happy national handwriting day! (jan 23)

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Happy (late) National Handwriting Day, everyone!  I have always loved anything to do with handwriting: keeping journals, writing notes in class, making lists, having pen pals, filling out forms, sending people birthday cards, you name it.  Even now, I keep track of my schedule in a planner that I take with me everywhere.  Sure, I have an iPad and an iPhone with brilliant apps that could organize everything for me–but I wouldn’t get to write everything down!

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Also, since 9th grade I have only used one kind of pen: black, fine point, Pentel RSVP pens.  Nothing else will do.  I’m very stingy with my pens, too.  I will watch you like a hawk until that pen is safely back in my pen pouch in my purse!

My husband recently bought me a Kindle Paperwhite to help me avoid the back and neck problems inflicted upon me by the 20-30 books I have to read each semester for my Masters program, but again, I need to write in the margins.  (I love the Kindle for pleasure reading, but when I am analyzing a text, I have to engage with it using an RSVP pen).

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You know what else is kind of strange about handwriting?  Mine is almost identical to my mom’s, and hers is almost identical to my grandma’s.  My best friend since 7th grade (Rochelle) and I also have incredibly similar writing.  Both of us have been confused when receiving Christmas cards from each other in the mail–Did this get sent back?  Did I have the wrong address?  Oh, ha ha, that’s not my writing after all!  Is handwriting hereditary, or do we copy what we see?

Anyway, I am always very excited for National Handwriting Day, and this year we celebrated it in my English class.  Sixth graders are never excited to hear the word “cursive,” but I opened their eyes to a whole new concept this year.  “You’re not in elementary school anymore,” I reminded them, “so now you can write however you want!  You can do loops on your y’s and g’s this week, and then hearts on top of your i’s next week, you can write in half cursive-half printing–the sky is the limit!”  I just wanted them to practice neat penmanship, and to have fun doing it.

We started off by writing the alphabet in whatever handwriting they liked best.  I encouraged them to develop their own signature style (no pun intended).  Then we wrote out some panagrams like,

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog  and

My grandfather picks up quartz and valuable onyx jewels.

(Panagrams are coherent sentences that include every letter of the alphabet).

Next, they practiced writing their signature, or autograph.  You would be shocked at how many of my 8th graders cannot write their names in cursive.  Like, no matter how many different ways I explained it, I still got their name written in printing.  It was nuts.  So with my 6th graders, I want to make sure that they practice writing their signature at least once a year.  If they get that MLB contract one day, they are going to need to know how to do this!

Students had the option to continue to observe National Handwriting Day by completing an extra credit assignment that was due the next day.  They could either make up their own panagram (it’s actually REALLY hard!), or hand-write a letter to someone on stationary.  The art of letter writing is pretty close to extinct, so I am doing my part to bribe students into reviving it.  Here is what one class brought back the next day:

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Really, they didn’t have to write the letter to me, but hey, they’re smart!  How can I not give you a bunch of extra credit if you hand-write all the reasons why I am amazing onto a cute card?  I also liked the homemade stationary (which they probably made ten minutes before the bell rang from their binder paper and a pen they found at the bottom of someone’s backpack, but whatever).

Side note: I have heard that many states are dropping cursive from their Common Core curriculum (California is keeping it, though).  This is a shame, because I have read in a few articles that the act of connecting one letter to the next requires the brain to think one step ahead, and makes writing in cursive a fundamentally different task from printing.  Experts also argue that cursive is useful to know for note-taking, although I would guess that most students will be typing their notes in the future anyway.

Still, I enjoy handwriting, and I love to read at beautiful script.  I am going to continue to celebrate National Handwriting Day every January 23rd, and I hope that you do too!  What other ideas do you have for NHD activities?

spelling bee word wall

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The school spelling bee is tomorrow!  I’ve trained my 6th graders well, and I’m certain that one of my students will win!  We started learning the words on the Scripps National Spelling Bee word list by creating signs with one spelling word and the definition.  Each student made a colorful sign with the word, its definition, and artwork that represented the word.  They taught each other how to spell the words, and practiced spelling their word in front of the class (“say, spell, say!”).  I needed something to block the morning sun from my 1st period class’s eyes anyway, so we made a Word Wall from all the spelling words.  Students try to incorporate the spelling words into their comments as much as possible (“mugwump” gets a lot of action), and even if their eyes are wandering every so often, at least they will probably rest on our colorful Word Wall eventually.  I can’t wait for the competition tomorrow! 🙂  

barnes & noble mini haul

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week at Barnes & Noble, so teachers get 25% off all their purchases!  I needed a couple of things, so I headed on down this Saturday, and this is what I picked up:

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This calendar is actually for my piano studio, but I still got the discount.  I was surprised that the calendar section was already pretty much picked over, but at least I got this one for 50% off (plus my 25% discount, so 75% off!)  I just think it’s a nice little touch to put up a calendar that your students like to check out each month.  I try to just follow my students’ interests, so in the past I have done things like High School Musical, Taylor Swift, Glee, Despicable Me, Angry Birds, and last year, Angry Birds Star Wars (oh yeah!).  I also write all my students’ birthdays on the calendar and try to remember to bring them a little treat on the lesson closest to their special day.  It’s a little thing, but I think it has contributed to the fact that many of my students have stayed with me for EIGHT birthdays! 🙂

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I’ve been eyeing these bookends for a while, so I went ahead and indulged a little since I was going to get my discount.  I am going to begin reading “The Cay” with my 6th graders next week, and I thought these would help me keep my class set nice and organized.  I’m going to assign one student per week as The Librarian, and he or she will make sure that we get all of the books back at the end of the period in a nice straight line between the bookends.  I have a lot of teal in my room, too, so they look super cute.

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We love John Green’s Crash Course US History YouTube channel already, so I was excited when I found out that he is also an award-winning author.  I read “The Fault in Our Stars” over Christmas break (loved it), and it is currently being passed around between some of my higher-level (and more mature) 6th graders.  I have read a few chapters of “An Abundance of Katherines,” and while I’m enjoying it, I don’t think I want to be the one to provide it to 11-year olds.  The subject matter is a little bit more mature, but I can see high school students really enjoying this book.  I’ll save it in case I end up teaching high school, and I’m intrigued by the story line in the meantime.  John Green can do no wrong!  

 

I usually do more damage at Barnes & Noble, but one of my New Year’s resolutions is to reign in my spending.  Maybe I will get a gift card one of these days and have a few more items to share another haul post.

Did you get any great deals with your teacher discount this week?

 

free school supplies from reddit

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At the beginning of the school year, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Reddit project that matches teachers with people who are willing to donate specific classroom supplies. (The link I used unfortunately doesn’t work any longer, but I am assuming that Reddit will run this project again next school year and advertise it on their site). I wrote a list of the specific things that I always run out of or wish I had in my classroom.

A super nice (anonymous) lady mailed me two boxes full of pencils, markers, card stock, glue, crayons, and colored paper. I was so touched, and so were my students! We used some of the supplies to make her a really cute thank you card, and now whenever I want to do a creative project, I have all the supplies I need. I am really into “foldables” and posters and “projects-in-a-day,” and now I have all the card stock, markers and glue I need so that my students can actually make quality projects. I asked for a bunch of mechanical pencils, so now I don’t stress out when someone doesn’t have a pencil; I just give them one and they don’t even need to waste time sharpening it. We love the box of fine tip markers, and my 6th graders use them often for “Rainbow Reading” (blog post on that activity to come!) and for editing each others’ papers.

We love Reddit and nice people who donate school supplies!

the power of our words

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I came across this quote on Pinterest one day, and I felt instantly convicted. I tend to get a little snarky and sarcastic with my students when they walk in with their middle school attitudes and drama. Usually I am very good-natured with them, but at times I lose my patience and put those crazies in their place with an arched eyebrow, a pointed finger and a subtle insult. Of course it’s necessary to be firm, but instead of snapping, “Seriously? Are you like, five years old? Get it together, Gavin,” maybe I could say, “Gavin, you’re really good at this type of question. Try it out and stay focused, dude.”

On the other hand, I really can’t stand it when teachers talk to middle schoolers like they’re in Kindergarten. You will never ever hear me say, “Good morning, boys and girls! Today we are going to go on a learning adventure and discover how George Washington became the first president of the United States!” Yuck.

But there is a very wide middle ground between being insincerely sugary sweet and practically bullying your students into humiliated submission. Different teachers bring with them different personalities (thank goodness!) so your middle ground won’t look exactly the same as mine. This quote is a great reminder, though, that our words have the potential to ring in our students’ ears. I know people who never forgot harsh words spoken by parents or teachers. But fortunately, it would be fantastic if our students internalized comments like, “That was a fabulous question!” or, “You are such a hard worker!” or, “Wow, this group is lucky to have your drawing skills for their project!” Let’s give them a leg up on that whole finding-your-inner-voice thing while we can. 🙂

hall pass

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Hall passes really gross me out. I mean, half a dozen kids take them into the bathroom every day and who knows if the kids are setting them on toilets, dropping them on the floor, carrying them back to me without washing their hand, etc. So I never touch them.

I see kids walking down the hallway with really creative and funny hall pass objects. I tried to think of something funny, but I saw this little coffee mug warmer in the dollar section at Target and thought it would do. I strung a ribbon through the bottom and I hang it on my wall near the door. Students grab it on their way out the door and hang it back up when they return. If a student sees that the hall pass is not there, they won’t bother asking to leave the room since only one student can leave the room at a time.

My sixth graders came to me from elementary school extremely well-trained. They have been teaching ME classroom management tips and tricks! I will have do another post about all the great elementary school strategies they’ve been bringing to me. Another reason I just love my little sixth graders!

What do you use for a hall pass?

bell schedule

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Ok, I went a little over the top on this one. I can admit it. I just really liked these stickers from Michael’s and I wanted to find a good use for the numbers! I put the bell schedule in the back of my room this year because, really, I’m the only one who needs to see it! Even if students can’t remember to write their own names on their papers, they sure know exactly when the bell is supposed to ring, so a schedule for them is rather pointless.

Actually, though, I have been very impressed by my all of my classes this year when it comes to dismissal. I have always wanted to throw out a, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you!” but I haven’t ever needed it! I do tend to try and squeeze too much into the last minute and a half of class, but whenever the bell rings, the students brace themselves against their desks and wait for my approval before launching themselves out into the hallway. They’re so obedient!

teacher survival kit

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I am in my room from about 7:30am to 4:30pm every day, so I have to make sure I have some basics on hand to keep me feeling, smelling, and looking good. I picked up this cute plastic box from Target and filled it with a few essentials…

-ibuprofen (it’s no fun to try and teach with a headache!)
-deodorant (it’s been almost 100 degrees outside lately, so I definitely need this!)
-mouthwash (I bring a lot of leftovers for lunch!)
-bobby pins (sometimes my bangs drive me nuts by the end of the day)
-panty liners (it would be terrible not to have one when you needed one)
-tampons (obviously)
-bronzer (to help control shine and add a little color to my face)
-nail kit (for toenails or fingernails)
-mint chapstick (it makes my lips feel nice and fresh)
-Tums (you can’t teach with a tummy ache!)
-makeup brush (for the bronzer)
-hair brush (after lunch sometimes it hangs a little flat)
-Cottonelle wipes (I just much prefer these to regular TP)

What else do you always keep in your classroom?

completed work files

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I found these magazine holders at Ikea last summer for just a few dollars. I labeled one for each of my classes. Whenever I collect an assignment, I just store them in the corresponding file. I try to grade and input work right away, but if it takes me a few days to get to it, I know all the papers are organized and waiting for me right where I want them. When I’m ready, I just pick up one file at a time and take it to my desk to grade. I have been thinking about moving my Turn It In Station closer to my desk so that it’s more convenient when I grade papers, but I don’t like students congregating near my desk or wandering over by it with late work. It makes me nervous. And suspicious.

If a student has late work, I never let them give it to me. They must turn it in to their class’ file. And I’ll get to it when I get to it. (I love how students who turn in late work are the first ones to complain that their grades have not been updated yet! Really, you want me to hurry now? Haha).

That phrase “whenever I collect an assignment” sounded misleadingly simple. Collecting an assignment takes training and skill. There is always a student who is in charge of gathering the papers for his or her group. Depending on how I have the seats arranged at the moment, this might be the person in the front row, or the person in a certain spot in a group. ALL the papers in the pile must be facing exactly the same way–they cannot be upside down, backwards, or weird in any way. And if I don’t see names on papers I don’t pick them up. I only collect papers once. If you missed it for any reason, you are in charge of getting your assignment turned in to the right box (facing the right way!). I warn my students that I am crazy when it comes to turning in work, and it is either perfect, or I don’t take it. By the end of the year they are fabulous turner-inners.

my corner

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This is my happy little corner behind my desk. I covered most of my bulletin board with this world map and added a US History bunting. I made the bunting last year out of scrapbook paper, and I really love the touch it adds to my board. I found this great antique map calendar at Paper Source (my weakness!) and it’s so fun to study to a new place from a different time each month. Even when I am planning lessons and entering grades, looking back at my board makes me feel calm and organized, and it reminds me that I love to teach kids about the world.