Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Day My Students Became Writers

August: "Write a body paragraph with a topic sentence, supporting evidence and an analysis of the evidence."
These students need more help-- did they forget everything over the summer?
Conference, feedback.
September: "Here is a topic sentence. Let's select evidence together. Now, let's analyze the evidence."
More papers, more grading, more hoping, more helping.
Conference, feedback.
October: "Let's write a thesis, then write multiple body paragraphs to support the thesis using different topic sentences, and analyze evidence about our topic to be credible to our reader."
There is not enough coffee in the world for this.
Conference, feedback.
November: "Your writing is getting stronger. Let's switch from explanatory to argument writing."
We make claims, counterclaims, and argue our views based on evidence.
Conference, feedback.
December: "Now, let's write narratives. Yes, like fiction."
We write three different genres of fictional narratives and imagine and wonder and create.
Conference, feedback.
January: "Nonfiction writing can be funny and creative, too. Write an explanatory monologue."
We laugh, we cringe, we celebrate the genre.
Conference, feedback.
February: "What's the difference between argument writing and explanatory writing? Let's write one example of each."
We explore and wonder and master the genres.
Conference, feedback.
March: "Research a topic and write an informational article for an audience of teenagers."
We consider our audience, we read, we write.
Except this time, they write.
I pause. I survey the room and realize that somewhere between explanatory, narrative, and argument writing, my students became writers.
They are lost in the process and the focus in the classroom is energizing.
There is the student in the back who could barely write a paragraph in August; now, his outline is so long he has to cut sections out to make the writing more logical.
There is the student by the bookcase who put her head down every day and refused to write; now, her fingers fly across the keyboard as she tries to make her hands catch up with her brain.
Conference, feedback:
"I'm so proud of you and the writing happening in this room," I say, and mean it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

We Start Again

Wake up before the sun rises. Scramble to get ready, eat breakfast, and arrive at school on time. Five minutes of quiet review and last-minute double check of the previous day's setup. The silence of the morning is broken as students pour down the halls and into my classroom. It's another day at school.

Bell rings. Take attendance. Read announcements. Say the pledge. Pass out paperwork, answer questions. Bell rings. Hallway duty.

Five minutes straight of rapid-fire questions:
"My locker is jammed, what should I do?"
"Can I take this note to the office?"
"Can I borrow a pencil?"
"Can I fill my water bottle?"
"Can I go to the bathroom?"
"Can I take this to my coach?"
"Do you have a bandaid?"
"I was absent yesterday, did I miss anything?"
"I was absent last week, how should I catch up?"
"My Chromebook trackpad isn't working, can I go to the Media Center?"
"I won't be here next Tuesday through Thursday, do you want me to do anything?"
"Is it okay if I finished my book before I needed to?"
"Did I leave my water bottle in here?"
"Have you seen a white binder?"
"Can I leave my instrument under your counter?"

Bell rings. I take a deep breath and close my classroom door. Students take their seats and we begin our learning. I share with the class our day's focus and goal. We read, we write, we talk. We laugh and we try our best. We work in groups, we work as a class, we work independently. I answer phone calls and field emails in between instruction and student interventions. I make demonstration notebook pages for students who need more support. I redirect students to our classroom anchor charts and digital tools available in our shared Drive folder. I challenge students with extensions to maximize learning. I know what each student needs and I have pre-planned how these students' needs will be met. I walk around and around my classroom, checking in on students and supporting their work, answering questions, offering praise and constructive feedback. Before we know it, our collective thinking is interrupted by the bell, signaling the end of class and the departure of 30 students, along with the subsequent arrival of 30 different students. The bell rings, and we start again.

Repeat the above six times, for 50 minutes, with four minutes of intense, frantic questioning in between.

Why do teachers do this?

We are addicted to the process of learning. As teachers, we love to be needed, we love to plan, we love to see the student growth. We love to predict student needs and to develop tools and lessons to meet those needs. We love when the figurative lightbulb clicks on over a student's head and we can see it and bask in the light together.

We never stop planning, innovating, and trying. We love the process.

When the students leave for the day, I plan for the next day. I set up for tomorrow and before I flip the lights off in my classroom, I turn around and stand in perfect stillness for a moment. Tomorrow, the seats will again be filled with students, opportunities for learning will be presented and attempted, and growth will occur.

We start again tomorrow.

The Best Stories

I am an English teacher. I teach reading, writing, and speaking. I teach these subjects logically and in linear fashion. Most days, I teach with as much passion as I can muster about writing analytical paragraphs. What I notice most when reading my students’ writing is that their love for story does not match mine. Students fall short of analyzing why it matters that the protagonist’s life changed, or how the minor characters are impacted by the changes within the protagonist. Students struggle with this not because they fail to analyze, but because they have not been taught to care.

This caring falls on my shoulders. It is my job to make my students care. So, the real failure here, the real reason my students cannot analyze, is because they do not yet realize the power of story.

The frightening aspect of this is that at one point, students cared. Students cared when the Lorax spoke for the trees; students recall this story with wide eyes as they explain how the Lorax stood up for climate change when he insisted that the trees mattered, even when everyone else said they did not. Students cared when the Giving Tree gave the boy every last resource it could until it no longer existed for itself, but instead existed selflessly, so that the boy, in turn, could live selflessly with those around him. Students cared about these stories because these stories are trees in their own lives, sowing seeds of compassion, growing kindness, tolerance, and empathy that are rooted into their very souls and branch out into their relationships with others and the world.

When, then, did my students lose the power of story that had been planted in them from an early age?

Perhaps this is a question I need to aim at my students. I admit, asking this question scares me, because certainly part of their answer could be them placing blame on me. “The story doesn’t mean as much to me when I have to analyze the theme,” they’ll say. “I want to enjoy the story without writing about why it mattered.”

What students need to understand is, the best stories make us want to write about them, to discuss them with people we care about long after we have finished reading, watching, or listening to them. When we close the book after reading the last page, the best stories force us to stare at the wall or the sky or the ceiling and question our very existence. When the screen shows the credits and the music plays, the best stories force a longing upon us as we return to our own world after being lost in another. When our friend or family member finishes telling a story and we laugh or cry with them, the best stories create a desire for connection within us that compels us to tell a story of our own in return, or leaves us speechless, sitting and feeling the emotions the person has invoked in ourselves. The best stories keep us thinking about our place in the world and compel us to make those around us challenge themselves as much as we dare challenge ourselves.

The best stories lend themselves to us. They allow themselves to be shattered so that we can all carry a piece of them with us in our quest to become an individual. Naturally, this means that those who read, analyze, and create stories more often will foster a stronger sense of self.

Before we teach them to write, we must teach them to care. Before we teach them to  analyze, we must teach them to empathize. Before we teach them our curriculum, we must teach them our hearts.

It is only when we teach their hearts that we will teach them how to write.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush | Review

Spring had sprung, and I wanted something new. Specifically, something new for my cheeks. The hunt for a new blush began on a chilly spring day. I tirelessly searched through blushes, checking out recommendations from YouTube beauty gurus, Sephora reviews, and both high-end and drugstore brands. After much deliberation, many bookmarked web pages, and a few restless nights of sleep (I take my makeup purchases seriously), I decided on the one: Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in the shade Blushing Bride.

One of the things I like best about this blush is the packaging. I ordered the blush online, and when I opened the Sephora package, I thought for a moment that I had stepped back in time, because the packaging reminds me of Polly Pocket. The pink, the gold lettering, the small compact-- it felt like 1994 all over again. Another important aspect of the packaging is the mirror on the inside. Usually, I don't use mirrors included in makeup compacts. I rarely apply makeup on the go, so the mirrors aren't a necessity for me. With this compact, I find myself using the mirror because of its superior quality. It is gorgeous and offers a pristine reflection to the user.

Back to the star of the show:  the product. Tarte claims that this blush is "infused with Amazonian clay harvested from the banks of the Amazon River and baked by the sun." This claim is graphically depicted in the blush itself. Visually, this blush is stunning, both inside and outside the package. The product wears just as beautifully on the cheeks, and truly lasts the full, advertised 12 hours. A little bit of blush goes a long way. I would recommend putting less product on your brush than usual, and building the color up as desired with a small amount on your brush each time. Blending this blush is a dream, and harsh lines are a rarity, unless too much product is applied. A light hand is the best bet.

I have been using this blush daily for three months now, and I have barely made a dent in it. For $26, it is an excellent value and well worth the investment. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush is available in 15 different shades. Let me know if you have tried any other shades and what you thought of them!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Belle Epoque | Book Review

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross is a 2014 Morris Award finalist. The Morris Award honors books written by debut authors in young adult literature. The Morris Award nominees and winners are some of the first books I add to my summer reading list, because I like the thrill of reading work from authors new to the YA scene. Elizabeth Ross did not disappoint.

Set in the late 1880s, Belle Epoque follows 16-year-old Maude from a small town in northwest Brittany to Paris, France. After a string of unsuccessful jobs and failed attempts to support herself, Maude begrudgingly becomes a repoussoir (foil) to an aristocrat named Isabelle Dubern. Isabelle is in her debutante season with the goal of becoming engaged, and Maude is hired by the Duberns as an ugly friend to make Isabelle look more beautiful.

Maude and Isabelle become friends, and we are swept away into a world of privilege and connections, which is contrasted with Maude's own world of Paris explorations and her group of bohemian friends. These two worlds cannot exist separately forever, and they inevitably collide. As the two worlds become more tangled, you might find yourself reading this book way past your bedtime.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of this book is Belle Epoque itself.  Belle epoque translates to "beautiful age" and is significant because of the story's setting and its theme. In the late 1880s, France was still recovering from drastic changes in terms of social classes. France would unveil its new social order on the stage of the World's Fair, with the newly constructed Eiffel Tower as its centerpiece. In the same way, Maude learns that her own belle epoque is now, regardless of personal appearance or social class.

Belle Epoque is the most innovative book I've read this summer. I am looking forward to reading more books by Elizabeth Ross.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mascara Madness

Somehow, I have managed to acquire three mascaras since the beginning of 2014. Miraculously, all three mascaras have remained in my daily makeup bag. This is a point of interest, because I have three different makeup storage bags-- a daily use bag, and two for less used but still loved products.

Three mascaras in my daily makeup bag may seem excessive. Surprisingly, I found myself reaching for each one often enough that it made sense to keep them all together. They're all that good.

Here's the rundown:

1. Lancome Definicils Mascara in Black
My description:  Basic, everyday mascara.
Lancome's description:  "Natural but noticeable lashes."
Price:  $27.50, the most expensive in my roundup.
Best suited for:  Daily wear for work, errands, casual events.
One coat:  Gotta run, already running late, clump-free lashes with definition and length.
Two coats:  Guaranteed compliments, zero clumps, eyelashes reaching eyebrows.

This is my go-to mascara. I have been purchasing it consistently since 2004. That's a decade of commitment, making my opinion of this mascara tried and true.

The wand itself is thin and easy to maneuver across the lashes. I appreciate the square-shaped end of the wand, as this allows me to achieve a precise and consistent application with each use.

With a classic Christmas tree shape, this mascara is perfect for anyone:  makeup beginners, makeup devotees, and occasional makeup users alike.  The formula rarely clumps. It applies with ease and yields excellent results.  This mascara will always hold a special place in my makeup bag (and my heart).

2.  Smashbox Full Exposure Mascara in Jet Black. 
My description:  When basic just won't cut it.
Smashbox's description:  "Volumizing and lengthening."
Price:  $19.50, the median-priced mascara in my roundup.
Best suited for:  Some time on your hands, a desire to have standout lashes, and somewhere to go.
One coat:  Lash definition, possible clumping maintenance required, eyelashes reach eyebrows.
Two coats:  Total lash definition, definite clumping maintenance required, zero flaking, lashes will look fanned out and flashy.

I reach for this mascara when I have a little extra time on my hands and if I choose to emphasize my eyes in my overall makeup look for the day.  This is not to say that I wouldn't pair this mascara with a bold lip-- if I use a single coat of it, I can have the best of both worlds, emphasized eyes and a bold lip.

As you can see, the wand of this mascara is huge. This is why I allow myself some extra time when I use it. A bigger wand means a higher chance of making mistakes, like mascara clumps or getting the formula on your skin instead of on your lashes. 

Overall, I am impressed with this mascara. I love the results I get from it, and I like that even though this is a mascara I use for a statement eye, I can still use it for everyday wear by reducing the amount I apply. There is something to be said for its versatility. However, this mascara will definitely require clumping maintenance, as the wand is roughly the size of a toothbrush. Also, the formula tends to gather at the base of the wand. I frequently wipe off the base of the wand to avoid clumping, but this wastes product. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make, but it's also a deterrent in terms of the likelihood that I will repurchase this mascara.

3.  Benefit They're Real! Mascara in Jet-Black
My description:  Fake lashes from an actual mascara. Heavenly, beautiful, statement lashes.
Benefit's description:  "Jet-black mascara that lengthens, curls, volumizes, lifts, and separates lashes for a spectacular 'out-to-here' look."
Price:  0.14 ounces, $10, the cheapest in my roundup; 0.3 ounces, $23, second most expensive.
Best suited for:  Formal events, statement eyes, impressing everyone with your majestic lashes.
One coat:  Long, full lashes that truly look like false eyelashes, black as the darkest night sky.
Two coats:  You're going to be asking yourself if your lashes are real. Clumping maintenance may be required at first, but not as you get used to the formulation of the mascara and the uniqueness of the wand.

When I use They're Real, I know it's a special day. If I want my eyes to be the primary focus of my makeup look, this is the mascara I use. It is absolutely stunning. I could write pages of praises for this mascara. It is the mascara I use the least often, but it is my favorite of the three. I purchase it in the smaller size, and two tubes of it will last me the entire year.

The wand is unique because the bristles are spaced out more than other mascaras and made of plastic instead of synthetic fibers. The top of the wand has bristles as well, which is wonderful for reaching the inner and bottom lashes.

They're Real should be in every woman's makeup bag. The small sized tube is comparable to the pricing of drugstore brands, but the high-end formulation is superior to any mascara I have ever used. One coat of this mascara is all you need to give the appearance of false eyelashes. Amazingly, one coat of They're Real will rarely clump if you are taking your time when applying it. Two coats will likely clump, and I have had some disasters when attempting two coats. One coat is plenty for dramatic, statement, perfect eyelashes.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Smashbox Be Legendary Lip Gloss | Review

Summer is in full swing! With the rise in temperatures, the need arises for a long-lasting lip color for the many festivities and occasions that summer brings. In the springtime, I noticed that lip glosses were making their way back to my favorite beauty brands' shelves. I resisted the urge to buy one for a long time, because I associated lip gloss with middle school dances and general awkwardness. When I finally caved and bought a new lip gloss, I discovered that my awkward lip gloss wearing days were gone.

In other words, this isn't your seventh grade lip gloss. Lip gloss has grown up! Allow me to present my summer beauty staple, Smashbox Be Legendary Lip Gloss in Disco Rose:

The packaging is chunky but sleek. The color itself is pigmented and unusual. Although it is described as a rich rose shade, it's not the red rose of Valentine's Day that this lip gloss has captured; rather, the deep pink roses found in the lush summer gardens cared for by passionate pruners.

Unlike the lip glosses of my adolescence, this lip gloss is smooth and wears much like a balm. I often forget that I am wearing it once I have applied it, and as I carry on with daily activities, the gloss carries on along with me. I usually get at least five hours of wear out of one application. Once the gloss wears off, a nice color remains on my lips until I wash it off or reapply.

This gloss wears beautifully on its own, but it also complements lip stains nicely in that it prevents dryness when combined with a stain. That is to say, another benefit of this lip gloss is that it is incredibly moisturizing. This is my favorite unexpected twist and added benefit to my summer staple.

Reasonably priced at $20, a bargain for high-end lip products, Smashbox Be Legendary lip gloss is well worth the investment for pretty, worry-free summer lips.