Saturday, December 11, 2010

Helping Struggling Readers

My students are experiencing a great deal of success using a variety of reading strategies and ideas from Power Tools. Although this in not new for my students, it is for some of their other classes. I notice teachers in my building adopting some of the ideas from Power Tools into their own classrooms. I had to laugh when one of my students said he told his science teachers that she needed to "borrow some ideas from my reading class to help us understand this science stuff." "I get it in here, but it is harder in my other classes. " He said his teachers needed to give "us a purpsoe in reading like you do." :)

Scrapbooks: To Kill a Mockingbird

My 9th grade reading students are combining powertools with a scrapbook project after reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Students will create a scrapbook from Scout's point of view. My 4th block is especially excited about the project.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Power Tools help with Understanding of Complex Text

While teaching The Odyssey I am finding myself turning to the Power Tools time after time. The complexity of The Odyssey baffles most of my ninth graders, however marginalia, reading/thinking/questioning, and the occasional golden lines turns the epic poem into an easy to comprehend adventure story for the majority of my students. There are some students that are have trouble using the Power Tools. It appears that for some the extra work is something that they are choosing not to do. I am not giving up, Power Tools works when the students put forth the extra effort.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Power Tools Help with a Struggling Learner

During a parent teacher conference one mom shared with me recommendations from a learning specialist her son had seen. Imagine my delight when I looked in the Power Tools book and found activities anad organizers that fit his learning needs!

Monday, November 22, 2010

easy to say

I am definitely having difficulty in keeping up with my scheduled teaching of the magnificent seven. It's easy to say as an English teacher I work with "the 7" all of time. However, it takes more time to explicitly teach it. And therein lies my problem, I cannot seem to find time for the "I do, we do, you do" of it all. As this is my first year teaching 11th and 12th grade it has been a chore studying and planning for these classes and adding the 7 on top of that. However, as I am pressing through it, I do see it getting easier.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marginalia and "The Odyssey"

As we are just embarking on the incredible journey Odysseus faced returning home from Troy, marginalia has again saved the day. First I gave the students the first stanza of the Invocation to the Muse in ancient Greek (they were puzzled). I then had the translation available, which still puzzled them. Through think alouds and various questioning techniques they made notes to keep in their textbooks (as we cannot write in them). For homework they are tackling the next three stanzas on their own. Hopefully this will help the students wade through the elevated language of "The Odyssey"

ABC Graffiti and MOD loved by teachers

ABC Graffiti was a big hit during my PDA presentation, and has been put to use by teachers. A former student who was visiting my room saw a graffiti that my students were working on and said "We did one of those in driver ed. It was fun." The teacher's themselves had fun guessing the Mystery Word of the Day and said they were thinking of ones to use in class.

My students had mixed feelings about ABC Graffiti though. Some would get upset if they could not find words for each letter. But all attempted to do so and had fun in the process, so I will definitely use it again to introduce a new unit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

mystery word of the day

I tried approaching vocabulary using the mystery word of the day as we learned in the SURN workshop this summer. My students enjoyed this activity and it created a friendly competition between classes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Magnificent 7

We created a version of the magnificent 7 bookmark for students using our school colors. One side is for fiction and the other side in for nonfiction. Students can refer to their book marks as they read. It is a nice reminder about what they should attend to as they read.


We are considering purchasing ereaders for the reading improvement classes. I'm excited about the possibilities. I think it will prove very helpful in increasing interest in reading among the struggling readers. Has anyone else used these in their classroom? I especially like the "read to me" feature.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Clip Art Activities!

One area our school is focused on in terms of learning is using non-representations. One non-linguistic representation activity my English 11 team really enjoys using is clip-art. We give students different pictures associated with the piece of literature, and the students extract quotes from the literature related to the pictures. This activity has worked especially well with pieces of literature such as "To His Excellency, General Washington" and The Crucible.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


One of my favorite reading strategies is visualizing. Students create a storyboard by illustrating the most important event from the chapter. We are currently reading an adapted version of A Tale of Two Cities. On each storyboard, students summarize the story, find the word of the day in the chapter, write out the sentence where the word was used and find a quote to support their illustration. We complied all over our storyboards into a summarizing book. When we are finished with the novel students will have the complete book summarized and illustrated. It will prove very helpful when they need to review for the test. They constantly refer back to their visualzing books. Instead of asking me about an event, word or character, they become more independent and refer to their own work for the answer. They can quickly locate the item on the storyborad or re-read their summaries. Here they can see the vocabulary word in context and answer their own questions.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Late in the Game

Due to scheduling, I just received a whole new class of students last week. The getting to know you activities were a lifesaver. I had to get to know my new students very quickly, because they are the one group that I will have everyday. The bingo sheet as well as a few other really helped me out the first 2 classes. They definitely helped me build community more quickly in my classroom.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spreading the word on picture books

I recently hosted a Staff Development session for secondary teachers in our county on using Picture Books in the Secondary Classroom. I used many of the titles we looked at and enjoyed during our SURN classes. From THERE'S A NIGHTMARE IN MY CLOSET to the beautifully illustrated and researched biographies of Diane Stanley, picture books can be one of a teacher's best resources. If you have a chalk tray, it should be filled with picture books - to support your content, to enrich your content, to entice reluctant readers, and to use for read alouds. I truly cannot teach alliteration without ANIMALIA. Get a copy and you will see why; then have your students create their own alliterative sentences using sentence strips. A new favorite is IT'S A BOOK by Lane Smith.

If you would like a copy of my list of great picture books, email me and I'll send it to you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting to Know Your Students/Picture Books

The first week of school students in my science class completed a learning styles survey to determine who are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Upon completing the survey, students were given a designated color of construction paper to share information about themselves in the shape of a hand (Getting to Know your Hand in the SURN Getting to Know Your Students Activity Packet). The hands are posted up on my bulletin board which makes it easier to visualize how to group my students when preparing for lessons.

They have also enjoyed several picture books...The Crow and the Pitcher, which was used during the Scientific Method standard, and Science Verse. The Dory Story will be a part of our lesson on food chains in a few weeks. I have them to write their thoughts or questions down in their notebooks as a preview/introduction for the lessons.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Power Tools to be Used for Professional Development

On November 2nd, Mr. Yag and I will be presenting a session during our professional development day on using Power Tools to enhance vocabulary development. After a brief overview about vocabulary development we will be focusing primarily on two of the Power Tool strategies. We have selected Strategy 4.11 Mystery Word of the Day and Strategy 4.12 ABC Graffiti. these are two strategies that are fun and could be used across the curriculum.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching Probability with a picture book

As an introduction to our lesson in probability, I used the picture book "The Very Improbable Story". I showed them the cover of the book and asked what they can predict from the title itself. I modeled first the strategy "Read-Aloud" to my students and then asked them to do read-aloud with a partner. While reading, they asked questions , made inferences and connections. The students not only enjoyed the story but were able to connect what they had read to our lesson on probability.Through the picture book , they were able to determine easily the probability of an event and differentiate dependent from independent events.6th grade students always find probability very challenging, but with the use of the picture book, it was easier for them to understand the lesson.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Using literary strategies to teach Colonial, Puritan, and Revolutionary Literature

The first reading unit in English 11 is on Colonial, Puritan, and Revolutionary literature. This literature is dense and difficult--especially for students who are low-level readers. I have been employing many of the literacy strategies such as making connections and paraphrasing activities to make these pieces of literature more accessible and more engaging. I definitely feel more comfortable teaching the literature this year than I have the past three years!


My students get so excited that they can actually write and work with a text! They have taken well to writing in the margins that I have created. We read "The Pedestrian" last class. Instead of giving a role, I gave them a focus, which was how the setting can affect mood. This allowed the students to have a more detailed notes in their margins. Also, I was able to take it further by incorporating Golden Lines. The students really responded to the story and the activities.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Planning with the Magnificent Seven

I have figured out how to incorporate the skills in my planning by covering one per week and spiraling back to those skills that were covered. I have noticed that it is easy for me to teach the skill because I am an English teacher. These skills we focus on anyway, however it is more work to mesh them with the other literary skills that we are covering. I see where other disciplines may have more trouble than me in doing this.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Power Tools Rule

As my class is attempting to wade their way through short stories marginalia and think alouds are saving the day. Today we had our first assessment and I cannot wait to see the results. Class discussions seem to be at a higher level than in previous years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


We started our school year having our whole staff create Bio-Poems. It was fun to watch new and veteran teachers scramble over glitter, stickers, and which color construction paper they wanted to use! Several of us shared our poems with the group. The one that was most fun came from one of the ladies in our office. Her answer to : Lover of (2 things) was: Jesus Christ and football! We all agreed she had her priorities in order!
Our teachers took their poems and displayed them in their rooms. By the end of the week when the students came back, the hallways were filled with student Bio-Poems. The displays made quite an impression on our Back to School night.
If you haven't had your Back to School night, parents really like to read what their children have written about themselves. It is a very insightful activity for students, teachers and parents.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) = AWESOME!!

After going to the I-Tunes literacy conference and discussing the benefits of SSR with my colleagues, my English department has adapted a mandatory SSR for the first ten to fifteen minutes of each class. The SSR time is awesome; I find that it is a time for all of us, including myself, to partake in the exercise of reading. Even some of my most challenging students are enjoying the time. I also love that the students pick up books and start reading when they are finished with their assignments. I absolutely love SSR, and I can already tell that my students are reaping the benefits of it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

SURN Lesson Plan

Completing the SURN lesson plan ended up being a bit more challenging than I expected. I felt myself having to cut back. I kept trying to pack too much into the lesson. Once I finished it, I had to take a step back.
Then, I remembered what they told us at the conference about teaching the Magnificent 7 Comprehension Strategies. My mistake was trying to put too much in too early . Once I took that step back, I was able to rework a few things to keep it simple but hopefully effective.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lesson plan format

I just finished my model lesson plan for SURN. I like the format even though most of its elements are familiar to me with my current lesson plan template. The SURN format reminds me to engage and keeps me on task as I prepare a lesson. I think I will continue to use it!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harder than expected

Writing a lesson plan for his is turning out to be harder than expected. Since I am teaching two different (and new) subjects I am having to constantly think, "Am I covering the content that is required?" and "Am I engaging the students in the magnificent seven?" I have written this lesson plan several times in my head, so hopefully when it finally comes out on paper, it will not need that many revision.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting back into the swing of things

This past week was the first one back to school for the students. The majority of time was spent getting back to the grind and using icebreaker activities to get to know my new students better. Monday will be the first day that will have a chance to break out the tools box and truly utilize my Power Tools. I will be explicitly teaching the Magnificent Seven Strategy visualizing. Here goes!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Teaching Students how to Summarize

The I-Tunes conference really made me re-think the way I teach literacy in my classroom. The first unit for English 11 in Norfolk is the Non-fiction unit, and my 11th grade team begins with teaching students about Native American myths. When I looked in the SOL (red) warm-up book for the passage from the myth "When Grizzles Walked Upright," I noticed that the summarizing literacy strategy was used for the multiple-choice questions. Thus, thinking back on what I learned from the conference, I designed my lesson completely around the summarizing strategy. The students and I will read the first myth together, and we will complete the "Somebody Wanted But So" activity in order to summarize the myth; then, the students will read the second myth and complete the SWBS statement independently. I will then use their SWBS statement to assess whether or not they summarized the myth correctly. After I realized what "magnificent seven" strategy I wanted to use in my lesson, the rest of the lesson fell into place!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Power Tools Help With School Improvement Plan

The Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy book helped to devise strategies for improving English 9 reading scores. In addition I am using three on the first day of school. Yay, Power Tools!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wow...we have already had to share an overview at a full faculty meeting. Next step, we have to do a lesson demonstration tomorrow!! And this is before we have even gotten underway!! It is really exciting to me that we are going to use and remember the wonderful strategies because our school is committed to supporting and acting on it!! I love, love, love the magnificent seven and have gotten a new zeal for preparing my lessons the first nine weeks to SLOWLY walk through them for the benefit of the students!! Thank you SURN!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Returning to work

As I drove home from Williamsburg yesterday, my mind was racing with what I needed to accomplish during the next several hours. I would be picking up my twins from my sister, squeezing in a much needed hair appointment, rushing to cheer practice and thanking the other coach who got it started for me, and eventually getting home to unload the car, unpack then pack again to leave this morning to take the kids for a last summer visit with their grandparents in N.C. Dinner ended up being a quick sandwich at 9 pm and I fell into bed relatively early.
I woke up this morning while it was still dark outside and my thoughts jumped excitedly from one idea to another and they all had to do with the iTune into Literacy conference from which I'd just returned. Even though I attended as an ambassador, I got so much out of the conference! I am emailing my principal a "plan" for the continuation of our Literacy initiative begun last school year. I love WAFL that the administrators came up with at the conference & would like our building to embrace the We are for Literacy slogan. I will share the plan I'm submitting to my principal in a future blog...I simply wanted to share my enthusiasm for the upcoming school year and my hopes that your year is phenomenal.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thank you!

As I drove to the conference last year I began to wonder why I had given up my vacation time to go to another conference. Three days later I didnot want to go home; I wanted to learn more! I have implimented many of the strategies with much success in my classroom. I use my iPod daily for "setting the mood",transitions from one task to another, and for motivation. If all of my students receive an 80% or better on a quiz or test we dance in celbration to the "Electric Slide." I teach World Geography and my students have enjoyed the tradtional cultural music from each part of the world that we have studied. I have started my personal libray of picture books to help me teach my content and I am writing a grant for the purchase of more picture books. Thank you iTune into Literacy Conference for giving me the tools to be a better teacher.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Changing the way I think ... about teaching

One of the biggest challenges as a middle school teacher is keeping around 100 students engaged in learning every day. This year, I teach two different grade levels - which adds to that challenge considerably. Before attending the Power Tools workshop, I would plan my units and hope that something in the units would reach each student. I find that now, I am much more deliberate about planning specific strategies that will be helpful to the students - and ones that the students will be most likely to carry to other classes. Two of the strategies that I have found especially helpful in Language Arts are "Marking the Text" and "SWBS."

Marking the Text is a great way to help students through difficult passages, or passages that deal with a lot of specific content, such as history or science. I made bookmarks for the students that have the different code abbreviations, as well as poster sized copies for the room.

Many of my students have trouble with comprehension, or more accurately, writing a summary that demonstrates true comprehension. Using "Somebody Wanted But So" (SWBS) is a fantastic way to teach students a lifelong skill of quickly summarizing the content or explaining someone's life work. We use this a lot!

The Power Tools book is an invaluable resource, and it sits on my desk each day. I wish every teacher in my building had the chance to attend the workshop, because although all teachers were given their own copies of the book, I know they are not seeing these strategies in the same way as those of us who were lucky enough to attend.

I look forward to incorporating these strategies into a new content next year when I change subjects - and am already looking at the new materials through a different lens.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Applying Reading Strategies in a Collaborative Classroom

Since the beginning of the year I have modeled and utilized many of the reading strategies. I collaborate with a general education teacher. We have found that modeling the actual reading straategy and talking students through the process has helped students greatly when we ask them to apply the actual strategy to a passage.

We have a section in our Interactive notebooks where we list the reading strategy and then have them to explain the strategy and how it helps them comprehend reading materials.

The handbook has been very useful!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Marginalia" for Writing

So far this year, I have implemented the think-aloud, read-aloud, even dozen, and marginalia strategies that were modeled at the iTune into Literacy Conference. Marginalia has been most effective for responding to text in my writing classes. I introduced this technique with a couple of model essays; students wrote comments and questions in the margins as they read and then discussed their thoughts with a partner. Recently, my students composed a compare and contrast essay. I had them peer review using Marginalia. They were required to write at least one commendation, one question, and one recommendation on their partner's paper. I plan to continue modifying this strategy to use as we approach our SOL test in March.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Literacy Tools Aid the Order of Operations

I am willing to admit that when I "volunteered" to go to the literacy sessions this summer I was wondering how it I would integrate what we learned into an already filled math curriculum. Never one to give up on a task, I immediately set out to find a way to unclude story books in the pre-algebra and algebra math classes. Our classes were very receptive to having stories read to them - we even brought in another teacher's classes to share in our story time. Then the fun really began. The story we chose to start with was "The Journey of Al and Gebra". Some students chose to illustrate the story to help them remember key points, others wrote letters to friends from the viewpoint of one of the children who had met Al and Gebra while discovering the order of operations. Several students created their own mnemonics - and decorated them - covering the walls with "PEMDAS" sayings. One group took the assignment a step further and wrote their own rap, recorded it then posted it on TeacherTube. It was quite interesting to see how one short story read to a class could be taken in so many different directions and still stay on the task of teaching a math standard. What started out as a required assignment for me spread throughout the entire eighth grade and most of the seventh grade at our school. The students were able to integrate art, math, music, and literature all in one assignment. Everyone came out a winner in this example and I know we will be doing things like this more as the year progresses.