Thursday, November 28, 2013

Christian Educators: To God Be The Glory

I've always been a person who remembers dreams vividly. Sometimes, I hate it, but it's also helped me to guide decisions and be reflective.

A few nights ago was the one year anniversary of my grandmother's passing. That night my grandmother appeared in my dream, and what she told me has stayed with me for several days.

In the dream I was sitting in a booth in a small diner. Across from me sat an elderly man that I'd never met before. As I sat there, I noticed my grandmother walk in with the strength and confidence that she always exuded before her disabilities  stopped her. There she was head held high, and strolled straight behind the cafe counter. She picked up a sundae glass, and created a marvelous confection with ice cream, soda, and whipped cream. During this time, I sat watching her, wondering what she would do next. Then, she sauntered over to my table, looked at the old man in front of me, and said, "Move over."

The old man quickly obliged, knowing there would be no point in arguing. My grandmother sat directly in front of me in the booth, and began to spoon a bit of ice cream to her mouth, but stopped and said frankly, "We are very proud of the courage you've shown in working with the children, but just make sure you are doing it to honor God."

The dream ended.

Anyone reading this can probably understand why that shook me up a bit. But, isn't it the truth. It is so easy to start working for the validation of others, to be recognized by those we admire. I know I'm guilty of that. But, that is false, and will only lead to disappointment.

Today, I want to offer thanks to my grandmother.

"Thank you, Grandmom, for reminding me the purpose of my life's work. That no matter what I do it will always be for the glory of God alone."

Colossians 3:17
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making Myself Clear....

Yesterday, I received a very nasty comment on a particular post from an "anonymous" blogger. It was actually quite horrifying to me, so I quickly removed my blog site.

Now, I have no idea why that happened, but it led me to reflect on a few things about myself as an educator.

First, yes, I am passionate about my ideas and desire for change: I would never want to offend an educator who has spent years in the field. The hard work and dedication exhibited by so many teachers leaves me in awe, and I myself was unsure that I had what it took for many years. On the other hand, I am here now. I did make it. And as such, I want to be the teacher to others that I never had in my adolescent years.

Secondly, I want to encourage and be a voice for other teachers who want to make it in education: It is not easy to become a teacher. The news is always screaming for better educators- educators who want to make a difference, but then they make it almost impossible to get certified. There are so many hoops to jump through. It is hard enough as a eighteen year old, but nearly impossible for a thirty something. It took great sacrifice on the part of my family. As a result, I want to be the mentor teacher that I never had during my graduate program. I want to take the time, and show budding teachers that-yes, it's difficult-but you can do it--you can be a teacher of excellence!

Thirdly, I do have an expectation of excellence: I learned this from the school of hard knocks. There have been times in my life when I demonstrated work that was less than excellent. I was just going through the motions. Then, one day a dear friend knocked me in the teeth--figuratively speaking--and woke me up. Although, upset at the time, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Sometimes, we all need a little kick to remind us, "Hey, get in the game or get out."

Finally, my hope is that any educator reading this blog knows that I am open to ideas of others. That I do believe that we are all apart of this educational journey together, and that most of us are doing our best with the gifts that we are given.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Teachers: How To Keep The Fire Burning

Teachers: Keep The Fire Burning

It's interesting starting a new career in your thirties, especially education. There are positives and negatives, but overall I believe I'm a better educator because of it. In fact, I often fall into conversations with other parents that leads them to say, "Are you sure you are a teacher? You don't sound like the ones I know." I usually respond by stating, "Well, honestly, I'm not sure I've drunk the teacher Kool-Aid yet."

Side Note: (My definition of "teacher Kool-Aid" is educators who believe that they are victims of their students behaviors. They tend to blame failures in the classroom on the children, their parents, and the administrators. Kind of a glass half empty philosophy. These feelings spill over into the classroom. The students and parents are deeply affected in negative ways as a result.)

I know I may have just struck a nerve. So let me explain...

Growing up I got very burnt by the system. The wound was deep, and kept me from pursuing a career in education for many years. In fact, I believe that if I'd had a teacher, a dear teacher that believed in my capabilities, and woke me up, it may have been different.

Now, I know that I can't change the system, but I can absolutely change what happens in my classroom.

As a teacher, I have a purpose, and that purpose is to be an advocate for each of my student's learning. To look each one of them straight in the eye, and see who they are through and through. For each one of my students to know..yes...I do matter...someone is watching me...I'm not invisible.

I'm sure many new teachers can relate to this desire. New teachers are on fire! But, many also quit teaching by their fifth year. Why is that?

Well, honestly, I think sadly many new teachers end up drinking the Kool-Aid.

So, how can new teachers stay passionate and keep their fire going? Here are 5 ideas.

1. Stay Passionate Despite Obstacles: Staying passionate is a choice, and that choice takes commitment. New teachers often hear the following, "Yeah, you're passionate now, but give it a few years. It'll wear off." What a terrible message for new teachers! But, isn't this same message heard so often in life. "'re newly married. How sweet! Just give it a few years. All that lovey dovey stuff will wear off." "Ahhh...what a sweet little baby. She is adorable! But, ohhh..just wait until she's three. It all changes." Why do people do this?

2. Be Courageous: Voice Your Ideas: There will be teachers who don't want to hear your new ideas or may see you as a threat. Although difficult at times, I would encourage all teachers to be strong and voice their new ideas. Change is a good thing. Share!

3. Find Outlets Outside of School: It is difficult for any school to meet all the needs of a new teacher, but so what? We can't sit and whine about it. Teachers must find alternative learning sources and outlets. I have found blogging to be a great tool for reflecting, learning, and researching. Yes, it may be a bit of a time investment, but it is a worthy one. Twitter is another great source for learning. It allows new teachers to connect with other teachers outside of school with similar interests and passions.

4. Close Your Doors and Teach:  New teachers must keep account of their feelings. Each day changes, and each day creates different challenges. It is ok to just shut out everything, and concentrate on the students. Make the day great for them.

5. Create a Mission Statement: What is your purpose? Why are you teaching? This may change over the years. Why not revisit this every year? We must know our true purpose in being educators. Rededicate yourself to what really matters in the classroom.

Above all, I think we, as educators seeking excellence, must know that anything worth doing well, will have its challenges just as with everything worth commiting to in life. However, we must believe that we can rise above negative behaviors, stay strong, and do what it takes to keep the fire burning strong!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

ELA Teachers: How Many Strands Are You Teaching?

For English Language Arts educators, the common core comprises of four main strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. Over the last year or so, since the implementation of the standards, I've overheard many teachers argue that the speaking and listening strand is not important or as important as the other strands.

Many language teachers are avid readers and passionate writers. The thought of lounging on a cushy, warm sofa, drinking tea by the fire, with their favorite book in hand offers comfort to their souls. Or sitting outside on their favorite lounge chair, notebook in hand, scribbling verses of poetry as the sun rises, all while sipping a hot cup of coffee, sounds serendipitous. On the other hand, many language teachers don't yearn to stand in front of an audience, palms sweaty, voices quivering, mouths drying to deliver a speech. As a result, many ELA are not passionate about this particular strand within the Common Core.

Many elements of language comprise of solitary tasks. Reading is an introverted task in many ways. As readers, we quietly hold our books, with our heads buried in them. We look up on occasion to share our discoveries, with little thought on our presentation of those ideas. Furthermore, as writers, we may do the same, we write by ourselves and then share our discoveries via Blogger or some other form of social media, never having to face a real audience of our peers. Therefore, many ELA teachers believe sharing and open classroom discussion is evidence enough of mastery in the speaking and listening strand.

However, I believe that many ELA teachers need to change that mindset, if we are going to prepare our students for college and career. ELA teachers have a special opportunity to use this strand to create leaders for tomorrow. The following TED Talk illustrates the point of body language and how our own body language changes how we view ourselves, and how others view us.

This is the type of knowledge that should be taught within the speaking and listening strand.

I feel lucky in a sense, that my undergraduate (Speech Communications) and graduate degree (English/Reading) hit on all elements of language. I've been trained to understand the importance of each strand. I've also witnessed first hand how important presentation is in all aspects of business. Students today must master all four to succeed in tomorrow's workforce.

For all ELA teachers, who passionately read and write, but have not been trained in public speaking, I would urge you to take a course, put yourself out there, and master the skills that must be taught in the classroom today.

As ELA educators, we are all more passionate about certain strands than others, but we must understand that each strand is of equal importance if we want students who truly are college and career ready.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Teachers: 5 Insights of Successful Classroom Management

Classroom management. One of the toughest areas to get your head around as a new teacher. However, it is vital for success in the classroom.

There are so many educational experts out there, with different views and philosophies on how classroom culture should be created. However, in my experience, I believe that it's important for new teachers to stick to the basics.

The most important outcome of any classroom should be student achievement. Students must be able to produce quality work. So, it is up to individual teachers on how best to navigate that and make it happen in their classrooms.

Now, I'm not claiming to have all the answers to a complex problem. However, as a new teacher, the following helped me to be successful in the area of classroom management.

So, if you are a new teacher and currently struggling with classroom management, I offer the following insights.

1. Never Think You Are Above The Wisdom of Harry Wong: The book, The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher offers tried and true techniques for new teachers. I was never asked to buy this book by a professor or principal. I bought it, because I thought Wong offered clear cut techniques that I could apply to the classroom immediately. Those first few days in the classroom scared me to death! I was teaching in a classroom with many at risk kids who weren't that nice. I had to be ready to face that. The techniques in Wong's book gave me confidence, and they worked.

2. Stick To The Fundamentals: New teachers need to stick to the basics. Although innovative classrooms are great, many new teachers get confused between just having fun and structured learning in innovative ways. Ron Clark, the founder of The Ron Clark Academy states that new teachers often make this mistake. In his book, The Excellent 11, Clark tells of one young teacher who dressed in costume almost daily, creating fun in a variety of ways. However, this new teacher was confused by the fact that her students were not performing well on her exams. Clark states although he loves to jump on tables, and add fun to his classroom, he always makes sure that learning is the main objective. It is important to ask, "How will this lesson make an impact on student achievement?"

3. SLANT is Effective: I love Rafe Esquith, the author of Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire and Real Talk for Real Teachers. He offers great wisdom for all educators. However, I do believe he can send a confusing message to new teachers. He often makes fun of using techniques such as SLANT. SLANT is a command that a teacher gives at the beginning of class meaning sit up, lean forward, answer questions when asked, nod for understanding, and track speaker. Esquith laughs at this technique as being silly, and that it is not applicable to the real world. However, I believe his argument sends a message to the inexperienced teacher that relaxed behaviors are acceptable. For Esquith, who has been teaching for decades, it may be silly. However, for new teachers, who are just hanging on for dear life, it works.

The following is a link to a talk Esquith gave to principals. He discusses the issue of SLANT around the ninth minute of the video. Now, again, I agree with most of Esquith's beliefs, but for the new teacher, SLANT is effective.

The following is a link from Teaching Channel. The teacher discusses her use of SLANT in the classroom.

4. Don't Reinvent the Wheel: I love the books, The First Days of School by Harry Wong and Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov. I believe these two books are must reads for new teachers. They saved me from a what could have been a horrible first year of teaching. I believe that by using their techniques, and not flying by the seat of my pants, I created a safe learning environment for my students. As a result, I am now able to include lessons that are interactive. I'm able to grow from it and truly understand what it means to be an effective, innovative teacher.

5. Don't Get A Chip On Your Shoulder: Teaching can be difficult, and very personal. It's hard to accept criticisms. But, new teachers must put their personal hurts aside, and make the changes needed for success if they want to be successful in the classroom. The fundamental question for all new teachers is, "How bad do you want it?"

Hopefully, this post has been helpful. Although, I feel pretty confident in the area of classroom management, I often go back and reread The First Days of School and Teach Like A Champion. They feel like old friends who helped me through the most difficult of days in the classroom.

Wishing all new teachers success in the days to come. Know that if you are struggling now, it doesn't have to stay that way. You have the power to make a difference. Relax and implement the changes that will make you a success in the classroom in the days ahead.

“The single greatest effect on student achievement is not race, it is not poverty — it is the effectiveness of the teacher.” ~~ Harry K. Wong

Friday, November 15, 2013

Teachers: Laughter is the Best Medicine

Why Laughter Can Be The Best Medicine...

Over the past few weeks, my students and I've been focused on writing. We've been working hard, and I've pushed them to their limits. However, this also means I've spent the last two weekends grading essays, and I'm looking forward to another round tomorrow.

Although necessary for achievement, all this hard work leaves me feeling a bit stressed when trying to balance all my different hats, and also wanting to be my best in all ways.

So, what can teachers seeking excellence do when we've reached our breaking point?

Sometimes, the usual tricks are enough. For me that is exercise, prayer, inspirational quotes, or reading. I did all that this week, but still got the blahs! I just couldn't shake my funk.

So, finally I decided to just laugh!

Sources of laughter included:

1. Letting my guard down: In an attempt to be the best teacher I can be, sometimes I forget that it's ok to just be me. I'm actually a pretty fun loving person. I love to joke around and I love to laugh. So, I decided to relax a little. I mean really do teachers have to be so serious all the time!

2. Watched a funny clip: I decided to watch some funny clips. The following comedian cracks me up! He's pretty clean (material wise) and he makes me laugh until my sides hurt!

3. Joke around with some colleagues: I love my fellow teachers, because it's so easy to joke around with them! Help a fellow teacher out and make them laugh. Everyone will reap the benefits.

Yes, there is time for serious, focused rigor, but take a break and laugh with a colleague, watch a funny clip, or read a funny story. It makes the entire journey better!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath and Out of the Dust: Compare and Contrast

My students are currently finishing an essay on the theme of courage from the previous lesson. On Friday, I am planning a lesson comparing and contrasting the book, The Grapes of Wrath, with their current novel, Out of the Dust.

What is interesting about this to me is that Steinbeck, the author of The Grapes of Wrath, wrote the book while it was happening, unlike Karen Hesse, who researched for the writing of the book. I would like my students to compare and contrast the tone, mood, rhetoric of the two stories. How do they approach the introduction of their novels? How are they similar? How are they different? Which of the novels offers the most imagery?

Each student will read the first chapter from the Grapes of Wrath first. I will give them a list of questions to answer similar to the ones above.

Then, we will read the first chapter of Out of the Dust as a class.

The students will compare/contrast using a Venn Diagram. They will also look up any unknown vocabulary from the chapters, and write the definitions in their vocabulary notebooks.

We will discuss as a class.

Finally, I show the class the beginning of the movie, The Grapes of Wrath, and we will compare the beginning scenes to chapter one.
                                                           What a powerful film!

                                                           Clip: Two for cent candy

         There is a bit more finalizing for this lesson. However, it is a good start for Friday.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing, Speaking, and Listening: Developing Champions For Tomorrow

Right now, I am in a producing mindset. Although, I want my students to learn in fun, innovative ways, most of all, I want them to produce.

However, I want what they produce to be quality work. I was reading the following article last night, and it really hit home with me.

Check it out at:

The article argued that young professionals do not know how to write well, or have the ability to develop arguments in their writing. They don't know how to support what they are saying with textual evidence or research. The article blames colleges for not teaching proper writing skills. But, guess what? Colleges blame high schools. High schools blame middle schools. Middle schools blame elementary schools. Elementary schools blame parents. Blame. Blame. Blame.

This problem of illiteracy hits me to the core, because I feel strongly about all forms of communication whether it be speaking, listening, or writing. Strong speaking and writing skills are imperative for success in the workforce today. This awareness brings to mind the importance of the common core. Now, I know that I am new to teaching, and many educators debate on the relevance of the common core standards, but as someone who worked in the writing and communications field I believe the standards are right on the money. They are written to develop critical thinking in students, and hold them to a high standard.

So, what does this mean for my class? Well, it means we are getting down to business. Students are going to learn what it means to think critically. They are going to learn how to produce academic writing, and guess what... the word "you" is not used in academic writing. My students are going to learn how to research sources, determine a valid source from an invalid one, and learn how to back up their arguments with evidence. My students will learn the process of debate, and how to argue their points effectively in front of an audience of their peers. They will learn how to counter an argument from valid sources. They will learn poise, confidence, and proper grammar usage. I believe this is what the Common Core is meant to do, and this is what will create a quality student body and workforce in the future.

The worst thing that can happen is for our students to graduate high school with straight A's only to land in a remedial English class their freshman year in college. We cannot let mediocrity reign. We cannot blame the students for their inabilities. We are here to teach them. The responsibility lies on us, despite whatever is going on in the student's home, we have to do our best with what we are given.

It's time to create champion learners, and leaders of tomorrow. It is time to produce results.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lesson: What Does It Mean To Have Courage?

Courage- mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
CCRL.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

CCRL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CC RI.6.3: Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (through examples)

EQ: What does it mean to have courage?

Today, my students will attempt to answer that question through the use of the text, Out of the Dust, and a letter written by a soldier to his sons back home.

  • Bellringer: Students will answer the prompt: What does it mean to have courage?
  • We will then discuss our answers which will lead us into the reading of Out of the Dust pages 65-85.
  • Billie Joe, the protagonist in the novel, Out of the Dust, faces the loss of her mother and baby brother due to severe burns. Billie Joe was partially responsible for the burns due to an accidental kitchen fire. She becomes severely depressed, but must find a way to be courageous. While Billie Joe, faces her problems at home, the country is also headed toward war. The depression is getting worse, and tensions are mounting across the country. Soon, the country will face another great war. Billie Joe is at a crossroads.
Following the reading...
  • Students will read about an another person who demonstrated courage, although this person was real, not fiction. Students will read a letter from a father and soldier who sent a Christmas letter home to his sons during World War II. In the letter, the father explains the reasons for war, and what it means to have courage.  
  • Students will compare and contrast both using a Venn Diagram the experiences of Billie Joe and the soldier. Students will write an essay using textual evidence to demonstrate how they both demonstrated courage and in what ways? How did their decisions affect their loved ones?

The Letter From The Soldier Comes From The Following Link:
Each student will read and annotate the letter individually.
The following is a clip of FDR's D Day Prayer. The students have become better acquainted with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the president during the times of the novel, Out of the Dust. I thought it might be good for them to hear his voice. It is a powerful message of courage as well.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

English Teachers: 5 Reasons to Start a Book Club

This year I wanted to have a club. My first instinct was to have a drama club. I think it would be so thrilling for students to act in a play, and perform it. Ideas like drama clubs is what is often missing from middle schools today. However, I did worry a little that taking on a large project like a drama club might be too much for a first year teacher.

So, I decided to go in a smaller direction, and begin a book club. Currently, we meet during lunch once a week in the media center. I have ten members, and we sit around one large table (family style) to eat and discuss our book. Right now, we are reading, Treasure Hunters, by James Patterson. Although they love the book, I think the students love the time together even more. They even asked if we could meet twice a week instead of only once.

This leads me to my own top five reasons to begin a book club today.

1. It's Relaxing: Having a book club is less stressful than you may think. It doesn't have to have a structured curriculum. Just find a book that you love and share it with your students. This is one time that you don't have to worry about the Common Core or differentiation. It's just about the enjoyment of a book with your students.

2. Developing Relationships: We spend the first ten minutes of our meal together talking about certain topics. It may be about their favorite genre or book series, but it also might be what they love about Thanksgiving. We discussed Thanksgiving and Christmas this week. The students told me about their favorite traditions and what these family gatherings mean to them. That was so great!

3. You Can Leave A Child Behind: This might seem a little mean, but one nice thing about a club is if a student stops coming for whatever reason, you don't have to let them back in. There are plenty of other students that would like the opportunity.

4. Make It What You Want: The word "club" can sound intimidating to a teacher. "Club" sounds like commitment and time. Two resources that are highly coveted by a teacher. But, a club doesn't have to be a huge time commitment. You have the power to put as little or as much into it as you want. Students won't really mind either way. They are just happy to be apart of something. As long as you are positive and energetic about it, they will be too.

5. Develops That "Sweet Spot": One of my mentor teachers that I had during my student teaching would often tell me the importance of defining a sweet spot in your day, that time you can just be there and enjoy your teaching. Well, honestly, I enjoy most of what I do as a teacher. However, the book club is that sweet spot for me in many ways. It is so nice to enjoy a meal together with my students, discuss elements of their lives, and connect with a book. As an English teacher, it doesn't get much sweeter than that!

So, if you've been wavering on whether or not to begin a book club, I would say jump in and go for it. You won't regret it!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Middle Grades: Understanding Point of View Part II

 CCRL.6.6: Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker of the text.
CCRL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

EQ: How to determine the point of view of a text, and the author's purpose for writing the text?

Today, the students have created a chart with the elements for three different point of views in literature: first person, second person, third person (third person limited and third person omniscient) from the previous lesson. We will use this chart to help with the lesson today.

  • Pre-selected narratives written by the students will be delivered. I told my students that I was going to read the narratives tonight and choose the three strongest ones to be shared with the class. 
  • The audience will have to figure out what point if view the story was written from. The student who wrote the narrative must tell the class why he/she chose that point of view and the purpose behind it.

  • Next- We will work through the following texts together. They will have to read and annotate the stories first.

  • Then, each student will be given a handout that must be filled in throughout our lesson on point of view, pronouns, author's purpose, and textual evidence to support their ideas.
Find the handout at the following link:

Texts will include:
  • "I Am Alone" by Cochise
Background: The man we know as Cochise was a leader of the Chiricahua Apaches, one of the four main Apache groups. The Apaches, who frequently were raiders of sheep, cattle, and horses, became the concern of the Americans when, after the end of the Mexican war in 1848, they took control of their homelands in Arizona and New Mexico. As the ever-advancing whites increasingly moved into Apache territory, a series of "wars" between the settlers and the various Apache groups broke out around 1860 and did not end until the capture in 1886 of the great Chiricahua leader Geronimo.
                                                                                       ~The Norton Anthology: American Literature


by Cochise, Chief of the Apache Nation
     This for a very long time has been the home of my people; they came from the darkness, few in numbers and feeble. We were a hunting people, living on the animals that we could kill. We came to these mountains about us; no one lived here, and so we took them for our home and country. Here we grew from the first feeble band to be a great people, and covered the whole country as the clouds cover the mountains. Many people came to our country. First, the Spanish, with their horses and their iron shirts, their long knives and guns, great wonders to my simple people. We fought some, but they never tried to drive us from our homes in these mountains. After many years the Spanish soldiers were driven away, and the Mexican ruled the land. With these little wars came, but we were now a strong people, and we did not fear them. At last in my youth came the white man, your people. Under the counsels of my grandfather, who had for a very long time been the head of the Apaches, they were received with friendship. Soon their numbers increased and many passed through my country to the great waters of the setting sun.
     Your soldiers came, and their strong houses were all through my country. I received favors from your people and did all that I could in return and we lived at peace. At last your soldiers did me a very great wrong, and I and my whole people went to war with them. At first we were successful and your soldiers were driven away and your people killed and we again possessed our land. Soon many soldiers came from the north and from the west, and my people were driven to the mountain hiding places; but these did not protect us, and soon my people were flying from one mountain to another, driven by the soldiers, even as the wind is now driving the clouds. I have fought long and as best I could against you. I have destroyed many of your people, but where I have destroyed one white man many have come in his place; but where an Indian has been killed, there has been none to come in his place, so that the great people that welcomed you with acts of kindness to this land are now but a feeble band that fly before your soldiers as the deer before the hunter, and must all perish if this war continues.


     I have come to you, not from any love for you or for your great father in Washington, or from any regard for his or your wishes, but as a conquered chief, to try to save the few people that still remain to me. I am the last of my family, a family that for very many years have been the leaders of this people, and on me depends their future, whether they shall utterly vanish from the land or that a small remnant remain for a few years to see the sun rise over these mountains, their home. I here pledge my word, a word that has never been broken, that if your great father will set aside a part of my own country, where I and my little band can live, we will remain at peace with your people forever. If from his abundance he will give food for my women and children, whose protectors his soldiers have killed, with blankets to cover their nakedness, I will receive them with gratitude. If not, I will do my best to feed and clothe them, in peace with the white man. I have spoken.
  •  "Advice for Little Girls" by Mark Twain

"Advice To Little Girls"
by Mark Twain
Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.
If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.
You ought never to take your little brother's "chewing-gum" away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.
If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud--never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.
If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won't. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.
You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much.
Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to "sass" old people unless they "sass" you first.

  •  An excerpt from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted only of five all together, – Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a-year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.

 Hopefully, the students will gain a true understanding of point of view, and why it is important in understanding a text.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Christian Educators: How Can You Make A Difference Today?

This is a post for Christian educators who may need a little bit of inspiration. This past Sunday, I heard a very inspiring message. It really made me think about what kind of difference I am making and hope to make in the lives of others, not just my students, but my family and friends as well.

I am posting an outline of the message, because honestly, I want to remember it for myself. I hope anyone reading this post may grow from it as well.

The sermon was entitled, "Are You, Or Are You Ain't....A Saint" (The pastor apologized to any English teachers in the audience!)

This sermon was in honor of All Saints Sunday, a day where the church remembers with gratitude all those who passed on in the previous year. It has almost been a year since my own grandmother's passing, and I must say that I believe she embodied many of the following attributes.

So what who is considered a saint?

I. Saints are people who know they are called.
  • "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." ~Romans 1:7
II. Saints are people who have assurance of their salvation.
  • "To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ...I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share...that once for all entrusted to the saints." ~Jude 1:1,3
III. Saints are those that stand up for their faith.
  • "I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints."
IV. Saints know and are known by their love.
  • "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." ~Ephesians 3:17b-19
V. Saints live a life pleasing to God.
  • And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints." ~ Colossians 1: 10-12
VI. Saints never stop growing in their faith.
  • "To all the saints in Phillippi...And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ." ~ Phillippians 1: 9-10
The message ended with the idea that as members of Christ's body we are already saints. It is not some high calling for only a few. However, we should all step outside of ourselves, and help others. So many people need a saint in their lives today. How can you be a saint for someone today?

Middle Grades: Lesson on Understanding Point of View

It is important to understand the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist. A protagonist is the character that drives the story and has to climb the mountain so to speak. The antagonist is the character who creates a problem for the protagonist. Generally, the readers like the protagonist and dislike the antagonist.

Now, along with knowing the characters of a story it is also important to understand point of view.
CCRL.6.6: Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speak in a text.

EQ: How to identify the point of view in a story, and understand how that affects the meaning of a text?

**Students will write the following definitions in their vocabulary notebooks.**
Every story has a narrator.
  • A narrator is the speaker who tells the story to the reader.
  • The two main types of narration are first person point of view and third person point of view.
  • A first-person narrator is a character within the story, speaking from his or her own point of view and using pronouns I, me, and my.
  • A third person narrator is an unnamed story teller who is not part of the story. The pronouns used are he, she, and it, along with other possessives.
  • A second person narrator will talk to the audience directly, using you to address the reader. This type of narration is often used in giving instructions.

**Students will fill in the graph while watching the following video clips. I will prompt them through it, and use the elements from the clips that I find most useful.**

Find the graph at the following link:

List of Clips:


Summarize: Students will have to write a paragraph summary of the three types of narration to turn into me.

Application: Students will have to pick a strip of paper out of a hat. The strip will have either first-person narrator, second-person narrator, or third person narrator. Students will have to write a story based off the selected point of view.

I will have a few writing samples on hand if needed for the students to look at, if needed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Characterization: Protagonist and Antagonist

This lesson is a continuation of the previous post concerning plot.

CCRL.6.3: Describe how a particular story's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond to change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

EQ: How to identify the protagonist and antagonist in the story, and how do they affect the conflicts within a story?

Characters can be people, animals, or imaginary creatures. In a story, there is often one character who stands out at the center of the action. Most of the story revolves around this character. This character is called the protagonist. On the other hand, the antagonist is the character who creates a problem for the protagonist. The antagonist is generally a character that reader so not like.
(Mastering the CCGPS)

From my previous lesson, I realized that my students do not clearly understand the difference between a protagonist and a antagonist.

First, let's review the prefix of both words.

Pro means forward or in favor of
Anti means opposing or against

  • I will have students write these terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  • We'll discuss as a class what they think of when they hear these words. What heroes do they know from stories? Who is their favorite? What villains come to mind and why?
  • Students will draw a T-Chart. On one side they will write protagonist with the definition written in their own words and the other side they will write antagonist with the definition in their own words. Students will take notes from the first two clips below.
  • What characteristics describe a protagonist and an antagonist?
  Who is the protagonist?
This clip helps to answer that question. However, we will only watch the first two minutes as a class.

                                     What does it take to be a villain or antagonist? This is really too great!


We will then watch the following clips. They will fill in the following guide as they watch.     



We will discuss as a class and the students will answer the questions, "What is a protagonist and antagonist?" as their ticket out the door.
Extension: If there is time, I wanted to hand the students back their narrative essays from last week. I want them to identify the protagonist and antagonist in their own stories. I want them to find ways to develop their characters better. What elements could they add after today's lesson. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mastering "The Plot Line" For Middle Grades

RL.6.3: Describe how a particular story's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

EQ: How to determine and label the plot line of a story?

Curiosity Killed The Cat: An idiom meaning that curiosity can get you into trouble. Unless, you are in Mrs. Farmer's class! Ha! I have realized curiosity is the surest way to keep my students' adolescent minds going for 100 minutes plus everyday. The trick is not to give it away all at once. 

So, on Monday, I'm handing each of my  6th grade students a different kiddie book/picture book as they walk into class. They will say, "What's this for Mrs. Farmer?" And I will say, "Don't worry about it just keep it on your desk. You'll find out."

We will start the day with silent novel reading time. After we've spoken briefly about their independent reading, I will show a book trailer of Out of The Dust to transition them into the class novel.


I will remind them of the geographical location of The Dust Bowl.

We will read from pages 14-34, and discuss the elements of the book so far, such as form and imagery. However, then my focus will turn to the meat of the lesson which will be standard RL.6.3: Describe how a particular story's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

We will discuss the setting, and how the author set up the story, and any initial conflicts. This will now tie into the picture books.

<I find that it is difficult to teach plot with a large novel. Kids get lost in it. So, the students will read the picture book, and fill in a plot line diagram, while also answering questions concerning the introduction, rising action, conflicts, climax, falling action, and resolution.>

Side note: I will probably model one for them first. I'm thinking The Three Little Pigs might be a good one.

Once they have finished with their book, filled in the plot line and answered the question, they can discuss their book with a partner, and even switch books and complete another plot line.

Link to worksheet:

My goal is that the students can feel accomplished in mastering this standard, so as we continue with the novel, Out of the Dust, they will remember this lesson.

Using the baby books is just a little bit unusual or silly, and sometimes that grabs their attention.