April Showers

Has it really been a month (okay fine…almost 2) since our last post? Dang. 

Needless to say, things have been pretty crazy. We’ve been juggling curriculum, teaching, tackling the groundwork for making a district change to standards based grading, assessing our kids, planning, figuring out next year’s plan, “real” life outside of school…you know, the usual stuff. 

While I adore spring (at least, from what I remember I do…still not sure if it’s going to actually be a season this year…), it is also a fairly chaotic time of the year. The end of the year is so close, but there’s so much to do before that point. We’re busting it to make sure our plans are keeping our kids engaged and with us, while still hitting the standards we need to hit. That’s the one good thing about the crummy weather – this would be so much harder if it was sunshiny and beautiful outside. 

On our teacher work day back in January, we planned out the rest of this year. Or so we thought. While we did get a lot of it done, we wound up making some switches and modifications to things. Here’s what we’ve been up to, and what’s ahead for us and our crew:

  • February: nonfiction text features leading into a book club unit centered on historical fiction and nonfiction texts, which then led into the students’ research projects 
  • March: close reading and Socratic seminar
  • April: poetry (hooray for National Poetry Month!) with some writing skills snuck in (hello conclusions!)
  • May: argument writing
  • June: wrapping it up – the kids are done June 10

The biggest shift from our planning day came with our March/April plans. When we were planning February, we wound up accidentally condensing our unit before we had planned to. It all worked out okay, but that meant trying to figure out what in the world to do in March and April. After our dystopian unit earlier this year, we knew that we were going to take our kids to see Divergent. That, and a conversation we overheard amongst our students, sparked our March idea.

We practiced close reading with different lenses in preparation for doing a Socratic seminar. Of course, we also had to teach the seminar skills. The topic of the seminar? Comparing and contrasting Tris and Katniss. The kids did a fantastic job with it, and we’re excited to do more seminars in the future.

After pushing them pretty hard in February and March, and knowing we have spring break interrupting April, we were on the hunt for something fun that would let the kids be creative while still teaching them the concepts they need to know. Enter Jenny’s brilliant idea of National Poetry Month. We’re three days in, and the kids seem to be enjoying it. They were a little intimidated at first, but the comfort level is definitely increasing. It will be fun to see them grow in terms of their writing skills throughout the month.

And then…it will be off into argument! I’m excited, and I think our kids are going to LOVE it. They’re a pretty opinionated group. 🙂



The Best Laid Plans

Happy Friday!

During our planning-palooza last Friday, I was all excited – for several reasons. 1, we did a lot of work and accomplished a lot of great things. 2, we set a blogging schedule. Jenny will write Sundays, and I will write Wednesdays. 

See what day it is? Yeah. #bloggingfail

See, here’s the thing. Sometimes, even the plans that we spend time hashing out and laboring over and trashing and replanning don’t happen the way we thought. Story of the week this week. The only thing you can do is pick up your exploded brain-bits, stuff them back in your head, and modify. You have to be flexible. Like a rubber band.

With our two cold days (there was much shaking of my fist at Polar Vortex, Part II, trust me), we had to do some rearranging of the calendar we so carefully laid out last week. This meant shuffling things a bit in order to allow us to still start our book clubs on Monday.

Our choices for this round of clubs.

The story of our lives this week was reading. Jenny and I each had 6-7 books to read so we could book talk them to our kids before they filled out their ballots with their top choices. Now, I LOVE reading, don’t get me wrong, but even this had me figuring out where I could steal reading minutes to make this happen. 

My stack of books. Lucky for me, I’ve already read 2.

My life was consumed with reading. And I have to say, I read some AMAZING books this past week. I love history and historical fiction, so this round of clubs is right up my nerdy alley. I’m excited for our kids to dive into their choices this next week and start sampling some of the phenomenal options we have for them. Hopefully, it will open their reading tastes a bit to something new. Not many of my kids choose to read nonfiction, nor historical fiction (trust me, my heart cries at this). 

This week was also very exciting in another way.

From left: my principal, representative from the Meemic Foundation, superintendent, me, director of curriculum, and assistant principal.

Several months ago, I applied for a grant through the Meemic Foundation to help purchase more books for our classroom library. I found just before Christmas break that I won! It’s hard to say who is more excited – my students or me. 🙂 Yesterday, a representative from the foundation came to do a formal check presentation. It was very exciting to be handed that big check. This next week, we’ll be working on making our shopping list with the hopes of ordering our books by Valentine’s Day. Amazon, here we come!!

This weekend, Jenny and I have to make our book club groups and plan out our mini-lessons for this unit. We’re going to be focusing on independent reading skills (more on that later) and vocabulary skills. It’s going to be a great weekend!



Treading Water

I am currently being serenaded by the sounds of students typing away on their final paper for our dystopian unit. Music to my ears? Almost. A sign of focused, determined students? Without a doubt. The kids are really working hard on this assignment, which with our modified standards-based grading, will be the equivalent of four test grades. I’m incredibly proud of them, as this was a huge undertaking. We broke it down for them into sections, and introduced one section at a time, which made the task more manageable for them (at least, that’s what it seems like to me, the casual observer).

Their paper is due tomorrow, and with the deadline brings the start of our next unit: narrative writing. You may want to look out your window, because pigs may actually be flying. Why? We are planned out through this week!!! This is very exciting, and it’s the first time it’s happened this year. I’m hoping we can use this momentum to keep propelling us forward. It’s nice to not feel that “WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY?!?!?!” in the morning.

Personally, I had a little bit of a freak-out last week. It was one of those moments where I was thinking about everything I have to do this year (Teacher Effectiveness, building goals, district goals, PDP for re-certification…plus, oh yeah, that wedding thing that’s happening in SIX MONTHS) and I hit overload. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to go down to my principal, share my freak-out, and get direction/feedback on what to prioritize. That conversation was immensely helpful. I’m feeling a bit better, although the PDP piece is kind of like a dark cloud hanging over my head. It will all get done, and all will be well.

Also…Thanksgiving is two weeks away…how and when did that happen??


Doggie Paddling

It’s October. Which is kind of crazy, because I’m not entirely sure where September went. This school year is very different from years past – for a variety of reasons. More days than not, Jenny and I feel like we’re just barely keeping our heads above the water. The stress level is definitely high, but knowing that what we’re doing is what is best for our students is getting us through.

One of the new things we took on this year as a district is attempting to implement Curriculum Companion, which is a scope and sequence for teaching the Common Core Standards. We’re finding that the timing we originally planned was way off, which is due to us also taking on the workshop model. There are routines and expectations that need to be taught and practiced, which is what filled the majority of September. We needed our seventh graders to be on the MorningsideDuo train – and that is taking some time.

Now that we have those routines, procedures, and expectations down (well, for the most part anyway), we were able to dive in to some of our planned content. We’re starting our year with a focus on dystopian literature – a huge passion for both Jenny and I. This week, we worked on objective summaries with the short stories “The Lottery” and “Harrison Bergeron.” Kids are begging us for some stories with sunshine and unicorns that poop butterflies (their words, not ours!). 🙂 They are starting to make the connections to characteristics of dystopian societies, which is awesome! We can’t wait to launch our book club unit on them.

The book club unit is going to be awesome, and it’s what our kids need. Our students this year are largely reluctant readers, and seeing the results of the unit last year has us hoping that dystopia will help light their reading fires.

While we wait for that unit launch, we are continuing to work on Fisher-izing our classrooms, conference with students about their reading, work with Curriculum Companion, and keep our own heads on straight.


The Boys (and girls) are Back in Town

Football is back! And with that, school is back in session as well. After a summer that passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it’s back to the schedule and routine of the school year. Students came back to us this past Tuesday, and we hit the ground running. 

This first week back didn’t involve much in the way of diving into our workshop model. Our schedule was a bit wonky due to PBIS presentations, drills (fire, tornado, lockdown, evacuation), and the end-of-the-first-week PBIS celebration. We saw our kids 3 times, which gave us the time to talk expectations, familiarize students with our learning space (pictures coming soon!), and begin building our classroom communities. 

Friday hit and Jenny and I sat down to plan the upcoming week. When we looked at the document we created that outlined a general schedule for this workshop model, we realized we need to keep that schedule fluid and flexible. We may not hit each item each day, and that’s okay. What we want to make sure we are doing each day is including all four pieces of the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model. After an AMAZING professional development conference with Doug Fisher, this has become a big focus for us. We are also working on incorporating the activities from The First 20 Days from Fisher as well. 

The downside to this? We’re not sure how this will affect our tempo/pacing, or what we’ll get through in one day. We planned out Monday and Tuesday, and figured that before we plan our entire week, we need to get a feel for what our students need as far as time is concerned. Slowly, we are beginning to wade into the workshop pool this next week. There are a few goals we have for the week: getting a formal writing sample, set up reader’s and writer’s notebooks, History of a Reader writing mini-project, introduce the elements of a short story, and start dabbling in identifying a theme by using poetry. Then, we’ll begin welcoming students into our lovely dystopian world through short stories before we launch our book club unit. 

It’s definitely easy to feel overwhelmed at this point. I think I said to Jenny on Friday, “My head is going to explode.” And that is a feeling I don’t anticipate going away completely. Not only are we going on this workshop journey, we have some new expectations from our school district, along with getting used to the Teacher Effectiveness Project for teacher evaluation and all the documentation that goes along with that. The good news is we’re not alone in our endeavors, we have amazingly supportive administration, and our literacy coach is phenomenal. Without the support we have, this would be a much scarier undertaking.

Our kids are great, the year is off to a wonderful start, and football is back. What more could you ask for? 


PS – Go Pack Go!!

Take-offs and Landings

August 1. It’s such a bittersweet day. As Jenny said to me not so long ago, it’s the Sunday of summer. There’s an excitement about the upcoming school year, as well as the slight tinge of sadness of the leisure of summer coming to an end. I have to say, days like today make going back to work just a little bit harder. It was one of those perfect Wisconsin days: blue skies, a slight breeze, ideal temperatures. I was putzing around the apartment this evening, when I looked outside. There was no way I was letting this gorgeous evening go to waste. I strapped on my running shoes, grabbed my iPod, and headed out for an evening walk.

As I cruised my quiet neighborhood, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of this summer day drawing to a close. The sun was just beginning to set, brushing the landscape with a golden hue and turning the edges of the horizon a lovely pink. There were a few puffy clouds floating in the sky, and the sounds of airplanes taking off and landing. See, I live fairly close to the local airport. This past week, there has been more activity there than normal, which I attribute to EAA in Oshkosh. Tonight, I watched a plane float down and make contact in such a gentle way, followed by another lifting effortlessly into the air moments later. 

And then it hit me. That’s what I want my classroom to be like.  I want my students to be like those planes: gliding gracefully through the sky, coming in for a landing when they need me, and taking off again to explore new places as independent learners. I really think pursuing the workshop method is a way to achieve that.

The other reason I went out for a walk was to give me some thinking space for tackling this whole workshop concept. We’re so excited about it, but at the same time, feel a little lost. My hope was that as I walked, I could work through some of the logistical aspects, as that seems to be where the majority of our struggle is right now. I was able to work out the beginnings of a daily schedule. It needs work, and we need to figure out the details, but it’s a start. 

While the days of summer may be winding down, there is an excitement bubbling. It’s time to buckle down and get ready to welcome the next crew of seventh graders into the wonderful organized chaos that this year promises to be.


June 10th! June 10th!

June 10th is the date we’ve been waiting for. The “official” start to summer (well, for Jenny that is…mine started June 7th), which also means the official start to planning the next school year. Our pow-wow date for our workshop info session is June 19. Elizabeth sent us the agenda, and it looks awesome. We are going to be walking away from this meeting with a wealth of information.

As awesome as that is, I know it will also most likely be a touch overwhelming. I’m the kind of person that gets overwhelmed fairly easily. Throw lots of new information at me, and boom. I’m mentally freaking out trying to figure out how to make sense of and organize the information. To help avoid that next week, my goal is going to be spending some time this week creating a binder so I can organize things right away. I’m envisioning sections for: reading, writing, assessment, records keeping, and scheduling.

Hopefully, having a place for things to go will help me be more effective and efficient. Then, I can use my processing time to start figuring out how this vision is going to work for us, instead of freaking out like this: “OMG SO MUCH INFO WHAT DO I DO???”

This next week will also be my time to figure out what I want to include in my new classroom. I know that I want to re-vamp my reading wall. I had this awesome “Where in the World Will Reading Take You” thing with a world map and books set in various countries, but that’s changing. I want to be able to showcase my reading AND my students’ reading. I’m thinking something along the lines of a this-is-what-I’m-reading/have read place where kids can then post their reading and quick reviews.

As much as I love reading, I also want to incorporate more writing things into my classroom theme. This means I need to be writing more, and sharing what I’m writing more (which is definitely intimidating for me!) to help build that writer’s community. I’m not sure how I want to accomplish that yet.

Other things on the list to re-vamp: classroom arrangement (I’m ADD with desk arrangements), physical grade book, align units with Curriculum Companion (more on this later), new bulletin board ideas, classroom library book check-out system. And there will undoubtedly be more added to that list.

The great thing about summer? Everything can be done barefoot, in the sunshine (if it ever decides to come out), with a glass of wine in hand. Glorious.