Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mr. LeBrun's 11 Homework

I connected with Ross LeBrun via Twitter this past year and met face to face at TeachMeetNJ 2013. Ross is an ELA supervisor and an awesome #NJED educator. I greatly value his opinion and use him as a sounding board for some of my crazy ideas. He has commissioned me and 10 others to complete a 4-part blog post as a way for us to connect and share. Here we go!

Part 1: 11 Facts about Me

  1. My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. 
  2. Despite being an extrovert online, I'm an introvert in person. Online, I like the ability to interact when I want and through a portal that keeps everyone literally at arms length. Despite being an introvert, I have no problem with public speaking. Put me in front of a crowd and I will keep on talking.
  3. I have a very loud voice. Others have stating hearing me teach from across the building. My husband has to constantly remind me that I'm not on the pool deck at home.
  4. I have a fear of falling.  I like heights, but only if I am secure and can have a white-knuckled hold on something. Dangle my feet and I'm done.
  5. I teach at my high school alma mater.
  6. I was taught how to swim by my mom, who was also my summer swim coach. I never swam for a high school team (we didn't have one then) or for a Y team (couldn't afford it), and I walked on to my college team, which I captained my senior year.
  7. With help from administration and fellow coaches, I started the swim team at my high school in 2000. In more ways than one, the Girls Varsity Swim Team is my dream team.
  8. I like to drive fast.  I would seriously try being a racecar driver if given the opportunity.
  9. My favorite color is green-- especially the green of the marsh in late Spring.
  10. I like to garden. My specialties are marigolds, petunias, and tomatoes. 
  11. My grandma, step-grandma, and I all share the same birthday.

Part 2:  11 Questions from Mr. LeBrun:
  1. What would you do with a lottery win of $50,000?  I would figure out how to invest/save it to make more money later on.  A good chunk would be used for my daughters' education, and I'd like to stash the rest away for a "rainy day."
  2. What was the first thing you read that you remember loving? I have always been a reader, and I remember my parents and siblings always bringing books with us wherever we went. I can't remember much of specific books I read when I was little, but I do remember the first book that got me hooked on sci-fi/fantasy: My dad gave me a copy of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong when I was in middle school, and after reading about Menolly and her fire lizards, I devoured any and every Pern book by Anne McCaffrey. I was enthralled with the world of Pern.
  3. Diving - Sky or Scuba? Scuba!  Put me in water, not the air! (See #4 above!)
  4. What is your favorite season? Summer and Fall. Living at the beach, I love summer, but I also love the beginning of Fall and the start of a new school year. 
  5. Would you move for a job? I would consider moving IF it was the right fit for me and my family, and it would have to be a very cool place for a cool job. It took us 5 years to buy our current house-- we refused to settle! 
  6. Have you monetized your blog? Do you plan to? I haven't monetized my blog yet, but I would seriously consider it. How much do bloggers make? 
  7. Are you a cat or a dog person? There can be only one! DOG!!!!!!!!!  (See title of this blog)
  8. Pick one musical instrument to learn now that you're an adult. Why that one? Cello. I love classical music and grew up playing the piano and clarinet. I haven't played in years.  My piano skills have since transferred to the computer keyboard-- I can type very fast!
  9. To where did you fly on your first flight? Does anything about the experience stand out as significant? First flight was senior trip to Orlando, Florida when I was in high school. Nothing very significant--thank heavens when there were 100s of high school students on a plane.  I've only flown a handful of times in the 20 years since: California (twice), Florida (4 times, during college for winter swim training), Dominican Republic (once), Colorado (once).  I usually drive where ever I need to go.  I like the adventure of flying-- just not the cost. 
  10. Do you play video games? If not, WHY? If yes, which system/games? I grew up playing Nintendo.  I fondly remember one Christmas staying up very late trying to learn how to play Super Mario Bros-- everytime we wanted a character to jump we'd lift our hands/controller. We have a Wii now, but I haven't played it much lately.  I've been playing some games on my phone/iPad (Candy Crush, Plants v. Zombies 2).  I like play as a form of distraction when I need to take a few minutes and zone out.  
  11. What was the first CD you ever bought? Do you still have it? Oh boy. I have no idea. I remember buying U2 bootlegs on the boardwalk in Seaside. Ordering free CDs from that company that would send you a new one every month... 

Part 3:  Nominate Other Bloggers
Every blogger listed below is on my must-read list-- and my partner in crime WOULD BE on my must-read list if she blogged more (here's to getting you going, Liz!) :-D 

Part 4: Questions for those I nominated to answer

  1. What is your favorite type of cookie?
  2. As a cook, what is your signature dish?
  3. What was your best Christmas/Birthday/Holiday gift ever (either given to you or you gave to someone else)? 
  4. Why was that the best gift ever?
  5. What is your favorite tech tool?
  6. Oxford comma, necessary or superfluous? 
  7. What is your favorite book?
  8. If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?
  9. If you were to name one piece of clothing that describes you, what would you say?
  10. Would you rather visit the world 100 years into the past or 100 years into the future?
  11. What's the kindest act you have ever seen done (either to/by you or another)?

For those I nominated, now it is your turn!

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

4. List 11 bloggers after you write this.  

5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Create Certificates with Autocrat

Autocrat is a versatile mail merge script created by Andrew Stillman that can be used to generate and send documents to recipients.  You can send letters, assignments, grades & commentslesson plans, and more with Autocrat. Big thanks to Cheryl Morris for teaching me about Autocrat for assignment delivery!

General Steps:
1. Create master template Google document that includes the mail merge tags: <<  >>
2. Create Google Form for entering the information that will be merged.
3. Install and run the script on the response spreadsheet.

For teachers, sports teams, clubs, and administrators, Autocrat can be used to create and send certificates as needed. With just a few minutes of set-up, you can have a method for quickly generating certificates and have a record of all items organized on a spreadsheet.

Think of all the ways you could use this to promote positive interactions and recognize accomplishments!

  • Perfect Attendance 
  • Honor Roll Certificate
  • Free Homework Pass
  • Athlete of the Week 
  • Student of the Week 
Share your ideas!!!!

I created a screencast demonstrating the process for certificate creation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

#CEL13: Connections

I couldn't afford the cost of attending the entire NCTE conference this year in Boston, but I was able to attend and present at the Conference on English Leadership, an intimate conference tied to the main NCTE event that was held November 24-26.

The 2013 CEL convention focused on the theme of Transformative Literary Leadership and Learning, and my session was STOP BLEEDING RED INK: Using Paper and Online tools to assist in evaluating student work. I'm very passionate about changing the perception of English teachers as red pen wielding warriors. English teachers should not be lugging home piles of papers to red pen and spending 20+ hours outside of school grading student work. Available technology AND teaching strategies can empower students to create better products better than any red mark on a paper. I'm very grateful to Heather Rocco and the CEL leadership for the opportunity to share my thoughts how on to transform literacy learning in the classroom with people who can effect change in their districts.

Celebrity Sightings & Twitter

Twitter has become such an integrated part of my professional learning. Sharing resources, working out issues, and conversing on Twitter with like minded individuals has propelled my teaching practices.  On more than one occasion, I was called "prolific" in reference to my tweeting habits during the conference-- if they only knew. One of the highlights for connecting via Twitter is being able to meet tweeps in person, face to face. 

There were quite a few people at the conference who I did not recognize until they mentioned their Twitter handle.  One such moment occurred with Colette Benett:  it wasn't until I saw her Twitter handle @teachcmb56 that I realized I follow her on Twitter and regularly read her blog. "OH! You're Used Books in Class! I love your blog!"  was my immediate response when I connected with her and fellow teacher Stephanie Pixley during #CEL's social hour.  Nothing beats discussing Odysseus, Frankenstein, and Pygmalion over a class of Cabernet. 

Colette made an interesting point in one of the sessions (please forgive my paraphrasing): Teachers are always doing dress rehearsals; we are never actually performing a final show. Every period we teach is just a dress rehearsal at best, and if we are lucky to teach the same prep, we can perform it multiple times with the 3rd showing probably the most successful. I think she is right! I wonder, how can teachers be on stage for a final performance? Evaluating teachers' performances via the Danielson model isn't the answer. I also wonder, why do teachers need to be on stage? Why not let the students "steal the show"? Let the teacher be the stage director or set designer-- more thoughts on this for another blog post.

Another moment was during the lunch keynote session, where I sat at a table with fellow educators Meenoo Rami, Amy Baskin, Kate Roberts, Maggie Roberts, Chris Lehman, and others: catching sight of @teachkate written on a name badge, I exclaimed, "OH! YOU'RE @TEACHKATE! I follow you! I'm @KtBkr4!" Once our Twitter handles were shared, we realized that we already "knew" each other. 

#CEL's keynote line-up was jammed packed with Twitter-celebs, amazing educators who cut the edge. Eric Sheninger touted the importance of being connected in his conference opening keynote. Troy Hick's keynote on digital writing resonated with me for it focused on what I am trying to do with my students: get them writing more and for an authentic audience. I carted around my copy of Hick's Crafting Digital Writing hoping to catch an autograph.  Donalyn Miller's keynote on fostering life-long readers was funny, smart, engaging. Meenoo Rami's keynote on connecting with her students and empowering their learning through relevant projects. I want to be in class with all of these people!

One of many highlights for the conference was sitting with Meenoo Rami, Kate Roberts, Maggie Roberts, and Chris Lehman during lunch and unintentionally twitter-bombing Donalyn Miller's keynote. We realized rather quickly that the noise we heard emanating from the podium was her phone vibrating every time she received a tweet. We couldn't stop tweeting because her speech was relevant and inspiring, and needed to be shared.

One session really got me thinking about writing instruction. Erika Bogdany's Breaking Down Walls: how to break down the walls of a classroom for inclusive learning among staff and students.  By changing the mindset and having staff model independent reading and participate in an Educator's Editing Workshop, student accountability, connections, and performance are increased.

The Educator's Editing Workshop is simple: invite other staff members from other subject areas to sit with students and conference about their writing.  Amazing concept. Erika is to be commended on her ability to pull this off. She really got me thinking about how I could bring this to my school.

If you've read my other blog posts about grading writing, I harp on this issue: writing is never finished.  Erika made this point in session.

So why do we mislead students by labeling it as "final"?

Another highlight was bumping into Penny Kittle and getting her to follow me on Twitter. 

I have some reading to do: I picked up copies of Penny Kittle's Book Love, Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.  While I have had a hand in crafting the curriculum, I'd like to see what else I can do with my students besides whole novel instruction for reading. While I didn't grab it YET, I'm also enamored with Chris Lehman and Kate and Maggie Roberts' concept of Falling in Love with Close Reading. Their session got me thinking about how much close reading I do with my students (A LOT). Really, we don't need to close read everything in class. It does take up a lot of time and I can always sense the moments when my students have had enough. So putting Kittle's and Miller's ideas into practice with this notion of selective close reading, I wonder how I can restructure my class so that reading is more student centered and authentic.

Really, CEL could be renamed Connecting English Leaders because this conference was more than just sharing ideas about the future of ELA in schools or sharing progressive projects in conference session.  This conference promotes collaboration and connections. I have so much more to process and write about this conference-- probably another 10 blog posts, but to sum it up for now, take a look at these two tweets:

To see ALL of the tweets from #CEL13 search Twitter or try drinking from this firehose of a stream.