Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happiness is a baby grand piano

Guess what was delivered today:

I have dreamed of owning a baby grand piano since I was a very little girl and now today I finally have one. It was an emotional day to say the least. I've spend the past three hours sitting at her and playing my heart out. I'm not playing very well since I haven't practiced regularly in over ten years, but having this beauty in my house will definitely motivate me to play more.

Now we can complete the circle from my first inkling of wanting to play the piano to finally owning my own baby grand. Today is a good day.


Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding value in our students' abilities

In teaching, maintaining a sense of humor, even when you're annoyed, is imperative. Students who have mastered the art of comic timing can turn an annoyed teacher into a smiling, laughing teacher in the blink of an eye. This was one such encounter with one of my students yesterday:

Me (to student): Turn around.
Student: Every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes.
Me: *Shakes head and walks away smiling*
Student: My mom sang me that song.

You just can't be mad at a student that clever. His response felt like one of those "too perfectly scripted for TV" moments. I couldn't believe it happened. It just goes to show you that every kid that comes into our classroom has gifts and talents that don't always translate to a classroom setting and we need to be willing to work with those talents. Today, I tip my hat to my student who, despite not fitting inside the classroom mold that I and many teachers envision, knows how to deescalate a tense situation with a smile and a clever comeback.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, October 19, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

 It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Author Carrie Harris visited my class

Carrie Harris, author of books such as Bad Taste in Boys, Bad Hair Day, and Demon Derby, came to visit my school on Wednesday to do a writing workshop with my 8th graders. Not only is Carrie's road to publication story riveting for kids to listen to, but the writing she did with my students for how to create a story plot from a single character will be a wonderful starting point for NaNoWriMo. Not only did my students create fantastic characters and story ideas this week, but I decided to keep my promise of writing with my students this year and was shocked to see that I, too, could come up with a storyline from first creating a character. If you live in Michigan or southeastern Ohio and teach middle or high school English, I highly recommend you invite Carrie to come write with your students!

2. Battle Bunny as Mentor Text
I've been writing a lot lately about how I love the book Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. I had a pile of Little Golden Books just waiting for my students to deface them, and they did not disappoint. It was an assignment I took great joy from grading.
I laughed till I cried on this student's subversion of a Sesame Street Little Golden Book

3. Finishing presentations.  
 I'm presenting at both the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference and the National Council of Teachers of English convention this in October and November. This weekend I finished my portion of the presentations I'm doing. Given how busy I am with grad classes and teaching, it feels good not to be getting things done at the last minute!

Check out what I'll be presenting about at NCTE (the first session listed is the one I'll also be talking about at MCTE):
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model
Heart and Mind: Stories and Ideas that Keep Us Teaching 

4. The excitement is building
Our empty lr and kitchen
This weekend we cleared out our first floor in anticipation of a hardwood flooring install tomorrow. Getting the hardwood flooring installed to me means one thing: we're getting closer and closer to the day (October 25th) that the new baby grand piano will be delivered. If you hadn't noticed, I can't flippin' wait!

5. Gets grading done... like a boss
This weekend I got all my grading done by early Saturday morning. That never happens. Usually I put it off until the end of the weekend. This weekend I didn't let it mock me from my giant rolley bag. I OWNED that rolley bag and got r' done! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Subversion
I love when teachers aren't so rigid that they can recognize when subversion in the classroom is a Good Thing. This past week we embraced subversion in 8th grade by celebrating the book Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett.

2. A student's vote of confidence
It made my day when a student said to me in class last week:
"You know what you should do, Mrs. Shaum? Next year when we're freshmen, you should move over and teach English at the high school."

3. Blanket Books
Kurt Stroh asked me to be a part of a blog post called "The Wonderful Comfort of Blanket Books." I love this idea of blanket books, which are books that you read and reread to give you comfort.

4. Finding answers
I have suffered from gastrointestinal issues for the majority of my life. Without going into too much detail, IBS is something I have lived with since I was in 7th grade and it has progressively gotten worse over the past few years. I have seen many different doctors about this problem and nothing has helped me. But I recently saw a new gastroenterologist at the University of Michigan who recommended me to a nutritionist who put me on an elimination diet called low FODMAPs. I have been on this diet for the past six weeks and have felt like a new person. I am so happy that I have finally moved towards something that will help me not have to worry so much about where the nearest bathroom is, or if I can go out to eat with my friends without having to go right home afterwards. I am feeling very thankful right now.

5. Michigan football under the lights
There is something about a Michigan football game under the lights that is incomparable to a day game. The energy in the stadium is like nothing I've ever experienced. It is electric. And with two ugly losses the past two games, Michigan desperately needed a win this week against Penn State. And with this win, it gave the fans a much-needed morale boost after the game against Minnesota where the air in the stadium was so hopeless and tense, that a large portion of the crowd cleared out before the 3rd quarter even ended. This week, while certainly not perfect, everyone -- players and fans -- felt a sense of renewal.
Go Blue
Go Blue

Friday, October 10, 2014

Celebrating a little subversion -- okay, maybe a lot of subversion

I recently found a collection of Little Golden Books at my library's used bookstore and I immediately had an idea: I'm going to let my students create their own versions of the infamous Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett.
Little Golden Books

So today I introduced this extra credit project to my 8th grade classes, and this was one of my favorite conversations of the day:

Me: Today I'm going to talk about your extra credit project for 1st quarter if you choose to accept it, but first I have to show you a book trailer.
Student (rather begrudgingly): Does this mean we're gonna have to read this book?
Me: Well yes but it's a picture book.
Student: Oh, I guess that's OK.
Me: *Shows Battle Bunny Book Trailer*
Student (with entire class in concert): I HAVE TO READ THAT BOOK!

My next favorite conversation went something like this:
Student: Mrs. Shaum are Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett going to make any other books like Battle Bunny?
Me: Well, I don't know. They're on Twitter. Maybe we could ask them.
Student: Well get tweeting.

And still another favorite conversation (that happened repeatedly throughout the day):
Student(s): So wait. You mean you want us to write all over a book?
Me: Yes. Just don't use Sharpies because they'll bleed through the page.
Student(s)' thoughts and wheels turning are almost palpable: I can't believe a teacher wants us to destroy a book.

So Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka, if you're reading this, I hope you do create more books like Battle Bunny. Based on my students' attitudes about reading, which have been tepid so far this year, this is the first book that they were CLAMORING to read.

Needless to say, I had a swarm of 8th graders coming to get Little Golden Books after school today so they could create their own Battle Bunny stories for extra credit. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pairing the old with the new

As I watched Bethany Mota dance to Colbie Caillat's song "Try" on Dancing with the Stars this week, I suddenly had a vision that this song would pair perfectly with Paul Laurence Dunbar's classic poem "We Wear the Mask."

I was not wrong. Today our journal topic in 8th grade English was to close read the poem, watch the video, and compare the two.
We wear the mask
My close reading of  "We Wear the Mask"

The discussions that poured forth in all three of my classes after we spent some time writing were so on point, I was so impressed with the things they were saying. And even better that the students led the discussion the entire time. I would interject every so often, but for the most part they got the connection without much prodding. The idea of metaphorical masks certainly seems to resonate with middle school students.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

5 Things I loved about last week

It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Superheroes

Inspired by Cece Bell, my 8th graders started writing about their own superhero powers. More importantly, I led them in this writing assignment by sharing with them what I wrote about this topic, and I've never seen them more engaged and excited. Powerful things happen in a classroom where the teacher writes with her students.

2. Tori's coming home soon
Who is Tori you ask? If you recall, I recently wrote about watching a childhood dream of one day owning a baby grand piano finally come to fruition. On Friday we finalized everything and plan to have her delivered on October 25th.

(I named her Tori because Tori Amos is one of my musical role models)
She lies in waiting, but she'll be home soon

3. Google Classroom
Our school just signed up for Google Apps for Education so my students and I have been exploring Google Classroom and I have to say that I am in love. What an incredibly efficient and streamlined way to organize student work.

4. Andrew Smith books
Grasshopper Jungle was the first Andrew Smith book I ever read and I was completely wowed. In this sort of way
This week I finally decided to do something about only having read one of his books by starting Winger. And after page one, I have decided that Andrew Smith is the poet of expletives. I *bleeping* love his books. How's THAT for a book talk, kids?

5. My students crack me up
 At the end of the day earlier this week, some students in my last hour class drew this on my whiteboard:
How can you not love 8th graders?
(Incidentally, despite the fact that I like the song, I'm a little annoyed that I cannot get it out of my head. It is incessantly pounding on my skull and it won't go away!)

What did you love about last week? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Changing my writing tune

I have come to realize two things during this new school year from being at a new school and having a fresh start:

1) Writing with your students isn't just a nice idea; it's a necessity if you want to see their writing improve.

2) Commenting on second drafts instead of final drafts has given my students a way to focus on better revision strategies for their final drafts.

At my former school I touted my expertise to my students and colleagues as the writing guru, citing the seminal work of inspiring teachers that came before me like Tom Romano, Nancie Atwell, and Penny Kittle. But the truth of the matter is, I frequently found myself frustrated with the lack of motivation my students possessed in moving from one draft to the next. The problem? I preached to them my gospel of writing, but I wasn't living it.

This year I am making sure to be mindful that my actions are much more powerful than my words when it comes to assigning writing and have already seen its benefits in spades. I am currently grading my 8th graders' "This I Believe" essays and am so impressed with how much they have revised from one draft to the next and the risks they are taking with their writing. That all happened as a result of writing with them and giving them feedback before their final drafts.

Today, we started a short writing assignment after I showed my class this inspiring video from graphic novelist Cece Bell:
El Deafo is a beautiful book because it takes something that people would normally consider a disability and turns that idea on its head. Cece took her deafness and made it into a superpower. My
8th graders started this assignment earlier this week with a journal prompt about if they were a superhero, what would their superpower be, and were also asked to give themselves a superhero name. Today we took that seed of a journal topic and expanded on it, watching it grow into something more substantive.

The day I assigned this as a journal topic, all three of my classes didn't seem to be all that into it. They wrote a couple sentences in their notebooks and that was that. But today was a completely different story. The one thing that was missing from the equation was me. I hadn't written anything yet. So once again, I had to shed my armor of professional distance to expose the soft, vulnerable underbelly and share with them my rough draft of my superhero power.

Not only did I see I change in motivation from one day to the next, but I also got some really helpful suggestions for revisions of my own writing. I had students coming up to me excitedly sharing their ideas, and also asking me for suggestions. At one point during my first class period, I stopped to listen to the chatter around me and not one conversation strayed from talk of superheros. At one point a student raised his hand and said, "Mrs. Shaum, I think once we're done, we should all share our superhero names and powers and then write a story where they clash with each other."

Oh the sweet, melodious music of writers. I'm so happy I've finally joined the band.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers