Tag Archives: high school English

Pull Up a Chair!


Reading conferences begin today. We’ve been in school for two weeks, and I’m anxious to start. A handful of my students have already read two books, some have completed one, and others are plodding through that first one.

I’m using Remind and trying out the new Chat feature. I was skeptical because I didn’t want students abusing that, but, so far, it’s been amazing! On Monday evening of this week, from a self-professed non-reader, I received this message:

“Non-reader”: I’m just finished my book.

Me: Are you serious, _____? I’m so proud of you!

“Non-reader”: Thank you

I talked to him the next day. He’s a student I had in 8th grade, and he’s now a junior repeating his sophomore English. I knew he’d read that book in 8th grade, but I also knew he had not read a book in three years. I stopped him in the hall on Tuesday and asked him, “Well, what did you think of the book?”

He replied, “It was great!”

“You read it in 8th grade, right?”

“Yes, but I really understood it this time,” he replied.

You see, it’s ok to read a book more than once. They remember that reading “rule” from my eighth grade classroom. Granted, this book, The Barrio Kings, by William Kowalski was a mere 138 pages, but for, this “non-reader”, he finished a book before most of his peers who claim to be readers. What a boost to his morale! He’s already on his second book. I can’t wait to talk to him today about how it’s going.

I had another student message me last night. She’s in my Honors English III class, but guess what I’m finding? These students who elected to be in Honors English don’t consider themselves readers anymore either. This particular student is new to me. I didn’t have her in my 8th grade class, but I’ve already grown to love her renewed reader spirit. Here’s pieces of her message to me after finishing We Were Liars by E. Lockhart:


Me: And?! On a scale of 1-5…

M: Definitely a 5!

She goes on to tell how she couldn’t believe how the book turned out and what she was actually reading wasn’t what she thought she was reading. All the while, I’m nodding and saying, “YES!” because I read the book and know how she felt. And then….

Me: I’m so glad you stuck with it. I think it’s brilliant!

M: Wow! I’m so glad I picked this book as my first. I, M_____, (who hated reading), want to read a lot more.

Me: Awww! Really? I would have no idea you hated reading.

M: I used to, yes. I am guilty. BUT, only because I didn’t like the books I was reading. But now, it’s getting easier for me and I really love it!

So, with the help of Remind, I have figuratively pulled up that conferencing chair with two of my students already. Today, after they finish their Membean quizzes, I will literally pull up my chair and ask questions like “What’s going on in your book?” “On a scale of 1-5, what would you rate the book right now?” “You’re close to being finished. It’s a long weekend. What do you have on your ‘To Be Read’ list?” “Have you noticed any of the Notice and Note Signposts?”

I love this part of my job. It’s really the icing on the cake. It’s a time to connect with a student and find out more about how I can motivate him or her. It’s somewhat magical.

I do like magic, especially the magic that exists when that reluctant reader finds that “just right” book.

Individual reading record sheet 3rd week 2014-15

Because If Not Us, Then Whom?



I feel I’ll disappoint a few of my readers with this blog post. I think I’m ready to shoulder that.

Here’s the deal: as ELA teachers, we have a double-edged sword. On the positive side, we can easily bring the world into our classroom walls; on the negative side, we can easily bring the world into our classroom walls.

There are some days that I don’t believe I have the fortitude to do it. Days like the one a few years ago when a group of boys challenged every lesson in which we learned about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and the surrounding countries. “We think it could be propaganda,” they intoned. A first for me outside of hearing the president of Iran make such claims, I fought to choose my words wisely and responded to their challenge. Later, these three boys and I talked individually, and, while a lot of this came from being an eighth-grade boy, I also knew that some of their disbelief came from influences outside of my control: parents, news media, and possibly some social media fringe movements.

I want my students to be thinkers, so, while this challenge was a bit scary for me, the incident helped me to shore up my own beliefs about genocide and our need as a society to respect all people.

So, when the events of the summer crashed into my news feed, a little part of me rejoiced that we would not have to discuss these issues in class in all of their fresh pain and anger. The other part of me longed for the interchange the teens in my classroom bring to discussing the events in our world. Compared to adults discussing current events, believe me, it’s so much more refreshing to hear what the teenagers have to bring to the table.

While I’m not entirely certain about which direction the discussion will go when I ask for their thoughts on #blacklivesmatter or immigration or “the Donald”, one thing I’ll know I have to address as I do every year is the “R” word.

I’ll bet you didn’t think this blog would come to that. Welcome to just about any serious discussion in real life or on the comments sections of the interwebs. You can almost always guarantee that the “R” word will surface. It goes down something like this:

LOVER OF ALL CREATURES: I can’t believe all of you people. You are saying such horrible things about [insert a victim or victimized group, human or non-human]! What is this world coming to? You are all retarded.

Yes, that’s the word. The word that even a tender-hearted animal-lover slung out recently on a comment thread. The word that a special education teacher who taught students with mental handicaps spewed when talking about something as inane as the schedule. The word that, invariably, my students will use when they are stumped in an argument with another classmate.

The “R” word. It makes my skin crawl. It hurts my ears. And I know that, if I don’t say something, who will?

My first three years of teaching were in early childhood special education. I daresay that, in thirty years, I have never come across a set of parents who cared more deeply for a child than one particular mother and  father who happened to be mentally handicapped. No matter the difficulty, they made it a point to be at every school event, send treats for the class, and provide for their young daughter.

At that same time, my ex-husband and I adopted a child who, now in his thirties, is mentally handicapped. Engaging, funny, and one heck of an athlete, the world is a better place because of Wes. Of course he has limitations, but I daresay there are few individuals on earth who could do as many consecutive cartwheels as he can and probably even fewer who can learn languages as quickly and fluently as Wes.

I really hate that word. What I know, though, is that all it takes to stop others from using it is to say something about it. New school year, new classes—we will have the “R” word discussion. After that my students will work as a team to break the chain of insult and pain. Every year, that’s what they do. Because that’s what they do, I have faith that, when they become adult citizens in our world, they will continue to stop the “R” word.

Because, if not us, if not them, then whom?

R-word/Spread the Word to End the Word

Mindmup, Messiness, and Mastery


mindmup of TotS

PDF of TotS Mindmup

Using Mindmup helps me contain my creative ideas and reign in the mess that’s in my mind as I plan. I mindmap with my students as we write, so I naturally felt the urge to use the process in my planning. I’m sure over my nearly three decades of teaching, I’ve mindmapped hundreds…well, maybe dozens…of plans.

Recently, I wanted to find a mindmapping tool which I could access online as well as offline. After a simple Google search, I discovered Mindmup. If I recall correctly, it was the first hit in a long string of possibilities. So far Mindmup has served my purposes well.

One thing I know about myself is that I am a planner. I love to plan anything: vacations, Christmas, lessons, my birthday party (yes, that really happened, embarrassingly enough…rough patches in life make people do crazy things!)

Conversely, when it comes to carrying through on my plans, if I don’t have written evidence, I’m screwed. Loose papers of mindmaps do me no good when I can’t remember where I placed them. Enter Mindmup—an online, free (you can purchase an amped-up version, but the free version is working fine for me at this point) program that has helped me document my thinking.

I’ve inserted a picture of a Mindmup I’m working on currently regarding the teaching of Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. As I researched various avenues to travel in teaching this play to my students, the information became unwieldy, in fact, enormous. I had to have a process of taming me before I became a shrew.

Fortunately, Mindmup fit my needs. If you choose to use Mindmup and need some pointers (believe me, it’s really easy—you probably will catch on quickly!), email me, and I’ll be happy to help.