Friday, December 31, 2010

New Things For a New Year!

It's a brand new year (Tomorrow it is.  Right now it's isn't.  Right now it isn't either. Or right now.)  and in the grand tradition of New Years around the world, it is time to make large, sweeping, unreachable goals for the coming year.  We here at Wear the Cape are dedicated to continuous quality improvement.  With that in mind, let me give you a preview of the changes to come....

Wait for it....

Wait for it....

Okay, there's just one.  I think I might, maybe, start adding topic information into the title of my blog entries.  Yes.  I know.  I'm wild.

I've blogged before about the wonderful caped cousin that I often copy shamelessly.  Well, I'm fixin' to do it again.  I like how she gives the reader a little "Topic Teaser" on her blog entries.  Since I have an aversion to being overt in my titlage (an oversion?), I think this may be of benefit to my myriad readers.

Don't like change?   Afraid of the unexpected?  Here's a preview:

Instead of New Things For a New Year, the title today might have read [Random] New Things For a New Year.  See how that works?

In addition to this MASSIVE change, you will see entries and information on your favorite topics and more.  Including, but not limited to:

Oh yeah.  FYI, PS and BTW--We did reach our goal of increasing the Wear the Cape Follower-ship from 15 to 16 during our last Follower Drive.  We will reach new heights in 2011!

So stay tuned my caped friends!  2011 is going to be... a whole 'nother year!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Calling All Caped Crusaders (and Caped Crusader of the Week #1)!

I have made a decision.  I would very much like to share the power of other caped crusaders out in the world.  One of my main goals with Wear the Cape (other than shameless self-promotion, of course) is to show that there are caped wonders out in the world that are making a difference every day.  I want those caped wonders to know that I recognize them, and I want other folks to know that they are out there.  If you know a caped crusader, or are one yourself,  (should that be capitalized?) please send me their name and important stats.

So.... drum roll please....

Announcing the FIRST Caped Crusader of the Week!

Heather (author of Write Turn)  is my teaching muse.  We worked together in Washington years ago and worked together to earn our National Teaching Certificates (yay us!).  From the moment we started to teach together we shared ideas, laughs, and commiserated.  I still call Heather when I need help with an idea.  She is the original Caped Crusader.  Her energy and passion for teaching is unmistakable and inspirational.  She is also an incredible writer with a gift for words.  And... she makes me laugh so hard I almost pee my pants.  Heather has recently entered the blog-o-sphere.  Please take a gander at her work and heckle her into more writing!

A million thanks to you Heather.  For all of the ideas and support.  You are the wind beneath my wings (Sooooo cheesy!  But I couldn't help it!).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Most Powerful Holiday Wishes

Whatever you celebrate during this season, I send my most powerful wishes to you and yours!

Monday, December 13, 2010

November Is Over

But December has its issues, too.

Today included the following (remember, this is out of 22 students):

V. was assigned In School Suspension for defying another teacher on Friday and laughing, talking, and climbing a fence.  ISS at our school means the student has to sit off to the side of the rest of the class (we only have a room to use part of the time and a staff member to sit in it the other part of the time).  V.  didn't want to be in ISS, and didn't want to work, and didn't want to remain upright and off of the floor.  This was an all-day issue evidenced by multiple phone calls, visits, and reminders to V.  With 30 minutes to go V. decided he should go home.  He wanted to call his guardian.  I explained that he could, but that when he did he'd have to explain the actual reason he wanted to leave (to get out of ISS) and that I didn't think it was his best plan.  He called anyway.  No such luck on the home-going and now V. has given away the fact that he was misbehaving.  Much sighing and floor-rolling commenced.  Data entered into computer.

J. #1 was assigned ISS for laughing and fence-climbing (see above).  His ISS was only for half of a day because when he was told to stop laughing and fence-climbing, he did (more or less).  Turns out J. didn't want to be in ISS either.  He took fewer reminders though, before he got the hint.  BUT, the first period he returned to class he decided to pull his pants down (shorts on underneath--don't freak out) and waddle around like an old man for the guest teacher.  Back to ISS he went.  This led us to a phone call home.  The phone call home involved multiple people because his guardians do not speak English.  J. was quite surprised to hear this call would be made and immediately regained his composure (What???  When does THAT work with my kids?)

J. #2 does not like to work.  So he didn't.  This is an all-day affair.  It also includes J. wandering around the room looking for toys to play with while he does not work, said toys being removed from his reach, and more wandering.  It also includes discussions, detention, ISS, and phone calls home.  No change in behavior.  Many emails to parents, therapist, and staff to schedule a parent conference--again. Data entered into computer.

Another student came with an injury that required a phone call to Child Protective Services.  This is a serious determination to make on my own, and required many phone calls and emails.  It also means I have to find a 30 minute period of uninterrupted time during which to call.  This is rarely possible and required the juggling of cats.  Then there is a form to fill out and a fax to send.  Sending the fax calls for leaving the room which did not happen between the hours of 8:30 and 4:15.

Grades are due.  Many emails and phone calls were made in order to get them out today.  Also, probation letters written and signed by the principal for our two students receiving D's and F's (Yes, only two!!! It's possible I work harder than they do to earn them, but I'm trying to teach them what success feels like.  More on that another time)..

J. #4 and C. forgot how to add and subtract.  Both have lower than average IQs, but both are entirely capable of adding.  J.#4 told me she couldn't do the following problem "What is 200 more than 8900?"  Then she couldn't do "What is 1 more than 37?"  J. #4 knows how to add.  We've been working on it for a year and a half.  C. forgot, but then remembered.  Then C. forgot how to convert decimals to fractions, so we reviewed that, too.

The district writing assessment is due this week.  The little Piggies know how to do this, but freaked out when it was time to do the assessment.  They forgot everything they knew, told me they couldn't do it, hated reading, hated writing, didn't know how to write, didn't know how to read.  Much pep-talking and reminding ensued.  They remembered some of it. This will continue tomorrow.

J #3 refused to read today (see above).  Refusal is mildly acceptable, but constantly talking to the Piggies trying to read was not.  He was eventually sent to another room to complete the reading but refused all day.  All alternate assignments offered also refused.  Detention assigned, data entered into computer. Emails sent to coordinate meeting to discuss his behavior plan which does not appear to be the magic fix (sarcasm here).

C. was rude during her lunch detention today. Discussion with C.  Further lunch detention assigned. Data entered into computer.

The 8th grade Piggies came down with 8th grade disease today and were rude to the guest teacher this afternoon.  Campfire was called.  Pep talk ensued.  Day improved.

New photography unit started today.  The 6th and 7th grade Piggies were not able to listen, so little progress was made.  Will try again tomorrow.

Multiple students earned PE detention.  I held it in my room during my prep period. This means no bathroom break, but it provides opportunity to try to get into the heads of the detainees. Small dent into psyche was made  for J #2 and V #1. Am quite certain psychic dent pops back into place the minute they leave the room.

M. ripped a hole in her sweatshirt at PE.  Taking it home to sew it for her.

V. #2 came to "help out" after school because this is where she gets her human interaction for the day (not at home).  I found something for her to do.

And, *sniff sniff* I have a cold.

The point today?  Any time you read about how education is failing our kids, remember what it is our society is asking education to do these days.  I love my little piggies, I even love them on days like today.  Their issues don't make me angry at them, they make me worried for them.  So that is the point.  That, and I'm tired and think sympathy would be extra-special nice.  That, that, and I think y'all might want to wish a teacher well this holiday season.  They're bustin' their butts out there!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I was going to title this post "god-light".  You know, the light that sometimes shines through the clouds and, some say, looks all biblical and stuff?  I did a search on it, and found... well... very little that describes it as I want it described.  Then I thought I'd use "A-Ha".  A search ensued, and I found more a-ha's than I wanted (here, here, and here). By this time in the titling procedure,  I have grown weary and a little bit pissy. You get what you get, I suppose.

What I wanted to say when I sat myself down here to write is that I had a moment today where the light showed through the clouds looking all biblical and stuff, and my little pea brain smiled.  It was tiny.  Itsy-bitsy.  Quite small, really.  I'm sharing it anyway.  I will tell you the end first.

J. said to me "Oh, don't worry.  I learned my lesson with that."

This is J. of the "I smell so good" marker debacle.  J. doesn't learn lessons because he most mightily does not want to.  More than anything he wants to NOT learn, to NOT do, to NOT feel.  Of course, no surprise here, I think he's hilarious and great.  I do quite often want to stomp on his smelly little feet and shake my finger in his impish little face and say "you have so much potential!!!"  I resist (usually).

One day J. was especially focused on doing NOT.  So focused that he had become downright defiant and was causing quite a ruckus.  The best thing to do in this instance is to strategically ignore his behavior (if you want to know more about strategic ignoring, ask me.  I'll tell you.  It's one of my super powers.  That, and over-parenthetical-izing and quotation-al-izing things.).  I did.  And then I did.  And then I did.  And then... I didn't.  I said (don't judge me for this) "Dude, do I need to call your dad?"

BAD idea.  I know. It just came out.  His eyes lit up at the idea of his "NOT-ing" getting attention from me and his dad.  He said, and read this carefully here,

"Whatever floats your boat."

Whatever.  Floats.  Your.  Boat.  Duuuuude....  I was officially irritated.  Truth be told, I was angry at myself for taking the bait.  Lucky for me when I am irritated my senses constrict in the best possible way.  I become calm, quiet, and methodical (or diabolical).  I replied with "Okay."  My dad used to say "okay."  It usually meant I was done.  D-O-N-E.  This is how I imagine my "okay" sounding.  He started to back track and I said "Consider my boat floated."  He looked at me, I looked at him.

Later that day J. asked me for something he didn't really need.  I said "Um, nope."  Soon after, he asked for something else.  I said "Um, nope."  Later still, while the kiddos who had finished their work had some free time, he asked again.  "Um, nope.  See?  This is me, floating my boat. " He looked at me, I looked at him.

The next week, he started to ask for something.  I gave him The Look and he completed his work before asking again.  This happened a few times.  I said, "I see I don't need to float my boat?" He replied with an empathic "no" and a rushed explanation of how he hadn't meant to be rude.  I explained how it might be perceived as rude in some circumstances.  He insisted it wasn't.  He looked at me, I looked at him.

Another week comes and goes with a few hints dropped here and there "Shall I float my boat?"  "Oh, I see, I don't need to float my boat?" Today, the god light/a-ha/whatev moment came.  He said I needn't float my boat any longer.  He had learned his lesson.  We nodded to each other.

Woo-Hoooo!  I wonder how to turn this into a rule?  Something about the boat-floating, or the okay-ing, or the strategic ignorer-ing, methinks.

Send me your ideas about how to turn this into one of Boss's Rules, and I will send you a laminated copy of the entire set of rules so far! I will.  I really will do it. I'll even let you choose the number for the rule if you win. Maybe.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Quote of the Week #14

This week's quote falls In the category of things I never thought I'd need to say.

The scene earlier today...

A. is quite concerned.  He has stuck his head through the back opening in a chair and cannot get it out.   I watched him try to remove it for quite awhile (probably way longer than I ought to have).  He had tried soap and water and various other tricks by the time I said...

"Mrs. X, will you please help A. get the chair off of his head? It appears to be stuck there."*

*Note--In case you're worried, or require further information, the chair may or may not have been stuck.  It may or may not have been his ears catching on the sides of the opening.  It may or may not have been the tension in his forehead and neck (from thinking he might get stuck) that made his head too big.  I eventually removed the chair myself by pushing it down further, getting him to relax for a minute, then removing the chair (slowly).  Save the day?  Check.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rule #1

One of my turtle-heads tends to favor a good lie (okay, any lie) over the truth.  As this caped teacher is, along with many others, able to discern a lie in the seconds before it is told, I find myself catching lies multiple times a day.  They are often little lies--"no I didn't put that book there" or "yes I did ask permission to use this pen." Some of them are bigger lies--"no I didn't steal this poem off of the internet and turn it in as my own" or "yes I do too have permission to walk home by myself in the dark."

This caped teacher's parents may laugh loudly at this, but I just want him to learn that the lie is not easier.  It seems easier before the telling, during the telling, and for a short while after the telling, but it is, in fact, much more difficult.  Many of us know this.  One of us learned this the hard way and over a long period of years telling lies to her parents.

V. is still learning this.  Years in foster care have not cured him of it.  I hesitate to say it may have made him more certain that lies are easier.  I would guess the lies feel safer on many levels.

The other day V. was presented with an opportunity to choose a lie over the truth.  The truth was easy and painless, the lie was... just that.  A lie.  I asked him for the truth, he lied  I asked him again and said (watch out... here it comes.... a new rule!)

"Lead with the truth, dude."

And he did.  He told the truth.  He did the next day too.  Then he lied again.  Either way, Rule #1 has been added to the list.

Friday, November 19, 2010

European Studies

Final CountdownToday two of my kidlets were humming a few bars from Europe's "Final Countdown."  A third kidlet joined in.  While I was still agape (the adjective as opposed to the noun), they asked if they could listen to it.  I could feel a blue-pen-cap kind of experience coming on and let it happen.

The music started and the kidlets created a spontaneous airband.  We had a drummer, two guitarists, and a vocalist/trombone player/dancer.  I grabbed the video camera, and magic ensued.  I would very much like to show you the video, but cannot post it in any kind of public way.  THEY would very much like to show you the video but also cannot.  If you see me in person, or know how to find me, ask and I'll share it.

November is hard (see here for proof).  The week before Thanksgiving is hard.  The Friday before a full moon is hard (a.k.a. The Full Moonies).  Spontaneous airband renditions of The Final Countdown is a joy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Notes From My Phone

As I have told you in person, I leave notes for myself on my phone--often while driving.  It is illegal, I suppose, since I use the keyboard and type them, but I typically save it for stoplights, and don't worry about spelling or anything.  Nearly always they are ideas for school or quite close to ideas for school.  Here are some notes I have left on my phone, their translation, and links to further information. 

Chicken BigNote: "Chickrnbig"
Saved on 11/13/10
Translation: Chicken Big
More Information: Chicken Big by Keith Graves.  This is a book that was read aloud on NPR the other day.    It was funny and cute, and I teach a fractured fairy tale lesson that requires lots of books of this type.  I'll admit, the read-aloud was not the strongest feature of the news story.  Mostly, I was drawn to the fact that the two men had so much fun reading it.  

Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or FewerNote: Hint fiction antholyy
Saved on 11/13/10
Translation: Hint Fiction Anthology (possibly Norton)
More Information: Hint Fiction by Robert Swartwood Also on NPR the other day (I was driving).  This is an anthology of stories that are written in 25 words or less.  I want to try this in my classroom, but also get the book.  I missed some of the stories because the guy speaking had a lot of spit in his mouth and I could hear it while he spoke.  I can't abide by that, so I had to turn it down.

Note: Wa init 1098 ca
Saved on 11/1/10
Translation: Washington State Initiative 1098 (check California Report on NPR)
More Information:  This one is pretty clear.  I wanted to know more about this initiative.  Just because I wanted to know.

The Incredible MachineNote: SufarlAnd
Saved on 10/29/10
Translation: Sugarland
More Information: Someone I think is cool said this is good workout music.  I thought I would check it out.  I haven't yet.

Note: tone catchadores--everso
Saved on 10/23/10
Translation: Ummm... I can't figure it out yet.  Any ideas?

Note: areasontosurvive
Saved on 8/30/10
More Information: I am still looking into this.  It is a group I heard about and wanted to learn more.  It is a San Diego organization using art to reach children, or to help them heal.

Pocket ChangeNote: Josh damigo
Saved on 8/28/10
Translation: Josh Damigo (musician)
More Information: Josh Damigo has a poster hanging up in my coffee shop and I wanted to try it out. I still haven't.

Note: lily batachatarian
Saved on 6/12/10
Translation: I have NO idea.  Can't find a thing on it.  Again, ideas?

So there you have it.  A little window into where I get my ideas--other than straight from the idea fairies, of course.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ummm... wot?

I am going through my papers at school  (ahem, 4 BOXES of papers) and found this page of emails and notes:

The content is not that important.  We were having technical difficulties that day and this was an email string trying to fix it.  What I am trying to share here is this piece:

Ummm... wot?  I have NO idea why this is on there, what I was thinking, or why it was important enough to write here.  It's making me giggle though.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Finally!  My 102th post!  Again!  In honor of this most momentous and repetitive event, I give you all a wonderful prize!


A word!

You may adopt yourself your very own word at

I know. I know. I am too generous by far.  Please stop.  You're making me blush.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hope is the thing...

We started our photography unit last week.  Today we took some photos, and this one made my heart smile.

Thank you to fellow caped blogger, TM, for reminding me that I come to school for the pumpkin-heads.  I needed the reminder today.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune--without the words, 
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.
--Emily Dickinson

This poem struck me today.  Actually, just the first stanza and it was yesterday.  And it didn't strike me, because poems don't typically cause physical injury on purpose.  But I liked it, and it is November and November is hard.  Proof?  Here is an article that says so.  November Blues.  Not a very good article, surely, but proves the point well enough.  I'll be doing something with this poem in the next week or so.  Don't know what.  May be brilliant.  May be not-so-much.   

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quote of the Week #13

In a discussion about "texture" in photography.  We* were listing common items and describing the texture.

Us: How about a waterbed?
J: Uh... pushily!

I'd say that's pretty much a perfect description.  In fact, I just did say it.  Just now.  I said it.

*Note--I am using the royal "we" here.  I was not, actually, listing any items for anyone.  Another caped crusader in my room was.  I just didn't ask her permission to tell this story.  So I used the royal "we."  See how we did that?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Important Note

I am not entirely sure why, but according to Blogger, this post-- this post right here--this post is only my 98th post.  I think I deleted some one day.  Or I can't read.  Or I can't count.  Who knows?  What is important is that  my 102th (pronounced one-hundred-tooth) post is still coming up.  Mark your calendars!  Do a jig!  Get all excited!  It'll be great!  It'll be huge!  It will be worthy of... something really worthy!

Sneak peak?  Don't have one.

Idea?  Don't have one of those either.

Something interesting to share instead?  Ummm....  let me go look.

There you go.  Have at it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


In our recent discussion of folktales, we listed the following components:

1.  A powerful person
2.  A not-so-powerful person
3. Twists and turns
4. A beautiful character
5. A problem or  riddle
6. A Moral
7. The End

After some practice the Sugar Pies were assigned the following task, and we created a rubric* for how it would be graded:

Write a folktale of any length that includes all seven components. Make sure to identify each component in your final draft. 

The following is my very favorite-ist folk tale. Of course I can't deny I like the role I play in the story, but mostly I am just tickled with his imagination.  The numbers correspond with the component numbers above. 

Once in school, there was a powerful teacher, Ms. M., who had asked the class to write a folk tale (1).  So there at that school there was a boy named J. (2).   The teacher had asked the boy to write a folk tale, but the boy didn't have any literature experience (3).  The boy had to ask many friends, family, and relatives to help him on how to write a folk tale.  The parents and friends couldn't help him, but they all knew he had a brain.  A brain is exactly what he had and he needed to put it to work (4).

He had three days to complete the assignment.  Each night he would read seven folk tale stories.  Until the final day, and he had only an hour left to complete the folk tale (5).  He had to put all of his brain skills to the top.  His brain had been fully loaded, ready, and already working.  When the boy finished, Ms. M was impressed and gave J. a passing grade.  Since that day, the boy knew that studying, listening, and leaning will get you any grade you want (6).

The End (7)

*Note--More on rubrics later.  These are wildly interesting creatures and should be discussed more thoroughly.

Monday, October 25, 2010


On days like today, I am quite certain that my little sweet-niks simply cannot hear me.  It isn't that they cannot hear (although one of them used to have a hearing loss), and it isn't that they have an auditory processing deficit (although quite a percentage of them do), and it isn't that they are having trouble paying attention for a medical reason (which, they most certainly are).  While I have no research to support this, I am quite certain that there is an electrical short that occurs on days like today, causing their brains to emit a low pitched buzzzzzzing sound inside their heads.

Through this sound they can hear the hint of my voice, a vague idea that someone is making noise in their general vicinity, but their brains are unable to link the sounds they hear to things they know.  Additionally, they are not able to connect the visual cues of someone standing in front of them giving directions, to sounds in their brain. This makes the following of simple directions difficult at best.  In fact, it confuses them to no end. Here is what a typical classroom conversation looks like when the Buzzing Disease has infected the room:

Teacher says: "How was your break?"
Student hears: "How was your break?"
Student translates: "Oh, we have free time?"

Teacher says: "Go ahead and get started on your work."
Student hears: "Go ahead and bzzzzzzzzzzz."
Student translates: "Oh cool!  We have free time!"

Teacher says: "Take out your orange folder, please."
Student hears: "bzzzz out buzzzzzz please"
Student assumes: "Wow!  We still get free time? This is SO cool!"

Teacher says: "I see you are having a hard time hearing me today.  Give me a moment here--please get your orange folder out."
Student hears: "Bzzzzzzzz please do something bzzzzzzzzz."
Student assumes: "I'll bet she wants me to have a pencil out.  Too bad I don't have one.  *smile*

Teacher says: "LOVIES!!!!  WHERE ARE YOU???"
Student hears: "Bzzz BZZZ Bzzz Bzzz" (but sees visual cue of concern on teacher's face)
Student assumes: "Someone must be in trouble.  So glad it isn't me.  *smile*

I love them, I do.  Seriously though, someone needs to find a cure for the Pre-Teen Buzzing Disease.  I'll offer up my room for the clinical trial.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stop, Elaborate, and Listen!

The lesson of the day was "elaboration."  We talked for a while about the difference between elaboration, exaggeration, and lies.  We talked about when elaboration is a good idea, and when it might not be ("when the police ask you questions?").  We then dug into my collection of interesting magazine photos (fifteen years in the making), listened to some Vanilla Ice*, and did some elaboration. These kiddos have some wacky ideas!

Simple description:
This is a little girl in a white dress.
This little girl is in the news because she the one survivor to live from a plane crash.

Simple description:
A nice house/beautiful view.
In 1955 there was a war, but Albert Einstein was so smart he wanted to see this was so he built a nice house in the middle of the war and watched the was and he watched his teacher get knocked out.

Simple description:
Trees moving side to side
It is raining and the wind is blowing hard.
The world is coming and end and people are running for their lives.
There is a tsunami and everyone is hiding in bushes and the wind is blowing so hard that it blew down all of the trees and everyone grew wings and flew away.

Simple description:
A lady holding a fat dog
The lady is a cannibal and she ate her husband and her neighbors and gave the dog the fat and the bones.  That is why the dog is fat.
The dog is fat because it ate the other person holding it and they lady is comforting it because the dog is sad.
This fat dog was at her house and he came up to 'Lil Billy the toddler and swallowed him.  Then he came up tot Timmy the Baby and swallowed him.  Then the lady had to carry him to the hospital, but the dog never learned his lesson because after that he ate a cat and a cow.

Simple description:
People at the beach.
People are staring out into the water while a man was being eaten by a whale.
All of the people are there because Moby Dick told them to come and be mermaids and have a party.  Then they will become whales.
They are there because they say Shamu jumping over a new-found island.

Simple description:
Penguins in a field.
The penguins are in a field because they flew there on a giant dog.  The dog gave them a ride because they helped him get a doggie girlfriend.
These 3 penguins thought they could get a vacation from their children, so they went to the tundra.  Then this huge penguin said "Oh.  Hey.  There's a volcano up there."

*Note--If you don't know why we listened to Vanilla Ice, you should probably figure it out, as it is one of my new most favoritist jokes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quote of the Week #12

P: Did anyone see a pickle fly by here?

Need I say more?  Probably, but I'm not going to.  You have to guess....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mini-Lesson... Maxi-Topic

In my college days a "mini-lesson" was defined to me as a part of a Writers Workshop as follows:

The mini-lesson is part of Writers' Workshop and provides a short (5- to 10- minute), structured lesson on a topic related to writing. Topics are selected by the teacher and based on student need or curricular areas. These topics address aspects of the writing process or procedures for independent Writing Workshop time.

Even at the time I blanched a little at making a general term mean only one thing, so I have, with my super powers, expanded it to mean this:

A short lesson on a topic at the moment its need is discovered.  The topic addresses a need at the moment it is useful.  This is true even if it is only partially related to the overall unit.

With that definition in mind, let me tell you about the mini-lesson I taught this week.  I think it may be more aptly described as a maxi-lesson since it ended up taking two days to get the point across.

I will set the scene...

We are pre-reading for an article on water uses.  In it is an inset map.  The map identifies Washington, Oregon, the Canadian border, and the city of Wenatchee.  The conversation goes like so:

Me:  What do you see in this map?
Various: Washington.  Oregon.  Canada.  Wen... Wennch...
Me: Wenatchee.  Yes.  What does this map tell you about the location in this article?
Various: Washington.  Oregon.  Canada.  Weachch...
Me: (sensing lack of comprehension) What state is Wenatchee in?
Various: Oregon?  Canada?  Washington?
Me (rising horror): It's in Washington.  See the state lines here?  What two states are showing in this map?
Various: Canada?
Me (dawning horror): What country do you see here?
Various:  Washington?  Oregon?  Canada?  Wnchatcee?
Me: (nearly fully horrified, going to map of USA) Canada is at the top here, what country is right below?
Various: Washington?  Texas?  San Diego?
Me (trepidatiously): what country do we live in?
Various: San Diego?  California?  Washington?
Me:  Oh my.  Lovies... this can't be.  You can't do this any more.  It's time to know this stuff.

I gave them each a bright green super huge sticky note (thanks TM), and had them write "It's TIME" on top. We listed where they live starting with the planet and going down through the continents, the countries, the states, our county, their cities.  It took the rest of the period.  It was no longer a mini-lesson.  So, we went full-on and made "Where I Live" mobiles (pictures coming soon).

Next up... a commentary on what has happened to allow these kids to get to this point.  Not right now though.  I'm tired.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quote of the Week #11

Today J. was sent to my room with the direction to show me evidence of his most recent misbehavior. Had he used profanity?  No.  Had he harmed someone?  Nope.  Did he have an illegal substance?  Nein.  He had...

Wait for it....

...drawn with Mr.Sketch smelly markers all over his face.  ALL over.  What did he say when he came in my room?  Arms stretched out wide, grin from ear to ear (or was that the pink marker?):

"Ahhhh.  I smell so GOOD!"

Let's see... lesson learned?  Nope.  Don't think so.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tables and Cabinets

I must admit that much of what I do is not based on research.  Well, it might be.  I don't know.  I wasn't good at paying attention to specifics.  I'm more of a whole-picture kind of super hero.  I don't take credit for my thoughts or ideas since I'm never quite sure if they are mine or if I really did learn something in one of my education classes.  I have lots of ideas though, and I don't think I learned that much in my classes, so I'd say it's 50/50.

For example, I tell my students that their brains have a "brain table" and a "brain filing cabinet."

Brain Table
The brain table is where we store many pieces of information.  Sometimes we try to store too much there.  It gets messy, the piles build up, we lose things.  In fact, I once lost my lunch on my desk.  I was eating, then I did some things, then I couldn't find it.  About an hour later, I lifted up a folder and there it was!  Anyhoo,  our brain is a handy place to put things for a little while.  When we get stressed or whelmed, we may keep more than is prudent on this table.  Something will, eventually, fall off.  The only way to guarantee that information sticks around is to put it in the brain filing cabinet. Some learning and studying techniques depend on your brain table, and depend on you to be able to find things on your brain table.   I typically point out that my brain table is a holy mess.  I remind them  about Rule #3--Never put anything on my desk that is important to you--especially your homework.

Brain Filing Cabinet
The brain filing cabinet is where we store things we will want to access later.  We take things from our brain table and do something to it in order to store it in the filing cabinet.  We might organize it, we might chunk it into smaller bits of information, we might group it with like information.  We might color code it, use mnemonic devices, or put it into a more accessible format.  The key to this though, is our ability to retrieve the information once is it there.  You must be able to access the information you put there for immediate use.  This is where you store things you actually learn.  The way you do that is not specific, but is must include USING the information and structuring it in a way that makes it accessible to you.

My goal is make this filing cabinet full, organized, and accessible.  Yes, I want it accessible for the state tests. More than that though, I want it accessible for anything the students want to do.  I want them to have the ability to use what they know when they need it.  In the short term, that will be on state assessments.  In the long term, that may be for future classes, getting jobs, making life choices.  I can't ignore the usefulness of a nice brain table, but my job is the get that filing cabinet all set up.

When I read articles about how kids learn, or how they don't learn I pause a little in my raucous story-telling. The tone of some articles scoff at my Brain Table.  I have not yet had the opportunity to conduct formal peer-reviewed research on my theory, but explaining memory, studying, and accessing information using this analogy is successful.  I only have anecdotal evidence that it works. I may be struck down for saying this, but anecdotal evidence means something to me, and I will continue to use it as long as it works.

All of this is in my Brain Filing Cabinet.  Trouble is, I don't know where I got it originally.  It is filed correctly in there, but has no reference section.  Thank you to whoever or wherever this came from.  Even if it was just the idea fairies.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Super Boss

If there was any doubt that I a.) have super powers (such as lightening bolts coming from my neck, eyes, and knee) and b.) am the Boss (with a trusty sidekick), here is some proof.  Really, what more do you need? 

Note the cocky stance--that's how you stand when you are electric.

I am the one in purple with the trusty sidekick.  You can tell because there is an arrow pointing to me.  Next to me is one of my super students.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Darling Clementine

All of my classrooms have a ghost.  Either I have a strong link to the Other Side, or I need a patsy for the odd things that happen in my room... you can guess which one.  In this classroom her name is Clementine.

Way back in the olden days of yore, my aforementioned amazing cousin-friend (here and here) created amazing characters with watercolor.  This week we used watercolor in our art project, and I got to play with some of the materials (mostly just the leftovers).  

What do these things have in common?  Today I created Portrait o' Clementine a' la Awesome Cousin.  This is what happens when you pour watercolor water on old paper and splash around in it.  The Netherworld speaks to you!

Hellooooo Clementine!
Important Note: Recently, this amazing cousin I speak of had some of her art copied and sold without permission.  I must say that while artists are often our inspiration for what we teach or create, it is vital that the artist, author, or originator of the work be recognized.  Inspiration is a gift, we must make sure to respect it. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quote of the Week #10

Two boys are doing what middle school boys do--slapping at each other and running about.  One of the boys is the instigator and has been doing this quite a bit for a few days.  I call him over...

Me: This whole hitty-mchitterton and punchy-mcpuncherton thing you've got going is very typical for your age, but I would like you to grow out of it now, okay?
Student: Okay

We'll see if it the power of suggestion works.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Artsy Fartsy 2--Electric Boogaloo

And THEN we played with color!!!!  What fun was that?  First, color wheels.  Spiced up the typical color wheel lessons by using magazine cut-out mosaics to create the colors (Thanks to the awesome classroom staff person with awesome ideas and awesome artistic talent.  Did I mention awesome?).  Then a review of ROY G. BIV, and some color schemes--monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triad, gray scale, and black-n-white.

Using some abstract blackline coloring pages I had, the students divided each into four sections, picked four color schemes and colored like crazy.  I'm quite tickled at the quality of their work.  They worked hard, they enjoyed themselves, they were proud, and they complimented the work of others.  I don't know how real art teachers feel, but I'm thinking this went pretty well!

Below is a collage.  Click here for a closer look.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Wreckage

Do not fear!  This is the good kind of wreckage!  I promised you, way back in the olden days of yore, that I would share more from the Wreck this Journal.

Here they is.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quote of the Week #9--removed

My Quote of the Week #9 was just too gross.  It was been removed for your protection.  If you want to hear something really gross, I will tell you by request only...

Woe and Despair

Just kidding.  No woe.  No despair.  I was pretending.  Sometimes, when the kidlets are being obnoxious, I strike this pose (usually standing up, but it was sunny and I wanted to rest) and someone says for me, "Is it hard to be you?"

To which I reply, "Yes.  It is hard to be me.  Woe and despair."

This is often an effective way to get them to calm down a notch.  It must be my incredible acting ability.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Artsy Fartsy

This year I am teaching art.  For those of you that know me, I am not, technically, artistic.  Certainly, I am what you might call creative.  I am... crafty (homograph intended).  What I am not is an artist.  I know small bits of information, I know what I think is pretty, and I know how to research new ideas.  I fall heavily on this non-artistic skill base to get me through.  I think our students need art in their lives, I am saddened that I am their only option, but I am willing to try.  Luckily for me, one of our classroom aides is quite artistic and helps the kids with the actual... you know... art part.

I follow a simple lesson-planning model for the art class.  I pick an artist or artistic idea, teach some information about it, show examples, and then let them at it.  My plan, over the course of the 9-week quarter, is to expose them to some basic principals of art, some artists with whom they may identify, and some ways to express their little grinchy-heart-soul thoughts.

One of our first projects was centered around the concepts of line, shading, and portraiture.  Not small ideas (admittedly, I started too big).

First we reviewed the work of Chuck Close.  I focused in on the terms "portrait" and "photorealism" and showed how many of the pieces look differently close up versus far away.  Here is a short video of me teaching the concepts of "Near" and "Far."

Okay... not really.  Heh.  That is making me giggle more than it should.  No really.  I've watched it three times. Simple minds....

Anyhoo, the students picked magazine photos from my stash and drew a half-inch grid on them.  They then penciled in a one-inch grid on the drawing paper.  We showed them how to transfer the lines they saw (as opposed to what they thought the picture should be). Some students understood the concept immediately.  Some understood it part way through, a couple never quite grasped it, and one or two created some wildly abstract art pieces ("Well done kidlet, is that a... giraffe?").  Any piece that was completed was fawned over, exclaimed upon, complimented and displayed ("I just LOVE giraffes!").  Below is a collage of the pieces.  If you'd like a closer look click here.

or click here
*Note--it's almost 24 hours later and I am still giggling at Grover.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Giggle and Snort

Taylor Mali is probably best known for his "What Do Teachers Make?" poem.  I like it.  Very much.

However, I snort and giggle at this one. Even when I'm alone, and only my dog can hear me.

"The The Impotence of Proofreading," by TAYLOR MALI

Saturday, September 4, 2010


This caped teacher does not know the strength of her powers.  Earlier this week I said this:

I should not have taunted karma in this way.

Yesterday, one of those bordering-on-sweet-needy kids lost it.  She lit out on another student, shoving a staff person on her way, and repeatedly kicked and punched him (the kid, not the staff person).  She wouldn't stop.  Screaming, swearing, dodging furniture as he tried to get away (and the teacher tried to help him get away).  He got up and ran down the hall to the office and she followed him.  In the end, she had injured four other staff members and was in the back of a police car kicking and screaming.  

Oh.  My. Goodness.  She just... lost it.  All we know is this...
  • The child she went after had been almost hit by another student the day prior for being... irritating.  
  • The child she went after can, indeed, be irritating.
  • She has had similar issues in the past.  It appears this happens when she hasn't taken her medication. There is no way to determine this though. The parent does not share this information.
What I can guess is...
  • The teacher was out of the room for a minute, and the two other staff in charge are more quiet-voiced and less assertive when it started.  This may have allowed the other child to be more irritating, but that is just a guess.
  • She has trouble moderating her moods (statement of the obvious, I know) and her social skills are still at the chasing-boys-at-recess level.  That day she had some big emotions (fear and relief) related to a classroom project she was working on, and that may have put her off-kilter.
  • The other student has a remarkable propensity to bother other people.  We had been working almost constantly with him to curb that. Even with a staff member right next to him all day he was poking, kicking chairs, stealing pencils, etc.  I had to stop and count to five several times working with him.  He could test the patience of a stone statue.

So.  The lessons today?  Do not tempt fate by making sweeping statements about the sweetness of your little poodle-heads. Apparently karma has a wicked sense of humor.

Next lesson, while it is true that physically restraining kids only leads to escalating the behavior, there are times when the behavior has reached a point that there is no other choice.  This is a mental battle for me. I fully embrace the idea of not restraining kids. I see it escalate them and know it is not helpful.  In situations like this though, there really is no other choice.  By the time they attempted to restrain her, it took four adults and at least two of those adults were injured.  Debriefing the event, the only thing that could have been done differently was back at the beginning.  When she first got upset, whatever happened right before that--that's the key.  I don't know what that was.  It was not my classroom.  I still feel like I should have done something to stop it, but I know I couldn't have.

Lastly, do not underestimate the power of middle school mood swings. They can really mess you up!

Peace out my caped friends.  It's time to place my thoughts elsewhere and recoup my strength for next week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mums the Word

Well my dears, school started nigh on three weeks ago and I have been... mum.

"Seal up your lips and give no words but mum." 
--Bill Shakespeare

It's not that it's a secret exactly.  It's just that if you were to ask me how it is going, I would say, "Mmmmm" and then lose track of the conversation almost immediately.  This is not, as it can be, because my brain is empty.  This is, as it can also be, because it is so FULL!  There is so much this year!  It all happened so quickly, and there is so much to say.  Any one story links to tens of others and then I am struck... mum.

So, where to start?  How do you eat an elephant?  I'll just begin. Or take a bite.  Or something.

Our kids this year are not your typical punk kids.  We have many fewer gun-totin', teacher-hitting, drug-using turkey-butts than in the past.  This year our kids border on sweet (key word--border), just don't fit in, and just... need.  They need so much! Example?

In one of my classes you will find...
-A student with seizure disorder and severe attention deficits.  It is unclear when he is having seizures and when is just isn't listening.  He is learning at grade level though, and is bored easily.
-Two students who have not been to school for over 6 years (if at all) and cannot read, can barely write, and are learning to add.
-A student with serious mental health issues including a perception that we are all out to get him and he must plan his retaliation attempts well ahead.
-A student with Autism who cannot comprehend how to navigate the middle school social whirl (who can?).
-A student with a hearing loss and Tourette's Syndrome.  He also has attention issues, but it is unclear when he is not paying attention and when he didn't hear us.  Chicken or egg?
--A student working at 8th grade level in all areas that just needs to "serve her time" with us.

Add in 5-10 other students with a variety of seemingly lesser needs, and I feel like a whirling dervish.  I'm feeling pressure to simultaneously teach two kids to read (to READ for goodness sake!) while another student needs to be challenged with interesting literature and in-depth writing instruction.  One kiddo is spinning on the floor in a distracted state of... distraction while another has his head buried on his desk in despair because someone rolled their eyes at him (have you SEEN how often middle school kids roll their eyes?).  One girl is kicking the chair of a boy she likes while that same boy can't hear me--or just isn't paying attention.

And... I just adore them!  I can't find my own tail end to save my life, but all day I see so clearly that they just need to be taught.  I feel like I have been running at full speed for the last three weeks and the only thing to do is keep running.  So... hang on to your capes my super friends!  This is going to be a fun year!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quote of the Week #8

M: (walks up to the my desk and whispers) May I go see an Egyptian Cat?

Of course I sent her to the loo forthwith.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pop Quiz

This caped teacher uses post-it notes like crazy (and prefers the Super-Sticky ones).  They are... super sticky.

On Fridays, I give quizzes using said Post-it notes.  They are always on Post-its, always five questions long, and I always give one point for trying and one point for being correct.  Why?  Because my turtle-doves are horrified by tests.  While it is clearly my job to ease this horri-fi-cation, it is also my job to assess what they have learned.  So... I assess with pretty, colorful, non-threatening post-it notes.  Super-stickyness comes in handy as I keep track of them to put them in the grade book.

This week, I handed out one post-it note too many.  Since they were wasted anyway* I said "Oops.  You don't need that one.  Just write me something nice on it."  So they did.

We are working on spelling next week...

*Note--the sticky-ness decreases with each use, you know.  This renders them less useful once unstuck from the pad and re-stuck on a student desk.  Especially because each kiddo has the compulsion to un-stick and re-stick the note after it has been placed on their desk--sometimes multiple times.  I know this, you see, because I have experience with the use and re-use of Super-Sticky Post-It notes.  It's one of my super powers.  Get it?  Super?  As in Super-Sticky Post-it Notes?  Get it?