when breathing isn’t part of the curriculum

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On Tuesday, a bunch of students were gone for track and drama day during my 6th hour class, so the remaining students proposed that we go outside.

“Is it nice out?” I asked.

“70 degrees,” several said in unison. In unison.

“But I was going to give you time to read today,” I said (half-heartedly trying to build a case for staying put).

“We will read at home,” one spokesperson stated, with authority.

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We went outside. We ran around in the grass. We made funny faces and played with a magical substance. We admired the color of blue in the sky and the puffiness of the clouds. In other words, we made the right decision.

No regrets. This simple deviation from the schedule is something they were still celebrating on Wednesday. Most of the kids read the assigned reading too. Even if we had stayed inside, some of the students would’ve read the assignment and some of them wouldn’t have read it.

Tuesday was a good reminder that I need to build in more time to breathe, to soak in sunshine, to move, to be silly for the sake of it. It doesn’t necessarily connect to our curriculum. Building this time in will help improve relationships with students AND add to our overall health as individuals.

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Instagram of the God/desses (a lesson plan, with handouts)

Gods @ Mount Olympus Ganymedes Costagravas via Compfight

To prep for our upcoming freshman English Odyssey unit, we are researching the gods, goddesses, and some other mythological friends. In order to avoid the boring Powerpoint/poster board format of the days of yore, my colleagues and I tapped into popular culture and asking the students to present their research in the form of a social media profile. I went the Instagram route.

My intention was to let them choose between Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, but as the day turned into night and the night turned into morning as I worked on the Instagram template, I decided to go to bed and so #Insta it was. (I toyed with the idea of a Snapchat template, but I just couldn’t pull that one out this time. By the next time I teach The Odyssey, there will be some other social media outlet for which I will need to devise a template.) The students had the option of printing off their template and drawing “photos” by hand, or creating a digital document using Pages.

Some things that went well:
1. The students who enjoy creative projects went to town and engagement was overall high.
2. Giving high and low-tech options met almost everyone’s needs. (With some minor tweaks, accommodations, modifications, everyone was able to meet the goals of the project.)
3. The students were focused and (for the most part everyone) used class time to its full potential, which also speaks to the engagement level. (There will always be exceptions to this rule.)
4. The research portion of the activity was effective. Every student could tell you something about the god/dess or mythical figure s/he selected. Most could tell you many things. Everyone learned something.
Some things I’ll do differently next time:
1. I apparently have no idea how to instruct students on where to save their documents so that they “travel” with the student. I thought I did, but I definitely did not. When we moved to a new computer lab, the students either had to walk down to the lab we worked on the first day and retrieve documents from the exact computer where they sat the day before or start over. This lead to many lost documents and lots of wasted time.  (This is my first year at the school, so I am still learning processes. I’m STILL not sure I know how to do this. I instructed several students to email themselves the most current version of their assignment. That worked, but it is not ideal.)
2. The template is a Pages document and it needs to be tweaked so that the objects/tables are not “wrapped”. Otherwise, when you move one object it moves the rest of the objects/tables around. The other thing I may do is create a template in Google Drawing, so that the students’ can keep their document in their Google Drive.
3. I should’ve front-loaded with how to edit a Pages document … masking, tables, etc. because most of them had never used Pages in that capacity, which lead to frustration for the students (and consequently me. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that much whining … Ugh. My bad.)
4. Those who wanted to work at home could only do so if they have a Mac. Most do not. I sent them a PDF, but they could only print it off and do it by hand, since PDFs are not digitally alterable.
5. Some of the students, today (the third day of what was supposed to be a 1 1/2 day project) asked if they could just create a REAL Instagram account. This thought had occurred to me when I was making the template, but I didn’t think they would want to go through that process. I told them YES. Those who chose the option said that it would be so much easier than using that god-(or goddess??)-forsaken template. I will most likely make that an option in the future, if I can sort out some copyright issues. I made an assumption about their willingness to open a new Instagram account, and you know what they say about assumptions.
Aside: It cracks me up when a student wants to cite him/herself as a source! (This is not to discount the idea that some students are experts at some things–like a student who has grown up taking care of horses, or a student who has honed in on a passion for vacuum cleaners at age four–but usually, until you’ve published a book or received payment as an invited speaker on the subject, you have to cite your sources.) I suppose this would be a good time to teach or model humility …?
Questions I have for other educators: 
1. Copyright is a big deal to me. I want to make sure students are citing their information sources, but I also want them to cite their image sources, which is something I’ve noticed is overlooked.  With the template, this was easy. With the actual Instagram accounts, what is the best method for attribution, or is it even okay to post images that don’t belong to you in a parody Instagram account? This is something I didn’t think of prior to giving the greenlight to the students’ spontaneous proposal.
2. Do you have any ideas for creating a FAKE Snapchat template? Other social media outlets other than Twitter and Facebook?
In all, I think this went well. It’s, just like everything we do in education (and in life), a work in progress, but next year it will be better, and the year after that, even better.
You can find the documents I used for this project #BELOW.


Kids these days: They just don’t know how to communicate …


The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

~ Kakuzo Okakaura

There are all sorts of posts on social media and comments being made about how “kids these days” are becoming less social and less able to interact socially/intelligently because of smartphones and tablets and computers and drones and wifi and cyborgs … (WATCH THIS–> We are ALL cyborgs now. ~ Amber Case)  but I can tell you that this weekend I took a road trip with three 12/13-year-old girls who spent the entire weekend reading, writing, researching, AND speaking with one another both through traditional language (speaking), through writing (texting, messaging) and through visuals (Instagramming, SnapChatting). They type; they talk; they make videos; they share images; they giggle; they consume viral content; they CREATE content; they experiment; and they are just like I was when I was 12, except that they have modern technology–(just like I had modern technology when I was 12. It just happens to be 26-year-old technology at this point in history).

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.


I understand why people see it this way. There are people (kids and adults) who over-use the technology that is so readily available to us. There are people who rarely see sunshine, or have hunched backs from constantly huddling over screens. There are people who have taken waaaay too many pictures of themselves (myself included). But, I do not believe for a second that modern technology hinders communication. Social media is a form of literacy. If you don’t learn it, you will become, in a way, illiterate. Refusal to learn is refusal to live life to its full potential.

The girls spent a lot of time using their screened devices. I am the mean mother who still hasn’t purchased a smartphone (nor a stupid phone) for my daughter, but she has an iPad from school and her friend has two smartphones, so she let my daughter borrow the smartphone she no longer uses, as a wifi-ready device for the weekend. There were several remarkable things I’d like to note about what happened our trip.

On the way to South Dakota, the girls decided that they wondered what it would be like to time-lapse themselves for the entire way there. One of the girls time-lapsed herself sleeping the other night and that idea spurred this idea. They set up one of the iPads and began time-lapsing the trip. Then they decided it would be pretty awesome to not only have a time-lapse of themselves, but also of the road, so they set up a second iPad. We had simultaneous time-lapsing going on. It was a rather nifty experiment.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.


The next thing that happened was they did a lot of sharing through digital communication. They also talked … a lot. They would be talking while they were sending each other digital content. Color-me-impressed with how much talking occurred this weekend. (It was nearly non-stop.)

These girls are documentarians. If you wanted to create a timeline of our weekend, you could. You might be overwhelmed by the massive body of work, but you could definitely chart our activities through the girls’ pictures and posts. At the end of the trip, my daughter’s two friends told their moms to follow me on Instagram so that they could see what their weekend was like. As a mom, I would really like to be able to see that. If my child is away from me, I would find it a blessing to know what she did while she was away. (Now that my oldest daughter is away at college, this is especially true!)

Anytime the girls were unsure of something, they researched it online. The answers are there. We were able to talk about website credibility through this. We were also able to practice concert etiquette–one of the important components being–>put your phones away during the concert! When the girls started to interact in catty ways with girls who weren’t physically there, we had the opportunity to talk about how staying out of “the drama” of being a girl is really better than engaging in it. If someone baits you online, it’s best to not take the bait! We had some excellent conversations. If someone says “like for a #TBH DM” don’t hit LIKE. Don’t do it! I learned some things this weekend, but I think they did too.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.


At one point during the trip, there was a “fight,” as often happens when you get three girls together for any extended period of time. After said fight and after a little parental intervention (AKA group therapy sesh), I witnessed the three girls work out a problem they were having through Snapchat. One of them sent an (intentionally) unattractive photo of herself to the other with the message, “Why can’t we be fweinds?” right before the concert started, and then they were all holding in laughs and giving each other knowing looks that conveyed “WE ARE FRIENDS” or “fwiends” if you will. Up until that point, I thought Snapchat was a good-for-nothing app that served only as a way to send inappropriate images to one another under the guise of “safe anonymity”. It still CAN be that–no doubt about it–but if we educate our children how to use such apps responsibly, then amazingly enough, even Snapchat can be useful.

In addition to all the things I mentioned above, we also saw three collegiate orchestral, concert and symphonic band concerts, went thrift store shopping, took a self-guided tour of the statues of the USD campus, went swimming, sang songs, visited the National Music Museum where we were all able to take a crack at playing the gamelan and my youngest daughter got to spend (face-to-face) time with her big sis.

We took three "groupies" as the girls called them or "us-ies" as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of "groupies" in my generational vernacular. We took one at every concert.

We took three “groupies” as the girls called them or “us-ies” as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of “groupies” in my generational vernacular). We took one at every concert.


So, do these devices make us less social? NO. We may socialize in different ways, but we are not less social. Are kids super-self-centered in that they take a thousand selfies per minute? YES. Have you ever heard of a generation of adolescents who have not been self-absorbed though? They may have shown their self-absorption in other ways, but kids have always been on some level (varying by individual, of course) of the belief that they are the sun and the rest of the people in their lives are the world–revolving around them. Being self-absorbed at that age is NORMAL. My friends and I used to stare at ourselves FOR HOURS … (no hyperbole here … ) in the mirror making weird faces and bursting into laughter. HOURS. Now, they just do it into a screen and possibly make a montage of the most awkward photos or a mashup or a meme. If my friends and I could’ve done the same, we would’ve.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven't stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in new ways 20 years from now. Just like I did in new ways than my parents. It's called change. It's what happens as time marches on.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven’t stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in ways currently unimagined  20 years from now.


Balance. Of course, we need balance in everything we do–not just in digital VS. face-to-face interactions, and technology vs. nature–but in work vs. play, health vs. indulgence, physical vs. mental activity, fun vs. serious, and so on. Technology changes communication, but in my opinion, communication is easier today than it has ever been. Communication is more creative today than it ever has been. And kids are the same as they ever were; they just have new ways of expressing themselves.

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~ Eric Hoffer

On The Danger of Books That Have Been Made Into Movies (and Potential Flim-Flammery)

Brookland Theatre

Bill Dickinson via Compfight

The title of this blog post is a bit alarmist, especially since I was specifically speaking from an academic standpoint. Some teachers fear that students who have been assigned to read books that have been made into movies will not read and will just watch the movies instead, presumably working under the assumption that the movie is exactly the same as the book. Alarmist indeed, especially since I don’t think there is any danger in this situation, even academically speaking.

If your student hasn’t read the book, you will know. After all, you can’t flim-flam a flim-flammer … eh? I mean we were high-schoolers once. We went to college! We know all about tomfoolery, malarkey,  funny business, and shenanigans. (I would’ve used another better-known saying at the beginning of this paragraph, but I like to keep this blog family-friendly … ish.) If your student hasn’t read the book, but watched the movie (or for that matter listened attentively during lectures or class discussions), s/he might be able to answer very basic content questions, but it will be nearly impossible for him/her to analyze or evaluate without being vague. This is when you can pull out your questions that pertain to the movie but not the book or vice versa … and BAM! you know you have a flim-flammer on your hands. Proceed according to your classroom policies regarding students who don’t do their work (which hopefully includes trying to get to the bottom of WHY the student is avoiding the work). Will there be the rare exception of the student who is so skilled in the art of bull-skooting that s/he will be able to dazzle her/his way through an assessment over a book s/he has not legitimately read? YES, but you don’t have supernatural powers, so there is nothing you can do about it, so let it go. As long as the student isn’t doing something to hurt her/his classmates, school property or you … for good gravy’s sake, let it go.

CONFESSION: I used to be one of those teachers who lived in fear of students poppycocking their way through a literary unit armed with only their cinematic knowledge of a piece of literature. What if they don’t read? What if they lie to me? What if they trick meeeee? What will my colleagues think of me? What will my principal think of me? Why am I so worried about me? Me? Me? Meeee? Why am I worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and might not ever happen? Why don’t I trust kids? Why am I such a control freak? The older I get, the more I realize that, except for what I do and feel, I cannot control much else, which allows me to live in fear no more.  A conversation I overheard during a lit circle discussion a day or so ago helped to solidify this and I will tell you about it, but first, a digression:

In my Contemporary Literature class, one of my goals (which is-dare I admit this publicly?–NOT ATTACHED to a state standard—GASPPPPpppp!) is to take each of my students’ stance on reading and move it closer to LOVE.

Allow me to expound visually …

I'm just below considering Reading as marriage material.

Where do you fall on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum? I’m just west of considering reading as marriage material.


In other words, no matter where the a student is on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum, I want that student to be closer to LOVE when s/he walks out of my class at the end of the semester. Most kids walk into my class with a basic MERPitude toward reading. They don’t outright hate it, but it’s not something they crave. Some kids walk in somewhere between MERP and HATE. Even fewer walk in somewhere between MERP and LOVE. It is a rarity that a student is already in LOVE with reading when they walk in, but it does happen. In fact, every so often I have a student take Contemporary Literature because s/he wants to, even though s/he is already enrolled in another English class and doesn’t need the extra credit to graduate. When that happens it is a true compliment to English Language Arts–probably one of the highest.

In Contemporary Literature, (which originally was created for students who did not plan to attend a four-year college, but now has been overflowing with students of every post-high school intention imaginable … !!!) I use the following things to help move student closer to LOVE:

A. high-interest books: I do not pay attention to reading level or text-complexity. I look for well-written, interesting, books with relatable characters and topics that affect modern students. I don’t give a flying fig if it appears on some elite College Board or ACT list. I don’t care if scholars think it’s trashy, or simple, or cheesy. If it hooks a reluctant reader’s interest, I’ll take it.

B. self and group regulated activities: –like literary circles, for example. Activities like lit circles gives the students choice and independence–something that EVERYONE needs to thrive, whether they are 2 or 100. These are also elements that are too often left out of the classroom, sadly.

C. alternative texts: We dive into graphic novels, science fiction, articles from the web, podcasts, and movies. YES: Movies ARE a -visual- text.

And now back to my original topic … Sometimes books inspire students to watch movies. On the other hand, sometimes movies are the gateway drug to books. Yes indeedy: Movies can lead students to books! Sometimes a kid likes a movie so much that s/he decides to read the book. And, sometimes a kid is assigned a book that has been made into a movie, and even though the movie isn’t exactly like the book, it still helps the kid understand the book–either before the student reads or retroactively. Those are positive things!

Personally, I prefer to read a book THEN watch a movie. However, other people have different preferences. Just because that’s the way I like to do it DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE HAS TO LIKE IT THAT WAY. (That’s hard for some teachers to grasp, I’ve noticed.) For me, once I’ve seen a movie, it’s hard for me to NOT picture the actor who played each character as I read, and I don’t like that, but not everyone has those issues. They are either able to block the actors’ images from their minds or they enjoy having a visual upon which to rest the mind’s eye.

sunny windless days

Read everywhere!


If you choose a book to teach (or allow students to choose a book to read) that has been made into a movie, will you have a percentage of kids who will watch the movie in lieu of reading? ALWAYS. Just like you will always have a percentage of kids who “replace” reading with Wikipedia or Sparknotes or LitCharts or the next newfandangled thang that comes along under the guise of helping people understand literature but which actually serves as a means for kids (and adults) to cheat on content-level tests (and book club meetings). (In fairness to the aforementioned entities, I will say that when used with integrity, they do serve as a resource for helping people understand literature–at a surface level.) That being said, if a kid is able to pass an assessment without reading the book, are you asking the right questions? (That is for another blog post, methinks.)

Now back to that conversation I mentioned earlier in the post. During lit circles the other day, I overheard students discussion the book, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which is not only a popular book, but also a popular movie. The group members had all seen the movie. They were comparing the book to the movie and making note of all of the differences. They were also evaluating the movie based on the book–what they liked about the book and what they thought the movie did better. They were also qualifying WHY they felt that way. This was a grown-up conversation, and they were doing this without my guidance and without micro-management of any sort. The lit circle provides a flexible structure for the students. They build outward from that structure. It is always an honor to lead a class in discussion, but it is an even more rewarding to listen to young people do it on their own. And guess what? They held each other accountable for reading. Based on my experience, students are more motivated to be prepared when they know their peers will be upset with them than they are when they just know that the teacher might be upset. And it is one thing to attempt to bamboozle a teacher. It is another thing to attempt to hornswoggle a group of your peers. They will call you out–publicly. And they will determine whether or not you read or just watched the movie and said you read. They will ask the trick questions outright!

The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars served as another point of dialogue for the students. It did not detract from the conversation. It did not demotivate them. They still read the book. They held one another responsible. They got into higher levels of thinking (analysis, evaluation) BECAUSE they watched the movie AND read the book.

Outside of lit circles, there will be kids whose interest is sparked enough by a movie that they will read the books that inspired the movies  … and they might even like reading those books … maybe even a little bit more than they enjoyed their last reading experiences.  As a result, they move a little closer to LOVE!

That is a good thing. That is what teaching is all about.



seth m via Compfight

I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …

<tenting hands à la cartoon villain>  … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …

Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:

AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)

FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY  –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)

PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.

ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.

TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.

OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.

PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)

None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.

*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.

I am pro-digging for explanations about anti as a preposition.

Digging in the Dark
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Wessex Archaeology via Compfight

Prior to recently, I have only ever thought of anti as a prefix. However, it recently showed up on a list of “frequently used prepositions” for my AP English and Literature students. One of my students noticed it hanging out in the “A” section of the list and asked, “Is anti really a preposition?” I told her that I hadn’t ever used it as a preposition, but that I would look into it.

We were right in the middle of my model grammar lesson–the one I alluded to in my post about how grammar instruction is a big fat challenge for me–so we carried on with the lesson. The problem was that I couldn’t really think of an example of how I might use anti as a preposition. Call it a brain fart. Call it a knowledge block. Call it a lapse in the thinks. Whatever you want to call it, I couldn’t, at that moment, think of it in those terms. So, I turned to a web search. It didn’t take long to come up with a basic definition and an example sentence for how to use anti. I must sheepishly admit that it was the first entry that popped up in my search.

I sent my students this email at the end of the school day:

One of you asked about the preposition anti … I had never thought of it as a preposition before, so I did some digging. (I didn’t have to dig very far.) I found this via our friend Google –>
preposition: anti
opposed to; against.

Example: “I’m anti the abuse of drink and the hassle that it causes.”

To me this seems like an awkward say that “I’m against the abuse of drink and the hassle it causes,” but I suppose some people may use this as a way to add variety to their phrasing.

My student responded later that evening with the following message:

Interesting, thanks for looking into it! However, I am still confused on how is it a preposition. If you take that part of the sentence out, it doesn’t make sense.

I felt like she was right, until I thought about it for a while. (Here is where diagramming MAY have come in handy …) I also realized my explanation was too … first-entry-on-Google-searchish, so I responded with this:

Actually … now that I’ve pondered this a little longer I realized that it actually does (technically) make sense … I’m anti the abuse of drink and the hassle that it causes.

Really the sentence I’m … or I am can stand alone. Technically “anti the abuse …” modifies (describes) what “I am.”

For instance, look at this sentence … I’m under the table.

The subject is I and the verb is am. The prepositional phrase is under the table. It modifies where I am … Does that make sense?

I did research this further after your observation though and it seems that anti is more of a British preposition than an American one … which probably why it sounds weird to us.

My hope is that, henceforward, if you, dear reader, are ever confused about why anti is on a list of frequently used prepositions that this post will pop up on a web search and that you will dig deeply enough to find it.

The Lament (and Plea) of a High School Grammar Teacher


When I was in high school, I diagrammed exactly ZERO sentences. In fact, I didn’t even know what diagramming was until college, when I took a Linguistics class well after declaring secondary language arts as my major. I remember doing grammar worksheets in elementary school, junior high, and high school. I remember learning tricks like FANBOYS (which maybe isn’t even a thing anymore???) and being confused by when to use commas. I also know that until I became an English teacher and researched it on my own, the semicolon was an enigma. (Now it’s my favorite.)

I also remember learning more about grammar in French class than in English class. I, without a doubt, learned more about how to apply grammar to my writing as a school newspaper staffer than I ever did in any English class. Newspaper staff is where I learned how to use a style guide too. Even though it was the AP Style Guide, it still set the foundation for using MLA and APA in college in the sense that it was a place to go when I wasn’t sure about something.

I’ve also sort of been blessed with excellent grammar genetics. I’m a good speller and have a good gut for the rules. Reading was a big deal in my household growing up too, so I’m certain I picked up on the rules of Standard English Grammar because of how much reading I did as a child and young adult. (Thanks for setting that foundation for me, Mom.)

During my language arts methods classes in college, we didn’t learn any techniques for teaching grammar explicitly. We were told that students should learn grammar through their own writing and that we should address grammar issues prescriptively. In other words, when we noticed an ailment, we should offer the student a cure at that time, rather than taking preventative measures, because discrete grammar instruction was supposedly ineffective.

So, it should come as no surprise that I really don’t know the best way to teach grammar. There. I admitted it.

I have some ideas, but I’ve been using the prescriptive method for nearly 15 years now and I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go about it. However, drill and kill doesn’t sit quite right with me either.

It is also less than unexpected that when I seek advice on best practices for teaching grammar from other teachers via social media that I get a whole bunch of cricket chirps in response. I have also done some poking around on the web and there are some good lessons out there … creative, engaging, helpful … but they are few and far between, and random. There isn’t that much stuff out there to help teachers teach grammar (in an engaging way). For example, when you type in “Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans” in a search engine, something in the neighborhood of six magjillion lesson plans come up and a good number of them are effective. Not so with a search of “high school grammar lesson plans.”

Hear my cry, internet!

How do you approach grammar in your high school English classrooms?

I tried something new in the grammar department today and the lesson will continue tomorrow. (It may bleed into next week for all I know) … and I will document the experiment here.

What I really want to create is a bank of awesomely engaging lessons that teach something that is not usually categorized as “awesome” or “engaging” (in the eyes of most students anyway). If you have an awesomely engaging grammar lesson for high school students, will you share? Please?

Also, if you would, please share this post and respond in the comments below. (Please don’t share this with any crickets though.)

#slowchated Poetry is for everyone (AND this is a party)!

This post is cross-posted here: #SLOWCHATED BLOG.

You can find poetry in your everyday life, your memory, in what people say on the bus, in the news, or just what’s in your heart.

~ Carol Ann Duffy

April is National Poetry month, which means that April is a month that ONLY English teachers should be interested in … right?


Poetry is for EVERYONE … even you, and you, and especially you … and your grandma, and your best friend and your grandma’s best friend. So let’s get this party started with some personal definitions of poetry. Nothing says PAR-TAY like defining words. #W00t! <smashes generic cola can into forehead>

Remember: It’s a party, so be raw; be honest. If you hate poetry, tell us why. If you love it, wreck a guitar and tell us about it. Wear a jaunty hat, and flirt with the idea of wearing false eyelashes–just for this week–just for our party. Also: Glitter. There can never be too much glitter. Consider all of this as you think up your definition of poetry.

I’m going to to ease you into this with a question, but FAIR WARNING, much of what I’ll be asking of you this week will not be so much questions as they will be TASKS or better yet … PARTY GAMES. Consider DAY 1 the ice-breaker-mingly-honeymoon-fancy cheese-and-crackers phase of the party.

Day 1 (Q1): What is Poetry? #slowchated


Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.” Carl Sandburg said, “Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Bob Dylan said, “I think a poet is anybody who wouldn’t call himself a poet.” Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically, as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Rita Dove said, “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Marianna Moore said, “Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.” Leonard Cohen said, “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

How do YOU define poetry? Feel free to be straightforward or … poetic. I want to hear from some English teachers, of course, but I for sure want to hear from EVERYONE else too.


Q2.1: What is your fave poem or if you hate poetry (WHY?) what is your most palatable poem? (Provide a link, if possible.) #slowchated

Q2.2: Tell us WHY said poem is your fave or more palatable than others … For a bonus points, do an interpretive dance. #slowchated

(Yes, it’s THAT kind of party.)

DAY 3/Question 3:

PARTY TRICK TIME–>Q3: How is education like a poem? Education is like a poem because …

Q3expansion: You can insert any edu-term in there, if you so desire … Learning/Teaching/Education is like a poem because … #slowchated

DAY 4/QUESTIONS 4, 5, and 6

I’m going to add QUESTIONS 4, 5, AND 6 on DAY 4 because I’m AGAIN breaking the rules … which sort of makes me a poet, eh? Eh? EHHH? I’m viewing questions 4, 5, and 6 as a “CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE” because I know that we are all busy people and there’s probably a good chance that none of us will have time to do ALL THREE (four really –hehehe) of these things because, as I stated before, they are more so TASKS than they are QUESTIONS, so if you would choose just one of these things, it would make me infinitely happy. I’m also hoping that by giving you a head’s up about Question 6.1 and 6.2 that it will increase the likelihood that more of you will do it (since you have three whole days to do it! Of course, if you were able to get to all three, you would get the PARTY HARDY award from this here poetry party.

Q4:Let’s brainstorm a million or less ideas for ways to use poetry (especially in the non-ELA classroom).

Q5: Write a less than 140 character poem about the topic of your choice and tweet it at us.

Q6.1: Capture a video of yourself doing an oral interpretation of your favorite poem by someone else.


Q6.2: Capture a video of yourself doing an oral interpretation of a poem YOU wrote.

Can you imagine what a fan-freakin-tastic archive this will be, if we all made a video?










Don’t use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.

~ Jack Kerouac

#NETA14InstaWalk: Another Dynamite Opportunity to Network at This Year’s Conference

The NETA convention always presents plenty of opportunities for educators from all over Nebraska and nearby states to connect on a personal level, from Tweet ups to a Twitter hashtag (#NETA14 this year!) to surrounding oneself with like-minded learners and educational movers and  shakers–in the flesh. Recently, NETA Board Member, soon-to-be President-Elect and Bald and Bearded Wonder, Josh Allen  approached me about hosting NETA’s first ever InstaWalk. Of course, being the social media-obsessed lady that I am, I totally geeked out about the prospect and so here we are.

We’ll be modeling ourselves after the ASCD Instawalk, but we will be putting our own Midwestern twist on it.

Essentially, the NETA14 InstaWalk will be a photo scavenger hunt for all conference attendees. We will share our photos via Instagram, using the #NETA14 hashtag and then we will regram some of the tagged photos on NETA’s very own (and very new) Instagram account (@nebedtech). I will also share some here on my blog. Naturally, I will be participating too because I do love me some Instagram. I have three accounts–> one personal one (@morgetron), one for my classroom (@mizmorgetron) and one for a special project that my Contemporary Literature students undertook this semester (@dollyfamilyrules). This will be yet another way to network with other attendees (and presenters), but will serve also as a virtual tour for anyone who can’t make it to the event this year.

To participate, follow these steps.

1. If you don’t have the Instagram app on your mobile device, download it from the app store and establish an account.

2.  On both Thursday and Friday of the conference, we will post the daily scavenger hunts in a couple of places … here on my blog and on NETA’s Instagram. Either check back here, or follow the NETA Instagram to see the prompts.

3. Fulfill the scavenger tasks throughout your NETA14 experience. Snap, share, search, interact.

4. Make sure to add #NETA14InstaWalk to all of your photo captions. This will send your photo to an Instagram backchannel that will allow everyone to see our photos in one place. Some of these photos will be regrammed on the NETA Instagram account. (Please note that if you have a PRIVATE Instagram account, you photos will not show up in the backchannel for everyone. They will only appear to those users who follow you. There are pros and cons to private accounts.)

5. This is for fun, so don’t let it stress you out! If you can’t fulfill one of the prompts, NBD. It’s not a contest; it’s strictly to make our conference experience more fun, so we hope you enjoy it!

6. If you’re more of a lurker, you can also watch the fun unfold by searching for the #NETA14 hashtag on Instagram (via the EXPLORE function) or clicking on the tag when it appears in the caption of a photo. However, I want to encourage you to pop your comfy lurking bubble and at least try one of the tasks. This will be a very supportive environment to test the waters of social media, if you haven’t done so before.

Krissy Venosdale hosted ASCD’s InstaWalk this year, and, thanks to Twitter, I will be picking her brain for pro-tips! Josh also suggested I reach out to Eliu Uati Paopao as a co-host and we will be putting our heads together this Wednesday for a brainstorming session via Google Hangout.

In addition to posting your photos, we also encourage you to comment on and “LIKE” others’ photos as well. Interaction is the goal here! You can also share your photos via Twitter or Facebook. Josh will be helping me to set up an IFTTT recipe to share these photos via the NETA Facebook page and Elui and I will share some of them via our personal Twitter feeds also (@epaopao & @morgetron).

We’ll be offering a Scavenger Hunt Preview sometime soon, so stay tuned for updates and make sure to follow us on Instagram –>



This Feels Like Failure: Why Are So Many Students Dropping My Advanced Placement English Class?

I teach an Advanced Placement English class. It’s a challenging class. It’s hard. Really. There are times when it’s not fun. High school me would’ve struggled with it. Undergrad me probably would’ve struggled with it a bit. Shoot! Come to think of it, there are days when I would struggle with it now, if I were juggling what my students are juggling.

The students have to learn difficult vocabulary–words that show up frequently in classic literature–and they have to use said vocabulary in context. They have to learn how to identify AND write in sentence structures that I didn’t learn about until college or after. They have to read challenging, sometimes dense, sometimes archaic, sometimes confusing (but beautiful! controversial! poetic! lovely! wonderful! universally truthful), texts, rife with figurative language, dripping with irony, loaded with difficult-to-decipher symbols (but that have withstood the test of time). They are in charge of leading discussions. They are responsible for analyzing literature through writing.

I view this class as not just a way to prepare for the Advanced Placement test they will (hopefully) take (and DOMINATE) in the Spring, but to prepare them for college, and more importantly, to ready them for the cruel world after college. In it, they are exposed to rich content, but even more importantly–they practice and (usually) master transferable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives: effective writing in multiple modes, critical thinking, creativity, idea generation, collaboration, decision-making, time management …

They blog. They analyze. They interact face-to-face. They interact digitally. They do or do not hit deadlines (and there are consequences for both). They write. They speak. They think. They think. They think. They think and think and think!

They are currently synthesizing their skills in the form of a mimesis–an assignment that requires them to create an original short story that mimics (in more than one way) the work of a famous author, whom they have studied in depth. It is–to use one of their vocabulary words–arduous. It is hard work. It takes time. It takes tenacity. It’s not something most people can write in an hour and half (though I have a student who claims he did … !)

And, at the end of last week and today, nearly half of them brought me paperwork to drop my class at semester.

Herein lies my feeling of failure.

Some of the students have legitimate-sounding excuses for dropping the class. Some of them do not. However, underneath all these reasons–legit or not–is a nagging question: What did I do wrong?

I want this class to be rigorous. In fact, it’s required, by College Board standards to be rigorous. My district requires it to be rigorous. However, I don’t want to be so rigid as to drive away my students. They are, after all, some of my favorite people in the whole world! Don’t get me wrong: I realize that not every students is cut out for Advanced Placement English, and it is a typical event for some of them to drop at semester, but the sheer number of drops this time around has me in a bit of a stupor.

As a result of these drops, I’m not feeling like the greatest teacher. Not that I ever feel like I am THE greatest teacher, but today, I am feeling pretty down. It is my instinct to keep these feelings to myself or maybe to whine a little to one of my mentors, but I have decided to reflect here–”out loud”–because I don’t think we lament enough in public. It’s important to put our best selves forward to the world when we can, but it’s also okay to reveal the moments that are the most trying. This week has started out with a fizzle, but this anticipated mass exodus of students has deepened my resolve to continually improve myself as a teacher. But for today, I’m going to take some time to marinate in this feeling of disappointment and to labor over my aforementioned question, along with these:

  • What can I do differently to retain more of my students?
  • What can I do to impart–to students and their parents–that what you learn in a class is more important than the almighty grade?
  • Is this class’s level of rigor befitting a entry-level college English literature and writing course or have I taken it too far?
  • Are my expectation too high? (I don’t think so–but believe me–I will think about this.)

I’m holding onto the hope that tomorrow and the next day and the next day will be better days–as a result of reflection and time. I’m holding onto the hope that next semester, I’ll be a better teacher–as a result of this semester’s events and as a result of this public reflection on some very raw feelings.