this is just to say

As a teacher, have you ever had a bad day? It seems a bit silly to ask that question, since it happens to all of us–when you have a hard time making transitions between activities, when you stumble over your words, or when your class is just out of control.

I’ve been having a lot of those lately. This year has been much harder than any other, as far as managing students who are very demanding (we’ll leave it at that). Yes, it’s one of those years.  I hope I’m not coming across as complaining! Rather, I think I have learned a lot this year, and will continue to learn more as I struggle to make this a positive and effective year of learning for my students. I value the learning I have had to do–I definitely think that it’s made me a better teacher.

Yesterday, when I finally collapsed behind my desk at the end of the day, all of the frustration surfaced, and the following resulted. Not meant seriously, of course.


This Is Just to Say (s/o to William Carlos Williams)

by Mrs. Sorensen

I have graded
all of your
for this class

and now
you all

Forgive me
or not
it’s your work
after all

the 25 book challenge

This is the handout that I gave to parents at the beginning of the school year. I had a couple requests for it, so I thought I would share. Leave a comment . . . what do you think?
Why Read?
The 25 Book CHALLENGE!
Why? The Need to Read . . .
A CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Some Surprising Statistics
·      Forty percent of high school graduates lack the literacy skills employers seek (National Governors Association, 2005).
·      Lack of basic skills costs universities and businesses as much as $16 billion annually (National Commission on Writing, 2004).
·      Only 1 out of 3 students is a proficient reader (Lee, Grigg, and Donahue, 2007).
·      1 out of 4 twelfth-grade students is a proficient writer (Salahu-Din, Persky, and Miller, 2008).
·      1 out of 5 college freshman must take a remedial reading course (SREB, 2006).
·      3 out of 10 high school students do not graduate on time (Gewertz, 2009).
·      Over half of adults scoring at the lowest literacy levels are dropouts (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005).
-from Writing to Read, a Carnegie Foundation Report, page 7
The bottom line . . .
“No single literacy activity has more positive effect on student’s comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, spelling, writing ability, and overall academic achievement than free voluntary reading.”
-Stephen Krashen, “The Power of Reading: a Meta-Analysis”
What Can We Do?
At School:
In Mrs. Sorensen’s class, students will be required to read a minimum of 25 books during the school year. To ensure and aid in completion of the requirement, and also in an effort to help students find books that they enjoy reading, students are asked to read a certain number of books from specific genres. Those are as follows:

Poetry/Poetry Anthology: 1
Traditional Literature: 3
Realistic Fiction: 3
Historical Fiction: 2
Fantasy: 3
Science Fiction: 1
Mystery: 1
Informational/Nonfiction: 2
Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 1
Student Choice: 8

Students will receive many supports in the classroom to complete this course requirement, such as: reading time in class, book recommendations, visits to the library, and personal conferencing with the teacher. They will also have minimal homework, with the thought that their “homework” in this class will be reading at home.
How Can Parents Help? (The Need for Reading Role Models & Reading Support)
In a 2007 an Associated Press Poll reported in the Washington Post that the average adult American read only 4 books that entire year.
            -But that doesn’t even tell the whole story: of adults that read, their average was 7 books. However, 25% of the respondents didn’t read a book at all!
**Parents can be reading role models for their students at home. They can also encourage students to read at home, help facilitate visits to the library or bookstore, and talk with their students about what they read. 

big winner books for boys

After reading Michael Smith & Jeffrey Wilhelm’s book Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the reading habits of my male students. Having just finished looking through my class evaluations and student reflections, one (of the many) things I learned through reading those this year was which books were a big hit. Some of them are ones we read in class, some of them are ones that I had on the shelves in my classroom library. Just thought I would share some of those with you (most of these were also favorites among the ladies as well):

Ship Breaker
Where the Red Fern Grows
Alex Rider series
The Red Kayak
Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Pretty much anything by Brandon Mull
Anything by Mike Lupica (Million Dollar Throw was the favorite)
Rough Waters
Hunger Games series
The Maze Runner & sequel The Scorch Trials
Ender’s Game
Calvin & Hobbes
Lightening Thief series
Lightening Thief graphic novel
ESPN magazine
National Geographic Junior magazines
And in class they loved reading And Then There Were None, The Outsiders, & Deathwatch.
In general, I got a lot of comments stating that they liked books that had anything to do with the outdoors, and not a ton of romance. (Although I did notice several boys throughout the year trying to hide the fact that they were reading the Twilight series . . .)
Any other great reads for guys?

daydreaming teacher

On the dreary days at school

when the air is still
and students are sleepy
I wonder
what would make today better?
If a bird flew in the window!
sending students in a craze
feathers and pencils flying.
If I found a fifty dollar bill
on the ledge outside my window!
“Happy weekend”
Ulysses S. Grant would say.
If the plant on the windowsill in the corner
started to grow candy!
as quick as we could pick it.
Chocolate, preferably.
If all the missing books
from my now meager classroom library
magically appeared back on the shelf!
Oh, the stories they would tell.
If I could whistle like Cinderella
my students scurrying like mice
washing the whiteboard clean!
with a song on their lips.
If Mario Batali did the catering
for school lunch.
No PB & J today!
If the cloning project for the science fair
was a success!
and the others of me
insisted on finishing ALL my grading.
See? Teachers can daydream too.
-Whitney Sorensen, April 2011

language fun: dialogue

We were just discussing how to use dialogue to enhance our narratives in my Language Arts class, and I conveniently found this nice piece while digging around in a file for something else. I think I might try having my students do an exercise with writing a short story completely in dialogue–similar to something that Tom Romano suggested in Writing with Passion, Life Stories, Multiple Genres. I love playing with language and structure!

First published in 1950 in the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, by Ned Guymon:
Conversation Piece
“You didn’t!”
“I did.”
“Just now.”
“You know.”
“I don’t!”
“You do.”
“With whom?”
“With you.”
“She didn’t . . .”
“She did.”
“We didn’t . . .”
“You did.”
“You knew?”
“I knew.”
“How long?”
“Long enough.”
“What now?”
“Why later?”
“Guess again.”
“Tell me!”
“Oh, no!”
“Oh, yes.”
“You can’t!”

anne frank & real life

A couple of weeks ago I had a feeling of incompleteness with regards to the upcoming Anne Frank unit in my English classes (we’re reading the play). I had plenty of cognitive goals and skill goals (or objectives-if you like that word better; thanks to my college Ed courses for giving me labeling terms for those kinds of objectives). But no affective goals.

I also had no real world connection. How could I get students to connect with Anne Frank, and see her story as relevant today?
The real world connection part is very important to me. The fact that it was missing made me feel like I was going out in public without pants on. I’ve always believed that it is so important to have a real world context/connection with what I am teaching (as well as wear pants in public). Part of this strong belief came from a book I read this summer: Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys by Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm. There are a couple important parts that I want to share about boys and reading and English class (but of course you can always substitute “boys” for students in general; good teaching practices are good for everyone).
“The boys in our study wanted to understand the value of the work they were asked to do–and all too often they did not . . . Many students perceived the readings they were asked to do and the assignments associated with them as purposeless and contrived. ‘Busywork’ was a term or concept used by twenty-four of the boys to describe school assignments, particularly in English.” (118-119). How often do teachers give out cutesy little assignments that go along with the book they are reading in class? What is the purpose of those assignments, exactly? And do the students know it?

“The reading the boys enjoyed–most of it outside of school though some inside it–always had a purpose. the boys talked about a variety of purposes or goals that informed the literate activity they enjoyed” (120). —One of those purposes that I want to mention specifically for my purpose (affective goals & real world contexts) is what Smith & Wilhelm call The Reality Principle.
About this they say, “Figuring things out, fixing things, and making things all connected to the boys’ desire for realism, a theme expressed by every one of the boys in the study. One major subtheme of realism was the importance of ‘getting information’ about real events or situations the boys wanted to understand. Bambino, for example, insisted that he wanted to read about things that were ‘connected to the here and now.’ Pablo wanted emotional engagement when he read and maintained that ‘the real has more emotional punch’ . . . the boys . . . all privileged what they considered to be real and discounted what was not” (122, italics mine).
So they want something REAL. Or at least things “connected to the here and now.” If they get this, then they tend to be more invested and interested in what I’m teaching in class. Since reading this and coming to understand the importance of The Reality Principle, I have made it a point of telling students WHY we are doing what we are doing in class. WHY do you need to be able to summarize? What real world situation might you be in where you need to summarize? WHY do we need to build our reading fluency? Does that skill help you in real life? How? By discussing these things with them I find myself not only being more purposeful in what and how I teach, but I also find that the students are more willing to do their best work (or work at all, in some cases) when they know the WHY: the real world connection, the purpose.
So back to Anne Frank.
I needed an affective goal and a real world connection. With a little inspiration, I came up with THIS:

Anne Frank had to deal with the evils in her life, particularly the effects of the Holocaust, and she had to remain silent about it: partly because she was in hiding, partly because she was so young. The only way that she was heard was through her diary, which later was published.
· What evils are there in our lives that we have to deal with? (Drugs, gangs, terrorism, war in Afghanistan, hatred towards Americans, recession, promiscuity of media/popular culture, demoralization of role models and society).
· Do we have the option of remaining silent?
· Do we remain silent about these things or not?
· How do we choose to speak out if we choose to be heard?
· What things do I choose to speak out on?
· What effect does speaking out have on the world today?
How can I speak out?

I’m still coming up with how this is going to look in class. Probably in the form of some small group and then class discussions, and also maybe a short essay.
What do you think?

Don’t you love this picture of Anne Frank? It’s my favorite– I think that it really captures her happy, optimistic, sweet personality.