It Doesn’t Get Scarier than These Teachers’ Horror Stories

Notes from the Classroom

You know the feelings. The panic. The jaw-clenching terror. The gasping, nervous sweats.

They’re the feelings that somehow never leave us, even years later, as we think back on our teaching horror stories.

Today, in honor of All Hallows’ Eve, our bloggers dug through their own gut-churning experiences, and shared some stories they’ll never forget.

An Unannounced Visitor

It was September, and our school had a new principal. That latter fact is important to remember. That day, I was teaching social studies. We were reading about oxen in a yoke. My students were confused between yoke and yolk, so I drew pictures on the board. There were still questions about how a yoke would work, so I decided to act it out. Two students volunteered to come up front and get down on all fours. I stood behind them and explained how the yoke would be placed over their shoulders. Then I stood between them and was demonstrating how the driver would steer and whip the animals–when our new principal walked in. I froze, hand in mid-air. She froze. I think all of my students held their breath. Then she hurriedly said, “I’ll come back later,” quickly turned, and exited the room. The entire class erupted in laughter the moment the door closed. “You should have seen your face!” they cried. My cheeks were on fire, so I could only imagine. Great first impression! It was a story my students were still telling at the end of that year. – Beth Rogers

Journey to the Center of a Nasal Passage

The classroom was filled with the sound of rustling notebook pages and furiously scribbling pencils. I circulated through the desks, glowing about the beauty of an eighth-grade writing workshop. But before I had too much time to bask, I heard the faint sound of whimpering. One of my boys was hunched over his desk, tears spilling onto his paper. Oh no, I thought. What have I done? How did I not realize how much he’s struggling? 

“What’s going on?” I whispered to him. He mumbled something that I couldn’t hear. “Hmm?” I asked. He looked up at me with big, tear-filled eyes. He leaned in closer so that no one would hear. “I have a dime stuck in my nose.”

I paused for a second, not sure sure that I’d heard him right. He pointed to his right nostril, tilted his head back, and there, sure enough, was a dime shining from deep within his little eighth grade nose. Postscript: Yes, he put it up there himself. Yes, that was a strange phone call home. And, yes, we got it out. – Megan Kortlandt

The Laws of Physics Broke Down

It was a dark and chilly November morning. The air outside was so brisk that the high school building itself made a conscious decision to put the boilers on blast. Which meant the air in the multi-purpose room, which serves as my makeshift classroom, was roughly 97 degrees. Of course. Because this was the day that I would present research strategies to six straight classes of over-heated, miserable, occasionally unruly high school sophomores. Having fired up the ceiling projector, I began my presentation to a particularly disengaged group. About four minutes into my instruction, the projector succumbed to the heat and shut itself off. After several minutes, I restarted the projector, only to have it die again. And again. And again. All told, the projector failed six times throughout the 55-minute period. It’s a mathematical feat that still haunts me to this day. – Bethany Bratney


Possessed by the Evil Spirit

It was my first year of teaching. I was young and excited and terrified. On Curriculum Night, I needed a little liquid courage, so I chugged three iced coffees. Three. I wasn’t really a coffee drinker, but they tasted good and I was nervous so . . . bottoms up. As the parents filed in and I started talking, the caffeine took over. It was one of those moments when you can see yourself speaking, like I was floating above my own body as an observer. Huh. Look at that girl with the crazy eyes, rapid firing information and scaring all those parents with her unhinged enthusiasm. I got through the night and I’ve since conquered my fear of Curriculum Night. But I’ll always cringe a little when I remember that first one. – Hattie Maguire

A Lesson amid Tragedy

My first year of teaching was 2001, the year of September 11. That was horror enough. But I was also hired to teach two sections of history. Having only a minor in anthropology, I knew I would be struggling to stay ahead of the 8th graders. I armed myself with some great books by Joy Hakim, and tried to stay on top of current events. So, when the teacher next door told me to turn on the news that fall September day, I did. My students and I sat and watched two burning buildings on the small screen in the corner, until the principal came on the PA to tell us all to turn off our TVs. Jeff, a student, raised his hand and asked, “Where is the Pentagon?” I had no idea, and so the horror of being unprepared as a teacher turned into a lesson on geography research. We spent the rest of the hour researching where the Pentagon was and what it was they did there. – Caroline Thompson

The Tornado and the Spiders

For anyone who knows me, it is no surprise that my classroom is filled with colorful anchor charts. I’m a crafty girl, to say the least. So when I began my teaching journey, as a kindergarten teacher, I was more than ecstatic. October brought, among other things, spider headbands hanging in the hall outside the classroom, greeting inhabitants as they passed. One of the regular inhabitants of our hall was the night custodian, Mr. Todd. He would gingerly collect the fallen spiders as he made his rounds, and inform me the following day of the casualties. I would collect the spiders from him and rehang them. Night after night. Morning after morning. Until the evening of October 24th.

An unexpected autumn tornado touched down upon the small-town elementary school. The hall that once embraced students’ work and smiles and laughter was reduced to half-erected walls and piles of cement blocks. And among it all, stood a wall: a display of spider headbands. Not one had fallen. – Tina Luchow

3 Ways to Work With Newby Teachers

Notes from the Classroom

I was walking out of school the other day with my colleague Emily, and as we passed a newer teacher, I said, “Man, everybody seems so young around here these days.” She laughed ruefully and said, “Yup. We’re the Old Guard now.”  

When I started teaching, “Old Guard” meant the teachers who had been there long enough to have it all figured out. They were the ones who made the decisions while the rest of us followed their lead.

I certainly don’t have everything all figured out, and I’m not really comfortable with this whole “getting older” thing, so here are a few ways I’m trying to hang with the newbies:

1. Learn with (and from) Younger Teachers

One of the things I love most about my colleagues is our teacher-led book studies.

Right now we are doing a study on The Teenage Brain, and at our last meeting, one of my favorite parts was hearing from Kaitlyn, a second-year Spanish teacher. She described how she’s slowing down her instruction so that she gives her students time to process.

I know kids need processing time. I’ve heard about wait time for years. But listening to her describe how it was working in her classroom was the reminder I needed. The next day, I could hear her voice in my head as I was rushing through a class discussion. Slow down, give them time to process. I did. And it worked.  

2. Let Younger Teachers Take the Reigns

I’m a bit bossy (bit is not the right word at all). I like to lead. So, naturally, when two new teachers started teaching AP Language with me, I was quick to tell them how we do things.

We were clipping right along when Gina started offering suggestions. Maybe we should change the order of how we introduce the writing tasks, she suggested. Insert horrified face from Hattie. What we’re doing is working so well, I thought. But–her reasoning was sound. Her idea was a good one. We tried it, and I’m happy to report that she was right. It wasn’t easy for me to give up what I knew had always worked, but it was good to push myself to try a different approach that might be better.

3. Listen to Their Questions

I’m lucky to be part of an awesome group of AP Lang teachers who share ideas on Voxer, a messaging app. This year an experienced AP Lit teacher who is teaching Lang for the first time joined our group.

A few weeks ago, she asked how we explain exigence to our students. Her followup questions, and the discussion she sparked, made me realize I’ve been explaining it poorly for awhile. It helped me think about why I was doing what I was doing, and pushed me to think about teaching it from a new angle.

Others’ questions, then, help me think about why I do what I do, which in turn helps me rethink my teaching.

Younger Teachers Keep us Fresh

It’s easy to settle into a professional identity based on experience. But pushing myself to connect with newer teachers is a way to keep myself fresh.

Don’t worry–I won’t go too far. I’m still good for teasing the pesky millennial history teacher for his strange hipster ways. But after I run him over with my walker, I might just pick his brain a little, too.

Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) hit a milestone in her career this year: she realized she’s been teaching longer than her students have been alive (17 years!). She is spending that 17th year at Novi High School, teaching AP English Language and AP Seminar for half of her day, and spending the other half working as an MTSS literacy student support coach. When she’s not at school, she spends her time trying to wrangle the special people in her life: her 8-year-old son, who recently channeled Ponyboy in his school picture by rolling up his sleeves and flexing; her 5-year-old daughter, who has discovered the word apparently and uses it to provide biting commentary on the world around her; and her 40-year-old husband, whom she holds responsible for the other two.

#WhyIWrite

Notes from the Classroom

It’s the National Day on Writing. Which means one thing: it’s time to consider why we write, what we write, and what writing does for our lives. To celebrate the event, we’ve put together a roundup from our bloggers, who describe why they put pens to paper–or fingers to keyboards.

Don’t just read! When you’re done with this post, add to the conversation on Twitter with #WhyIWrite. And keep writing!

How Writing Helps Us Work Out Ideas

In our student support office, we always brainstorm ways to reach our kids who are not successful with the curriculum. Often, one of us will say something and the others will say, “Oooh! Write that down.” That’s become code for, That’s a great idea and I want to know more about it. You should continue thinking about that and writing about it so we can all understand it better. We’ve taken to saying it so often, in fact, that now it’s usually said with a smirk or a laugh. But, “Ooh! Write that down” is #WhyIWrite. I write to figure things out. When I’m writing, I’m thinking on paper and challenging what I thought I knew. Usually, halfway through a reflection about a lesson, my writing leads me to understand what just happened–or what could happen–in a totally different way. – Hattie Maguire

Remembering the Great Ketchup Incidents

I write because I love people. I love our humanity, our fragility, and our inherent weirdness. I love the way we all have stories that we keep tucked away, and I love realizing the potential of those stories. My students present me with endless opportunities for stories. I once had an eighth grade boy who, at lunch, would stash french fries in one pocket and ketchup in the other. Then, when his 6th hour teacher wasn’t looking, he’d dip his fries in his ketchup pocket and have himself a little afternoon snack. I mean, that’s gold, isn’t it? I swear one day it’ll end up in a book I write. It has to. – Megan Kortlandt

Writing Makes Us Less Alone

I have written for as long as I can remember: letters, poetry, stories. I write to process my life; to express deep emotion, be it grief or joy. I write when I feel passionate about a subject and I need to get my thoughts on paper. I write when I need to make sense of things–long, rambling writings that I find often end at the place where I truly need to begin. Writing can freeze a moment in time and capture the sights, sounds, and feelings that were present and not present. Writing taps the emotions of the writer, and if done skillfully, the reader as well. Writing is both deeply personal and all about connection: the unspoken hope that someone, somewhere, feels the way we do, and through this connection there will be understanding, acknowledgement, and validation of our experience. – Beth Rogers

Why Our Writing Helps Us Understand Students

I write to notice the quiet or not-so-quiet resistant writer who may usually go unnoticed. I write to uncover nuance–to see what’s buried beneath the hard surface of a reluctant writer. I write to discover the reason why that writer won’t write–or worse, thinks she can’t write. I write to clarify and extend my thinking about why that writer won’t write (and it’s usually not because she’s lazy, but because writing is hard). I write so that my students can write–so that they, too, can discover their processes, their voices, and their values. – Lauren Nizol

Audience Matters

I write this blog to stay connected to my teaching profession while taking time to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter. I spend a lot of time writing and revising and thinking about what I will write on this blog, because I have the promise of an audience. Sometimes I write a post because there is a deadline to meet. Sometimes I write because I’m excited to share an idea or process that has worked for me in the classroom. I try to write about a topic that makes me passionate. – Caroline Thompson

Seizing the Chance to Live Life–on Paper

The pressure to write immediately gives me writer’s block. And yet, my best writing comes forth when I am under the gun, the anxiety has built, the emotions are at the surface. In this way, I consider myself as an annual–flower, that is. Annuals are truly under the gun. They have a short, summer-long opportunity to bloom, burst, and make themselves present and seen. Unlike perennials, they do not have year after year to try again. I, too, often feel that life is rushed. But writing lets me establish those roots. – Tina Luchow

Practice What You Preach, Teachers

When it goes well, there’s a satisfaction to it. A sense of accomplishment that follows a decent sentence, or seeing an idea take shape and become clear on the page. 

I write because, although I love seeing someone else perfectly express something that I’ve thought or felt and haven’t been able to express, I’m a little jealous and regret if I didn’t even try.

I write because I can’t sing or dance.

I write because I teach writing. I can’t in good conscience ask my students to take risks and put their ideas on paper unless I’m willing to take that same leap. I teach that writing isn’t always about the writing itself but about the habits of writers. 

I write because if I don’t get it out my head, I can’t forget it and move on. I don’t believe something happened until I make it real by writing about it.

I write because: Something happened and it matters.

I write because: I still miss her, every day, and can’t get over it, because to get over it is to forget. And I don’t want to forget.

I write because: Those boys fill my heart and she makes ask how I got so lucky. – Rick Kreinbring

How to Build Active Readers

Notes from the Classroom

Recently I was teaching a demonstration lesson at Oakland University. I brought one of my students, Brandon (a pseudonym), who was among the lowest readers at the beginning of first grade. He had been in an intervention group all year with his first grade teacher and an additional group with me. Now in the spring, we were working one on one, as he still had not yet met grade-level standards.

Brandon was right in the middle of reading a familiar text, The Clever Penguins, by Beverly Randell, when he suddenly stopped and said, “Wait, I think that the seal ate a lot of penguins. Do you know why? Look at his fat belly! And look.” He jabbed his finger repeatedly at an illustration. “I think he just kind of let her get away.”

At the time I was pleased that he was thinking so deeply about the story he was reading. However, I had no idea what my peers were thinking about Brandon’s responses to the text. Several came up during our break and inquired.

“How did he learn to talk that way about books?” someone asked me.

“Wow,” another said.  “How did you get him to search and use evidence from text to support his thoughts? This is an intervention student!”

Their questions made me pause. Just how did I help Brandon and my other intervention students think that they should be asking questions every time they read?

Steps to Take

In the classic How to Read a Bookauthors Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren remind us that as readers, it is our responsibility to be active and awake. That means it is our job to ask and answer questions while we read.

It is also the reader’s job to understand the structure of the text and to take notes in the margins. Additionally, it is not sufficient to read a text just once. We must reread it, and consider how it may link to other texts that we are reading.

So, how did Brandon learn to be an awake, active reader at the age of seven?

When working with intervention students, it is critical to build up their background knowledge of a variety of text types, literary structures, and vocabulary, and to do so using rigorous but engaging picture books in an interactive reading format.

A few steps to remember:

  • It’s paramount to intentionally teach conversation moves that help students grow their thinking about books; this should be done in a community of learners.
  • It’s also important to read and reread, in order to find evidence in the text to support one’s thinking.
  • Students move into reading their own books in a guided reading format, using leveled texts.
  • During one-on-one conferences, the teacher assists students to transfer their learning from the read-aloud setting to their own reading.
  • Along with learning word-solving skills, meaning now becomes an equally important tool that enables students to accelerate their literacy progress.

Bringing It All Together

So if asked again, “Why did Brandon approach the reading of what seems like a simple text with his questions and deep thoughts?” my answer would be:

  • If you include quality literature with opportunities for students to build their background knowledge, including selections linked to the classroom units of study, then students can connect the dots to see how their learning links up and can be used between intervention and classrooms–which indicates transfer of learning has taken place.
  • You will soon hear your students talk the way Brandon did, every time they read.
  • And you just might also hear, “I LOVE this book! Can I take this one home? Do you have any more like this one?”

My school year is complete, as many of my students are now engaged, active, grade-level readers.

Lynn and her co-presenter Christine Miller will be presenting on the topic “Intentional Teaching = Accelerated Learning” at the Oakland Schools Effective Practices Conference, on June 20 at Bloomfield Hills High School.

Lynn Mangold Newmyer has been an educator for 42 years. She is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and an Elementary Literacy Coach in the Walled Lake Consolidated School district. Lynn has presented at state, national, and international conferences and has taught graduate classes at Oakland University. She currently teaches her students at Loon Lake Elementary. Lynn emphatically believes that you can never own too many picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @LynnRdgtch.

Truly a Buzz in the Hive

Notes from the Classroom

My kids took the AP US History Exam last month, so now is a good time to reflect on a writing experiment I led this year.

If you read my first post, you’ll recall that I described HistoryHive (then known as HerodotusHive) as a structured space where my APUSH students would go to improve their writing. There, APUSH alumni (now juniors and seniors) would share insights—essentially craft knowledge—with my current students on how to build on all of the class work we’ve done to write for APUSH.

In my second post, I explained that the HistoryHive is premised on the work of physics professor Eric Mazur, who found that at a certain point in the learning process, peer instruction helped his students in ways he could not.

I had an open question going in. Mazur’s world is of one of equations and right answers with decimal points. Would this method transfer to writing?

5 Parts to the Hive

We’ve had a total of 10 HistoryHives since the fall. Structure was important. I couldn’t just have current students and former students show up and say, “Go!” So, each Hive featured 5 distinct parts:

1. I review the targeted writing skill, with my flipped lecture.

2. Mentor Historians riff tips about the targeted skill.

3. In small-group settings, Apprentice Historians discuss a piece of writing with Mentor Historians.

4. All together, we debrief about epiphanies.

5. Apprentice Historians can stay after for Franchi Flash Feedback.

The result? I could tell that Mazur’s method did in fact transfer to writing.

Not to sound cheesy here, but from the beginning of the year until the end, there really was a buzz in the Hive. I saw lots of kids walk through the door; I saw buy-in; I saw focus; I saw a genuine drive to be better writers. I heard great conversations about writing. And I saw growth taking place in real time.

It was so satisfying to see students show up without the dangle of extra credit. OK, I have to confess: I may have offered snacks. But the point is that the kids were invested for all the right reasons. I certainly thought it went well. But what did the kids say?

Ah-Ha! Moments

During a riffing segment on introductions, Apprentice Historian Christine (a pseudonym, as with others) learned that “it’s important for us to ask ourselves what someone would need to know before reading our essay.” This moment of advice from a mentor stuck out. “It improved my writing dramatically and months later I still ask myself this question before I write an introduction,” she told me.

I noticed that any given piece of advice might not be needed by most, but individual students were catching on with “Ah-Ha” moments. For Dakota, that moment was when she realized she needed to focus on the significance of the documents instead of summarizing them. Sara picked up something about sentence structure. For others, the importance of planning and using the language of historians like “turning point” were the lessons that stuck.

In one Hive about mid-year, we had a collective “ah-ha!” moment, the one that seemed to resonate with most. See a pattern?

Realizations about Depth

“CK [Content Knowledge] can be used really well, or really horribly. For CK you can’t just spill a bunch of it out on paper and expect it to be relevant to the topic,” Juliette told me.

The key, Nicole learned, was to “have a few strong pieces and spend most of my time analyzing them.” Ellen agreed, saying it’s all about “quality, not quantity.” And so did Don, recalling that the best tip from the year was to “just answer the question directly and don’t add extra ‘fluff’ just to make your essay seem longer.” Candice, a Mentor Historian, reported that this was a point she made with groups, urging students to only “provide those specific events that would help build your argument.”

Haruto, another Mentor Historian, was the one who started a conversation about this for the whole Hive. I could tell he was on to something when I saw lots of nodding around the room. He said that “the deeper analysis you have of your CK is much better than having a bunch of CK with shallow analysis.”

This lesson underscores the real progress kids can make in understanding their task for advanced writing. Many kids come into the course conditioned to believe that simply stacking content knowledge is the way to prove their points. In a class like APUSH, the effect is a show-and-tell of topics learned, when the reality is that they need to offer analysis. The sooner kids can shed those old ways of thinking about school, the more they’ll grow into more sophisticated writers.

And, it turns out, these are lessons they can learn from each other–perhaps even more so than from me.

unnamedRod Franchi (@thehistorychase) is in his 21st year teaching Social Studies at Novi High School. He did his undergraduate work at Albion College and the University of Michigan, and earned an M.A. in English at Wayne State University and an M.A. in History Education at the University of Michigan. Having served as an education leader at the school, district, county, and state levels, Rod now works as AP US History Consultant and AP US History Mentor for the College Board. He is also Co-Director of the Novi AP Summer Institute and is an Attending Teacher in the University of Michigan’s Rounds Program.

Emergent Literacy is Play

Notes from the Classroom


Before my daughter’s music class starts, the moms that attend get a chance to chat while we wait for the previous class to end. Last week, the conversation turned toward preschool and what we’ve all decided. One mom said that she wasn’t going to pay for three-year-old preschool because “all they do is play.”

I’ve thought about this notion all week and have decided that play is not such a bad thing.  

When Literacy Begins

In a master’s thesis, Kelly Day says, “Emergent literacy is the natural occurring reading and writing behaviors of children beginning at birth, up until they learn to read and write conventionally.” 

Some examples of emergent literacy at my house–which you can see in the image above–include my daughter’s:

  • “doing work” and using a pencil to write jagged zig zags on paper and cards
  • pointing to distinct scribbles she has written and saying one word for each scribble
  • noticing word bubbles in the “Elephant and Piggie” books and asking who is talking
  • taking a familiar book and turning the pages while “reading” it to her mom and dad
  • looking at a red candy wrapper with white writing and knowing that it says “Kit-Kat”
  • hanging up a “missing cat” poster and asking me to add numbers for the phone number

Writing Through Play

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.” – Fred Rogers

Much of the writing my daughter creates is based in play. She is a doctor taking notes on her clipboard like Doc McStuffins. She is Mom doing work on the computer and typing words. She is a waitress taking your order in her special black notepad. She is a scientist studying bugs, and making observations in her notebook.

Lots of the games that she and my husband play deal with rhythm and rhyming words. In one game, he reads a familiar book that rhymes and leaves off the last word/rhyme, and she fills it in. Sometimes she thinks that rhyming is when words have the same beginning sounds. One of her favorite phrases right now is: “Hey, that rhymes!” Instead of correcting her, we usually run with it and try to think of more words that have that same sound.

Bring Back the Fun

When I see the joyful play that my daughter partakes in daily, I can’t help but think about how my classroom should awaken students’ playfulness in writing and reading. Where are the areas in my literacy instruction that suffer drabness? How might I capitalize on all I’ve learned about gaming and the Makerspace culture from the MACUL conference to evoke joyful play in my students? Here are some ideas:

  • Poetry has always been a source of joy and so I think I will revisit poem-a-day annotations and perhaps incorporate some interesting technology to further the conversation.
  • Try to use popular song lyrics, rap and rhythm, or rhyming poems more in mini-lessons.
  • I recently attended the 4T Virtual Conference and learned about Genius Hour: giving students 20 percent of class time to work on a project of their own choosing and direction. I’m interested in making Genius Hour happen in my classroom.
  • I want to have a game area (with games like Scrabble, Up Words, Boggle, Balderdash, Madlibs, Crosswords) that students can use at set times or when they are feeling unmotivated.
  • I’m still thinking about how to create a Makerspace in my classroom–what it would have, when kids would use it, how would I infuse writing without making it drain the fun.

Mostly, I want to do more than just add an activity to my daily routine. I want to make play a real focus in my classroom, because a playful mind is a thoughtful mind.

In sending my daughter to preschool next fall, I’m most excited to see how she will negotiate all this playing, this conversation, this pre-literacy–with other kids her age. How they will all create a new, collective knowledge of the world around them and change or grow their sense of what it means to be–all because of play!

Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University. She lives in Berkley, Michigan with her husband and their three year old daughter.

You Must Read The Alchemist

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, was given to me by a colleague, who said that the book is for the journey that our team is on. I had to admit, I had never read the text. It sat on a classroom bookshelf for years. Some students chose it for independent reading, yet I never had a kid use it during a reading unit, so it wasn’t ever on my book stack.  

And then, about a year ago, a popular song by Macklemore made some recommendations for life. One of them was, “I recommend that you read The Alchemist / Listen to your teachers, but cheat in Calculus.” I can’t speak to the math recommendation, as a person who avoided Calculus like the plague. But I can recommend that everyone from grade 7 onward read The Alchemist.

The Plot

Santiago is a shepherd who buys his own flock of sheep, even though it isn’t his family’s profession. While looking at his herd and making plans for his future, he meets a man who encourages him to look into his heart. Santiago must look for his true desire, or, as it comes to be known in the book, his “personal legend.”

The decision to achieve his personal legend takes Santiago on a journey. He visits other parts of the world, and meets many people who guide him on his quest. But the journey is not as straightforward as it seems at first. Coelho reminds us: “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he has never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (p. 70).

Why It’s Worth Reading

The Alchemist helps us remember that everyone has his or her own journey. Sometimes these journeys intersect. Sometimes they may be different from our own.

This makes me think about every learner that I interact with. My journey may be to forge students’ independence in reading, and to empower them to achieve writerly voices. But their journeys may be different. I just have to appreciate the time in which we have intersected on our journeys.

As Santiago learns about another, “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our personal legends, and I respect him for that” (p. 86).

Beyond this important theme, The Alchemist resonates because it’s a joyful read, and its language is beautiful. The ideas are structured like those in a fable, too. This allows every reader to gain meaning from Santiago’s experiences.

I mirror Macklemore when I say, read The Alchemist. I hope you realize that it is a book from which you can find meaning at any point in your life. I daresay that, with multiple readings, you may find a different journey for yourself. And it is a great text for students who are in transitions–including those transitioning between middle and high school, and high school and college.  

Book Details:

Reading Level: 910L
ISBN: 978-0062315007
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper One
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Awards and Accolades:  Anniversary Edition, New York Times Bestseller

*Thanks to Bethany Bratney for the blog structure for a book recommendation.

pic 2Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership from Oakland University. She is a Galileo Alumni. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.

 

K-5 Literacy Apps: A Deeper Dive

Notes from the Classroom

An image of Osmo, in use. Photo courtesy: Osmo

I love books. I love holding them in my hands and turning the pages myself.

However, I also love technology. I’m trying to find the balance between using it in my classroom to enhance literacy, and keeping things traditional.

I’ve written about some of my favorite K-5th grade apps, but I want to dive a little more into the ones below.

Osmo

Through the generosity of my district’s Foundation for Excellence, I was awarded a grant that allowed me to purchase Osmo for my students. (Thank you FFE and all who contribute to make the grants possible!)

Osmo requires an iPad, and through apps and tangible materials, it makes the iPad a tool for hands-on learning. Osmo has many applications to enhance literacy, math, coding, and the arts.

I’m using the Words app to enhance literacy. Students are provided upper and lowercase letter tiles, and are asked to complete words. The words may have missing letters or a picture to name, and you can create your own word lists for students to interact with. What’s helpful, too, is that Osmo provides students with instant feedback.

With the Masterpiece tool, students can choose a picture they would like to draw on paper.  The image is then shown on the screen, along with the paper you are drawing on. Students can draw something and then label it and/or create a story using the images.

Scratch

Scratch is a coding website. We are currently using it in our after-school Coding Club, and the students are enjoying learning how to code games. My kindergarten students have also been exploring coding with Scratch and Scratch Jr., along with their 2nd and 3rd grade buddies.

It’s never to young to start learning to code! But, what about literacy?

To help enhance literacy skills, students could choose sprites (characters) and backgrounds, and then code them to retell a story they have read. They could even make it interactive, and code the sprites to ask questions about the story. Students could also create their own story by coding different sprites and backgrounds.

Seesaw

My students and parents absolutely love Seesaw. Right now I use it to communicate with parents about what we are doing throughout the day. It’s a perfect window into our classroom for those who aren’t able to make it in person.

But my students love it because they are able to post pictures of things they are working on or have created. These can be shared with parents.

Next year I would like to implement a weekly literacy challenge to my students. I would like them to write a letter, draw a picture or video themselves, and tell parents about what they have been doing in school. Parents will be able to write back to students and give them instant feedback. I think this would be a great way to avoid the “nothing” answer when asked what they’ve been up to at school.

Raz Kids

Learning A to Z has a product called Raz Kids, which offers online books at students’ levels. Students are able to listen to stories being read to them, read the stories themselves, as well as answer comprehension questions after. There is also an app that allows parents to use it at home. Teachers are able check what students are reading, as well as how they are doing with comprehension.

In with the Old and New

Nothing will ever replace holding a book or pencil in your hand. However, with the plethora of resources and the changing times, we need to adapt in the classroom as well. Building in small doses of technology, and challenging yourself to try something new every so often, can help inspire your students to do the same!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Why Interdisciplinary Units Are So Powerful

Notes from the Classroom

Examples of students’ character cutouts

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

We’re in full swing with the end-of-year craziness. Yet this also is the time when I teach the American Revolution in social studies. I’m able to combine the content with our historical fiction unit in reading, and our opinion unit in writing. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine content areas and provide a truly immersive experience for my students.

It is so nice to have a seamless day of reading both fiction and nonfiction texts around this topic, and having conversations that span reading, writing, and social studies. I find that I am excited about teaching, and students are excited about learning. It’s no small feat at this time of year!

What The Unit Looks Like

Right now in the hallway are cutouts of characters from our read aloud and our book club books. Within the cutouts are character traits and reflections about critical choices, power, and how these characters were shaped by the times in which they lived. Connecting all of the characters is a red string, and tomorrow students are going to spend time reading the cutouts and making connections. Then we will write them on paper that will hang from the string, making our thinking visible. This is a new project but one whose outcome I am super excited to see.

Another project that I always do during this time of year is a thinking routine from Ron Ritchhart called a “step inside.” This writing project combines the best parts of narrative writing, yet allows students to use their imagination to step inside the life of a slave from the 1500s. As students examine the three phases of slavery as outlined in our text, they attempt to step inside and develop empathy for the experience of these people. This is a lengthy writing assignment and yet one that is incredibly powerful. I have had students tell me it is their favorite writing assignment of the year.

I find that students actually are able to bring more elements of narrative writing in this assignment than they sometimes are able to do in their own pieces. I think this is because of the scaffolding required for the assignment. Also, the assignment requires that they pay attention to a number of details, which enables them expand their normal writing habits.

Integrating Opinion Writing

The opinion writing comes very late in May and in early June. This is when students have to take a side in the American Revolution. They are assigned either the Patriot side or the Loyalist side, and they have to defend their side based on evidence from their historical-fiction text. They also rely on the supplemental reading we do with nonfiction texts.

The opinion pieces have to include a counter argument acknowledging the position of the other side. Yet they also have to defend their own positions and attempt to persuade the reader to agree with them. All of this is used in a real-life debate with a student moderator, and the kids absolutely love it!

As I write this we are at the end of an unusually warm (86 degrees!) day in May. I have a huge to-do list and yet I am still excited about all that is going on in my classroom. All of this gets me wondering how I can channel this same type of integration and excitement into the rest of my year. Perhaps this will become my summer project: examining my curriculum to find better connections and texts that will lend themselves to this cross-curricular type of integration. My wheels are already spinning.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Provocative Nonfiction about the Birth of Our Nation

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

I used to think that nonfiction was not my thing. But I’m a librarian, so I have to make it my thing in order to best serve my students and staff. Still, I often felt like I was twisting my own arm while reading nonfiction.

But then, as I often tell reluctant readers, after a few missteps with the wrong books at the wrong times, I started to find exciting, narrative nonfiction that was as captivating and readable as my favorite fiction pieces.

I was reading unbelievable stories about mutinies, revolutions, sports stars, and even corpses, and they were true! Not only did I have a great tale to tempt my students with, but every event actually happened.

People are enchanted by dynamic, true stories even more so than by fiction because they engage our child-like curiosity about the many events and topics that have previously eluded us. Yes, we have been in school (or out of school) for years, but we haven’t yet learned it all. I recently finished reading In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives, by Kenneth C. Davis (a 2017 YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction finalist) and found myself alight with all that I had learned and wanted to share with others.

The Story

In the Shadow of Liberty tells the true stories of five African-Americans who were enslaved by four of the country’s founding fathers. We learn about Billy Lee, Washington’s right-hand man on and off the battlefield; and Ona Judge, Washington’s house maid who escaped and was fervently hunted by both George and Martha Washington.

We hear about Paul Jennings, who grew up playing with Dolly Madison’s oldest son, though Jennings was already enslaved to the family. And we learn of Isaac Granger, who was enslaved to Thomas Jefferson after Jefferson wrote a law ending slave trading to America.

Finally, we read about Alfred Jackson. Jackson lived his entire life at Andrew Jackson’s “Hermitage,” watching as Andrew ordered enslaved workers to be whipped savagely–but then doled out vast sums to provide defense lawyers for enslaved men on trial for involvement in a slave rebellion.

Kenneth C. Davis writes about the full scope of the labor that these five people were expected to perform. He describes the way that they were treated, and most especially, the roles that they played in the major accomplishments of their owners.

Why It’s Worth Reading

We spend a great deal of time learning about the Founding Fathers and the way that they helped develop the country and institute democracy. But like all famous figures, these men did not work alone.

There were many people, including hundreds of enslaved people, who fought in the wars, managed the meetings, and built famous structures, like the White House. Billy Lee went everywhere with George Washington, fought alongside him, and carried his most precious items and documents. He is one of the most famous enslaved people in U.S. history, yet no one knows when he died or where he is buried. He never even knew his own birthday.

The thing that stands out to me most about this book is a great historical paradox. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson were all deeply involved in battles related to rights and liberties, but each of them failed to consider, at least initially, that enslaving others was a direct contradiction to their fights for freedom.

This book will make you think about American history in a completely new way. It’s a fabulous text to work into a history or sociology class, and I can see it as an engaging title for students who are interested in current civil rights issues. In the Shadow of Liberty could turn anyone into a nonfiction convert.

Book Details:
Title: In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives
Author: Kenneth C. Davis
Reading Level: AR = 8.2
ISBN: 9781627793117
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Awards/Accolades: 2017 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist and at least 3 starred reviews

Bethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.