Did someone hit fast forward?

Did someone hit fast forward_

Seriously? Did someone hit fast forward and not tell me? I feel like yesterday was the first day of school, and now we are one week away from nine weeks exams. How did that happen? How is it almost OCTOBER? Is someone drugging my coffee?

Does anyone else feel like it’s been difficult to hit your groove this school year? I am an uber-organized person, and I still feel like I’m constantly running to catch up with all the things I’m supposed to do. I don’t feel like I’ve hit a rhythm with the kids, and I don’t feel like the lessons I’ve done have been all they could have been. Maybe it’s because I started the year with a unit I’ve never taught before, but I don’t think that would be the only reason. I’m used to mixing it up, and I change my curriculum pretty often because I don’t want it to become stale.

So what is it? The weather? Do my meds need adjusting? Is it because my oldest left for college for the first time, and I feel old? All I know is that I truly have not been able to get a handle on things that have normally come pretty easily.

I will say that I’m not having a bad year, just fast. I love my school, our staff, my kids, my schedule- I’m just trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I actually have fall break in TWO WEEKS. I just feel that, so far this year, my to do list only grows, and I can’t seem to knock things off of it like I used to.

I hope all of you are having a better start, and that your life doesn’t feel like someone hit fast forward. Here’s to a better nine weeks the second time around. Maybe I can find that pause button soon.

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Game on!

Game On!

Changing my mindset

Five years ago, I moved from teaching in a public school to teaching in a charter after 15 years. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my brain around was that my new school did not focus on state testing. They knew it was a necessary evil, and our students take the tests every year, but as an accelerated charter, their expectations are that we are teaching above grade level, and therefore, we should hit that mark without worrying about teaching to the test.

Novel concept, no?

Well, after 15 years of public school testing indoctrination, it was VERY hard for me to wrap my brain around this. After years of meetings about curriculum adoption and data disaggregation, not to mention the marathon vertical planning sessions that took place in public school, I needed a bit more direction with this. I asked my principal how many days we were expected to directly teach using STAAR-type materials, and he said that if was doing that for more than two or three days, he was going to need to know why.

What?

You mean I get to teach what I want, when I want, as long as I’m covering the student expectations in the TEKS? Are you serious? You mean, you trust me? To teach?

Whoa.

A quick note, before I came to my charter I had only taught 8th grade and above. The last school I taught at, I was teaching English I PAP and on level. Here, I was teaching 6th and 7th grade, so I was responsible for 3 tests- 6th grade reading, 7th grade reading, and 7th grade writing- in grades that I hadn’t taught before. Stressful.

Fast Forward

Fast forward to the end of that first year. All of my passing percentages were above 90%. For real.

I attribute this to a few of things.

  1. Our students are at an accelerated charter school, so there is a higher level of academic expectation.
  2. Parent involvement is sky high.
  3. We are on A/B block schedule, so I get more time in class with my kids to do instruction before turning them loose on independent work. Then I’m actually there with them when they are working independently, so I can answer questions and give clarification.

Instead of using worksheets, I came up with an idea to use games to highlight specific things I wanted the kids to remember when they were taking the test. At the beginning, I just created games for reading and writing. As I saw how well they worked, and how much the kids liked them, I started using them to review concepts like genre, poetry, and parts of speech. In my TPT store, I have the games listed separately, and in bundles (to save you money!).

Reading STAAR Game Bundle

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Included in the bundle are
Reading STAAR Review Game
Reading STAAR Review Game 2.0
Figurative Language Review Game
Literary Elements Review Game
Inferencing Practice Game
Poetry Review Game

Writing STAAR Game Bundle

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This bundle is great for reviewing your students for the STAAR without boring them (or you!). Buying this bundle saves you 25%- You get 4 games for the price of 3!
You get:
Writing STAAR Review Game
Writing STAAR Review Game 2.0
Editing and Revising Game
Dictionary Races

Grammar Bundle

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This is a bundled group of all my grammar products that saves you over 15% versus buying them separately.
This bundle includes:
– Editing and Revising Game
– Grammar Pre-test
– Image Grammar Brush Strokes Practice
– Image Grammar Brush Strokes Quiz
– Grammar Practice
– Grammar Game
– Parts of Speech Review Game

Happy gaming!

A Love Letter to my Teacher Tribe

A Love Letter

Dear Teacher Tribe,

It’s the beginning of our 5th week of school, and there are a few things that you should know. For whatever reason, friends have become few and far between for me. Most of it is my own fault, some of it isn’t. I’ve been told I hold people to too high a standard, and it causes people to disappoint me frequently through no real fault of their own. I also have a tough time stepping outside my home bubble, so I’m not really considered a joiner (which is weird because I used to be). I am dark, twisty, sarcastic, and impatient. I know this about myself, and usually, I’m okay with it. But it can be lonely.

Enter my teacher tribe. When we started back to school, many people were sorry to see summer go. I was because I was sending my oldest to college for the first time, and it meant I couldn’t sleep in and spend unlimited time with my hubby, but I was also extremely grateful. Because I missed all of you.

I don’t care if you talk about my ELA team, my 8th grade team, my 9th grade team, or just our staff in general, I am so blessed by all of you. Our staff is the best group of people I have ever worked with, hands down. When something happens, bad or good, you guys are there. Someone is having a baby? Let’s have a shower and show how much we love them. Someone’s family member is ill? Let’s be there for them, send them a card with our prayers, and show how much we love them. Getting the “we’ve been in school a month, and now we need fall break” blues? No problem, let’s a have a potluck, make delicious, homemade food and show how much we love each other.

When I first started working here, I wasn’t in a good place. Personally, not professionally. I was in the best possible place I could be professionally, I just didn’t know it. I wasn’t friendly, I didn’t really talk to many people unless it was necessary, and I wasn’t really a team player. But through the magic of our school staff, I made it through that first year, and the second year was a whole different ball game. It’s like you guys are an actual family. You can see through someone’s shell, love them through the dark and twisty times (even when they don’t want or deserve it), and help them come out the other end.

I see complaints from other teachers about their school climate or staff morale, and I feel sorry for them. They don’t know what it’s like to work with people that you can rely on, who build you up, listen to your vents, help you believe in yourself, and never kick you when you’re down. They don’t pick up the phone and dial an extension knowing that, no matter who is on the other end, they are going to do whatever they can to help.

I have that, and it is amazing beyond description.

So, wonderful tribe, I hope you know how much I appreciate you. And I know some of you will say, “What’s wrong with Kourt? Why is she being all mushy?” It’s okay, I’m good. I’m not dying or anything. I’m just grateful for you.

Love you guys,

Kourtney

Hero’s Journey and Annotation

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A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), I started teaching hero’s journey when a colleague and I began teaching Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman. If you haven’t read that book, or any of his work, PLEASE DO. He is one of the best YA authors out there, in my humble opinion.

In preparation for this unit, my colleague, Heather Sanders, and I started researching Joseph Campbell’s work on the archetypal hero’s journey. There was such a wealth of information that I was shocked I hadn’t heard of it before. How did I get through college as an English major still ignorant to this greatness? Luckily for me, I’ve never been one to rest on my curricular laurels, and I’m constantly looking for cool stuff to incorporate. Thanks to our librarian at the time, each grade, 6-8, was reading a Shusterman book in anticipation of the author visiting our school. When Heather and I read Full Tilt, and she mentioned hero’s journey, we knew it would be a perfect fit.

Fast forward to today. I still teach hero’s journey, but with different pieces. In 6th grade, it was Greek mythology. 7th grade was The Iliad. This year, with my 8th graders, it’s The Odyssey. I also begin teaching annotation with The Odyssey, so it’s the perfect marriage of annotation and a focus for those annotations. We start with the character archetypes present in the journey. You can get my powerpoint and notes on character archetypes here. Then we use a movie they are all familiar with to track a journey. I let each class choose the movie based on how many kids have seen it (we try to go for 100% so they can all connect with the information). This year we did, Cars, Finding Nemo, Lion King, and Kung Fu Panda.

Once the students recognize the cycle in a piece they are familiar with, it is much easier for them to begin finding the steps in the piece I’ve assigned. We also talk about how The Odyssey begins in media res, so they have to figure out which step starts the cycle since it doesn’t begin at the beginning. It’s challenging!

As in my last blog post, I cannot stress enough the importance of giving the students a focus when teaching annotation. The hero’s journey, and the character archetypes within it, are a great way to do just that. Plus, it’s much more fun than your typical annotation assignment!

If you have a fool-proof way to teach annotations, I’d LOVE to hear about it!