Advice to Padawan Bloggers from Jedi Bloggers

Bonjour!

Since many of you are new to the blogosphere, I thought I would give you an introduction to blogging.

Earlier today, I found Konrad Sanders’ great list of advice for novice bloggers by master bloggers. The list was quite extensive, and much of the advice was meant for adults who wish to make money off of their blog or to promote their business with their blog. So, I took the liberty of sorting through all sixty nuggets of wisdom to Continue reading

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week Two

Greetings, Quillers and Thrillers!

Welcome back to Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! If you were here last week, I hope you got your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form signed by your parents because this week’s prompt is all about building your online presence!

If you are new to Quills and Thrills this week, welcome! You can check out last week’s prompt here, or just jump right into this week’s. Before you start building your online presence, however, you need to review the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form with your parents and turn it in as soon as possible.

Dont have your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship permission form signed yet? No worries, you can still create the tools needed to build your online presence and set them aside until you get that permission form signed.

Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge

Prime your mind for creative thinking every week with the Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge! Check out the rules for the weekly challenge before playing.

Submit your weekly entry to Twitter using #QuillsandThrillsFLTD!

New Experience: Chewing Cotton Balls!

A small percentage of writing happens with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your fingers. In fact, the bulk of writing happens through new experiences both profound and mundane. After all, how can you write about exciting new adventures without having a few adventures yourself?  Continue reading

Have you heard about Quills and Thrills yet?

Want to know more? Read all about it at What is Quills and Thrills?

Ready to start the first writing prompt? Check it out at Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week One!

Download a printable version of the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship Pledge and Permission Form today!

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week One

Good afternoon, Thrillers!

Welcome to Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! Not sure what Quills and Thrills is?  Find out here!

Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge

Prime your mind for creative thinking every week with the Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge! Check out the rules for the weekly challenge before playing.

Thanks to @SSMindSchool for this week’s challenge!

Five Minute Burn

Your first writing prompt will require pre-writing using a nifty method I like to call a “five-minute burn.” Here’s how it works: I’ll set a timer for five minutes. As soon as I say go, you will start writing without stopping until the five minutes are up. If you run out of things to write about, simply write “IDK IDK IDK” over and over again until something comes to you. The trick is to keep your pencil moving. Don’t worry about erasing errors or scratching out mistakes. Just ignore them and KEEP WRITING!

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Ready for your prompt? Here it is: How would you define writing and why is it important to you?

If you’re following along at home, use the video below to keep track of your time.

Time is up! How did you do? Take a moment to reread your burn. If you come across a phrase or word that you really like, underline it.

Now, we’re going to revise our burn to be a publishable piece of writing. Here’s your new prompt: Use imagery and figurative language to define the importance of writing in your life.

Before you start revising your burn, check out two tricks of the writing trade below to help you jazz up your writing a bit.

Continue reading

On Writing

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My earliest memory of writing takes place in 1995 in my mother’s kitchen. I was in elementary school (maybe third grade?), and I had to write sentences using assigned vocabulary words every week. I hated it.

When it came to writing sentences, my mother and I had a routine: I would read the vocabulary word aloud, and then complain loudly that I couldn’t think of a sentence using the word. My mother would then make up a long, complicated sentence while kneading dough or stirring something on the stove, and I would use my fingers to count all of the words in her sentence. After almost every sentence she recited, I would impatiently inform her that the minimum requirement for each sentence was only five words, not ten words, and I couldn’t possibly write a sentence with more than five words. That would be too much work.

My mother would shrug and say, “That’s all I’ve got,” and I would sigh loudly and immediately make up my own sentence using only five words. I’m sure my mother smiled every time I bent my head to carefully write all five words on the paper. Then, I would read the next word aloud, and we would repeat the process.

Later, in eighth grade, I was painfully shy. I read constantly. So much so that it negatively affected my grades. I was the kid in the back of the class hiding her open book under the desk, completely oblivious to the teacher or the lesson. That was the year I turned in a personal narrative about my family’s Christmas tradition, and my teacher, Ms. Fabiani, was so impressed she read it aloud to the class. I was startled to hear my words come out of her mouth and thrilled by the polite applause when she was done.

At the end of the year, Ms. Fabiani had us write an eleven-sentence paragraph as our final exam. I remember swelling with pride and joy at the sight of the big red 100% written on the top of my paper. I ran up to my teacher after class, beaming and screaming, “Ms. Fabiani! Ms. Fabiani! I got an A on my final! I passed!” She just looked down at me and said, “Yes, but you still failed, honey.” Her words were like a brick to my chest. I hung my head and walked away, and at the end of that summer I started my second eighth grade year at a different school in a different state, my heart still heavy with shame, finally understanding the weight of a zero. Or twenty zeros.

I started my freshman year in college with a malnourished English education. I was able to substitute English 11 and English 12 with Creative Writing 1 and 2, and I remember my first college essay came back covered in bright blue corrections. The most glaring mistake was the word “defiantly” circled more times than I cared to count. That’s when I learned that there is no A in definitely. In spite of this, I earned high marks on the other essays, and continued to excel in my other English classes as well.

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That’s when I decided to become a teacher so I could help kids like me. Kids who need the extra push. Kids who need a person to notice that they need to be noticed more than once or twice a year.

Teaching became my passion. During my first year teaching, I enrolled in Reading and Writing Digital Texts with Penny Pence. She made us blog. A lot. I loved it.

I kept up with the blog for a while even after the class had ended, but eventually stopped posting new blogs because summer and a social life got in the way. When I stopped blogging regularly, I would occasionally feel the itch to write. I started a couple of new blogs here and there, but eventually deleted them because I would lose interest in the topic or become too lazy to write something worth posting.

I suppose my problem with writing is that it comes in waves. I’ll have periods where I write constantly, and longer periods where I’ll hardly write at all. I have a lovely collection of beautiful journals, all mostly empty. The first few pages are always full, though. There’s something about a brand new journal that always motivates me to write for a few days, but then the desire pitters out. Then next time I feel the urge to write, I’ll go buy another brand new journal and do it all over again.

iStock_book_typewriter_writingCurrently, I’m “writing” a young adult dystopian novel. I put writing in quotation marks because I haven’t actively written anything in about three months, but I’ve realized that writing doesn’t always involve scratching words onto paper or pounding them onto a screen. Sometimes, writing involves taking the dog for a walk or meeting up with friends. Other times writing involves staring at a blinking cursor for twenty minutes without typing a thing before jumping onto Facebook and posting a witty status update.

There are also times when I want to write, but I just don’t have the time. Right now, for instance, I’m staying up way past my bedtime because I’m finally feeling inspired. I feel inspired to finally start chapter four of my novel, but those pesky lesson plans keep tugging at my anxiety. I feel inspired to start blogging again, especially now that I’m at a new school teaching a new curriculum to a new age group, but that pile of grading is already large, and it’s only the third week of school.

I feel inspired to write, but guilty for setting aside the time to write when I know I should be doing other things. Like making dinner. Or sleeping.

I guess I should stop writing and go to sleep now. Ugh.

Oscar who? I won the Liebster Award!

liebster2OH EM GEEEE! I won something! Thanks for nominating me, Mary!

So, according to the person who nominated my nominator, “The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster? It is a German word and it simply means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.”

Official rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
  2. You must answer the 10 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
  4. Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

Here are the questions Mary had for me:

1) Describe, in detail, your favorite beverage.

Lately, my favorite beverage is beer! Ha! I really like Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, but I’m also a big fan of some local breweries that I’m not going to name for the sake of anonymity. I can tell you about a brewery I really enjoyed last time we drove down to Denver, Colorado, though. Wynkoop Brewing Company has a delicious beer called Rail Yard. It had hints of caramel and vanilla, and it’s kind of like drinking a cookie. Yum! I just wish it was closer to home.

2) What’s your pet peeve?

Spelling “a lot” as one word. Allie explains this pet peeve perfectly in her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t already, check it out. It’s hilarious.

3) Tell us the book that has most impacted what matters most in your life.

Ummm…this is an impossible question. Picking one book is like picking children! I love anything by John Steinbeck for his excellent analysis on human nature. I also like all of Khaled Hosseini’s books and his incredible talent for writing about ugly truths in a beautiful way. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, of course, will always be a favorite for obvious reasons. There are many, many more, but I’m short on time so I need to move on to the next question.

4) How do you take care of your soul?

Walking, blogging, and drinking beer with close friends.

5) Favorite quote or Scripture?

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6) What’s your favorite post you’ve written and why? Include a link.

A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes because it is a big reason why I decided to start blogging again. I’ve blogged before, but I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for an audience. It didn’t work out. I got bored and lost interest after only a few months. After that experience with my principal however, I realized that I had stopped focusing on my passion, and started focusing on politics. In typing that post, I felt like the fog had lifted and I was able to enjoy my job again.

7) What’s your favorite post of mine and why? Include a link.

When Saying No is Saying Yes, because it is so, absolutely true! As a young teacher, it is WAY to easy for me to take on more than I can chew. The problem is, I can do everything and be mediocre, or only take on a couple of extra responsibilities and be spectacular. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and an even more difficult thing for my boss to accept.

8) What is the greatest joy of blogging?

Discovering new ideas through reading others’ blogs and reflecting my own practice!

9) What is the greatest anxiety of blogging?

Honestly? That my secret identity will be revealed!

10) Which blog speaks most poignantly to you? Why? Include a link.

Becky Says Things. I love laughing, especially as a way to lighten up some of the uglier things in life. She’s awesome!

11) Bonus question, if you’re so inclined: give my some feedback on my blog.

You have some great posts! Since you have a static homepage, use your Top Posts widget to direct your readers to the posts you would most like them to see.

Introducing Ms. Hayes’ Liebster Nominees…drum roll please….

  1. Magpie That
  2. My Strange Brain
  3. Teacher Versus Mum
  4. Unsolicited Tidbits
  5. tcrwpliteracycoach
  6. Teaching +
  7. Norah Colvin
  8. Cathy Miyata’s Blog
  9. Skeptycal
  10. Joystick Learning

Congratulations! You now have homework. Please answer the following questions:

  1. Congratulations! You just won the Liebster Award! What are you going to do next?
  2. Describe yourself in three words.
  3. Describe your thoughts on your very first job.
  4. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  5. I like food. What is your favorite recipe?
  6. Give a short summary of the book you are currently reading.
  7. What inspired you to start blogging?
  8. How did you come up with the name for your blog?
  9. What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
  10. Which post are you most proud of and why? Provide a link.

Happy blogging!

Adventures in Grading…and Procrastinating

Adventures in Grading...and Procrastinating

Well, here we are, Sunday morning, the day before grades are due, and I have a lot of catching up to do. So, naturally, I have take a picture of the overwhelmingly large stack of papers in front of me and post it as a way to postpone the inevitable just a little bit longer.

I heard somewhere that if you do not assess and act on formative assessment data within two days, then it’s really a summative assessment.

Oops.

I better get started.

A look back

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Image from: http://alturl.com/roegg

I don’t know who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, but I do know that if you’re willing to spend your precious time reading my words, I like you. You, dear reader, will help me to remember and appreciate my craft as an educator. So, thank you.

I teach seventh grade language arts at a Title I school in central New Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, Title I basically means that a large percentage of our students come from low-income families. Overall, I love my job and I love my students. Middle school students have a bad reputation for being obnoxious and directionless, but that’s what makes middle schoolers so much fun. They are at a stage in their lives where they are testing the boundaries to figure out who they are as individuals (this is what makes them obnoxious), and they are in this weird transitional period where they want to enjoy both the privileges of grown-ups and the freedoms of childhood (this is why they’re directionless).

But hey, don’t we all want that sometimes?

One of my favorite things about my job is designing and implementing lessons that are both challenging and engaging. It may sound cliché, but I love seeing a student’s face light up when they finally “get it.” My favorite sound is that long, drawn out “ooooohh,” that students make when they finally make the connection. I am addicted to the feeling that teachers get after a successful lesson; to those days that end with the uncontrollable urge to brag about your students to everyone you know, but you just can’t seem to communicate the magic of the situation, no matter how hard you try.

I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be a parent too, but I’m not quite ready to procreate yet.

When I first started teaching, I was that eager-beaver new teacher that couldn’t wait to change the world. I said yes to everything. EVERYTHING. Before I even knew all of my students’ names, I was a member of the Renaissance committee, the AVID site team, and I had taken on the stipend position of Gym Master. Yup. I was Master of the Gym. I felt important. I felt valued. And I had gate keys! I could access the school on the weekends! I was drunk with power.

I would happily arrive at school between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning, and I wouldn’t leave until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I was honored when my principal asked me to go to a Solution Tree conference in Phoenix. I felt so grown-up and mature, going on my very first business trip.

I eagerly experimented with new technology tools and resources our district had just adopted, including My Big Campus, which is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Blackboard, and begged my principal to let me lead an hour-long workshop on how to use the program at our next staff meeting. They agreed. The staff humored me during the workshop, but they didn’t use the program in their own classrooms. I didn’t understand their resistance. I was naive.

At the very beginning of my second year, the Language Arts department head position became available, and nobody else in my department volunteered for the position. Naturally, I took on the position. I couldn’t believe my administrators allowed me, a second year teacher, to become head of the department.

I struggled with my role as leader that first semester. Even though I had learned about the PLC (professional learning community) process in college and at the Solution Tree training the year before, I wasn’t sure how to guide a team of teachers, more experienced than myself, through the process of identifying essential standards, aligning curriculum, giving common formative and summative assessments, comparing data, and sharing best practices, when they were accustomed to using PLC time as a social hour. I didn’t feel comfortable asking a woman who had been teaching fourteen years longer than I had to stay focused and stick to the agenda.

I finally adjusted to my role as department head after attending a leadership training in Phoenix with the social studies department head and my administrators. While there, I shared my feelings of inadequacy with them, and the social studies department head aired similar concerns about herself, even though she had many more years teaching than I had. I returned from that conference feeling refreshed and prepared for the challenges ahead.

The rest of that year and the following summer were very productive. As a department, we identified our essential Common Core State Standards, organized those standards into a new curriculum map, created standards based Z-Objectives for each unit, and created a handful of common formative assessments. We also created a new, standards based grade scale that would both expedite the grading process while also keeping the focus of the assessment to mastery of the standards instead of ability to follow directions or write legibly (while those things are important, they have nothing to do with whether a student is proficient or not).

This is my third year in the classroom. I started the year with positive expectations. Our old principal left to become the superintendent of another district, and our assistant principal was promoted to principal. I sat on the hiring committee for our new assistant principal, and was thrilled with the woman we decided to hire. This is the first year we are teaching to the Common Core State Standards, and in August I was confident that the work the department did over the summer would eliminate the discomfort of change.

I was wrong.

Moral at the school is at an all-time low. The focus of both district and school administrators is on data and test scores rather than on students and learning. With the new teacher-evaluation system, the pressure to show growth on the SBA is overwhelming.

I feel as if teaching has become a secondary responsibility. Between complying with the demands of the new evaluation system, analyzing data, and my department head responsibilities, I don’t have time to plan creative lessons or give meaningful grades.

I feel my passion for teaching crumbling under the pressure more and more every day. I look back on the eager-beaver new teacher I was two years ago, and I miss her.

I’ve started blogging again out of desperation. I need a place to reflect on what I see and experience in my classroom every day. I need to find a way to recharge and revive that fiery passion that energized my lessons my first year.

I will not blog to vent, but rather to reflect, learn, and grow. I may share lessons, theories, and experiences, but no matter how negative the experience, the takeaways will remain positive. I’ll do my best, at least.