No rest for the wicked.


This weekend after spending nearly a full work day on lessons from outside sources, editing, and refining to suit my students’ instructional path and understandings, I then turned my attention to creating a OneNote Unit class notebook based on my ‘fear’ unit. My growth and love are curriculum and method planning and delivery: my student teacher noticed and said I would be a great methods instructor at her university.  Maybe someday. But in the meantime, I’m still honing my craft by reading, reflecting, sharing, and altering. (If you want me to share this OneNote file send me an email:

But after dealing with some anxiety since September about how things are going to work, I’m trying to balance outside directions, incorporate, and make sure my work is supportive and supported. 

No small task.  In fact, it’s kind of terrifying.


My passion is creating units: curating the choicest resources (texts, media, discussion topics) is enjoyable for me.

I realize Heinemann is a publishing company and wants to sell books. Does that preclude that the resources are somehow less credible because they’re sold? Well, you can be the judge of that. I found this article useful, especially since I’m learning about instructional coaching and some of the pitfalls and potholes one can step into. Maybe it’s my confirmation bias speaking, but I found that the “better” column included many of the practices I do all the time, and the “not good” column stems from mandated or top-down practices.

How One Classroom Teacher Improved Her Planning

Instructional Coach Jaclyn Karabinas on how to get started using her techniques

Not good:

Here, teachers’ time is spent:


One invites students to be literate, constructive, and empathetic members of the world, intellectually prepared to encounter the nonstandard, moving targets that come with it. This model depicts a learning structure where student questions are used as entry points into standards and content, masterfully guided by the teacher. It is a learning environment rooted in Dewey and Vygotsky and the experiences of master teachers everywhere. Each individual brings his or her own background and preferences as they walk through the door, yet everyone thrives on socially constructed meaning and active learning. It is a classroom where students critically read challenging text or joyfully engage with literature because they know how to define a purpose for reading. It is a place where learning is not focused solely on student individual success but also the rhythms and flow of working and functioning in society.

In this model, a teacher’s time is spent:

The article continues to quote John Hattie, a resource I will be forever grateful to my new admin for introducing me to:

John Hattie’s Visible Learning research focuses on not just what works in schools but what works best. Hattie reminds educators to base instructional decisions on the evidence from their unique classroom situations, to “see learning through the eyes of their students” and create a learning environment where “students see themselves as their own teachers” (Hattie, Masters, Birch 2016). This type of approach suggests that making a true impact on student learning requires teachers and leaders to spend time talking about what they actually see happening in their classrooms, to ask why, and to deeply consider the impact on student learning — not coverage. To plan based on real student needs, not a theoretical scope and sequence.

So, while planning, I’ll continue to ask myself these questions–it’s what I do.

Start with your district’s curricular goals: Before you move into your next, planned curricular unit, carefully reread the goals presented at the start of the chapter or in your district’s standard’s document.

  • As you work with students, make notes on not only on how close they already are to meeting a goal but also specific attitudes, thinking, and behaviors they show in relation to it.

Gather more information: When you sit down to plan the launch of the next unit, talk with a colleague about how the current unit connects to the goals of the upcoming unit

  • Launch the next unit using images or video, collaborative problem solving, listing, quick writing, or drawing so students can activate and share prior knowledge; make notes about the information that students already come to class with —yes!
  • Add this information to your prior notes and conversations, noting which goals will be important for each student (a checklist will do this quickly!)

Make it relevant for students: Work with your students to understand the broader goals you’ll be teaching toward and help them to personalize goals for themselves. Relevance is crucial for rigorous learning because, as Kylene Beers and Bob Probst say, “Rigor without relevance is just hard.”

  • Make goals visible (Serravallo 2015) for the class as a whole and as individuals; classroom charts and other learning tools like those suggested by Kate and Maggie Roberts can help (Roberts and Roberts 2016)

Provide time for student reflection: As you design each day, include chances for student reflection. This is an opportunity for learning to sink in and become sticky.

  • You might still move through the teacher’s guide lesson by lesson as you learn this method — that’s OK! Keep student learning goals in mind, and you will be on the right track.*

*I’ve never had a teacher’s guide for any lesson, and I look forward to my district’s frameworks when those are completed. 

No, this is no small task, but important…very important. All of my credentials (National Boards, NWP/PSWP work, summers of workshops and additional professional development on my time/dime, reading, reading and more reading) don’t mean squat if I’m not putting it into practice. I can’t wait to work with a coach from the district on a teacher-action research project I began years ago, and thank goodness my admin saw that the work needed to continue, and thought of me. These moments I’m so grateful for, because working in a vacuum was sucking the air out of me. 

And that’s scary.


But not as scary as not being the best teacher I can is.

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How to survive a bear attack.


Your neck tingles. You feel the hot breath, tinted with salmon bones and gooseberries, mingle in your cheap-shampooed hair; feeling unprotected, vulnerable, and instinctually aware, you know someone just played the research card, and it feels like a bear attack–wild, demobilizing and terrifying. How do you survive?

Remember that word ‘collaboration’ we’re so fond of? Well, this is where it’s put to the test. When our personalities and teaching styles clash with others, and deductive reasoning paints us in a pedagogical corner, we’re left with few other options than to go to the research well and find other credible experts who support our own teacher-action research and experience. Sometimes it seems our own knowledge and experience isn’t worth the certificate paper it’s printed on. Conversely, when we are convinced of our methods, so sure that our approaches are the best and right, we do so at our peril and ignore a balanced approach. In other words, we’re all trying to do our best, but what if others don’t see our best as credible? 

The specific controversy is about independent reading time. There are hundreds more in education. Here are the links to the authors: 

Strategic, solid teachers are constantly striving to hone their craft, and honor their own life experience. Shanahan argues that independent reading time is a waste of time. I claim trying to make teachers into robotic close-reading drones is worse. Far, far worse. 

After reading the key points, I condensed these ideas:

  • Asking anyone to sit for twenty minutes with a book/text of their choice and independent reading level feels hollow and difficult. If you use it for babysitting time while you check e-mails, etc. students quickly grasp the hypocrisy. When they read, you read.
  • Go back to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle
  • Make your shared text time as meaningful and enlightening as possible in order for students to return to their independent reading time armed with confidence and courage. This is THEIR time, their passion, which leads me to the next point:
  • Get to the heart of what’s stopping them–themselves. If they haven’t found what sparks their curiosity, there’s some work to be done. Use a burning questions approach and return to one’s inner world of what’s on their minds.
  • And yes, more time reading is good. This has been decades-long repeated research. 

And ELA teachers: there is no question we have it tough, but our work has never been more important. My observations and anecdotal data collection includes the increased amount of time students, especially of poverty, spend consuming media and not creating.The struggle to convince students into having faith in me, that we’ll get to use their laptops for creative ends, and bear with me while we do forumulaic mandates. But yes, I’ve seen good close-reading lessons, controversial discussions and working through big thematic, enduring understandings fill their minds with good stuff. 

This blog post by John Spencer sums it up for me, and something I hold dear: “Should Schools Be More Confusing?” Yes. And teachers should allow each other to practice research and ask the tough, inquisitive questions, too. 

“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.” –Rod Serling

Not on our watch, Rod. We’re prepared.

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National Writing Day: October 20

Post from the NCTE about National Writing Day on October 20, the question being, just what am I doing on National Writing Day?! 

Um, gee, I don’t know! Not sure where writing fits in with the reading skills focus our district has taken. Intended to be transferable, skills hold the place of being the ‘how to learn’ idea. They are the workhorses of education: many educators feel once a skill is taught, it can be liberally applied to cure any ill. Alas, they are not a panacea, but the good intentions are there. If skills are too much the focus, they become the leech or bleeding, and knowledge building misdiagnoses may occur. Point being: many good ELA teachers are confused by a skills-only focus. But that’s a conversation for another time.

One thing I can focus on with students is the ability to write comments. Found this video in my edublogs feed:

If third-grade students can figure out how to be nice to one another, then it is my hope that we can learn how to again, as well. Maybe on October 20 we can have a classroom discussion on what comments do to us emotionally and psychologically. Stay tuned.

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Lightbulb moment: when my Dad told me what puns Goscinny and Uderzo used for Asterix.  Brilliant.
Lightbulb moment: when my Dad told me what puns Goscinny and Uderzo used for Asterix. Brilliant.

For the past two years, I’ve shared Julian Treasure’s two powerful TED Talks about listening and speaking.  I wish my PLC would watch them together and come to some understanding of how we can communicate to our full potential and then was reminded there is no magic wand or quick fix. And, we’re not broken either, just new and working out our particular personalities. But I can have my students watch them, gleaning the best advice he offers. All my students shared in an interest survey they would like quiet when reading or writing — heavy cognitive demands. And yet, those who talk continue to do so. Continue to interrupt, fill in the spaces of quiet, step on others thoughts. There are many reasons for this, which Treasure outlines in his ‘filters’ of listening bullet points.

But one word caught the ear of my third-period class, and it became a teachable moment for the rest of the day. When we lose credibility in our spoken word, one of the sins is being dogmatic. They said out loud, “What is that?!” and I told them I was so proud of them for stopping and asking. Fourth and fifth periods said nothing, going along until I stopped the film and asked them if they knew what that meant, and no, they did not. I said that is an example of metacognition, what third-period did showed they didn’t understand something and then wanted to find their way back.

And then I explained what it meant and we thought of examples.

I choose this word because that seems to be the current theme of the hour: many are dogmatic in their educational and political practices, speaking their opinions and not allowing any processing time. We all display times of dogmatism from time to time. All I can do is keep myself in check and weigh out passion from dogmatism, research and risk to capriciousness.

And we all could use some time to listen to each other more. Starting at third period, I timed a three-minute quiet break, where all they were asked to do was listen, and write down the noises/sounds they heard. They loved it. In this era of cacophony and mayhem, perhaps that is one gift I can offer more frequently– time in their own heads.

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Something wicked +1

Architecture of a Story
Architecture of a Story

Is it just me or does one become a veteran teacher far too soon in one’s journey? Meaning, how did I get so old?! Well, as scary as that is, it’s better than the alternative, right Poe?

Allow me to present the context: through December I have a student teacher, and boy oh boy am I happy to know her. She’s going to be a fantastic teacher, wants to do well and jump right in. This has been an especially chaotic start to the new school year for me: our administration takes great care and time to balance the master schedule, so it’s had to change multiple times to get it right. When one considers how many of our students need what is called “Essentials” in our district (it’s probably called that other places, too), it changes the dynamic quite a bit. To the point, for me personally I gave up my planning period and will be teaching six periods a day, so having an eager student teacher/intern will be enormously helpful.

One of the requirements of her program is a three-day scoped lesson, and since she and I are both enthusiastic fans of all things macabre and October, we sat down to discuss a possible text. One of the first short stories I planned on handing over to her was The Monkey’s Paw. I’ve used this story for many years and add the Vimeo film, too. It’s accessible in terms of understanding themes/tropes (be careful what you wish for! Magic has a cost! Be grateful for what you have!) and is grand, classic fun.

And that was the problem.

As I am describing the story, written in 1902, with its archaic language and cultural tropes (exotic foreign lands! Grand Fakir! Seargent Major in the grand India wars….!) her eyes seemed to glaze over, not in boredom, but in overwhelmed fear: these old stories are not this generation’s stories. She’s two years older than my oldest son, and if I may make one sweeping generalization about millennials it’s not that they haven’t read the classics, but perhaps have rejected them because they are not multicultural or diverse. Coming from my old white lady perspective, many of my beloved stories are from a narrow Victorian smelling salts place of overly tight corsets and ladies locked in boxes/towers/coffins.

The Monkey’s Paw is not a place to start when you’re a 23-year-old student teacher.


I put the word out on the Notice and Note page:

I’m going to the well once again — :) I have a great student teacher, and many of the classic horror stories are not in her wheelhouse. We’re thinking of her three-day filmed lessons of doing RL8.3 and a scary story. Things like The Monkey’s Paw or The Raven are not comfortable for her necessarily, so was wondering if anyone knows of poetry or short story horror that’s more contemporary? The guiding question is ‘what do we know as readers that the character(s) don’t know?’ among others. Please and thank you–

To all of you: you honor me with your amazing resources and suggestions. What I think we all struggled with though was at the heart of my question: something more contemporary. I should have just flat-out said: diverse. Multicultural. Not Dead White Guy. Not that there’s a darn thing wrong with dead white guys. Those are some of my favorite guys.

From Notice and Note Educator Experts:

But these are wonderful pieces of literature, and though I’ve used most of them extensively, have some new ones to check out:

The Landlady by Roald Dahl (short story)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (used this for years) (novel)

Don’t Ask Jack by Neil Gaiman

The Wife’s Tale by Seamus Heaney (poetry)

The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton

Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

The Right Kind of House by Henry Slezar

Reverse Insomnia – not sure (?)

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Cornell

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Waxwork by AM Burrage

The Highwayman (romantic/gothic/poetry) Alfred Noyes

Darkness Creeping Neil Shusterman (collection)

Fever Dream by Ray Bradbury

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

All in a Summer Day by Ray Bradbury

Twilight Zone/Monsters are Due on Maple Street

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze

Heading Home by Ramsey Campbell

Miriam by Truman Capote

The Open Window by Saki

The Severed Hand by Wilhelm Hauff

Under the Weather by Stephen King

E-books for Stephen King

Cabinet of Curiosities 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (I still have students trying to hand me pieces of paper with black dots)

What I found: — ooh there are some good ones here — just bought some Rin Chupaco – these are ancient stories from around the world


And of course, there are always quick films. I have film versions of almost all the classic stories above.

Lights Out – Who’s There Film Challenge (2013) from David F. Sandberg on Vimeo.

Bloody Cuts/Who’s There Film Challenge -some are NOT appropriate, but some are pretty great.

I want to thank you all for your suggestions and insights: it reminds me again that we cannot do this alone. It’s up to my student teacher to poke around and find one that feels comfortable for her now, just like all of us have and had to do. She’s going to craft and curate her own stories to tell — and I can’t wait to hear them!





The Life of Death from Marsha Onderstijn on Vimeo.


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"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

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