Monday, July 16, 2018

Amazon Prime Day

It's Amazon Prime Day!

As an Amazon affiliate blog, if you go shopping through my links I get a few pennies in return at no extra cost to you, so go shopping and help a girl out!

Prime day deals include the Fire Stick:

and the Amazon Echo:

We love our Alexa.

There are lots of other deals so check it out!

And thanks!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Book Whisperer: a Review

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
We have just returned from our annual vacation to the Midwest and after a day or two catching up on laundry and restocking the pantry, I'm beginning to get back into my routine.

We had a wonderful time: Iowa is a beautiful place everyone is so friendly.  We caught two baseball games (one in Frisco, TX and one in Des Moines), we visited the Iowa state capital (it is magnificent), we traveled Route 66 from Oklahoma City to Joplin, Missouri (I love it), we toured Fort Smith, Arkansas, and we spent a lot of time with family.

It was a good trip and now that I'm home I realize that I report back to school in about three weeks.

Where has my summer gone?!

I've spent the entire summer working to get books for my new classroom library, for one thing.  People have been so generous in sending and donating books.  Donations have contributed nearly 100 books for my classroom from my Amazon Wish List.  I have purchased probably two dozen from my own list, and I've rounded up several large stacks from thrift stores.  My library now has about 140 books, which is far short of my 500 books by August 6 goal, but certainly large enough to get us started.

I have just finished reading Donalyn Miller's highly recommended The Book Whisperer (2009); Miller is an advocate of free reading.  In her sixth grade classroom she has a library of 2,000 books (her room must be bigger than mine!), and from Day 1 she has her students reading from the library.  Their requirement is forty books in the school year and she establishes a certain number of books from all genres.  Miller says that all of her lessons come back to what her students are reading and notes that her test scores at the end of the year are on par or above everyone else's; the added bonus for her is that she knows her students will be lifelong readers.

I'm not going to be able to follow Miller's prescription for reading success exactly because we are on a canned, scripted curriculum.  I have to read from annotated teacher notes and slides made by someone else.  But I can adapt her practices into my classroom and given the stifling, mind-numbing curriculum, I think that free-reading will be welcome.

In other words, there is no better time for me to begin this project.

Miller writes: "The institutional focus on testing and the canned programs drains every ounce of joy from reading that students have or will have in the future.  We have turned reading into a list of 'have to's,' losing sight of the reality that students and adults are more motivated by 'want to's.'"

That is so true.  Every lesson, every task, is geared to the test.  There is absolutely zero reading for the pure pleasure of it.  Zero.  In fact, what my students are required to read is dry enough to turn them off of reading forever.

As I've stated before, morally, that's just wrong to me as a teacher.  I can't spend the entirety of my career putting nothing but dry, "informational texts" in front of my students and directing them to highlight them in various colors.

I'll cover what I'm required to cover but my students are also going to read for fun.

The research that supports independent reading is massive.  MASSIVE.  How can we ignore this?  But that's exactly what these scripted curriculum programs do.  Miller points out that readers are better at writing, have "richer vocabularies, and increased background knowledge in social studies and science."

Miller is not a fan of the whole class novel, and I can see the merit in this.  After teaching certain novels whole class, it is true that your readers are going to read through the novel, finish it and be bored long before the struggling readers do.  This results in wasted time for those faster readers; even worse: they are rewarded by being assigned extra busy work just because they finished quickly.   The goal of the whole class novel becomes just to finish it and complete the worksheets and projects that go with it.

Yes, there are things everyone should read: I fully believe that every student should read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I no longer believe it must be done whole class or on the same schedule.  We don't read that way in the real world, so why should we do it that way in school?

Miller's book was an eye-opening read; much of what she wrote I already knew but had not articulated in my mind.  She has used free reading in her class for years and her program works for her.  My plan is to make it work for me and for my students.

I am anxious to get back into my classroom and get this library set up!

Next on my summer reading list is Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  Since I only have three weeks I better get after it!

If you'd like to send a book for our classroom library, here is the Wish List link!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Can I Read This?": A Teacher's Dream Comes True

Today is the official first day of summer but technically I am about halfway through my summer vacation!  We report back to work on August 6; I'm not quite ready to think about that yet, but what I'm really thinking about a lot is my classroom library project.

After twenty-three years of teaching, I'm starting a classroom library.  I've written about it on this blog here, here, and hereI've done a lot of reading and research about this and while we have an excellent school library, research also shows that having a classroom library sends a message of literacy and a love of reading to students.

From the National Council of Teachers of English statement on Classroom Libraries:

Classroom libraries—physical or virtual—play a key role in providing access to books and promoting literacy; they have the potential to increase student motivation, engagement, and achievement and help students become critical thinkers, analytical readers, and informed citizens As English language arts educators, we know that no book is right for every student, and classroom libraries offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to work with students as individuals to find books that will ignite their love for learning, calm their fears, answer their questions, and improve their lives in any of the multiple ways that only literature can.  
 For these reasons, we support student access to classroom libraries that 1) offer a wide range of materials to appeal to and support the needs of students with different interests and abilities; 2) provide access to multiple resources that reflect diverse perspectives and social identities; and 3) open up opportunities for students, teachers, and school librarians to collaborate on the selections available for student choice and reading.
Read the entire statement here.

I've always had a bookshelf in my room with old paperbacks on it, but one day in March one of my reader-students was peering at the shelves longingly.  She found a Stieg Larsson book that wasn't too beat up and pulled it out, asking if she could read it.

"Of course you can!"  I said.

She beamed at me with a radiant smile and stayed after class to talk about books she had read that she really liked and every book she had read, I had not.  That's when I realized I needed to up my Young Adult (YA) reading game.

How had I been so clueless?  So focused on tests and curriculum that I had missed for all these years this very obvious way to connect with my students?

That student read the Stieg Larsson book, brought it back, but didn't find another in my old, beat up mass-market paperbacks with their crumbling, yellowing pages that interested her.  Why would she?  Those books were years out of date, in poor condition, and of subject matter that did not connect with young people today.  They were cast-offs nobody wanted.

I started culling books and what I ended up with to retain was pathetic.

The Classroom Library Project was born.

I started researching.  And reading.  And begging.

And just from my readers of this blog and from my personal friends, we have collected about 125 brand new or very gently used books that will totally engage almost all of my students!  I've been amazed at the response!

"Amazed" isn't the right word.  I've been brought to tears by it, really.

Books donated for the Library!  Love!

This project has obsessed my thoughts; I stay awake at night thinking, "I really need to get those soccer books; those boys would read those," or "Do I have enough graphic novels?  I think I only have one or two?" (Note to self:  add some Spanish language books!)

I've spent two weeks in my classroom after the end of the school year doing a decoupage project on a
Pages from To Kill a Mockingbird cover this shelf.
donated bookshelf, and painting another donated bookshelf, so I can properly display these books in a way that will encourage my students to read them.  I've laminated hardback book covers to protect them, and covered softback books with clear Contact paper for protection.  I've entered every book in a database and I've put book pockets and cards in the back of every book.

And I keep updating my Amazon Wish List weekly so I can be certain that I'm covering every subject, every topic, every level of reader, because even though I get new students each semester, I know my kids and I know what they want to read.  I also know what I need on those shelves to pull in the kid that has not read a book since elementary school.

Let me share with you a conversation with one of my classes which took place about three days before the end of the school year.

I'd been gathering books, covering them, and stowing them in crates until the new school year.  One of the books on my desk was one I was reading because I'd heard so much about it on social media in my ELA Teachers Group; the book is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The book is amazing.  Now, I'll admit, I'm ah avid reader but I've never read much YA lit.  But this book?  Wow.  The basic plot as described on Amazon is this:

After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she's terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr's father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection.

True Confession here:  I avoided reading the book for a while thinking, things like "that's not what
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
kids need to read about..." or "that will only encourage and incite divisive thinking...".  Boy was I wrong.  I could not have been more wrong.  And I can't tell you how hard it is to admit that I thought that way.

So, back to that classroom conversation. I was about halfway through the book when one of my girls saw it on my desk and asked me about it.

"What is that book?" she asked, based on the cover.

I stopped whatever material I was covering and picked it up.  I paged through it a moment and then turned the cover to the class and asked, "Have y'all read this?  Have y'all heard about this book?"

Not one had.



I said, "Oh my gosh, y'all have GOT to read this book!  It's amazing!"

I started to tell them about the characters, about the story.  I talked about how Starr is a black girl but her parents send her to a white school that is safer and provided a better education.  I tell them about how her friend Khalil gets shot even though he did nothing wrong.  I tell her about Starr's friends and their parents who won't let them spend the night at Starr's house because she still lives in 'the bad part of town'.

As I talked, every kid was listening.  Everyone that had been staring at a phone, tuning out my discussion of Macbeth, looked up at me.  They asked questions.  Some wanted to hold the book and look at it.  They wanted to read it.

They wanted to read it.

Is the book Macbeth?  Of course not.  But a classroom library with a diverse selection of books enables every kid's voice to be heard and enables those conversations to be held in the security of the classroom.  I'm stocking my library with their voices and their stories. It gives us a chance to have these very important conversations with kids.

I'm stocking this library with everything from urban fiction to classic literature.  I want there to be something on those shelves for every single kid.

Consider this statement on the diversity of your classroom library from Education Week (emphasis mine):

Literature should be a window into possibilities beyond our own experiences. But it should also be a clear and vibrant mirror. As things are, a talking rabbit stands a better chance of seeing herself reflected in children’s literature than a child of color does. Roughly 73 percent of the characters in children’s books published in 2015 were white, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children’s Book Center. This appalling statistic should make every one of us angry.  
 What can we do about that profound problem? First, we need to find books that reflect the identities and experiences of our African-American, Latino and Latina, Asian-American, and Native American students. There aren’t enough of those books being published by the industry, but they do exist. 
If you have even one student of color in your class, she needs to see herself reflected in the books you put in her hands. White students need to read books about characters of color, too—in a world where neighborhoods, churches, and schools tend to be largely segregated, books can be a portal into the experiences of children whose lives are very different from those of the reader.

And scripted curriculum or not, I'm going to find a way to make certain that we have time to read in class, for pleasure, for fun. It's that important.

So here at this halfway point in my summer, I'm not quite halfway to my goal of 500 books by August 6, when school starts.  I have a really great start on it, but I'm not stopping until I get there.

I'm not stopping.

I'll be hitting thrift stores, garage sales, and shopping Amazon sales.  I'm applying for grants, entering contests,begging for donations, and sharing my Amazon Wish List every chance I get.  And I'll be spending a lot of my own money.

I hope some generous philanthropist will see it somewhere on social media and say, "Hey, let me help this lady! This is a great cause!" and will buy up everything on that Wish List!  (Hey, I can dream...).

Anyone know a generous philanthropist you can share this with?

Really, I do want to thank all of you who have sent books!  You're making my dream come true and you are helping kids that you don't even know and it doesn't get any better than that.  It's about kids, really.

And I'll be sharing their love of these books with you once school begins.

Read on!

Further Reading:
Four Steps to a Magnificent Classroom Library (Education Week, June 2018)
The Hate U Give Enters the Ranks of Great YA Novels (The Atlantic, March 2017)
There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205 (SIGIS 5/11/18)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

OwlCrate Review: Unboxing my First OwlCrate

OwlCrate: June 2018
I love subscription boxes!

One of my favorite box services is Stitch Fix because I hate shopping; if I can get a personal stylist to send me five new pieces in a box upon request, what's not to love?  Send back what doesn't work, keep what does - it's a win-win for me.

This month I picked up a Kong box for my dogs and you've never seen two more excited dogs.  It's like they knew it was for them the moment it got off the truck.  Subscription boxes are a huge business and you can get literally anything you can imagine (and some things you can't...) in a monthly box.

Since I started this classroom library project last month, I've done lots of research trying to find grants and places where I can get books donated or other book-related swag like bookmarks and things that will get my students excited about reading for pleasure.  One of the companies I found, although not for donation, was OwlCrate - a subscription service.  Sign me up.

OwlCrate boxes are for Young Adult (YA) readers and the company describes its product this way:

We spend months reading hundreds of early manuscripts of upcoming young adult novels, and only select the very best books to include in our boxes! Each box will contain one brand new hardcover Young Adult novel, as well as 3-5 other bookish keepsakes to help set the mood for your literary adventure. Every box will be built with a super fun and creative theme in mind, and will also include special goodies right from the author!

The company began in 2014 in Portland, Oregon; the founders ran the company in "a basement suite" which they quickly outgrew.  It is now a full-time job for them and has been very successful and has taken them to book festivals around the country.

Since I'm trying to tune in more with the YA reader, I decided to give this a try.

So here is my first OwlCrate:

The OwlCrate box.

I was a little surprised by the box itself: the word "crate" had me expecting a larger box, but once inside my reservation vanished.

The box is jam packed with goodies!  Each box has a theme and this month the theme is "Summer Lovin'."

There is a pretty card on top depicting funky pink beach scene with a Ferris Wheel in the background.  Love the mood setting here!

What a pretty card!

Flip the card over and there you can find all the details about what is in the box.

The details...

I'll read that later [setting aside] - let me see what's in here...


What's in that box?  And look at that cute pin!  It's the Ferris Wheel from the pretty card!  I love it!  And what's in that plastic bag?

A beach towel!

The plastic bag holds a colorful microfiber towel with a summer theme and "My Summer is all Booked" on it by Stella Bookish Art.  It's full beach towel size, too!  Love it!  I will definitely use this.

Next, that box.

Mason jar mug designed my Michelle Gray and the OwlCrate team.

Well look how cute!  A fun, summery mason jar mug; it's about 5" tall and has a handy lid.  It says "Book Worm and Proud" on the glass!

Digging deeper into the box I find these goodies:

Wooden bookmark, pin, keychain, pen, and tea!

Here we have a super cool, wooden bookmark from Ink and Wonder Designs.  I'm a bookmark collector so this is a treasure for me.  I love bookmarks and pick them up wherever I go.  I love them.  I'm kind of afraid to use this one because I don't want anything to happen to it.  There is also a cute cactus pen from BC Mini.  It's a super fine point pen which is awesome.  Then there are nifty apple and peach blend tea bags from Riddle's Tea Shoppe which will be fun to drink out of my mason jar mug!

Wasn't this a book subscription box?!

Oh, yes!  There's a book at the bottom of the crate. The book each month is of course related to the theme of the box.  For June 2018 the book is From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon.

From Twinkle, with Love

Obviously I haven't read it yet, but the story centers on Twinkle Mehra who is an aspiring filmmaker who is offered a chance to direct a short film for a summer film festival.  There's a little romance and a love triangle ahead and is "a story about finding love in unlikely places, growing into who you're meant to become, and finding your tribe."  That sounds like something teenagers can get in to so this will find a nice spot in my classroom library - after I read it, of course!

Even better?

It's signed by the author!

Tucked inside the book is a letter from the author:

Letter from the author

There's also a booklet in the box with info about all the products and the companies that provided them, which is nice.  It includes an interview with the author, a puzzle, and other book recommendations as well as a preview of the July OwlCrate theme (Strange & Unusual).

And finally we've reached the bottom of my first OwlCrate.

OwlCrate says "Enjoy your adventure!"

Overall, I'm excited about the box.  The boxes are a little pricey - $29.99, and then shipping pulls it up to $37.  Breaking it down, you can order the book itself for $15.19 on Amazon.  The mug is an OwlCrate exclusive but you can order a set of six on Amazon for about $20.  The wooden bookmarks go for about $9 each at Ink and WonderRiddle's Tea Shoppe is sold out of everything on Etsy, but you can buy tea in a grocery store for a few bucks.  Beach towels at Stella Bookish Art are about $38.

For me, I think the box is a pretty neat deal; the value is definitely there and the fun is priceless.  Having a themed box filled with not just all the goodies but a five-star YA novel autographed by the author is a pretty neat thing.

The OwlCrate company also offers OwlCrate Jr for younger readers.

I'm going to keep my subscription for a while because it's just fun!  Some of the things I'll keep (like that wooden bookmark) and some of the things I will share with my students.

If you like subscription boxes and have an interest in YA lit, I'd say give OwlCrate a try!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"I could hear them screaming": Problems at BCAC Must Be Addressed

KTBS broke a disturbing story last night out of Bossier City Animal Control in which two shelter workers, (one a volunteer and one a paid employee) report inhumane euthanasia practices:

Brandy Cornell quit working at the shelter Friday after she said she witnessed dogs and cats euthanized with the heart sticks by untrained technicians.  
"I could hear them screaming," Cornell said about the cats when they were being euthanized. 
Technicians are required by law to train in Baton Rouge once a year. Cornell provided KTBS with a letter, which you can see in the video above. In that letter Dale Keeler, who oversaw Cornell at the shelter, said that all heart stick practices would "cease" as of May 8 "until a technician is trained in chemical sedation." 

 Under Louisiana law, heart stick, or IC,  is illegal unless the animal has been sedated by a trained professional and can feel no pain.

"I could hear them screaming."

So to be clear, here is the law on euthanasia in Louisiana:

C. Euthanasia:  
(1) Euthanasia methods and procedures must conform with recommendations outlined in the report of the American Veterinary Medical Association on Euthanasia, dated July 1, 1978, or as revised except as provided in Paragraphs (2) and (3) of this Subsection.
(2) Euthanasia by carbon monoxide gas chambers on cats and dogs shall be prohibitd beginning on January 1, 2013 and thereafter. 
(3) Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic. 
(4) Euthanasia personnel shall attend the Humane Society of the United States Academy on Euthanasia or an equivalent program within one year of date of employment. 

 The KTBS story ended with former shelter volunteer Brandy Cornell asking,"Why would he [Keeler] tell them they would cease euthanasia until they got a sedation class? Why would he even say that if someone was already certified to do it. That doesn't make any sense whatsoever,"

She raises a good point.

Question:  Every certified animal euthanasia technician (CAET) at BCAC had to sign Keeler's May 8 mandate that "all intracardiac heart sticks will cease."  Why would you sign something like that if you aren't actually doing the procedure? 

What is heart stick?  If you Google it, you'll get headlines and images you don't really want to see so let me quote from the Human Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual:

Intracardiac Injection (IC) (Injection of Sodium Pentobarbital Directly Into the Heart) 
An intracardiac (IC) Injection involves the injection of sodium pentobarbital directly into the heart, where it is quickly transported to the brain.  Injection into a conscious animal's heart is excruciatingly painful, even if the technician is able to locate the heart chamber on the first attempt.  For this reason, IC Injection must never be administered to an animal unless the euthanasia technician has confirmed that the animal is fully unconscious.  Many states and municipalities have laws dictating that animals must be fully unconscious before an IC injection.
The Humane Society details specific measures to ensure that the animal is completely unconscious before such a procedure.

This is a very effective way to euthanize an animal that is unconscious, but if not, it is torture.

"I could hear them screaming."

Finding the heart chamber is difficult, even for a trained and experienced technician.

A Certified Animal Euthanasia Technician (CAET) is trained to administer euthanasia, but not sedation, and a CAET must renew their certification each year.  A CAET can only do heart stick euthanasia (IC)  if the animal is totally unconscious from trauma or sedation and sedation must be done by a veterinarian according to Louisiana law:

§1209. Pre-Euthanasia Restraint
 A. Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic. Such prohibition is applicable to animal control shelters and their animals located on site as well as their animals which may be transported to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia. Temporary transfer of ownership of the animal to the veterinarian by the animal control shelter for euthanasia by cardiac injection is a violation of the law. The performance of euthanasia by intracardiac injection in violation of this section by a CAET and/or veterinarian is sanctionable.  
 B. A CAET (lead status or otherwise) shall not use any drug for purposes of sedation, or any form of anesthesia, since sedation is beyond the permissible scope of euthanasia practice for this certificate holder. However, Acepromazine, Rompun (xylazine), or Domitor (medetomidine) which are non-controlled drugs, may be legally used by CAETs for pre-euthanasia restraint of feral/fractious animals. If an animal control shelter’s animal must be sedated/anesthetized pursuant to Subsection A above, then a LA licensed veterinarian must perform this service.

Question:  What sedation drugs are on site at this shelter that are used prior to the IC procedure?

 This should all be recorded at the shelter and monitored as controlled substances.  There ought to be a paper trail.  If not, that's a big problem.

Question:  There is no vet on staff at this shelter; who orders and administers the sedation drugs required by law before IC Injection?

Question:  Who on staff is sedation certified and for how long?  How many animals were put to sleep before that certification occurred and by what method?  Are the annual certifications up to date?  Do the medication logs align with procedures?

I think what we will discover is that there are no required sedatives on site at this shelter and no one certified to deliver said sedatives.

I hope not.

That aside, it is a terrible and inhumane procedure which has been outlawed in many states.  It should be a last resort procedure -- not the option of choice for euthanasia.

The whistle blowers in this case are both respected members of the animal community and have excellent reputations.  I don't say that to insinuate that anyone else does not have an excellent reputation; I only mean that it is difficult to question what these whistle blowers are saying.

It is clear that there are many, many questions to be investigated in this story.

The Humane Society Reference Manual on Euthanasia defines euthanasia this way:
Euthanasia involves more than ending an animal's life.  It is a process that combines compassion and scientific consideration while providing each animal with a death that is free of pain and stress.  Along with the technical skills required, there must be compassion and a sense of solemnity, reverence, and respect for the animals.
Shelter employees and volunteers are to be commended for the work they do; it is a job that is emotionally draining, without a doubt.  We must applaud and support the whistle blowers; when an injustice is done it must be corrected and in this case, when the public's trust is compromised it must be restored.  Best practices must be in place and full confidence in the shelter restored.

It is incumbent on the investigators to do this.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Let's Clear Up Some Rumors about CPAS

On May 5, 2018,  I wrote a post encouraging the local animal community to support Travis Clark as director of CPAS, knowing that he's not going to be able to come in with a magic wand and save all the animals.  It is not a no-kill shelter after all, and to be fair, Mr. Clark inherited an absolute mess.

One of the key points in my post was this:

It is important to remember that a shelter can't lower those euthanasia rates without help from the community; when so many people refuse to spay and neuter their pets there will naturally be too many unwanted animals.

There is literally nothing in the world Mr. Clark will be able to do about the endless intake at CPAS.  It is an open-intake shelter: they have to take everything that comes through the door.  People in this community need to spay and neuter their animals.

Mr. Clark has been on the job for two weeks and today Facebook began melting down when some in the animal community fired up the negativity train once again. I'm not about spreading rumors on this blog so I reached out to Mr. Clark to see what was true and what isn't.

Here is his response, in his own words:

Hello everyone: 
 Please feel free to share this information as it has come to my attention that some people are being misinformed about changes occurring at Caddo Parish Animal Services. I would like to say thank you to my supporters. To the people that are consistently negative and spreading false statements, you are definitely not into animal welfare for the betterment of this community. I will not allow a handful of crabby, bitter, unhappy and disgruntled people deter me from responding to social media alerts, tags, questions, etc. responding to post is one of the reasons the citizens entrust me with this position, they know that I look into their concerns. So I will address some instances that have taken place since starting in this position 16 days ago.  
On my 3rd day in office, a dog was attacked by another dog leaving it severely injured. A rescue came to transfer the dog and I was the blame. I was being called out for failing the community on my 3rd day in the position. When I respond to the situation, naysayers move on to other post.  
During my second week, I observed animals that have been in this environment since January 2018 which is unacceptable when you have 5-6 dogs in a kennel designed for 1 dog or 2 at the most with the guillotine closed. I made the decision to have staff contact rescue partners in hopes to help some extended stay animals get a positive outcome. I was criticized for that. 

Also during my second week, a dog that has been in the facility for months that has documented behavioral issues was selected for humane euthanasia. This dog was in an outside kennel to himself while multiple other kennels housed numerous dogs which resulted in fighting and injuries. Being questioned about one dog with behavioral issues followed suit.  
Today, supposedly 56 animals have been humanely euthanized in the past few days.
I can see how such an alarming title could cause a stir. What you do not see is the amount of animals that come into this Shelter daily for whichever reason. I intend to house animals as safely and efficiently as possible. I am open to all whom want to visit the Shelter. A great time would have been this past Saturday at the Open House. One of my highly touted critics was there and I appreciate him coming to the Shelter because in my presence, he understood who I was and understood that my vision is on the path to industry standard.  
 Also, there is a untrue statement that CPAS isn't partnering with Rescues for transports which would not benefit the animals in this facility. I have no issues vaccinating and providing health certificates for any animal being transported. If anyone has stated that they have heard otherwise from me, ask them for documentation or proof. I have said when animals are tagged by a rescue group, it would be best for the animal to be removed from the Shelter for space concerns. Also if a group has tagged an animal which stays at the facility it can cause more work for staff to explain why an adopter can't have this animal because a rescue wants it. A rescue can come into CPAS adoption room right now and take every animal in the room altered or intact because I have 24 more to replace the entire room and I will have another 24 after that. There is no animal shortage here. Will I directly alter an animal for a transfer, no. Altering animals for transport is not industry practice. If an animal is altered at the shelter, has no adopter and a rescue wants it, that's great. It would appear unfair to alter animals for one group and not the others. If this was a practice that was being done prior to my arrival, I'm not here to disrupt the relationship but I will make recommendations as I see fit. This field is not cut and dry or black and white, every situation is different.  
It seems as if I am being villainized and I have not done anything warranting such angst from the community (at least a handful). There have been a lot of positives during my first 2 weeks and there will continue to be positives. I will show you why I was selected for this position in due time. There is only a few names that are reoccurring with the negativity and I appreciate you. You too will be #TeamCaddo eventually.

There you have it.

I'll stand by Travis Clark and by my original position: give him a chance.  Two weeks is not long enough.

And for crying out loud, if you have an issue with Mr. Clark, reach out to him in a positive and respectful manner.  He wants to be part of the solution.  We should help him. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

M205 Classroom Library: The Shelf Project

Book donations
My DIY bookshelf project is nearing completion!

When my teacher-neighbor donated a bookshelf to my classroom library project a couple of weeks ago I was pretty pumped because the shelf is awesome and it fits perfectly under my windows, but I really wanted to personalize the shelves and make them my own.  So, I stole an idea from another teacher who had repurposed some tables in her classroom by covering the tops with pages from a favorite book and then sealing them with polyurethane.  They are fabulous tables!

So this is what I've been working on.  I've spent a couple of hours at school each day since school was out last week and I've been slathering Mod Podge on this shelf and sticking pages from To Kill a Mockingbird on it.  It looks great!

Today I finished covering the shelves and my next step is to go back over the entire thing with another Mod Podge coat, which I will do tomorrow. I'll let it harden over the weekend and then Monday I'll apply the first coat of polyurethane.  The shelves will be finished next week!  I can't wait to post pictures of the finished thing, but this is what the work in progress looks like:

It's going to be fabulous when it's finished!

Now what I need to do is to get enough books for my Classroom Library to fill these shelves!

It's summer, and people aren't thinking about school right now, so donations have stalled.  In the last week I've gotten three books.

I'm planning on writing a couple of grants and perhaps solicit a business or two and see if I can get some donations that way.  I'm combing thrift stores and garage sales, too.

One of my favorite professional blogs is Cult of Pedagogy and last week I came across this article about classroom libraries from 2016 which completely solidified my commitment to this project.  The author writes about the benefits of a classroom library from the standpoint of student/teacher relationships.

Building relationships is key in my mind to student success.

The author, Shelby Denhof, writes of her first year teaching and about her own classroom library:

I had [the books] out and ready on the first day of school. By the second day, some of my students approached me about them: “Would it be okay if I looked at these?” each one of them asked timidly, gesturing to the shelves. Of course I said yes. As a few students got up, others followed. I couldn’t have been more excited.  
Since then, books have circulated between the shelves and my students. There are a handful of books that are so sought after, my students created their own waiting list for them. It’s taped to the wall by the graphic novel section.

At the time of this article Denhoff had about five hundred books in her classroom library.

She explains the books have created a point of conversation between her and her students:
Talking about and sharing books has become such an integral part of my daily interactions with students, it’s difficult to pin down the magic it’s created...
I know what she means.  I've seen that magic and had those conversations with my students who already love to read. They get really excited when they talk about a book they're reading and they really want to share that experience. I've had students bring me favorite books and ask me to read them.

What I want to do with my classroom library is to get all of my students to feel that magic.  I want those struggling readers and those reluctant readers to be able to find something on my shelves that pull them into the pages and ignite their imagination.

Since I committed to this project about four weeks ago I've received about a hundred books strictly through donations and I've bought about a dozen books myself.  I'm confident that by the time school resumes on August 6, I will have reached and perhaps exceeded my goal of five hundred books!

I'm redoing my entire classroom around this project.  I now have three bookshelves in my room as opposed to one, and I'm redoing my bulletin boards to incite interest in our books.  When August gets here we will be ready!  I know that if I can get my students to read, and to read often, I will not only be building relationships with them and establishing points of conversation, but I'll also be giving them a life long skill that will stay with them long after the end of the school year. 

Here's the list if you want to send us a book!  And please share this project or post on your social media.  The more people that see it the better my odds of reaching my goal!

Further reading:
Building Relationships with Students through Books
There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205
M205 Library Update: You Guys Rock!
Building a Classroom Library: Help!
NCTE Statement on Classroom Libraries

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What is a Scripted Curriculum and How Flexible is it?

They always tell you that teaching is "a calling" and that teachers "aren't in this profession for the money!"  I've heard that countless times in my teaching career.  It's true: nobody ever went into teaching for the money and if you did, you were sorely disappointed.  I always knew I wanted to teach; it was my passion.

I had some wonderful, memorable teachers at Byrd High School that inspired me and made me want to be just like them: Miss Barbara Whitehead taught American History and I'll never forget her.  Her blackboard was filled edge to edge every single day with notes we had to copy or questions to be answered, and she brooked no nonsense whatsoever.  I loved her.  For English, Nancy Lonnegan and Mary McClanahan were the epitome of what an English teacher should be.  They were both passionate about their material and they held very high standards for their students. They filled their lessons with "laignappe" which inspired further learning.

Teaching is indeed a passion and it seems to me that the best teachers are those that inspire and mentor.  It is about so much more than just the material in the textbook.

Teaching is about building relationships; a child will learn more from a teacher if there is a connection made between them.  If that child knows that the teacher cares about him and is interested in his success, he will learn. Teachers develop these relationships in part through meaningful lessons developed with the needs and interests of their students in mind as well as through individual conversations with students.

This common bond is harder to develop with scripted lessons.

After my end of the school year post last week I've received several inquiries about the scripted lessons that Louisiana ELA teachers are now mandated to use as our newly adopted curriculum.  In my post last week I wrote:

It began with a series of workshops and in-services throughout the summer last year which served to introduce us to a drastically new curriculum which we were mandated to implement "with fidelity" this year. It was so radically different from what we have been doing that this was a terribly stressful objective to me.  
I'm "old school" in many ways and teaching without a textbook and following a script has been hard for me. I am also a rule follower and so while I wanted to follow my mandate, I'll admit publicly right now that I did not always follow the script. I tried. We are on block schedule and so our academic year is made up of two semesters: I have one group of students from August through December, and then new ones from January through May.  
First semester I tried really hard to do that first unit as prescribed. It took less than two weeks for the light in my students' eyes to go out and for them to start eyeing me with dread. I stuck with it and supplemented more engaging lessons where I could while teaching all the same standards. Second semester it was much the same. I was a little more comfortable with the new curriculum, but it is still mind numbing and dull. Nothing but annotation, graphic organizers, and Cornell Notes. All day, every day.

I've been asked to explain what I mean by "following a script," and how much deviation from that script is actually allowed, so I want to clarify that.

A few years ago a group of Louisiana educators came together to write a new ELA curriculum designed to help students be successful on the high stakes end-of-course tests:

[Meredith] Starks is one of the more than 75 teachers who have been selected by the Louisiana education department to write an English/language arts curriculum. While most states using the Common Core State Standards tend to look to commercial publishers for standards-based curricula, Louisiana educators couldn't find material that fully and coherently represented the now 7-year-old ELA standards.  
"We just decided ... there wasn't anything on the market good enough for our teachers," said Rebecca Kockler, the assistant superintendent of academic content at the state education department. And who better to fill that void than actual teachers?  
The state started developing its ELA curricula, called "guidebooks," in 2012, and the first iteration was published in April 2014. Louisiana has since revised its own standards, which are based on the common core, and revamped the guidebooks to give teachers more resources.

These Guidebooks are what we are now using in lieu of traditional textbooks in our classrooms; they are comprised of "readers" which are copies of material bound together which are non-consumable and serve as a sort of textbook.  Students also receive a consumable packet with each of the four units and these are copies of graphic organizers, text passages, speeches, charts, etc. that students can write on and annotate as required.  These are reproduced and distributed each semester to students.

Teachers work from scripted Teacher Notes and prepared slides which we are instructed to follow "with fidelity" so that every student in every classroom gets the same text on the same day in the same way.

That's what I mean by scripted lessons.

As an example, let's just walk through a typical lesson in tenth grade English.

Unit 1 is on Rhetoric in grade ten and Unit 1, Lesson 1 goes like this:

After verbally introducing the unit, this is slide 3 in which the teacher introduces the unit objectives to the students:

With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:
“Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.”
The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It's a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of "What is Rhetoric" by Gideon Burton

The teacher reads the text to students while students follow along.  This is supposed to take about two minutes.

Then with the above slide displayed, the teacher directs students to read the text independently and annotate.

The teacher notes at this point look like this:

Suggested Pacing: ~ 7 minutes  Directions: Have students read the first section of the text again, independently. Instruct them to use a yellow highlighter to mark “central ideas” and green highlighter to mark “supporting details.”
Guiding Questions and Prompts:  Say, “ Central ideas are main ideas. They are what the reader should remember after studying the text. They are usually followed by details that provide support. What is the central idea of this section?
Say, “Supporting details are specific pieces of information that support the central idea. They can provide explanations and/or examples of the central idea.” What details does the author use to develop the central idea?
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that a big idea is an important part of the text.
Access the annotated exemplar in the Additional Materials section. Be absolutely sure students understand what a big idea is before beginning the task.
Students should re-read the text independently, marking the big ideas of the text with their yellow highlighter.

Students are directed to take out their "Vocabulary Log," write down "rhetoric" and define it.

The teacher notes  look like this.

Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
 Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
 Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
 Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
 Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
 Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
 Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
 Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
 Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
 Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system).
Then the student is directed to turn to his partner and talk about the word "rhetoric."

Following this, students are then directed back to the text and their annotations and the teacher is directed to have the students write a "summary statement":

Ask: “ What is the most important information in this section of the text?”
Ask: “How can we boil that down to one statement?"
 Have students write their summary statement in their RRJ. Then, model a concise summary statement under the document camera or on the whiteboard.
Ask the guiding questions below.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts:
 “What makes my model summary statement good?"
“Does your model have the same qualities?”
 Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that the definition of rhetoric is the most important information in this section. Students should then write a practice summary statement in the reading response section of their RRJ. Model summary statement: “Rhetoric is the study of the effective use of language in one’s own writing and in the writing of others.”

With this new slide displayed, the teacher then directs students to revise their summary statement.

Following that, the teacher verbally recaps what students should have learned in the lesson and then she moves on to lesson two.

Unit 1, Lesson 1 is comprised of eleven slides that must be displayed as the teacher works through the lesson.  In districts on a 90-minute block, two lessons are to be completed each day.

The teacher can vary slightly from the script but must follow the lesson with fidelity.

In Lesson Two, students read the same text again, "What is Rhetoric," and highlight in multiple colors to identify main ideas and supporting details.

That's what a scripted lesson looks like.  They are literally that: scripted.  Teachers have a printed stack of these teacher notes which are to be annotated before presenting each lesson and which she can produce to supervisors upon request.  The lesson number and standards must be visible to students on the board each day as well as the objective.

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no "rock star" teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

The Guidebooks are on the Louisiana DOE website and most of the graphic organizers and their completed versions can be found there by both parents and students.  It's important that students do not have their cellphones in use in class or they can just look up the answers and copy them down; teachers must monitor this.

Scripted lessons have pros and cons.  Many teachers bristle at the loss of their own creativity and autonomy; many feel that scripted lessons strip the passion from teaching and focus too much on the test while others are relieved at not having to write lesson plans or create their own lessons. Districts know exactly what is happening in each classroom on any given day and feel that a prepared curriculum is one way to ensure all necessary standards are taught.

However you feel about scripted lessons and the prepared curriculum, parents should at least know what it is and how their child is being taught.

If you still have questions or comments, email or leave a note in the comments; I'll answer as best I can.

Knowledge is power!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

An Open Letter to Michael Manley and Sergio Marchionne at Jeep/Chrysler from an Unhappy Jeep Customer

Michael Manley (CEO of Jeep division)
 Sergio Marchionne (CEO of FCA US LLC)
Chrysler Headquarters
 P.O. Box 21-8004
 Auburn Mills, MI 48321

 Re: 2012 Jeep VIN ******

 Dear Sirs:

Today is day thirty-six that my Jeep Wrangler sits at the dealership waiting for a part to correct a left cylinder head problem which has been a known issue since 2012 as evidenced by an August 12, 2012 article in Auto Week magazine:

Chrysler Group dealers are replacing malfunctioning cylinder heads on a small percentage of 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engines.  
And a recent shortage of replacement heads means some customers have been without their vehicles for weeks, some dealers say. Chrysler is paying for their rental cars. A cylinder head covers the engine block, enclosing the cylinders and forming the combustion chamber.  
The engine powers most of Chrysler's best-selling vehicles, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. By the end of the year, the 3.6-liter Pentastar will be Chrysler's only V6 engine in production, though a smaller-displacement version is scheduled to appear next year. 

 Key words here are “known issue” and “2012.”

 This is 2018. Why is there still such a shortage of parts for this issue that my vehicle is not yet repaired? And let me be clear: this is not the dealership’s fault at all. My dealer has made repeated calls to procure the part to fix this issue and has consistently been given the runaround. At one point we were told that the part had been released for shipment May 6, would take two days to arrive, and another two days to install, problem solved.

No part arrived. You’ve left this dealer, and certainly others,  in a very bad spot and you’ve left this customer hopping mad. 

Customer service is a high priority for me. Customers like to know that they matter and that they are appreciated. This is one of the reasons I love my Jeep dealership so much: they remember my name, they remember what vehicle I bought, and they take care of me, but clearly this level of concern stops at the dealer level. Corporate has lost touch with the little man. Where is Lee Iacocca when we need him?

When my attempts at resolution of this issue through phone calls to Chrysler failed, I finally reached out on social media to @JeepCares to try and seek resolution to this problem. I finally got a response through Twitter and we were assigned a “case worker” and a “case number.” This fellow has been utterly useless and has told us he actually has no real connection with Jeep/Chrysler.

Your customer service is outsourced? Seriously? Nothing screams “I don’t care about you” more.

At any rate, our caseworker never returns phone calls and his standard line when we are finally able to reach him by phone is “I was just about to call you!” It’s laughable now. He has no answers; why would he call?

We’ve asked our “case worker,” Danny, if a rental car would be an option or if a deferred payment on our bricked Jeep would be an option to try and make some sort of token amends here but both were shut down. We were told that we could get a rental for ten days for $35 a day and as for the deferred payment suggestion we were told he would put “a note in the file” which is the equivalent of no, we have learned.

We asked if the part could be expedited overnight to the dealership. Nope. He’ll “put a note in the file” and get back to us. Of course he never did.

Then we suggested that if the part for the engine isn’t available then perhaps Jeep would simply replace then entire engine since the car can’t run as is; we were shut down on that, too.

A quick check of comments and disgruntled customers online shows that I’m not the only person with this issue.

So here’s the gist of my problem in a nutshell. You’ve had my car for thirty-six days now with no solution in sight. Your customer service is non-existent. It is terrible. Jeep/Chrysler does not value my business one iota as is made clear by the terrible lack of communication we have received from your representatives. I do not appreciate being outsourced by corporate Jeep/Chrysler and I don’t appreciate the bind you’ve put your dealerships in by leaving them on the front lines with this.

I owe a few more payments on this vehicle and then my husband was ready to sign on the line for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Can you give me any reason why he would want to do that now? I sure can’t see one.

 I respectfully ask that someone in this corporation pay attention to this problem, quit outsourcing your dirty laundry to some ineffective company, and get this vehicle fixed.


Friday, May 25, 2018

End of School Year Reflection (or the Burrito of Gratitude, with a nod to Colene)

The last day of the school year finally arrived and I am officially on summer vacation.  We go back to school August 6, which I know will be here in a heartbeat.

This year has been both the longest and the quickest year of my 23-year career.

It began with a series of workshops and in-services throughout the summer last year which served to introduce us to a drastically new curriculum which we were mandated to implement "with fidelity" this year.  It was so radically different from what we have been doing that this was a terribly stressful objective to me.  I'm "old school" in many ways and teaching without a textbook and following a script has been hard for me.

I am also a rule follower and so while I wanted to follow my mandate, I'll admit publicly right now that I did not always follow the script.  I tried.  We are on block schedule and so our academic year is made up of two semesters: I have one group of students from August through December, and then new ones from January through May.

First semester I tried really hard to do that first unit as prescribed.  It took less than two weeks for the light in my students' eyes to go out and for them to start eyeing me with dread. I stuck with it and supplemented more engaging lessons where  I could while teaching all the same standards.  Second semester it was much the same. I was a little more comfortable with the new curriculum, but it is still mind numbing and dull. Nothing but annotation, graphic organizers, and Cornell Notes.  All day, every day.

But, it's the curriculum and I have to follow it if I want to keep my job.  To me it's almost a moral dilemma: do I kill the love of learning by shoveling more copies of speeches and more worksheets at them while reading scripts from prepared slides?  Or do I subvert the system, close the curtains, and teach from the heart?  I've spent the entire semester questioning myself and my career.

That's what made the semester long.

What made the semester go by too quick was my students.  I love them.  I love them with my heart!  As they were leaving yesterday I had so many hug me goodbye and wish me a happy summer.  We're talking high school kids: not the little elementary ones who hug so easily.  I had students from previous semesters come by just for a hug.  Mikayla brought me a doughnut! Teyniah made a card for me!  So did Te'asia!  Maria (who I taught last semester), came down the stairs with her ponytail and her shy smile and reached out for a hug.  My heart melted and my eyes still get misty when they go.

We don't have a PTA at our school, wealthy parents, or big booster clubs that bring teachers expensive gifts at the end of the year like some other schools.  At our school we don't get gifted Chromebooks, televisions, or cruises like other schools.  Nobody will ever gift me an Apple Watch. We don't even get cute coffee mugs and Starbucks cards.

But these parents give us their children and I swear that's all I need at the end of the year.  That hug, that home made card, that single doughnut in a styrofoam bowl is all I need to reassure me that I'm in exactly the right place.

I love our kids and I love our school.

Today, we had a rare teacher work day which was glorious!  I was gifted two bookshelves from one of my teacher friends and I spend the entire day refurbishing them.

The first one was bright pink:

This is too pink for me.

...and now it is teal blue.  I'm just not a pink kind of girl.

Progress. Calming blue.
That bulletin board is going to get a makeover this summer, too.

The other shelf was beat up wood:

This might be the perfect shelf.

and now it is on its way to being covered in the pages from To Kill a Mockingbird.

I figured why not?  We aren't allowed to read novels any more in class and this is the only way I can get my favorite book in the room!  Boom!

To Kill a Mockingbird: one page at a time
Once I finish the inside I will polyurethane the entire thing and it will be fabulous.

It was relaxing and fun to be engaged in these DIY projects today.  We all moved around from room to room, visiting with each other (something teachers so seldom are able to do!).  Nikki brought a pan of banana pudding around to share with everyone.  Samantha came and ate her lunch in my room.  Emily came by with Colene to look at my bookshelf.  Macie came in to visit while I painted and Karrie and I ate lunch in my room.  There was a lot of laughter and fun.  I love my co-workers!

I went to Colene's room and watched her organize papers, in the library Stacy had her daughter's dance recital on video to show us, and in the lounge we all gathered for breakfast burritos from Sonic.

All in all it was a really nice day, reconnecting with my friends and doing just the smallest bit of prep work for next year.  My shelf isn't finished, but I guess neither am I.  I'm still learning and still growing as a teacher every year.

What I learned today is that no matter how badly I might fundamentally disagree with certain things, I will always find a way to stand up for my students and do right by them because that's what matters to me more than anything else.  I go to work everyday exactly where I want to and I will never need expensive thank you gifts from booster clubs or parents to make my job more more rewarding.

My students, their smiles, and the occasional breakfast burrito are all I need!

Now, it's time to decompress and take a little time off!

An Open Letter to Hal Braswell
Full of Promise: Bossier Bearkats Receive their Tickets to the Future
The SIGIS Summer Begins
Bearkat Pride Forever