Tag Archives: Twitter

Shelfie Saturday

sticker,375x360.u1While my last name is Catcher, I’m far from a natural athlete. In fact, my high school softball career ended after I “caught” a stray throw with my forehead, landing me in the ER with a swollen eye and thirteen stitches. Still, I can appreciate a brilliant sports story, the type that moves beyond the game and captures the essence of teamwork, leadership, and friendship. The “Sports” section of my classroom library does just this.

Over the past year, I have cultivated the sports section to reflect the varied abilities, ages, and interests of my students. I teach freshmen, juniors, and seniors ranging from struggling to gifted readers. Because of my diverse students, my library must appeal to 14-year old freshmen and 18-year old seniors alike. Fortunately, sports can oftentimes bridge this age gap while also pushing students to gradually engage with more complex texts.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section.  Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won't return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section. Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won’t return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My younger students (and even some of my older) tend to gravitate towards popular young adult novels at the beginning of the year, like those written by Matt de la Pena and Mike Lupica. After they exhaust the options on my shelves, they inch towards lengthier and more complex analytical or historical books like Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by financial journalist Michael Lewis or The Punch by sports writer and commentator John Feinstein. More than any other genre, these brilliantly crafted pieces serve as strong mentor texts for a wide variety of mediums including nonfiction, narrative, research, and persuasive writing. This year, books like Ice Time by Jay Atkinson inspired many of my hockey players to explore their sport through personal narratives while Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella served as the basis for one of my freshman student’s research papers on the Black Sox Scandal.

Sports hold leverage within our society, particularly amongst teenagers. From die-hard fans to benchwarmers, both athletes and non-athletes can appreciate a sports story, particularly when it transports us into a world packed with suspense and action.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

6 Ways to Spend Your Snow Day

snow-day2So it’s your fifth snow day this winter…or your fifteenth.  Either way, you’ve done all of your spring cleaning, you can’t grade or lesson plan because you haven’t seen students for a week, and you’ve completely emptied your queues on Netflix and Hulu.  What’s a teacher to do?

1. Read a good book.  If you’re anything like the hundreds of English teachers I know, you love reading.  Use the time you’ve been cooped up to read something you’ve been wanting to but just haven’t had the time to start.  I haven’t stopped hearing about Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot SeeI’ll think I’ll try to tackle the last two this week.

2. Write around a poem.  Penny Kittle shared once that she likes to tape poems into her notebook and write around them–it’s one way to move toward doing your own beautiful writing, she advised.  So, I signed up to receive the Poetry Foundation‘s daily poem via email, and when I read one I love, I print it and tape it into my writer’s notebook.  I’m amazed at the nuggets of written wisdom I arrive at after responding freely to a poem in writing.

3. Read a teaching book.  I’ve been wanting to finish Tom Romano’s Zigzag and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild for quite some time now, but with the day-to-day craze of the school year, it seems like the only time I find to read teaching books is over the summer.  This is the time of year, though, that I often need a little lift in my teaching spirit, so it’s always rewarding to explore some new thoughts from some of my old favorites.  Since I’m in the middle of a nonfiction book club and writing unit right now, I think I’ll settle down today with Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

4. Check out that dreaded State Test.  Dana Murphy at Two Writing Teachers reminded me that when our students are accustomed to writing in a choice-based, unit-driven workshop, they are not accustomed to writing to a prompt, and that while standardized tests do leave a bitter taste in our mouths, they are a reality our students must face.  If we want them to feel confident as writers in all environments, we must prepare them for all writing situations–especially the two or three standardized writing tests they may face each year.  Here in West Virginia, we’ve elected to go with SmarterBalanced as our Common Core-aligned assessment.  Today I’d like to spend some time looking at the writing portion of that test and brainstorming some lessons to help my students feel confident writing to those prompts.

5. Catch up with your tweeps. Twitter is a bottomless pit (seriously; you can get lost in it) of resources, ideas, and inspiration for teachers.  I could spend hours perusing the archives of #engchat, #titletalk, and #litlead, just to name a few.  I’d also love to look at the archives of some chats I missed recently–#mindsmadeforstories, for one.

6. Read incredible teacher blogs. I could browse the virtual thoughts of my colleagues forever!  We have so many brilliant and inspirational people in our profession, from the genius team at Nerdy Book Club to the marvelous ladies at Moving Writers; the steady wisdom of What’s Not Wrong to the joyful inspiration of the dirigible plum.  I’ve also been loving the thoughts of Hunting EnglishThe Reading Zone, and countless more…really.  I could never list all the great teacher blogs I’ve stumbled upon.  I feel so grateful to the many, many teacher-writers who have helped me fill my writer’s notebook with thoughts and ideas on dreary snow days like these.

What are your favorite ways to relieve the restlessness of several snow days?  Share in the comments!

Finding A Teaching Family Outside of School

“It’s funny how my closest friends live states away,” Amy said to me as we crossed the convention center’s atrium during NCTE. I agreed; our group of four, Amy, Shana, Erika, and I, might live in different parts of the US, but we share a unique bond, one that has carried me through both the highs and lows of teaching.

Teaching is an anomaly: for being such a social career, it is also quite isolating. I learned this my first Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.37.08 AMyear when I went from sharing a classroom during my yearlong internship to suddenly being by myself at the end of the hall. I found that while my colleagues and I would sit down for lunch everyday, we struggled to find common times to chat about our work or pedagogy outside of professional development days or staff meetings. Despite being within the same building, we’d oftentimes take to the Internet to discuss our plans and work with one another. Over the summer I would receive messages from Jenn about a fantastic new book we could incorporate into our academic English curriculum or recently I received a Pinterest pin from Kristina pointing out a fun way to teach sentence diversification.

Social media has changed the face of my professional learning network. While many of my teacher-friends are at my school, my core group doesn’t just involve those within my state anymore. I have discussed pedagogy with teachers in Canada, talked shop with friends in Washington D.C., and connected with educators across the country. Teaching is no longer the isolated occupation it once was. Over the past two years, these discussions have had a profound effect on my development as a teacher. Many teachers have helped to shape the workshop model within my classroom by being honest about their successes and struggles. My PLN has given me a place to geek out over reading, writing, and discussing literature. And ultimately, this passion online translates into my enthusiasm within the classroom.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I cannot be more thankful to my online peers as well as to Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.33.43 AMthose teachers who I have met at conventions and in classes. I am grateful for the relationships I have garnered via social media and e-mail. No teacher should feel alone in this occupation—there are countless resources to uplift and inspire even the most isolated. After all, teaching is an occupation composed of charismatic, committed, and loving individuals who not only see the best in their students but also search for the best in each other.

Christmas Miracles


December has traditionally been my least favorite month of the school year.  Something about it bogged me down, without fail, every winter–the dark, sunless days…the mountains of papers to grade…the looming specter of exams–to write, administer, and grade.  I hated my job in December.  From old journals, I know that I was consistently unhappy in the twelfth month of the year, and I wanted to quit teaching every time it rolled around.

This December, though, things couldn’t be more different.  I am LOVING my job!!  Last week, I found myself completely caught up on grading–something that literally hasn’t happened yet this school year.  Somehow, I had plenty of time to plan great lessons, confer with students with no back-of-the-brain worries, AND reorganize my classroom library.  I was a productivity machine–and it didn’t stop at school.  At home, I found the energy to assemble Christmas cards, decorate my apartment, and make some holiday crafts.  As I type this, my fingers are still sticky with powdered sugar from the big batch of cookies I baked this morning.  What’s with the freakish perfection, you ask?  One little, made-up, three-week-old, hashtag of a word:  #nerdlution.


Teachers across the country made nerdy resolutions that would be kept for 50 days.  They could be anything–write every day, exercise, a more robust reading life.  A Thanksgiving day Twitter chat gave rise to that wonderful idea, which I hope will become an annual tradition.  Still riding my NCTE13 high, I resolved (nerdsolved? nerdluted?) to spread professional ideas about English teaching any way that I could, every day.

IMG_1036I started by leading an epic two-hour workshop for my English department.  We book-passed (a la Penny Kittle) the entire contents of my professional library, shared best practices in a “gift exchange” of ideas, and made our own heart books (a la Linda Rief) of things we wanted to try.  Afterward, Kristine, a 20-year veteran with a reputation for pessimism, approached me.  “I used to have your energy,” she said.  “I don’t know what happened, but I haven’t had it…for years.”  She teared up, then borrowed Blending Genre, Altering Voice by Tom Romano, a balm for her troubled teaching soul.  Other books from my NCTE haul were checked out, too–Georgia Heard’s brand new Finding the Heart of Nonfiction was battled over by two first-year teachers, Penny Kittle’s incredibly dog-eared and highlighted Book Love and Write Beside Them were taken by veterans, and Tom Newkirk’s well-loved Holding On To Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones was checked out by our department head, who has held his position since 1972 (I’ll let you do the math on that one).

I was elated, and my colleagues’ willingness to try new ideas didn’t stop there.  The next day, a friend came and talked through some ideas about having her students do mini multigenre projects on Greek gods.  Enthused, I told her I couldn’t wait to see the results.  The following morning, Kristine, the tired veteran who’d borrowed Tom Romano’s book, stopped me in the hall.  “I came to school every day this week with a new attitude.  I feel the spark again,” she told me.  I nearly cried after we went our separate ways.

IMG_1313The following week, it all seemed to be coming together–our entire English department was on board for trying something new, especially the workshop model.  They wanted to see it in action.  In five days, I was observed eight times by fellow teachers, and they saw my students doing amazing things.  With heads down and pens on paper, their extended narratives were growing to eight…twelve…twenty-six pages long.  They were BEAUTIFULLY written, and on an incredible variety of topics–hunting, car crashes, detectives, breakups, death.  One male student wrote a narrative about rape from a woman’s point of view after hearing me booktalk Speak.

IMG_1314As my colleagues listened in, my students conferred with me about their writing like the confident, thoughtful, reflective authors they are:  “I want it to read like a Rick Riordan story,” Kenneth told me.  “Do you think the pace is too slow?” Nora asked.  “I just need to zoom in a little more on this,” Tevin realized.  “I’ve resorted to writing in my vocab section because the rest of my notebook is full,” Adam admitted with a giggle.  I ended every class with a smile and a feeling of pride threatening to burst out of my chest.  My colleagues were stupefied.  “How are you getting them to read so much?  To write so much?  To work on this stuff in study halls and for homework?”  They were flabbergasted, but all I had to do was point them toward that professional bookshelf, full to bursting (but with more and more empty spaces!!) with the brainchildren of so many of my teaching heroes.

So, my #nerdlution, as well as this little workshop experiment that Emily, Erika, Amy, and I have been trying out, is going beautifully.  The two are combining to bring me the most peace I’ve felt during the holiday hustle and bustle in a long time–and that, for me, is a Christmas miracle.

There’s an app for that!!


Handouts from the session: Must Have Apps – Students Must Have Apps – Teachers

Click image below for the presentation

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 6.49.11 PM

Please come check out our session at #TCTELA at 2:45 Jan. 19, 2013! You can find our handouts in image form in our presentation Prezi here! Hope to you see you there – we’ll talk about the power of using technology to transform the education you provide, as well as give us an opportunity to collaborate and “smackdown” on the latest great apps for reading, writing, organizing, collaborating, and much more!!

Speed Dating in AP English

It’s getting close to AP exam time, and it’s also a time when my students are worn out. They come to class with glazed looks, and the bags under their eyes are often bigger than the sagging of their pants. I try to put on the neon hat and shock them into waking up and staying with me for another month, so any new strategy that tweets my way, I am willing to try.

Flashback to why this strategy matters:

One of the questions on the AP English Language and Composition exam requires students to respond to a prompt and compose an argument in which they use evidence from their own knowledge and experiences to build their credibility and prove their assertion. I tell my kids: You need a big knowledge cloud that you can pluck from during the test. What do you know about _________? Because the more you build your credibility and show that you are thinking on paper, the better argument you will write.

To help build that knowledge cloud, I have to push knowledge, specifically knowledge of a student’s world. If students read or listened to the news, this would be easy—but, most don’t.

My burning question? How do I create a topic dump with current events?

First, I came up with the idea to give students a topic, i.e., freedom, conformity, sustainability. As homework they have to research the topic enough so they can bring a news article to class that reflects that topic in some way. We got this far, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to have my students do with the articles once they found them. Then, I listened in to @dontworryteach, @dlaufenberg, and @mssandersths discussing “speed dating” on Twitter, and I took their ideas and made them my own. Thanks PLN!

Speed Talking with Current Events

Inner Circle faces outward. Each student has read and knows his/ her news article.

Outer Circle faces inward, across from a person in the inner circle.

The students in the inner circle explain their news article to the person facing them. What happened? Why does this matter? How does it relate to the topic of the week? They speak for 2-3 minutes—only about the news article—while the outer circle person listens.

When time is called, the outer circle students think of topics that might be in the prompts given on the AP exam, and they try to figure out how they might use that news article to support an argument that relates to that topic. They speak for 1-2 minutes.

When time is called, students on the outer circle move one seat to the right.

Repeat the process of talking, listening, talking, listening.

Switch places from inner to outer circle about midway into the class period, and repeat the process.

Students repeat their news article several times, which will help them remember it. And, all students are flooded with ideas that they may find helpful in building their arguments for the AP English Language exam.


I asked my students at the end of class today to rate this strategy on a scale of 1 to 10 with one being “It’s horrible. Never make us do this again.” And 10 being “Please let us learn like this more often.” The average rating was a nine. I’ll take that.

Variations: reviews of concepts, terms, pretty much anything you want students to talk about and remember.

I’d love to hear your ideas.

ok, @heathercato and @amyrass, now talk to me….

Ok, so how do you use Twitter in education? Everyone is all a-buzz about how it can be a valuable part of education. The networking I get – the rest? What do you do? How do you use it? What kinds of projects in PBL would align with the use of Twitter? And how does it enhance literacy/writing/etc?

Do tell. With all due haste.

Why you Really Need to be on Twitter, Molly

So Heather and I are presenting at Edcamp Plano today. Molly’s not here because she never got the message–or so she says. But we did send her the message: links through email, posts on Facebook, (maybe even a message on her phone).

Heather and I heard about the “unconference” through our PLNs on Twitter. Our ever-learning selves jumped on the chance to connect with other passionate educators. And here we sit, eager to learn and share-one chair empty without our friend.

So, Molly, here’s the deal: you need to be actively on Twitter because our previous methods of communication just aren’t working. And here’s five more reasons why:

1) Twitter is easy. No account? Set one up for free in less than a minute. (uh, you have an iPhone, and the app is free)
2) Twitter means access even when your Internet is down, which seems to happen a lot in the backwoods of East Texas.
3) Twitter allows for connections, not just with us, but with others who share your same interests. Follow hash tags. Think: #Rangers and #Frogs.
4) Twitter makes professional learning fun and engaging. Join #edchat, #titletalk, #rwworkshop, #engchat, #pbl and build your own Personal Learning Network of like-minded educators. Lots of support and ideas here.
5) Twitter keeps you in the know–like what the score is at the stadium or when the next edcamp is. We’d really like you to be there, too.

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