Writers Week 2017

I am honored and lucky to work at Fremd High School – where great things happen every day, where students inspire with their eagerness to learn while teachers touch lives with their passions and knowledge. One particular week I feel blessed to be a part of is Writers Week. Founded twenty-three years by now retired English teachers Gary Anderson and Tony Romano, and now tirelessly run by English teachers Gina Enk and Russ Anderson, Writers Week is an annual celebration of writing during which professional writers, students and faculty share their stories to help us better understand writing and authors. It offers wonderful opportunity for students to make the connection between what we do in the classroom and the outside world they are preparing for. Writers Week always inspires my students to write more and I’m inspired write along with them!

The following is just a taste of the many, many memorable moments that stick out in my mind of Writers Week 23. For a complete video archive of each period, each day, visit the Writers Week video archive HERE. Writers Week certainly inspired me to write more, and what better way to start than with Writers Week itself!!


Months before, students are invited to submit their writing to share during Writers Week. Every year, many, many students stand bravely in front of the auditorium filled with their peers and teachers. One of my own AP Language students shared her Indian culture and passion for dance while a beautiful video of her recital played behind her as she read; and, another of my Expository Composition students shared a comical rhyming “roast,” as well as her “This I Believe” essay – two proud teacher moments for me! So many students disclosed bravely – one talked about overcoming cancer, another about getting over her grandmother’s death, another revealed she suffered from social anxiety while another shared her love for her favorite stuffed animal. Such courageous sharing going on!

I’ve never seen a more polite, supportive audience of peers through all of this. Students shared lessons learned – one talked about finding that “firework moment” in which you learn and grow, one declared that bad days make good days even better, while another told stories from teaching preschool depicting how little kids say the darnedest things. One of the co-editors of The Logue, the school newspaper I co-advise, eloquently spoke of Muslim contributions to the U.S. and the fact that many are simply scared of what they don’t know  . . to which she received a standing ovation!! Unbelievable, goose-bump moment!  I could go on . . . . over fifty students spoke throughout the course of the five days.

This year, students were lucky to here from a former student as well. Erin Dismeier, a 2009 grad and radio broadcast producer came to speak to students about writing for the radio, and how different that is. Students had a chance to hear a sampling of her actual broadcasts! It’s important for students to see the success of alumni who started out like them.


In addition to the students, faculty takes part in the sharing. Virtually every department in the school has been represented with teachers sharing their own writing. It’s eye-opening for students to see that their science or P.E. or math teachers write too! This year, for instance, science teacher Brad Graba shared the importance of being scientifically literate, business teacher Brittany Seivers illustrated – through her own personal story – how we are all going through something but that’s what ultimately unites us, and world language teacher Andrea Fritz shared own writing inspired by her mom. And having her parents there was very touching for the students, I might add. Of course, it wouldn’t be Writers Week without English teachers writing: Eric Schaeffer shared a re-count of when he courageously took part in Running with the Bulls in Pamplona; Grant Dawson shared his two-week jury duty experience, English t.a. Torie Eldridge told about overcoming the death of her mom, Marilyn Berdick wrote a fun story about the Cubs (and sang!); Jaclyn Han recited her own versions of Encyclopedia of Me and Russ Anderson wrote about sharing his love for the Cubs with his own children. The unbelievable amount of sharing going on during this week is like at no other school.

Moreover, Fremd students have been lucky to have a chance to hear from three retired English teachers, coming back to share in the writing celebration. Gary Anderson, co-founder of Writers Week, has never missed a year of presenting. For his 23rd year, he bravely disclosed about his strained relationship with his own father. Tony Romano, co-founder of Writers Week, previewed a few chapters of his third, new book to be published, and Kevin Breuner recited one of his stories titled “Original Sin,” a story from his youth playing golf. The different perspectives the students gain about writing . . . about life . . . .  is something they will remember for a long time.

Professional Writers:

Mary Fons:  Mary Fons is a regular Writers Week favorite. She is a writer, quilter, designer and teaches a storytelling class at the University of Chicago.  Students and faculty alike adore and are inspired by her as she shares her knowledge of storytelling. I am especially impressed with her willingness to put herself out there, to write what she knows and feels and live with passion – this is fabulous for students to see! One challenge she offered students is to write lipograms, a composition in which the writer intentionally omits a particular letter of the alphabet. What a way to challenge the writing muscles! 

Rebecca Makkai: Rebecca Makkai is a fictional writer, with works including the short story collection, Music in Wartime and The Hundred-Year House, a novel about the secrets of an old-money family. She shared her own insight into storytelling and writing, pointing out that the best stories are ones in which characters change both internally and externally. Hearing a professional author talk about the story arc solidifies for the students what they practice within their own classroom writing.

Taylor Mali: Taylor Mali has been to Fremd’s Writers Week numerous times but this was my first time seeing him live – and I left inspired! We read poetry in class, we have the kids write poetry but, man, to have them hear poetry being read from the poet himself is exciting for kids. Mali orally interpreted quite a few of his poems, including “What Teachers Make” (per the request of a student in the audience), and interestingly declared that teaching is a lot like poetry – both instruct and entertain. He’s got a good point . . . we’re not just there to teach the content but to relate to students in such a way that they buy in, that they see connections, that they see want to learn.

AJ Pine: Amy Pine is a former English teacher at Fremd High School and a published new adult author of four different series of novels. As she herself indicated to her audience at WW, what we do in the classroom does connect to life outside – and what better way to see that then through the success of one of the student’s own former teachers. Amy talked about everything from the importance of digital citizenship to how to be disciplined enough to sit down and write a book.

Tyehimba Jess: Tyehimba Jess, acclaimed poet and author of Leadbelly and Ollo, shared a number of his pieces, including a concrete sonnet, a sonnet that visually conveys the meaning of the piece the graphic arrangement of the words themselves, as well as an intriguing crown of sonnets, a sequence of sonnets usually addressing one subject or person. The preceding and succeeding sonnets are linked by repeating the last line of the preceding sonnet to the first line of the succeeding. What was most fascinating about Tyehimba’s sequence is that the sequence makes complete sense no matter the order of the reading of the sonnets: up and down, left to right, diagonally. Now that is a challenge . . . one of my colleagues was so inspired, he started to write his own sonnet sequence to his wife for Valentine’d Day.

Jeremy McCarter: Jeremy McCarter enthralled students with the story of how his book Hamilton: The Revolution came into being born. As he stated at one point, ideas waiting to come out of our brains and into realization is like feeling “super pregnant” with ideas inside of us growing and waiting to become real. And while success may sometimes look fore-ordained, it’s not. What seems to come together well is only through hard work along with many trials and tribulations. McCarter recommends reading Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat for further writing inspiration. The premise of the book is “content dictates form” . . . we can’t prejudge how to achieve something until we know what we want to achieve. It is only then we can start to take the steps to achieve that something. So true.

Students running up to meet Andrew McCarty, co-author of

Students running up to meet Jeremy McCarter, co-author of Hamilton: The Revolution

G Neri : YA author G Neri, author of the popular graphic novel, Yummy, spoke of the importance of reading fiction to gain empathy. Something he said that still resonates with me is “When you start to open up to opportunities, opportunity opens up to you.” This is so very true – the more open you are, the more opportunities come your way. Students need to hear this, and hearing it from someone other than their usual teachers makes it even more impactful.

Joe Meno and Billy Lombardo: Joe Meno is Chicago fiction author and playwright; Billy Lombardo is a Chicago fiction author and educator. For two class periods, the two writers shared their writing and had a unique personal conversation about writing as they sat side-by-side on the stage. They asked each other questions before inviting students to do the same. Students thoughtful questions attested to the audience interest.

The above are just a sampling of the many, many inspiring, impactful moments of Writers Week. I did not list every presenter, just a sampling. Every period of every day brought more learning, more insight, more inspiration for students and teachers alike. Day after day, students left chatting about what they just saw on stage . . . left inspired to write a bit more and inspired to read a bit more. Bottom line, Writers Week makes us all a bit more nice to each other, a bit more glad to do what we get to do every day in the classroom – share our own passions for reading and writing with our students.



An Old Girl and The Sea -What I did over Summer 2016

We are all connected by our love of travel!

This year, my family splurged on an 8-day trip to Cuba for my mother’s birthday. I took advantage of the opportunity and planned for a unique educational exposition I would never forget!

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” ~Sir Richard Burton

It’s an eye-opening experience to visit a third-world, underdeveloped country. It puts the modernized stress we place on ourselves into much-needed perspective. Everything in Cuba is contently old-fashioned. For instance, you won’t find an American car newer than a 1962 model (one result from the 1962 U.S. embargo against Cuba).  Mind you, those cars are in pristine condition as pride in ownership runs rampant.


As a high school English teacher, I was especially excited to visit Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds and his home in Cuba, where he resided for more than 20 years. His sailboat, Pilar, that he fished on many times not unlike the protagonist in his novella The Old Man and the Sea, still sits decaying off a Caribbean coast. (Fun fact: Ernest’s widow, Mary, wanted to have it sunk so no one could use it again, but Cuban government red tape prevented that from happening). Where allowed, I took pictures to show my students. For instance, we spent quite a bit of time talking to the owner of Hemingway’s favorite restaurant, LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO, who explained how Hemingway’s family, including granddaughter Mariel, still come by when visiting Cuba. Interestingly, a Cuban resident who overheard our conversation that I’m an English teacher, proceeded to show me pictures around the restaurant of other Spanish poets who’ve frequented there. Just a great example of the congeniality of Cuba.




Hemingway’s grandson

Hemingway's granddaughter

Hemingway’s granddaughter

Mario Beneditti, poet

Mario Beneditti, poet

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

They say everything happens for a reason. Now I know why I never read  The Old Man and the Sea before. Because I had to read it in its authentic setting!!! Let me just say that lying on a serene, peaceful beach off the Caribbean coast, staring at the very sea in which Santiago’s fishing adventures take place was awe-inspiring. For the record, Hemingway did not write Old Man in Cuba – he actually wrote that in another beautiful setting, the Bahamas. Nevertheless, living for over twenty years ten miles out of Havana had an impact on Hemingway’s writing. I will never forget reading that book in that location. Imagine what an assignment it would be to require students read a book within the setting illustrated within that book!! Safe settings only, of course. One of the main benefits of reading is our ability to experience faraway cultures we may not otherwise have the chance to.


Besides learning more about Hemingway, our trip to Cuba included visits to Museum of the Revolution, breathtaking cathedrals, baseball games and music. We also took a 3-hour bike tour for a unique perspective of the outskirts of Havana. We saw military sites, memorial monuments, the Colon Cemetery (no pictures allowed!), and dedicated parks and forest preserves.


Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba in September 2015 and, in doing so he expanded for travelers who have a humanitarian or educational purpose. We have to get visas, but that extra effort is worth it. The president’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 additionally lead the way for further congenial relations.


Plaza de la Catedral

Although the United States’ past relationship with Cuba may have been portrayed the country as being an unsafe place to travel, it is extremely safe. We talked extensively to Cuban residents and officials who reiterate that Cuba’s crime statistics indicate that it’s one of the safest countries in the world. We walked off the beaten path a few times and felt completely safe and welcome. Just brush up on your Spanish as English is not the dominant language.


Communication outside of Cuba was a challenge. There is no cellular data. Wi-Fi is available only at certain hotels, and even that has many time and site restrictions too. Honestly, it was wonderful to see local people always socializing, always out and about, even very late into the evening . . . simply talking. No hunched shoulders behind screens!! One other small but very significant detail – travelers used to modern necessities need to bring their own of everything – and I do mean everything. Stores are far and few between, and those that exist hold limited supplies; but, the local artisans selling their handmade unique art will make you forget the “necessities” we choose to spend our money on.


on the Prado

The food was delicious and fresh. Cubans eat well with what their Earth provides. Seafood, sweet potatoes and plantains are plentiful.


Who knows how Cuba might change radically within the next few years. Will pro-America slogans start to emerge? Will signs of capitalism bring more goods and services? Signs point to yes but I’m blessed to have had the unique opportunity to venture forth now, to experience Cuba at its most authentic. The world is our authentic classroom.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert

BOOK REVIEW: Teach Like a Pirate

I look forward to reading on plane rides. I have family on the West Coast so I fly frequently and like to make use of air time. This summer, one of the books that renewed my motivation the most was Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. His candid, honest passion provided the perfect prelude to begin the new school year.

While I never had the honor of meeting and attending one of Mr. Burgess’s seminars, I imagine he writes like he speaks because the book reads as if he were standing in the room enthusiastically cheering on his readers. I bookmarked, highlighted and noted a number of his sentences that I’ll undoubtedly refer to throughout the year ahead.


The book is divided into three parts: In Part I. Burgess defines his philosophy, what the difference between passion and enthusiasm is to him, and how teachers can best utilize both to motivate students to learn. In Part II, Dave offers hooks to add to any content to raise student interest along with brainstorming questions to help teachers elevate engagement for even the most mundane lesson plan. In Part III, final instructions and thoughts are given to translate the words in this book into our own classrooms.

One thing that Dave Burgess advocates is to incorporate your personal passions into the classroom as much as you can. This got me thinking, “What am I already doing to share my personal passions to model learning enjoyment, and what more can I do for students to see that class content connects to real world interests?”

Supplementary text, articles, videos and artifacts I am constantly on the lookout for new supplementary material for my students to study in conjunction with our main curricular units. Common Core advocates the use of mentor texts, and I cannot agree more. I recently started new Diigo and Feedly accounts to help me curate and keep track of resources.

Blogging in the classroom. I enjoy blogging as a venue to share my own writing. This year, in fact, I was hired by my podiatrist to write professionally on his website. In class, this will be the fourth year incorporating blogging into the curriculum for my students. Each school year is a bit different, depending on the kids and what we are reading, but students always appreciate and benefit from writing for authentic audiences along with gaining those digital skills. See a previous POST on my blogging in the classroom experiences.

Fitness: I frequent the gym five or six times a week, and believe mental cognition is connected to our motor abilities. I sometimes have my students stand up and warm-up with arm circles, knee steps, even jumping jacks to get the blood and brain waves flowing as we begin class. I also use ‘building brain muscle’ analogies frequently as we learn new ideas. Here’s a post I recently wrote about “Fitness for Educators.”

Cooking – Preparing new recipes in the kitchen is therapeutic to me, and I read cookbooks from cover to cover as if they are novels. Over the summer, I purchased an Easy Bake Oven that looks very different from the one I owned as a child. I’m either giving it to my five-year old niece OR – if I get brave enough – bringing it to class to bake cookies during writing or reading sessions, to give students that fresh-out-of-the-oven comfort as they work. I originally spotted this idea in Alice Keeler’s blog post, “10 Easy Things to Try in Your Classroom in 2015.” Alice Keeler is a professional development educator I connect with on my PLN.

These are just a few of the many new ventures I’d like to try this year. Reading Teach Like a Pirate renewed my sense of wonder and excitement as I contemplated new things to try in class to continually improve myself as a teacher. Educators, if you are looking for a book to renew your inspiration or energy, this is the one to read. I have yet to read a professional development book as passionate as this one. Go ahead, dare to walk the plank and teach like a pirate! The water below is with a school of eager souls who truly WANT to learn and be inspired.

BOOK REVIEW: 50 Things You Can Do with Google Classroom by Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller, Ed.D

Two years ago, my school district began using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Teachers are successfully using the suite of tools under various innovative capacities.

I’ve been using many Google applications with my students for the past couple of years – mostly, to collaborate with student essays along with organizing my own documents. See HERE for materials from a beginning-of-year session I held at my school last August. For this upcoming school year, I’ll be setting up Google classroom for three of my five classes (for the other two, I will use iTunes U as I continue to have success with this platform tool). Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller, Ed. D.’s book, “50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom” couldn’t have been published at a more opportune time. Google launched Google Classroom at the beginning of the last school year and, while I know many teachers had success with this from the start, others like me had some questions before initiating a brand new platform.

My copy is already doggy-eared everywhere!

My copy is already doggy-eared everywhere!

What I like best about Keeler and Miller’s book is that it offers at-a-glance tips to do everything from setting up a classroom to utilizing advance features such as polling and linking to virtual office hours. Each of the 50 things to do include a clear, concise synopsis coupled with a screen-shot type illustration that visualizes the steps needed to execute the work in one’s own class.

As stated in the introduction of the book, “Adding technology to our classrooms isn’t optional; it’s a must if we’re to equip our students for their futures” (xi).  It’s books like this one that makes adding technology that much easier. This is a book I will refer to again and again. This is a book I’ve already referred colleagues to. This is a book any teacher using GAFE in the classroom will not want to be without. A+ for inspiration to incorporate more student-centered technology and effective instructional strategies!!

Keeler, Alice and Libbi Miller Ed.D. 50 Things You Can Do with Google Classroom. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2015. Print.

NEXT REVIEW: Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a Pirate 

My summer reading list keeps growing!!

TLC Tells: What I’m reading now

I’m lucky to teach in a school where I’m continually inspired by so many around me – both students and colleagues.  I’ve never been more inspired to learn and grow as an educator.  It feels like home – the rigor, the philosophies, the attitude.  Never one to rest on my laurels, I’m continually looking to get my hands on as much information as I can consume.  Here’s what is currently opened and doggy-eared at the moment.  There’s more journals and books waiting for me, dispersed around my home . . . but these are the ones I’m currently using.(no special order)

Create Compose Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Hicks and Hyler give new meaning to LOL – Learn Out Loud.  The pedagogy they discuss and model for digital learning and connections in the English classroom is inspiring. I’m currently using the book review and corresponding movie trailer/comic strip as an independent reading choice book project with my freshmen.  There’s so many more usable examples here – I can’t wait to try more.

Write Like This – Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts by Kelly Gallagher . . .I actually purchased this when it was first published a few years ago but am re-visiting it this year.  I use writing exercises in here as supplements to “hook” my student writers, to help them understand the connections between their academic writing and the “real-world” writing they will be performing beyond school.  I appreciate Gallagher’s sensible ideas.

They Say, I Say The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein – I’m intrigued by this one.  My department chair recommended it – I see use of this on all levels that I teach.  Templates for helping students understand the rhetoric of argument is arguably doable.  Articulating sound arguments with supported evidence is such an essential life skills – each year at school, students need practice with this.

“Uncovering Substance:  Teaching Revision in High School Classrooms by Jessica Singer Early & Christina Saidy in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy . . . I’m continually looking for ways to revise the way I teach revision.  Revision is an integral part of writing, and I don’t want students to think it’s just one more step they need to go through the motions to “get the grade” on their essays.  Reflection is key for learning and growing, and students should master this essential real-life skill before tackling greater writing experiences.

“Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading” by Patricia Scriffny in Educational Leadership . . . My principal and assistant principal spoke about this very recently.  While I’ve heard and read about SBG before, it makes more and more sense to me as we move forward.  I’m still wrapping my head around it, learning and trying – articles like this one make the theories and applications more clear.

The Art of Social Media – Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki & Peg Fitzpatrick – As an educator, I’m very interested in ways we can use social media to impact student learning.  I truly feel, when planned carefully, student interest and habitual use of social media can be channeled in a way to further understanding of class content.  As a blogger, I’m intrigued on ways to “brand” oneself to gain significant connections with others in your professional fields.

Journalism Education Today from the Journalism Education Association . . . I’m anxious to read my first copy of this!   I recently added this membership to my list of professional associations as I’m thoroughly enjoying my first year with my school’s newspaper.   This is another great way I get to fulfill my passion for digital writing, media, p.r. and journalism!

BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle is a book I refer to again & again for reading strategies!

BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle is a book I refer to again & again for reading strategies to help students love to read. Check the book out for ways to increase stamina in kids’ reading habits.

What are you currently reading?  I’d love to hear what fellow educators are reading to stay inspired?  Thanks for stopping by!~

Flipping to Facilitate Learning

Recently, I sat down to study reading quizzes my sophomores completed on Tuesdays with Morrie, the memoir written by Mitch Albom.  One of my Sophomore English classes, is co-taught; my co-teacher, Geri Dismeier and I agree that poor performance on vocabulary accounted for the majority of lower grades.  While grades are not the ultimate goal in learning, vocabulary is one of the significant goals.  Vocabulary knowledge is a life skill that plays a key role in what students understand and communicate.

After talking through ideas with my co-teacher, I took the opportunity to try something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.  I created a video for our students to refer back to as they studied for the second reading quiz over this weekend.  Students will be taking the quiz on Monday.  I can’t wait to see how they do on vocabulary in comparison to the first quiz!

The process took all of one hour from start to finish.

  1. I created a Google Slide presentation in which I typed in the words and definitions the students previously articulated in class using their context clues (I wanted to be sure to use the same words we used in class).
  2. I scavenged through my own pictures to see which pictures could represent the words.
  3. If I couldn’t find an appropriate photo of my own, I searched through Flickr.com under the Creative Commons section for photos.
  4. I inserted (or, in my case with my Mac, dragged) the pictures into blank slides that I left after each word slide.
  5. Using QuickTime, I screen recorded myself talking through the presentation.

The part that took the longest was finding appropriate photos.  In fairness, I recorded myself once more before saving my final recording.  I sounded too hurried in my first recording.

I modeled my video from the SAT vocabulary videos that Catlin Tucker has been successfully using for some time.  Her post about this, Vocabulary Lessons:  Flipped, Collaborative, and Student-Centered,  thoroughly explains her process and reasoning.  Please check it out for more information and ideas!  I refer back to Tucker’s posts frequently as she exemplifies many collaborative strategies to incorporate technology and the CCSS in instruction.  (Thank you, Twitter!  That’s how I originally discovered Tucker’s teaching).

What would I like to do differently next time to improve?  As a culminating summative assessment, I’d like the students to create their own vocabulary videos, within small groups, toward end of the semester.  That way, they can use these videos collectively to help study for finals!  Once I have that assignment created, I will post that as a follow-up in case anyone is interested.

From a technical standpoint, I’d like to include the part of speech along with including the exact sentence from which the vocabulary word appears in our reading.  In this particular course, we read much of our material aloud and it will be a chance for students to use their context clues once again.

From an instructional standpoint, perhaps asking students to bring their own created sentences the morning after viewing the video will actively engage them once more with the words before any type of formative assessment is given in class.

For other usage, I can see myself creating instructional students for my students to use -say – at the beginning of the year (i.e. how to sign up for Schoology or iTunes U, how to sign in to GAFE, etc).  Tucker does these very well!! Check out her YouTube page!  It’s a great idea to save class time AND it’s great for new or transfer students we sometimes get in the middle of the year.    These videos were quicker and more fun to create than I thought. . . I’d definitely like to find ways they may be more useful.

Driving with Google


August 20, 2014 – Tech Session

Here’s a link to materials from a technology session I hosted during our Teacher Institute.  This is the first year our ENTIRE district is going 1:1 and we couldn’t be more excited!!!  Enjoy and let me know what you think:


Fasten your seatbelts, here we go!!!!

Please click HERE for this session’s folder!


  1. Transferring from H:Drive to Google Drive  ??
  2. Essential Google Skills for Teachers
    1.  Open & Edit Word Files in Google Drive
    2.  Share Documents/Files
    3.  Create PDFs in Google Drive
    4.  Create and Organize Folders
  3.    Basic Student Workflow using Google Drive

Begin Student Blogging as Easy as 1, 2, 3

Using EdublogsWordPress for schools, teachers & students – these are the three steps I take to initiate my student blogs.  This is certainly not the ONLY way but this is the process I found to be most helpful.  The best resource is the very helpful user guide Edublogs offers.  Every process along the journey of classroom blogging is outlined and explained well in that online guide.  

I find it more efficient to conduct this initiation myself rather than the students.  For one, I can set up their URLs in a uniform fashion, eliminating the possibility of silly URLs students may regret owning later – URL name is the one item that cannot be altered.  Additionally, the twenty minutes or so this takes me to do is undoubtedly faster than the entire period it takes students as this very well may be first experiences with the blogging world.  Students will have ample opportunity to “own” the experience through choice of theme, fonts, colors, etc.

Once you’ve set up your own class site via edublogs.org, perform the same steps to set up each individual student site. **NOTE:  Because I illustrate this step-by-step, this may look much more involved than truly is. . . . Again, see the Edublogs guide for the thorough step-by-steps.  This is simply my own step process, in my own words:

1.  TEACHER DOES:  Set up each student account individually at Edublogs.org.

    1. Click on “Get Your Free Blog Now” (just as you would have done for creating your own account).
    2. Make the “username” the first initial of first name, last name (i.e. tchristensen) for each student.  This is what he/she will use to log in.  Creating uniformally formatted will be easier for you to create and them to remember.
    3. Skip the optional “email.”  This will not be needed if you have uniform usernames & passwords!
    4. Create a “password” that is easy to retrieve for each student (id?/birthdate?).
    5. Make the “blog domain” something that sufficient for future digital portfolios (full names?  first initials of first names/last names?  first names/first initials of last names?).
    6. For now, make the “blog name something like  “Theresa’s Blog, Jason’s Blog, etc . . . they can change this later.
    7. For “blog type,”  don’t forget to indicate it as a student blog!  This will allow them to “join your class” site later.
    8. TLC TIP:  If, after performing the above steps, Edublogs tells you that student name already exists, add a numerical digit at the end of the name.  For uniformity, you may want to think of this number ahead of time and keep it the same for each student.  (i.e. 2014 for that year)
    9. Go back to the Edublogs.org site for EACH student and perform this same process.  It really doesn’t take long!

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 11.17.46 PM 2.  TEACHER DOES:  Link the student blogs to your own Edublogs site.  Taking this step ahead of time, prior to unveiling the student sites to your students, will add to the fun because they will see their names on the “blog roll!”

    1. Log in to your own class site on Edublogs.
    2. Go to the Dashboard.
    3. On the left hand side, go to “Links” and click “Add New.”
    4. For each student, create a link:
      1. Fill in the student’s name in “Name.”
      2. Type URL (that you already created) for that student’s blog under “Web Address.”
      3. Under “Description,” type Brad’s Blog or Skylar’s Blog, etc.  This appears when the cursor hovers over the link on the blog roll.
      4. If you have ONE class, this is all you need to do!  If you want to place more than one class in your blog roll (in other words, have more than one class linked up to your site), you will need to set up each class as a category:
        1. Go to “Posts”
        2. Click “Categories”
        3. Fill in a name for your Category (i.e. Period 5 or Period 6)
        4. Press “Add New” and voila.
    5. Now your links should start appearing as you named them within the right sidebar!Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 11.58.39 PM

TLC TIP:  If the blogroll doesn’t automatically appear on your right sidebar, go to “Appearance” and “Widget.”  Drag over a Widget called “Links.”  HERE is the complete guide for this process.

3.  STUDENTS DO:  Students join the class site.  ~EDUBLOGS PRO option ONLY

    1. First, unveil the sites to each student!  I’ve used THIS document in the past.
    2. Once the students log in to their sites and get over their initial excitement, have them go to the Dashboard, go to “Class” at the left-hand side and “Join a Class.”  They search for your site, request to join and you approve.  Having them join your class allows you further control of their posts – if you choose to have it.  In other words, you can approve posts or comments before they are published, you can easily see who has completed a post, etc.
    3. TLC TIP:  I’ve used Edublogs both with and without a PRO account and have functioned well with both.  While I prefer having the PRO for its advantages (more control of privacy, more media upload capacity, more themes, the new reader function, etc), managing posts is doable without it.  You will simply need to click on each student link within your blog roll to check the posts.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 12.55.46 AM I hope this explanation is helpful in easing your initiation with classroom blogs.  Like I mentioned above, there are a couple of different ways to begin but this is what I found to be the least complicated and time-saving.  In the meantime, Happy Blogging, Friends!

Lucky 13 Steps to Meaningful Student Footprints

**These are the steps I’m sharing with teachers new to blogging in the classroom: 

  1. Choose a blogging platform.  See THIS chart for comparison of the widely used platforms in education.
  2. Teach students how to blog.  Have students either do a “practice” journal post online or HERE is a cool example of a “paper” blog activity to get students understanding the concept of sharing with an authentic audience without actually sharing online yet.
  3. Talk about online safety and etiquette. Taking time to teach some do’s and dont’s goes a long way. Don’t assume they know the proper code of conduct.  Common Sense Media has some great lessons.  Last year, my school used some digital citizenship lessons from them – more HERE.
  4. Teach students how to comment. In order for blogging to be effective, connected comments are needed; but, if students don’t practice proper comment etiquette, they will lose out on a significant part of the experience. I tell students that the rule of thumb is only write what you would not be afraid to tell someone in person.  My comment rules are HERE.
  5. Start small.  You may want to make the first post be a journal entry about the students’ favorite subjects – themselves!!  You may want to invite them to make one appreciative comment to one another student as well.  HERE is an example of a first post assignment I’ve used in the past . . . although every year I do something different for the initial post, depending on the nature of the students and the class.
      1. two paragraph minimum
      2. one media (picture, map, timeline, word art, video etc) to be included
      3. one comment on one peer’s post of the same assignment
  6. Include parents. Parents appreciate knowing what we are doing, what students are writing about and enjoy an invite to comment.  The students enjoy the extra connection too . . . even if they don’t always admit it.  HERE is an actual post assignment in which I involve parents.  Providing parents with the website URL during Open House and/or within Schoololgy, iTunes, or an Infinite Campus note is helpful too.
  7. Connect with one or two classes. While comments from around the world are phenomenal, the connections anywhere outside of class are key. Pair up with another class within your building or within the district.  Here is an example of when I paired my senior E405 Expository Writing students with my E108 Freshman English.  Reach out on Twitter or QUADBLOGGING or through #comments4kids to set up something more permanent.
  8. Visit other classroom blogs. Inspire your students by opening class with an example class blog from time to time.  I usually find blogs simply by searching “High School English Class Blog” or “High School World Geography EduBlogs” or something like that.
  9. Let students explore. My students love to play around with font, color, and images. They often change their themes too!  They teach each other how to do anything fancy (and also let each other know when font or color choices are poor!). This is a way for students to come into their own as creative writers and also start to think about creating their online identity.
  10. Perhaps, don’t grade the first post. Blogging is meant to be a way to practice writing for an audience and learning to respond to critique. I, of course, am clear about requirements and the edit process but I never ever chastise them for mistakes made . . . online or off; usually, peers point out mechanical errors and/or students immediately fix errors themselves once they see them “showcased” as clear as day on their sites.  By the way, HERE is an example rubric I’ve used for posts.
  11. Challenge students. Often students write about a given topic we are studying but, to keep students writing on their own, you can offer weekly (or bi-weekly) challenges in which you ask students to research to find the answer to a tricky question or have them write one higher-level thinking response to a prompt you give them a week or so to ponder.
  12. Map class connections. To motivate and inspire, you can start a WORLD MAP OF YOUR CLASSROOM on a bulletin board within your classroom, marking those places where site visitors come from.  Placing the CLUSTER MAP widget on the site helps too!
  13. Have patience! Some students take to blogging instantly, others aren’t so sure, and yet they all end up loving it!   The sheer mass of paper we save by having students create online is staggering.  By the way, if you have a homebound student, blogging is a GREAT way to keep them writing and involved with the class!!

TLC TIP Take part in blogging yourself!!!  I’ve been blogging on my own personal site since February 2009 and never looked back.  We need to practice what we teach, it’s a perfect venue for us to professionally and/or creatively hone our own writing skills, and we better understand the trials and triumphs our students experience. ONE OF MY FAVORITE INFOGRAPHICS on “Blogging in the Classroom:” (courtesy of Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano)

From Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano @ langwitches.org

From Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano @ langwitches.org

**I modeled my above steps from Pernille Ripps “14 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging.” I modified my steps for the high school classroom, using my own resources as examples. Check out Pernille Ripp’s site HERE for fabulous blogging resources!

Endearing Endings/Bright Beginnings

August 22, 2001 sounds like it was a long time ago but, in so many ways, it feels like a super short period. Last week, I completed my 13th year teaching at Palatine High School.  I earned so much invaluable experience serving as educator to the PHS students and gained so many cherished friendships with colleagues – I would not trade one day of my tenure as a Pirate.   To broaden my professional growth, however, I am excited to write that I transferred to Palatine’s sister school on the other side of town, William Fremd High School!!  As of this week, a Viking helmet takes the place of the Pirate hat on my head.

I’ve felt connections to Fremd for quite some time.  My daughter graduated in 2010 with nothing but positive academic and extra-curricular experiences that she still talks about today.  Additionally, I’ve enjoyed working with numerous Fremd colleagues – enjoyably presenting together at NCTE, sharing and networking on our PLN, and teaming up at Institute days.  Finally, Fremd’s interview is ‘the interview that never was’ back when I was seeking my first position in the district 13 years ago:   Fremd’s (then) principal called me first but Palatine’s (then) principal interviewed me first.  Being the eagerly excited new teacher, I happily took Palatine’s offer and didn’t looked back!


Pieces of PHS Memories!

Some of the PHS memories I’ll always cherish . . .

~ Assisting in the hosting of EdCamp2014 at PHS:  This year I transformed much of my teaching to 1:1 teaching with iPads.  See my post here in regards to making that switch.  Integrating educational technology has fast become a passion of mine and attending conferences such as EdCamp continues to prove invaluable.  Moreover, assisting in organizing EdCamp 2014 at PHS this May was truly productive, memorable and fun.  If you are an educator and have not attended an EdCamp yet, you may want to check it out at some point.  They are free, informal conferences in which the participants drive the course of the day!!  Each attendee has opportunity to offer what can be presented, and each attendee has opportunity to present and/or simply drop in to each session as needed.  It’s a simple way to network and gain loads of resources in just a couple of hours.  See the PHS Technology Coordinator’s post on the latest EdCamp here.

~ Writers Day:  I was lucky to serve our school in hosting Writers Day for the past two years.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see students get excited about, talk about and hear about the significance of writing in our every day world.  Modeling our purpose and format from the acclaimed Fremd High School’s Writers Week, PHS’s annual Writers Day began a few years ago as an opportunity for students to celebrate and experience writing in ways that classroom time does not allow. We have visiting authors as well as student and faculty writers share, perform and discuss their work.  Read HERE for more pictures and information about this year’s PHS Writers Day and the NCTE 2013 conference I presented with colleagues about hosting Writers Day or Week.

~ Choreographing and organizing the very first dance PHS “flash mob:”    This is an experience I will never forget!!  Stemmed from a whim idea I had one day when I saw my former French teacher’s FB post about a teacher dance at her own school, I decided to go for it!  After months of keeping the secret from students (staff did a great job with this!) with disguised emails, early morning dance sessions hidden in the wrestling room, and private YouTube how-tos for the teachers, a good majority of staff performed, shocked and wowed students!!   Feel free to check out a more detailed commentary of my experience in coordinating this right HERE. .  . .

~ Coordinating the Literacy Coaching program:  As a reading teacher, I was happy to offer my services as mentor to new teachers, offering resources and feedback on integrating best practice reading strategies within each content area.  Having the chance to mentor creative, motivated teachers outside of the English department was immensely eye-opening and educational.  I enjoyed collaborating with the Applied Technology, Art, Music, World Language, and Family & Consumer Science department during my three years as a literacy coach.  You can read more about the program in my post here.  Establishing collaborative relationships with the Applied Tech department, in particular, led to the Engineering teacher and me drafting a proposal for a district technical writing course.  Stay tuned for more information on that!

~ Designing the Freshman Study Hall program:  This goes back to my earlier years at PHS.  When we had a more traditional study hall for nearly all incoming freshmen and sophomores, I enjoyed researching and organizing study skill mini-lessons for staff throughout the building to share with the study hall students on a bi-weekly basis.  For instance, one week Media Center specialists came in to speak about research skills, another week math teachers came in to demonstrate that solving seemingly difficult math problems can be broken down into doable step-by-steps, and yet another week, our principal, talked about summer reading and what he was going to read that summer!  It was another productive way for me to get to work with many wonderful colleagues in the building.

Some things I look forward to embarking upon at Fremd . . . .

~ Assisting with the The Logue, Fremd’s school newspaper!:  This truly excites me!!  I’ve already met our student staff for the upcoming school year and canNOT wait to work with these talented souls!  These students seem earnestly eager to represent and share Viking Pride through the paper, and I’m just as earnestly eager to watch, guide, and learn as they do!  This year, District 211 is embarking on the first year of producing all-digital newspapers at all five of our schools and WORDPRESS is the platform.  With a WordPress.org, WordPress.com, and Edubogs account of my own, I can’t be more thrilled about this.  I so look forward to working with the students as they learn and refine their digital journalism skills.  One added perk for me . . . my daughter served as an editor on the paper when she was a Viking herself . . . all the more reason for me to enjoy The Logue.  🙂

~ Working with Fremd’s special education department to teach a co-taught English course!:  I am honored to utilize my reading background to serve the special needs of students at Fremd on a sophomore-level co-taught course.  I’ve already met my partnering teacher and was instantly connected.   We are in the midst of planning our curriculum and look forward to meeting our new students in August!!

~ Helping wherever I’m needed with Fremd’s fabulous Writers Week!:  I look forward to assisting my colleagues in any which way I can to promote the 21st annual Writers Week.  I’ll be honored to be teaching amongst this exciting week and serving the school during his acclaimed tradition at Fremd.  I had fine practice with coordinating Palatine’s Writers Day over the past two years and learning from Fremd’s newly retired, revered English teachers Gary Anderson and Tony Romano.

The countless learning and teachable moments, achievements and memories I know are yet to be made at Fremd!:  Dare I say it already feels like home?!!!!  It’s not even possible to yet write all of the experiences I have to look forward to at Fremd.   I’ll let my exclamation points speak for themselves!

“If you do not create change, change will create you.”  ~Unknown

Change is good.  Every great accomplishment and milestone – both professionally and personally – stems from conscious change.  We grow and learn from every small or more major change within our lives.  I look back fondly on the growth experiences I’ve gained in my educational career as I excitedly look forward to the new insights, perspectives, connections, experiences I will gain at my new school.  Go Pirates!  Go Vikings!