Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It is likely for many of you first year teachers that you are in a phase of disillusionment. This typically happens for first year teachers after a couple months of school and can last for quite a while. You may have been observed and evaluated by an administrator, which can add a lot of stress to an already stressful job, leading to uncertainty in your competence as a teacher. The reality of the commitment to teaching isn't always clear before you start teaching, and during the disillusionment phase, teachers can sometimes question their decision to become a teacher. You might have been sick once or twice (or more!) which compounds feelings of dissatisfaction. The needs of students feel urgent but classroom management issues might be getting in the way of accomplishing what you want to academically with your students.

What you need to know is that you are not alone. It might not help to know that others feel this way, but they do! I did big time in my first year of teaching, and still feel this way at times. It does go away, especially if you have a supportive network of folks to talk about this with - either at your school or friends from your preparation program, or friends who don't know teaching but know you and can provide some boosts to your self-esteem. But this feeling of disillusionment can be a very difficult challenge to get through in your first year of teaching. It is a very real and frustrating phase.

Winter break will provide you an opportunity to reflect and reset. You need some time to build yourself back up. Take lots of time for fun, and set some realistic goals for the spring, both professionally and personally.

I'm off next week, but will be back posting in 2012. Happy holidays, dear readers, and a warm, healthy, happy new year!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

planning for (and being) a substitute

Tis the season for nasty colds and stomach bugs. And that means sub plans. Second semester of my first year of teaching, I was teaching 7th grade Spanish I part time in a middle school. To make ends meet, I did a lot of subbing in the school. When teachers in the building had appointments or meetings and needed to miss an hour or two, I'd fill in. When I showed up for my first day on the job, the secretary asked if I would be willing to sub for F&CS (I wasn't sure what that was, as Family and Consumer Science was Home Ec back in my day), and being the willing and excited new teacher, I said absolutely.

It was the first day of the 6th graders' cooking unit. They were to make baked apples. Apparently, the group had gone over the recipe for several days, watched a demonstration, and today they were to do it themselves. So, I went over the recipe one more time and let them loose. When I look over at one group's table, I see a 6th grader, holding the apple IN HIS HAND, using the serrated knife to cut it. After yelling "Freeze!!" and providing some reteaching of how to cut an apple (on a cutting board!), there were few other mishaps. No one lost a finger, but I think I lost a few years of my life in the scare it gave me.

This was, perhaps, not the wisest lesson activity to leave for a substitute. In my year of subbing for everything from 8th grade algebra, to 6th grade PE, to band, to tech ed, I learned a lot about myself as a teacher, as well as some helpful dos and don'ts when leaving sub plans. Here's some advice for planning for and being an effective substitute.

You probably had to create a substitute folder at the start of the school year to give to the secretary for those emergency situations when you're gone and it is unplanned. And likely what is in it is no longer helpful. Now is a great time to review the folder you made at the beginning of the year.

Some key forms/info to have readily available (on top of your desk and labeled or attached to lesson plans is best):
  • seating charts
  • key contacts (main office, attendance, nurse, as well as the nearby teachers)
  • evacuation plans for fire drills, lockdown procedures, tornado plans 
  • a master list of the weekly pull-out schedule (i.e. which students leave when and where do they go?)
One thing that can really help you out if you need to leave sub plans is have a set, typed description of the routines for the room. All that hard work you've done to have a predictable routine for the students? That will pay off big time when you have a sub. Some day you have a few minutes to spare (ha!), sit down and type out those routines in detail. Then keep this file handy to attach to any specific sub plans.

Speaking of lesson plans, think about what will be reasonable for someone else to accomplish. You might think twice before leaving a complicated lab or baking project, but keep kids working on the content of the class. When kids are bored, they are more likely to be antsy.

Another helpful thing to do is assign a substitute helper in your class. Maybe it's a rotating job for your students, but this can be really helpful in ensuring that the day goes smoothly. Have kids take over the attendance, lunch count, etc and then that can just continue when you're gone.

And one other thing - have pens, pencils, bandaids, hall/nurse passes, and paper clips readily accessible. I got in the habit of always carrying these things with me when I would sub, because it was amazing how often I'd go into a classroom and couldn't find a single thing to write with! 

For those of you that are doing the substitute teaching, here are a few additional resources:

There is a professional organization for substitute teachers: The National Substitute Teachers Alliance. I don't know a lot about the organization, but if you are currently or plan to sub it might be worth looking into. You can also find more resources to help substitute teachers here.

EducationWorld has some helpful articles. There's one with some general substitute teaching advice, several mini-lesson plan ideas, and some suggestions for games.

As a sub in the building, it can go a long way to introduce yourself to the teachers in classrooms near you. If you make a good impression, they are likely to request you as a sub. And it can help you out if you get into a bind with something throughout the day. Eat lunch in the lounge and meet the other teachers. This is a great opportunity to network. Stop in and introduce yourself to the principal. If interested in the school as a place of potential employment, see if there are opportunities to volunteer, teach after-school classes, or other ways to get involved. Go to PTA meetings. Do whatever you can to show that you are interested in the school community.

Classroom teachers know that there are issues every day. So don't feel compelled to write at the bottom of the sub plan, "Everything was great! No problems!!" Teachers want to be able to follow up on what happened when they are gone, so leaving them with a detailed note about what was accomplished, who was helpful, who needed extra redirection, and what didn't get done. Teachers will really appreciate the extra time.

A final plea from teachers leaving their room to a sub: do the best you can to follow the plans. We all know that some days despite best efforts, things just aren't going to happen they way you planned. But it is frustrating to come back from being gone to find out that the students watched "Shrek" and "Cars" and didn't accomplish anything in the careful sub plans that were left. This doesn't mean that if the day is a disaster that you should just keep plugging away. Part of being a good teacher and sub is being flexible. But when teachers leave plans, they are hoping that a solid effort will go into following them.

What other advice do you have for planning for or being a substitute teacher?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

your turn

As I'm planning for the posts for the next few months, I'd love to be responsive to what you, dear readers, are concerned about and interested in learning about. For the most part, I've been going on what I hear from the new teachers that I work with and what I know about new teacher concerns. But I know you have ideas about what you need and are interested in learning more about.

So, this week, I want to hear from you. Post a comment with your ideas for future posts. I will work on answering them within the next few months.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

learning from others

One piece of advice that new teachers often get is to observe master teachers and learn from them. This is good advice! You've been in your classroom for a few months now, and you have a routine down. Now might be the time to work with your principal to secure a substitute and spend some time in your colleagues' classrooms. Maybe you'd like to observe a teacher at your grade level or in your department. Or maybe you've heard such great things about the innovative teaching of someone way on the other side of the building. Many principals are very amenable to facilitating a day for new teachers to observe the most effective teachers in the building. But even if you can't schedule an entire day away from your classroom, perhaps you can work ahead to use your prep time a few days to observe.

Observing another teacher's class can provide you a chance to see how other teachers run their classroom, and provide an opportunity for you to reflect on your own. More than just meeting and talking with your grade level or department colleagues, you get to see them in action. It can be wonderful professional development for you. I know I learn something every time I'm in a teacher's classroom. It can be most helpful if you go in with some sort of frame for the observation - are you looking for classroom management ideas? How the teacher works with small groups? Maybe transitions are a tricky time for you and you want to observe how other teachers deal with transitions. Are you looking for ideas to work with EL students? Wait time? Questioning and/or discussion techniques? There are lots of things you can consider in prep for an observation. And though not necessary, a framing question for your observation may help you come away with more specific take-aways.

And yes, you did lots of observing during your practica and student teaching. However, this is an opportunity to observe teaching knowing the exact context of your classroom. This will make observations more focused and helpful, because you can have in mind all of your students and your content and your instructional practices as you observe. Plus, it can help you understand your school community better - when you see more teachers in action, you better understand the culture of the school,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MN American Indian Texts, Part 2

For this second installment of information on Native American texts to incorporate into ELA classrooms (or social studies, for that matter), we're focused on specific texts. Some of the resources from the previous post also include text suggestions, but here we're focused specifically on texts to use with students. So...

The MN Historical Society is a great site in general, and also has some resources available.

Braided Lives: An Anthology of Multicultural American Writing does not just include texts by and about MN Native Americans, but has some wonderful stories and poems to incorporate.

NCTE has a resource for 7-12 teachers, Roots and Branches: A Resource of Native American Literature, focused on using Native American Literature effectively.

Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw is a resource for primary teachers.

University of Illinois Assistant Professor Debbie Reese maintains a blog focusing on American Indians in children's literature. Though her resources are not necessarily particular to MN American Indian groups (she's tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico), there are some great book and resource lists at her site. There are some additional resources listed on the University of Illinois website for Education and Social Science Library.

Noted author Joseph Bruchac's website has links to selected poems written and read by the author. He has many short stories and books that are about Minnesota American Indian populations, though not all fit.  

The Minnesota Humanities Center has many resources available on this topic. Again, several of these texts are not specific to MN Native Americans. But there are some good resources.

The MN Indian Education site on MDE has some curriculum frameworks and lesson plan ideas that might be helpful.

Birchbark Books has some great texts available in store and online.

Some additional text ideas are below. Note that many of the texts listed in Picture Books would be appropriate for older readers, particularly the texts of selected poems and stories.

Picture Books:
  • All the Stars in the Sky: Native Stories from the Heavens, by C.J. Taylor
  • Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story, by S.D. Nelson
  • Boozhoo: Come Play with Us, by Fond du Lac Headstart
  • The Boy & His Mud, by Paul Goble
  • Dance in a Buffalo Skull, by Zitkala-Sa
  • Do All Indians Live in Tipis? by the National Museum of the American Indian
  • Enduring Wisdom: Sayings From Native Americans, selected by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
  • Fearless John - The Legend of John Beargrease, by Kelly Emerling Rauzi
  • The Gift Horse: A Lakota Story, by S.D. Nelson
  • The Good Path: Ojibwe Learning and Activity Book for Kids, by Thomas Peacock
  • Hiawatha and Megissogwon, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking, by Laura Waterman Wittstock
  • Lakota Sioux Children and Elders Talk Together, by E. Barrie Kavasch
  • Lana's Lakota Moons, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
  • The Legend of the Lady Slipper, by Lise Lunge-Larsen
  • The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, by Edward Benton-Banai
  • A Native American Thought of It: Amazing Inventions and Innovations, by Rocky Landon
  • The Ojibwe, by Michelle Levin
  • Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering, by Gordon Regguinti
  • Shinebiss: An Ojibwe Legend, by Nancy Van Laan
  • Shota and the Star Quilt, by Margaret Bateson-Hill
  • The Star People: A Lakota Story, by S.D. Nelson
  • Taku Wadaka He? (What Do You See?) by Joanne Zacharias
  • When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans, edited by the National Museum of the American Indian
Young Adult Books:
  • The Birchbark House (and series), by Louise Erdrich
  • From the Deep Woods to Civilization, by Charles Eastman
  • Growing Up Native American: Stories of Oppression and Survival, of Heritage Denied and Reclaimed, edited by Patricia Riley
  • The Journey of Crazy Horse, by Joseph M. Marshall III
  • My Indian Boyhood, by Luther Standing Bear
  • Night Flying Woman, by Ignatia Broker
  • North Country: The Making of Minnesota, by Mary Lethert Wingerd

Here are some Ojibwe Teaching Resources, Distributed to teachers attending the Minnesota Writing Project 2011 Fall Reunion Workshop, 9/24/2011. All credit to the list below goes to the MWP. Some of these are repeats from the above list, but include annotation information. You can find additional resources at the MWP page for the Fall Workshop dedicated to MN American Indian texts.

Baraga, Frederic. A Dictionary of the Ojibway Language. (St. Paul, Borealis Books) Compiled nearly 150 years ago, this dictionary remains the most comprehensive and accurate lexicon available of the Ojibway language. This edition features a new foreword by John D. Nichols.
Bergstrom, Amy, Linda Miller Cleary and Thomas D. Peacock. The Seventh Generation: Native Students Speak about Finding the Good Path. (Charleston,W.V., ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 2003). From back cover:  In this book, written especially for today’s Native youth, the authors share what they learned from these remarkable young people through their stories of success and failure. Interspersed throughout the book are short fictional “teaching stories” meant to illustrate common dilemmas faced by Native youth and the characters’ responses to them. Discussion questions are included to help youth use the stories as starting points for voicing their own concerns and experiences and for considering how they, too, might find the Good Path.
Broker, Ignatia. Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative. (St. Paul, Borealis Books, 1983).  With the art of a practiced storyteller, Ignatia Broker recounts the life of her great-great-grandmother, Night Flying Woman, who was born in the mid-19th century and lived during a chaotic time of enormous change, uprootings, and loss for the Minnesota Ojibway. But this story also tells of her people's great strength and continuity.
Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Customs. (St. Paul, Borealis Books, 1979).  This is an authoritative source for the tribal history, customs, legends, traditions, art, music, economy, and leisure activities of the Ojibwe people. It includes a new introduction by Nina Marchetti Archabal.
Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. (New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1999). This beloved National Book Award finalist tells the story of a young Ojibwe girl living on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.
Frances Densmore and Brenda J. Child. Strength of the Earth: The Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006). From a pioneering ethnographer, an invaluable recording of how early-twentieth-century Ojibwe women used wild plants in their everyday lives.
Grover, Linda Legarde. The Dance Boots. Athens, GA. University of Georgia Press. 2010. Winner of Flannery O’ Connor Award for Short Fiction 2010. From inside cover: With its attention to the Ojibwe language, customs, and history, this unique collection of riveting stories illuminates the very nature of storytelling. The Dance Boots narrates a century’s progression of Native Americans making choices and compromises, often dictated by a white majority, as they try to balance survival, tribal traditions, and obligations to future generations.
Kenney, Dave. Northern Lights: The Stories of Minnesota’s Past. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003). Read the stories of Minnesota's past through lively text and colorful illustrations of artifacts from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Northern Lights provides an entertaining overview of Minnesota history that is stimulating reading for all ages. Written at a sixth-grade level, Northern Lights is one of the few state history texts created by a historical society. In addition to this Student Edition, an Annotated Teacher’s Edition and Classroom Resources workbook are also available.
Loew, Patty. Native People of Wisconsin. (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2003). Native People of Wisconsin, the fifth text in the New Badger History series for upper elementary and middle school students, focuses on the Indian Nations in the state: the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, Oneida, Mohican Nation, Stockbridge-Munsee Band, and the Brothertown Indians. Patty Loew has followed the same structure she used in "Indian Nations of Wisconsin", her book for general audiences, in which she provided chapters on Early History and European Arrivals, then devoted the remaining chapters to each of the Indian Nations in Wisconsin today.
McNally, Michael D. Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native Culture in Motion. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009) Author Michael McNally considers the cultural processes through which Native American peoples have made room for their cultural identity within the confines of colonialism.
Nichols, John and Earl Nyholm.  A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe  ( Minneapolis, Mn. University of Minnesota Press, 1995). The most up-to-date resource for those interested in the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Anishinaabe, A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe contains more than 7,000 of the most frequently used Ojibwe words. Presented in Ojibwe-English and English-Ojibwe sections, this dictionary spells words to reflect their actual pronunciation with a direct match between the letters used and the speech sounds of Ojibwe. It contains many ancient words and meanings as well as language added in the twentieth century. The most widely used modern standard writing system for Ojibwe is used throughout, and some of the key objects of Ojibwe life are authentically illustrated by coauthor and artist Earl Nyholm … an essential reference for all students of Ojibwe culture, history, language, and literature.
Peacock, Thomas and Marlene Wisuri, The Four Hills of Life: Ojibwe Wisdom. (Afton, MN: Afton Press, 2006). From cover:  The Four Hills of Life is a wise and beautiful story about the path we walk through the seasons of life, from springtime of youth through the winter of old age. The hills we climb along the way are the challenges we face and the responsibilities we accept. The path is not always wasy; some of us lose our way. We question the meaning of life. But when we walk the Good Path – when we commit to values and fulfill our goals – the meaning of life finds us. Through engaging text, illustrations, and activities designed especially for kids, The Four Hills of Life shows how everything in creation follows this path in the great circle of life. It is a timeless Ojibwe teaching for all young readers.
Peacock, Thomas and Marlene Wisuri, The Good Path: Ojibwe Learning and Activity Book for Kids. (Afton, MN: Afton Press, 2002). Children of all cultures journey through time with the Ojibwe people as their guide to the Good Path and its nine universal lessons of courage, cooperation, and honor. Through traditional native tales, hear about Grandmother Moon, the mysterious Megis shell, and the souls of plants and animals. Through Ojibwe history, learn how trading posts, treaties, and warfare affected Native Americans. Through activities designed especially for children, discover fun ways to follow the Good Path's timeless wisdom every day.
Peacock, Thomas and Marlene Wisuri. To Be Free: Understanding and Eliminating Racism. (Afton, MN: Afton Press, 2010). Imagine if we were free of racism--free from the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual toll that it takes on both racists and those subjected to racism. Imagine to be free . Many people of color deal with the reality of racism in all its forms on a daily basis--in stores, in schools, at work, on the bus, while watching television, listening to music, browsing the Internet, or reading magazines and newspapers. They can't pretend it go away because it is always there in all its ugliness before them. What if, however, we decided to acknowledge racism and talk about ways of preventing, reducing, and alleviating it? And what if we began the discussion among young people, before they solidify their beliefs about people and other races? 'To Be Free' is written to help facilitate that discussion.
Peacock, Thomas and Marlene Wisuri. Ojibwe: Wasa-Inaabidaa: We Look in All Direction. (Afton, MN: Afton Press, 2002). “A story of land-based cultures in Indian Country. It is also an amazing and wondrous set of stories told by those who dearly love their history and peoples – a great gift to us all: the scattered and dispersed leaves of our stories brought together with this generation’s faces and living words” – Winona LaDuke from back cover.
Truer, Anton, et al.  Awesiinyensag - dibaajimowinan ji-gikinoo'amaageng.  (Minneapolis, Mn. Wiigwaas Press, 2011). A monolingual Ojibwe young reader named Minnesota’s Best Read for 2011 by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, Minnesota’s official selection to represent all publications in the state for 2011. Awesiinyensag presents original stories, written in Anishinaabemowin, that delight readers and language learners with the antics of animals who playfully deal with situations familiar to children in all cultures. Suitable for all ages, this book can be read aloud, assigned to classes, shared at language tables, gifted to elders, and enjoyed by those curious about the language and all who love Anishinaabemowin. Authored by a team of twelve and richly illustrated by Ojibwe artist Wesley Ballinger, Awesiinyensag will be the first in a series created to encourage learning Anishinaabemowin, the language of Ojibwe people. 
Truer, Anton. Ojibwe in Minnesota. St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010. From back cover: Anton Truer traces thousands of years of the complicated history of the Ojibwe people – their economy, culture, and clan system and how these have changed throughout time, perhaps most dramatically with the arrival of Europeans into Minnesota territory.
Treuer, Anton, Ed. Living Our Language: Ojibwe Tales and Oral Histories (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001) Fifty-seven Ojibwe Indian tales collected from Anishinaabe elders, reproduced in Ojibwe and in English translation.
Vennum, Thomas. The Ojibwa Dance Drum: Its History and Construction. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009). Initially published in 1982 in the Smithsonian Folklife Series, Thomas Vennum's The Ojibwa Dance Drum is widely recognized as a significant ethnography of woodland Indians." This edition features an afterword by Rick St. Germaine.
Vennum, Thomas, Jr. Wild Rice and the Ojibway People. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988). Examines in detail the technology of harvesting and processing the grain, the important place of wild rice in Ojibway ceremony and legend, including the rich social life of the traditional rice camps, and the volatile issues of treaty rights.
Vizenor, Gerald. The Everlasting Sky: Voices of the Anishinabe People. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000). Vizenor's classic first book provides a unique view of reservation life in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the early days of the American Indian Movement.
Vizenor, Gerald. Summer in the Spring: Anishinaabe Lyric Poems and Stories, New Edition. (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993). This anthology, illustrated with tribal pictomyths and helpfully annotated, includes translations and a glossary of the Anishinaabe words in which the poems and stories originally were spoken.
Walker, Niki, Life in an Anishinabe Camp. (New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2003) Beautiful artwork illuminates the daily lives of the Anishinabe, or 'first people', also known as the Chippewa or Ojibwa. Living in the Western Great Lakes region, the Anishinabe adapted to each season by changing camp locations to better suit the changing weather. Text describes clan life, different camps for different seasons, how wigwams and other dwellings were built, hunting, clothing, celebrations, and the roles of men and women.
Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People: Second Edition. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009). William Warren's History of the Ojibway People, written in 1852 and first published in 1885, is perhaps the most important history of the Ojibway (Chippewa) ever written. The edited, annotated second edition contains an introduction by Theresa Schenck.
White, Bruce. We are at Home: Pictures of the Ojibwe People. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009). A fascinating history of the Ojibwe people at home in the Minnesota landscape through 1950-as told through more than 200 vivid photographs. This book was a winner of the 2008 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Leadership in History Awards.

More to come in the future, but I hope this gives you some ideas to start. Leave a comment if you know of other fantastic resources about or by Minnesota American Indians!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MN American Indian texts, Part 1

Minnesota Teachers are really interested right now in resources available to meet the ELA standards around texts written by and about Minnesota American Indians. Though there have previously been some standards relating to MN American Indian texts, it has not been as explicit as it is now. Because schools need to be meeting the new standards next academic year, teachers are working on compiling resources now to begin making shifts in their curriculum to match the new standards. These standards relate mostly to grades 4 and 6-12.

Here are the specific standards at those grade levels:

Grade 4:
Standard Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures, including American Indian. 
Standard Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account, including those by or about Minnesota American Indians, of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.

Grade 6: 

Standard Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres including those by and about Minnesota American Indians (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics. 
Standard Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events, including events related to Minnesota American Indians, with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Grade 7:

Standard Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal, including those in stories, poems, and historical novels of Minnesota American Indians, of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history. 
Standard Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic including topics about Minnesota American Indians; shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts. 
Standard    Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
a.      Apply grade 7 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal, including those in stories, poems, and historical novels of Minnesota American Indians, of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history”).

Grade 8:
Standard Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, including stories, poems, and historical novels of Minnesota American Indians, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new. 
Standard Analyze a case in which two or more texts, including one text by or about Minnesota American Indians or other diverse cultures, provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

Grades 9-10: Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare or how a Minnesota American Indian author uses oral tradition to create works of literature).

Grades 11-12: Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including American Indian and other diverse cultures’ texts and how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics. 

Right now, the MN Reading Association is planning a symposium for K-12 teachers around this topic, to be held at Tartan High School in Oakdale on Saturday, Feb 18th. The workshops are intended to provide resources for teachers to meet these standards. Registration is not yet opened, but I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here are some resources for you as you begin looking at incorporating more MN American Indian texts into your curriculum. This post will mostly contain resources for your own professional development in this area, though some are texts/videos/exhibits you can certainly share with students.

To build your own background knowledge on the Minnesota American Indian Tribes, you can visit Minnesota North Star's page compiling the websites for each of the seven Anishinaabe (Chippewa, Ojibwe) reservations and the four Dakota (Sioux) communities. Additional information can be found on the State Indian Affairs website.

The Minnesota Humanities Center is a terrific resource. The exhibit Why Treaties Matter, and the companion website Treaties Matter, is a joint project between the MN Humanities Center, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, and is designed to provide context to the treaties between the US government and the Dakota and Ojibwe Indian Nations. Also on the Center site are videos recording stories of MN Dakota and Ojibwe people about how MN statehood affected their homes, their families, and their future. Additional videos of community members speaking about our Minnesota Narrative can be found here. Resources from past workshops centered on MN American Indians sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center are also available,

The Bdote Memory Map on the Minnesota Humanities Center site provides information about Dakota history and the Dakota people. More information about this can be found here.

The following resources were on a handout from the Minnesota Writing Project Fall Workshop, held Sept. 24, 2011.
  • MNVideoVault  (Twin Cities Public Television) The MN Video Vault is a project of Twin Cities Public Television. The Vault contains hundreds of programs from the TPT archives: classic interviews and performances from Nighttimes Variety, Newsnight Minnesota and Almanac as well as a broad cross-section of TPT documentaries. All material in the MN Video Vault is fully searchable. Programs have been broken into segments and tagged with key information to make specific videos easy to locate. In addition, all of the material is closed-captioned and, through advanced search functions, these captions can be searched to locate any word spoken within a program. Finally, many of the video segments will be tagged to relevant Minnesota State Academic Standard benchmarks, to facilitate classroom use.
  • Surrounded by Beauty Curriculum (Minneapolis Institute of the Arts) This curriculum explores the art of daily life created by American Indian people throughout the United States. Sections include Northeast Woodlands, Mississippi Valley, Plains, Southwest, and Northwest Coast. Students explore history, quotations, photos, and objects that are both functional and beautiful.
  • Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.This site provides history, tribal information, special events, government affairs communications, and education materials. FAQs on Ojibwe culture are answered with thoughtful stories from Mille Lacs Band
  • Waasa-Inaabidaa: We Look in All Directions, (Duluth, MN: PBS Eight, WDSE-TV, 2002). This site accompanyies the six-part historical documentary series for public television featuring the history and culture of the Anishinaabe-Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes. Classroom resources include wigwam “storytelling,” community outreach, bibliography/resources, chat room, and
  • We Shall Remain. (Public Broadcasting System.) This website accompanies the five-part series for public television shows how Native people valiantly resisted expulsion from their lands and fought the extinction of their cultures. We Shall Remain represents an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project. This multimedia site includes behind-the-scenes footage, a section for Native Americans to tell their own video stories, and a teacher’s guide.
  • Album. (Duluth, MN: PBS Eight, WDSE-TV) This public-television series of historical documentaries celebrates the Lake Superior region’s heritage and history—chronicling the events and people who have shaped this place.
The next post will include specific titles and lists of books as you work with your team, schools, and districts to integrate more texts by and about Minnesota American Indians into your curriculum. More to come...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Have you visited Thinkfinity yet?

Verizon has partnered with National Geographic Education, AAAS Science Links, Econ Ed Link, Read Write Think, Arts Edge, Smithsonian History Explorer, NCTM Illumination, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Wonderopolis to create a hub of lesson plan ideas, blogs, student interactives, and professional development opportunities. As you can see, the partners in this project are all really top organizations.

One of the greatest parts of the website is that you can search for lesson plans by grade level, subject area, and even specify the partner websites to search, and Thinkfinity does the searching for you.  There is a specific link to 21st Century Skills lessons and activities. I also like the "Today in History" calendar.

Also, you can search MN specific standards to see what lessons and activities support particular standards at each grade level.

In the time I've played with the site, I've been impressed with what comes up. You can sign up to receive their newsletter highlighting different aspects of the resource and updates to the site. You can follow Thinkfinity on twitter if you're so inclined.

Check it out!

Monday, November 7, 2011

what about the bully?

Our second post about bullying relates to the bully. A reader commented on the last post that there are lots of resources for working with victims of bullies and for bullying prevention programs, but it can be harder to know how to work with the bully in these situations.  I've been working on this post for over a week, and still find myself struggling to locate resources to help teachers learn how to handle the bully in a bullying situation. So here's a first attempt, with more to come I'm certain!

Just last week an article was published regarding some new federal regulations about bullying, specifically to add language to the ESEA Act to protect students from bullying and harassment in all schools and districts, and more explicitly protect LGBT students. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require establishing codes of conduct to prohibit bullying for any reason. This is a hot topic, indeed, and as teachers, we need to be able to identify and work with bullies, not just victims.
Children who bully:
  • May witness physical and verbal violence or aggression at home. They have a positive view of this behavior, and they act aggressively toward other people, including adults.
  • May hit or push other children.
  • Are often physically strong.
  • May or may not be popular with other children around their same age.
  • Have trouble following rules.
  • Show little concern for the feelings of others.
But what can you do when you identify a bully? It's important to immediately intervene, consistently enforcing the consequences of the classroom and school. Once bullying has been reported, it is crucial that the report be taken seriously. It works best to have serious talks with the bully and victim(s) separately to sort out the situation. With the bully, talk with them to identify the root of the bullying, though it is important to note that the bully may deny any wrong-doing. It is likely that the bully feels powerless somewhere in his/her life, and identification of that situation may help in problem-solving the bullying.

When talking with the bully, it is important to reiterate any class and school policies related to bullying and communicate with parents early in the situation, and work together to develop academic and nonacademic positive behavior supports at school and home. Help students see their shared responsibility for the classroom and school culture, and help students individually develop skills around communication, friendship and peer relationships, and management of emotions. It is important to work over time with the bully to acknowledge what was wrong and recognize the consequences of his/her actions. Developing relationships with caring adults can really help in educating bullies about the consequences of their behavior.

None of this is revolutionary advice. I'm still working on compiling more resources for you. In the mean time, check out these resources and links for more info.
PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center
and the off-shoots, Teens Against Bullying and Kids Against Bullying
Free Spirit Press publishes lots of texts around bullying and conflict resolution
Teaching Tolerance also provides resources and classroom activities for teachers
Stop is the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Resources center for bullying prevention

Here are some picturebooks and novels that deal with bullying that might make for interesting read alouds or independent reading for older students as another way into this important topic.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, written by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow 
The Ant Bully, written and illustrated by John Nickle
Chrysanthemum, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Hooway for Wodney Wat, written by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
The Hundred Dresses, written by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
The Ugly Duckling, adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Mr. Lincoln's Way, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Don't Laugh at Me, written by Glin Dibley, illustrated by Alan Shamblin
Say Something, written by Peggy Moss, illustrated by Lea Lyon
Goggles, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
King of the Playground, written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor illustrated by Nola Langner Malone
Pinduli, written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry, written and illustrated by Molly Bang (which is less about bullying, but could help in conversations about how to deal with anger)

Crash, by Jerry Spinelli
Jake Drake, Bully Buster, by Andrew Clements
The Misfits, by James Howe
Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully, by James Roy
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
Dog Sense, by Sneed B. Collard
The Meanest Doll in the World, by Ann M. Martin
Blubber, by Judy Blume
Schooled, by Gordon Korman
Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, by Kimberly Willis Holt
The Truth About Truman School, by Dori Hillestad Butler
This is What I Did, by Ann Dee Ellis
Bullyville, by Francine Prose
Bystander, by James Preller

Feinberg, T. (2003). Bullying prevention and intervention. Principal Leadership, 4(1).
Lyznicki J, et al. (2004). Childhood bullying: Implications for physicians. American Family Physicians, 70(9): 1723-1728.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu                 

It is impossible to avoid news stories about bullying these days. It is beyond alarming to read article after article of students experiencing painful verbal or physical bullying, and at its worst, have lead students to take their own lives. Bullying is a topic on talk shows, plot lines for television shows, movies, and books. It is a pervasive, troubling issue plaguing our young people, affecting social development and academic achievement.

What is bullying? Though definitions of bullying vary from source to source, generally agreed upon characteristics include that bullying is the repeated interaction between individuals with the intention to cause physical or emotional harm where the bully is physically, socially, or psychologically more powerful than the victim. Bullying often takes aim at race, religion, and sexual orientation. Bullying can take several forms:
  • Verbal: name-calling, teasing, taunting, threats
  • Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships 
  • Physical: hitting, punching, shoving
  • Cyberbullying: using the Internet, cell phones, or other digital technologies to harm others
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. This is not an isolated issue. It is a problem in urban, suburban, and rural schools and at every grade level.

As a teacher, it can be very difficult to know what to do about this issue. It takes a lot of time to sort out what happens between students, teachers often worry about drawing more attention to a situation, and they aren't sure how to handle the situation. What we do know, however, is that doing nothing is not the answer.  In a survey of more than 13,000 students in grades 5-12 during the 2009-2010 academic year by the Youth Voice Project students indicated that when adults ignored what was going on, told bullied youth to stop tattling, or told them to solve the problem themselves, the situation often got worse not better. From these students, we learn that the least effective method of stopping the bullying was trying to handle it themselves and the most effective was when they asked friends and adults for help. From adults, support, encouragement, and vigilance were most likely to lead to a positive outcome for the students.

So what can you do?
  1. Listen.
  2. Communicate classroom expectations clearly and follow through on classroom policies.
  3. Ask students about bullying. When you work on building relationships with students and show an interest in their lives, you become an ally for students to go to when bullying occurs.
  4. Make it easier for students to report bullying incidents. Have a suggestion box and/or survey students regularly. And then respond immediately.
  5. Observe students in their peer relationships. Know who students are friends with and who their friends are, whom they dislike, whom they view as popular and unpopular.
  6. When students come to you with a concern, follow up with them in an ongoing way. 
  7. Build relationships with parents and communicate regularly with parents of students experiencing bullying.
  8. Model respect.
  9. Recruit peer volunteers to support victims of bullying.
  10. Keep records of incidents, report incidents to the appropriate staff at school, and know the school policies.
Most of all, it is important to take seriously reports of bullying. When we brush off incidents as "kids being kids," we send the message that bullying is acceptable. And this cannot be the message we send to our students.

What kinds of bullying have you witnessed? What have you done to support students dealing with bullying?

September, 2011 issue of Educational Leadership, "Promoting Respectful Schools."

Thursday, October 20, 2011


For all teachers, but particularly first year teachers, Education Minnesota Conference weekend can provide some necessary reflection time. At this point, you've likely fallen into survival mode. The newness of the year has worn off but you still can't quite catch up. This weekend can be a great opportunity to stop, connect, and recharge. If you're like me, you spent some time at the Professional Conference today, which is always a great opportunity to network or learn something new. But, as I would suspect, some of you took the opportunity to slow down a bit.

This long weekend might be a great opportunity to send an email or make a phone call to another new teacher you graduated with or you met at new teacher orientation. That person you've been meaning to find out how their year has been going but just haven't had the time? Yeah, that one. These friends can offer important personal and emotional support for you in this tough first year. They can also be a sounding board for instructional reflection and problem-solving. Particularly in my first year of teaching, I needed people to talk with about "my kids," people who understood how hard this job was and how nagging the concerns for students can be. How best intentions fall flat. How exhausting it is to plan 6 straight hours of instruction. every. day.

Even if you've been too busy to connect since you've left your programs or orientation, set aside a few minutes this weekend or in the next few weeks to reconnect with someone who can relate to where you are in this journey of your first year of teaching.

Whatever you have planned for this weekend, the conference, yard work, a last trip to the cabin, sleep, I hope that you can find some time to recharge.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

parent-teacher conferences

You've been a teacher for a couple months now and just as you're settling into the routine, you're faced with parent-teacher conferences. I remember being terrified the first time through, dreading the unknown of how the conferences might go. Turns out, I really enjoyed parent-teacher conferences. It allowed me a glimpse into how my students functioned within their family, and I always came away with a little more insight into how to reach the student. Parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, don't get me wrong. And honestly, some did not go well. But the conferences do provide an important link between home and school.

Teacher Gail Tillery writes in Education Week, "Your students' parents are not your enemies. Ultimately, they want the same thing you want, which is the best for their children. By maintaining respectful and productive communication, you can work together to help students succeed." Though she writes about how even after 26 years of teaching, she still gets a little worry in her belly when she sees an email or voicemail from a parent or as parent-teacher conferences approach (ah, I know the feeling well!), she knows that is the key to fully supporting students' education.

For teachers working with ELL students in the classroom (which, really, is almost all of us these days), parent communication and conferences can be an additional source of concern. In some cases, you may need to make sure to work with your school in order to have a fully bilingual interpreter available for the scheduled conference time with a family so that you can communicate with parents in their preferred language. It is best not to rely on students to interpret for the conference, as this can disempower the parent and put the student in an uncomfortable position.

Education Minnesota (are you going to the professional conference next week?) has some helpful advice for successful conferences for new teachers. The Harvard Family Research Project has some great tips available here. I also found some helpful parent-teacher conferences dos and don'ts at the NY teachers' association website.

Bottom line, don't be too freaked out. Remember, you're all there for the well-being of the student. Be welcoming when parents come into your classroom, be prepared with things to say about your students, listen actively, and go in with the attitude that this is an opportunity. Have as much fun as you can, and plan to collapse in bed at the end of the night!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

teaching myth: quiet and still = learning

One myth of teaching that continues to pervade some classrooms (though is thankfully lessening in strength) is that students must be silent and still, listening to the "most important person" in the room (the teacher) for learning to take place.

In my first year of teaching, I taught next to a teacher who so believed in this myth that when playing Bingo during reward time, her students had to raise their hands silently when they had Bingo. They couldn't even say Bingo out loud! To her, my classroom was chaos, a disaster, a place where no learning could possibly take place. I'll admit that of course as a first year teacher, there were moments where chaos took over and learning lost out. But mostly, my students were engaged in learning together.

Two keys to student motivation are working collaboratively and movement. I know I hate to sit for 6 straight hours, and so do students. Get them moving. Not a lot, just have set times when you schedule a change in groups working together. One thing you can do is establish clock partners. Pass out a picture of a clock, and have students find partners for set times on the clock. I tend to do 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 partners (rather than all 12 hours, just because it is easier for students to remember their clock buddies if there are fewer). But I have done it with all 12, and then made sure students taped the clock into their planner or kept somewhere safe that they could refer to them easily. This way, they have a variety of people they work with regularly, and it isn't a production every time you want students to pair up (or they always pair with the same person).

Then, as frequently as it makes sense, you can have students complete a quickwrite on the topic of the day to start class, work on an assignment, review their homework, pair-share during a lesson, jigsaw a reading, quiz each other on course material, review vocabulary, whatever works in your lessons. Like with anything, if the work is purposeful and moving to their partners is an established and frequently used routine, in the end, it should help rather than hinder classroom management.

Here's a website that has one version of clock partners available online. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "Appointment Clock Buddies" link to pull up a pdf. The clock here is decidedly more elementary-looking, but a plainer version is available here. I've used this with primary students through college, and think it works well with all age levels. It's a simple way to vary collaborative groupings and give students opportunities to move around to work with others.

What other ways do you get students moving in your classroom?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Appropriate boundaries create integrity. 
                                    - Jewish Proverb

In a chat with a dear friend, she told me her first grader came home from school today abuzz with questions about what "The Biggest Loser" is, and what bootcamp means, and what a trainer does, and how and why you would do squats. After the litany of questions was over, it became clear that her son's teacher had been talking about her new weight-loss plan.

In high school psychology, my classmates gave me the job to ask kindly about our teacher's divorce at some point every class. This lead her to go on and on and on about her divorce, and was probably why when I took Psych 101 in college, it was all new.

I've been thinking about this post for a while based on this and a few other interesting conversations I've had recently with new teachers. Many new teachers have a difficult time drawing clear boundaries with students.  This can be especially difficult for young teachers of high school students, when there is not much of an age difference between teacher and student. It is in these situations, however, that boundaries become all the more crucial.

There are physical boundaries that must be drawn, obviously. And social networking boundaries. But less easy to figure out is finding the line between relationships and friendships in the context of the classroom. Remember, your goal is to be respected as a teacher, not liked as a friend. There were many times early in my teaching that I realized I over-shared with my students. I'm a talker. It happened. Luckily, unlike the way my teacher's divorce superseded the curriculum, what I shared was pretty harmless. But this did not help craft my pedagogy or improve the learning in the classroom. It was just poor judgment. A good strategy I learned to use is to stop and think, "Is this necessary for my students to know and respect me as a teacher?" If not, then it probably doesn't need to be shared. A colleague offers this to consider also: "Why do I want to share this with students?" Perhaps it is to appear hip and relevant to your students. But again, that isn't likely to improve teaching and learning in your classroom, and isn't a valid reason for divulging a personal story.

Does this mean that you shouldn't tell your students that you have children or a passion for horses or like to snowboard? Of course you can. Especially in the context of new things that you're learning or ways that you draw on skills you've honed over years of practice or what gets you really excited about life. Those are very important. But they don't need to know about your dating life or where you went out on Saturday. I didn't give out my home phone number often, but here's an article to help you think about that decision.

I still catch myself in diarrhea-of-the-mouth in the classroom (and out of it!) at times, needing to take a step back and regroup. "Is this necessary?" "Why am I sharing this?" Setting boundaries takes some time to figure out, but in the end, is an essential part of finding your identity as a teacher.

What boundaries are you struggling with in your role as teacher?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

the power of the exit slip

Every day in a classroom is a learning opportunity. Not just for our students, but for us as teachers too. Our students know better than anyone how things are going in our classes, what is confusing, what they are excited about, what is working and what is not. We ALL have plenty to learn about planning, instruction, assessment, and students, no matter our experience.

Something I'm pretty sure you all experienced as students in your teacher prep programs, and perhaps all through your schooling, are those quick check-ins at the end of class: the exit slip. Exit slips provide an opportunity for students to write anonymously about their experiences in your classroom. Prompts can refer to questions about content students have after class, the "muddiest point" of a discussion, concerns about group interactions, pacing, anything really. For example, if you ask students to write down the most important point from social studies today and you are faced with blank stares or off-the-wall suggestions, you can use that information to regroup the next day.

Exit slips take little to no time to prepare (I often go into a class with a planned question for an exit slip, but sometimes I decide on the spot that I need to gauge where the group is). I used them with 4th graders and I use them with college students. As long as children can do some writing or drawing, they can participate in exit slips. They are easy to forget about planning into your instruction, especially since there are so many other things to think about as you start teaching! But regular exit slips can really help students see the communication lines are open, that you are interested in their feedback, and that you care about them enough to modify your plans to best meet their needs.

This informal form of ongoing assessment can really help new teachers learn about the needs of their students. Give it a shot, and let us know how it goes!

Friday, September 16, 2011

books for boys

English/Language Arts and Reading teachers know that finding the right books for readers can be challenging stuff. What one reader likes, another doesn't. Once a reader finds an author, series, or genre, they can get stuck and struggle to find other books to read once they've made their way through their favorite series.  This can hold especially true for boys. As a field, we've made a lot of strides to engage boys through the books we carefully select and by giving kids choice in their reading material. But there's always room for improvement.

I had a request for some resources for books for boys, particularly for middle and high school readers. This is an excellent topic, and my plan is to periodically review new books being published to introduce you all to what is out there. But let's start with some great organizations and some suggested titles.

Guys Read, an organization started by author/illustrator Jon Scieszka, is a a web-based program devoted to help boys become life-long readers. There are some great book lists with suggested titles, and there's a place to submit suggestions of other titles. Those of you in the Twin Cities might know that Hennepin County Library has teamed with Guys Read, and HCL has some great resources linked on their website.

Other web resources that are my go-tos for ideas include:, a great website with tons of book lists, author information - including authors reading sections of books on podcast and video, helps for starting a book club, and regular newsletters.

There's Guys Lit Wire, a great blog for book resources for boys.

The Children's Literature Network also has some great book recommendation lists.

YALSA is a big one for me too.

The blog Reading Rants, and the Blue Ribbon Awards from The Bulletin at the University of Illinios are good resources too.

The International Reading Association has a special interest group (SIG) devoted to middle school reading, which has some great book lists and newsletters.

Another blog I look to is David Barr Kirtley's, who writes science fiction and has linked to a ton of free online stories in that genre for teens. He has a list of books for boys here.

Boys who like sports will likely enjoy Mike Lupica, Carl Deuker, and John Coy.

Local MN author Geoff Herbach wrote Stupid Fast (about an unlikely football player) which has been really popular since it's recent publication, and he has a sequel coming out soon.

Gordon Korman is also quite popular with boys who like adventure stories - his Son of a Mob is interesting.

Walter Dean Myers' books are great for boys too. I like most of them - particularly Monster, Sunrise Over Fallujah, and Lockdown.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is really popular lately with both boys and girls (and adults like me!) - especially with the movies coming out in the spring. If kids really liked The Hunger Games, you could also point them to Japanese novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, and they'll be anxious to talk about the parallels between the storylines. And Collins' Underland Chronicles are also well-liked.

Nancy Farmer's science fiction and fantasy books are good ones for boys too.

I haven't read the series that start with The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, but know it's also popular with boys who like the fantasy genre.

I'm a recent convert to graphic novels and their power for teaching literacy to teens, liking American Born Chinese, Ghostopolis, and Sandman. You can find lists of graphic novels at YALSA too.

Some other suggested titles include:

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
The Airborn series by Kenneth Oppel
The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman
The Dark is Rising and series by Susan Cooper
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Whistle!, by Daisuke Higuchi
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, by Robert Kurson
Hero, by Perry Moore
Feed, by M.T. Anderson
Headlock, by Joyce Sweeney
Godless, by Pete Hautman
The Trap, by John Smelcer
Lowboy, by John Wray
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success, by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt and Sharon Draper
Bait, by Alex Sanchez (a gay author, he maintains a website devoted to books for gay teens)
Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
Hikaru No Go, by Yumi Hotta
Dark Sons, by Nikki Grimes

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

take the time

Week 2 (or maybe 3 or 4!) is done. Phew, you made it! You're likely exhausted and under a pile of paperwork, grading, planning, and organizing. And if you're like me, you have plans to work most of the weekend. I've been teaching for 13 years, and I still take home work most nights and weekends. But, in reading English teacher Jim Burke's Letters to a New Teacher, a book I'll return to soon in another blog post, he says it well:

This work of ours will never get simple and never... get under control. We work in the midst of barely controlled chaos. You must set aside time for yourself on the weekends and each day during the week (even if it's only fifteen minutes!) to tend to your own needs. This is how I began reading poetry again. It's why I listen to books on tape. Because our work is never done, we can always be working. And then it consumes you and the next thing you know you lose the joy of teaching, and you join the ranks of the 60 percent who leave the profession within the first five years. You must teach yourself the habits that will allow you to sustain not only your love of teaching, but your love of life... You must, as hard as it can be, give yourself permission to get up from your desk and go into the garden, out to the beach, over to a friend's, or out to dinner for conversation about things other than teaching and school. This is essential for your personal and professional health. (p. 12)

You might not find an exact work-life balance (I still struggle with that), but you need to try. From experience and from watching many others suffer through it, if you are not happy and healthy, it won't make a hill of beans difference how late you stayed up to grade that last math quiz or make that new bulletin board. You have to do those things too, of course, but find some time every day for what nurtures you - work out, make a nice dinner, read Hollywood gossip, chat with a friend. You do have time. And it will pay off in the end.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11 teaching resources

With the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001 upon us, some of you may be interested in addressing the anniversary of the attacks and the aftermath. There are lots of resources available online for teachers interested in lessons regarding 9/11. The New York Times has some great resources here.  The National Council for the Social Studies also has 9/11 resources available here.  4 Action Initiative, an NYC project started by families of those who died in the attacks on Sept 11 and jointly sponsored by the Liberty Science Center and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education developed a curriculum and resource guide for teachers to use.  Scholastic has some lesson plan ideas on their website too - check them out here.  Dickinson College compiled lesson plans and teaching resources for Kindergarten through college level classes, available here. Pearson's Online Learning Exchange also has free teaching resources available here for both elementary and secondary level students.

Another great place to start is Larry Ferlazzo's blog. He's an ELL teacher, and his blog has lots of posts with good resources for teachers. He has compiled links to all sorts of 9/11 teaching resource pages, from videos and photo galleries, newspaper articles and lesson plans.  His list in 2008 has tons to look at, and he's added more this week in a couple different posts.

It's hard to believe it has been 10 years, and that most of you are teaching students who don't know what the world was like pre-9/11. Wow.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

back to school

I can't tell you how excited I am for you all, dear readers! Your first year of teaching is like nothing else - the realization of so many hours of hard work.

Hope today is a wonderful first day. Don't forget to breathe, make sure to eat lunch, and it is ok if you go to bed at 8:30 tonight because you're exhausted.

Welcome to the 2011-2012 school year!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

We can never know about the days to come...

... But we think about them anyway. (bonus points if you can name artist and song. hint: it's probably much older than you - ask your parents, or grandparents!)

Some of you started school this week, and others are gearing up for a first day after Labor Day. What an incredible time! Most first year teachers go through a bit of a cycle in their learning (and surviving) the first year. Right now, it's likely to say that you are rooted in the Anticipation Phase. You are deeply committed to the work ahead, excited about the possibilities, enthusiastic about the goals you have set for yourself. This high, which probably began in your student teaching experience, usually lasts several weeks, despite how exhausted you might be at the end of each day! If you're anything like me, there are moments each day where you walk into your classroom and you can't believe you're there, you're a teacher. It's pretty amazing, isn't it?

The thing that you realize quickly, though, is that every day has a huge learning curve. And the way to help yourself through these first few days and weeks is to remember to take deep breaths, reflect as much as possible in writing, and try not to sweat the small stuff. There will be mistakes, for sure, lessons that flop or classroom management ideas that bomb. But at the end of every day remember that there is a new day around the corner. A chance to try again. The kiddos in your classes are lucky to have dedicated, enthusiastic, smart teachers like yourselves. Remember that!

We'll talk a lot about how to overcome some of the most common concerns of first year teachers (classroom arrangement and management, curriculum planning and pacing, establishing a grading system that’s fair, parent conferences, work/life balance) in the coming weeks. Know that you're not alone, and we're here to help. Send me a comment or write me an email if you have ANY questions that we can help you with. Together, I hope, you'll not just survive, but thrive!

Reference: New Teacher Center (NTC)

What has been your favorite "I'm a teacher!" moment so far?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

first day of school read alouds

I always plan a read-aloud on the first day of school,  no matter if I am teaching 4th grade or college. A great read-aloud can build community, make people laugh, start a conversation, ease anxiety, and set the tone for the year. It says that books are valued. It says that stories are important. It can give voice to those who need one. Talk with teammates and your school librarian for some suggestions. But here are a few titles to get you thinking.

Elementary School 

A hands-down favorite is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Henkes is a fantastic author/illustrator and his book about little mouse Chrysanthemum, who loves her name until she goes to school, is perfect for launching a discussion about names. If you don't know Henkes' work, take a look. His books are beloved by children and adults alike.

A great one for first-year teachers is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Sarah Jane is nervous about starting at a new school, and doesn't want to go to the first day. Kids find it hilarious that in the end, it turns out Sarah Jane is a teacher! Even teachers are nervous at the beginning of the year.

Never Ride Your Elephant to School, written by Doug Johnson and illustrated by Abby Carter is a silly cautionary tale. Most students wouldn't need convincing that bringing an elephant to school is a bad idea, but just in case, this funny read will warn them sufficiently.

Minerva Louise at School, by Janet Morgan Stoeke tells the story of a wacky chicken who decides to check out the elementary school she mistakes for a 'big, fancy barn.' It shows the school through the world-view of a chicken, and you'll fall in love with Minerva Louise.

Wish I Were a Butterfly, by Ed Young. After being told he is ugly by a frog, a little cricket wishes he were a butterfly. But when the butterfly hears his music, it wishes to be a cricket, sharing with students that we all have gifts to share instead of being jealous of one another. This book is appropriate for older students as well.

The North Star by Peter Reynolds. We're all on a journey, though it is sometimes hard to know what path to follow. In this book, we learn to embrace our unique journey through life. This book is appropriate for older students too.

Some additional suggestions include: My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, Beatrice's Goat by Page McBier, A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech, Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, Stella Louella Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst, No, David! by David Shannon

Middle School / Junior High

For middle school / junior high reading and English classes, I used to pick a book that would be completed fairly quickly and that had a hook within the first couple pages.  Some books that I found kids loved include: Found or Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, Out of My Mind or Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, Knuckleheads by Jon Sczieska, and We All Fall Down or Fade by Robert Cormier. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is often a hit too. Math teachers can choose Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander, or G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David Schwartz.  For social studies classes, I usually selected a historical fiction novel that linked to the time period we'd be studying. A good place to look for good nonfiction for social studies or science classes is to search the Orbis Pictus award winners. Some of my recent favorites include Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, by Mark Aronson, The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner, and An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1763 by Jim Murphy. Other authors to consider include Jacqueline Woodson, M.T. Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Pete Hautman, Gordon Korman. The Newbery Awards are always good places to start, but I also like YALSA's Teens' Top Ten, since those are voted on by kids (instead of grown-ups like the other awards).

High School 

Read alouds might seem like a harder sell for older kids, but you'd be surprised at how they love having a book read aloud to them too. A lot of the suggestions for junior high hold true for middle school as well. For high school, something to think about is reading current newspaper or magazine articles pertaining to your content area, showing students early the connection of your discipline to their lives. The New York Times published links to NYT stories from recent years that have interested high school students as read alouds. Check out the page - there might be some that fit your content area well! Authors of fiction that might be great for high school classes include Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, Markus Zusak, Chris Crutcher, Sharon Flake. If you don't know YALSA yet, check it out. Tons of recommended read lists. Check out the Alex Awards, Michael Printz Awards, the Pura Bupre Award, and the Coretta Scott King Awards, all sponsored by the American Library Association for some quality suggestions.