The Gratitude Project–Part I (2017)

5d383e48b07fb7c8ccd1b46d37e460adI’m sort of done with the news. Except for the whole I-don’t-want-to-be-ignorant part. With each shooting, political scandal, and social media war, it’s hard not to head into the holidays with a heavy heart.

And our students feel it, too.

Maybe more than we do.

After all, behind all of the eye rolls, looks-that-kill, and saltiness they might display at home, they expect us adults to keep it together since their brains can’t developmentally do that just yet.

So, in addition to wanting my students to have a positive digital footprint (hence our Passion Blog Project and our use of Goodreads–among other 21st century learning opportunities), I want the world–and especially parents–to see the fabulousness their students show me on a regular basis.

Enter: The Gratitude Project.

With Thanksgiving a few days away, my students and I discussed how much we need to take a day (weekend? month? season?) to focus on all that is Good, to be Thankful for all  that we have. I shared my own musings–in the midst of aging parents–both of whom have battled cancer and defeated the ICU in the last year alone. We also discussed the many benefits of being thankful and gave ourselves a pick-me-up with wisdom from internet sensation Kid President!

The students were then each assigned a slide in a class-wide Google slide deck and told to share what they’re thankful for this holiday season.

The next step is for them to share their gratitude with others, since “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” (William Arthur Ward).

In the meantime, take a look at what they said. It’s all sorts of fabulous.



The Dangers of Landscaping

13-500x500Teachers don’t have favorites. Sure, and Mom didn’t like me best because I was the baby. However, there are definitely those students whose growth leaves us beaming with pride, whose writing leaves a lasting impression, whose authenticity leaves us questioning how we can help fix a systemic problem. I’ll come back to this.

For the written portion of my Final Exam, students reflect on their journeys as readers, writers, and thinkers. In examining how their culture has shaped them (e.g., home, family, friends, school), their narratives are poignant and heartbreaking and authentic and beautiful–which makes it my favorite writing assignment of the year. Their narratives are positive, as they recall reading with their parents and grandparents, zipping to the library with their elementary classes, tearing through the I Survived series, and choosing books over television and gaming because, “duh, reading was awesome!”

But these final compositions are also quite raw, as students relive the forced visits to the resource room for extra reading instruction or their ongoing struggle with dyslexia or not having anyone to read to them or to take them to the library or hating reading because of reading logs or being scolded for reading ahead or spending way too many months discussing a single book or closely reading one page in a grade-wide text for two weeks.

The essay that stopped me in my tracks this year (and there’s always one) included the excerpt below.

School Quotes About Creativity (MP).png

For context, the narrative, as a whole, was positive. And the author is an excellent student who earns stellar grades in her classes, is creative, and has a great sense of humor. I would take a class of 25 of her any day of the week.

But she’s also a truth-teller, which made it devastating to read.

We teachers work our tails off to compete with a Grey’s Anatomy Netflix binge or a seven-hour COD (Call of Duty) gaming marathonWe get up at 4 AM to prepare for the day. We hurry home, after we’ve dropped off the last friend in the after-school carpool, to begin leaving feedback on essay drafts. We answer emails until we go to bed. When the final drafts come in, we devote another15-20 minutes assessing each one of those–multiplied by 100+ students, several times a quarter.  (To save you from doing the math, that’s 25 hours. Assessing one set of essays. Written to a common assessment prompt that we most likely did not design.) We have our own, shortchanged children snapping how they “never want to be a teacher” or how they hate how we’re “always on the computer.” We sacrifice our family time and our planning time and our lunch time and our catch-our-breath time to sit with students in need.

But we can also be dangerous landscapers.

When we get into autopilot mode or continue doing what we’ve always done or teach the way we were taught or work so long creating something that we can’t possibly abandon it or focus more on data than reading the room or assume learning is happening because we are teaching, we cut back our students’ excitement “like the sides of a perfectly healthy but unwanted shrub”–often without even knowing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I work feverishly to avoid this dangerous landscaping. I try to make my classes engaging, to bring relevancy to the content I am asked to teach, to foster a love of reading in my students, to help my students write with voice and style and sophistication (rather than craft a formulaic, 5-paragraph essay that does not exist outside of a high school classroom).

But no matter what I do and say and assign, my students (or at least the ones who feel comfortable enough to tell me) confess that–in the system as a whole–X must equal 3, that they will lose points if they create their own thesis statement instead of using the teacher-provided one, that this–and only this–is what color represents in The Great Gatsby.

We are trimming away our students’ love of learning–unwittingly inviting them to go on their phones during class–when our actions say, “I’m going to take what you said and shape it back into what I want you to think.”

Every year, we are entrusted with 100+ healthy shrubs, and despite our greatest efforts, our feelings of #nailedit lessons, our satisfaction in a year well done, we are unintentionally cutting back otherwise healthy shrubs.

Ironically, we want our students to be free thinkers.

We want our students to be passionate about learning.

We want our students to think outside the box.

We want our students to be curious about our subject matter.

We want our students to be creative.

We want our students to be problem solvers. (Employers do, too.)

And our students can be and do all of these things–just as long as they use this starter sentence. Chop. Or read that book. Chop. Or fill out this worksheet. Chop. Or color inside the lines. Chop, chop.


When Numbahs Don’t Lie (2016-7)

Students can’t be reduced to a number. They can’t be defined by their results on a common assessment, reduced to where they fall on a state test, nor limited by their SAT/ACT scores.

However, sometimes numbers don’t lie.

With a towering goal of helping students fall back (or, for a select few, remain) in love with reading–while building their stamina to endure the 600-pages-per-week of reading they’ll be asked to do in college, I need numbers. They help validate what I do in the classroom (e.g., allow students to choose the majority of their texts, begin every class with 10 minutes of reading, use Goodreads for goal-setting, tracking, and review-publishing, maintain a classroom library).

So, at the end of every year, I ask students to tally how many books they read–cover-to-cover during our time together and compare it to what they read the year before.

The. Results. Are. Glorious.

In a world of SparkNotes, Fake Reading, and Beating the System, check out the growth of these amazing, authentic (and hopefully lifelong) readers! It’ll warm your soul.

Screenshot 2017-09-06 at 8.54.15 PM

C Block's Growth

Last Year’s Total: 55 Books; This Year’s Total: 189 Books!

Collage 2017-06-19 19_16_51
Last Year’s Total: 87 Books; This Year’s Total: 244 Books!
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Last Year’s Total: 40 Books; This Year’s Total: 137 Books!




Explainer Videos 101

Screenshot 2017-05-24 at 4.42.52 PMIn a world of Common-Assessment-This and District-Determined-Measures-That, it’s more important than ever to allow our students to show their learning in  non-standardized ways as well.

Enter: the Explainer Video.

An Explainer Video is a real-world digital tool that can be found on virtually every website. Between the fast-forward button on our DVRs and the ad blockers on our devices, commercials are growing increasingly extinct.  As a result, companies now squeeze what they want us to know into these tiny, bite-size videos.

And my students just did the same thing.

As a way to wrap up our unit, students were asked to answer our Essential Question in the form of a script (so that I could trace the development of their writing, which is our district’s goal). Once the writing process was complete, they integrated their scripts with a student-created video that demonstrated their learning. (We first viewed some examples of Explainer Videos and then created a list of ingredients–which I used to create a rubric for the assessment.)

Students were allowed to frolic in the Digital Sandbox to find a platform that worked for them. They played with iMovie and YouTube‘s built-in editor, as well as some new-to-them tools, such as Adobe Spark, Powtoon, My Simple Show, and the Chrome extension Screencastify (which, when used in tandem with Google Slides or Prezi, is the easiest platform)

They were given class time to work on their Explainer Videos, which always turned into students providing built-in tech support for each other. Seeing this impromptu, 21st-century collaboration warms the soul!

So that the finished products could be viewed by all students–regardless of their devices, students published their finished products to YouTube and shared these links in our Google Classroom. (The more camera-shy students made their YouTube videos UNLISTED, which makes them virtually invisible online without the direct link.) We viewed the finished products for homework, voted for our favorites using a Google Form, and then watched the winning videos in class.

And it. Was. Awesome.

Here are some of the amazing, finished products!

Carter’s Explainer Video

Harini’s Explainer Video

Rachel’s Explainer Video

Eric’s Explainer Video

Jocelyn’s Explainer Video

PostSecret: Where Language, Art, and Vulnerability Collide

Sometimes the best ideas begin with a dream. And the PostSecret project is no exception.

This ongoing community art project was born in 2005 to proud parent Frank Warren. After visiting Paris–where he experienced a lucid dream, he returned to the states and began disseminating postcards with specific directions: Recipients must write down their innermost secrets, use the postcard itself as their canvas, and mail it–anonymously–to the address provided.

Twelve years later, the project continues to thrive. It has resulted in six books (I purchased two for our class library), has won several blogging awards (the top PostSecret entries are still published weekly), was featured in the All-American Rejects’ “Dirty Little Secrets” video, and is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum through September 2017.  And because of how much pain Warren has seen in some of the responses, he has teamed up with the National Crisis Hotline Network for suicide prevention and speaks at various colleges and communities throughout the country.

My English classes participated in our own version of this project, focusing on our greatest fear (rather than secret), since we had explored that motif in a recent unit of study. The students anonymously published their greatest fear to a Padlet (they were encouraged to go deeper than just writing, say, “snakes”) and then selected the fear of an anonymous classmate’s to represent visually in our collaborative Google slideshow. (The names on the slides are the artists who brought to life the fear of their unnamed classmate.) We used Google Forms to vote for the best one, and awards will be distributed next week.

Check out the finished products of our community art project! The sophomores’ project is first, followed by the juniors’. (Use the pause button to linger on any given slide.)

Enjoy! 🙂

“We STILL Hear America Singing”: A Collaborative Poem

Our American Lit students are examining the role that individualism plays in American society. After studying Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” (and Langston Hughes’ response, “I, Too“), my juniors, as a class, created their own 21st century anthems below. They were too fabulous NOT to share!




Ingredients for a Delicious Passion Blog Post

Abby working on her Passion Blog about travel

In an effort to create a positive digital footprint–while doing real-world writing for an authentic audience beyond Teacher-Lady, my students have started their Passion Blog Projects. This real-world task, inspired by the fabulous teacher-author  Catlin Tucker (@catlin_tucker), allows students to shape their own learning while honing their research, communication, writing, and digital citizenship skills. They select the topic about which they are passionate (e.g., baking, science, henna, the Patriots, dance, nail art) and regularly blog about it. (This year, “regularly” is monthly.)  A hidden benefit? Students are creating an online portfolio, of sorts, that they will be able to share with prospective colleges, future employers, scholarship organizations, etc.

The permission slips have been submitted, the  platforms, selected, and the ABOUT ME sections, published. However, before we put pen cursor to paper screen, the last step requires my students to look at five blogs that already exist on their topics and create a list of common ingredients that make them effective. (In their analysis, the students are creating a rubric, of sorts, without even realizing it!)

I had to share, with permission, the list of ingredients sophomore Jocelyn M. published in her journal for homework last night.  Jocelyn would be the first to admit that she doesn’t monopolize class discussions; however,  giving her a voice online through the Passion Blog Project is one of the many reasons I can’t not do it. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop TalkingSusan Cain (@susancain) reinforces this: “The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.”  This project allows Jocelyn to do just that. She will be blogging and sharing her creativity with two thousand, or two million, people who will recognize, as I already have, that she has a vibrant voice worth hearing amid the noise. And of course, her final sentence made my day.


Good Passion Blog Recipe

by Jocelyn M.

Makes: One well thought-out and stunning blog!

Serves: As many as the internet will allow

Base ingredients:

  • At least 3 cups of creative and different ideas.
  • A handful of interesting and well thought-out topics.

* A pinch of dark humor never did anyone harm either (not too much, it’s like cilantro).

  • 9 ½ tablespoons of dry humor is crucial.
  • A dash of vivid and varying use of vocabulary.

* Alliteration and Irony never hurt anyone.

  • Around 3 points of view, the more the merrier~

* do not skimp on this ingredient


  1. Slowly fold creative ideas and dry humor into the well thought-out topics. These will be used as posts. Be careful to not overwhelm mixture with dry humor, can cause a very bitter taste. Put to the side and let set for ~20 minutes.
  2. While you are waiting, gather materials that will be added into the base mixture. Some questions to ponder will definitely wow the judges and cause them to think, and possibly distracting them from your atrocious grammar! Choose carefully because these questions could overwhelm the total flavor of the blog, distracting from the main focus. You wouldn’t put cupcakes in a pie, would you?
  3. When the post has set, mix in the questions. In different recipes, don’t be afraid to add some variation! Think outside the box and come up with different mixtures for the post. The posts can be tiny or huge, both will satisfy your audience… just make sure that they are mostly proportional.
  4. Once that has finished, garnish it with pictures, media, and some spicy vocab (don’t you dare put swears in it, that’s like putting pineapple on pizza, you heathen!) Disclaimer: Only suitable for some audiences ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) ). By the end it should be looking

  \\ _
   \( •_•) F
    < ⌒ヽ A
   /   へ\ B
   /  / \\ U
   レ ノ   ヽ_つ L
  / / O
  / /| U
 ( (ヽ S
 | |、\

  1. Serve to audience, try to engage with them as much as possible so maybe they’ll not notice you made the post at 10:00 at night (please do not look at revision history *wink wink nudge nudge*).

Do not be discouraged if no one even observes the hard work you put into the blog… Not all posts will be wins. The most important thing is to have fun with what you are doing. Do not make it a chore, make it a hobby!

By the way, I had a lot of fun writing this and cannot wait to finally start posting!