AUTHOR VISIT: Laura Caldwell


Mystery Writer, Attorney, Loyola Professor Visits my Reading Class!

Laura Caldwell, mystery writer, Loyola professor and civil rights attorney came to speak with my reading students this week. They have been reading excerpts from her book, Long Way Home, which is Ms. Caldwell’s account of a case she took on for Chicagoan Jovan Mosely, a person wrongfully convicted of murder as a teenager. Today, Ms. Caldwell oversees the program she founded at Loyola called, LIFE AFTER INNOCENCE. This program helps exonerees who are wrongfully convicted gain productive access back into society. Rightfully so, my students were very interested to find out how Jovan and other exonerees are doing today.  Read the book for an intriguing account, not only of how Jovan became mixed up in the murder case, but also how Laura helped clean his record later and gain his life back. What really excited me as a teacher was just how inspired my Reading Improvement students were to find out about writing and even getting published some day. The students – in my reading improvement class – had so many questions. Some were literally walking down the hall with Ms. Caldwell well after the bell rang!

A life lesson Laura Caldwell learned in working with the wrongfully convicted is our abilities to choose gratitude over anger. This is something we will talk about in class through the end of the year!  Those convicted of crimes they never committed are souls who spend a significant amount of time in a horrible place they don’t deserve to be in. Ms. Caldwell intriguingly accounted how they wake up every single morning, open their eyes and think it was all a bad dream only to be awakened by the harsh reality of cold jail – day after day after day. She explained that, for survival, these wrongfully convicted learn that for every situation in life, each of us has a choice about how to react. Acting out in revenge or anger hurts only ourselves – no one else. While some situations may be harder than others, we CAN control are thoughts and, therefore, choose more productive choices. Sometimes it may mean taking a step back and breathing before speaking or reacting, but it is always a choice.

Ms. Caldwell gave the example of specific, remarkable men she’s worked with who spent years in prison but chose to not be angry about the years of life they lost. Instead, they are grateful for and concentrate on the chance to start anew – however late it is. Gratitude can be chosen over anger in every single life experience.  This sounds cliché, but it is true that there is always something to be thankful for. A man may divorce but be grateful for his children and the good years he shared with his ex-wife. A student may fail a math test but be grateful for learning afterward how to solve a difficult question.  A young woman may lose a job but be thankful for the time to re-evaluate goals. These are only pieces of examples of the gratitude so prevalent within each of us. So next time you are feeling blue, realize it’s a normal emotion and okay to feel that way. It is also okay to, in turn, make a choice to help yourself out of the slump and move forward. If we can do this more often for ourselves, the little things that can bug us will disappear and the bigger things that test us will promote growth!  Gratitude promotes growth!

BOOK REVIEW: If Only by A.J. Pine


“She grabs happiness by the collar and yanks it into her life.” This line from If Only describes the protagonist’s best friend but it echoes the mood of the entire story. This is the story of Jordan, a junior in college who’s spending her year studying abroad in Aberdeen Scotland. Like many girls her age who venture far from home, she hopes for excitement and adventure; what she ends up getting is wisdom and love. Jordan’s journey spawns interest from the start, right from the train to Aberdeen when she meets two completely different gentlemen she is attracted to in different ways.   Along the way, she learns which of the two men is sincere as she learns what is sincere commitment and love. Watching Jordan juggle her own insecurities while working through friendships and learning responsibility drives the reader to the relatable heart of the main character.

I am lucky to be able to call the author, A. J.  Pine, my colleague.  Like her character, Jordan, Amy grasps her dreams and turns them into reality. The author’s own wit and natural humor shines through within the words on the pages. I give If Only an A+ for soulful reality that makes the reader empathize when Jordan agonizes over love lost, rejoice when Jordan proudly endures thoughtlessness of her peers , and claps when Jordan exclaims she “wants it all – the good, the messy and the spectacular.” Interspersed with quotations from E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, to poignantly open sections of the story, this book is filled with fabulous lines that make the reader nod, smile and say, “You go, Girl.” Life does not disappoint . . . as this story portrays. I really like this genre, NA, – new adult, because it speaks to a wide audience of young adults just trying to find themselves along with those a bit older who think they already have but still need affirmations along the way.

The 1, 2, 3 on Going 1:1

This is an amazing time to be an educator.  We have more reason than ever to be engaged, enthusiastic learners right alongside our students.  In the midst of 4th quarter during my first year as a 1:1 teacher, I am more charged than ever to take on the challenges that lie before us with technological innovations and shifts in thinking with Common Core and PARCC.

One practice that helps me turn seemingly massive tasks into concrete capabilities is creating to-do lists.  I’m a firm believer in the power of lists.  My original category on Grading Girl – Listing through LIfe, attests to that belief.  Based on this first year of teaching 1:1 with the iPad, here is my procedural list for those of us just about to venture forth into paperless classrooms.  I’d enjoy any additions others may have:

1.  Choose a main LMS platform for your class.  This first decision will make your teaching life easier . . . and you don’t necessarily have to use just one.   I currently use iTunes U with my accelerated freshmen.  It’s a convenient way to push daily agendas, homework and announcements to the students.  Attaching documents, videos, calendars, etc is a snap, and provides students a “one-stop-shop” for the class.  I used Schoology with my expository writing composition students this year.  It provides a Facebook-like homepage for students to access material, communicate amongst classmates, and send me homework or assessments back.

2.  Find a cloud storage service to store all of your class documents.  For me and my school district, we are converting to Google Drive.  I transferred all of my material over last year and haven’t looked back.  With Google Drive, I am easily able to convert Word documents to Google Docs for myself and/or students to edit.  Additionally, one of the first tasks I charged to my 1:1 students was to create their own Google Drive folders for the class:  Daily Work, Rough Drafts, Journals, and share those folders with me.  That way, assignments placed there are automatically available for me to comment on.    I know that other schools make use of DropBox or iCloud.  I use those for personal material and they seem to work just as well.

3.  Convert documents that don’t easily transfer over to Google Docs to PDF by performing the following:  “File Print,” “Save as PDF” and save that PDF to your computer for uploading to your LMS later.   Additionally, you can utilize pdf converters such as PDF Master or Genius Scan.  PDFs seem to wed more nicely with Google Docs vs. Word documents.  Also, if you want to ensure that your documents stay as the original, a “pdf” write-protects itself.

4.  Experiment with work-flow techniques  Here is simple overview of mine:  a.  Students save documents in Google folders they share with me (Daily Work, Rough Drafts and Journals)  b. I make comments  c.  Revision history is easily accessible  d.  Students upload revised documents into  e.  I  make comments based on the rubrics in TurnItIn.  ALSO I use Schoology when giving an in-class assessment.  Schoology provides an easy way for students to type on and submit within the same program.

5.  Utilize a blog platform and incorporate digital writing into your curriculum. The power of blogging never ceases to amaze me.  It seemed powerful when I started blogging in 2009 and it amazingly continues to grow in usage every day.   I’ve been using EduBlogs for three years now and highly recommend it; it is WordPress for educators and schools.  The features are of the most customizable available and the privacy-range to choose from allows for even the most leery educating soul to get his/her feet wet.  Your students will thank you – now and later – for giving them the opportunity to carve a piece in their important digital footprints.  See my SlideShare on a recent presentation I gave at ICE 2014 on why and how I incorporate blogging in the classroom.

Bottom line . . . . Don’t be afraid to pitch one technique or application and add another more conducive to your classroom.  Learn from trials and errors.   My students appreciate when I tell them I don’t know an answer to their question, let’s figure it out together – and it is exciting when we do!

How are you adjusting to going 1:1?  I’d enjoy hearing thoughts and ideas from other educators having success and trials as you make the transition.



Blogging Bound ~ My Students’ First Digital Steps

Thank you to Bob Schuetz, Technology Coordinator at Palatine High School, for including this post as a guest blog on his site, NOCKING THE ARROW.

MY BLOGGING BACKGROUND: My blogging adventures began in February 2009 when I was offered my own website through StudioPress.  At that time, I barely knew what a “blog” was much less what I was going to do with this site.   I contemplated back and forth between posting creative writing or professional posts.  Initially, I opted to use Grading Girl as a space to write reviews and share personal pieces.  I quickly learned that word travels fast on the internet and companies started sending products to review.  It’s great fun and a productive way to channel my own writing practice.  Teaching, however, is in my blood and, naturally, much of my life centers around the classroom.  Fast forward to today, five years later:   Grading Girl has grown to over 2500 views per day, I’m a 1:1 teacher in the classroom and launched this second site, TLC – Technology, Literacy, Collaboration, devoted solely to my technology and literacy experiences.

RATIONALE FOR BLOGGING: Exuberantly experiencing my own blogging adventures led me to begin blogging with my students over the past three years.  Both the Common Core and my school district’s Critical Learning Standards emphasize the need for students to read a variety of text for understanding, to write clear, supported arguments and to apply knowledge and skills to real-world problems.  I believe writing blogs can fulfill those expectations.    Blogging provides students with digital writing experiences to pursue understandings in the real world, not just within a classroom.  It’s no longer a matter of earning a grade – it’s a matter of voicing views to a real audience.  Moreover, blogging across the curriculum, not just in English class, allows for both formative and summative assessment because it helps writers see the progression in development of a piece of writing. It may actually take more talent and skill to create an interesting persuasive post on the French Revolution, let’s say, than a traditional essay.  Like an essay, a persuasive post needs to be clear, concise, and convincing; on top of this, there is the overriding need to be compelling.  That said, we need to teach blogging as a skill to help students voice arguments succinctly as they prepare for communication in the competitive job market they will take on later.

It’s Not Fair Argumentative POST

More advantages to using blogging as a writing tool as cited in the European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 9, Number 4 (2009) article, “E-Learning Environment:  Blogging as a Platform for Language Learning:”

  • Encourages feedback and represents both writing and reading activities;
  • Stimulates debate, critical analysis, and encourages articulation of ideas and opinion;
  • Offers opportunities for collaborative learning; projects, debates or interactive travel logs;
  • Provides environment in which learners can develop skills of persuasion and argumentation;
  • Creates a more student-centered learning environment

WHY EDUBLOGS: I use Edublogs, WordPress’s platform for education, to create a site for each of my accelerated freshmen and senior writing students.  I’ve dabbled in other platforms but find EduBlogs offers the most customization with the most secure environment.  Here’s more specific reasons to support Edublogs:

  • Safe and Reliable – Blogs can be completely private or completely open to the public or somewhere in between.  Since they only host education related content, Edublogs are allowed by most school filters where other blogging platforms are not.  Even the most leery of educators can find a comfort zone.
  • Student Friendly – It is as simple to add to and update a blog as it is to send an email or write a letter. Teachers can easily create and manage as many student blogs as needed.
  • Rich With Features – A few of the most popular featured widgets include discussion tools, video embedding, Facebook and Twitter integration, and calendars.  EduBlogs seems to offer the largest amount of widgets and plug-ins to accommodate.
  • Customizable – There are over 100 different themes which allow for control of colors, images, and layout.
  • Research-Based – Engages students in their learning and enhance instruction through collaboration, student portfolios, and seemingly endless classroom uses.


Writing with Parents:

Parent Blogging

Involving Parents with a Post!

Writing with Peers outside of class:  

Seniors & freshmen share philosophies

Writing for a Public Audience:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.33.00 AM

Sample Book Review

NEW BLOG EXTENSION: Beginning this spring semester, my two accelerated freshmen classes will be expanding their websites to include reporting on their very own Passion Projects.  I’ve been following Catlin Tucker, Google Certified Teacher and CUE Lead Learner, and inspired by the experiences she reports on within her blog.  I’ve previewed the project with the students, discussing Google’s concept of 20% Genius Hour.  Robert Schuetz, my school’s innovative technology director, graciously took the time to speak with my students about digital citizenship and taking on a project such as this to pave the way for their ever-growing digital portfolios.  While time allows us to take a modified 10% of class time this year, students are devoting a portion of their research and discovery outside of class that I am excited to share.

Student Sample of Passion Project progress so far . . .


My goal for next year is to incorporate blogging within each of my classes at each level.   There is need for students to become proficient in 21st century collaborative web tools. Digital writing is no longer an extra tool to voice opinion – it is mainstream, here to stay and continually evolving.  

BOOK REVIEW – THRIVE: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching

Thrive by Meenoo Rami

“What you fear to do is the very thing you need to do”  (Rami 70).  I’ve flown to California nearly 50 times since family members relocated there 16 years ago but the four-hour plane ride during this particular spring break flew by more swiftly because I had the pleasure of reading so many lines like the one above in THRIVE:  5 WAYS TO (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching by English teacher and Twitter colleague, Meenoo Rami.  I find it to be the perfect read for teachers, coaches, and mentors of all experience levels.  Meenoo’s words provide motivating ideas to create and collaborate in new ways.  Her book should be required reading during a teacher’s first year of teaching and would make a great “one book” read for any school’s professional development program.

Sufficiently supplementing a busy educator’s schedule, the brisk 94 pages provide just the right amount of invigorating inspiration to leave the reader ready to roll out new strategies within and outside of the classroom walls.  Meenoo shares both what she does to empower her students, such as her class teen magazine as a research paper alternative, as well as what she does to help empower her colleagues, such as her origination of the now very popular and productive #engchat on Twitter.  I remember well when Meenoo first started the #engchat in 2010 and was honored when she asked me to host one of the earlier chats.  I wasn’t quite versed yet in TweetDeck or other Twitter applications but walked away thoroughly inspired by the connections made that day and continue to be amazed by the number of resources acquired during those chat meets.

The book is logically organized into five chapters on mentoring, networking, challenging, listening and empowering.  Meenoo’s friendly tone helps us young and old realize we are not alone in our uncertainties and anxieties we face as educators along the way.  She shares her early feelings of isolation, poses targeted questions for each of us to ask ourselves as we initialize each new school year’s goals, and tirelessly emphasizes the importance of connection in and out of our school building.  Noting Daniel Pink, Rami outlines the three most important things teachers need to maintain motivation as they pass through classroom doors for perhaps decades at a time.  I don’t want to give away all of the valuable points and ideas laid out in this book;  but please know this is definitely worth your time and dime.  My book is highlighted, annotated and doggie-eared.

Meenoo most definitely deserves an A+ for sharing her knowledge, fears, and hopes.  She inspires all the teaching souls like myself who have a number of books in our heads that we need to stop making excuses for not writing.  I can’t wait until her next book and thank her for the inspiration!!

P.S.  As I’m writing this, my Twitter PLN is showered with National Poetry month ideas for approaching and analyzing poetry.  Meenoo has a great idea in her book to emphasize the point that “we all use language to convey complex thoughts and feelings in playful ways” that I can’t wait to try (Rami 76).  Manipulating language in various ways is more exciting than ever thanks to technology; check out Meenoo’s ideas to see how.

 Rami, Meenoo. Thrive: 5 Ways to (re)invigorate Your Teaching. Portsmouth: Heinemann,  2014. 


Blogging in the Classroom – Paving the Way for Our Students’ Digital Footprints


Interested in giving your students more authentic writing practice while helping them initiate their ever-important digital footprints?!  Click this link to my Illinois Computing Educators 2014 presentation for an overview of creating a classroom site, initiating student blogs, and maintaining proper digital citizenship.

Welcome to Grading Girl’s New Classroom Site!!

On my original site,, I’ve sincerely enjoyed the blogging experience over the past four years.  I’ve struggled, however, with the balance between professional and personal posting.  While teaching is in my blood, writing is my constant . . . Consequently, I’ve finally decided to divide between two sites – one for personal lifestyle posts and one for professional educational posts. This new site is bound to change along the way. will still be alive and well in the wide web world – she’ll be reviewing all things worth reviewing along with providing fitness facts.  I’m anticipating this change will prompt me to share more on BOTH sites!

As always, I would more than welcome comments, suggestions, questions, and views on both sites.  I look forward to continue to grow as an educator, writer, and social media strategist.  Thank you in advance for joining me on this blessed journey.

**Finally, please note that all content I present here is of my own opinion and not necessarily that of the school district I work for.  Thank you!