Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reflections on Boxing Class

Last week I finished a series of five boxing classes from a Groupon purchase.  It was a tougggghhhhh work out.  Not just because the activities were strenuous, but it was also intimidating and way out of my comfort zone.

So why am I telling you about boxing?  I think there are some powerful lessons for teaching and my classroom.

First, I didn't know anyone else there.  The instructor made no introductions.  Nor did he ask if anyone was a beginner, had any injuries, etc.  I think at the elementary level we typically do a great job of planning "getting to know you" activities.  But it's a great reminder about all the things people need in order to feel comfortable.  We need to feel known, understood, and conversely, know our instructor and the goals of the lesson/course.

The first time I attended, there was very little guidance or explanation of the activities.  I tried to ask a person near me, but he shrugged and said, "Just punch the bag."  Thanks. 

The instructor wasn't much better.  I'm sure he knew I was a beginner, even though he didn't ask.  And I'm sure it's part of the "boxing culture," but his instructions were terse and gruff.  He barked, "If you don't stop taking a step backwards, I'm going to put a rock on your foot."

I know none of us would ever say something like this to a student, but it is a good reminder that students MUST have buy in to our goal in order to have a sense of purpose and security.

The second time I attended, I asked a girl who clearly had attended before for guidance.  She was wonderful.  She explained WHY we were doing certain activities.  She gave great tips and talked to me at my level.  This was another great reminder that someone who has more recently learned a skill is often a better teacher than an instructor who learned the lesson/activity long ago.

At the end of each class, there was time to practice the punching bag with a partner.  This actually made me anxious every time.  Not only was there the fear of, "What if no one picks me?"  But I was also wary of partnering up with someone of a much different level.  To be with the more advanced students meant I would embarrass myself with my inexperience.  As I attended more, I also didn't want to be with a first-timer, because that meant I would spend the whole time helping them with what to do.

How often have I been guilty of assigning a higher student with a lower or vis versa?  What a great reminder of how important it is to have students work with a peer near their level for the best learning to occur.

While I may not be ready to step into the ring ANYtime soon, I am grateful for the lessons learned from my weeks in boxing class.  It's just as helpful as any PD I have done this summer and will certainly impact my classroom for years to come.  And not just because I can intimidate the troublemakers! 

Monday, July 29, 2013

You are Wise

This past weekend I celebrated a friend's upcoming wedding at her bachelorette party in Louisville.  Before dinner, we went to a painting studio called Pinot's Palette.  It was a lovely way to get to know her friends.
The painting that evening was a cutie little owl.
Hooty Owl
Or this guy
Midnight Owl
The atmosphere was so fun and the teachers were very informative and entertaining.
Painting in action
The whole class
As I was working, I was wondering where I would actually hang my owl at my house.  One friend, in a stroke of genius, suggested adding a quote for my classroom.  Love it!
I put a twist on the famous quote from The Help, and painted onto it, "You are kind.  You are wise.  You are important." 
Can't wait to hang it in my classroom!
Check out all of our masterpieces.
Photo: Masterpieces

Friday, July 26, 2013

Inexpensive Classroom Posters

I posted earlier this week on classroom posters. 

I found this tutorial from about how to convert Pinterest printable files (or any image for that matter) into an inexpensive poster from Staples.  Who doesn't want that?

How to Get One Dollar Color Classroom Posters
Which printables have you been wanting for your classroom??  Bonus: check out Krissy Venosdale's flikr collection of free classroom posters here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quote Board

This is the time of year when we dream about revamping our classrooms for next year.  One easy way to do that is through printables, signs, and quotes. 

I have some favorites in my room already, but here are some I'm planning to add this coming year.

Always keep a notebook handy; you never know when inspiration will strike.
Download, print, enjoy... lovely
Great poster for the classroom.

Make it Work
Anyone else so excited for the new season of Project Runway?!

Monday, July 22, 2013

New! Pages

Did you notice an update to the blog??

I've added pages to make it easier to navigate.  There is a little "About Me" section as well as a classroom tour with pictures.

What else do you think I should add??  What are you wanting to know more about at this "I'm-not-ready-to-talk-about-the-fact-it's-almost-August" time of the year??  Leave me a comment with your ideas.

Also, don't forget to enter the giveaway for your own copy of "Eat, Shoots, and Leaves" by Lynne Truss.  You still have extremely high odds of winning :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Another Give-Away!

I am excited to announce another Art of Teaching give-away!  I have an extra paperback copy of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves that I want to share with YOU.  (If you didn't read my post on it earlier this week, click here).


I mean, come on, who doesn't want to read more about a Grammar Ninja Warrior like that panda?!  By the way, did you know that the ?! mark is called an "interrobang?"  I learned that from this book!  Just think of all you could learn, too.  You don't even have to be a teacher to enter/win!

To enter, you must pin an image to Pinterest anywhere from my blog with a direct link and the attribution {The Art of Teaching} and follow the Rafflecopter directions below. 

The give-away will remain open until July 27 at 12 AM.  Leave a comment so I know that you have entered.  And good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pinterest U.

Can anyone else relate to this?
Funny Workplace Ecard: Pinning teaching ideas should get you some kind of professional development credit.
I do marvel at how many great ideas I see teachers collecting and sharing on Pinterest during our "time off."  It's an amazing professional community, for sure.
To build off of my post from Monday, I have some of my favorite grammar related pins to share with you.  First, the funny ones.
Ancient Grammar Police.
More grammar geekery.
 Don't you just love a good grammar joke?
Anyway, I also found this awesome flipbook for parts of speech and usage rules.
Grammar Flip book
The pic doesn't have a link that goes with it, but I'm envisioning possibly using it as a review after I teach serial commas, appositives, and introductory clauses. 
It could also be used be used at the beginning of the year as a quick way to see what students already know and which areas will need to be covered.
Other ideas?  What are your favorite grammar (or other) Pinterest finds?  And be sure to follow my teaching board here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

I'm finishing up some continuing ed. credits this week.  I am looking forward to writing a six-page paper on the Transcontinental Railroad tonight (#yourejealous).  I have also been doing work for two online classes.  Hey, who said teachers take the summer off?! 

Among those classes, I took one through the University of La Verne.  Did you know their credit hours are only $105?  Check it out if you need some CEUs or what have you.  The class I just finished is called "Punctilious Punctuation."  To be perfectly honest, it wasn't fab.  In fact, I could have done much better!  Ha ha... Shout-out to Mike SanMarco for our fabulous grammar class last summer.

What was great about this course, though, was I got to revisit a fun (yes, FUN) grammar book I read a few years ago, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss.  Truss is a cranky and witty punctuation curmudgeon.  But she takes her readers on an insightful and playful ride through the rise and fall of punctuation.

An explanation of the title from the back of the book jacket:


What you may be even more interested in is her picture book version by the same title.

The book has two illustrations side by side and shows how commas change the sentence. 

These pages say, "Look at that huge hot dog!"  and "Look at that huge, hot dog!"

I have read this book with students and then had them create their own similar sentences and accompanying illustrations.

Along the same lines, you may be familiar with:

As part of the course I also got to use a book given to me by my cousin for Christmas, I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups .  We had to go on a scavenger hunt for bad punctuation in public places and I was eager to bust out this gem to help.

If I didn't laugh I would cry.

Side note:  This is me.  Consider yourself warned.

Another side note: I'm really paranoid that I made a grammar/punctuation error in this post now.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Recent Reading

I'm back from a lovely New England vacation of museums, Declaration readings, theatre, yummy dining, and READING!  I had a 13 hour drive, so a few of these were books on CD but I did enjoy cracking open a few books from my ever-growing stack.  Here are my ever so brief thoughts...

Gone Girl was a bit too dark for my tastes, but gripping and full of a multitude of unexpected twists and turns.  If you're looking for a good crimer thriller, this may be your girl.

The Paperboy was my hopeful choice for our Rules/character unit.  The main character is an introverted boy with a severe stutter.  Overall though, I thought the narrative was less than compelling and the characters flat.  There is a sweet relationship between the main character, Victor, and his African American maid as well as a mysterious neighbor/mentor.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends is a MUST read!  Or even better, listen.  The audio book is read, rather, performed by Rob Lowe himself.  His story is incredibly captivating and at times a little unbelievable.  It's especially fun for locals as Rob grew up in Dayton.  He also spent a summer at the theatre festival we see in MA every year along with his buddy Christopher Walken.  True story: that part of the CD came up JUST as I drove by the theatre.  Maybe you don't find that as thrilling as I do, but it was cool.  Trust me.


The Fault in Our Stars is the latest hit in YA lit.  And it's no wonder.  John Green masterfully takes on a HS-aged female protangonist.  His insight and voice is so compelling, even without a heart-wrenching story of cancer patient Hazel Grace.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll thank me later...

Love Does is a heart-warming collection of short stories by Bob Goff, who argues that true love (not always in the romantic sense) is active.  It takes risks and gets engaged with life and ultimately should reflect the love of Christ.  He weaves stories with wit and charm that are instructive and poignant in the least cheesy way.  This may be my favorite of all my recent reads.  Or tied with Rob Lowe :)

I just started Where'd You Go, Bernadette? today.  But so far I am loving this epistolary story.  It's playful and amusing and already chock-full of dynamic characters.  I can't wait to read more of Bernadette's adventures.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fiction/Nonfiction Smackdown

I am honored to introduce you to another Art of Teaching guest blogger, Rachel Niemer. I met Rachel through the Historical Perspectives online class I'm teaching this summer. Even over the world wide web, her voice and personality has jumped off the screen in her reflective posts. Rachel just finished her third year of teaching World Literature to 9th graders and 10th grade English at West Carrollton High School. She is a runner, yogi, and world traveller. Last summer, she and her boyfriend went all the way to Nicaragua. When she is not travelling the globe or training for a half marathon, Rachel spends time pondering the education issues that affect us most today, like the Common Core (okay, maybe we assigned her to do this!), but her argument about the way the CCSS has pitted nonfiction against fiction is seriously impressive and enjoyable. Hope it makes you think as much as it did for me.
The more articles I read about the Common Core, the more I see this as a battle between Fiction and Nonfiction. Why is that so? Can't teachers teach the same essential concepts through both types of literature? Yes, there are unique elements of both (which is why we should maybe strive to provide a more balanced, diverse text set in our classrooms). If we only focus upon teaching one type of writing (like the Common Core's attention to nonfiction), we lose so much, and our next state-implemented standards (probably in the next 10 years) will swing our attention back to fiction. The New York Times article What Shouls Children Read? called this a, fiction/nonfiction "smackdown." Why does it have to be this way?

When professor/author Dr. Tom Romano recently presented at Miami, he mentioned his frustrations with the CCSS disregarding narrative writing. This also saddens me, as good, creative writing is what I like to read most. I'd much rather read a story that has a beautifully constructed, vividly creative way of describing the accounts of their life rather than read a stark piece of writing any day. But, I definitely see value in nonfiction, business-like writing. Most of the job world out there isn't going to want something with meaningful metaphors and strong symbolism. Rather, they are going to want a specific account of a lab procedure, meeting minutes, travel log, etc. David Coleman, one of the authors of the CCSS summed this up by saying, “It is rare in a working environment,” he argued, “that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”

I think that both types of writing, fiction and nonfiction, need to coexist more in the classroom. When both are used, the texts we choose to read in our lives become more worthwhile to read. For example, I love reading (nonfiction) blogs. Though the stories told on these blogs are about the real lives of women, I'd be bored after one post if the blogger hadn't included beautiful imagery, creative word choice, charismatic writing voice, and cute plays-on-words (all of which we associate with "narrative/fiction/creative" writing).

Our students are going to enter a "grown up" world that will bombard them with multiple perspectives, diverse opinions, and diverse writing pieces. So, why not give them access to a mix of the two types of texts? (I think this is where the "historic fiction" pieces come into play!) In the Scholastic article Why and How I Teach with Historical Fiction, the author mentioned that historical fiction, "...introduces children to characters who have different points of view and offers examples of how people deal differently with problems. It also informs students about the interpretive nature of history, showing how authors and illustrators deal with an issue in different ways." THAT is what I want my students to learn in class!

Historical Fiction is kind of the peacemaker in this "smackdown" between fiction/nonfiction. If we use this style of fiction, it opens the doors for nonfiction to coexist (potentially in a cross-curricular fashion, if we could plan this with other departments)! Through the Common Core, there may seem to be a push to incorporate nonfiction into our curriculum. But, I think we can still find ways (like using historical fiction!) to teach our students to appreciate both types of writing!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Happy Blogiversary!!

Dear readers, can you believe it?! 

My silly idea to jump on the blogging train came to fruition one year ago today!  Since then I have loved reflecting on what I do in my classroom as I share it with you.  It has helped me grow and think more deeply, and I hope has given you an idea or two along the way as well.

As I pause to think about where I have been and where my blog is headed, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  What do you want to see more of?  Book recommendations, lesson ideas, my general thoughts on life?  I'd love to know! 
It'll be hard to top a free pencil sharpener, but I'm up for the challenge :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope you are out celebrating our beautiful country with friends and family.  In honor of our nation's birthday, I have a wonderful resource for you, "Today in History" from the American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress. 

Today's entry is hopefully pretty obvi... buuutttttt add it to your bookmark list for great primary source documents throughout the year.

Image, Source: color corrected film copy slide
72dpi JPEG image of: Hurrah for the USA
Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
God bless the USA!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Historical Perspectives, pt 2

Last week I shared about how SATP and I taught last week on text sets.  Well that's not the only excitement from our online class' face to face meeting :)

We also enjoyed a Skype session with author Lynne Dorfman.  Lynne is one part of the Dorfman/Cappelli mentor text guru duo.  Sweet Lynne spoke with us specifically about her book Nonfiction Mentor Texts. 

Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children's Literature (Grades K-8) cover

She shared lots of ways to help students brainstorm writing topics as well as activities for writing informational pieces. 

One of my favorite activities we tried out was the "Creating a Scene: A Way to Introduce an Information Piece of Writing" lesson (original credit to Fletcher & Portalupi).

Using the book Frogs, Lynne shared how author Ann Heinrichs creates a scene as a lead to her text.  She broke down how the author included many true facts, but it was told in an interesting narrative fashion.  Then it was our turn. 

Lynne gave us a list of facts about hummingbirds from the book Hummingbirds: Tiny But Mighty by Judy Gehman and then had us practice writing a "creating a scene" lead. Bonus: this is a great way to teach students not to plagiarize research materials!

Her handout for the lesson can be accessed here.  Lynne also shared other types of leads (with mentor text titles!) she teaches students here.  I know many of these went on my wishlist!