Feeding the addiction

I’m an addict. This morning, I fed my addiction for what felt like the first time in a long time. I was swept away into a land of distraction, running for my life but getting nowhere. The earth could have swallowed me up, and I wouldn’t even have noticed.

That’s right, I was climbing away on the arc-stepper at the gym, reading Sharon Shinn’s latest novel Jeweled Fire. I’m one of those people who would read science fiction and fantasy all day, to the exclusion of all else, if I could. And although this latest installment in the Elemental Blessings series isn’t as good as the others, it still swept me away.

I had to know: would Corene escape? Would Foley admit his feelings? I ran past the time I’d promised myself I’d stop, desperate to get past the climax, and took the quickest shower I could. Who knows? Maybe there’s a pair of sweaty unmentionables in a stall at the gym today.

So I took a little break from informational text about the homeless, book club preparation with nonfiction, heck, bill paying and all the other stuff adults do. Yeah books!

What’s your favorite read for fun adventure? Or do you have a guilty pleasure you’d share in the comments? Love to read it below!


Three Voice Poem

This poem was written by Nicole Jenkins, a former Pathways to Social Justice participant. I am the woman on the right, one of our conference coordinators, Sue Fletcher, is in the middle, and Aurelia, a fellow English teacher from down the road, is on the left. Can you tell which of us is the perpetrator, the bystander, and the victim? Can you tell that I must have used up a whole box of tissues that week? We must have practiced this delivery for at least an hour.

Grit vs Apathy

To honor both my commitment to #Edblogaday and my crazy life this next week, this post serves as a stem for a longer blog post. After this weekend, I’ll be done with the community college classes I teach, and I can go back and flesh these out in more detail.

The end of this year has served as an experimental playground for my classes and me. This year marks not only the last year I’ll be teaching 10th grade lowest English, but also the best year of teaching the same. As such, I’ve tried out some techniques that before I have been told were only workable with “Advanced” students.

One such technique, literature circles, requires students to read a book on their own, without much input from me, and then discuss it several times a week with a group of students reading the same book. If you’ve never done such an activity, students set goals for how much they need to read before each discussion as well as fill out a “role” sheet about their chapters.  To help students stay on task, I’m using www.curriculet.com, one of my favorite websites that, fair warning, is also one of my part time jobs. Curriculet offers Common Core aligned questions and quizzes as well as embedded annotations to help engage student readers (if you’re curious, I write curriculets for them on the side).

The rest of this post will be a reflection on how some students have rushed through Marley and Me. one of the choices students had, in one weekend, with one student getting most of the questions right and the other two missing most if not all of the questions. In contrast, some students are struggling with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by reading it at a slower pace than their group but getting a higher percentage of questions correct. I want to delve into how I could have handled the assignment differently while still remaining fair to the students.

The meaning of literacy

My mom tells me I used to be a reluctant reader. To this day, I neither remember this reluctance nor the cause behind it. Regardless, my mom was determined to change my mind, in the sneakiest way possible. I do remember this part: the nightly chapters of books, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Black Stallion. How was that sneaky, you ask? Well, she would always read one chapter and the title of the next. Then, when she said good night, she left the book, lying innocently next to my bed. I don’t know how many nights I sat there, struggling to figure out why the next chapter was called “Aslan Lives.”

Regardless of my beginnings, I am now an advocate for literacy. I think being an English teacher gives me the power to make words come alive for my students. Some of them still read, and still love the power of words, but many in my general English 10 class are bitter and sick of school. I love sharing with my students my passion for literacy. I share my writing blog, Kenton Musings, I talk about the books I’m reading. In fact, when my students silently read, I whip out my latest pleasure read and read along with them. I get giddy when I talk about traveling to the OCTELA conference, letting them see that it’s okay to be excited about literacy. Modeling by example sends a powerful message: even after graduation, it’s okay to love to read and write.

I’ve been teaching for sixteen years, in a variety of subjects. Regardless of what I teach, I try to leave my students with the same message: fall in love with words.

Engaged Online Reading

It was spring, and my family was faced with a dilemma. If my husband kept working at his current job, he was going to lose his mind, but we couldn’t make it on my income alone.

He had been working for the same private school for three years, tasked with teaching science to students from third to twelfth grade, many with special needs or severe autism. Small class sizes but with difficult kids and almost impossible curricular demands had started to compound his stress this last year.  He had to make a change, and he wanted a chance to actually use that Masters in Geology.

As he applied to everywhere he could to find a new job, I started looking to supplement our income in the meantime, too. I didn’t want to give up my high school teaching job, but maybe I could find a summer job until an opportunity came up for my husband.

Enter Curriculet. It is a free reading platform that provides engaging and interactive reading experiences for students and provides teachers a powerful tool for creating, managing, and tracking literacy curriculum. I had first heard of them via Twitter, from Kate Baker, an awesome, tech-savvy English teacher in my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. Curriculet has two awesome features for teachers who want to use technology to support independent student learning.

The first feature I tried was importing my own pdf. In the past, I had photocopied a chapter of Stephen King’s On Writing (less than 10% of the entire novel, and so okay for educational use) to show students the difference between revision and editing. I really love this chapter excerpt, but students sometimes struggled with going back and forth between the printed reading and the worksheet.  That year, I decided to try the assignment on Curriculet.

Wonderful success! Students could find the information more easily since it was embedded directly into the digital text! Also, I could tell from a teacher dashboard who had completed the assignment and how long they had spent on it. I could identify which questions gave students trouble and address those specifically.

The second feature I loved was using Curriculet’s precreated questions, quizzes and annotations. We always read Julius Caesar in my Advanced English 10 class, and in the past I had tried using an online version of the text, with a separate worksheet that asked questions about different lines of the play. Well, students struggled, because depending on the versions, the line count can be slightly different. Curriculet not only had the play for free, there was an entire  Common Core State Standards aligned layer of questions, quizzes, and annotations already developed by a master teacher.

Using Curriculet’s Julius Caesar,  I got data on which standards were hard for my students, as well as how long students were on the platform and whether or not they got the answers right, all without much grading on my part. The majority of the questions were multiple choice, with several short answer sprinkled within. I modified the “curriculet” to suit what I wanted my students to focus on.  Feedback from my students suggested that it was easier to read the play on Curriculet then it was using the paper annotations.

Back to my family’s potential financial woes. On Twitter, I saw that Curriculet was hiring Curriculet writers. A job that I could do on my couch, at my own pace, that I already sort of knew how to do? Awesome!

In addition to the application, I had to write a detailed, Common Core aligned curriculet for a short story. I agonized over it, seeing it as a way to free my husband from having to work at the private school. Imagine my pleasure when I got hired! That summer, Upward Bound also hired me to work for six weeks, providing a grammar and writing class and a Spanish class for local students.

It was a long summer. During the day, I taught classes. In the afternoon and the evening, I basically ignored my family, grading papers and writing curriculets. Along the way, I wrote curriculets for books I have long loved, like The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, as well as books I have always wanted to read, like 1001 Arabian Nights.

Curriculet provided us with some awesome Common Core aligned videos, which were short but well done, and suggestions as to how to implement the standards. Editors previewed my work, giving valuable feedback to help me improve my writing. And I got paid for reading books–best job ever!

If you’re curious, I still work part time for Curriculet. And my husband? He’s working part time at a local community college, finally using his degree.

Touchcast + Students = Virtual Analysis

After reading “Wonderland,” the second part of the 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, my students created a series of videos. This one is one of my favorites. If you’d like to see the rest of them, check out my YouTube channel here. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC58iLlnmh_crqOS3FDzyUrQ