Holiday Pen Pals and a Letter Writing Challenge

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The art of letter writing may one day be obsolete.

With the changing tides of technology it is becoming increasingly rare to sit down with a pen and paper to craft a message for someone else. I love the ease with which communication is achieved via emails and social media, but there is something special about moving a pen across a page. We open up a little more when the words pour through the ink of the pen.

As a ninth grade teacher I see the impact of technology everyday. Most of the results are great, but one thing I notice is that the generation of students I am teaching struggle with articulating their thoughts in more than 280 characters. They think of communication as tweets, emails, and videos. And because of that I fear they are losing out on the authentic experience of written communication.

It is out of this observation (and a little help from author and teacher, Kelly Gallagher) that the idea of pen pals came to me.

Over the Holiday season my ninth grade students have all been assigned a student in my husband’s fourth grade class. Each of my students made a journal for their pen pal and wrote them a letter introducing themselves and asking questions.

In our first rounds of writing my husband and I both observed high levels of engagement among our students. Even those students who neglect assignments and perform poorly in writing exercises opened up in letters to their pen pals and offered them advice that helped us to see them in a different light.

Of course, we did establish some rules for these pen pal relationships. We wanted to make sure that conversations remained appropriate and we also wanted to keep privacy a priority so students know only the first name of their pen pal.

The opportunity to write to a REAL student excited my ninth grade classes. The day after the letters they authored were due they were already asking about when to expect a response. Many of them put a lot of effort into decorating and writing in the journals and eagerly looked forward to hearing back from their new friends.

I stated on Friday that I will be undertaking the challenge of writing one letter a day for the month of December. The motivation behind this challenge comes from witnessing the way my students long for this written form of communication. If you would like to join me in that challenge check out my post Deep: Five Minute Friday and let me know in the comments.

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Dressing and Educating: Days 115-119

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Day 115: February 13, 2017

My classes began today with a debrief of last week’s Socratic Seminar in English. Students evaluated their own strengths and weaknesses and we discussed ways to improve as a class in the future. After the debrief session students began presenting their independent book projects. I received some of the best projects I’ve ever had during this time today. I’m glad that students are gaining an appreciation for reading.

In Honors World History, I showed a documentary from the History Channel about the United States’ entry into the war and how it was influenced heavily by British propaganda. This documentary led to a class discussion and an activity that we will complete later in the week.

I wore a Lula Roe top and leggings today. This is one of the most comfortable ways to dress for school.

 

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Day 116: February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

Today in English, we wrapped up student reading presentations. It was nice to hear so many book talks and to evaluate the student-created projects.

In Honors World History, I started students on a stations-based lesson. The main idea of the stations was to discuss the Zimmermann Telegram and how it influenced the war. Students were able to get through two of the four stations today. Here is a break down of the stations:

  1. Speech-students read Woodrow Wilson’s speech declaring war on Germany. As they read they were to highlight reasons for the declaration as well as the items that Wilson was asking the people of the United States for.
  2. Decoding-students were given a fictitious message and were to use a matrix (similar to what the British used during the war) to decode the secret message. Once the message was decoded students had discussion questions relating this activity to World War I.
  3. US Enters the War-students were given an article about why the US joined World War I. Using large chart paper students had to create a web with 4-6 reasons why the US joined the war using the evidence provided in the article.
  4. Zimmermann Note-students were provided a translated version of the Zimmermann note. They completed a SOAPTONE activity analyzing the document as a primary source.

I wore a tank and pants from Old Navy and my Ellaine Open Cardigan by Papermoon from Stitch Fix #4.

 

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Day 117: February 15, 2017

In English my students took an online practice AIR test today. It took the entire period and we held class in one of the school’s computer labs. In Honors World History, the guidance department came and discussed scheduling for next year. I spent most of my time today getting caught up on grading. It was a much needed work day where very little time was spent in front of students. I was able to to catch up on things I had fallen behind on and prepare myself for the remainder of the week.

I wore Lula Roe leggings and a black tunic from The Limited.

 

 

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Day 118: February 16, 2017

Parent-Teacher Conference days are always the longest. Today not only did I have to stay until 7:00pm for conferences, but I also helped with a combined baby shower for pregnant teachers which was from 3:00-4:00pm in the school library. A lot of preparation went into making sure it was a successful shower so I was already exhausted by the time doors opened to parents at 4:00pm.

In English, my students took an online writing test today using Vantage, a program my school purchases annually for our students in order to prepare them for the state tests. In Honors World History, we wrapped up the stations-based lesson from Tuesday.

I wore leggings, an orange Old Navy dress, my Abrianna Long Sleeve Knit Cardigan by 41Hawthorn from Stitch Fix and my blanket scarf that I received from Stitch Fix as a Christmas gift for being a Stitch Fix Influencer.

 

Day 119: February 17, 2017

After a few days of practice tests in English I had my students analyze their tests. We discussed the rubric for the AIR writing test and then I polished off the lesson with a game of a Kahoot!

In Honors World History, students were given their debate partner and topic for next week’s debate over the start of World War I. In their debates students will work in pairs to determine the country at fault for starting World War I. After the assignments were given we explored the Fourteen Points within partner groups.

 

It was a great week and I took the opportunity to try some new things this week like Kahoot! and stations-based lessons. I’m excited to implement both of these in my classroom more regularly.

Which look was your favorite?

 

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Teachers Pay Teachers?

 

Writing effective lesson plans is time consuming. Making learning at the high school level fun and engaging for students requires even more. This year I’ve been focusing on student engagement and getting my students more involved in both the English and History courses that I teach.

It’s taken more time than usual, but my results have been phenomenal. Overall, the students this year have bought into their education more so than those of the past. They are motivated to learn when I get out of the lecture rut and put them in charge of discovering ideas on their own.

During the last two weeks my English students have completed reading projects and a Socratic Seminar. I was so pleased with the results of  both. Students blew away the expectations and made me proud. Going to school is so much more fun when my students are happy and looking forward to class.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about opening a shop on Teachers Pay Teachers, a site where I could sell my lesson plans and classroom activities. I’m looking for advice from other teachers out there.

Is it worth it to package and sell lessons that have been successful in my own classroom? 

I’ve had an account with Teachers Pay Teachers for a few years. At this point all I’ve ever done is buy lessons, but I have a few of my own that might be beneficial to others. Any feedback is welcome and will be appreciated.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Dressing and Educating: Days 74-78

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Day 74: December 5, 2016

Every quarter my school district expects the content areas to give a common assessment. This quarter in English our focus has been argument writing and so we decided to hone in on the skills needed to write a thesis statement and focus our assessment on that.

Today we gave a pre-assessment. This is a lesson that is rather famous in the circle of high school English teachers. I first heard about it from Kelly Gallagher in one of his books I did a study on last fall. The lesson is called Slip or Trip?

Students are given a crime scene and minimal information. Based on the evidence they gather they write a claim or thesis statement which defines their beliefs about the crime. It’s a really fun way to introduce the purpose and structure of writing a thesis statement. It’s one of my favorite things to do every year.

Today I wore my brand new Lula Roe Carly dress. I paired it with black OS leggings from Lula Roe, a black sweater, and boots.

 

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Day 75: December 6, 2016

In history this week I’m trying to drive home the point of using primary sources in research. Students are currently working on an independent project about the Industrial Revolution. They are using time outside of class to work on these projects as we move forward in the curriculum during class time. Today we took a look at four primary sources about child labor and machines replacing manual labor during the Industrial Revolution. The students took the sources home and for homework answered several Document Based Questions.

Today I wore a printed top from Stitch Fix 4, red jeggings, and because it was very wet and rainy outside I wore my Sperry rainboots.

 

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Day 76: December 7, 2016

In English today we made progress in the novel, Not a Drop to Drink. We focused on the inciting conflict of the novel where people from a nearby town decide to attack the main character and her mother on their homestead. In this scene the students analyzed characterization and plot structure. They also read a non-fiction text about water shortage in our world today. Many of the students were completely unaware of the fact that water shortage isn’t confined to a third world country problem. They were shocked to learn that California and many other western states are faced with this crisis as well.

Today I wore a white sweater than my sister bought me last Christmas, coral jeggings and booties.

 

Day 77: December 8, 2016

The nasty bug that seems to be popping up everywhere made itself a guest in my household today. It could be the fact that I’ve been going a mile a minute preparing for the end of the semester or maybe my new diet of paleo/gluten free made me susceptible, but I had to turn my classroom over to a substitute today. Sorry there are no cute pictures to share of myself lazing around binge watching Gilmore Girls.

 

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Day 78: December 9, 2016

Well-rested and recharged I hopped out of bed ready to conquer the world today.

I threw on my brand new spirit wear that I bought from the basketball team, pulled on my boots, and got myself to school extra early.

In history today we shared some of the Industrial Revolution projects which students worked on independently throughout the course of the week. I was impressed by narratives, presentations, and posters that the students shared as ways of displaying the research they conducted.

This was a fast pace, highly effective week despite my mid-week sick day.

Which outfit was your favorite?

 

The Ameri Brit Mom

Dressing and Educating: Days 67-68

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Day 67: November 21, 2016

As we draw near to Thanksgiving Break both of my classes were wrapping up major units of study. In English each of my students created an online presentation about a book that they have read independently over the last month and a half. During today and tomorrow they will each get a chance to present their books for the class. In Honors World History, my students prepared for a test over the French Revolution with a friendly game of review basketball. Nothing is more fun (and competitive) than a little basketball before a test!

I wore a skirt from The Limited, a black tshirt from Primark in England, and black Lula Roe leggings with boots.

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Day 68: November 22, 2016

A nice short school week was brought to a close today. It was a school-spirit day so I dressed in my Viking gear. As a teacher today I was wrapping up grades. In English we finished presenting books. In History the students took a test. Second quarter interim grades were also due before I could head out to enjoy the break. It was a very busy day, but worth it!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teaching Writing: Five Things You Need to Survive

Whoever said teaching writing is dull has never been inspired by some of the writing greats like Kelly Gallagher, George Hillocks Jr, and Donalyn Miller. These three people have heavily influenced my take on the teaching of writing. My first two years of teaching I struggled to capture the interest of my students while adhering to state mandated standards, but after studying theories and ideas from these three experts I’ve revamped my program and teaching writing has become an enjoyment. Reading their works have also made me a more confident writing teacher.

Currently, my students are working on an essay entitled, Five Things You Need to Survive in Lynn’s World. This assignment is based on the novel Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis which all regular education ninth grade students are reading at my school. I did a book review of this novel last spring as I prepared the unit. Check it out!

In order for my students to get a handle on what I was asking for in this informative essay I provided them a copy of the humorous essay from the Huffington Post, 10 Essentials for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: A Practical Guide by John Hornor Jacobs. As a small group they read through the article and highlighted language and ideas that stood out to them.

Then, in their groups they used the model essay to develop a plan of their own. They created a T-chart in their writing notebooks emulating some of the same styles used by John Hornor Jacobs, but applying his principles to their assignment. That assignment was to write an informative essay about five things needed to survive in the world of Lynn, the protagonist of Not a Drop to Drink.

This assignment is a fun approach to informative writing sprinkled with a bit of humor. Students are working in small groups to write the essay where each student is responsible for one paragraph or item from the list of necessities for survival. Also, like the model essay students are expected to think outside of the box when choosing their items. They are not allowed to use water, fire, or shelter as an item required for survival.

GoogleDocs is the platform we are using for the assignment as it allows several students to work on the same document at the same time. They are all able to use Chromebooks to work on their individual portion of the whole and they have instant access to editing tools, their peers.

This is the first time I’ve done this assignment and so far I am pleased with the how things are going. The students are engaged because they’ve already fallen in love with the text.They are also performing their own tasks as a member of a team.

This assignment serves as an introduction to informative writing. Plans have been laid for individual informative assignments, however, working in small groups is a stepping stone to writing on their own.

I’m excited to see the final products when the editing process is complete.

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Book Worm or Social Butterfly?

I am currently enrolled in a course on teaching writing and during this course the class is reading the book,  In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. In his book, Kelly discusses some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

I’m a big fan of Gallagher and in the past have read his other books, Teaching Adolescent Writers and Write Like This. He talks often about his experiences in the ninth grade English classroom and I sympathize with him on various levels about student apathy, concerns, and achievements.

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This week I was doing my reading to prepare for the course when I stumbled upon an idea which really resonated with me.

This is a quote within a quote from the book:

“In his study, ‘In the Minds of Others,’ Keith Oatley, professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, notes that recent research has found that

far from being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.” (2011, 1)

So often we hear the term “book worm” to describe someone who has developed an affinity for reading. This misnomer has carried with it a negative connotation. I’ve even heard other teachers use such negative language to describe students who consistently carry books to and from class. Readers can get a bad reputation from the rest of society. They are sometimes labeled antisocial, but the quote above points to the very opposite meaning.

One of my favorite pastimes is to sit at home near the fire place in the living room and read. I’ll even call it romantic when my husband sits beside me on the sofa and reads his own book as well. Because at the end of the day we share what we have read about. The people we have interacted with through reading. The lessons we learned from the stories we experienced. And there is nothing antisocial or negative about it.

People miss out on truly social experiences by choosing not to read. Reading provides us such unique opportunities to be a part of another life or time period that we may never otherwise experience.

I’m not saying every couple needs to be like me and my husband and bond through reading. Rather the point I am trying to make is that reading is not the negative experience that so many people have painted it to be. When I ask students why they are reluctant to read on their own I get responses like, “I would rather play games,” or, “My friends are more fun.” Although they may enjoy gaming and spending time with friends, reading can also be as much fun and engaging as both of those activities.

All of this to say, that just because someone enjoys reading does not mean that they are a book worm. It is indeed possible to read often and be a social butterfly. Reading can add authenticity to your social interactions outside of books and helps to develop the social skills needed for relating to others. By losing yourself in a good book you are setting yourself up for social success and training your mind for intellectual growth.

Citations:

Oatley, Keith. 2011. “In the Minds of Others.” Scientific American Mind.

Gallagher, Kelly. 2015. In the Best Interest of Students. Stenhouse: Maine.