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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

We Are Up to 73 Books!

The books for my new classroom library project keep coming in: I'm up to 73 books now!

I've been so overwhelmed and grateful at the response.  I knew my readers would step up and help because you have before when I've needed something for my classroom, but this response has just been so heartwarming.  My library is now not just a dream; we've gone from zero books to 73 in about two weeks!  And they're still coming!

I want to clarify that as books are ordered off the Wish List, they automatically come off the list. So, if you look at the list and wonder why To Kill a Mockingbird isn't on there or why a certain author isn't on there, it may be that someone has already sent that book.  But always, always feel free to shop off the list if you like, or you can email me and ask if I have the book you want to put in.

As far as processing goes, I'm covering each hardcover and softcover book with laminate covers for protection and to extend the life of each book.  I'm entering each title into a database and I'm putting a book pocket and sign out card in each book.

Each book also gets a Donated By.... sticker in the front cover.  This way my students are getting a real sense of support behind them, and it makes them feel good.

It makes YOU part of our classroom!

This statement from the National Council of Teachers of English:

Reading in all its dimensions—informational, purposeful, and recreational—promotes students’ overall academic success and well-being. Furthermore, when students possess the skills necessary to access, select, use, and effectively evaluate their reading materials, their ability to become engaged members of their communities and productive citizens is enhanced. A large body of research demonstrates that equitable access to books promotes reading achievement and motivation (Allington, 2002, 2009; Krashen, 2011; Nystrand, 2006; Wu & Samuels, 2004).  
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.

I'm continuously updating the Wish List, and I'll be collecting books in earnest all summer.  Part of my summer vacation will be spent in my classroom setting up shelves and getting the M205 Library ready to roll in August.

Please keep sharing this project: the more people who see it, the more potential books we can add to the shelves.  My goal is 500 books to start.

I'm applying for some grant money to help, and I've started a Donor's Choose project which I hope gets funded.  Both will help add books and shelving for the library.

I can't wait to share with you in the fall how much my students are reading!

Here is the Wish List.
Here is the Donors Choose project.

Further Reading:
Statement on Classroom Libraries NCTE
Building a Classroom Library: Help! (SIGIS 5/7/18)
There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205 (SIGIS 5/11/18)
M205 Library Update: You Guys ROCK! (SIGIS 5/14/18)
The Importance of a Classroom Library (Edutopia)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

100 Things to Do this Summer


What to do?  Here's my plan:

1. Sit in the swing under the magnolia tree with my morning coffee and listen to the quiet.
2. Turn off all alarm clocks.
3. Attend the Sunflower festival in Gilliam. Note: bring a camera.
4. Memorial Day observance at Northwest Louisiana Veteran's cemetery on May 28 and then at       Greenwood Cemetery on May 30th.
5. Spend the day floating on Cross Lake and the 2018 Floatilla (June 16).
6. Clean out closets.  Mercilessly.
7. Continuous yard work and flower bed maintenance.
8.  Spend an entire day in the hammock with a good book.
9. Walk down to the Round Bar and have a craft beer on the deck.
10. Road trip to New Iberia to see Jefferson Island and eat at Clementine.
11. Go to Lester Farms in Coushatta and stock up on fresh veggies!
12. Sit outside and shell peas.
13. Sit inside and shell peas.
14.  Watch a lot of baseball.
15. Hit the estate sales, garage sales, and thrift shops for used books for my classroom library.
16. Walk down to Querbess Grill for breakfast and stay for lunch.
17. Take the top off the Jeep and drive.  Anywhere.
18. Catch a meteor shower.
19. Road trip to Iowa to see family and America's heartland.
20. Unplug.
21. Start work on new book project.
22. Day trip to Natchitoches to sit by the Cane River.
23. Volunteer at the animal shelter.
24. Visit the Little Free Library on the corner at least once a week.
25. Listen to Dave Matthews Band concerts on Periscope (Summer 2018 Tour).
26. Visit the local craft breweries.
27.  Tour the Spring Street Museum.
28.  See the Art Goes to War exhibit at Norton Art Gallery.
29. Clean out the garage.
30. Make a new Smash Book. (It's like a scrap book but smaller).
31. Sleep past 6:30 a.m.
32. Antique shopping.
33. Experiment with my camera and learn how to use it.
34. Paint the kitchen.
35. Flag Day at the American Legion: June 14
36. Catch up on reading my magazines and journals
37. Spend an afternoon at the Shreveport Water Works Museum.
38. Another trip to New Iberia to visit Vermillion Bay
39. See St. Francisville.
40. See A Raisin in the Sun at Eastbank Theater (May 31)
41.  Red River Balloon Rally: July 13
42. Tour Oakland Cemetery and learn about Shreveport's history.
43. Clean my Jeep, inside and out.
44. Replank the back deck.
45. Visit with neighbors.
46. Make a pitcher of sun tea with fresh mint.
47. Eat a tomato sandwich
48.  Visit the Louisiana State Exhibt Museum and those cool dioramas!
49. Lose ten pounds.
50. Hang out at the Elks swimming pool.
51.  Buy sunscreen.
52. Wear flip flops.
53. Don't put on makeup.
54. Eat street tacos from a food truck.
55. Plant sunflowers.
56. Plant moon flowers.
57. Turn on the sprinkler in the front yard.
58. Watch the cats sleep in the shade under the cars.
59. Sit on the deck in the twilight and listen to the cicadas.
60. Go to a movie - one with recliners.
61. Shop the sales in the scrapbook section at Hobby Lobby.
62. Cross stitch.
63. Hand write letters.
64. Buy some sidewalk chalk and draw fish on the driveway.
65. Try yoga.
66. Listen to podcasts. (S-Town was great!)
67. Annual summer re-reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.
68. Clean out the freezer.  There's some scary stuff in there.
69. Walk to the Cub for Hamburger Wednesday.
70. Sit at a table by the window at LSUS Library and read in the quiet.
71. Walk the LSUS campus and catch Pokemon.
72. Paint the back patio slab and get some new patio furniture.  Maybe a plant.
73. Watch crepe myrtle flowers fall like watermelon colored rain onto the grass.
74. Open the windows during a summer thunderstorm.
75. Eat a banana fudgesicle from the ice cream truck.
76. Strawberry-lemonade Happy Belly's!
77. Take walks around the neighborhood (see No. 49).
78. Keep my blog updated and active.
79. Clean windows, inside and out.
80. Keep sharing my Amazon Classroom Library Wish List.
81. Eat an ice cold watermelon.
82. Drink fewer sodas and more infused water.
84. Bathe the dogs.
85. Repaper my kitchen shelves.
86. Clean out the pantry.
87. Grill outside.
88. Make a scrapbook.
89. Hang twinkly lights on the deck.
90. Light a citronella candle.
91. Burn sparklers on July 4. Put out the flag.
92. Bake a pineapple upside down cake.
93. Drive Route 66 through Oklahoma; stop at every cool spot and take a picture.
94. Watch cows.
95. Read Eudora Welty stories.
96.  Make shrimp salad with fresh Gulf shrimp. Put in a fresh tomato.
97. Walk the dogs.
98. Try a Mint Julep Daiquiri from Tony's.
99. Mop the floors.
100. Take a nap.

Monday, May 14, 2018

M205 Library Update: You Guys ROCK!

An armful of packages
At 2:20 today my classroom phone rang.  It was the secretary in the office.

"Uh, Mrs. Becker?  You have a whole lot of packages down here ...from Prime."

I bolted down the stairs and almost ran to her office to find an armful of wonderful, glorious packages!

I gathered them all up and went back to my room and just stared at them for a few moments, saying a silent prayer of thanks for all of you fabulous, beautiful, generous people who have reached out to me with books suggestions, questions, and gifts!

Then I started opening them.

You guys rock!

Almost every package had two or more books inside, and the notes!  The notes are great!  I loved this one:

Your notes are terrific!

I am seriously moved to tears by what people are doing to help me build this classroom library.  And these notes are encouraging me to stick with this and reaffirm that I'm doing the right thing with this library project.

Is it rebellion against Common Core which has stripped novels from my curriculum?  Absolutely.  But mostly the project originated in the belief that my students will fall in love with reading again with the right encouragement and with an engaging selection of books that are right in the classroom with them every single day.

This is what I ended up with today after ripping open all those packages:

Today's arrivals

I am simply overwhelmed.

And then when I got home there was one more that had come to my house!  (It had no note - I don't know who to say thank you to):

Who sent this?  Thank you!

I'm so glad I ordered these cards!  I'm going to have my readers check out their books so I can keep up with them.

Check it out!

And it looks like I'm going to have to get more shelving now which is beyond fabulous!

I could not be more excited about sharing these books with my students in August.  I'm going to use the summer to organize our library, set up the cards, stock the shelves, and will continue to gather books.  I'm going to change the shipping address to my home for the summer so that books don't get backlogged in the school mail over the summer.

I'm still open to suggestions if you know of something that needs to be added to my Wish List.  I'm updating that list daily.  You can either email me or leave a note in the comments.  And of course you can keep sending books! 

One way to really help is to share this project on your social media!

My first post on my project and its rationale is here, if you haven't seen it, and the second is here.

The Wish List is here.  And feel free, if you have a personal recommendation, to shop off the wish list.  I've gotten some great books from people who really enjoyed a book that I haven't thought of.  My students read anywhere from a grade 5 to a grade 12+ reading level.  I'm really targeting my lower readers but of course I want everyone reading.

Again, thank you from one very grateful teacher!

Friday, May 11, 2018

There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205

(This is a repost of the exact same post from a day or two ago; for some reason all the links disappeared and could not be fixed, so I just copied and pasted the entire post and for now anyway, the wish list links work, but I lost the comments.  Very strange).

This is the bookshelf in my classroom that is to be my classroom library.  I've culled most of the books from it that had pages falling out or missing covers.

Most of what is left is pretty dated, with a few exceptions.

wrote yesterday about my desire to create a classroom library with the hope of increasing literacy and my students' vocabulary.  I did an informal survey of all of my students and was shocked at how few of them read outside of school or can even remember or discuss the last book they read outside of school for the simple enjoyment of reading.

Under the Common Core curriculum, students no longer read entire novels in class; we only read selected chapters or non-fiction articles.  Along the way, students have fallen out of love with reading.  Most of them tell me that they used to read in elementary school but just stopped.

I want my students to be life long readers, not just test takers, so it's important to me that I can offer them a book to read just for fun that is engaging and that might grow their enthusiasm about reading.

We do have a terrific school library, but I think that a classroom library sends a message to a student that literacy and reading is important.  Some students will never take the time to go browse the school library but they might pick up a book in a classroom library, particularly if the teacher highlights some of those books and encourages students to read.

I need to fill these shelves with some new books so that when school starts in August I'll have a terrific classroom library to offer my students.

To fill these shelves I've created an Amazon wish list.  I'm still adding to it, but I want to share it with you in the hope that we can stock these shelves and fill them with engaging, interesting books for my students by August.  
In fact, I hope I have to bring in more shelves!
I'm including links for some of the books below in case you'd rather not go to the wish list.
And if you can't send us a book today, please share this post or the list.  If enough people see this then I know people will help!
The students of M205 thank you, and I thank you!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Building a Classroom Library: Help!

"What was the last book you read outside of school -- something you read just for fun?  And if you don't like to read, why not?"

That was my First Five for my grade 10 ELA students today.

I've been doing a lot of reading and research this past year on literacy, curriculum, and how reading affects test scores.  It's no secret that Louisiana has consistently placed near the very bottom of the list when it comes to reading scores as compared on a national level.

There are a lot of factors that go into those national scores, such as NAEP scores, and it's not really accurate to say that all students in Louisiana are poor readers.  That is far from the case. But for clarity, in this post, I'm looking at those poor readers. Many of them come from low income families who don't have books in the home, or are products of families where nobody has had time to read aloud to the children very often.

As a parent of two avid readers, I was reading to both of my kids before they were even born.  As infants they were read to every single day.  They've never seen me not reading at least one book and our house has always been filled with books and magazines.  It's just who I am.

But that's not the case for many of my students.

Compounding the problem for these struggling readers is the Common Core curriculum in which students no longer read entire novels.  I've written about that rather extensively here, here, and here.  As teachers, we have been told that if a student wants to read the entirety of a novel from which we are only teaching certain chapters, "they can read it on their own."

Well, that's okay for a strong reader, but I know a lot of struggling readers who will not be able to take on the elements in The Scarlet Letter without some help, nor would it be a book they would willingly pull off the library shelf.

Additionally, there is a difference between academic reading for class and simply reading for the pure fun of it.

What I want to be able to do is to create life long readers; I want my students to leave my class having read several books of their own choosing, about topics that they are interested in, and that they are excited about reading.

And since my mandate is that they "can read on their own," I'm going to start a classroom library.  Oh yes, we have a school library and it's wonderful.  We have a librarian who orders books kids like to read and she listens to their requests and suggestions.  But I also think that a classroom library can supplement that. And a student that might not make an effort to go to the school library might just access a classroom library.

Having a library in the classroom sends a message of literacy and encourages reading to students.  If that library is filled with nice, interesting books, just waiting to be read, even better. I want my classroom library to be filled with books that my kids want to read and that are geared toward their interests and their lives.

In response to my First Five question above, about the last book you read, I got answers like this:

"I can't remember the last book I read.  I hate staring at thousands of words and sitting still that long.  I hate reading!"

and this:

"I don't know. I think it was a Goosebump book.  I don't have time to read."

and this:

"I love to read books and I used to read all the time.  I don't really know why I don't read any more.  You can learn so much when you read."

That student is right.  Reading can drastically increase a child's vocabulary.  That in itself will increase test scores, but this isn't about test scores for me.

A lot of the responses indicated that they liked reading in lower grades but somehow just quit doing it.

I don't want one more child to leave my room not having read a book.

So, I have a plan.  I've assembled an Amazon Wish List to start a classroom library and as this school year draws to a close, I am planning new things for next year.  If I can't teach books in class, I'll do it out of class.  I have plans to encourage students to read from my classroom library and to share what they've read with others.  If I need to use incentives to get this started, I will.  (A kid will read almost anything for a honey bun!)  I have shelving and I have a corner space ready to go.  It will be attractive and inviting.

I want this to be a fun experience; not like the old Accelerated Reader program where you had to read a book "on your level" with the proper color sticker on it and then take a ridiculous test on it to step your way up to a quota.  Research shows that this program is useless.  Kids that like to read will read anyway and kids that have to read to get an AR grade just learn to hate reading more.

With your help, I can establish a wonderful, enticing classroom library.  Every student that enters my room will have access to good books.

I've started an Amazon Wish List and if you would like to help, you can go here, and order whatever you like and have it shipped straight to my classroom.  I've already started assembling books on my own through thrift stores and through the library book sales and the college book fair.  What I need now are nice, new books that pull my kids into a love of reading!

The list is here.  It's long and I'm constantly adding to it.  I hope that you will pick something to send to us that perhaps you enjoyed reading yourself. Additionally, any cash donations to the PayPal link in the sidebar will be used for this library.

And if you can't donate anything right now, please share this, or the list, to your social media and with your friends.  I know people will help; I've seen it happen.  When something is this important, people will help.

Further Reading:
The Importance of a Classroom Library
NCTE Statement on Classroom Libraries
Building a Diverse Classroom Library
The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader
Mission Accomplished!  (Accelerated Reader)
How to Stop Killing the Love of Reading
Education Report Card Shows Common Core Still Fails US Students
Does Common Core Hurt Minority Students the Most?
Louisiana Drops in Latest NAEP Report Card

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Caddo Parish Set to Name New Animal Services Director

Caddo Parish Animal Services
In early 2015 I attended the trial of Gabriel Lee at the Caddo Parish Courthouse; Lee was eventually convicted of animal cruelty for his abandonment of the dog Braveheart in a storage locker.  One of the witnesses in that trial was a Caddo Parish Animal Services investigator named Travis Clark.  Mr. Clark was instrumental in getting Mr. Lee to jail and in getting him to surrender ownership of Braveheart so he could be saved.

Mr. Clark worked at Caddo Parish Animal Services from 2008 - 2015, and then moved away to work as Supervisor at the animal shelter in Stockton, California.  Clark left his family and friends here in Shreveport because he wanted to advance his training, complete his degree, and expand his skill set, probably with an eye to eventually becoming Director of Caddo Parish Animal Services.  His work in Stockton has given him valuable experience. 

It appears that this might be about to come to fruition.  Rumor has it that Mr. Clark will be the new CPAS director.  Not everyone in the rescue community here is happy about this but most that I have talked to are thrilled.

Caddo Parish Animal Services has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in the past few years for various reasons, and while there are still many problems, it does appear that some changes have been made.

Because of the demands of outraged citizens who truly want a better shelter, there have been outside audits made, and now auditors are auditing the auditors to ensure that when Parish Administrator Woody Wilson says that the shelter is using PetPoint, for example, they really are.  Another huge step in the right direction is the new partnership with Erica Falbaum, founder of PEP!, a very active and important outreach program about responsible pet ownership.  Mr. Wilson also reported in February 2018 that the parish is working with Best Friends Animal Society who will review shelter operation.  Wilson's report can be found in the February 5 minutes of the Commission work session; he goes into more detail about positive steps toward shelter operation.  For the most part, a lot of it is just words, but some of it is really happening.

Caddo Parish Animal Services is an open-intake municipal shelter which means that it is part of local government and we all know that government moves slowly.  Any steps toward the positive are welcome. We are not where we need to be, but there is progress.

One of the items that Mr. Wilson addressed at that February work session was to begin the search for a new director for the shelter; Kelvin Samuel has been serving as interim director since Chuck Wilson resigned in November 2017.  Since Wilson's resignation, many in the animal rescue community have had fingers crossed and lifted silent prayers for the return of Travis Clark.

Going away card for Travis Clark by Shreveport animal community, 2015

Mr. Clark has been a popular figure with many in the local animal community.  While his appointment has not been officially announced, the signs are there that he may be tapped as the new director.  He has resigned his job in Stockton and is in the process of moving home to Shreveport.  In interviews with local media, Mr. Wilson has said that his pick for director would be announced very soon and that the person is currently returning to the area.  It isn't hard to add this up.

It is my belief that Mr. Clark will be a welcome appointment by most in the animal community here and it is widely believed that he will do a good job.  As evidenced by his decision to leave CPAS in 2015, some believe that part of his motivation was to get away from untenable circumstances at the shelter that he was powerless to change.  That distancing, coupled with the fact that he could position himself to become an attractive candidate to lead CPAS by working and training in Stockton, could have been a very smart move.

The rescue and adoption statistics for the Stockton shelter under Mr. Clark's tenure look very good.  The euthanasia rate is steady at about 16% and the adoption and the rescue rates are in the 30 to 35% range.  As an open-intake municipal shelter of course there will be some euthanasia rates: it's not a no kill shelter, but with Caddo's euthanasia rate well north of 60%, the numbers in Stockton look pretty good.

Stockton Animal Services 2017

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.  Any incoming director would need to continue the working relationship with PEP! and also develop other community programs like adoption events, PetPoint implementation, a well-trained and compassionate staff, a modern, updated website, funding for medical needs, and a strong volunteer and rescue program.

Perhaps Mr. Clark is the man for the job.

There is no question in my mind that he cares about animals.

Bo Spataro (owned by Braveheart) says Mr. Clark is "an intelligent, respectful, and driven person" who will likely work to turn around public perception of the shelter and who will work closely with the rescue community.  "I think he will do very well and plan on actively supporting him," Spataro said.

Travis Clark
There are those who will not be happy with the choice of Mr. Clark if for no other reason than that he has the approval of Woody Wilson, but in truth, I don't think Wilson cares one iota about the shelter; I think he cares about Woody Wilson and doesn't want the pressure of an outraged public on his doorstep.

It has been the citizens of Caddo Parish who have fought for change at Caddo Animal Shelter through countless appearances at meetings, letters to commissioners, interviews with news media, public protests, and meetings with local politicians.  We have been the voice for change.  We have insisted upon it.  We have not backed down.  And now change is here.

If Travis Clark is tapped for the job, as I believe he will be, then we need to support him.  We need to line up at the door to volunteer at the shelter.  We need to marshal donations for whatever he needs from blankets to money.  We need to organize transports for rescue animals, volunteer at adoption events, wash kennels, and maybe even help set up an inviting adoption room at the shelter.  Whatever he needs we need to step up and lend a hand.

We have screamed for change and now change is coming.  Let's be part of the solution and not perpetuate the negativity. 

Let's give him a chance, but most of all, let's give him some help.

Further Reading:
Problems at Caddo Animal Control Continue (SIGIS, Oct. '17)
Stockton Animal Shelter Statistics
Caddo Parish Commission Minutes access
PEP! Education Outreach
Caddo to begin searching for new director (KSLA, Feb. '18)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Raising Reading Scores and NAEP: We Can Only Go Up

I've been thinking about my students a lot lately; more so than usual, after looking at the latest NAEP scores which I wrote briefly about here.

To recap, Louisiana is once again at the bottom, or near bottom, of the list.  In reading, only 25% of our students are "proficient." We are tied at 48 with Mississippi; New Mexico is ranked 50 at 24%.

This really bothers me.

So, what does that score mean?  What, exactly, is "proficient?"

Proficient is defined this way:
When it comes to reading, eighth-grade “students performing at the Proficient level should be able to provide relevant information and summarize main ideas and themes,” says NCES. “They should be able to make and support inferences about a text, connect parts of a text, and analyze text features. Students performing at this level should also be able to fully substantiate judgments about content and presentation of content.”
About the same time I started fretting about the NAEP results, I came across this article on the Cult of Pedagogy blog urging teachers to "stop killing reading."

And in that article, the author referenced a book called Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, which I immediately ordered and have now read.

Gallagher's book was so on point I kept highlighting passages and sharing them with colleagues.

In my twenty-three year career I've seen more than a few kids who don't like to read, have never voluntarily read a book, and have no idea where the school library is.  I may not ever turn those kids into bookworms who read three books a week, but at least I have always been able to get them to admire the artistry and message of To Kill a Mockingbird or to relate themes in The Great Gatsby to the real world around them.

Sometimes that admiration is grudging, but it always comes.  It has been one of the highlights of my teaching career to see that light bulb go off over a kid's head when he grasps the symbolism of Mrs. Dubose's camellias or Atticus's shooting of Tim Johnson, the rabid dog.  If you've never seen that happen, that light bulb thing, it's amazing and it warms you all over to know that something great has just rattled the brain cells in that kid and a new understanding of the world around him has occurred.

Maybe I'm overstating it, but I don't think so.

I think Kelly Gallagher advocates for student readers and for teaching the classics quite admirably in his book when he writes:
"When every student in the country reads Romeo and Juliet, it means we all acquire a shared cultural literacy, a sharing that is foundational if we, as a culture are going to be able to communicate with one another."
And earlier in the book, he points out that "Reading Animal Farm is not simply an unusual trip to an English farm; Orwell's classic presents our students with the opportunity to discuss what happens when a citizenry fails to pay attention to its leadership."  It makes students think about the world around them.

The ironies with Fahrenheit 451 are obvious, right?  (But how will kids today know that?  They only read parts of this novel, if at all).

Gallagher's point is that the classic novels we teach in school provide opportunities for students to "rehearse" real world situations and ideas, an opportunity to become wiser under the leadership of a teacher.

It's a valid point.  But beyond the classics, he argues, we also need to provide opportunities for students to read for fun.  Many, many students do not read for the pure enjoyment of getting lost in a book and this is especially true with our underprivileged kids or children that come from impoverished homes.  They come to us with what Gallagher refers to as "word poverty" and spend their entire educational experience trying to catch up.

Why wouldn't we give them every opportunity to do so?

Because we are teaching the test. That's why.

There.  I said it.

Go back to those NAEP results.  We spend all of our time now putting articles and passages in front of students like those that they will see on a test.  We inundate them with multiple choice questions.  We highlight and close read and analyze and use sticky notes and we fill out graphic organizers, we analyze some more, we pick and pick and prod and well, it's no wonder that kids begin to hate to read.

We don't give them "books" any longer, we give them "chunks of text."

We don't give them the freedom to read as long as they wish ("If they want to read the entire novel they can do that on their own, outside of school!").  Instead, we give them chopped up passages to endlessly analyze. Where's the fun?  Where's the engagement?  Where's the love in that?

Gallagher talks about this practice a great deal in his book and its worth your time to read it if you're concerned at all about what Common Core and endless test prep is doing to kids.

The bottom line is that we really should be more interested in creating lifelong readers in our students.  They will carry a love of books and reading forever, long after that test score is gone.

Do we really want a generation of kids who have read nothing but passages and articles?

Imagine a world where cultural references such as "Beware the Ides of March!" are meaningless!  Or "Stay gold, Ponyboy...stay gold."  It breaks my heart to turn my sophomores out into the world never having encountered Mayella Ewell or Atticus Finch.  To Kill a Mockingbird is now "summer reading" in our district for freshmen and The Grapes of Wrath is "summer reading" for sophomores.  Imagine the loss at tackling either of those on your own as a young teenager!

Some districts know that they will likely never return to reading full novels in class again.

Instead, under Common Core, (which in Louisiana is called Louisiana Believes), students read selected chapters of books, or articles about books.  In tenth grade, for example, you read only the Prologue of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and then lots of articles about ethics.

You get the idea.

It's my belief, and I believe there is science and data (that ever present golden key - data) - to back me up, that kids who read a lot are better writers and have a much more developed vocabulary.  They are more rounded.  They are better equipped to deal with the unknown.  So, teach a kid to read for fun, and you've created something truly wonderful and given that kid a lifelong gift.

Is that enough to raise NAEP scores?  Probably not.  There are a lot of other factors that go into those scores: poverty, parental involvement, technology access, life-trauma, environment, etc.  Those scores reflect a whole plethora of factors beyond reading comprehension.

But hey, we've got no place to go but up.  Let's bring reading back into the curriculum.  And I mean reading fiction (we currently read about 75% non-fiction in grade 10 ELA), long books, novels, not just "chunks of text" or Xeroxed passages.  We need to give kids time to read IN SCHOOL and not just on their own.  What tenth grader can truly grapple with  The Grapes of Wrath without some help?!

My bottom line:  Kids need time to read, time without having to organize, annotate, highlight, determine this or that - just time to read to get lost in the pages.

Do that, and I guarantee we will have smarter kids; now, whether the test scores reflect that or not is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, as they say.