Can Somebody Push the Restart Button, Please?

Below is the beginning of a story that I’ve been working on in my head for about 24 hours now. I’m doing more modeling with my students this year by showing them more of my own writing. Here’s the idea that’s been brewing in my mind since yesterday. Please comment and let me know what you think!


Can Somebody Push the Restart Button, Please?

Chapter 1

Second period. Staring at the notebook on my desk–Mrs. Sentor would call it my journal. I call it painful. A poster on the wall in front of me reads: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. –Ernest Hemingway. Well, here I sit. Trying to bleed. When I just want to cry. No. Disintegrate. No. Or is it dissipate? Ugh. I have no ID-E-A what I want, OK??? Please.

OK. I do know what I want. I want to cry. How about that? That’s what I want. And I want it to feel good. But it won’t. So I don’t. I sit here. In second period.

Mrs. Sentor put a prompt on the board:

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Seriously? Seriously . . . Just one thing? Where do I start? With my eyebrows and work my way down to my preposterously thin ankles? Why do I stop at my ankles, you ask? Well, I like my feet. They are my best feature. They are dainty with perfect toes–not short and stubby and not long and knotty. My dad has gnarly yellow toes that he really shouldn’t ever show in public. I’m truly grateful that I did not inherit his feet. I wonder if Mrs. Sentor will notice if I write about something I like instead, like my feet.

But my pencil still doesn’t move. It can’t. My elbow is frozen. I wonder if that excuse will get me a pass to the nurse. But wait. I think my shoulder is frozen, too. This would explain why my pencil isn’t moving. Ugh. This day needs to be over.

Anyway, I was talking about my feet. Pretty feet don’t get a person much here at Brook Trout Middle School because they are covered up all day on the count of shoes–a required part of the dress code here in school suburbia. Not just any shoes, though. For instance, shoes without backs are verboten, as Mrs. Person, the German teacher, would say. Most of us call them slides. My mom calls them clogs or flops. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just don’t wear them unless you want to visit the goofy principal’s office. 

Tommy Ranker, who sits next to me in language arts, looks like a forty-year-old man because he has a glaring bald spot at the top of his head. It is round and clean, like a plate that just came out of the dishwasher. The rest of him is not unattractive. He’d have a nice smile if he didn’t spew vomit every time he opened his mouth. And he can be funny. Like the day he asked Mrs. Kleindock the question no one ever dared to ask.

Tommy has never noticed my feet. He notices everything else, though, from my unnaturally dark eyebrows compared to my light blonde hair, to my burgeoning mustache, to my small chest, hairy arms, and string bean legs. I imagine that someday someone will find him charming if they can ignore the fact that at thirteen he is already going bald and perpetually immature. If he found a girl, maybe he would focus on her instead of humiliating me.

Even without looking at him, I can feel his eyes on me. He’s smirking. “Hey, Skinny,” he whispers when Mrs. Sentor isn’t looking. “What did you write?” His quick, stubby, chewed-to-the-bone fingers try to snatch my journal. I slap my hand down into the middle of it just in time. I give him a look like the one my cat gives me when it’s hungry: the I-am-going-to-eat-you-if-you-don’t-feed-me-soon look.

“Knock. it. off!” I say through clenched teeth. Mrs. Sentor turns our way. I look at my desk. Again, what do I want? If this is the only kind of attention a girl like me gets, then I think what I want is to be left alone.

When I woke up this morning, I thought today would be different. Let me rephrase that. Mrs. Sentor is always telling us to choose that clearly convey our meaning, so what I really meant was that I thought that today HAD to be different. I didn’t think the universe had a choice. There is no way that today could be as bad as yesterday. It had to get better. It just had to. When you already have no friends, things can only get better, right?

So why don’t I have any friends? I could make a long list, but I guess the closest answer to the truth is that I lie, hoping to impress people. I do it all the time. I can’t help it, even though it never works. People know I want them to like me too much. So, as I said, I really have no friends. No one that I would link arms with or willingly share the answers to my homework with. But yesterday–for half the day anyway–I thought I had a friend. Randi. Her real name is Miranda, but she prefers Randi. Anyway, she was my friend, until Kim handed me a “message.” Right before lunch, nonetheless. She says to me, all nonchalantly, “Randi wanted me to give you this,” as she holds out her fist. When I innocently open my hand to take the “note,” seventeen little pieces of shiny paper fall into my hand. Seventeen little pieces. I wonder if Randi counted them. Or did she just blindly rip without thinking.

She ripped my school picture, the one I gave her in October, the one with my note of friendship to her on the back. She shredded it. Like it was a piece of junk mail. Like it was something that meant nothing to her. I feel my thyroid drop into my stomach like a ball of acid. What did I do to make her so mad at me?

I throw the seventeen pieces to the top shelf of my locker. What the hell? Maybe there I won’t ever have to look at them. Someday a janitor will find them and never look to see what they are before he throws them in his oversized trash can.

 

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3 Somewhat Simple Hacks That Will Change the Classroom Environment: Making Learning Safe, Engaging, and Authentic

The new school year has given me little time to write: I’ve been busy unpacking Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study  for 8th grade and preparing my students for the writers’ workshop model. They are not quite ready yet, but we are getting a little closer every day. In this post, I will share with you some easy-to-implement strategies that have helped me and my students prepare. These easy hacks also create a safe and engaging environment for learning.

Anchor Charts, Anchor Charts, and More Anchor Charts

I was first exposed to anchor charts when I attended my first TCRWP Saturday Reunion at Columbia University last March. I have to admit that some of the fancy artistry intimidated me a bit. I was not used to making thinking visible. I am an English teacher, so explaining comes more naturally to me. I’ve realized, though, in the past few weeks, that these visuals are extremely helpful to my students. I know . . . Some of you may be reading this and thinking ,”Well, no kidding!” but the connection was not obvious to me until I implemented the practice. The charts that are relevant to our current studies are hanging around the classroom, and the students often leave their work stations to review the material on them.

I borrowed my first design from Kate Roberts. It shows students how to zoom in on a moment in narrative writing. 

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The example at the bottom of the image is an exact replica from Kate’s blog post on A Teaching Life in regards to format; I changed the story to describe my summer vacation. The example on top is the design adapted by one of my students. She found this model more workable for her. It’s not much different, but my version gave her the idea to create an ameliorated visual representation of her thinking process.

I’m not sure that I’d call this next example and anchor chart per se, but I refer to it every day when the students ask me how their work is going to be graded. I’ve adopted a four point scale for classwork and quizzes. It look like this:

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I snagged this idea from eberopolis on blogspot. It makes grading a bit simpler and gives the students a clearer picture of their progress in meeting the standards.

Conferencing

I have not mastered this art yet–I’m still a novice, hopeful that I am on my way to understanding and managing this routine better. For the first few weeks of school, my students and I have been working on close reading and annotating texts with a focus. I’ve been monitoring their progress and evaluating their skills levels at different intervals. The short two to three minute conversations I’ve been conducting with students may be the most valuable time I have with them. When I take the time to meet with them individually, they take responsibility for their work, which in the long run, actually makes less work for me because they are holding themselves accountable for their success.

Mentor Texts

Once again, I am getting better at utilizing mentor texts, but I would probably consider myself a practitioner at this point. I have a discerning eye for good writing after all these years, but I am no Jeff Anderson! I began this practice like so many teachers do: by reading Everyday Editing. When I was reading the book last year, I used the examples that Anderson includes in his book and slowly progressed to using examples that I’d found in my own reading of young adult novels. Right now I am using Gary Paulsen‘s Man with the Iron Heads, which is one of the novellas in his book Paintings from the Cave. The book is rich with figurative language and description; plus, the students LOVE the story. A teacher knows when she’s made a good choice when she hears students exclaim in the middle of reading, “I love this book!” and “I wish we could keep reading!” Hahahaaa! Those moments are what make teaching so savory and delightful.

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Acknowledgments

I must say, and I would be remiss if I did not mention that Angela Stockman, the founder and executive director of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, has been an vital resource in helping me develop my skills through the change process. If you are not following her (which you can do on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+), you are missing out. She has been one of the most valuable contacts in my professional learning network this past year. She also writes a blog where she posts many valuable resources. I personally grab many of her resources and ideas from Facebook, but she is willing to connect with educators from all experience levels.

Another source that I am indebted to is the Two Writing Teachers blog. Maggie B. Roberts and Kate Roberts are doing incredible work with young writers and writing.