November 30, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in December

With the start of a new trimester, I'm starting a new unit on "Facing Fear" plus some choice writing to keep students engaged up to winter break.

My school operates on trimesters rather than marking periods, and our new trimester started when we returned from Thanksgiving break. My units align with our trimesters it's been nice to start something new upon returning from break. 

The end of first trimester was a bit of a let down. Despite all of the supports I have built into the essay writing process, the quality of many students' essays did not match what I expected to see after two weeks of work and many, many small group writing sessions. Similarly, the quality of students' final projects was also disappointing despite the step-by-step brainstorming and templates provided for students. Many projects were submitted incomplete and some students just didn't turn in anything despite knowing it was one of two of their final grades for the trimester.

That said, it's likely no surprise that my October frustrations with teaching haven't magically disappeared, but I am continuing to hold fast to my plans of keeping activities shorter and simpler to match student skill levels and stamina, using reading sprints to break up independent reading time into more manageable time chunks for students, and taking the time to deal with even the small behavior issues to keep things from spiraling. To help myself focus on the positive and not feel totally overwhelmed by the negatives, I also set a goal of sending home two good news notes per class period each day. 

November 27, 2022

14 Stories That Center Native American Voices

A list of books by Native American authors, recommended by middle and high school ELA teachers, for you to feature in your classroom library.

November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is also referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The month is a time to honor the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to recognize the important contributions of Native people. 

One way to educate your students about different tribes and the challenges Native people have faced in the past and continue to face in the present is to make sure books by Native American authors and focused on Native American characters are present on the shelves of your classroom library. You may also want to reconsider including books on your shelves that tell Natives' stories and history, but are told by non-Native authors. 

Below you'll find books by Native American authors, recommended by middle and high school ELA teachers, for you to feature in your classroom library. To mirror the diversity of Native tribes and experiences, included is a variety of fiction and non fiction, fantasy and dystopia, humor and realistic fiction, short stories and novels in verse. Click on the Instagram handle of the person recommending the book to read their recommendation.

November 15, 2022

16 Titles To Highlight During Hispanic Heritage Month and Beyond

Find titles by Hispanic and Latinx authors recommended by middle and high school ELA teachers for you to feature in your classroom library.

Each year, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 - October 15 to recognize the history, culture, and achievements of Americans whose heritage can be connected to over 20 countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. 

HHM is a great time to highlight books that center Hispanic and Latinx experiences, but these books should have a place on the shelves of your classroom library beyond that. Hispanics represent 18.9% of the total U.S. population, the nation's second largest racial or ethnic group after non-Hispanic whites. This growing population deserves to see their friendships and families, first loves and heartbreaks, struggles and successes on the pages of books.

Below you'll find fiction and nonfiction titles by Hispanic and Latinx authors recommended by middle and high school ELA teachers for you to feature in your classroom library. Click on the Instagram handle of the person recommending the book to read their recommendation.

October 30, 2022

What I'm Teaching & Reading in November

After finishing up our whole class novel study, students will write an essay connecting conflict and theme, and choose from 3 creative final projects.

The month of October is leaving me feeling a little frustrated. Too many students are still struggling with classroom routines. It's been more difficult to engage students in independent reading this year. I've done less choice writing than last year instead of more. There is never enough time to catch up students who are behind or need remediation. I could go on.

Instead I'm going to take some deep breaths and think about how to reset for the month of November. I know I  will need to do a review of expectations this week since Halloween was on Monday, students had off on Friday due to parent/teacher conferences, and we had a field trip on Thursday. 

As I plan my lessons for the month of November, I am going to continue to shorten the length of activities, knowing that this year's group of students doesn't have the same stamina as previous years. When we finish our novel unit and resume independent reading, I will use reading sprints to break up the chunk of time at the end of class I have dedicated to independent reading. Finally, I am going to make student behavior my priority and hold myself to having students reflect on their behavior during lunch, make their own phone calls home, etc. even though that means losing time to plan, grade, and create materials during the school day.

October 3, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in October

Classroom routines are falling into place. This month we'll begin our first whole class novel and continue building grammar skills through writing.

Over one month of school is now in the books. I feel good to be back in the classroom and a little more of my enthusiasm for teaching has returned. Overall, I have another good group of students, despite some high energy, chatty students in my last period class. I did think I would be doing a little less material creation this year, now that I'm fully working my way through my curriculum for a third time, but I'm finding that my students' skills are not as developed as they have been in years past and many more students need additional reinforcement of texts and skills. I am finally able to return to working with small groups, so rotations have made a big comeback in my classroom

September 27, 2022

15 Banned Books to Spotlight in Your Classroom All Year Long

Students need to read books that are mirrors and windows like the 15 titles here that despite being banned or challenged should be on your shelf.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating fREADom to read. This week long celebration of books began in 1982 in response to a growing number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Unfortunately that number only continues to grow.

Banned Books Week usually occurs during the last week of September, but an awareness of banned books should exist year round. According to We Need Diverse Books, "the top 10 most challenged books for 2020 include themes of racial justice, stories centered around BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ content. Of the top 10 most challenged books, 70% were by authors from marginalized groups." 

September 4, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in September

September is filled with mixed feelings: sadness that summer is ending, but excitement for a new school year with a new group of learners.

I have mixed feelings about the end of summer and the start of the school year. On one hand, I had a pretty darn good summer and I'm sad to see it go. On the other hand, I really do love my job and I'm eager to spend a year with a new group of learners, reading and writing and growing together. I work at a small, unique school and I'm also excited about the positive directions we continue to move in.

July 31, 2022

What I'm Reading & Planning in August

Summer is winding down, but I'm still focused on enjoying time with my family. I'm also reading and working on a change in my classroom routine.

I'm down to my final month of summer, but I'm not panicking just yet. Right now I'm on a long weekend trip to Arlington and Alexandria with my sister. Then my daughters have one more week of camp and school at home before we head back to the beach for another two weeks. They'll all do a week of camp there (my oldest one week and then my twins the next) and we'll have some family visit with us. Things are so go, go, go during the school year so I've been trying to really slow down and enjoy time with my daughters. They are getting to be an age where it is so much easier to do things with them. This summer has been a good mix of doing ordinary summer things (playground dates, library trips, swimming) with some special summer things (beach trips, a visit to Sesame Place, camps).

July 1, 2022

What I'm Reading & Planning in July

Summer is the time to decompress from the nonstop demands of the school year. I'm reading and thinking about making a change in my classroom routine.

Summer is in full swing and I am trying to enjoy every moment of it. Immediately after school ended, I spent two weeks at the beach with my daughters just enjoying the sunshine and decompressing from our nonstop routines during the school year. 

For most of the rest of the summer, my daughters are back in preschool (my twins) or enrolled in camp (my oldest) and I am catching up on doctor and dentist appointments and reconnecting with friends. I am working on turning resources I have used in my classroom into ones you can also use in yours and writing blog posts sharing my experiences teaching all things ELA. I am also making more time for exercise, trying to reclaim my garden, and sitting down to read a book in the middle of the day whenever I feel like it. Summer is glorious.

June 28, 2022

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Wrapping Up The Play

After students finish reading Julius Caesar, they continue to apply their understanding through film analysis, a final exam, and a Socratic Seminar.

After students finish reading Act V of Julius Caesar, they will continue to apply their knowledge and understanding in the form of various assessments. We watch a film version or two, review for and then take a final exam, and have one last discussion in a Socratic Seminar.

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act IV and V

Here's how I plan out Act IV and V of Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

After reading Act III of Julius Caesar, students understand that not all characters view omens and superstitions the same. We notice how Shakespeare builds towards the chaos surrounding Caesar’s murder and what he does to create the tension. Act III is important because it is packed with drama. We watched how characters’ plans succeeded and failed, taking us in a different direction than expected. With Julius Caesar– our title character– now dead, we will read to see how Shakespeare wraps up the play and whether “justice” will prevail.

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act III

Here's how I plan out Act III of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

After reading Act II of Julius Caesar, students understand the pros and cons of Caesar’s ambitious nature and his decision-making skills. We see the notable differences between Cassius and Brutus and understand that Caesar’s death is likely imminent. In fact, teachers should make note of the fact that Caesar is killed in the beginning of Act III, which begs the question why would Shakespeare kill off the title character in the middle of the play, and what does that leave in store for the rest of the play?

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act II

Here's how I plan out Act II of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

After reading Act I of Julius Caesar, students understand the conspirators’ plan to defeat Caesar– who we only see a little of in Act I but hear a great deal about from other characters– and understand how certain characters are using language to manipulate others into joining the conspiracy. Readers become more acquainted with Caesar in Act II as well as the only two women in the play: Calphurnia (Caesar’s wife) and Portia (Brutus’ wife).

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act I

Here's how I plan out Act I of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

When teaching one of William Shakespeare’s dramas to secondary students, it is all about digging in and having fun. I begin building engagement during the week I spend introducing the play Julius Caesar. Here's my approach to Act I.

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Introducing the Play

If you are teaching Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare this year, here’s four ways to hook your students as you introduce the play.

Rarely are students excited for reading a drama, let alone one written almost 500 years ago. It is much more likely that you’ll hear groans and complaints when you announce that your upcoming unit is Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your students, as mine did, can learn to understand and even to enjoy the old bard’s messages about relationships, ambition, and betrayal.

In this series of blog posts, I'll describe how I teach each part of Julius Caesar, starting with how I introduce the tragedy to students. As with any new piece of literature, especially one you know will be challenging for students, hooking them from the get go is crucial.

June 27, 2022

7 Projects to End a Unit or Novel Study (That Students Will Actually Get Excited About)

These 7 fresh ideas for creative projects that students will want to complete are perfect for the end of any novel or unit.

In English Language Arts we do a lot of reading and writing, so while I often wrap up a unit or novel with a major writing assignment, I also like to offer students' an opportunity to let their other talents and interests shine. Read on for 7 fresh ideas for projects that students will want to complete.

9 Ways to Maintain Students' Enthusiasm for Independent Reading All Year Long

Key to a successful independent reading program is constantly exposing students to new books and celebrating students' reading. Here's 9 ways I do it.

Key to a successful independent reading program is constantly exposing students to new books and celebrating students' reading.  It can be easy to want to do everything all at once, but I would recommend trying out one or two idea at a time. Sometimes what works for one group of students will not work with another group of students. Over time you will settle into what works in your classroom and is sustainable for you. Some of the ways I do this are through one time "special events," but most are established at the start of the year and built into our weekly classroom routines.

June 8, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in June

As the school year comes to a close, I am reflecting on the year and planning on how to engage students during the final days of school.

All things, good and bad, must come to an end, and that includes this school year. Like the past two years, there's been an intensity to this year that leaves me longing for summer and some time to decompress. 

Despite the challenges of teaching during a pandemic and being out for two extended absences because of Covid, there are things this year that I am happy about. I am pleased with the layers I've continued to add to my curriculum,  and the work I did to develop students' writing skills and love of reading. I hope to continue my progress with all of those things next year, but mostly I'm just hoping for a healthier school year.

May 15, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in May

With state testing behind us, this month we're in the midst of our final novel unit and ending with some creative writing assignments and projects.

With each new month this school year, I feel like I've tried to convince myself that things are going to be better: I am going to have more energy, be less tired, and be more on top of things. It's probably not a surprise to you that I'm still waiting for that to happen, and I have no hopes that May will be the month that it does. I know I have been fortunate compared to the behavior issues and coverage shortages that so many teachers have faced this year, but I still can't wait for the school year to end in June. What I planned on  teaching in May remained much a mystery until late last week and we're already halfway through the month at this point.

April 2, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in April

Our "dealing with disaster" unit begins with poetry, nonfiction, and a short story. We'll begin parallel novels and state testing at the month's end.

Spring is finally here, bringing warmer weather and more hours of daylight. I can feel the effects on my energy levels and students' as well. Once the mornings are a little less chilly, I'll start planning lessons that we can take outdoors again. 

The infographic project at the end of our "facing fear" unit went really well, and so did our personal narratives for some students. However, too many just aren't taking the revision and editing process seriously. Next year, I will have to work out how to spend more time working on making those changes in small groups. We just wrapped up our March Madness Poetry Tournament and our winner was "Water" by Rudy Francisco.

Right now, I'm coasting a bit through the start of our new unit on "dealing with disaster" because I've previously taught all of the shorter texts we start the unit with. I will have some work to do when we start our parallel novels at the end of this month. 

March 1, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in March

After writing a narrative and and creating infographic, we'll start our "Dealing With Disaster" unit and kick off a March Madness Poetry Tournament.

For the shortest month of the year, February sure felt long. For me it was likely less because of teaching and more because of interruptions to my sleep thanks to my own children (I don't function well without a full night of sleep). I wasn't super productive during my time to work at work and ended up doing too many things at home. We also had parent conferences, a field trip, and a day off for President's Day thrown in there, so maybe part of the problem was never quite settling into a rhythm. Whatever the root of my February problems, I'm trying to reset my energy and focus for March.

There were some positives in February. My students enjoyed our literature circles just as much as I did and since covid cases are way down, we are allowed to put student desks together again. That also means being allowed to pull small groups, which I've been struggling with not being able to do all year. Especially because I teach a 90 minute block, being able to pull different groups of students or have different groups of students work together throughout a class period is a must. 

February 8, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in February

This month we are fully immersed in literature circles with a weekly structure that allows room for reading, writing, discussing, and collaborating.

January was exhausting. The first week back from break was an emotional roller coaster of getting ready to go virtual and then not, due to a last minute health department decision. The following week was just weird, with anywhere from one third to one half to two thirds of my students out in each of my classes. It felt like those days just before schools closed down in March 2020 when I kept teaching to try to maintain a sense of normalcy, but it felt foolish with the number of students missing. The following weeks some students were back and others are out and the health department changed its guidance again. Now I'm trying to catch everyone up and still stay on top of everything and I'm just tired.

January 1, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in January

Our "Facing Fear" unit continues with nonfiction texts, a synthesis essay, and literature circles. Read on for this month's reading and teaching plan.

Happy New Year! I’ve spent as much of my time as possible over the break not thinking about school, avoiding social media, and limiting my news intake so that I could actually try to relax during my time off. 

My school will return from break in person, continue to require masks, and hope for the best. Our students will continue to be seated 3 feet apart and while we have been instructed to put a pause on group work, we aren't yet reverting back to a standardized seating chart across class.