Friday, November 28, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: "If I could save time in a bottle..."

Day 27

If you could bottle up the perfect day, what would it look like?

This prompt reminded me of that song by Jim Croce, so I used the title as the title of my post for today...well. for yesterday, as I'm running behind on this whole blogging every day thing.  I was doing well until grades and traveling and spending time with family took precedence.  I'm giving myself some grace, though, and not forcing myself to go back to do the posts I've missed.  But the prompt and the song come together beautifully.  Here's the song to enjoy.

My idea of a perfect day would be one I can sleep in on, wake up gradually in a comfy bed, look out the window to see a wonderland of white unbroken snow and grey flannel skies.  Yes, I know, I'm weird and enjoy the cold where I can bundle up in a warm house with a fuzzy blanket and a book or a laptop to while away the day. 

Another part of the perfect day that I'd love to bottle up is spending time with family around a table burgeoning with good foods and fellowship.  We'd spend the time chatting and telling stories while we ate of the bounty of God's graciousness in provision for us.  Several generations would be there to remind us of those who have gone before us, and we'd smile reminiscently--and sometimes sadly--at the memories of those who cannot be with us at the table, but we'd rejoice that One Day we'd get to sit at the Table with them once again.  

We'd share our blessings and our laughter.  We'd sing a table blessing, and the harmony would bring back the times spent worshiping together at church.  We'd look across the table at our relatives and see the history in each other's glances.  Some of us would amaze the others by our willingness to try a dish we would, normally, not eat.  Others would raise a glass in "cheers" as we thought about friends and family and those unable to be with us because they're gathering at other tables.  

We'd share a blessing for those not so fortunate as to be at home for a holiday dinner: the servicemen and women who are far away from home and family doing their jobs to protect our way of life; the homeless or hungry who would rely on the generosity of missions, kitchens, and strangers in order to have a bit of holiday cheer; the men and women who work in hospitals, police and fire stations, and other such places who might have to have their holiday meal another time because work schedules require them to do so.

The day would conclude with games and conversation and, then, hugs goodbye as everyone goes home.  Then I'd get to get comfy on the couch with a blanket again, with a book or a laptop or the TV tuned to some movie I've not seen in forever.

I'd definitely like to bottle up such a day, letting the sweet vintage age and mature until I needed such a reminder of times spent.  I'd uncork that bottle on a day I felt tired and sad and defeated and alone.  I'd let the bottle breathe and then pour it into a glass to sip on as I let the tired, sad, defeated, alone-ness melt away in the warmth of the memories held in my hand.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Traditions!

Day 22

What family traditions are you are most grateful for?

Traditions are indeed how we keep our balance.  And if I am going to re-learn or put into practice the life lesson I'm most grateful for (see this post for that information), I need to experience some balance through tradition this year.

A family tradition I'm grateful for is celebrating the holidays with family.  It's not always the same way or the same place or even the same time, but we spend it together.  I enjoy the time spent cooking, planning, crafting, and sharing.  We eat, we talk, we play games, and we celebrate.  Work schedules or other family vacation conflicts have often meant that we don't do our celebrating on the particular day of the holiday, but we do always have a time we get together.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: A book review

Day 21

Name a book you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.

ISBN 1571103767
As a life-long reader, I have read any number of great books.  As a secondary English teacher, I enjoy teaching my students about the classics, having them read a plethora of various great literature, and trying to build within them a love of reading.

The one thing I don't know how to do, though, is teach my students how to read.  Secondary teachers are not taught how to teach a person to read. It was frustrating for me because I often come across students who are not reading at grade level or who have some gaps in their reading process.  So I began looking for some help.  I found it in this Cris Tovani book: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?

It includes great strategies the secondary teacher can use right away with any kind of content to help her students to become better readers.  This book doesn't teach me how to teach reading from scratch, but it can--and does--help me to help my students where they are right now in order to help them move forward.  Our school used this book as a book study several years ago to help all of us teachers find ways to help our students.

November Blogging Challenge: Life Lesson

Day 20
What is one life lesson you are grateful to have learned?

One life lesson I am grateful to have learned is that balance is important.  To be honest, I'm still learning this lesson.  During the school year, especially, I tend to get caught up with teaching and grading and lessons--all completely normal--but then I forget that "all work and no play makes [Amy] a dull [girl]."  I fall out of touch with friends, become too busy to hang out with family, and spend way too much time staring at a computer screen instead of sunsets.

Robert Fulgham wrote a great essay about life lessons.  In his essay he tells about how he learned that we need balance in our lives: "Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some 
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some."  Ostensibly, I learned that, too, but I need to be reminded of it every once in awhile. So I am grateful to be reminded of this life lesson as we move toward Thanksgiving.  I am going to enjoy taking some time off to celebrate with family, and that will definitely add some much-needed balance to my work-filled life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Colleague Appreciation Day

Day 18
What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

I get a birthday card from my superintendent.  The janitors in my building ask how I'm doing.  The wrestling coach greets me every day.  My content area teachers give me Christmas gifts.  The teachers down the hall from me always include me in their hallway chatter.  I could go on and on.  The people I work with are great. 

I appreciate that my colleagues ask hard questions about their process in order to make their classes better.  They work collectively.  Even those teachers who teach stand-alone classes and don't have other teachers who teach the same subject to collaborate with work within their department and others to incorporate the standards the state requires us all to touch upon.

I appreciate that my colleagues support each other.  A couple of years ago when one of our co-workers had some major bills because of a family crisis, our faculty and staff came together to help out in various ways.  They are invested in each other's lives. They celebrate joys and commiserate sorrows.

I appreciate that my colleagues laugh over stories shared in the lunchroom.  They share recipes and photos and crochet directions.  They help un-jam the copy machine or fill it up with paper when they're done with it because that's the kind of people they are.  Of all the reasons I appreciate my fellow teachers, though, I think that the one thing I appreciate most is the way they all want the best for the students we serve.  They make me want to be a better person and teacher.

Monday, November 17, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: What a difference a year makes....

Day 17
One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for...

Our school has undergone a lot of changes from last year to this one, so I could name any number of things that have changed, from staff and administrative changes to room changes.

view from new classroom door
One of the things that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for is my new classroom. My previous classroom was in a trailer. I didn't mind the trailer; in fact, it was nice.  I wouldn't have minded having a bathroom, but the trailer was okay. I shared the trailer with a computer lab.

view from my desk
But this year I'm in the main building.  I have a new classroom.  It is bigger than my trailer was.  I no longer have to go outside the building in the rain, sleet, and snow (like the Post Office).  I don't have to go inside the main building just to get to a restroom or to the teacher workroom.  Now I can just go down the hall.

My students no longer have to brave the rain and cold in order to get an education from me.  They get to come down a brand new hallway and enjoy a classroom that is unlikely to be blown away by a strong crosswind.  They can come to my class when it's storming out and not worry that they could be struck by lightning.  (You'd think that wasn't a possibility...but...there is a story behind that comment.)

While change is necessary, I don't often like it.  However, in this case, I am very grateful and feel very blessed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Connectedness

Day 16
What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator?  What are you grateful for?

I am not much of a connected educator, I must admit.  I am a spotty tweeter...and I don't check it that often.  I do use Facebook, but I must admit I use it more to keep caught up with friends and family than for connecting with other educators.  I mean, I do use it for that sometimes, but I don't know if that counts enough to make me a "connected educator." I am grateful, though, for these social media outlets that allow me to be as connected as I am, and for the promise of more.  I felt welcomed by the other bloggers doing this challenge, and that is something I do feel grateful for.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Tech Tools

Day 15
What tech tools are you most grateful for?  Why?  How have they changed what you do?

This prompt is similar to the prompt we had in the September Blogging Challenge.  To save time--a thing for which I'm very grateful--I will repost that blog here. Reflective Teaching, Day 13: Edtech Tools

I'm grateful for all these tech tools because the students I serve are digital natives.  These tools help me to connect to my students on a different level.  They learn so differently than I did.  When I got my new phone, I spent unsuccessful minutes looking for the owner's manual until I realized that I would have to access it via the phone.  Kids today don't read owner's manuals in separate booklets; they learn from the device themselves.

I do have an update on one of the tools I mentioned in that post: NoRedInk  I've begun using this online grammar website with my students and have seen the students enjoy doing grammar exercises (I know!) and actually practicing toward mastery on their own.  I'm using the free version, but I am tempted to upgrade so that I can access even more content.   The students go to this site on their own time (or if they finish early) to get better at grammar; that in itself is something I am most thankful for.

Friday, November 14, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Five lessons I'm grateful to have learned.

Day 14
Five things things you are grateful to have learned in your teaching career.

I have been a teacher for going on 18 years now, and I definitely have learned some great lessons that I continue to use to this day.

 I went to a conference session when I was student teaching.  It was about classroom management.  The speaker talked about the three types of classroom management styles. The first is a brick wall: this type of teacher rigidly follows every rule to such an extent that the students have no chances for mercy.  The second is a jellyfish: this type of teacher lets the students run free until finally the havoc causes the teacher to snap his/her "stingers" at the kids.  The third is a backbone: this type of teacher has both rigidity and flexibility; he or she follows the rules but understands that sometimes a little lee-way is in order.  A backbone can bend but it won't break and snap under the pressure of a bad day.  That conference helped solidify my belief about classroom management: I wanted to have a backbone kind of classroom management that is strong enough support the rules, but also one that is flexible enough to allow a little freedom of expression.

Another lesson I'm grateful to have learned is twofold: first, teachers really do have the ability to change the lives of their students.  I had a student once who came back to tell me about how I'd helped him.  I wrote about it in the blog post "Homecoming."  The other half of the lesson is that our students change our lives, too.  I cannot count the ways the students have changed my life.  I've learned more from them, I think, than I've taught them.  I am blessed by the ways that my students have helped me see life from their perspective.

 A third thing I'm grateful to have learned over my career is the priceless lesson of how important it is to work together as a team.  Too often we teachers work in isolation, our classrooms becoming a little kingdom.  But when I learned about Professional Learning Communities I found a way to work together like the states do with the Federal government.  Instead of being an entity unto myself, I was able to gain insight and help from others who knew ways to do things I didn't and was able to give insight and help to those who needed my knowledge.

Another lesson I'm grateful to have learned is that every obstacle is an opportunity to grow.  When I deal with a student who is unruly, I can focus on the behavior that is frustrating me, or I can try to understand where that behavior is coming from.  There's always a silver lining; if I have to redo my curriculum (again) to match up with new standards (or just renamed standards), then that is an opportunity to add something.  I just need to Search for Ponies.

Lots of things in education today can be trying and upsetting, but when we come together with the same goals in mind, we can affect change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead.  I'm grateful to have learned this lesson because I'm reminded that my job is not just a job; it is a calling.

November Blogging Challenge: Time off?

Day 13
What do you do to take time out for yourself?

We had a similar prompt during the September blogging challenge, so, since I am running a day behind, I'm going to re-post that response here: Day 27: Days off!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: A picture of gratitude...sort of.

Day 12

Share a photo -- or photos -- of people/things you are thankful for:

I'm not a photographer.  I have a camera.  I have a couple, including the one on my phone, but I forget to take pictures; therefore, I write about the things/people I am thankful for instead.  I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took an essay I wrote about Thanksgiving and went to  Here is the result:

November Blogging Challenge: What I want my students to learn...

Day 11
What is the most important 'lesson' you want to teach your students?

I don't know if there is just one lesson I want to teach my students. Of course I want them to learn and master my content, but education is about so much more. The prompt asks for one lesson, but as an English teacher, I have an entire alphabet of lessons I want to teach my students:

Always share your joy.
Be willing to listen with an open mind.
Carry on when times get rough.
Don't ever give up.
Enjoy solitude when you can get it.
Feel the wonder of little miracles.
Give generously of your resources.
Help someone you normally would not.
Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.
Journeys are worth the effort.
Keep on hoping for the best, even during the hard times.
Let laughter live and love in your life.
Make friends wherever you can.
Never stop learning.
Occasionally take the long way ‘round.
Perception is not reality.
Question. Question. Question.
Rejoice in all things.
Spend time, not money, on your loved ones.
Take no one for granted.
Understand more than you let on.
Voice your opinions--and support them.
Wonder “why” more often.
(e)Xamine your motives.
Yearn for the Forever Now.
Zealously guard your humanity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Humorous Lessons

Day 10
Being grateful for humor--share a story about a time in your career where humor played a part.

Humor is a tool I use a lot in my classes.  I love laughter and the release of endorphins that laughter brings about.  In a classroom of sullen, angst-ridden teenagers, laughter really is the best medicine.  I could tell story after story about how humor played a part--from the jokes I tell in class to the personal joy I get from the students' sometimes humorous behavior--but, alas, I didn't write those stories down, and it's moments like this when I rue my personal dislike for a daily "what I did today" journal/diary.

So because I don't have a written record of the hilarity in my classroom, I have to pick something recent enough to remember off the top of my head.  Just today I told a silly joke in my sign language class.  A student I'd had in another class had seen me sign/tell this long, silly joke in another class, so he has been asking me all semester to tell it.  Today I finally told it.  It's one of those stupid jokes where the punch line has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual joke, so it is hilarious.

I signed the joke as I told it, and the kids were laughing along with me as we went through the repetitive portions of the joke.  When I did finally get to the non sequitur punch line, the kids groaned at the seemingly pointless end to the ten-minute long joke.  Then they immediately began plotting how to use the punch line to tantalize the members of the class who were absent.

Humor in education is important; a laugh shared between people can break down barriers, build rapport, and bring people together.  That's part of what education should do with all things, not just jokes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

Day 9

What is one way you could develop the Attitude of Gratitude in your classroom or school? Try it out and let us know how it went in a couple of weeks.

A couple of years ago (yikes...I just checked and realized it was back in 2005 or 2006) I went to a conference session about putting drops in other people's buckets.  The presenters were using the book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton.  The authors use a classic metaphor of a bucket and a dipper in relation to how every interaction with others can have a positive or negative impact.  Everyone has the opportunity to use his or her dipper to either fill or empty someone else's bucket.  In addition, when you use your dipper to fill someone else's bucket, you actually get your filled, too.

The presenters gave us copies of these droplets to use in our classes and at our school as a visual way to fill other people's buckets.  I used them for the rest of that year, but I haven't really used them since.  I see the book on my shelf, and I see the droplets in my filing cabinet; however, I have to admit to letting this really great way to encourage each other get dusty.  I will have to start this up again in my classes and/or in the teacher's lounge.   Thanks, Blogging Challenge, for reminding me about the importance of developing the Attitude of Gratitude.

November Blogging Challenge: Memories are Made of This...

Day 8
Write about a memorable moment in your classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.

Most of us teachers who have taught for any length of time have plenty of stories, both good and bad, that have influenced how we feel about our chosen profession.  I am no different.  I can spin tale after tale about my students and how they either frustrate or fascinate me--sometimes at the same time.

One such memorable moment occurred in my creative writing class a couple of years ago.  We were in the poetry unit, and the kids were filling out an imagery chart while studying a slice of orange.  One of my students was having trouble with going beyond the literal.

He was getting frustrated because all could see was the "orange-y-ness" of the orange.  His chart had one entry for each of the senses: "orange."  For visual imagery, he wrote "orange."  For olfactory imagery, he wrote, "orange."  For taste imagery, he wrote, "orange."  See the pattern?  He was looking only at the obvious and not delving beyond. We started a discussion (well, I call such exchanges of information discussions... some might call it an argument) about the slice of orange on his plate.  He kept saying that the orange was just an orange, unable--or unwilling--to see it as anything more.

I asked him to try using the orange in a simile.  He didn't want to because he didn't think he was good at poetry. We a bit more when he seemed to have an epiphany; he had that moment of clarity that we teachers want for our students.  He said the orange was like a sun in a blue sky because it was a of orange on a blue paper plate.  I agreed with him.  He was surprised because he thought I'd be mad it was so simple.  I told him that simple is beautiful and thoughtful.  In fact, I told him I was going to use his simile in a poem, and he should do the same.  My poem became a blog post in July of 2012.  His...well, I'm sure that he has kept it because he loved it so much.  Maybe.

I saw him at homecoming this year.  He told me he was changing his major to education because he realized how much he enjoys sharing his knowledge.  He also told me that it was because of experiences like the one where he had an epiphany in my classroom that he was even thinking of being a teacher.  I was so honored.  It is moments like that which reminds me of why I became a teacher.  I wanted to share my knowledge as well as help my students become who they could be--I got to build a cathedral.  That moment was another reminder of why I love what I do.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Inspirational Learning

Day 7
What new learning has inspired you in your career?

I remember reluctantly joining a group of teachers at my high school several years ago in writing a grant that would bring more computers into our school.  I say "reluctant" because I was already in a room directly next to a computer lab and partly in charge of running the lab.  I didn't know if I wanted more computers under my care.  However, the grant required two English teachers and two math teachers to work together.
Several months later we all sat down with some Google guys... and I was hooked.

Two days of Google App training later, and I realized that I could use Google Docs, Forms, Sheets, etc... to revitalize my teaching practices.  I was able to become a teacher with a 1:1 classroom.  Each student would have a computer (Chromebook), and we could do more with them than just word processing or research (even though we would use them to do both).  I still had a computer lab next door to me, but having a computer lab in my classroom was that much more exciting.

Using Google Apps daily in my classroom has been inspirational to me because the students use technology every day in their lives, and if I can tap into that already built-in interest with technology by connecting it to my content, how much better is that!?  In addition to a class that runs on much less paper, I also get the chance to learn more and more technology myself.  So.. bonus!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November Blogging Challenge: Inspirational Quote

Day 6

Share a quote or verse that inspires you and tell us why.

Tonight was the first night for the school play, and the kids did great! Well done everyone involved with the Buffalo High School Drama department! However, because I went to the play and had to do yesterday's blog post too, I am once again using a blog post I wrote awhile back . This feels slightly like cheating, but I really need to get to bed earlier than I did last night when I was up late grading.

Everlasting footprints: Apollo 14 tracks on the moon.
The quote I wrote about in the prompt (February 25, 2012) deals with the everlasting footprints that the Apollo team left on the moon.  The quote is inspirational because of the longevity of the footprints and the metaphorical meaning of the footprints I leave behind on the hearts and lives of those people I've touched. 

November Blogging Challenge: Thankful for strengths...

Day 5

What are your strengths? Which are you most grateful for?

Grades were due today at noon, so I spent last night grading papers instead of writing a blog post about my strengths. Instead, I'll share the post I wrote about my strengths for the September Blogging Challenge:

Day 15--Name three strengths you have as an educator. 
1. Content knowledge--I love my content: English Language Arts. I have enjoyed reading and writing for as long as I can remember. Analyzing literature for themes and deep thoughts, writing fiction and nonfiction of varying genres, using proper grammar--presenting all that information to my students so that they, too, can get the same joy from the written word as I do is one of my strengths as an educator. 
2. Willing to learn and try new things--My grandfather used to tell us that a day's not been wasted if you've learned something. When we can learn how to help our students grasp our material in a better way (or deeper in a way that we already knew), or when we can learn how to use a technology that helps us do our jobs better, that's a great thing, and I think that is one of my strengths. 
3. Desire that students succeed--When a teacher knows what a student can do, she can inspire the student to do even more. Sometimes the teacher is the only one in the student's corner--not even the student is always in his or her own corner. My students always know I am their loudest cheerleader even as I correct their papers and push them to better scholarship; my desire that my students succeed is one of my best strengths as their teacher.

Of those strengths, the one I'm most grateful for is the third one: desire that my students succeed. I think that as teachers we have no better strength than the desire to make a difference in our students' lives. When we believe that all students can learn and succeed, we look at our jobs as more than just jobs. We have a mission field, and our students are the harvest. Not to get too Biblical, but these fields are rich unto harvest. Now we just need the workers to bring in the harvest.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November Challenge: Gifts are nice....

Day 4
What was the nicest gift you ever received from a student/parent/colleague?

As a high school teacher, I don't receive as many gifts as those teachers of younger students. When I taught overseas for several years I did get some nice gifts.  One family gave me a lovely scarf for Christmas.  A couple of years ago I had a student give me a pair of earrings.  Compliments are always a nice gift.  It's nice to be recognized as a good teacher by students especially if they don't normally like my content.   It's also nice to hear that my colleagues consider me an inspiration.

I suppose I could go on and on about gifts I've received.  At Christmas my department always gives wonderful gifts to each other.  One of my colleagues whom I carpool with always gives great Christmas and birthday gifts.  We do a Secret Santa gift exchange, and I have gotten some really fun things from those, too.

But I think the nicest gift I was one I got anonymously--and quite recently, too.  I came back from my parking lot duty a week or so ago and found a basket of goodies on my chair.  It was filled with snacks and lotions and sodas and a note.  The note said that one of my colleagues wanted to surprise me, so I was to pick three things from the basket and then put three more things into the basket and pass the basket on to someone else.

I have no idea who put that basket on my chair.  All I know is that I needed that little encouragement just then.  I took three items out and put three items in.  Then I put the basket into someone else's room.  I don't know who has the basket right now, but I hope it is still making the rounds.  It was a blessing at just the right time.

In this month of Thanksgiving, why don't you pay it forward and show some thanks to the people in your life; it may just be the blessing they are needing at just the right time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Challenge: What I'm proud of...

Day 3
What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

This may sound weird, but the thing I'm most proud of are the number of students who "friend" me on Facebook after they graduate from high school.  To add to that "weirdness" is that sometimes the students who wish to stay in contact with me are not the ones I would have thought might want to do so.  

The students I get friend requests from are often the students who talked back or claimed they didn't like English or didn't get the highest grades.  I find this knowledge to be extremely gratifying because that means I succeeded in creating a rapport with my students, even if they didn't make the best grades.  

So, that saying I have pictured here is true.

Connecting with my students in some way that makes the ones who didn't even like my content area want to befriend me after high school, that is what I'm most proud of in my teaching career.  I get to see pictures of their kids.  I get to see statuses (even those non-grammatical ones which make my English teacher heart and soul cringe) about their lives.  And all of that makes this teacher's heart and soul puff out with pride; I made a difference.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Challenge: Small Delights

Day 2

What is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to?

If we're talking the school day and not the day in general, I would say the small delight I look forward to is the moment just before the first bell rings for the day.  I think of it kind of like the moment just before the curtains open on a stage: everything is set, the desks are--for the only time in the day--perfectly in lines, the room is quiet, and I am taking a deep breath.  The bell rings, and I open the door to a new day.  Kids will come into my room and disrupt the quiet, move the desks, and take my breath away.  The students are then the focus; but that tiny moment just before bell rings is all mine.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Challenge: The best aspects...

Day 1
What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

Some of the best aspects of being a teacher stare back at me every Monday-Friday for 180 days from mid-August to mid-May with holidays off.  The students.  I know that seems cliche', but it's really true.  The students really are some of the best aspects of being a teacher.  I teach high school kids, and they are filled with hormones and attitude and angst...and I love it.  Every day is a new day with them, and that makes teaching them a challenge.  A challenge I really enjoy.

Another of the best aspects of being a teacher are my colleagues down the hallways of my school.  The people I work with are some of the most devoted people I know.  We work hard to help the students in our charge.  These teachers I work with spend hours of precious time giving their all to our community.  The parents in our community are sending the best they have to us, and we honor that trust by giving our utmost in all our endeavors.

These are the best aspects of being a teacher--the students we serve and the people we serve with.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birthday Wishes....

Margaret Berg: birthday/celebrate
Yesterday I gave my annual birthday quiz to my students.  It's a fun little quiz that gives the kids a few extra credit points and is a quick formative test to see how closely they read the questions.  I mean, when the kids have problems answering "What is my sister Heather's name?" they obviously are not reading the question very carefully.

I even give a "guessing list" for the 15 questions.  And I still have students confused as to which animal is my favorite (mountain lion) and who my favorite singer is (Frank Sinatra) because they don't want to read through the list at the bottom of the page of the offline version or the drop down box in the online version.  

Why is it that we want to rush through everything?  That's what those who were frustrated were doing, after all.  The students who didn't know my sister's name (even though it was right there in the question) or the name of my favorite animal/singer/whatever other topic I asked about (even though the answers were right there on the page) were rushing through the quiz instead of taking their time.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons we celebrate birthdays: to slow down the year that seems to be just flying by.

It is always fun, though, too, to get all the birthday greetings from the students.  I heard "Happy Birthday a day early!" many times yesterday.  It brings back memories of bringing in cupcakes or treats with my sister to elementary school on our birthday.  I didn't bring treats to all my students, but I like to think that the extra credit points more than made up for the lack of frosted cupcakes (and were more nutritiously sound, too).

Yes, you read that right: our birthday.  I'm a twin.  My sister is a blessing in my life, and I wish her a happy birthday today.  I wrote a poem about her in another blog post (So I had to write a poem about twins...), but I wanted to share another poem I wrote about her on this, our birthday.

The Sister I Love                                                                  

Her laughter and tears                                                                           
Complete me as if they’re                                                                         
Happy Birthday Heather!  Love you!
Left over parts of myself
That I lent to her and never
Got back after we left, prematurely,
The shared room inside our mother.
I see her smile on my face and hear
Her voice in my throat—and
Me in her likewise. She shares
A bit of my soul, too, as we
Can know each other’s
Thoughts with just a glance. She is
A lifetime of shared amusements
And trials and worries and joys
All wrapped up in a package
Only two minutes older and yet
Infinitely wiser than I. My mirror,
My other self, if I were married and
Had a son and lived by crunching
Numbers instead of building cathedrals.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflective Teaching, Day 30: Facing Fears

Day 30--What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

I look at my teaching life and see a lot of things I could fear, but I realize that I cannot let my fears overrun my wisdom and faith if I want to advance instead of retreat.  I have to fight the paralyzing effects of fear.

As I contemplate what fears I have about teaching, I run the gamut from silliness (showing only movies for the rest of the year without the fear of reprimand)  to poor judgement (saying exactly what I have always wanted to say to an apathetic parent without the fear of reprisal) to illegality (smacking an annoying student over the head without fear of repercussion).

So what would I do if I weren't afraid?  Would I chuck the standardized test prep out the window because I know that the students cannot be judged by a blanket test that tells us more about the state of their minds on the day of the test than whether or not I have taught them?  Would I take a stand against the pressures of administration, school board, or even community in order to hold my ground on curriculum matters?  Would I try some out-of-the box teaching style that scares me because it is so different from what I'm comfortable with?

Fear is a paralyzing thing, as the quote says.  I fear that I'm not good enough.  I fear that I will not make a difference.  I fear that I will not connect with my students in a meaningful way that makes them want to learn.  I fear that am not living out my calling when I allow my fears to govern my life.

While I believe in Roosevelt's quote about how fear is paralyzing, I also know the cure.  Love casts out fear.  I teach high schoolers who often make loving them difficult, but I do.  Teaching this level of student is my passion.  If I remember why I teach these kids, my fears fade in the face of that pure light.  I see these kids who are filled with their own insecurities and worries and fears every day.  

I must let my love for them and this job overcome any fears I have about my ability.  I have to throw that fear out and be willing to be vulnerable about who I am in order to connect with the students who are feeling so vulnerable.  I must cast away any trepidation so I may do my best job each and every day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflective Teaching, Day 29: Personal Growth

Day 29--How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

Timeline: August 1996. I walked into my first classroom (not counting student teaching). Bulletin boards were up, my desk was organized, my lesson plans were made, and I was nervous. I was filled with exhilaration and fear. Would I be good at this? Would the students pay attention? Would they learn? My fingers shook as I wrote my name on the board in anticipation of the students coming in. I had to erase my own name three times, at least, until it looked like an educated adult had written it. The bell rang, and students came into my classroom. Thus began the first day.

Fast forward eighteen years to August 2014. I walked into my new classroom. Bulletin boards were up, my desk was organized, my lesson plans were made, copies of my syllabus sat, stacked, ready for distribution. I was anxious and eager. I wondered if I were any good at this, whether my students would pay attention, and, most of all, if they would learn. Eighteen years later, and I still had to rewrite the information on the board several times before I was satisfied with how it looked. The bell rang, and students came into my classroom. Thus began the first day.

I have changed since I first started teaching, but I still have that thrill of nerves as I begin the year. I am more confident in my abilities. I use technology that didn't even exist when I started. I have grown in knowledge. My classroom management style has matured throughout the years. I'm a better facilitator, leader, and teacher. My teacher tool bag has grown, filled with tools gained at conferences, trainings, and loads of professional development hours.

Time has flown, and I hope that my skill set has grown with the years. My education philosophy of building cathedrals or searching for ponies has grown out of my experiences. I pray that I have become more adept at my calling. That's not to say I still don't have bad days when I am little more than a worker piling bricks or shoveling poo. I just have to continue to work with the knowledge that my Audience is more than my students, my peers, my administration, or even my community. If I can keep moving further up and in to the goal set before me, I hope to hear my Master say, "Well Done."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflective Teaching, Day 28: Who's in charge: curriculum or technology?

Day 28--Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice-versa?

The quick answer is no, technology should not drive curriculum. It is a tool, not the whole kit and caboodle.

The longer, more involved answer that I don't have the time to answer (nor do I fully HAVE the answer) is that technology has become intertwined in education and curriculum since the first day someone brought a bit of papyrus and a reed pen with ink made from some berries to a teacher's lecture. Each innovation in science or technology brought with it new inventions to help the teacher teach and the students learn.

But, the simple answer is still the best. Whether the most modern technology a teacher has is a piece of chalk and a slate or the most up-to-date interactive Smartboard with all the newest apps, the technology is a tool the teacher uses to facilitate his/her teaching and the students' learning. It shouldn't be the end all and be all.

It is important for us teachers to learn about the technological advances; the students we teach, after all, are digital natives; they've never lived in a world without Smartphones or personal computers. It's the "age of the Geek, baby" (to quote Hardison from Leverage), and we are seeing technology advance at an ever-increasing speed with which, unfortunately, schools cannot keep pace.

Despite the importance for us to be as up-to-date as our budgets and comprehension can handle, it is still the content that is important. We still need to teach math and science and language arts and social studies and fine arts and practical arts and physical education and all the rest so that our students can be productive members of society. How we use the tools available to us is secondary, and that is a good thing to remember.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 27, Days Off!

Day 27--What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

"Everybody's working for the weekend" says that classic Loverboy song.  All week long I work late into the night grading papers (my sister tells me that I can avoid that by assigning no work; however, I think that my administration would frown on that), and I look forward to Saturday morning when I can sleep well past my normal weekly alarm.  However, as we teachers know, there is no real "weekend" for the teacher during the school year.  I don't know how it is for other teachers, but I also spend a lot of my time during school holidays on my work, too.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Spring Break--I always have work to do.  I grade papers, plan lessons, and look up information to share with my students.  The summer is not always a break, either.  Before I took over the Intro to Sign class, I took classes during the summer to prepare for that.  I know a lot of teachers who use their summers for similar reasons or to advance their degrees.

I always have a bag filled with grading over the weekend, not to mention the lesson planning that goes on for the next week.  While I do take advantage of sleeping in on Saturday and the requisite afternoon nap on Sunday, I spend most of my time on my weekends doing things for work.  I have to do laundry and and dishes and clean house like everyone else, too.  I don't know how teachers who have children get anything done on the weekends.  I don't have children, and I don't get everything done.  (Confession time: I still have Easter decorations on my kitchen table because I've not taken the time to put them away.  Why I didn't do that over summer is beside the point.)

I saw this picture (to the left) on Pinterest, and I totally agree with it.  Especially when I'm grading essays, I'd love another full day off during the weekend.  I'm not alone, either, because Monday morning when I am asking my colleagues about their weekends, they often say, "It wasn't long enough."  I'm willing to bet that teachers are not the only people who think this.  I know that other professionals work weekends--I'm not saying teachers have a monopoly on that at all.  However, most professionals have that 9-5 thing going on (insert Dolly Parton song here), and they can leave their work at work and not have to bring the work home unless they are wanting to get ahead or working to impress their bosses.

While I do have to bring work home, I do also try to get some down time.  If I worked all the time, I'd be no good for my students during the week.  My mom and I were talking just last night about how much sleep I get on average during the school year.  We figured that it averaged five and a half hours a night.  Part of that is my fault because I am a night owl, so I like staying up "late."  I just can't get to sleep at a time that would give me the recommended eight hours.  If I did, I would be going to bed by 8:30 pm.  If I get home at my normal time between 5:00-6:00 pm, I'd have only two and a half hours before bed. And, unless I'm not feeling well, that just doesn't happen.  There'd be hardly any time for dinner, TV watching, Facebook viewing, email checking and/or Pinterest playing because I'd still have grading to do.  I try to limit the amount of grading I do on a weeknight to one class or one assignment a night, but if I want to give the feedback that is timely, sometimes that plan doesn't work.  Thus the weekend or a holiday break is that much more important for when I need to have that personal time.

No matter what career or job a person has, that person is working for the money that helps to pay for the things they do in their time off.  That's why it is frustrating when the general public thinks that teachers work for three reasons: June, July, and August.  I know that people who do work all year around work hard; I'm not denying that.  Some jobs get holiday pay; some get vacation days.
Weekends and holidays are important to my teaching because they give me the time I need to relax, regroup, and rejuvenate.  Summers, holidays, and weekends (even when I have work to do for the week) are important because I can go back to school on Monday with the passion I have for my calling renewed. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 26, Go-To Resources

Day 26--What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

I go to a number sites for help. I have mentioned several in this blog series already. In Day 13 I talked about several edtech tools I use to help me with my teaching. In Day 22 I talked about my PLN and mentioned several places I go to for help.

In addition to those, I like  It's a site filled with printable grammar worksheets.  I like it because it lets me get good quality resources for free.  Why reinvent the wheel if you need a quick worksheet for a lesson or if the kids finish their work early when you have a sub?

Another site I go to for resources is Teachers Pay Teachers.  This site is a great place to get help all the while helping out another teacher by purchasing a lesson or power point some teacher has worked hard to create.  It's a win-win.

A third place I go for helps and tips for my teaching is Tammy's Technology Tips for Teachers.  I've gotten a lot of technological tips from this site.  I saw her in person at a Tech conference, and I have used her website ever since as a resource.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 25, Ideal Student Collaboration

Day 25--The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?

The ideal collaboration between students looks a lot like discussion.  Guided discussion, granted, but discussion.  Students who collaborate share the knowledge they have in order to gain even more knowledge, especially if the students are grouped in ways that benefit each other.  If you only put people together who are at the same level, they don't necessarily push each other to higher levels.  

In my sign language class, the students share knowledge as they practice their signs.  Some are better at making the signs than the others, but when they practice together, they both get better.  Sign Language is all about participation.  It's not just about what they learn from me, but it is about what they learn from each other, too.  Just today one of the students told me that she liked the conversations she was having with the others because she was learning how to sign and read the signs better.

In my creative writing class the students share their poetry with each other to get feedback and suggestions.  Later this semester, when they are writing prose, we have a couple of assignments where the students actually collaborate on their writing by doing a collaborative writing assignment.  The students plan a story and write it together on a Google Doc so that each of them sees what the other is doing as he or she is doing it.

In my English classes we use a site called CollaborizeClassroom that allows the students to put forth their ideas about a topic onto a forum for discussion.  The students who would normally not talk out in class are more willing to put forth their ideas here.

The students who can learn how to work collaboratively will later be better equipped for the workplace and other real world situations they will inevitably find themselves in.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 24, Learning Trends

Day 24--Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

I am at a loss as to what learning trends are.  I feel that one thing I'm learning about myself as I continue this blogging challenge is that I do not pay enough attention to the changes in my own profession.  I have become immured in my own "world" in my small-town Mid-America public high school.  I was asking a colleague about this very post earlier today...and I said I had no idea about which  "trend" I was most interested in because I didn't know any.

I am not a trend follower, in general.  I never have been.  I didn't do the mile-high bangs in the 80s; I didn't go "grunge" in the 90s; I never even understood the trends of the millennials.  I think it's because I am a lover of classic things (music, movies, books) that I am finding it difficult even wanting to jump on to the bandwagon of some new trend in education.  

So many trends in education are cyclical.  Right now it's hip to do "this" or "that" but, really, it's just a new name or alphabet soup of acronyms for something that teachers have been doing for ever.  I guess I'm feeling a bit cynical about whether it makes sense to go all out for some new learning fad because something even shinier and newer will be coming 'round the bend.

I say all that to say that I don't know enough about the current trends to be able to say which captures my attention.  In the meantime, I will chastise myself for not being more aware of the changes in my own profession and set one of those goals I talked about in the first blog post of this series: find out what the trends are and do some research to find out if any of them appeal to my educational philosophy, content, and teaching personality.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 23, Community Involvement

Day 23--Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I wonder what it means to be "meaningfully" involved? I have used the local paper in my classes. I have encouraged my students to volunteer in the community. I have had the kids actively participate in donating food and clothing to the local food bank.

I have not, however, involved the community beyond those things.  I teach Intro to Sign Language, and next semester I will be teaching Intro to Sign Language, II. The second course will be more about having conversations and interpreting. I hope to invite the Deaf community to be involved in my class so that the students can experience authentic signing. So far, that is my plan.  I haven't progressed beyond that point, but  I'm still working on it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 22, My PLN

Day 22--What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

I hate to admit it, but I had to look up "PLN" to see what it meant...and then I did the whole "face-palm" thing because, while I didn't recognize the acronym for a "Professional Learning Network" (PLN), I do have several.

Our school as been part of a Professional Learning Community for many years. That means that we get into groups like our Content Teams to share ideas and give help. We have Content Teams, Vertical Teams, and Lead Teams. All these teams form our League of Professional Teachers. We work together to make decisions that shape our curriculum, focus, and plans for the year.

Another network I use for professional wisdom and help would be Pinterest and Facebook. I know those don't normally sound like places to network, but they really do have ways to connect. On Pinterest I follow boards and people when I see that they have Pins that I could use in my own classrooms, and the network grows when I see that they follow me, too.

Facebook, too, is a networking place for me since I can connect with former colleagues and teachers and, if I need to, ask questions and get advice.  I am on Twitter and follow various blogs, but I know I don't use them to my advantage in this area. I am still new to the technology, but I am learning how to use it more and more.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 21, Hobbies/Interests in the Classroom

Day 21--Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

I have a few hobbies, but crocheting and making cards are not part of my content area. I do like singing, and I often incorporate it into my classroom as participation. The kids enjoy the random songs we burst into almost as much as they enjoy the extra points they can earn when they do.  I'm also a bit of a fangirl, so I enjoy using examples from my favorite shows and movies in my teaching.  The kids find it amusing, too, when I geek out about some of the same shows they like.

One of my interests is writing, and that I do indeed incorporate into my classroom teaching. I like it when the kids and I share our thoughts about writing. In my creative writing class I do the same prompts that they do and share them to show that it's a process. If I'm not afraid to share my rough drafts, they feel more comfortable in sharing theirs.

Another interest is reading, and I enjoy bringing that to the classroom.  So many of my students claim to not like reading (heartbreaking, I admit), but when we start talking about our literature, most of them begin to realize that the reason they didn't like it was that they hadn't taken the time to really understand it.  We talk about reading strategies and the tricks that good readers use to help them understand what they're reading.  We practice those strategies until they, too, see that maybe reading is not as bad as they thought.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Days 19 & 20, Student Reflection and Curating Work

Yesterday (Day 19) was homecoming at my school, and I was a chaperone for the dance, so I was unable to post a blog (let alone write it), so I'm going to post two challenge days today in one blog.

Day 19--Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.
  1. Response Journal
  2. Self-Assessment Tools (like rubrics and self-checks)
  3. Tracking progress
The way help students reflect on their learning is actually a combination of a couple of those ways. I've always used rubrics to help the students reflect on their work; they can see what they need to do in order to succeed and make a plan to get there. I also have them track their progress. We do a pretest before a unit and then as we continue through the process we track their progress through formative assessments. It is fun to see the students actually get excited to see their scores grow from the "guessing" they did at the start to the "I get it" at the end. Our most recent tracking and self-assessment has to do with errors in their writing. I created a spreadsheet on Google listing all the different conventions and mechanics errors I see most often, shared it with them, and after each writing assignment they'll fill in the spreadsheet with the errors they made in that assignment. Then we'll have a chat about what they can do to keep from continuing to make those errors with the goal that by the end of the year they will not have to mark anything onto the tracking sheet after their writing assignments.

Day 20--How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Since I work with students in high school, I feel they are able to keep track of their work themselves. And, since we use Google Chromebooks, it is pretty easy. They can save all their work to their Drive, and I encourage them to create folders to organize their work. I help them with giving ideas by showing the way I organize my Drive with folders, etc... I also have shared a "Shared Documents" folder with them so that they will access all notes and work from that folder.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 18, Teaching Philosophy

Day 18--Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

A teacher is a cathedral builder and a searcher for ponies.  I have written about my educational philosophy in my blog on a couple of occasions, so I'm going to just give links to those posts because tomorrow is potluck day at school, and I have to make my dishes to pass.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 17, Challenges in Education

Day 17--What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

The most challenging issue in education today is having to do more with less. I don't know if that is a new issue; I rather think it isn't. We go into this profession because we feel called to bring knowledge to the next generation.  Most of us go into this career to make a difference.  Few become teachers assuming we'll make a lot of money.  In spite of low salaries and long hours, most of us welcome the ups and downs of the school year.  However, we public school teachers are facing extreme pressure to push our students harder in order to match the scores set by students in other nations while at the same time getting less support from the public.

School districts all over the US are tightening their monetary belts, and that increases the challenge in education. I know people who think that education gets enough financial help, and if only they (read: schools, school boards, departments of education) would manage their money better everything would be okay. That is likely true. However, that thinking does not help the teacher in the trenches with an over-large class of students who are reading below grade level. The resources that might have been there in the past to help have dwindled to trickling. The school that used to pay for after-school tutoring can no longer afford to, yet the teacher is still expected to offer tutoring. The teacher used to get a decent supply budget, but now she is finding that she spends almost $1000 a year for basic classroom supplies out of her own pocket. True, she wouldn't have to do that, but then there would be kids in her classes who didn't have paper or pencils or resource books or a healthy snack when they needed it.

Pressure to excel adds to the challenge in education with test scores becoming the litmus test of teacher ability. High standards in education are absolutely a good thing; however, when a teacher's job is on the line because of how well his students do on some standardized test that they do not have any personal stake in, that's not a good thing.  Too often the students do not care about how well they do on those tests because they are not held accountable for their scores.  The teacher is, however.  Because of this, teachers find themselves spending more and more time prepping their kids for that high-stakes test.  Especially in smaller districts where the poverty level is high (and that is often judged by the free and reduced lunch percentage), teachers are expected to reach almost impossible standards with students who are more worried about whether they have enough to eat than whether they master the content.

With less support, we face more challenges.  These challenges are not going away any time soon, so those of us in education must gird ourselves for the battles we are bound to face.  Luckily, we teachers are good at doing more with less.  Whether we should have to be good at that is an issue for another day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 16, Superpowers!

Day 16--If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

I would want superpowers for lots of reasons.  I'd love to have the ability to move things with my mind especially if I've just settled myself on the couch with a TV tray full of papers to grade only to find that I left my pen on the table across the room.  Of course, that one would be a superpower for use at home, not in the classroom.

I would enjoy being able to transport myself to school from my house instantaneously so I would be able to sleep longer and avoid the traffic.  It would also be nice to be able to get papers graded in a flash so I could enjoy relaxing evening at home during the school year.  Wait... those are also for not in the classroom.

Okay, if I am serious about a power I'd want in the classroom, I would want one that deals with time.  I'd love to be able to manipulate time so that a lesson lasts exactly the amount of time so that the students don't get bored, but also just the right amount of time so that the students get the most amount of learning done.  Sometimes, even after so many years as a teacher, I don't always time things correctly.  I want to use all the time from bell to bell, but some classes move through the material faster than you planned, and some take forever over the same material.  Yes, I think I would like to be able to make the class last just the right amount of time for optimum learning.

What spider do I need to get bitten by, or which gamma-ray array do I need to be radiated by, or which scientist do I need to be "discovered" by in order for me to get that superpower?  Sign me up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 15, Strengths

Day 15--Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Three strengths I have as an educator:
  1. Content knowledge--I love my content: English Language Arts.  I have enjoyed reading and writing for as long as I can remember.  Analyzing literature for themes and deep thoughts, writing fiction and nonfiction of varying genres, using proper grammar--presenting all that information to my students so that they, too, can get the same joy from the written word as I do is one of my strengths as an educator.
  2. Willing to learn and try new things--My grandfather used to tell us that a day's not been wasted if you've learned something.  When we can learn how to help our students grasp our material in a better way (or deeper in a way that we already knew), or when we can learn how to use a technology that helps us do our jobs better, that's a great thing, and I think that is one of my strengths.
  3. Desire that students succeed--When a teacher knows what a student can do, she can inspire the student to do even more.  Sometimes the teacher is the only one in the student's corner--not even the student is always in his or her own corner.  My students always know I am their loudest cheerleader even as I correct their papers and push them to better scholarship; my desire that my students succeed is one of my best strengths as their teacher.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 14, Feedback for Learning

Day 14--What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Feedback for learning is one of those new "it phrases" in education, but it's been around for a long time.  Of course, people are now are telling us that data says how teachers have given feedback for generations (the grade, the "good job," the "you could do more," or the sticker) is not enough.  It's not helpful.  That kind of feedback is not "for learning" because it doesn't make the student think differently about his/her work or do any kind of self-assessment.

I guess I have a hard time understanding that.  When I was in school, the feedback given at the top of the page always had me doing some self-assessment.  If it was a good grade, I felt validated that my hard work had borne fruit.  If it was a "you could do more" then I looked at my work to see what I had not done to fulfill the assignment.  I still have some of the scratch-and-sniff stickers that my elementary teachers gave me; I attached them to a folder.  They were badges of honor and pride that I showed my friends, and I kept that portion of that Critter Sitter folder (see picture) because it was covered with the proof that I was doing the right thing by doing what was expected of me as a student.

Somewhere along the line something changed and now that kind of feedback is not enough.  Feedback for learning is giving feedback that will not discourage a student while at the same time showing him/her what he/she needs to do better next time.  It can come in many forms, but all studies agree it should be timely, specific, and focus on the positive.

Timely: When you teach high school English, as I do, it can be hard to give feedback beyond the grade or the rubric or the now-frowned-upon "Good job!" because I teach four sections of the same class, and that means I have over 80 pieces of work each time something gets handed in.  I try to be timely in returning the work, but sometimes I'm not as good at that as I would like.

Specific: Adding specific comments to over 80 English II essays and 20 Creative Writing poems in a night (or even over the weekend) is sometimes hard to do.  I try to do it, but sometimes it's difficult to weigh the need for cleaning/laundry/dishes/personal time/catching up on sleep with the time that it takes to write specific feedback about the student's work on each paper or poem.  So, I'm still working on that.

Focus on the positive: I really try to do this beyond the "Way to Go" or "Nice" or even the smiley face.  This is when I'd love to be able to just put a sticker on the paper and be done.  I know that I'm supposed to avoid just marking the errors in a paper because that will make the student feel defeated.  I know that I'm supposed to point out the good things the student did to encourage him/her.  This is where I have the most issues in this feedback for learning, though.  I am still working on a way to make the student not feel defeated while at the same time showing him/her what he/she did wrong so that next time he/she can do better.

So if I were to rank my success at giving feedback for learning, I would say that I am still working on it.  Do I get a sticker for that?