Friday, October 10, 2014

Positive Thinking Fursday

Happy Thursday (or in this case Friday) and welcome to Positive Thinking Thursday, Mrs. Laffin's Laughings weekly linky party where you can share a positive thought with the rest of us.  We're glad you're here!  Per usual, I'm a day late.  BUT it's better to be positive late than never right?!

(click to see what other bloggers are so happy about!)

So I just started picking classes for my Spring 2015 semester.  Yes, that's right! This will be my LAST semester to finish up my M.A. in English Linguistics!

One of the amazing class offerings...


Amazing right?  For a while I sat there thinking... "Well, I should really take another course in my major shouldn't I?"  But then I thought, hey! The chance of me having the opportunity to take a class called "Humor and Adult Learning" is pretty few and far between.  Also, why not take a class that I think will be fun for once?!  So often we get into the mindset of doing what we do because we think we're supposed to.  It's so easy to fall into that trap right?  With professional, academic, and personal expectations, it's easy to see why we get so tripped up by what is essentially appearances.  In general, what I'm saying is, if something is fun or perks your interest... DO IT!

Live life to the fullest in whatever way that means for you.  For me, that means taking a super weird class that I'm hoping is as interesting as it sounds.  For you that might mean signing up to run a marathon even though you have a list of other things that you could or should be doing with your time.

Enjoy your life!  There's only so much of it that each of us has left!  Positivity doesn't just come from attitude.  It comes from our abilities to make wise choices for ourselves that not only impact use professionally but also personally. So radiate positivity in and through your choices.  Be someone that people describe as "Full of Love" or "Shining with Positivity!"

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Commenting Manifesto Freebie

Caution: Freebie for My Followers ahead!
Commenting is something that I didn't used to discuss with my students.  Sure, I would read my students' papers and mark allllll over them.  I felt like I was imparting my wisdom.  After all, I had studied this content intensely... shouldn't I be sharing my wisdom?

It wasn't until I read and heard Nancy Sommers talk about Responding to Student Writing that my philosophy of commenting completely changed.  Where as before I would mark up the drafts as much as I could, now I follow the Minimal Marking Philosophy (though I'm not a devout disciple).  I give my students one long note at the end of the paper that points out the general strengths and weaknesses dealing with global issues like logic, reasoning, organization, purpose, etc.  Not only do I point out the weaknesses but I give them suggestions as to how to improve.  They're no longer overwhelmed with corrections that they need to make.  Instead, they are focused on developing their writing in a deeper and more fruitful way.

But what does all of this mean if we don't have a conversation with them about essay commenting?

Absolutely nothing.  Our students need to be involved in the commenting process.  Sommers suggests to create a class manifesto.  

Bouncing off of that idea, I have my students create a Mini-Class Manifesto on Commenting with a small group.  They collaborate with 4 peers to create 4 general guidelines for paper commenting.  That means they need to boil it down to the 4 most important elements to a successful essay.  This is hard work!
(to get your hands on this bad boy, see the directions down below!)

Not only that, but they need to give a full description of what that guideline entails.  So instead of suggesting we comment on organization, they have to be explicit with what makes a good organization or why organization is important to an essay.  Furthermore, their Mini-Class Manifesto on Commenting has to include sample comments representing these guidelines.  So what would a helpful comment on organization look like to them?

Once they have finished creating this Manifesto on Commenting, they then need to try it out! Let them experience what it is like to comment on an essay with certain expectations.  Then have a discussion about it.

What worked?
What didn't work?  Why?
What comments kept popping into their heads that didn't fit their criteria?

In general, this exercise is very beneficial to the students.  They get a first-hand look at the grading process.  Even better, they give you insight into what's most important to them!

(click me!)

-> Like my Facebook page and you'll see a tab on the top (or side) that says "Freebie Grab Bag!"  (If you don't, it's either because you haven't liked the page or you'll find it under "More").  Click the Freebie Grab Bag tab and you'll be rerouted to free content just for my followers!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Beauty Bag: Lavender Ion Color Brilliance Review

Hello Brownbaggers!  If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I am VERY passionate about education.  Theory and pedagogy are my thanggg!  However, just like every other teacher on this planet, there is more to me than teaching.  For that reason, I'm going to start posting more frequently about health, wellness, and beauty - the other loves of my life.

For quite some time now I've been wanting a change with my hair color.  I have been blonde almost my entire life.  And I've been loving the pastel, candy-colored hair trend.  I especially love it when it's all-over color.  How cool, right?! 

However, given my career choice, I can't color my entire head cotton candy pink. In addition, I don't have the style to pull that off.  I would describe myself as preppy, equestrian boho... not eclectic.

So, I decided to put in some lavender peekaboos!  Below is my experience with the Ion Color Brilliance Brights (semi-permanent) Hair Color in Lavender:

A product thumbnail of Ion Color Brilliance Brights Semi-Permanent Hair Color

I won't lie.  When I first bought it, I was quite intimidated.  I've never colored my hair at home.  Ever since I was a young girl, my mom would tell me her horror stories about at-home coloring.  But, with my mom there to help me, it was on!  The best part about the Ion Color Brilliance Brights collection is that so many of them were candy-colored.  This specific line carries the true pastels I was looking for.

What did I like even more?! It ONLY came with a packet of directions and the hair color.  No mixing involved.  Just squirt the THICK hair color creme into your gloved hands and go to town!  

I wanted my color to be subtle.  Not stop and stare but more like the... "Oh wait? Do you have purple in your hair?" kind of a response.  So I pulled up the top inch of hair on both the sides and the back of my part.  I wanted the top of my head/hair to remain professional for work.  

Then I had my mom GLOBBBBB on the color cream in large chunks.  She spread the thick cream on starting 2" inches from the root of each section and working the color up and down the strands.  I made sure that the hair was saturated and left it on for 1 hour.  The directions say to leave the color on for 20-40 minutes but from the beginning I knew it would take longer to get a more vibrant color pay-off.

You can see from the pictures above that the color turned out great.  It's pretty subtle.  At first I thought I should add more; however, the more I look at it, the prettier I think it is.  At only $4.79 a package (from Sally's Beauty Supply), what a great deal!  I  would for sure do this again if my hair was previously lightened.  It does require pre-lightened hair which is something I don't feel comfortable doing on my own.

Final verdict? LOVE.  It's super easy to do and idiot proof.  It semi-permanent, so you're not married to it.  And it's right on trend.  I'm trying cotton candy pink or baby blue next time!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Positive Thinking Thursday

Welcome to Positive Thinking Thursday!  I'm glad you are here.  I hope you will visit Mrs. Laffin's Laughings to see many positive thoughts from the teacher blogosphere!  Everyone is welcome here.

As we settle into the school year, we need to be reminded of our passions.  It's easy to get into a comfortable routine.  My passion in my teaching career is two-fold.  I love my students and I love innovation.  But how do I combine the two to stay fresh and unique each day?  That's the question I attempt to tackle before every class meeting.

During a conversation I had with Noam Chomsky he mentioned that "'re supposed to challenge.  Come up with new ideas.  [And] go in new directions" in regard to education.  This thought really stuck with me over the years.  I challenge both you and me to mesh our passions with creativity and innovation. Stay current in your content area and pedagogy.  Try new things.  Explore new routes for teaching.  

As always, good luck and happy teaching Brownbaggers!  I look forward to hearing (or seeing) your innovative ideas!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How-To Record Your First Screencast

So you've decided that you want to record your first screencast!  That's excellent!  Once you get the hang of it, it will become a natural part of your teaching repertoire.  I'm here to help make the "getting started process" easier. What do you need to have ready?  How do you set it up?  How do you post your information?  All of that is included down below so let's get started!

How do I prepare?
1.  You'll need to have some objectives.  Just as you would with a normal class period, you'll need to figure out what your students need to know by the end of the tutorial.  What's you end game?  It could be as simple as giving them definitions and them being able to identify strategies or terms.  Or it could be more complex where you're teaching them writing strategies and want them to be able to identify and apply these strategies.  You decide.

2.  What do you want the screencast to look like?  You can create a PowerPoint and lecture over it.  You can pull up student work samples and do "read alouds".  You can pull up a blank document and record yourself through your own writing process.  The options are endless but they should match up with your objective(s).  Once you figure that out, get all of you information prepared.

How do I record?
1.  Choose your recording technology. There are quite a few options out there but the easiest by far is Screencast-O-Matic.  It's pain free, user friendly, and requires NO installation.  

2.  Start recording.  Once you have your documents pulled up on the screen (or PowerPoint), hit the record button!  You'll see a little dot-outlined box pull up.  Anything inside of that box will be recorded in the screencast.  You can, of course, change the size.

You can also choose whether or not you will have audio.  You can have no audio if you would like to just show them how to do something.  Or you can turn the audio on and talk them through the process or the lecture <<<< that's the best option!  Audio and visual together make for a more successful screencast.   Talk through your information and be your normal self.  Your students will like that it's your voice and your personality.  They will trust the material because it's coming from you so be you!

What if I mess up?
1.  Pause, Rewind, Start Over.  So you started rambling on and on about last night's episode of The Good Wife.  Happens to the best of us.  You have a couple of options.  If you're not too far into it, just start over!  If you're 6 minutes into a 10 minute screencast, don't start over.  Rewind the video to the part right before your "mess up" and start recording from there.  The technology for Screencast-O-Matic allows you to be flexible with your recordings so don't worry.

Where do I post the screencasts?
1.  YouTube or Screencast-O-Matic.  There are three options using the Screencast-O-Matic software.  The first is to download the screencast you've recorded.  I wouldn't suggest that since it will take quite a bit of time and take up a large chunk of memory.  Instead, let this bad boy live online.  Option two is to leave it on Screencast-O-Matic as a searchable video.  This is a good option for those of you who would like it in a somewhat private environment.  You can then send the link to your students.  Option three is to upload the video to YouTube.  This option is only good if you don't mind your screencasts being available for all of the world to see.  Remember, you can always take it down in the future.  Regardless, do whatever is most comfortable to you.

What sorts of things should I record?
1.  Options are Endless!  Below is a list of my favorite ideas for screencasts:

Introductions to a Unit
Literary Definitions with Examples
Vocabulary Context Clues in Action
Student Essay Samples
Common Errors from Previous Assignments
PowerPoint Lectures
Questions from the Last Class
Read Alouds with Texts or Student Work
Example of Your Grading Process
How to Use Your Online Grading System
How to Use Your Online Classroom Platform
How to Create an Email to a Teacher
Review of the Prompts
Study Materials
Collection of Sites to Find More Information
How to Search for Scholarly Journals
How to Use the Library Software
How to Set Up Their Blogs

Really, the options are endless.  Just be creative!  Remember that when you make these, you can use them for years to come!  That's the best part :) Happy screencasting y'all!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Leaving Class with Questions

So you had a great class, but in the last 10 minutes there was an influx of questions.  Really big questions.  Questions like, "but how do I organize my essay?" or "what if I'm having trouble identifying the rhetorical strategies to analyze?"  It happens to everyone but what if you don't have time to cover it next class?  We're on strict schedules with our curriculum.  Even worse, I only see my students 2 times a week.  And one of those times is in the computer lab!

Frankly, I don't have time to hold the class back one extra day to cover what was confusing.

So what do we do?

Here are three things that you can do to address 
those last-minute questions for next time:

1.  Email:  I have a professor who, after every class, emails us.  It usually starts a little something like this: "After class, I began to think about..."  It never makes us feel like we're idiots and he has to waste his time to teach us more...via email.  Instead, he brings up the issue in a conversational tone and directs us to places (text book pages, website, podcasts, videos, etc.) that will help us address those questions.  He helps us take our learning into our own hands.

2.  Podcast:  If it's not something that you need a visual for, why not just record your voice lecture style.  But make it a short lecture.  Audio without visual can drag if it's too long.  No more than 10-minute sound bytes.  Also, make sure you're using verbal cues to help your students stay on track.  Say things like "3 things I'd like to discuss" and mention "first, second, and third" when you get there.  Using those verbal cues will help them with note-taking.  Feel free to visit my podcast to get a feel for how I do things.

3.  Screencast-O-Matic:  So you like the idea of a podcast but the topic really would benefit from having a visual?  Okay, use  This is a free service that allows you to audio and visual record your screen without installing anything to your computer.  I use it in one of two ways. Sometimes I will create a PowerPoint and go through that while discussing what I naturally would as if I were in class.  And sometimes I pull up sample pieces of writing and do a "read aloud" with my students noticing what strategies the authors are using in their writing.  Both are great options.  The best thing is that Screencast-O-Matic will set up a video page for you or upload it straight to Youtube.  That way you can have it for all the world to see if you'd like!   See one of my examples down below or visit my How-To for your first time screencasting!

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you have a plan before you begin.  Just like you would with any class, you need to have an objective.  If you have that set from the beginning, you're follow-up will be clear and concise!  Good luck!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lil' Durk Time: Building Community within the Classroom

Apparently there is a new up-and-coming, Chicago-based rapper.  Lil' Durk.

How do I know this? Well my students were taking a survey for my Peer Advocate (more about this down below) so that he could learn more about them.  One of the survey questions: Who is your favorite artist?  As I creeped over their shoulders, I learned that many of them really liked Lil' Durk.

Image result for lil durk

Side note.  Yes... that's his name.  It's really stupid.  Let's be real.

After I made a joke about how ridiculous of a name that was and how I didn't believe that he was even a real person, it made me start thinking.  You see, I have been working on a pilot program in the First-Year Composition Program called the Peer Advocate (PA) Program.  Holy program.  The goal of the program is to help retention rates, a problem that is plaguing college campuses nationwide.  As a cohort leader/trainer of PAs, I always tell my students that the real goal of this is to get them connected to one another.  In all honesty, it doesn't matter how cool a college campus is.  It doesn't matter if the football team is amazing or if there is great Greek Life.  

If students don't connect with one another, why would they stay?

This program, although it is a pilot, is large scale.  It involves 30 students being attached to 30 FYComp classes with 25 students per class.  That's a total of 750 incoming Freshman being impacted!  While the PAs have successfully completed the FYComp classes themselves, their goal isn't necessarily to help the students in class.  Instead, they invite students to events, attend club meetings, and take them out for pizza.

Like I said, this is large scale.  But what can we, as teachers, do right now? What can we do in our classes without having to ask for approval, form committees, and run pilot programs?  

Here's a list of 5 things you can put in place in your classroom today to help start build community with your students this week.

  1. Lil' Durk Time:  Like I mentioned above, my students love Lil' Durk.  However, every Monday in my class we discuss deep topics like gender, sexuality, race, and religion.  I want to loosen them up and have them connect on a human level before we get into these heated discussions. So, I have them sit in different groups each week and give them one odd ball question to get discussion flowing: This is our "Lil' Durk Time".  Questions like: What's the worst song on the radio? or What's the best movie you've seen lately? give them a chance to connect with each other as people. Priming them to build relationships.
  2. Group Projects:  Every teacher has group projects.  Make it a requirement for them to meet outside of class once.  You can have them tell you the time/place or you can have a student leader help coordinate. Forcing them to meet outside of class will give them another opportunity to create friendships with one another.
  3. Email: We all have email lists of our classes but don't delete the classes that you don't have any more!  Send out an email blast to your old students.  Let them know that you're happy the year has finally gotten under way and remind them that you're still here for them. Tell them when your office hours or free periods are and where at so they know when and where to find you.
  4. Seating Arrangement:  Don't be afraid to switch it up.  Rows facing forward.  Rows facing each other.  Groups.  Large circle.  Semi-circle. Pairs. Putting them in different seats allows them to be next to new people that they might not know.
  5. Pictures:  Take a group picture! Most of us have an online classroom environment like Moodle or Blackboard.  Use that picture as the online class banner!  That way the online space becomes theirs.
Whatever you do, remember that while content is important, the most important thing in life is relationships.  We want our students to not feel alone in this cray cray world.  They should feel comfortable expressing themselves with one another. As terrible as this sounds, I used to say "The class that parties together, stays together."  While I don't endorse the partying part, it is true. Our students are more apt to stay involved with the program or school if they feel like they have built roots there.