Preach it Weird Al! Why English teachers love “Word Crimes”!

If you are an English teacher and participate in any social media, I’m sure that you have seen Weird Al’s new viral video, “Word Crimes”.  If you haven’t seen it, you really must watch it.  Let’s be honest, even those of us who have seen it several times will probably click to watch it again!  So what is it about this video that resonates so deeply with English teachers and everyone else for that matter? I’ll break down my love of this song below:

  • We are not alone! Too many times, students think that English teachers are the only ones who actually care about proper grammar. Weird Al has made it cool for celebrities, family members, bloggers, and everyone else in society to jump on the grammar bandwagon by sharing this video.  I hope this fun little parody sends a serious message to young people to listen up in our classes!
  • Online writing counts! Weird Al points to blogs, social media, hashtags, and other online writing with the message that spelling and syntax matter even on the internet.
  • He fits in all my pet peeves! I love the whole song, but these four drive me up the wall:
    • I could care less.  When I hear students say this, I always want to retort, “well, you certainly could care more about your correct use of idiom” or something else snarky.
    • Quotation Marks for “emphasis”.  When I see this happening in my classes, I love to bring up this website for a couple minutes: unnecessaryquotes.com.  It gets a few laughs and brings the point home.  (Tip: Always preview the page before bringing it up in class.  Some examples are not safe for all schools.)
    • Literally.  This one is everywhere in my school: I literally have a ton of homework, my head literally exploded, I literally can’t even.  Sometimes I have to forcibly control my eye rolls.
    • Your and You’re, There, Their, and They’re, Its and It’s.  This shouldn’t be a problem in high school, but it is.  I’m thinking about making big posters for the front of my room this year, so I will let you know how that goes.
  • He uses Proper Terminology. The English class lingo is often discounted as boring and irrelevant, but he breathes new life into terms like contraction, preposition, dangling participles, and oxford comma.  I never thought I would say this, but thank you Weird Al!

 

Did you love this video as much as I did?  What are your word crime pet peeves?

Where to Spend $5 to Get Tough Tasks Off Your Teacher To Do List

How to Spend $5 to Finish that Teacher To Do List
How to Spend $5 to Finish that Teacher To Do List

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I see a new resource to help students take short cuts around the valuable work we do in our classrooms.  When I was working on a side project recently, I came across fiverr.com, which is a global marketplace offering a variety of services, or gigs, starting at $5 each.  I was disheartened to see sellers offering to do homework or analyze a book, but it did get me thinking about how I could switch the dynamic around to give teachers some much needed shortcuts.  Here are the $5 gigs I found that can take tough tasks off of our teacher to do lists, so we can focus on other important classroom priorities:

1. Custom Songs: Many fiverr sellers will take your lyrics and make them into a song with your choice of genre (reggae, rap, country, pop, etc).  I have these little chants I do to help MLA rules stick and I always hear my students singing little ditties to remember long math formulas.  We could take that idea to the next level with a custom song for our classroom!

2. Custom Voice Overs:  This gig could bring interest factor to a prezi, flipped classroom video, or other in class project.  Sellers will do a range of professional and cartoon/impression voices.

3. Convert Powerpoint to HD Video: This is a great gig for  teachers who are flipping their classrooms and running out of time. It could be combined with the custom voice-overs in a pinch.

4. Website installation or help: There is a lot of pressure on teachers today to incorporate edtech into our classrooms including classroom blogs and wikis.  If we can’t afford a full service website technician, there are hundreds of fiverr gigs ranging from installing word press to trouble shooting that widget you are trying to install and everything in between.  Personally, $5 is worth my sanity in the IT department, especially when it can be done quickly and efficiently by someone else while I am grading that last stack of papers!

5. Custom Social Media Art: Most teachers I know are starting or maintaining a classroom Facebook/twitter/instagram/google+/edmodo/schoology/etc.  For $5 you can have someone create cute or creative custom cover art to give your classroom social media that polished look without a lot of effort on your part.

6. Design materials: If you have a great idea for a poster or infographic for your classroom wall, a custom stamp or any other simple graphic design project, there are designers waiting to make it happen for only $5.

 

Like other online marketplaces, there is a feedback and communication system so that you can make sure that your job is done correctly, but we should still exercise caution when purchasing gigs.  What do you think? Would you take advantage of fiverr to get one of those tasks off your to do list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Fiverr

What Your Kid’s English Teacher Really Wants: 10 Great Gift Ideas Straight From The Source

Let’s just get one thing out of the way: teachers do not sign up for this gig for the gifts! That being said, we really appreciate any act of generosity from parents and students and judging by my Pinterest feed, parents are inspired to treat teachers to a little something here and there.  I decided to write this blog post because my Pinterest feed has been chock full of the most adorable back to school teacher gifts interspersed with this popular ecard:

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I do not want to come off as ungrateful, but I think we can find a happy medium here. We would love the crayon wreath, but if crafting is not your thing, below are 10 gift suggestions humbly suggested by this high school English teacher:

1. Support: This is a cheat gift, but very cheap and incredibly valuable to teachers.  Having our back is the best gift a parent can give when the time comes to battle the homework, deadlines, book choices, classroom management, etc.

2. These Amazing Mugs: Click here for a link to buy the mugs from amazon.  Trust me, this will be an instant favorite with every English teacher!

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<——–First Lines Literature Mug $12.95

 

                 Shakespearean Insult Mug $12.95  ——–>

 

 

3. Target Gift Cards: Chances are, we are going to put the money back into our classroom, so help us offset our school expenses with a gift card of any size.  Every little bit counts and we totally understand that you may be buying small gifts for several teachers.

4. Coffee Gift Cards: I cannot count the number of late nights I’ve spent slaving over student essays/research papers with the comfort of a good cup of joe.  I love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but this English teacher still needs her caffeine and I suspect the same is true for most of us!

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5. Secondary Solutions Gift Certificates: The best way to help a teacher save time is to help buy quality products.  This one also goes directly to a quality education for your student, so it is a win-win.

6. The Really Cool Office Supplies: There are some supplies that we just can’t justify on our back to school shopping list, but we would love them.  Get us the good stuff.  Here’s my list:

  • Pretty Post-Its: We can usually get our hands on the square ones, but I think we all secretly love (and can’t afford) the ones shaped like arrows, apples, stars, etc.
  • Washi Tape: There are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to beautiful washi tape classroom ideas. Click here for an example if you are not familiar with this little beauty.
  • Sharpies: I drool every time I pass by the giant sharpie packs at Costco, but with a cart full of other school essentials, I can’t always justify $20 on permanent markers…even if they are amazing! I especially like the fine tip ones, which are perfect for poetry annotation.
  • The cute baskets and organizers: With 100-175 students filling in and out of our rooms, organization is a survival strategy.

7. iTunes Gift Cards: There are so many amazing edtech apps and iTunes books out there; I am sure this one would be a hit with almost any teacher!

8. A Stapler: Maybe this is a personal problem, but my classes run through staplers like they are going out of style. I’ve spent hours trying to fix them and yet inevitably on essay due dates I’m down to one erratic stapler and a chaotic collection process.  As crazy as it sounds, I could really use 1 new, quality stapler each year so that I consistently have a couple working staplers and an efficient classroom.

9. Awesome Stamps: With all of the feedback that we give student papers, stamps can be a fun way to save time.  Click on each image below to see the etsy store it comes from:

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10. Teacher Gadgets: We love cool gadgets.  I mean who doesn’t want these? Click on each for more info.

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Teachers and parents, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

5 Tips for Spicing Up Summer School

 

There can be so much variation in summer school programs, but in my experience, the class sessions tend to be longer, class sizes tend to be a little smaller, and most students tend to be a little less motivated, especially if they are retaking a class that they failed.  With budget cuts, I’ve also experienced a tendency toward combo classes like English 9 and 10.   While these factors can be barriers to engagement, I think there are a few things we can do to spice things up in the summer (and during the school year too!). I’m sharing my 5 tips for spicing up summer school and I’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

summer school1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop during my first year teaching in junior high.  Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many of them still work like a charm in secondary English.  You can check out the Kagan website here.  To use quiz-quiz-trade, you have students create flashcards with vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms.  Then students mingle around the room creating temporary pairs.  When they pair up, they quiz each other on one card each, trade and then mingle to new partners.  It doesn’t take very long, but it gets students up, moving, and studying.  I’ve had so many students tell me that it helped them remember vocab.  If you have a combo class, you can create mingling areas for students with like words.

2. Showdown: Showdown is another Kagan structure in which students work independently on an exercise. When “Showdown!” is called, students show teammates their work, and they begin the process of checking, coaching, and celebrating.  You can read more about it here.

3. Literature Circles: Literature circles are ideal for motivation, especially if you can incorporate student choice in books and roles.  It is also easy to manage with multiple grade levels.  Here is a link to my post all about literature circles.  

4. Socratic Seminar: Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are more reluctant.  If your summer school class is made up of students repeating a class, chances are they did not get to show off their literary analysis skills during the regular school year for whatever reason.  Socratic Seminar can offer a nonthreatening way to feel personal and peer success.  Here is a link to my post with more information about the logistics.

5. Engaging Informational Texts: We need to incorporate more informational texts in our classrooms, but it is hard to find the time to go through all of the options.  If you have more freedom in summer school curriculum, it is a great time to try out a few new reads. A few summers ago, my class did Nickel and Dimed one session and The Tipping Point another session. Students were interested in the reading and I was able to pull out excerpts to use during the regular school year.  Depending on the level, I’d also recommend Blink, Freakonomics, and Fast Food Nation.

What do you do to spice up your summer school sessions?  We’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions below!

Hot off the presses! Secondary Solutions Launches SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for Grades 3-12

Secondary Solutions SmartFlip Common Core Reference Guides
Secondary Solutions SmartFlip Common Core Reference Guides

The first of their kind, SmartFlipCommon Core Reference Guides give teachers a smart tool for creating Common Core aligned lessons and assessments. 

Secondary Solutions®, (www.4secondarysolutions.com) known for superior-quality standards-based Common Core Literature and Writing Guides for Grades 3-12, today announced the release of the entire line of SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for English Language Arts for grades 3-12.   These handy spiral-bound flip books include the Common Core State Standards in their basic form along with each standard broken down into easily understandable, “translated” guidelines for CCSS skill mastery, culminating in hundreds of question stems and prompts, standard-by-standard, designed to enable teachers to easily create lessons and assessments with the question types required by Common Core standards, and found in PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments.

“When we evaluated our own products for Common Core alignment, we found that there were very few resources available that enabled our writers to specifically address the standards and raise the rigor in our Literature Guides. Since we knew that we were having trouble finding resources to help us create our materials in line with Common Core, we knew teachers were in the same predicament when trying to design their own lessons and assessments.  We decided to create our SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for teachers of grade 3 and up to help fill that need, and so far, the response has been overwhelming!  Teachers are thrilled!” said Kristen Bowers, President and owner of Secondary Solutions.

To visit Secondary Solutions, go to www.4secondarysolutions.com

SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for grades 3-12 are available HERE

Secondary Solutions’ SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides:

  • are available as a handy “flip book” reference guide for the Common Core English Language Arts standards
  • provide accessible and understandable Annotated Standards that break the standards down into teachable “chunks”
  • give you HUNDREDS of CCSS-Aligned Question Stems for lesson planning and assessment preparation
  • are in-line with PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) assessments
  • help you assist your students in preparing for the revised SAT® test

 

CCSS (Common Core State Standards), PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), Smarter Balanced (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and the SAT test (College Board) are registered trademarks and rights are reserved.  This product is not commissioned nor endorsed by any entity.

Teaching Effective Digital Note Taking

 

I read this article in The Atlantic recently that discussed a new finding that hand written notes are more effective in student learning than are typed notes.  The article focused on laptops and specifically noted that there may be differences with tablets, but as a teacher in a school that is moving toward a one on one iPad program, I’m interested in thinking about and sharing best practices for helping students take effective digital notes.  Below are my top five tips.  I’d love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions in the comment section below!

note taking

1. Actively teach the dangers of distracted learning: it isn’t just a problem with driving!  We have to do more than ban social media and get angry when we catch them texting during class.  We have to talk about the importance of focus and critical thinking.  We have to create learning experiences that engage students and then we have to talk openly about reasons and strategies for avoiding digital distraction.

2. Teach structures for organizing digital notes.  It is easy to take notes using Word or Pages, but it is hard to keep all of those documents organized along with images, powerpoint presentations, and video/audio files that go along with the notes.  I highly suggest using Evernote or OneNote.  Here is an Evernote tutorial if you are interested in going that route!

3. Keep a calendar/planner. Students may think that they can type their homework assignments or due dates in their notes and they will remember it all, but even with digital notes, it is important to keep a centralized planner.  This planner may be incorporated in google drive, Evernote, schoology or wherever it is convenient.  I keep a class calendar and encourage students to keep a personal planner also.

4. Find ways to help students process the information. The Atlantic article points to an issue of students transcribing verbatim notes when they type instead of processing notes as they handwrite them.  If this is the case with tablets or whatever technology we are using in the classroom, we need to adjust our formative assessments to encourage more processing through discussion, writing, and other means.

5. Continue to require solid writing skills. As language evolves to reflect our digital culture and students start writing more often in informal digital contexts, we have to hold on to formal process writing and continue to teach the structures of solid academic writing.

I’d love to hear from you!  Do you think digital note taking will impact student information retention?  What will you do to make sure that your students continue to excel in the digital classroom?

 

Positive Discipline in the High School Classroom

 

As a mother of a three year old and a high school teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how positive discipline works in very similar ways in both contexts. We all know that discipline is key to effective learning environments, but sometimes we lose sight of the thin line between discipline and punishment. Now that most of us have settled into the summer, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some positive discipline concepts that work in high school. I’d love to hear your questions or technique suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Mutual respect is paramount. I doubt that many good teachers get into the profession for the power, but it is still easy for all of us to get swept away in the authority figure role.  The best way to truly command respect from a student it to give it back in spades.  Even in the most frustrating, immature situations, we have to maintain perspective to show students respect and dignity.  The route of public humiliation and not smiling until Christmas is a rough road to pave and will probably not lead you to real meaningful respect and teaching.

2. Behavior modification should focus on solutions rather than consequences. Instead of focusing on the write-up, detention, or other consequence, focus on the solution needed to change the behavior in the first place.  Because of personal strategies or school policies, we may still need to give out the consequence, but the rhetoric from us should be about solutions.  Instead of giving the chronically tardy student mindless detention after detention, let’s not forget to have a conversation about the issue and help brainstorm solutions.  It may be that there are home situations outside of the student’s control. It may also be that the student didn’t really care about the class, but after a conversation with us in which we express our concerns and really listen to student situations, we may change the heart of even the most apathetic of teenagers.

3. Keep calm and don’t take it personally. Classroom disruptions and other behavior issues are almost never personal to the teacher.  I know how hard it is to keep our cool when we’ve spent hours preparing a lecture and learning activity that is disrupted by an unruly student.  Staying calm and refusing to take it personally will help us focus on the solutions.

4. Have a sense of humor. Sometimes the class clown is actually funny.  Sometimes things go haywire in our plans.  We have to maintain a sense of humor for those times that laughing it off is the only sane option.

5.  Let go of total control. We’d love to believe that we are in total control of teenagers, but of course, we are not.  Trying to micromanage and completely control them is frustrating and futile.  We must always remind ourselves that our classrooms are created with mutual energy and mutual control.

What tips would you add to the list?  Any special situations you’d like to discuss with other educators?  Comment below!

positive discipline

Summer Goal: Social Learning Networks for the Classroom

I hope that your summer is off to a fantastic start!  I’m teaching a series of college application bootcamps so it seems that mine hasn’t quite started yet, but this week I want to share one of my major summer goals. If you haven’t made summer goals yet, I’m inviting you to take this journey with me and if you already have some expertise in this area, I’d seriously love your two cents!  This summer I want to learn how to effectively use a social learning network in my classroom.  I used collaborize classroom last year and I absolutely loved it (click here for a tutorial). However, some of my colleagues have decided to take up Edmodo or Schoology and it makes sense for us to have some constancy across the curriculum.

If you are new to the world of Edmodo, Schoology, and the other social learning networks, I’ll give you a brief definition.  Basically, these websites (and apps) allow teachers to create safe Facebook-like social networks where they can post information, assignments, quizzes, calendars, videos, and other content.  Students can also use the sites/apps to turn in work, which teachers can view, annotate and grade paperlessly.

Both platforms look amazing, but from what I can tell, Schoology’s iPad app beats out Edmodo’s app by far and Edmodo’s established user base and resources exceed those of Schoology.  Schoology also has a pay-for-service LMS side,which I will not need as my school uses a different LMS so I am just comparing the two free services. I went ahead and signed up for both accounts so I can play around with them this summer, but I think I will start the school year with Schoology because we are going toward a one-to-one iPad program and Schoology plays nicely with Turnitin.com, which is my lifesaver as an English teacher!

Here is a look at the Schoology iPad App from Jennie Magiera’s Technology in Education Blog (if you are into classroom tech, you should definitely follow her!):

Here’s an intro to Edmodo for teachers from @MissJill:

Ready, set, go!  I’m off to the races with these social learning networks!  I’ll check back in with this in the fall to let you know all the tips and tricks that I’ve worked out.  Thank you so much for stopping by and don’t forget to leave questions, comments or suggestions below!

Low Tech, High Visual English Lessons

If you follow this blog at all, you know that I LOVE using technology in the classroom, but today I want to share some of my favorite  low tech  teaching strategies.  I am a terrible artist, but I find a lot of benefit in drawing as we read. Students remember my silly drawings and they gets sense of the big picture of the literature. I require note taking in my class and my students usually love taking these notes and invariably, they are so much better than me.

Drawing our way through English: 

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My mythology unit begs for a map through the journey!  As we work our way through the Iliad, Aeneid, and Odyssey we can make connections and see the relationship between gods and humans. We can trace repercussions and retaliation to untangle the twisted web.  I usually draw this on my board as we go and by the end of the unit, it takes up all of my walls! 
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This basic outline of the characters of TKAM is helpful when guiding students through the first few chapters.  Having this on the board helps students to put it all together for the rest of the novel. 

 

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This character map of Ethan Frome is most helpful as a review at the end of the novel.  Before delving into the symbolism of the cat and the dish, I like to make sure that students have the basics down. 

 

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Lord of the Flies is such a fun novel to unfold.  I usually draw the island from the beginning and add details as the novel goes on.  Some years, I’ve had student volunteers add details for each reading assignment and I am always amazed at their perceptive reading!
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No reading of Slaughterhouse Five could end with an easy  linear mind map, but I love creating a visual with quotes that can help reveal the deeper truth behind the madness.  

Even though I am quite possibly one of the worst artists ever, I love to map out our reading and I find that students engage in the process well. What do you think?  Do you or would you try this with your students?  Leave us a comment below.