LuLaRoe, a Baby, and Teaching, Oh my!

Since I sadly haven’t posted since October, I need to take a moment to update all of you.

My life feels like it’s been turned upside down since October 7th when I got my call to officially become a LuLaRoe consultant. It’s been exciting and fun meeting new people and helping women find clothes that make them feel confident and comfortable, but it’s also been overwhelming since I also found out that I’m pregnant exactly a week after getting that call! Experiencing 24/7 exhaustion and nausea while taking on a second job, teaching full-time, and being a mom to Jack has been quite the experience to say the least! But I’m beyond thankful for both.

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Another exciting update is that I’m going to have my first student teacher when we return from Christmas break! Her name is Mary and I know she’s going to be great. Because of block scheduling and the fact that I have two honors classes, she’ll be splitting her time between my classroom and my best friend, Lindsay’s, classroom. She’s going to take some of my senior classes and some of Lindsay’s freshman classes. She’ll also get to work with my honors freshmen on occasion and Lindsay’s senior IB students. I think it will be a good experience for her. And since she’s double majoring in special education with an endorsement in Autism, she’ll get to work with some of our special ed teachers during planning periods and such. It might sound like a crazy schedule, but Lindsay and I have it all worked out for her so it’s seamless. Regardless, I’m really excited to guide her over the next few months so she can enter the world of YA and see how wonderful being an English teacher can be.

Anyway, even though I haven’t been blogging, I have been reading still. I’m working on a couple posts to update all of you in that department as well.

Is “getting along fine” good enough?

On May 29th, 2012 I wrote a blog post about creating and managing my classroom library. I had previously received a number of requests to post something of the like so I finally took the time to do so. Since that day it has been one of my most popular blog posts; it’s been pinned over 7,000 times! I’m certainly not an expert on managing a class library and need to make some changes (Booksource, anyone?), but I offer a good starting point for those who wish to begin a class library or want to improve their system.

A few months ago a student teacher found that post and left a comment that still concerns me.

I’m currently in a teaching program and I would love to have a class library, but I’m a little intimidated by the prospect. At this point, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the time it would take to keep and maintain. I think it could be very useful for building healthy relationships with students and I like your ideas around having students be responsible for some of the upkeep. What other benefits have you seen to your library? Part of me just wants to have a library to have an excuse to buy and read more books and maybe that’s a good enough reason. I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine. Thank you for detailing some of the nuts and bolts of your library. That helps my thought process a lot.

When I first read this I had to stop and process it because I didn’t know where to start. First, I’m thankful that this pre-service teacher reached out to me and that I *hopefully* helped. These lines worried me the most:

I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine.

Teachers should have classroom libraries regardless of a school’s stance on SSR and their expectations for student reading. I started teaching in a district that didn’t have any kind of stance on SSR or student reading, but I went in with a very fluid reading philosophy. I’ve posted before about how influential my classes with Dr. Steffel were; she’s the reason I began a classroom library and why I read aloud to my students every day. I began student teaching with the understanding that a teacher who reads what her students are reading is a teacher who will connect with her students. Students need to see their teachers, especially their English teachers, reading every day. If we expect them to become lifelong readers and find value in reading, then we need to show them that we are reading and valuing reading as well.

I know it’s not always easy to accomplish, but making time for SSR is a must in every English classroom. Even if it’s once a week or every other day, it needs to be done. Too many students only read when they’re in school. It is our job to provide them with time to read independently and to provide them with books to read. It’s not easy or cheap managing a classroom library, but it’s too important not to do. It’s also the reason why I provided tips in that blog post for providing books for the classroom without breaking the bank. I don’t know anyone who started a class library with hundreds of books; it’s a slow and steady and exciting worthwhile process. But having that classroom library, even a small classroom library, allowed me instant access to books to recommend to my students and provide for them during SSR. Those recommendations created an invaluable rapport with my students. I read the books I add to my classroom library, often while my students are reading during SSR, so that I know which books to recommend to certain students.

I could go on about this for much longer, but I think it’s more powerful to read what my past and current students think about classroom libraries and teachers who read/recommend books. This post isn’t here to pat myself on the back, but to inspire/motivate/encourage teachers and pre-service teachers to provide independent reading time and classroom libraries for their students. I know teachers can and have been “getting along fine” without providing time to read and without providing a classroom library, but is that really enough? Are our students “getting along fine” without it? Can’t we do better than “fine”? Don’t our students deserve better than that?

Fifty eight of my current students responded to a poll I created about my classroom library.

  1. Do you borrow books from my classroom library? 
    52–Yes
    6–No
  2. Does my classroom library benefit students? Explain your answer.

    –Yes because there are a variety of books that every student can relate to. There are so many different genres and we can use your help to find a book.
    –Yes more options of books to choose from, we can’t always go to you if we wan’t to talk about a book or wan’t a recommendation also a lot of students read the same books from the class room so we can talk with each other about a book we’re reading.
    –Yes because it offers books that are new and may be unheard of or books hat people want to read.
    –Yes, it seems like there’s a better variety and a more comfortable atmosphere to check out books
    –Yes because it offers a variety of books with insight from the teacher on the book.

    –Definitely. I used to read a little bit here and there but your library has really gotten me back into reading. Usually I wouldn’t sit at home reading, but now I just get wrapped up in these great books.

    –Yes, it broadens our horizons and opens us up to new genres
    –I do think that the classroom library benefits students because it is easy access to books. I feel that I have no time to go to the library to actually check out a book in between class or in the morning. So have the library every other day is very helpful for me.
    –Yes. It’s gives you more opportunities to find books you would have never tried before.
    –Yes, it makes class time fun, and it makes reading not a chore.
    –Yes, it opens my eyes to different books.
    –Yes, of course it does! I personally think it’s because your classroom is a comfortable place to be that feels like home AND a library in one. It also saves students the trouble from having to go to the library every time they want a book to read.

    –Yes it does benefit me because it allows me to read and finish a book at my own pace without worrying about having to renew my book every 2 weeks.
    –Yes, I think it builds a relationship with you because we can relate. It makes it easier to get access to books, therefore if you didn’t have a classroom library I most likely wouldn’t read as much as I do.
    –The library very much benefits students because it gives them an opportunity to choose a book in the classroom without having to go down to the actual library, and they have something they can discuss with their teacher. It brings students closer on a common ground to make them feel comfortable.
  3. Did your English teacher last year have a classroom library? (I have seniors & freshmen and have never taught juniors)
    9–Yes
    48–No

I also reached out to my former students on Facebook who have graduated. I asked them about their experience with my classroom library and having time to read. Here are some of their responses:

Chloe–“Before your class I didn’t read much at all, especially not for leisure. Once I was in the class, that changed completely! You reading aloud to the class was a nice change from the usual English class I had been in, and it inspired me, and many students, to read in our free time. Having the extensive and up-to-date library in the classroom made it easy to find something I enjoyed. Having other students reading and giving their opinions helped make it an awesome environment for finding a great book as well. You took the time to get to know all of our tastes in books, and would make recommendations, which I personally loved because I always loved the books you suggested! I read more in your class than I had my whole life! When you left many of us talked about how awesome it was wanting to read and being encouraged to do so! I haven’t had a class like that since. I loved having book talks and discussing the topics we were reading, and I really believe having that environment has made a positive impact!”

Cortney–“Having you as a teacher is what started my love of reading. Before you being my teacher I had never read a book for fun before. What sparked my interest in reading is how you would read a book out loud to the entire class, I would look forward to your class so i could hear the next chapter. I then decided to take your young adult literature class and loved it! You introduced me to books I could relate too and that I enjoyed reading! Your classroom liberty was amazing because every book on your shelf was “pre-approved” to be a good story. If it weren’t for your class I definitely wouldn’t be the reader I am today!”

Alyssa–“I was never a reader until your class. I had you for English my freshman year and I also loved how you read to the class. This made me want to take your young adult lit. class. Honestly I haven’t stopped reading since your class.”

Zach–“I think the great part about your style of teaching and reading is you challenge the students to find books on their own that they may in turn love. While also attempting to have them read books they don’t normally read. You’ve also chosen to continue reading more and more books throughout all your teaching years, allowing you to keep up with current books and readings. It’s encouraging to see a teacher preaching what she teaches with her readings, and challenging students to do the same. I never would’ve started reading YAL novels without your classroom, and they’ve become some of my favorite books. (Beautiful Creatures, Wake, Fade, Gone, etc). Some, like Boy Toy and Hush Hush, have easily ranked my favorite of all time. Keep doing what you do, it works!”

Hannah–“Hi Mrs. Andersen! I’d be happy to help with your blog post in any way I can. You were the only teacher I ever had with any type of substantial classroom library (a few others had a few dozen books but nothing compared to yours), and you always knew exactly the type of books to recommend to each student based on their tastes and how to get us out of reading slumps (I’m still not sure how you always knew exactly what everyone would like).”

Caroline–“Not being much of a reader I wasn’t sure about taking this class [my YA Lit class] when I first walked in. Yet it quickly became one of my favorite classes. It really opened my eyes to how mesmerizing a story could be; how much emotion can be put into it. One of my favorite ways of finding a book to read was when we all had to read a book for a few minutes and then pass it along to read the beginning of another one. I think this helped each of us learn which genre of books we wanted to do our projects on. I loved having someone to recommend books to me whenever I didn’t know what to read next. Since taking this class I have collected my own small library worth of novels. I would recommend this class to anyone, even if they don’t believe reading is for them.”

Tristan–“I loved having access to so many different books at all times! I loved having suggestions from you and other students. I read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise because it’s hard to go to the bookstore and know what books are actually worth the read. Also just being surrounded by so many books is inspiring and made me want to read that much more. I miss it all the time!”

It is my sincere hope that all teachers, especially English teachers, will create classroom libraries and provide SSR time. I’m working tirelessly to help spread this idea to teachers wherever I go. I’d love to hear from you if you’re also providing SSR time and/or a classroom library. Teachers and pre-service teachers read my blog and could benefit from your experiences as well.

Some images of my classroom library from within the last three years:

Rhetoric in Famous Speeches

This post has nothing to do with YA, but I do enjoy posting about some of the activities and lessons I teach in my classroom.  Last trimester ended with our Julius Caesar unit.  I didn’t require my class to read the entire play because while we spent time discussing loyalty and betrayal, I wanted a larger part of the unit to focus on ethos, pathos, and logos.  To tie this in beyond Shakespeare’s play, I created a project requiring my students to analyze a famous speech and identify the rhetoric used.

My Honors Sophomore Seminar classes worked on this unit, and since I have two sections I decided to find a famous speech for each individual student (55 speeches).  I went to American Rhetoric, chose a variety of speeches, typed them up and cut into strips of paper, and put them into a bucket for my students to draw from.  I chose famous speeches from movies, graduation ceremonies, presidential speeches, etc.  After the students chose their speeches we went to the lab so they could research the speaker, the time period, and the reason(s) for the speech.  We spent time in class analyzing the speeches and highlighting passages that are examples of ethos, pathos, and logos.  My students were required to write a one page (no more!) analysis of the speech, including examples from the speech to support their analysis.  The second part of this project required them to create a visual representation of the speech that included a picture of the speaker, the rhetoric used, the date and title of the speech, and passages from the speech that serve as examples of the rhetoric.

This was the first time I’ve done this, and it ended up being really fun to teach and grade.  My students did an excellent job breaking down the speeches and creating impressive visuals.  Right now I have them hanging on the wall outside my classroom because I’m so proud of them.  If you want to try this in your classroom, feel free to email me and I’ll share my handouts 🙂 

**NOTE– 3/12/15 Because of the high volume of requests for handouts, I need to decline any further requests. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you.**

**I wanted to take a picture of all of the visuals, but I forced myself to narrow it down to five**

This visual is missing some requirements, but it's a very cool visual overall.

This visual is missing some requirements, but it’s a very cool visual overall.

Morgan did an excellent job creating this visual. She used newspaper headlines from the event as well.

Morgan did an excellent job creating this visual. She used newspaper headlines from the event as well.

Billy highlighted important lines in this speech in a really creative way.

Billy highlighted important lines in this speech in a really creative way.

Brooke created this for Princess Diana's speech in response to landmines.

Brooke created this for Princess Diana’s speech in response to landmines.

Hallie's visual for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

Hallie’s visual for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Plate = Full

I don’t typically get very personal on my blog, unless it’s something important about teaching or the like.  I’ve been debating about this post, but I feel like I need to write it.  This blog is for my students and me, but I still think about my readers.  I’m writing this post because I feel like I need to explain my shortage of reviews and posts in general.

There are two primary reasons for my sluggish blogging.  One of the reasons is work.  The school I teach at is set up in trimesters, and this current trimester which started after Thanksgiving, is all new curriculum.  We’ve taught three new units, most of which we’ve been working on as we go.  As you can imagine, it’s been tough.  I love the three units we’ve taught because they’ve been engaging, fresh, and have really improved our students’ writing.  Plus, we taught Of Mice and Men and The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner.  I was excited to teach TPoG because I love Gae’s book, and also because I created the teaching guide for Gae.  Right now my classes are finishing their memoir unit which has been fun, but it needs tweaking.  I’m overwhelmed at the moment because we assigned compare/contrast essays for OM&M and TPoG which the kids wrote, turned in, and then we handed back with comments and collected again to grade again.  Phew!  Those took a while to get through, but my kids really improved the second time around.  Right after I finished grading those I collected their memoirs.  I have 90 freshmen right now.  I have 90 memoirs to grade.  The trimester ends on Tuesday.  I’ll have final exams to grade.  Plus, I have my Young Adult Lit class to think about as well.  I still have book reviews and responses to grade, plus their final projects.  Yep, I’m feeling the pressure.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m looking for sympathy because I’m an English teacher, and I know this is part of the job.  I always feel the push to get the grading done in a timely manner.  The difference right now is that I’ve been an active blogger for a year and a half which adds to the balancing act.  It’s tough keeping up with the reading, writing my reviews, commenting on other blogs, staying active on Twitter, and doing my actual job.  But I love all of it, so I continue everything.  Blogging has become a fantastic hobby and way of connecting with wonderful people.  Twitter is often a place of sanity for me when I feel the way I do right now.  I’m not giving any of this up.

My biggest hurdle is health problems.  For almost four years now I’ve been feeling off and incredibly lethargic and simply not myself.  I went to the doctor about it when I started noticing it because my mom, who has hypothyroidism, wanted me to get it checked out.  My doctor told me that my thyroid levels were low, but not low enough to do anything about it.  This was in 2008 or 2009, months before my wedding.  She told me that I’m probably just stressed and we’ll check it again in six months.  Six months later we check it again and it still wasn’t “bad enough,” yet I still felt horrible.  Anyway, after about a year and a half after my wedding my levels were finally bad enough that they put me on medicine.  The problem is that I still wasn’t feeling normal, was still having the same hypothyroid issues.  I went to a specialist this past fall and found out that I actually have Hashimoto’s Disease which causes hypothyroidism.

Now this isn’t a big scary deal or anything like that, but it affects me on a daily basis.  It’s been worse lately, and I’m seeing a new doctor (the specialist wasn’t helpful) who’s been helping me so much more than any of the other doctors.  I’m doing yoga because of her, giving up caffeine, and we’re testing a lot of other things that could be holding me back from feeling better.  I’m bringing this up because it’s one of the biggest reasons I’m not doing as much as before.  I have a hard time staying awake when I’m reading because I’m always so tired, so I haven’t been reading as much as fast.  I feel foggy and absent-minded, and more stresses me out than should stress me out.  Sometimes it really takes a lot of motivation to get the reviews written and the papers graded.  But like I said, my new doctor is awesome and I really think she’s going to get me back to feeling like myself.  Starting yoga and changing my diet has made a difference, but when you’re working with hormones nothing changes over night. I’m a very self-motivated, get it done right away kind of person, that feeling so lethargic and sluggish has really been difficult.

It’s funny to me that I don’t usually write reviews this long, but this post is long-winded.  Basically, I hope this wasn’t too personal for you, but I felt like I needed to explain myself.  I try to keep up my blog and have things ready to post almost every day.  This coming trimester isn’t packed with new material, so I’m predicting it won’t be so overwhelming.  There’s a good chance none of you have noticed my slacking, but I have so I needed to address it.  I love my blog and I appreciate everyone that reads it and comments.

NCTE/ALAN 2011 Recap

From November 18th-21st I was in Chicago for the NCTE/ALAN Annual Convention.  I ended up going by myself again this year, but unlike last year, I stayed longer and had friends to hang out with the entire time.  It was an exhausting weekend because we were constantly busy going here, there, and everywhere, but it was completely worth it.  And did you know that lugging around 20 lbs of books really wears you out? Who knew?! 🙂

Jillian (@heisereads) and I met in real life (!) for breakfast Friday morning and went to most of the same sessions.  My first session was about using graphic novels in the classroom.  It was a fantastic way to start the day because all of the presenters brought great information to the table.  One of the presenters told us about how she uses Post-it Note Diaries by Arthur Jones as an introduction to teaching the personal essay.  You can find their handouts and presentation information on the NCTE Annual Convention website.  Actually, all of the presenters were encouraged to upload their materials to the website for those who couldn’t attend certain sessions and those who couldn’t attend the conference.  Anyway, I’ve been interested in reading more graphic novels and after this session I can’t wait to find ways to use them in my classroom.

Part of my first haul of books!

Jillian and I went to the second session together, but we ended up disappointed and left.  It was about bullying but the presenter came off as arrogant and most of what she said I disagreed with.  Jillian and I decided to head down to the exhibit hall, aka the dungeon, to get in line for the John Green signing.  Unfortunately he wasn’t signing ARCs of his newest book, but we did get a chapter sample.  The exhibits were crazy when they first opened!  I have to admit that I was embarrassed for some of the teachers there.  While we waited to be let in, there was a group of teachers standing in front of us with suitcases on wheels and game planning over how to get the most books.  I completely understand being excited about free/cheaper books, but these teachers ran into the exhibit hall and bombarded the booths.  I heard teachers walking up to people working the booths and asking them what they had for free.  Really?!  Jillian and I took our time talking with the editors, publicists, marketing team, etc to find out which books were their favorites and which books they recommend for our students.  It was an excellent way to find out about new books and we formed some relationships in the process.  And you know what?  The people we spoke with were more likely to offer us books after talking with us.  So yes, some of the teachers surprised me, but most of them were doing exactly the same thing as we did.

After lunch and taking some time to rest our shoulders after lugging around 15+ books each, we went to a session on teaching grammar better.  I was exhausted by this point and couldn’t retain that much information anymore.  I was happy to attend the session, though, because they had a PowerPoint prepared that we can use with out students and they also had some good ideas on making grammar more relevant for our students.  I even sent my department head a text letting her know about the session because so many of the teachers in my department are concerned with teaching grammar.

Me, S.J. Kincaid & Jillian

Friday night ended on a high note when Jillian and I went out to dinner with HarperCollins editor Molly O’Neill and upcoming debut author S.J. (Shelley) Kincaid.  Shelley’s debut novel, Insignia, releases in July, but we were fortunate enough to get an ARC before the conference.  If you work with teenage boys, make sure you get this book.  I know some girls will enjoy it, but I can’t wait to hand this novel to my reluctant boys and my sci-fi fans.  It’s full of action and humor and just a fun read (my review will be posted soon).  Molly also invited Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops and Becky’s daughter.  I’ve only heard great things about Becky’s stores, so it was really cool getting to meet and connect with her.  Shelley is wonderful and really intelligent.  After spending some time with her at dinner, I’m really looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

I attended my first ALAN breakfast on Saturday morning.  I met more of my Twitter friends like Jen (@mentortexts), Kellee (@kellemoye), Mindi (@mindi_r) and so many more.  It was really cool meeting everyone for the first time!  The breakfast itself was a cool experience and I really enjoyed listening to Sharon Draper speak.  The best part of her speech was talking about how our life is our dash and we need to fill it with great stories.  What a wonderful way of looking at life.  Jilllian and I were constant buddies during the convention, so we perused the exhibits and met some authors during signings.  I met Laurie Halse Anderson and now have a signed copy of Speak (squee!).  My favorite session of the day was on writing and revision.  Four teachers presented their teaching writing and revising strategies.  One of the teachers uses NaNoWriMo in her classroom.  The way she does this is so cool and something I’d love to try.  Another teacher is using writing mini-lessons for different paper assignments and has stopped using letter grades.  She has a rubric for her students and grades them on Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, and Needs Improvement.  The students have pieces to work on according to different rubrics and are graded on their improvement during the trimester.  This way of teaching sounds like something I could adapt in my classroom, so I’m excited to check out her resources.  For information on using NaNoWriMo in your classroom check out her website: msansbach.wikispaces.com  If you want to learn more about eliminating letter grades and refocusing on writing as a process, check out her website: msshortlearnstwice.blogspot.com

Sara Zarr!

Saturday night was tons of fun because we had a Twitter friends dinner at Carnivale.  The food and drinks were delicious and the restaurant is bright and vibrant.  I was sitting at the end of the table with Katherine (@katsok), Cindy (@CBethM), Lea (@leakelley) and Chris (@ckervina).  At the other end of the table was Jillian, Aly (@alybee930), Cathy (@Cathy_Blackler), Mindi (@mindi_r) and Jillian.  The conversations were great and so was the experience in general.  I really miss my Twitter friends.

Picture from Jen's blog--Jillian, Jen & Me

Sunday and Monday were simply awesome.  There weren’t that many sessions on Sunday, but I did go to a good one about using YA in a traditional curriculum.  Some of the titles were outdated, but the ideas on discussing themes were very cool.  One of the presenters discussed the idea of using theory and heuristics. They also said their handouts would be on the convention website.  The best part of Sunday was the ALAN cocktail party.  I geeked out over so many authors!  I met Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, M.T. Anderson (because after meeting John Green & telling him a story of how his books and M.T. Anderson’s books hooked one of my boys John took me to meet him and tell him the story), and so many others!  I had a chance to talk with A.S. King which was awesome after how she and I have connected since I read and reviewed Everybody Sees the Ants.   The Twitter group met up with Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Teresa (@rdngteach) there as well.  Donalyn has no fear and helped us get the courage to approach some of the authors.  Heidi (@hmz1505), a librarian and blogger, spent a lot of time hanging out with us as well.  All of us had fangirly moments over different authors 🙂

A.S. King!!

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire ALAN portion of the convention.  I was there most of the day on Monday, but I had to head home since we had finals going on for the end of the trimester.  Listening to Matt de la Pena, Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, and so many other authors speak was inspiring.  Our entire Twitter row was tweeting what the authors said like crazy.  Matt de la Pena was probably my favorite speaker of the day.  Besides the fact that he’s eloquent and thoughtful, he represents so many of our reluctant readers.  I’m really bummed that I missed Laurie Halse Anderson’s presentation.  I will admit that I was happy to return home because I missed Keith, my small cats, and I was exhausted.

Overall, I can’t encourage teachers enough to attend this conference in the future.  Next year it’s going to be in Las Vegas, so I’ll start saving after Christmas.  It’s the perfect way to connect with authors and other teachers.  It’s also an excellent way to learn from other teachers.  What I liked most about the sessions is how excited the teachers were to share with us; so many told us to email them with any questions.  I loved meeting my Twitter friends and I can’t wait to meet up again! 😀

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