Power of the Pen (SOL #25)

I love coaching Power of the Pen. It’s always fun to spend a Saturday with a group of students who are excited about writing and who get to try their best to compete with other writers in the area.

Today my team competed at Chillicothe Middle School in the Regional Tournament, and after this one, they only have the State Competition left if they qualify. We know we will have at least two of our writers moving on, since they placed 1st and 3rd individually!

The day is always a little crazy because students do three rounds of 40 minute writing sessions, during which they have to follow a prompt – given at the beginning of the round. For each round, I act as a judge in in one of the writing rooms. I am always impressed by how much effort these kids put into their writing, and how much talent I get to see on competition days.

Overall, my 8th grade writers did a fantastic job during today’s tournament – they ended up placing 3rd as a team, with the two who placed 1st and 3rd in individual awards. One of my students even wrote a story based on something that we talked about in class, which made me feel proud. Last week, I showed them a John Green video in which he argues about why we should get rid of pennies in the United States. She took what she learned in that video and turned it into a response to the prompt “Create an acronym for a protest of your own making” – and she did No More Pennies (NMP). I laughed as I read it.

We also have a lot of parents who come to support their children during the award ceremony, and it’s so nice to have them there. They are kind and really appreciate the work we do, and the kids love seeing them there too.

All around, we had a great day!

Forgetfulness (SOL #24)

Today is going to be a 2-for-1 day – as long as I remember to post later today! 

Yesterday was the last day of school before Spring Break, so my mind went into shut down mode. I completely forgot my slice. Sometimes we forget things, but it’s okay. 

I was planning on writing about how I reorganized my classroom library and trying a new system. I got rid of most of my bins because I’ve found that my middle schoolers really like being able to see all of the spines instead of having to dig through bins, especially ones that are a little high up. I’m hoping this results in more kids finding more books!

How do you organize your classroom library?

Here’s my new setup:

Workshop Strategies (SOL #23)

This week, I’ve worked with my district’s literacy coach to help me out with a few things in my classroom. I initially reached out because I was struggling with classroom management in a couple of classes, so we took a look at mini-lesson strategies to help with that. I realized that I was feeling a little unstructured with many days full of writing for students, and that having true mini-lessons really do help them focus.

Yesterday, my “mini-lesson” was more of a directional one, but I gave students the task of writing their goal for the day on a post-it note, and keeping it on their desk. Then, I had them sign up for one of four categories on the board, with the caveat that they could move their name at any time. The categories were 1) work alone (AKA don’t bug me), 2) conclusions, 3) planning, and 4) individual conference (the catch-all). This was our last day of writing in class, so my students were pretty self-aware at this point if they needed help (though a few needed some nudging).

These focused strategies were both suggested by my literacy coach, and they worked really well to help students stay focused and to remind them what they should be working on. I am still a little afraid of small group instruction (luckily I got to see a great model of that from my coach, too!), and I am getting more comfortable with stepping back and letting my students take the reins.

I am so proud of the writing they’ve done, and I think they are too. At the beginning of this unit, I told them that this would probably be one of the hardest writing assignments they’ve ever done. I could tell they finally recognized this when a student (who usually slacks off a little) came into class today proudly sharing how much work he had put into his writing.

That’s all I can ask for.

(On a side note, my 1st period class was very independent – but they worked hard the who class! See Exhibit A:)


Making Banana Bread (SOL #22)

Over the weekend, my bananas went bad. They became brown and soft, and I didn’t want to eat them, but I also didn’t want to throw them away. After watching many episodes of The Great British Baking Show in the past few days, I felt inspired.

I decided to make banana bread.

I’ve never made banana bread before, but I do enjoy baking. So after my run, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up some butter, and got to work. I found an easy recipe online, and started mixing.

I didn’t let my butter soften enough before mixing it with the brown sugar, but eventually I got it. I didn’t have quite enough banana for what the recipe called, so I just used what I had. After looking at comments online, I realized that I could have added some applesauce to make up the difference.

As the bread was baking, our small condo smelled amazing. I couldn’t wait to try it.

Finally, it was finished, and I cut a piece for both me and my husband. It was a tiny bit dry, but it was pretty good. This was a great, easy recipe for me to try because next time, maybe I can spice it up a little more by adding chocolate chips or walnuts.

We both ended up going back for seconds.

Regina Spektor (SOL #21)

I almost missed my slice today because I got home late. I went to a concert to see Regina Spektor – someone whom I have loved for more than a decade, but have never had the chance to see in concert.

She was lovely, shyly smiling and thanking the crowd after each song, but her timid crowd interactions contrast with some of her powerful, politically-driven songs. She is an expert pianist, and her music is beautiful, meaningful, and thoughtful.

At one point, she stopped and talked about how she was a refugee and immigrant, and felt so lucky to live in America and how much she loves it here. She received applause and cheers from the audience when she denounced walls and bans that separated us, and implored us to keep our hearts open.

I have admired Regina for years, and I could have stayed for hours more listening to her music. I hope that I get the chance to see her again soon.

One of my favorite songs, “Us”: Regina Spektor – “Us”

Trying (SOL #20)

Lately I have been feeling not enough. I’m struggling with classroom management in a couple of classes, and I’m finding it hard to keep the balance between being forceful and keeping my personality in the classroom. I’m also struggling with a few personal things like nutrition and pushing myself during workouts, as well as pushing myself to learn more. I used to think I was smart, but now I feel like I am not doing anything to learn new things.

Tonight I told my husband these things and that I feel like I am trying too hard – in the negative way. His response was that we’re all trying – that’s what we do. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. That made me feel a little bit better.

I guess the only thing I can do is try something different tomorrow. I’m not going to change everything, but maybe I can rearrange my seating chart so the frequent talkers are separated in my 8th period class (and make them stay there). Maybe I can clean up behind my desk so I feel a little more organized. Maybe I can choose to read something outside of my comfort zone.

I can’t make a difference in everything in one day, but I can be intentional. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why I am I saying what I’m saying? I may be putting a little pressure on myself sometimes, but this week I am going to try to take things one day at a time.


Sunday Meal Prep (SOL #19)

Most Sundays, I spend a few hours meal prepping for the week. Usually, I just make enough for my lunches, but sometimes I make food for dinners, too. By doing this, I am able to create healthy and balanced meals that are easy to just grab and go to take to work with me.

I like to do my grocery shopping on Sunday mornings, when the store isn’t quite crowded yet, and there is still a lot of good produce. Usually I like to try out a couple of new recipes, but today I stuck with some of my go-tos. Tofu. Sweet potatoes. Broccoli.

Since I am a vegetarian, my main protein source is tofu, which I usually bake in big batches. One block yields enough for two meals – about 20 grams of protein for each of my servings. When I meal prep, I try to stick to a basic formula: 20-30g of protein, 10-20g of carbs, and about one cup of veggies.

Tonight, I dried and baked my tofu, just sprayed with olive oil, and then diced my sweet potatoes while it baked.  While my sweet potatoes cooked (half of them with a little cinnamon on top), I cut up my broccoli crowns to roast later. Everything turned out pretty well, and I added chili powder to half of the tofu, and a delicious chili lime powder from Trader Joe’s to the other half.

These meals are filling and flavorful. They’re pretty simple to make – sometimes I branch out and make chili, or add beans and lentils to my protein, or experiment with different veggies and spices.

Tonight, though, I stuck with simple. With one week to go before Spring Break, I am giving myself some grace to take things easily. Hopefully this week will go smoothly, but if not, at least I’ll have a satisfying lunch.