Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Calendar Journals And Activities for YA Lit Unit

Cover on upside down!
I wrote last week about the novel unit that I was starting with my freshmen. Today will be day 6 of the unit so I thought I would write a little about it.

The first most important thing about the unit is choice. Students choose their own book.  I didn't have classroom sets of novels. I didn't give them a list of books to choose from. I didn't assign lit circles. They didn't have to choose a certain genre. The only requirement was it had to be "worthy" of them. Not something too easy (I'm pretty familiar with their reading levels). And it had to have some heft to it.  It needed to make them think.

They will read this young adult novel in fifteen days. They take the number of pages in the book, divide by fifteen and that's the number of pages they need to read a day.  Each day, after reading their pages in class, they have two things to do.

The first thing they do is fill out a calendar journal. Calendar journals was something a friend shared with me from Pinterest.  I adapted what I found on The Nifty Boutique site.  The page I used was a free download.  I did white out dinner at the bottom of each box and wrote in pages so that students had a place to record how many pages they read.
My first two calendar journal entries for The Scorpio Races

My purpose for the calendar journal is so they have a place to record questions/thoughts/summaries of what they read each day.  


You need to fill in the calendar every day. You can fill each square with a variety of things and you can change the activity each day. 
* write a sentence or two that summarizes what you read
* write what you think the most important word in the days reading was
* draw a picture that symbolizes your reading for the day
* ask a question about the day’s reading
* words or phrases you like or
* words or phrases you don’t understand

The activities that the kids do after they finish reading come from a variety of places. I've done this unit many times, with many different grade levels, so the activities have been changed up or reworded. I know that some I use come from Susan Finney. She presented a seminar in our district in 2003.  She has several books out that I use for reading activites. I'm sure if you google her, you'll find a list.

The activities this year are grouped into categories:  Plot, Character, Word/Style, Setting and Miscellaneous.  I wrote out more than fifteen questions so that students have a choice each day of what they want to do.  They have to do a certain amount of activities in each category, but they can choose which ones they want to do and when they want to do it. They complete the activities in a booklet they make the first day of the unit.

And that's really it. Students choose books, students read books, students think and write about books.
There will be a writing assignment after this. One of the genres freshmen are supposed to write about it a literary analysis. We'll see how that works out!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Super Teacher

I am super teacher.
         (Hear me roar)
I read 
        so I can share the good books
I write
        so I know the fear of the blank page struggle
I rehearse
        so they may know the sound of applause
I counsel
         because no one else will listen
I laugh
          and share the joy
I cry
          and share the pain
I correct
          so they learn the right way
I conference
           so their writing has meaning
I attend meetings No one else has time for
            because no one else cares enough to go


Doing to Much
Not Asking for 
Is the Kryptonite of the

Good Intentions are 
Not Enough

I dropped the ball
I'm sorry

Sunday, February 26, 2012

You Matter: An Open Letter to My Speech Kids

This has been a crazy year with you guys. I wasn't sure I could coach all of you alone, without a co-coach. But I am very protective of you. Not just anyone could step in and work with you, so I decided to give it a try.  I told you all you would have to step up and help me out. And you have. You've helped with the mundane tasks like filling out the letter point sheets, double checking the old sheets, and going over registration sheets and making sure I haven't left anyone out. 

Then came time for the real work of contest speech. 


At the beginning of the season, you "old timers" took the "newbies" and showed them how it's done. And you helped them. You didn't leave them out, or view them as competition.  You rehearsed with them, you gave them pointers, you cheered them on when it was time to perform.  

I saw teamwork with the large group events.  You didn't complain when I asked you to take "the freshmen" and make sure they got where they needed to go, with what they needed to have.  You hauled props, carried my box of essentials, and made sure everyone had a supportive audience. Even at state, when we had to leave at 4:30 in the morning so a couple of us could leave to go to Honor Band.

And then individual started.  42 events. Each needing to be rehearsed once a week. Not kidding you, I wasn't looking forward to it. 

But you know what. You stepped up again. From freshmen to seniors, you stepped up. 

You rehearsed each other!

Friday night amazed me.  You just took over the school. Rehearsals were everywhere. That's dedication (Ok, so it was also a little panic setting in. It stilled showed dedication). People came in to rehearse with me, sometimes not during their time. I was running late, but no one complained. You just kept practicing on your own until I could get to you. 

I just smiled at one point as I stepped into the hall. Amid the teasing and laughing and messing around, there was serious work happening.  I loved it.

Saturday came. 

And here is where the magic happened for me. I watched all of you throughout the day. (I know. Not your performances--it's impossible for me to get to them all). So, I walked the halls and haunted the gym. You made sure that your friends had a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, and a supportive audience. You took the others in your category and rehearsed with them. You calmed down the jitters. You fired people up. You watched as many people perform as you could. 

And you were there when the ratings came out. Judges can be tough. And I can say all the right words, but it's you who makes a difference.  You cheered for those who received Division 1's. They deserved it. Hard work pays off. 

But for those who didn't receive those ones, you were magnificent. Because sometimes, hard work doesn't pay off. You were indignant. You were astonished. You held hands. Gave shoulders to cry on. Talked quietly about performances. 

I have never been more proud of students in my life. Being a speech kid isn't always easy. I know sometimes you get teased about it. It takes a lot of dedication, self-confidence, and self-discipline. It takes heart and compassion.

I always talk about you as my "speech kids" (and you are my kids, you know). But calling you kids doesn't seem to be enough this year.  I looked up the word "team" this morning. Most of those definitions didn't seem to fit you either. Until I got to Wikipedia:

"A team comprises a group of people or animals linked in a common purpose. Teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.
A group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximise his/her strengths and minimise his/her weaknesses. Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.[1]
Yep--you are a team! And, you will, always and forever, be MY KIDS!

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Messy Business

It's a messy business
this thing called teaching.
Flying books, 
Soaring papers,
Mountains of papers to grade

Scrambled desks,
Kids on the floor,
Kids in the hall
(No kids climbing the wall, thank goodness)

Whispering kids,
Whining kids,
Writing kids,
Reading kids.
Kids who should be there,
and some who shouldn't.

Do real working classrooms ever 
Look like this?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

YA Novel Unit

Part of my classroom library
I cringed as I wrote the title of this blog. I always hated novel units as a student.  I hated them because either one book was assigned to the whole class with little consideration to tastes or interests, or there were a few to choose from, but only ones the teacher had read and deemed appropriate. The novel unit that stands out vividly to me is from my freshman year in high school. We were all assigned one of two books--Les Miserables or  The Red Pony. I have to admit, I ended up liking Les Miserables, but I know that most of the students assigned either one, hated them. 

I'm not so fond of how "The Novel" is taught to students today.

Pretty much nothing has changed.

But I'm trying.

I started a Young Adult Novel unit with my freshmen today.  Actually, it started a couple of weeks ago when I got new books (all the ones on my wish list!). And then again, last Thursday when I told kids what we were going to be doing and they started earnestly looking through my books.

"Can I read this one?"

"I want this one."

"What do you mean, it's not worthy of me?"

"Really, I can't read it again?"

I started piles of books with post-it notes of names. I began pulling books off the shelves that were good and needed to be read. I pulled books down as I thought of specific kids. I even ordered an Ellen Hopkins book that one of my girls wanted and I didn't have.  All in preparation for this week.

Yesterday was book choosing day.  If they hadn't already found one last Thursday, then Tuesday was the day. The books were flying around my room. At one point, a book was pulled out of someone's hand (kind of like Black Friday sales!).  They prepared their activity book, got directions for the journal calendar, and the activities they could choose from for each day's assignment.

My main goal is to get them to read a good book.  And if you've read my blog before, you know I believe in choice.  I want them to pick their own books.  My only requirement is that it is worthy of them.  I don't care what they read the rest of the year, but for this unit, I want them to read something with a little meat to it. Something that will make them think and feel. Something that will make them admit that they kind of like their book.

"Can we start reading our books today? Please?  Mine looks really good!"

And so it begins....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Read a few more slices at Two Writing Teachers
Better yet, join us and write your own!
My husband and I took a much needed breather over the four day weekend and traveled to Wisconsin to see his sister and her husband. Getting away was not without its obstacles, but we managed it. It is so wonderful to be able to spend time with family and not have the family drama!  We did nothing special, just enjoyed each other's company.

On Saturday, two of their grandsons came to spend the night with them, as both parents had to work overnight shifts.  Greg and I really enjoyed this since there were only two. Before you laugh, remember, usually there are so many people around when we are all together that we don't really get to enjoy the kids. With only two hanging out with us, we got to visit and talk and be entertained (Trust me. The Lady Gaga song was entertaining--as were the songs they made up)! Chloe got a kid fix, which she always needs.  We couldn't help but laugh as she licked them til they giggled!

We decided to take a trip to the Goodwill store (see how low key this trip was!) The kids were excited. They could pick out something to get "if it was worth it and wouldn't break before the afternoon was up".  I was excited--used books for the classroom. My husband was excited--he loves a bargain.  Off we went.

We split up and headed to our respective areas.

The boys found hula hoops.  The entertainment began.  Around their necks and around their waist. Those hula hoops were moving!  Of course, those had to go home. Later, hula hooping in the living room while playing catch with the football sounded like a good idea, but Grandpa quickly put the kabosh on that!

Greg found a game he'd always wanted. I found a lot of books to take back to school. Success.

Game night followed. First, the game Greg found Fact or Crap. Really, kind of a fun game. More guessing than anything. And the boys felt like they were being naughty since they can't use the word Crap at home.  They still didn't get to say it, but they did have the card!

Later we played Apples to Apples. Another fun one to play with kids.  Both of these will find their way into my classroom. Because they really make you think! And be creative in your thinking. Perfect for those days when students need a breather.

We left for home on Sunday...relaxed and ready to face the week ahead. And at least I got one more day to prepare myself for that!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shine by Lauren Myracle

I finished Shine by Lauren Myracle last week.  I've had a little time to digest it. It was one of those books that I liked, but wasn't sure I loved. But it sure did make me think.

Shine begins with a news article about the beating of a local boy, Patrick Truman.  He was beaten and left for dead at the gas station where he worked. Labeled a hate crime by the local sheriff, he is ready to blame the attack on gay-bashing out-of-towners.

But Cat, the former best friend of Patrick; Cat, with problems of her own; Cat doesn't necessarily agree with the sheriff. Cat believes the attack lies closer to home. She begins to investigate.  Her investigation leads he to many of the secrets of her close knit Southern town. Along the way, she deals with her own problems and finds herself again.

The story is about Cat, but for me, it was really about Patrick. Throughout this book I kept thinking about how horrible it must have been for Patrick to grow up in Black Creek...this small town in the South--although, truthfully, it could be a small town anywhere--even northeast Iowa. How did he handle the day to day living in this town? How did he deal with the prejudice disguised as religion? How did he face the face the comments about his sexuality? And how did he deal with all this from his  "friends" and the people who should have been standing up for him?  I want to hear from Patrick!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Smiling My Way To A 4 Day Weekend

Because of two nights of conferences this week, we have Friday off as a compensation day. Monday is President's Day and we have that off too.  Hallelujah! A four day weekend.  Time to relax and enjoy.

As I left about 6:00pm after rehearsals with some of my speech kids, I met a student coming down the hall. A student I have been working with off and on all year. He has lots going on in his life and school and homework are not at the top of his list of things to do.. He's failing several classes and he's much too smart to fail anything.  I check with him every day about work he has to do. Work he's missing. What he's going to work on in study hall.  I nag him.

"Hey. What are you doing back?" I laughingly ask.

A small grin appears on his face.

"I came back to get the stuff for my science poster so I can get it done this weekend."


I'm still smiling.

When Art Teachers Are Bored

We've had spring conferences the Monday and Tuesday nights (two twelve hour days in a row. UGH) At the high school level, spring conferences are notoriously slow.  They are better now that parents may schedule conferences online, but still, at this time of year, they are slow. Especially Tuesday night, when our boys basketball team had a big game out of town.  In four hours, I had five conferences. FIVE. I had one of the bigger nights. Some only had one or two. Some had none.

It was good for me because I crossed many things off my to-do list. I did, however, find a little time to check out Pinterest (everyone needs a little brain break!).  I found these really cute paper roses:

The art teacher down the hall from me saw them on my board. An email from her said, "I'm bored. Pick one."  There was a link

Directions for lots and lots of lovely paper flowers.  I didn't even have time to pick one before she showed up in my room with a couple made from a book page.

 Periodically throughout the evening, she would come in with another one. By the end of the night, I had received a lovely bouquet and a container to keep them in.

Gotta love bored art teachers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forgetting to Breathe

Want to read more slices. Head on over to
Two Writing Teachers!

I began this piece in Creative Writing. The first time in a long time I have written with my students. I thought it was going to be a normal Tuesday slice. I began to write--I was going to write about how I need to refocus on my OLW, Connect. But my words had a mind of their own, and this is what came out.  
Chaotic. Hectic. Crazy.
No time for anything
Reading drafts
Reading finals
Grading papers
Grading speeches

Forgetting to breathe.

Forgetting to take time to 
Forgetting to take time to
Enjoy the little things.
Forgetting to take time to
Tell my story.

No reading
No writing
No playing

Forgetting to breathe.

In the middle of a 
A mile long To-Do List

I took a breath.

It smelled of ink and paper,
New books,
the promise of an end in sight.

My eyes focused on
Little Things.
Whispers of collaboration
Smiles of pleasure over something

 I took another breath.

And began to tell my story.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Slice of Life

Writing for me was always a private act. I kept journals and diaries and wrote my life. I wrote poetry. I composed short stories and the beginnings of novels, sometimes in my head, sometimes on paper.

But I never, ever shared.

Until I joined the Slice of Life challenge last March.

Teaching writing for me was a private act. I assigned journal entries. I assigned poetry. I assigned short stories.

But they never, ever shared.

Until I joined the Slice of Life challenge last March.

I can honestly say I am a better writer and a better teacher of writers and readers than I was at this time last year. I take chances with my own writing and in my classroom that I wouldn't have taken before last year.  I encourage myself and my students to play around with words, to discover new genres, to build on their skills (thanks, Ruth for Discover. Play. Build.)

My personal writing is stronger because of the audience I write for.  My students' writing becomes stronger because of the audience they write for. Google Docs makes sharing easier, but it was Stacey and Ruth and the rest of the teachers I met through Two Writing Teachers that taught me the value of sharing, conferring and critiquing each other's work.

I am a better teacher and a better person because I write. I am much more reflective in my life. I am more honest about my life, both in and out of the classroom. I have grown as a human because I write.

18 days out, and I look forward to this challenge again. I look forward to seeing how this coming year will again change the way I write and teach. I look forward to new ideas.  I look forward to new ways of working with writers.

I look forward to seeing you. Join us. Take the plunge. Break out of your comfort zone. Try something new (Here's link to get your started! Gearing Up for the SOLSC).

March 1st. The Fifth Annual Slice of Life Challenge. Two Writing Teachers. Be there.

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."
William Wordsworth

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Christmas in February

A friend of mine happens to be the At-Risk coordinator in our district. A couple of weeks ago we were visiting in her office.  She was lamenting the fact that she had money to spend on books, but the teachers of the reading class that I taught last year hadn't given her a list of what they wanted.

I know why. They don't read. At least they don't read Young Adult novels.

I had a list in my head.

So, I did what any teacher who reads would have done. "I'll get you a list!  Put the books in my room and I'll make sure they get to the kids who need them."

"Get me a list."

Yahoo!  I began rereading posts of blogging friends who write about the books they read (special shout out to Christy of Reading Beyond the Middle).  We had a snow day on the day the ALA announced their awards, so I watched the webcast and followed along on Twitter.

My list contained great books. And yesterday, they arrived in my room!

"Mrs. Day, I've never seen anyone get so excited about a bunch of books."

While students worked on a project, I quickly entered the books on my inventory list. As I did this, slowly a few crept up to my desk and began looking through the piles. 

"Can I read this first?"

"I want this one."

"Ooo, this looks good."

"Put a post-it note on the one you want to read," I said, "and I'll do those first so you can take them home."

As a true reader, it was hard for me to send some of these out into the world before I had a chance to savor them. Come on. You know what I mean. But, I did let them go.  I made kids promise to take care of them, savor them, and bring them back to I could get them out quickly to others.

Merry Christmas! (And thanks again, Mrs. At-Risk. You rock!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Don't Wanna Write Either!

5:52pm. I've been home for about five minutes.

I was sick for five days. In those five days, five mountains of work piled up.

Creative Writing pieces to grade.  DONE

English 9 assignments to correct.

Speech outlines to look over.  DONE

Midterms are due at 8  DONE

My speech contest registration is due tomorrow.  DONE

45 Speech events to get rehearsed in five days.

Writing Curriculum work to do.

Three letters of recommendation to write Done

I don't wanna write. I don't have time.

Too much to do. Too little time.

But write I will, even with no time to think, because it's Tuesday and I must. It's part of me now. In one short year, writing has become an even  more important part of my life than it had been before. And because I took the time to write why I don't wanna (thanks, Ruth), I now have a plan of attack.

Later, Gator.  Must tackle the list!

Friday, February 3, 2012


I'm reading Stephen King's newest book 11/22/63--I've been reading it for several weeks and love it.  But this is a dense read. You know what I mean? It takes lots of stamina, lots of thinking, lots of connecting.

When movies are made of King's stories, he often appears in small, inconsequential parts. Little cameos.  I love to watch for him and see where he pops up. His books are often similar--especially this one. He throws in references and characters and settings from his other books.  Those references don't take away any enjoyment or understanding for those new to his books, but to those of us who've read them all, reading his books is like a treasure hunt. You must find the Easter eggs.

King creates his characters slowly and with care--even minor characters who would normally be overlooked and ignored. He creates worlds that require readers to suspend their disbelief and live vicariously through characters. He creates unbelievable situations and makes them so realistic, readers have to stop and remind themselves that's its all make believe.

11/22/63 is King at his finest. review
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination—a thousand page tour de force.

Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment—a real life moment—when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history.

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best.

3/17 I'm So Lucky

  I'm so lucky to have a birthday on St. Patrick's Day☘️ Everyone likes to celebrate my birthday (even if they don't like green ...