Teaching Gatsby

Most English teachers would consider what I’m about to say sacrilegious: I didn’t like reading The Great Gatsby in high school, and for many years I didn’t enjoy teaching it. However, I have changed my mind. I’m getting a better appreciation for the novel as I try to make it more relevant and comprehensible for my high school juniors. Here are some of the things that I’ve done to make it a better experience for my students (and me):

Get Students Out of Their Seats

There aren’t too many opportunities for students to walk around in English classes so to get my students engaged and thinking about the book, I start with a text evidence anticipation activity. I’ve typed thirty sentences from the book, which I have cut and laminated. On the first day of the reading, I give at least one sentence to each student. Then I tell them they will become “detectives” and collect nine other sentences. They walk around the classroom and share their sentences with each other, writing them down on a handout. Afterwards, they return to their seats, review the “evidence” they’ve gathered, and make predictions for what the book may be about. We have whole-class discussion of their ideas.

Close Reading of the First Page

Because my students often struggle with the language and style of the text, I distribute a copy of the first page and ask them to read it closely. They are directed to look for clues about the narrator and then to make inferences about him in the margins. I model with a think aloud in the first line, noting that the narrator says “in my younger and more vulnerable years.” I explain to the students that this helps me know he is speaking from an older age and plans to share his wisdom.

Reading Checks

Obviously, students won’t understand The Great Gatsby, if they aren’t reading. For that reason, I use the free version of Socrative to give short reading quizzes at the beginning of class. I create three - five multiple choice or true/false question for basic recall of the reading, and students can respond on their phones or computers. I can easily download reports with student responses to help me know which students are doing their reading or struggling with their comprehension.

Numbered Heads

While students are still at the beginning of the novel, I often lead the discussion. Frequently, I use a group activity called “numbered heads." I assign groups of four - five students and ask them to respond to the same questions from the assigned chapters. They work together to answer the questions but are required to respond individually through “numbered heads.”

Roundtable Discussion

As student confidence with their reading increases, I turn the  the discussion over to them through my roundtable discussion. Recently I used this format to help students discuss chapters five and six. First, students completed a quick-write activity to warm them up for discussion. Then they reviewed a rubric and set goals for the discussion. Next, they met with partners to rehearse their ideas. During the rehearsal, they shared the work they did to prepare for discussion (a handout with notes, quotes, and vocabulary) and their quick writes. After sharing with partners, we moved the desks into "inside and outside" circles. The inside circle discussed the book first while the outside circle listened. While the outside circle listened, they took notes on what they heard. Finally, after both groups had been in the inside circle (I usually rotate after 10 – 15 minutes), they returned to their seats and wrote a reflection. 

Accident Investigation After reading chapter 7, I  will engage students in close reading of the car accident that killed Myrtle Wilson. In this activity, students assume roles (CSI Unit Worker, Medical Examiner, Police Officer, Witness, Prosecutor, and Newspaper Reporter) as they reread and review text evidence for the accident. After summarizing the accident evidence, students are also expected to read information about the laws for driving while impaired. They determine who should be charged with crimes and what charges should be filed, writing rationales for their decisions.  

The Finale

Instead of a traditional test, I assign a hybrid essay that incorporates elements of narrative writing, expository writing, and literary analysis for their summative assessment.

Basically, each student selects a character and writes an essay in first person point of view; they have to support their inferences and comments with text evidence. To increase the rigor, I also ask students to include a paragraph explaining how their characters are connected to a theme.

For added fun, we celebrate with a Roaring 20’s party, where students role-play their characters and interview one another. Sometimes I also invite an administrator to stop by or students from other classes. It creates great memories. 

What do you do to make teaching The Great Gatsby a success?  Please share in the comments below.


Classroom Transformation and Organization

classroom organization
This week we start school, and I’m going to meet my new students. In preparation, I’ve tried to make my classroom inviting and conducive to learning for them. In fact, inspired by Pinterest (sometimes a curse) I started transforming my classroom  a few days early because I have a large classroom to set up.

I’m certainly not complaining, though, because it took nine years for me to get my amazing classroom. For many years, I was on a cart and “floated” into other teachers’ classrooms. Fortunately, as I set up my room, I had help from my niece and teacher intern. 

However, two challenges remained, including decorating on a teacher-friendly budget and making it appropriate for high school students. I also wanted to ensure that it was an organized space that would create the best learning environment for my students. But with hard work and creativity, my classroom is now ready to go!

Here's what my classroom looked like when I first returned. (We pack everything at the end of the year so the custodians could clean the floors.)  You can see there was a lot of work in order to get it ready for the first day of school!

And here's my classroom transformation!
bulletin board for high school
This wall includes fun displays, part of my classroom library, and the crates where I collect student assignments.  On the classroom library shelf, I have a clipboard where students write their names, the titles and authors of the books they check out, the dates they borrow them and the dates when they return them.  It's not fancy but works fine for me.
classroom organization

Sometimes I have students pass their assignments forward to me when I collect them, but other times I have them turn their papers into the crates pictured above.  This is especially helpful when students have been absent or are turning an assignment in late.  I have instructions posted on the wall above to remind students of the submission procedures.  

classroom decor
In the photo above, I've created a work space for when students work in groups or need to be by themselves.  I also purchased a hanging shoe organizer for the students' cell phones.  Each pocket has a numbered index card that matches with a number on the student's assigned seat. To decorate, I've taken book covers and laminated them to make a hanging banner in the back corner of my classroom.

classroom organization

For my seating arrangement, I have students facing towards the front of the classroom in small diagonal and vertical rows.  This facilitates discussion.  It also makes it easy for me to circulate around the room.  Frequently, I ask students to turn their desks into circles so that they can meet in groups (especially for reading discussions).  I also mark the floor at the front of each row so that it's easy for the students to return the chairs to their original rows. At the front of the classroom, I have my document camera, a lectern, a table for handouts and supplies, and another bookshelf.

classroom decoration
I've received many compliments on this bulletin board that was inspired by a picture that I found on Pinterest.  It helps me communicate the message that students should take ownership of their learning.  With the help of my teacher intern, we added inspirational quotes around the mirror so students will feel empowered to achieve success.

classroom decoration
Finally, above my book shelves, I display student book projects from years of teaching.  These projects always capture their attention and it shows them that I'm proud of them. I love displaying their hard work!

What do you do to make your classroom an inviting environment and organized learning environment?  Please share your ideas in the comments below!


Emotional Learning - Tips for Teaching Teens

tips for teaching teens
When I was in high school, I remember sobbing in my guidance counselor’s office on several occasions. One time, it was because I was in trouble in my chemistry class. Looking back on these experiences as an adult, I feel silly. But the truth is that as a teen, I didn’t have enough life experience or the skills to manage my emotions.

Sometimes, as a teacher of high school students, I forget the intensity of those feelings. I’m so intent on delivering course content that I may not notice a student’s exhilaration because it’s her 16th birthday, or I may neglect her distraught look after a fight with her boyfriend. This is a mistake.

We teachers cannot ignore the importance of emotion when instructing teenagers. At the 2017 Teachers Pay Teachers Conference in Anaheim, University of Southern California Associate Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang said, “emotions are a critical piece of learning.” Her neuroscience research shows that social and emotional factors affect students’ academic success. But how can teachers use emotional learning to improve academic success? Twenty years of classroom experience helps me surmise some ways. 

Create an Inviting Classroom

At the beginning of the school year, it’s important to create a positive classroom culture.  Team builders and icebreakers are effective teaching strategies. On the first day of school, students will likely experience myriad emotions- excitement to see friends, anxiety over class expectations, and perhaps, mourning for the end of summer. (I know I do.) Even though teachers may want to dive into curriculum, it’s vital to create a positive classroom atmosphere where students know their feelings will be respected. This facilitates student participation in class discussion and meaningful cooperative learning.

Use Class Texts

Helping adolescents
In English classes, teachers can capitalize on the emotional responses texts provoke in readers. Poems and books make us laugh, cry, or even react with anger. Consequently, we need to be sensitive to our students’ emotional needs when we teach controversial literature. 

For instance, a book such as To Kill a Mockingbird may require thorough preparation and discussion before reading even begins. When I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, I remember being devastated that Tom Robinson was unfairly convicted by a prejudiced jury. Many teens haven’t personally experienced such unfairness in their lives yet, so teaching literature that focuses on injustice in the world may be a good strategy for helping them develop more empathy.

Use Writing

In addition to feeling strongly about literature, English class provides students with opportunities to express their feelings through writing. Students should have time to write informally and personally. Journals, poems, and narratives can be incorporated into class on a regular basis. In creative writing class, I provide prompts each day to inspire students for their journal writing but always give them the option for a "free write" on a topic of their choice.  

Furthermore, I'm careful when grading these assignments.  After several writing sessions, I will ask each student to select one response that they want me to read.  I'll provide them with feedback and engage in conversations for their selected journals but simply give participation points for the ones they don't ask me to grade.  These writing assignments also help students develop their voices, so they're meeting language standards, too. 

Acknowledge Life Events

Sometimes, when there is a crisis in the school or community, teachers must put a planned activity or lesson on hold while we acknowledge the emotional impact of the event. It might be worth coordinating a program with the guidance office or local agency. For instance, many schools now incorporate therapy dogs during times of trauma and for a variety of other purposes. By doing this, teachers respect students’ feelings and accept the reality of their worlds. This also helps to form deeper bonds and relationships with students.

Recognize Milestones

Lastly, it’s important to be aware that life milestones for teens– getting a driver's license, working a first job, attending prom, applying to college- will impact their moods. Teachers can nurture students and

improve learning by planning lessons that connect to these developmental events. Furthermore, it benefits both students and teachers when teachers accept the excitement and distraction that accompany spirit weeks, class elections, and other extracurricular activities.

No doubt, some teachers will worry that facilitating emotional learning in the classroom will require them to sacrifice academic rigor, but this doesn't have to be the case. It simply requires balance between content and compassion. Ultimately, emotional learning helps strengthen student motivation, problem-solving skills, and social intelligence, guiding them toward leading healthy, productive lives.

How do you address social and emotional learning in your classroom? I'm always looking for new ideas, so please share your strategies in the comments below!


TED Talks for American Literature

TED Talks

Do you want to enhance your teaching of American Literature? Then use TED talks to teach valuable listening skills and make connections to relevant topics and themes. Of course, it can be time-consuming to select the best TED talks to use with your students, so I’ve selected a few that will engage your students and make meaningful connections to American Literature.

For each talk below, I’ve included recommended literature connections, but I'm certain there are innumerable texts that may apply to each talk. Be sure to add your suggestions in the comments below. Also, keep in mind that you can print transcripts of the talks to prepare for technology glitches or if you want students to take a closer look at the texts of these speeches.

1. Does Money Make You Mean? By Paul Piff
Date Given: 2013
Length: 16:35
Summary: This talk argues that the more entitled and privileged one is, the less likely a person will demonstrate empathy. Piff also discusses the detrimental impacts of the growing economic inequality in America. He uses interesting, relatable scientific experiments to provide evidence for his ideas.
Relevant connections: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving

2. America’s Forgotten Working Class by J.D. Vance
Date Given: 2016
Length: 14:41
Summary: The author of the popular novel, Hillbilly Elegy, starts by saying that upward mobility is at the heart of the American Dream; unfortunately, many lower-class Americans face obstacles such as substance abuse, family dysfunction, and a lack of “social capital.” Furthermore, they develop a sense of hopelessness that contributes to their beliefs in conspiracy theories and prevents them from taking advantage of educational opportunities.  Recently, Vance has received criticism for his portrayal of Applachian communities and it would be worth asking students to read some of the reviews. Then, ask students to contribute their opinions with text evidence.
Relevant connections: “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

3. Why I Love the Country That Once Betrayed Me by George Takei
Date Given: 2014
Length: 15: 58
Summary: The popular activist and former Star Trek actor tells his story of imprisonment in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In vivid detail, he describes the painful time for his family and explains how his experience was influenced by his youth. Despite being discriminated against and treated unfairly, he says that he learned that “democracy can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are.” Ultimately, he retains hope for the American Dream and works to ensure our government is a better democracy.
Relevant connections: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Farewell to Manzanar by Jane Wakatsuki Hudson and James D. Hudson, Hiroshima by John Hershey, and “I, Too” by Langston Hughes

Real-World Learning
4. The New American Dream by Courtney Martin
Date Given: 2016
Length: 15:32
Summary: According to Martin, our country needs to redefine the American Dream and consider what makes it great. She argues that community and creativity are what contribute most to a person’s happiness, not the pursuit of wealth. In this thoughtful talk, she claims that “the biggest danger is not failing to achieve the American Dream. The biggest danger is achieving a dream that you don't actually believe in.”
Relevant connections: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, and Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon

5. Can a Divided America Heal? By Jonathan Haidt
Date Given: 2016
Length: 20:14
Summary:  This talk deals with the vitriol and partisanship that has occurred in the most recent presidential election, and Haidt suggests that this behavior is reflective of our tribal natures. Taking a psychological approach, he suggests that to end some of the division, America needs to improve its capacity for empathy.
Relevant connections: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln, and "Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes

6. Meet the Women Fighting on the Front Lines of an American War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Multimedia in American Literature

Date Given: 2015
Length: 11:25
Summary: In this powerful talk, Lemmon reveals that a band of female soldiers was recruited and trained by special operations to assist male soldiers in the war on Afghanistan. Even though they were officially banned from combat, these women fought on the front lines. Lemon shows how the women celebrated their strength and femininity and earned the respect of their male counterparts, ultimately paving the way for future girls and women.
Relevant Connections: “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

7. Less Stuff, More Happiness by Graham Hill
Date Given: 2011
Length: 6:14
Summary:  Do we need material things to be happy? In this short talk, Hill claims that we need to edit our lives, freeing ourselves from stuff. He gives three rules for accomplishing this task and shows how he has simplified his life with his unique apartment design.
Relevant Connections: Walden Pond  and other transcendentalist essays by Henry David Thoreau, selected Native American myths, and The Great Gatsby

8. A Passionate, Personal Case for Education by Michele Obama
Date Given: 2009
Length: 12:29
Summary:  Obama makes the case that hard work and education help people to succeed, particularly women. Furthermore, women have a vital role in creating thriving communities and they must teach important
 values such as compassion and integrity. Obama uses herself as a role model and explains that education leads to control of one’s destiny.
Relevant connections: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass, A Raisin in the Sun, “The Story of an Hour” or The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Are your interested in more TED Talk recommendations for American Literature?  Recently, I've created another post with additional suggestions.

And of course, please share your recommended talks in the comments below!  You may also be interested in handouts that help your students practice their listening and analysis skills as they watch.

Happy Teaching!


Writing with Students

The classic American author Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I relate to the sentiment in this quote and think many of my high school students can understand it, too. However, I’ve often found that they expect words to come easily to great writers. Of course, successful writers will often tell their readers that, in fact, writing is a challenging process that takes time, effort, and revision.

One way teachers can help students understand the process is to write with them and model their own writing. In his article “Becoming Your Own Expert- Teachers as Writers,” Tim Gillespie from the National Writing Project reinforces this saying, “When teachers write, we provide a positive model

for our students. Our example says we value writing and find it useful, more so than when we sit and correct papers while the students write.” No doubt, this is easier said than done. When my students are busy writing, I’m often distracted with other responsibilities.

Additionally, I feel anxious showing my writing to my students because I have my own insecurities, especially when I’m working with my Advanced Placement English Literature and 
Composition students. And as I’ve often told my students, I am more of a “rewriter” than writer, which makes timed writing especially challenging for me.  Nevertheless, I write with them and show them my writing, flaws and all. 

Here are two recent lessons where I modeled my writing:
Speed Carousel Writing
In preparation for the AP Literature Exam, I created timed carousel activities with several Q3 prompts from this College Board website. This activity was inspired by the speed dating activity described by Jori Krulder during #APLitTwitterchat.

I posted these prompts around the classroom to encourage students to get out of their seats. As they rotated around the room in six-minute timed sessions, I asked my students to plan a response for each prompt, including writing their thesis statements. In addition to exposing them to AP Literature Exam retired prompts, this exercise gave them practice with quick thinking. Furthermore, it emphasized the importance of taking several minutes to plan their ideas before plunging into their essay writing.  This was reinforced in the APLitHelp.com Reminders from AP Readers blog post.  With five prompts, this activity took just over 30 minutes. And by participating with them, I know firsthand how challenging the task was to complete.

Next, I collected the students’ papers, and because I have a small class, I copied all of our responses, including my own. The following day I handed these packets to students and we sat in a circle to give one another feedback. To keep our peer review simple and effective, I borrowed a strategy from Susan Barber that uses “one glow, grow, and question” comment for each response. I encouraged them to remark on my writing, too. Afterwards, students said this was one of the best writing lessons they had completed during the semester.

I modeled my my messy writing for the timed prompt.
Using Google Drive
For an end of the year project, my students wrote argumentative letters to advocate for accelerated English classes in our school. After having taken mainstreamed English courses for their earlier high school requirements, my AP Literature students always remark that they are surprised by the rigor and pace when they enter my class. While our teachers certainly try to meet all of our students’ needs in the heterogenous English classes, sometimes our ablest students get “left behind.” Certainly, they lack the background reading that would put them in the best position for success in AP Literature.

When I gave the letter writing assignment, I wrongly assumed that they would know how to write a business letter with the purpose of making an argument. Although we had worked intensely on literary analysis writing, they had limited experience with the different format and purpose of a letter. Consequently, I decided to model my own process as I wrote a letter to our Assistant Superintendent and posted my writing in Google Drive.

They watched me research evidence from scholarly articles, brainstorm with a bulleted list, and continually revise my writing until I had my final paragraphs. They also uploaded their letters to Google Drive and when I asked them to complete peer review with each other’s letters, I invited them to make comments on my letter.
Here is an example of our peer review process on Google Drive.
With my modeling, I saw their letter writing improve drastically. Originally, their letters made frequent generalizations and vague statements about their past experiences in English classes. As they revised and gave one another feedback, they began to develop specific anecdotes and they improve the tone and word choice in their writing. By the end of the process, we had written six polished letters that we mailed to assorted school officials.

No doubt, effective English teachers know that teaching writing is different than simply assigning writing. Modeling is important – whether it’s with our own writing, student anchor essays, or writing from professional writers. Do you model your writing in class? If so, what strategies do you use?

Please share in the comments below.


Teacher Appreciation

Teachers make indelible impressions on our lives- sometimes in ways we don’t even know. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers who provided me with the skills and confidence needed for future success. Now that I’m a high school English teacher, I recognize this more than ever before. Teacher Appreciation Week is an opportunity to thank them publicly, wherever they may be. Another way I hope to pay them back is by showing my appreciation to current teachers- I'm offering a back to school icebreaker activity as a freebie for this week (check for it at the bottom of the post).

Miss Manley

I remember that I was enamored with her in second grade. My best friend had earned straight “O’s” and I wanted to do the same. She encouraged to pursue my goal and when I achieved all outstanding grades, I learned that I could be a successful student.

This is my third grade class with Mrs. Ronald.
Easy to note that this was the 70's.
Mrs. Ronald
She is the teacher who started my passion for writing. In third grade, we had to write poems about colors. Mine was silly, comparing the color gold to monkeys, but she read it aloud as an example for the class. Her praise made me feel like an outstanding writer.

Mrs. McClure

I wasn’t fond of reading until fifth grade when Mrs. McClure introduced me to the book, Taran the Wanderer, and to The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander. I enjoyed the first book so much that I read the entire series.

Mr. Parker

Mr. Parker was an imposing African American teacher who intimidated some students but not me. When I was only in sixth grade, he encouraged me to create a school newspaper. He also served as a role model and taught me to be an open-minded person.

Mr. Livingood

Sometimes we don't appreciate a teacher until long after we’ve left his class; this was true with Mr. Livingood. In high school English, he required me to rewrite an essay to correct run-on sentences. In my corrected essay, I made new errors, writing fragments. He asked me to fix the essay again and rewrite it a third time. Needless to say, he taught me an important lesson.

Mrs. Fellows

Our journalism advisor Mrs. Fellows encouraged me to write on the school newspaper and promoted me to the feature editor. She also chaperoned me and other students at several school newspaper conferences including one at Columbia University in New York City and The National High School Journalism Convention in Chicago. I especially appreciate the personal time she sacrificed to take us on these trips.

Mr. Stallone

He was my biology teacher but also sponsored the school ski club. Back in the eighties (I doubt that we could even have a ski club now for liability reasons), he took groups of high school students across the country to ski resorts in Colorado and Utah. Bless him! I can’t even imagine how nervous I would be to chaperone students on trips like this today. These trips were some of my favorite memories from high school.

Monsieur Rummings

He also exposed me to one of my all-time
 favorite books, Le Petit Prince.
I started studying French in middle school and Mr. Rummings taught me in high school through level six. French wasn’t the easiest subject for me, but he always encouraged and challenged me to persevere. During the summer between junior and senior years of high school, I participated in a student exchange, living in France for six weeks. Upon my return, he asked me to make a presentation to the class and admired my improved accent.

Of course, there have been other admired teachers over the years, but these are a few who I recall easily. In the future, I hope that I can be remembered as fondly by some of my students. Which teachers would you thank if you could talk with them now? Please share your stories in the comments below.


Honor Multiple Intelligences with Book Projects

How do you assess the reading of novels in your classrooms? I try to vary my assessment throughout the semester and use reading logs, literature circle activities, whole-class discussion, tests, and book projects. Although I have a love-hate relationship with book projects (they can be annoying to grade and may tempt students to plagiarize), I think that they empower learners by encouraging them to use their multiple intelligences, which may not often be valued in school.

Here are strategies that help make book projects more enjoyable and effective:

Give students choices.

For my most recent project, to individualize instruction, my students had the following choices:
  • Create a “comic book” chapter for your novel with frames that have illustrations, color, captions, and text. 
  • Here's an example of a student's alternate ending
  • Write a two – three page new ending for your novel. It may be an ending that you would have preferred or one that just changes the outcome in a plausible way.
  •  Make an audio book for at least one chapter in your novel. Read each character’s lines with expression and differentiate voices of characters and the narrator.
  • A literary feast for John Grisham's Bleachers.
  • Enjoy a “literary feast”! Create a written menu with choices symbolizing literature elements (character, setting, plot, conflict, and/or theme) from your novel. Choose and prepare one of the foods to share with the class.

Diorama for The Book Thief
  • Build a three-dimensional construction. Create a book cube, cereal box, or diorama which illustrates your book’s major literary elements.
    Diorama for The Lovely Bones
  • Create a 5-10 slide Power Point presentation, Prezi, or other multimedia presentations that analyzes the author’s style of your book.
  •  Produce a digital book talk, a video with a book trailer (like a movie trailer) to share with the class. I borrowed this idea from this web site.
  • Design a “message in a bottle”: Use a plastic bottle and decorate it with a title, the author, cover image, and other symbols related to the book. Then write a letter to a future reader enticing them to read and giving a review of the novel. This idea came from someone in my #2ndaryela group.

Reduce grading-time with oral presentations.

I can assess my students’ learning while I listen and watch my students give their presentations (and they get practice with oral communication skills). I use a rubric that I can easily mark. You can get a copy of it from my Google Drive here. This year, I made the rubric two-sided and asked students to rate their expected performance before presenting. They gave me their self-evaluation at the beginning of their presentations. This required students to look closely at the grading criteria and gave me insight for my evaluation.

Help prepare them for the projects.

I give students 3 - 4 weeks to read the books and inform students that they will be receiving a project assignment. Near the end of their reading, I assign the project and require students to complete a planning sheet. This is a short assignment in which students respond to questions about their project selection, materials needed, and time management. They also include brief notes on basic literary elements with several text examples. When I read their responses, I can provide feedback before they work on the project, and it helps prevent them from procrastinating.

Sometimes, we watch videotaped presentations from former students. The students discuss the performances, evaluating eye contact, voice, and body language. Recently, we watched my very first students who were in 6th and 7th grades. My juniors were impressed at the skills these former students display (and noted how old I am ;) 

Require students to listen to their classmates.

Give students a “Book Talk Record” where they list the titles and authors of their classmates’ books and rate whether these books sound interesting for future reading. My students keep the book talk records as a tool for the next time they need to choose a book. 

Create a book project exhibition.

I display the best projects on top of my classroom cabinets. It’s an easy and piques my students’ interest in the books. Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few!

I’m always looking for new ideas for my book projects. Do you have project ideas to share? Please comment below.


A Thank You Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

This week I returned from winter break to my job teaching high school students. The ten-day vacation was needed- I was tired and out of patience before we left for the holiday. Upon our return, we had six hours of standardized testing, so I knew it would be a challenging week.

But I really enjoyed my week back because of you, parents, and your children. I’ve been teaching adolescents for 19 years and they can be difficult at times; however, this week reminded me that many of them are kind, responsible, and hard-working. It was a wonderful start to the new year, and I want to share my appreciation.

So thank you for…
1. Valuing education. No doubt, you expect your children to try their best and earn good grades. You likely read to them when they were younger and may have volunteered in a classroom. You’ve discussed college and encouraged your children to seek post-secondary education when they finish high school. As their teacher, I know this because these students come to school with a desire to learn and work diligently, even on really long and boring assessments.

2. Teaching respect. Although I may get an eye roll on occasion (they are teenagers after all), I know your children won’t swear at me, harass me, or threaten me. They do not challenge every direction I give. Furthermore, they respect their classmates, and don’t bully their peers. You’ve modeled respect for authority and clearly set these expectations at home.

3. Allowing failure (and the consequences that may accompany it). No one is perfect, and you realize that your child may make mistakes. He or she may not study for a test, or may procrastinate, or may skip class one day. These behaviors may result in failing grades or disciplinary action.

It’s normal for teenagers to test adults, to see what they can get away, and to bend the rules. But they also have to learn that there are consequences for their choices. Fortunately, this often helps them from making the same mistakes in the future.

4. Setting boundaries. Of course, you love your children, but you realize that you are not your child’s friend. Your social life is separate from your teens lives. In fact, you may set a curfew and probably have rules about the use of technology in your house. Maybe your children aren’t allowed to use their cell phones during dinner, and you surely expect them to finish their homework before playing more video games.

5. Expecting responsibility. Your children have chores, clean their rooms, and may help care for younger siblings. At an appropriate age, they will likely have part-time jobs. You may even require them to save money to help pay for their cars or college. This teaches them a good work ethic and discipline. They realize that they will need to earn success and they’ll likely have a better appreciation for money.

I wish I could say that every parent teaches the importance of these ideas at home, but regrettably, I can’t. But for the many parents that do make their homes a training ground for school and for work, thank you again. And some day in the future, I expect that your children (and my students) will thank you for helping them become healthy, productive, and compassionate adults.

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