 

    2.  I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson : Winner of the 2015 Printz award - I picked up this book after reading Nelson's first book The Sky Is Everywhere.  While Nelson's first book was intriguing and well-written, this second book definitely surpasses the first!  Nelson pulls you into this story by having two twins - Noah and Jude- narrate the story.  Noah tells his perspective when they were 13.  Jude's perspective is when they are 16- and clearly, something has gone wrong in those 3 short years.  You will be drawn in by the conflict and plot; however, you will stay because Nelson's prose is so beautifully written that you won't want to stop consuming her words.  

    3.  The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman: I read the first in this series Unwind during my first year of teaching because it was apart of the curriculum.  I instantly was drawn in by the plot - as were my students each year I taught it!  Shusterman creates characters that feel so real, and relatable; and his plot is written so realistically even though it is futuristic society that has outlawed abortion and created unwinding.   This dystopian series is the best series since Harry Potter that I've read.  Each book was better than the next, and I was sad when it was finished.   He shows you how our world could become the Unwind world, making you think about how we treat our disengaged youth, adapt technology, and use propaganda to make people believe certain ideas; yet, he draws you into a plot that makes any teen, or adult,  find these books difficult to put down.  

    4.  Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle : If you read any professional development book this summer, this is the book to read.   Kittle focuses on literacy in this book- spending the first third explaining the state of reading in our nation, the middle third showing you how to practically foster a classroom environment that encourages kids to really read, and the last third outlining how a school-wide culture of reading can be developed.  If you are concerned about reading for PD poolside, this book is perfect!  It makes you think; however, it is written for teachers by teachers and is not full of terms or theories.  Instead, it is full of practical ways to develop readers in your school.  This book changed the way I will run my classroom in terms of independent reading.   
    P.S.:  Those students on the front cover are Penny's actual students!

    What books should I add to my summer reading list?   What are you reading this summer?  

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