The Three R’s – Reflect, Recharge, Reset

The best part about a new semester is the opportunity to reflect on the things that went well from the prior semester and the things that need a bit of tweaking  It’s the chance to recharge our teaching batteries, and best of all, the opportunity to press the imaginary “reset” button.  With all this in mind, Megan and I plopped ourselves down at a table and set to work.

Image (The organized chaos)

Reflecting on the semester, we realized there are things we want to change, things we moved away from that we wanted to reign back in, and things we wanted to start.  So.. we set to work revamping, re-familiarizing  and reconfiguring – a whole new set of “r’s.”

By lunch, we had revamped our Readers’/Writers’ WorkshopModel.  Following Donalyn Miller’s structure, we modified her model to fit our own needs.  We are both pretty flexible, and realize that we may not always be able to stick to the schedule (insert hopes for a weather related two-hour delay versus school cancellation here), but are happy with the template we have in place.  (We’d better be anyway, since Megan made me print it twice AND laminate it!)

We also re-familiarized ourselves with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s article “Engaging the Adolescent Learner.”  (Side note: if you haven’t read this article yet, it is a must read for any teacher looking to include collaborative activities with their students.  Just search the article title and you’ll find it.)  We designed lessons that emphasize the gradual release of responsibility and include collaborative activities.  Megan and I were fortunate to attend the Fisher Institute this past summer and spent three amazing days learning from Fisher and the teachers at the Health Sciences High & Middle College in San Diego.  What we learned had such a profound impact that Megan made us “What Would Doug Do?” posters to keep us inspired.

We dug into Curriculum Companion, a model for Common Core implementation, and combined numerous modules in order to address the necessary standards before the end of the year.  Next up – a book club unit that mixes both fiction and nonfiction revolving around various periods in history, leading into mini-research projects about a historical event… and all of this done before our 11:30 lunch break — can we say #feelingaccomplished!?!

Monday (weather permitting) we hit the Reset button – we add to the teaching we’ve done, the learning our students have achieved, and continue to grow with our students. And that… that is enough to recharge this teacher’s batteries!



And the winner is…

Happy Friday!

I have been extremely luck this year to have received free money to help build my classroom library. One of these opportunities came from BookSource. I attended a seminar with Chris Lehman, and as part of that seminar you were able to submit a short essay explaining what you would do with $250 from BookSource. I was floored when I was announced as a winner!! Our books came shortly after the holiday break, and kids were beyond anxious to get their hands on them. What to do with high-demand titles? Well, thanks to the phenomenal Donalyn Miller, I was able to solve this problem fairly. The answer: book raffles! 

Students can enter the raffles for as many books as they are interested in. Usually, when it’s just 1 or 2 books, students must be present to win – the drawing is held after school. However, on a day like today when we have about 18 books, that rule is suspended. There is a benefit to being here for the drawing though: you get your hands on your book right away, and if you are selected for more than 1 book, you can choose which one you’d rather have. Students get the book for 1 week. At the end of the week, the book comes back to me and is re-raffled. The student can enter the raffle again if they would like.


Book raffles set up and ready for students.

They LOVE the raffles! It builds excitement about books and reading, and it’s great to hear kids talking about the books they want to read and what they hope they get. Their TBR lists are growing, and they are recommending more books to each other. This is something that is really helping to grow our reading community and build excitement for reading in our room.

Have a great weekend!


Grand Experiments…

Composing in my head is way easier than it is on paper!  But, as the new year kicks off, I’ll set the mini-goal of blogging at least once a week.  I figure if I put it out there, I can rely on Bahr and our followers to keep me accountable.

Reading – Megan aka “Bahr” is beating me…for now. {insert sinister laugh}  Here’s the thing – I am not an overly competitive person by nature.  Do I like to win, sure.  However, I, unlike someone I know, do not get all twitterpated if I fall behind.  So for my own amusement, I like to keep myself ahead of Bahr in the reading goal in order to see her reaction.  Someone has to keep her on her toes.

That being said, I have read 40 books this school year.  This is a huge accomplishment for me!  Even though I love reading, a family with three young children means that I don’t read much beyond picture books and beginning chapter books!  My goal for the end of the year is 60 books.  Right now I am in a lull figuring out what to read next — I have huge (and when I say huge, I mean stacks upon stacks, afraid to move things because they might bury me alive) To-Be-Read pile, but I’m struggling to figure out which one to dig into.  Sigh… #readerprobs.

Our literacy lockers (not our own idea, but taken from a variety of places) are our visual representation of what we’ve read this school year.  I’m not sure why Bahr feels the need to make her book covers so huge — perhaps because she knows in the long run I will decimate her?  🙂

Image             Image

“The Grand Experiment,” as we are lovingly calling it, began this week.  Bahr is 100% correct that while we share a brain, we have distinctly different teaching styles.  I believe this is why we work so well together – ying and yang, peanut butter and jelly, flip and flop.  We compliment each other nicely.
The downside thus far — we’ve had 4 months of conditioning our students to our personalities and now we’ve thrown them a curveball.  There are students that we each need to build relationships with to make our grand experiment successful.  As one of Bahr’s students said “I don’t think Mrs. Seiler likes me, she yells a lot.”  And as Bahr correctly answered — “Mrs. Seiler isn’t yelling, she just has a voice that projects.”  Ummm….. can we say understatement of the year?  I also seem to work well the the “sassy and sarcastic” whereas Bahr does well with the quiet and understated.

 I’m not sure where the grand experiment is going to take us… perhaps a step closer to knocking down the wall between our classrooms, or perhaps to the land of failed ideas…wherever we wind up, it will be an adventure for this duo!

All the noise, noise, noise!

Hello! 2014 is off to a rather rockin’ start on Morningside Drive. I hope your holiday season was great, and you were able to recharge your batteries a bit. Our semester is winding down – this is students’ last week to turn in any missing work or reassessments, and some are frantically working to increase their grade. It’s amazing how the end of the semester does that. 🙂

I must say, I’ve been on a bit of a roll in my reading the past couple of weeks. I’ve been devouring book after book, and loving every second. Some books have been on my TBR list for awhile (The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – AMAZING!), some are by authors I’ve enjoyed previously (Where She Went by Gayle Forman – loved it! currently reading Just One Day), and some were titles that just looked good (Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne). So far, my count for the year is 44 books. 

Last week, Jenny and I realized we’re facing the same struggle in one of our classes. Our last block of the day, we each have a relatively small class (Jenny has 19 kids, I have 17.). This is great theoretically, but we were having the problem of students being a little too comfortable. As in “We do what we want, when we want!” comfortable. I know I was ready to pull my hair out, and I don’t think Jenny was far behind.

Then, Jenny had an idea. A grand, fantastic, experiment of an idea. Why not combine our two classes and co-teach? We have the physical space for 36 students, and with the two of us…it’s worth a try. So, we talked with our fabulous principal and got the official go-ahead, and we launched it this week. Naturally, there were lots of questions on Monday – many of them were concerned about whether or not they’d have access to both libraries. 🙂 Such sweet things to wonder about. We addressed the questions, and got to work.

There hasn’t been a lot of “instruction” so to speak at this point, so I’m curious to see how things are going to grow and progress with the crew. We are on a two week trial right now, and are going to re-evaluate next week Friday to see what our thoughts are. It’s going to take the kids a bit to adjust (and us too!), but I’m hoping it will be a positive thing. Even though Jenny and I share a brain, our teaching styles are definitely different – and it’s going to be good to expose the kids to that in this way. Plus, if it goes well, that’s all the more support for knocking down our wall, right? Right. 

Well…at least we can dream about that last piece…


Diving In….finally

I’m sitting at the keyboard, writing, revising, deleting, writing, deleting, repeat…repeat…repeat…

This is my first attempt at a post on our blog – Megan may fall out of her seat with shock when she sees it — but it is that time of year where we reflect on the past 12 months and make resolutions and promises for the months to come.  I’ve been stuck for awhile, as my plans, my great big grandiose plans (see the June 10 post), came to screeching halt on June 13, and it has taken me quite a while to get myself back on course, and I can’t say that I’m fully there yet.  I am incredibly lucky to have the support system I have and even luckier to have the most amazing teaching partner.  

Megan has talked about many things that we’ve been doing, including our professional readings.  I’ve been so fortunate to attend some amazing professional development, and each time I’ve been invigorated and inspired to try new things in the classroom.  Usually this means that I somehow cause our collective heads to explode due to any number of reasons, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish during the rest of this school year, as well as in the future, and here a few simple things that I keep coming back too – they’re not all new revelations, but more of a promise to keep them in the forefront – and they’re probably not going to make our heads explode… much.

1. Keep the kids at the forefront, because everything we do is truly for and about them.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day frustrations of the job, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to what difference did I make today?

2. Develop a community of writers so our students see themselves as writers, not just kids doing the work the teacher says they need to do.  I need to be better at being a writer myself.  If I want them to overcome their fears, then I have to overcome mine.

3. Continue to develop our community of readers.  I feel this is one of our strengths – Megan and I are readers, although I am not always as avid as I would like to be.  Our requirement of our students is that they read each night for 20 minutes, a guideline I must remember to follow myself, even as life gets hectic.

Three simple things, right?  Slow and steady, deep breaths, and one heck of a friend and teaching co-conspirator to travel the road with.



It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas?

How is it possible that it is December 11? This is mind-boggling to me! I told my students I feel like we’ve been in school 3 weeks, not 3 months. (Okay, fine, yes – there are days it seems like 3 years and not 3 months if I’m being totally honest.)

Our kiddos are finishing up their personal narrative writing. Their 6 word memoirs turned out fabulous! It is amazing to se the insights that some of them offered with this writing project. Some were funny: “Forget sleep. I am going hunting!” “Life’s like a fart: stinks” “Girls be like oh my gosh” Some were inspiring: “Life is a huge Kodak moment” “Life is beautiful. Don’t waste it.” “No matter how bad, stay strong” Some were heart-wrenching: “Soldier dying, children crying, horrible war” “Deeper I think, more I cry” “Feeling trapped in our society today”

The kids really enjoyed doing the memoirs, and are frequently stopping to check them out at our Student Spotlight board. Seeing them interact with each other and discuss the memoirs with each other is so awesome to see and hear.

We’ve been deep in the throes of book studies in our professional reading – we’ve tackled Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman & Kate Roberts and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. These books are really helping us re-focus and re-evaluate what we have going on in our classrooms. The goal is to do some work and make some our classroom more streamlined and efficient with our workshop models over Christmas break and re-launch in January. Both of these books have been phenomenal!! If you read nothing else, you NEED to grab these and read them stat!

We also went to go see Chris Lehman speak at UW-Madison a couple of weeks ago. Talk about an awesome night!! Hearing him speak and learn from him was an awesome opportunity, and I was able to learn so much. Not only that, but I was lucky enough to win $250 from BookSource for our classroom library!!! Thank you SO MUCH to Chris and BookSource for this awesome way to get books into the hands of kids!

Something we’re geeking out about: the awesome desk/workstation our principal just got. This thing is awesome. It’s a square hunk of counter top that you could stand at, or use barstool-height chairs at. It would be perfect for conferencing/working with students and doing small group instruction. As someone put it (can’t remember who), it’s the middle/high school version of a kidney table. Jenny and I are hoping that we can get something like that someday…maybe right around the time they knock our wall down? 🙂


Life in 6 Words

After today, I HAD to pop on and post a quick note about today. We kicked off narrative writing (LOVE) today, and I was wondering how kids were going to respond. The goal is to do more workshop-style classes during the unit, and we started today with 6 word memoirs. Oh my goodness! The kids ate it up! During work time, kids were furiously scribbling, crossing out, erasing, smiling, furrowing their brows, and finally, looking at their work with pride as they dipped their toes into memoir writing. It was so much fun to see, and filled me with so much great energy! I’m reasonably certain my 2nd block thinks I’ve completely lost my mind because I was so excited to write with them and introduce them to this unit. But that excitement went viral – I cannot wait to see their final selections for this type of writing tomorrow! One that stuck with me today: “Life is a blank canvas. Paint.” My jaw dropped. So beautiful.

As for my writing? I had a different theme for each block as I wrote. I went from running in block 1, moved to my wedding in block 2, and finished with travel in block 3. Of course, I forgot to write my block 1 narratives down…hoping they come back to me! To say I’m excited for tomorrow is putting it lightly. 🙂