Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blog Hop: What Secondary Teachers Learned in 2015

Good morning from snowy, icy, FREEZY Chicagoland! We've been so mild all winter (a true rarity for this area!) and then all of a sudden, we got dumped on. So, it's forced me back inside and to wrap up all of my running around and here I am blogging next to my old Christmas tree and some seriously delicious coffee.

Some other secondary bloggers and teachers have been chatting lately about what they've learned in 2015, and I think it's time to reflect on that same idea myself. After all, that's what teaching is all about! Reflect and refocus and reteach! Here are three things I learned in 2015:

One: A Life Lesson - Being Married is AWESOME!
So maybe this one was predictable for those of you that have been following my journey, but I seriously am still wrapped up in newlywed sparkles and rainbows. 2015 was "The Year of the Wedding" and as much fun as planning the most epic shindig of the century was, being married to an incredible man is even better. {Extra, over-share personal details to follow. If you'd rather not, just move to item number two!}

As a young teacher in my early twenties, I remember being so despondent about finding a good guy to date. I never met "the one" in high school or college, so I was stone-cold single starting in the teaching game. And for the first three years, it was a blessing. I was hyper-focused on my work. I established a reputation at my school for going above and beyond and for always bringing creativity and innovation into the classroom. I rewrote years worth of curriculum and volunteered for dozens of school events and led four different clubs. It as a beautiful distraction from the lack of dating in my life (who was I going to get set up with, the ONLY single guy in school? Because that wouldn't be a scandal!!). Then, I reached 25 and my friends were starting to settle down, have kiddos, you know, move on with their lives. With still no prospects in sight, I dabbled in online dating, but pretty much settled into the idea that I would be very happy as a solo artist - I adore my life's work as a teacher. I was ready for that life.
And then I met Luis.
It's funny how life works. As soon as I had embraced my singlehood, made plans (I was in the midst of applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in South Africa!), an amazing person appeared in my life VIA Now that I'm three months married, I can reflect on the last thirty years and just sigh. Marriage turned out to be just another right path for me. I wish I would have known this in my mid-twenties: there's no ONE right path. Life opens up so many that really what I need to remember is to always be open minded to what's ahead.

Two: I still depend so much on PAPER - LET IT GO!
I hate to admit it, but at the end of 2015, half way into my eighth year of teaching, I still feel like if I haven't validated learning physically (on paper or submitted online) that I haven't really evaluated it. I don't BELIEVE this is true, but my practices still demand it.
For example, I tried a new strategy this year with my kiddos called The Tableau. I had used it a long time ago, but I decided to resurrect it as I noticed my kids were doing way too much sitting. So, for the tableau to work, I basically gave six small groups six different important concepts that we were studying, and asked them to create a tableau that answered a question about that concept. For example, we were studying In the Time of the Butterflies in November. One issue that we wrestled with was the idea of machismo. Group One got the question, "What does machismo look like in the context of the lives of the Mirabal sisters?". Their job was then to create a tableau, a "freeze frame", a picture, using their bodies and/or props from around the classroom to answer the question.
It was SOOO HARD for me to not require them to ALSO write a paragraph that answered the question! The activity was amazing, so amazing in fact that I quickly put it up in my store (go check it out!), but I still felt myself aching for something to be "turned in". After I calmed myself down, I knew in my heart that what the students created with their bodies was more than sufficient. Each group had a curator, a person who explained the picture concept that the group came up with. And these pictures were creative, layered with depth and understanding, and it was clear to me which students got it and which did not.
I need to keep making my students do these kinds of activities. I can't "record the data" or align it precisely with a standard, but we teachers know in our GUTS that these kinds of small formative assessments are critical to the well being of our kiddos.

Group Tableau Project:  A  Formative Assessment for ALL No

Three: Life is Bigger than Teaching Alone
I love my students. Adore them, actually. And the same can be said of the career itself (minus a few bad days here and there). But the more I look at my life, the more I realize that I haven't really found the balance quite yet. Before I got married, I worked too much. When I got engaged/ "The Year of the Wedding", I probably played a little bit too much. This year, 2016, will be the year that I finally get the balance down. I'm equipped and ready to do it and here are a few apps I'm using to help me do so:

Health: My Fitness Pal
I've experimented with this app on and off and I really enjoy it. I was really consistent with it before the holidays and getting sick, so I'm planning to start fresh on January 1 tracking all of my meals and workouts. The app is really user friendly, and, BONUS!, compatible with my new Christmas present - my FitBit Charge HR!

Finances: Acorns
Luis and I have a lot of long term financial goals.....and a lot of short term bad spending habits! I just downloaded Acorns and I'm excited to try it in the new year. Acorns will take the extra change from my debit card purchases and dump them into a savings account for me. Better yet, they'll invest it and I'll get to see my money grow! By using Acorns, working on sharing great products in my TpT store, and my other side jobs, we hope to keep saving for our first home and a few extra souvenirs on our honeymoon trip to Germany this summer.

Organization: Erin Condren!
Okay, this one actually isn't digital, AND it's not a's a continuation of something great I started doing in 2015! I bought my very first Erin Condren planner in the summer and it's seriously the first planner that I've actually been using consistenly. It does a really nice job of blending school planning and life planning, so I'm going to keep using this bad boy to death! 

So that's it, folks!  Those are just some of the things I've learned and some of the ways I plan to move forward into a fresh start in 2016.  Check out these other OUTSTANDING bloggers below to see what they've learned and what they're up to!  Bye!


Monday, November 30, 2015

TpT Cyber Monday Sale - My Purchases & Reviews!

Cyber Monday gets me much more excited than Black Friday, that's for sure!  As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I've tried really hard over the years to not get swept up in the buying and over-consuming that these days encourage, but I do like to look for great bargains on things that I actually do need or gifts that I've actually considered purchasing for someone.  And then, enter...CYBER MONDAY!

I've done a little bit of shopping today - Photobucket has some great deals on photo products (the best gifts to give in my family...especially since I got married this year, I have more pictures that I know what to do with!) and my girl Erin Condren has some sweet deals on her products today too (an indulgence, I know, but being organized is just so addicting when the stickers are so darn CUTE!).

Of course, it wouldn't be a complete Cyber Monday with out treating myself to a few of the wishlist items that I have had on TpT for a while.  I wanted to share a sneak peek into the products that I purchased, even though I haven't used them yet.  I've read through both and I'm really excited to implement them in my classroom as soon as possible!

TpT Store:  Stacey Lloyd

My initial reactions:  This girl has got some graphic design GAME!  I love how these task cards are laid out and the response sheets that accompany them.  More importantly, I finally see how task cards can be used in a meaningful way at the high school level.  I never really understood what all of the buzz was around these cards, but after reading through Stacey's directions and looking through her handouts, I have a really clear vision of how I hope to implement these and how to make my own for some other things that I do in my class!

How I plan to implement in my classroom: I think I will be using this set in my classroom for my early finishers.  I have a class where students do a lot of independent work and they finish at a staggered rate.  I think having this as an ongoing project, it will be great to keep kids motivated and keep the class moving at a rigorous pace if this is what they're expected to do when they finish an activity early.  

TpT Store:  Julie Faulkner

My initial reactions:  I've been wooooooooooondering how TpT sellers are putting together their Close Reading assignments, and now I seeeeeeeee!!  My favorite part of this bundle so far are Julie's examples from her own classroom of annotations - LOVE seeing a teacher's own handwriting and how she and her class worked through the close reading assignment.  Everything is nicely coordinated and leveled from entry (easiest) to a challenge.

How I plan to use it in my classroom:  I've already been doing close reading similarly to how Julie has her's outlined in this bundle.  One new idea that she uses are the STEPS to close reading - they are clear, organized, and will help students get closer into any text that they need to closely read.  I think this is so clear and organized that I could actually leave this with a sub!

So there you have it - the two treats I gave myself this Cyber Monday.  Please make sure you swing on by the TpT stores of these talented teachers (linked above) and check out their blogs and what they're writing about:

So what are you waiting for?!  Head on over to Teachers Pay Teachers and pick up something for yourself!


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tis the Season for ELA Bloggers to Unite!

Welcome to the ELA bloggers Cyber Monday blog-hop!

For those of you who have started reading my blog recently, you should know that you are watching me at the beginning of my journey - a journey that I've been picking at for years, and now, as of October, taking very seriously because I am so deeply passionate about the things that I get to write about.

Two bloggers that I follow, Julie from Faulkner’s Fast Five and Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom have decided to jingle the sleigh bells of the blogging community. In the tradition of "Top 5 Lists" I plan to join them and share my plans for wrapping up the year 2015.

To celebrate the holidays, I plan on…
ONE:  Bringing meaning to the season for STUDENTS: I already have my Pandora holiday stations ready to go for the whole month of December!  I plan to keep classes light and joyful and to help students remember the importance of family - and how much their families depend on their kids to earn a strong, deep education.

TWO:  Bringing meaning to the season for my FAMILY: I am committed to quality time with my hubby this Christmas.  It's our FIRST as husband and wife, and we are going to start our own traditions this year and I'm so excited to carve time out for that.  Life can get so busy and distracting this time of year that I've made it a focus (already!) to leave work at work and make time for home and family when I get home.  

THREE:  Adding to my TpT wishlist: I've been following Abby Gross for a while now, and I'm really excited to check out her rhetoric lessons, in particular: Rhetorical Devices in Songs.  It looks like just the right thing for my kids second semester!

    FOUR:  Adding to my personal wishlist: I really want a new FitBit or Garmin health tracking device.  I've had a Jawbone before but didn't really like how it felt on my wrist, but I loved how it kept me accountable.  As a teacher looking for ways to do this CRAZY demanding job and still be healthy and active, I think a new FitBit would help me do that!

    FIVE:Looking forward to this season: Warm cuddles with my hubby and my kitties, restful time off, and baking.  The one time of year that I really indulge in some crazy, unhealthy baked creations is the two weeks off in December.  Look for those on the blog coming soon! :-)

    Have a very happy holiday, everyone!!


    Friday, November 27, 2015

    Writing Argument: Does American culture tend to be more GREEDY or GENEROUS during the holiday season?

    Today is Black Friday.  How did you spend it?  I can admit, in the past, the craze has seized me.  I've felt the pressure, the need, the desire to "stock up" on the things that I NEED SO BADLY!!  After all, the deals seemed SOOOOO remarkable!

    This is the question at the center of the newest item up for grabs in my TpT store - does our society display more greed or generosity during the holiday season?

    Through a series of articles and YouTube videos, students are to investigate the evidence provided to them - I've provided TEN rich, rigorous, and challenging sources for the kiddos to dig through.  Once they're read through and tracked the evidence in their sources, the students will then prepare to take a stand; do they stand with greed or with generosity?

    This lesson plan can take you as little as two class periods and as long as probably nine or ten, depending on how much of the article reading and investigating you want to unpack and do together.  If you're looking for something to save you in these crazy weeks before break actually kicks off, I wanted to give my followers some something seasonal, but not cheesy - something challenging, but of high interest to teens.

    For example, take a look at what I've included as Source #7:
    Imagine the discussion that could surround just this one source!  Does this commercial capture greed  or generosity?  What are the rhetorical appeals?  The tropes?  The visual figurative language?  What is the argument of this advertisement, and what does it reveal about the culture surrounding the holidays?

    This ten-page lesson (CCSS rubric included!) is available in my TpT Store for only $3.50!  Today through Cyber Monday, enjoy 20% off everything in the store...this is the best time to shop for your own sanity.  Save time in your classroom and make more space for time with your family and doing the fun kind of shopping that's out there waiting for you!

    Turkey Meatloaf Recipe: Use up your leftovers

    As you all know by now, I am constantly in search of ways to make my teaching life easier AND my nutrition and lifestyle full of decisions that are good for my body.  Teaching is so demanding and it is so easy for me to focus ONLY on my classroom and neglect my health.  This is my go-to recipe that I love - TURKEY MEATLOAF!  I always keep ground turkey in the freezer so that when I want this meal, I'm ready to go.  The only other ingredients that you might need to plan for (if you don't keep them in your pantry regularly) are breadcrumbs (or crackers).  The rest of what you include can be any of the veggies and goodies leftover in the fridge that you need to use up.  This meal can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge until you're ready to heat it up, too.  So many benefits to this delish meal!

    Let's get started!

    You'll need:
    • A mixing bowl
    • Cutting board and sharp knife
    • A safe place for your rings!  You're gonna be mixing this raw meat with your hands, so prepare for that!
    Begin by placing all of your ingredients in the mixing bowl.  The core of this recipe requires ground turkey, one egg, one half cub breadcrumbs, and salt & pepper to taste.  That's the baseline.  The rest?  Mix, match, and play!  Pictured below is what I made most recently:  a handful of cheese, chopped spinach, vidalia onion, scallions, mushrooms, and a package of the dry french onion seasoning mix.  Smoosh everythign together by hand...

    Then form a log!  I've used the bread loaf pans before, but "loafing" it by hand and placing it in a bitter casserole dish makes it a bit easier to cut and serve.  

    Bake the turkey meatloaf in the oven a 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  With about 10 minutes remaining, remove the loaf and spread ketchup on top.  Place the loaf back in the oven to continue cooking.   When it comes out and your house smells amazing, it will look something like this!

    Whip up some mashed potatoes (because that's what we had to finish up on this leftover day!) and serve! My honey and I can unapologetically  finish almost this entire loaf ourselves.  If you're cooking for a crowd, consider doubling the recipe and making two meatloaves!

    I hope this recipe helps you conquer your nutrition goals and still leave you time to grade papers once it's all done.  After all, that's what I'm here to help you do!

    Saturday, October 24, 2015

    Recipe Review - Oatmeal Banana Pumpkin Muffins

    Happy Saturday, friends!

    Since Luis proposed, I can't think of the last Saturday we didn't have something major to do or somewhere important to be.  Today is the first day in over a year that I am doing nothing with no apologies!  Plus, my back has been killing me since sand volleyball, so I decided to meander through a few loads of laundry and try a new muffin recipe I've been eyeballing on my Kitchen 526 board for a long time.  The recpie in question?  PUMPKIN. BANANA. OATMEAL. MUFFINS.  YES PLEASE!

    Fall is basically code for PUMPKIN in my kitchen.  So here's how Mom Endeavors' recipe turned out for me in my little northern Illinois apartment :-)

    Here's a look at the dry ingredients:  oatmeal "flour", cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and I added about 1/4 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of walnuts that I had on hand.

    After mixing that up real good, I added my wet ingredients:  eggs, pumpkin puree (YUMMM!!), two ripe bananas (OHH YEAH!!!), some oil (I didn't have applesauce), and vanilla.  Are you drooling yet?

    I greased up my pan and popped these babies into a hot oven.  They made my house smell amazing, by the way.

    And presto!  Here's now they came out 20 minutes later!

    My rating?  The muffins were reeeeally good!  They were a delicious blend of sweet and savory and just the most wonderful fall treat.  If you've got these ingredients tucked in your cabinets, go for it and give this great recipe a try.


    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    The Apocalypse is Approaching: A Lesson for Writer's Workshop

    Download the free lesson on my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

    Whenever Halloween time rolls around, I always find our Creative Writing club and classes looking for themed writing.  I, personally, cringe at the cliched themes for this time of year, but this time, I think we came across something pretty interesting...the apocalypse.

    So a little bit about our club first.  My colleague Tara and I run The Ink (creative writing club).  We are a club that meets twice a month - once for a writing workshop lesson and a second time for an open mic night.  The club has been through several other formats and configurations, and we have found that this one works best for us.

    So I thought I'd share with you, my loyal, faithful readers, the lesson plan we designed for our writing workshop this coming Thursday.  I've created a nice, clean, and FREE lesson plan with all docs that you can grab on my TpT Store - Mud and Ink..

    Part 1 - The Mindmap Jigsaw Apocalypse

    • Divide your students into several groups.  Each group will receive a different "type" of apocalypse to brainstorm about. 
    • Distribute materials to the appropriate groups.  Instruct students to skim through the images, videos, and articles looking for language and images that spark their interest and might make its way into a piece of writing.  "Types" of apocalypse scenarios we brainstormed include:
      • Nuclear
      • Environmental/natural disaster
      • Personal (the "end" of my life as I know it - a breakup, graduating high school, etc.)
      • Zombie
      • Political
      • Biblical
      • Doomsday prophecies
    • Students should record their ideas in a mindmap format (or whatever other format you like)
    Part 2 - Whole Group Mindmap:  Bringing the Jigsaw together
    • Bring your crew back together.
    • You, or a student leader, can direct a discussion where each group shares the type of apocalypse they studied.  
    • Take notes on the discussion in a giant mind map combining the ideas, language, and images presented by each group.
    Part 3 - The Mentor Text
    • In creative writing, Tara and I have found it fundamental to start every writing task with a writing mentor (thank you Jeff Anderson!)
    • Distribute copies of a mentor text that you like.  The mentor can be thematically connected or stylistically connected to your lesson - whichever applies to what you want to teach!
    • We found this super cool poem from Scott Hightower called Apocalypse Soliloquy.  
    • Read and discuss the poem with your kiddos!
    Part 4 - Writing Time
    • Using all of the brainstorming from the mindmaps and the mentor text, turn the kids loose.  Give them about 8-10 minutes to write on an idea or image that they feel strongly about from the day's worth of discussions.  If you're working with a group or reluctant writers (my group are all in a club for writing...they're my amazing word nerds, so there's no pulling teeth here!), send me a note and we can brainstorm some more specific directions! ;-)
    • SHARE!  Always ask your students to share.  We give snaps for lines we love when the students are reading.
    • Keep writing.  Keep writing.  Keep writing

    I hope you give it a try!  Shoot me a tweet @misscordes324 or an email at and let me know how it goes!

    Keep truckin, friends!


    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    Meals: Planning, Pinning, Cooking, Shopping,...Who Does What?!

    I can hardly believe Luis and I are embarking on week four of married life already...time really does
    fly!  It's crazy!

    I wanted to share with you all a great system that we've worked out together for meal planning and prepping; this system could work with roommates or a much bigger family, too!

    When it comes to planning and preparing meals for the week, there are a few decisions to be made.  Who does the shopping?  What's the weekly budget?  Who does the prepping?  The cooking?  The planning and selecting of meals?  Who cleans up?  There's a lot to think about, and we've spend the past three months in trial-and-error-mode.  Here's what we found out:

    1. It turns out (as I suspected), that I LOVE to grocery shop, but I REALLY LOVE to grocery shop ALONE!! Ha!  I spent several years on my own as a single lady building systems and routines that worked for me, and when it comes to grocery shopping, it's so much better for my family if I do that by myself.  It's actually such a relaxing time for me.  I like to go early on Saturday or Sunday mornings, coffee in hand, iPhone grocery list in the other.
    2. Luis is a picky eater.  He won't admit it, but his pallate is extremely narrow.  For the most part, he likes things plain and mild.  I, on the other hand, enjoy savory, super spicy, and experimental kinds of dishes from all over the world.  Luis would be happy on a diet of Panda Express and Popeyes for life.  So, after I told him no more fast food, I put him in charge of a shared Pinterest board (did I forget to mention that he might actually love Pinterest more than me?  He posted all kinds of cool things on our wedding board when we were planning, too!).  It is Luis' job to find the recipes that he thinks look tasty, put them on the board, and I choose meals from the pins he's shared.  He's waaaay more open minded to food when HE finds it on Pinterest rather than me!  We've had some seriously good meals, meals that we've already repeated, using this system.  Hooray!!  
    3. I also love to cook AND prep.  Luis?  Eh...he respects the work, but it doesn't call him unless it's meat on the smoker or on the grill.  So, I cook.  I prep on Sundays.  And I feel accomplished.  And I need to do these things to feel good for the week, so they're my job.   And it's great!
    4. Luis and I both like to go to bed with a clean kitchen.   When we finish eating, we share in the cleaning/putting away food duties to make sure everything is done before we go to bed. 
    All in all, I still do most of the work, but it's not because I feel obligated to, it's because I genuinely enjoy it.  Getting your hubby or family in on the Pinterest pinning part of the planning is sooooo highly recommended!  That part, which I also love, can be the most overwhelming part sometimes, so it's nice to just have 10 to pick through already narrowed down.  Try it and let me know how it works out for ya!

    Here are a few from previous weeks that Luis found, we've tested, and we've had multiple times since!  

    Have a wonderful fall weekend!