Accepting Late Work or Not?


Since I wrote that last post I’ve been thinking about my policy (or the lack thereof) with regard to late class work. It seems that what they learned from the last minute blitz of handing in late work was that it works out fine to play all quarter because this teacher will do everything possible to help them get all that missed work handed in so they won’t fail her class. They know in the abstract that her class is the most critical of all their classes because it is a two period block and therefore they get two grades in there. But all your buddies are in there so it’s way more fun to play all quarter and then save themselves at the last minute.

Yeah, not anymore.  Today I announced the new policy. All work is due on Fridays (always has been), and late work will be accepted for one week after that. I posted a sign saying that, and asked that they all sign it, just to make sure we’re all in agreement as to the policy.  I made a file bucket with six files in it: one for each day of the week and one for the prior week. I will put a few extra copies of each day’s work into that day’s folder throughout the current week. At the end of the week, they will all go into the “last week” folder, along with that week’s packet cover. At the end of each week the rotation will continue, with the outgoing Last Week’s work going into the recycling bin.

I hear you thinking, “Why is she giving them an extra week?” The reason for that is I think everyone needs a little leeway while learning something new, myself included. Remember, I’m the one who let them hand everything in late. I want them to promote, and I know that my class is so pivotal with regard to that.  So I’m starting with a week and we’ll see how it goes. I may tighten it all the way down next quarter. Or not. I”ll keep you posted.

Zero Hour Scramble


We have just finished the first quarter of the school year. Grades are due today by 3:00, although I suppose we technically have until midnight. I’ve never been a last-minute grader. I like to get them done and move on.This year is a little different from the last few. My grades are all done, it’s not that, but I have some students who have languished all quarter, who seemed impervious to anything I said to them about participating in class and doing their work as we went along. They seemed to go mute anytime I tried to talk to them about their lack of doing a single thing.

In the past couple of years I had many students who just didn’t seem to care. They accepted their failing grades without a hitch. Without even trying to make them up. This year, the kids have a different attitude. The boy/girl balance is off, however. I have far more boys than girls and the boys just have too much fun with one another. Figuring out how to do and hand in their work is just too much for them, somehow.

Until today. Suddenly one of the boys is eager to turn in everything he has missed so far. The meeting that has been scheduled with his parents seems to have lit a fire under him. I should probably tell him, “Too bad. It’s too late to change anything.” But I didn’t. Not this time. My class is a block, so whatever grade they get is doubled, and can seriously impact their ability to promote in the Spring. Upon hearing that I would still accept late work today, another boy (who has turned in about 17% of the work) asked if he could turn his work in by Friday. He received a refusal, but the one who has the work done today, not so. There is a limit, however to how high the grade can be lifted, and his 79.8% will still be a C unless he completes that one last assignment, a page of writing. Normally I’d give the B-, but not this time.

As I sat writing this on my lunch break, he arrived with his last assignment, a letter he wrote to me, telling me all about himself. He told me about how his grades have ended his soccer dreams, and he knows that his behavior in class is a big part of it. For the first time ever, he was quiet and sincere, not putting on a character for show. He got the B and managed to pull off a 2.2 Grade Point Average, which keeps him on track for promotion.

I’m thinking that a contract is in order for the next quarter.

What about you? Do you accept late work? Is tough love in order when they aren’t yet in high school? I’d love to hear what others do in a similar situation.



Before I begin, I’d like to thank you all for continuing to check in to this site, even when I haven’t been writing. I really appreciate it. Today I gave the site a little facelift. A new theme always changes things up, I think. I am not sure if I like this new look, however. It may still be up for modification. I’ll keep you posted on this.

This year I have decided to use my blog as part of my yearly teaching goals. One of the California Standards for the Teaching Profession we were asked to focus on this year was #6, which deals with Developing as a Professional Educator. STP 6.1 is about reflecting on teaching practice and planning professional development. I decided that for this one I’d use my teacher blog as a place for reflection. I plan to alternate between posts that reflect on some aspect of teaching with posts that describe a lesson or strategy I tried recently. I started a new page, one about using the iPads in the classroom. On this page I’ll write about the apps we use and the iPad projects we do in class. As for planning Professional Development, I suppose that might be about books I’m reading or professional develoment sessions I attend. We’ll see how that part goes! So, welcome back aboard, and I hope you enjoy the change.

I”d really like this to be an interactive site, so please feel free to comment, ask questions, make suggestions, whatever strikes you. I’ll be sure to answer. Thanks again.

Beginning Year 24


It is a mixed bag, this starting a new school year, my twenty-fourth. I feel like I’m still new at teaching, and at the same time I feel like I’ve done it all my life. This is my eighth year teaching middle school, and this year I’m teaching eighth grade ELD again, with a bonus class of seventh graders for a ‘support’ class. This class can be whatever I make it. That is a privilege and a challenge! We’ve already begun the annual CELDT testing (California English Language Development Test), and I hope to finish it as soon as possible. We have 215 English learners this year, and doing the one-on-one verbal tests takes time. But I’ll have help with that.

I’m facing a dilemma this year. We usually have about 100 students in ELD classes, and the rest of our English learners, the more advanced ones, are in mainstream English classes. This usually works pretty well, but I always worry that someone is out there who needs our help. So I pore over grades and what little we have in the way of test scores to see if I can determine if we’re missing anyone who needs our classes. Without knowing them all, I can only guess. This year we have a couple of extra sections of ELD classes. In addition I moved a few students (boys) into my eighth grade ELD classes. Their test scores were low, and their grades so uneven, it seemed like the right thing to do.

But here’s the rub. It seems that I didn’t check enough for discipline interventions. Had I done so, I might have taken into account another aspect of the picture. Perhaps they did poorly and scored so low because they were just messing around. They were wreaking havoc on a new teacher and they were seventh grade boys. And putting them into ELD classes can exacerbate bad behavior because they are with all their friends in there and they think it’s play time. That’s what it feels like at any rate.  Most of the students that I moved into my classes are behaving in ways that are inappropriate for class, and they are making it impossible for anyone to learn. So in trying to do the right thing, I’ve created a dilemma for myself.

Today I moved the worst offender back to mainstream English. I thought I’d be able to work with him but he had no interest in interacting at all with me, nor in participating in the classwork. He just wanted to bounce around the classroom and complain. He wouldn’t meet my eyes even when I stood in front of him and asked him to, and he certainly didn’t want to do anything other than play around.  It is clear that his grades and test scores were more about his behavior than his need for an ELD class.  I hope he does better out there, with a strict male teacher. And I do hope it was the right thing to do, but truthfully, I feel a little guilty about not keeping him in my class. I feel like I should be able to be an effective teacher with every student, no matter what. No matter that I know in my heart that isn’t really true. And by keeping him in there because I thought I should, I was taking away the chance for the other students to learn. One really has to weigh so many things in making these decisions.

I am determined to  not only enjoy this, my penultimate year of teaching, but to make it a great year for the students in my classes. I want them to come away feeling like they had a great time and they learned so much, that they are ready to take on the rigor of high school. Isn’t that what we all wish?

I wonder how other ELD programs are set up. Do you have every single EL student in an ELD class? How do you decide who is placed in ELD and who will be fine in mainstream classes? I’d really like to know.

Finally Friday: Libros Nuevos

I know it’s not Friday, but it is our last day of school before Spring Break, so that’s close enough for me. I have some books I need to write about before we go.

If you read this blog much, you know that I teach English learners. Most of them are longterm English learners. They have been in the U.S. for a long time, most were born here, and they speak English fluently. They are still considered English Learners because they are academically behind the mainstream students due to issues of English language developent. Usually we have only a couple of students who are newcomers to the U.S., those who know no English. We used to have a lot, but now, not so much. This year the population of newcomers grew rather quickly. At one point we had eight of them. This doesn’t sound like so many, I know, but the need to provide materials was urgent, as we didn’t have much. Unlike our Longterm English learners, these students are academically close to being on grade level in their native language. This needs to be maintained in any way possible so that as their English grows the academic skill will transfer to their second language.

The only books we had in our school that are written in Spanish are illustrated childrens’ books. I have them in my classroom, but to offer those books to students who are accustomed to reading grade level books is boring to them, and does not help to maintain their reading level.  They need books that will capture their imaginations, make them think, books that will do for them what a book does for anyone who loves to read. Occasionally I buy a book in Spanish for my personal classroom iPad, and they enjoy those but can’t take them home. This has left them at a loss when we do silent reading in the mixed level second class they are in.

So a month or so ago I ordered novels for them. I ordered La Leccion de August (Wonder) by R.J.Palacios, Devolver al Remitente (Return to Sender) by Julia Alvarez, Divergente (Divergent) by Veronica Roth, Hoyos (Holes) by Louis Sacher, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and El Color de mis Palabras (The Color of My Words) by Lynn Joseph. I already had El Alquimista (The Alchemist) by Paolo Coelho. Some of these books are pictured above. I chose them because of recommendations of others or because I’d read them myself.

Yesterday the novels finally arrived. When they came to class, I showed them to the students. The level of excitement was something that I haven’t seen for a long time. They giggled and grabbed and begged to take them home with them. Kimberly agonized over whether to read Divergent or Wonder and finally, timidly, asked if she could borrow both of them so she has something to read over the Spring Break. Who could say “no” to a kid wanting to borrow two books? Not me.

It was really fun to see kids so excited about books they can read. I wish my other students, the longterm English learners, would get even half as excited about a book. And now I wish I could find a book in Farsi for our lone student from Pakistan. I’m on a quest!


Tech Tuesday: Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck cover

I know today is Wednesday, but I like the sound of Tech Tuesday, so I’m trying it on for size. On Tuesdays I want to tell you about  projects my students are currently doing with their iPads, as well as give updates about the apps we’re using currently and how we like them.

This week we are making Haiku Decks. It is the week before Spring Break, so the students are planning a hypothetical vacation. Their decks have to be about a place they would like to visit. They must consist of at least eight slides: A cover slide, means of travel, places of interest, typical food, where they would stay and things they would do there. They have to research the places to learn these things. Once it is complete, they will present it to the class and write a paragraph about their trip.

They all have learned to use the application and to add photos from within it as well as from other sources such as Google images or their own camera roll. One good thing about this is that it is an online source as well as an iPad app, so in the future, if the high school doesn’t have iPads they can still prepare presentations online and present them to the class. I think it’s important for our students to be agile with technology and comfortable with making presentations. As 21st Century students, they will need this in their lives.  At least that’s what I tell them, and I do believe it to be true.

Haiku Deck is a really attractive presentation software.  I have made a variety of these and they are easy to make and I think, beautiful. I’ve linked my vacation presentation below. I hoped I could embed it here, but it appears not to be possible from this site. The link will take you to the Deck as well as the notes about it.

Here is another one  that is a poem I wrote that mimics Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird.” I called it “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Classroom.” I include it so you can see another way this app can be used in a classroom.

So what do you think? Could you see a use for this app? I’m still exploring the possibilities of this application and I’d love to know what else you discover. Have a good week!

Finally Using the iPads!!

In my classroom I have a class set of iPads. What a blessing, really. They sat there for a year because we didn’t have wi-fi or apps, but now we have both, and we are making good use of them. At first I was a little timid about how in the world I’d introduce all those apps, but once I was able to use them it was clear that we’d use them one at at a time! I explained to the students that we were going to change how we do class, and we would all be learning together. And so we embarked on this new way of doing school.

The first issue was the photos. Our students are accustomed to using their phones and iPods and other electronics for fun. Games, Facebook, Snapchat,and Instagram are their venues. If they ever had an email address it was just for making a Facebook account and they had no idea what else it might be used for. So it makes sense that they’d be gaga over the PhotoBooth app with the twisted and swirled pictures. Every day was a laugh fest. No matter what I said or threatened, the laughing went on, making it obvious that the photos were happening. Usually only that. What they really liked to do was go to You Tube and put on some music they liked, pop on a pair of headphones (Bright blue – I call them my “Beats) that I bought inexpensively from Apple when I bought the iPads and listen to music while they took photos of their buddies and themselves. This was so frustrating because nothing school oriented was happening. So I fixed it. I restricted the photos. Here’s how:

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions. You’ll have to create a password and then click “Enable Restrictions.”
From there you’ll be able to choose what to restrict. Choosing Photos also restricts Photo Booth. I also restricted the app store and a couple of other things. The other thing I noticed was that You Tube was set to “Explicit.” I changed that as well. The result was the music they can listen to is clean and the photo apps have disappeared completely. In the future, if we want to do a project that requires photos I’ll just unrestrict them for that app.

Each student is assigned an iPad that they use every time. This is important because their login for Edmodo is set up on their iPad. In addition, if any issues come up we know each iPad has only been used by two or three kids, one per section of my students.

Once I got rid of the obsessive photos, I introduced them to Edmodo. I had already created a class, so it was a matter of each of them signing up for it and entering our class code. This is such a great app. I give them assignments there nearly every day. After a few assignments, I showed them how I would be putting the Edmodo grades on their actual classroom grade. Just in case they thought it was just for fun, I wanted them to see that it’s real. I make assignments there, quizzes and polls. It is so easy to use and they like it a lot. every day they make a few chatty comments, but then they go to do their work. I delete the comments at the end of the day, and their assignments remain. (The comments are not anything school oriented, and they are not attached to their preservation at all. Things like “Go Brazil!” followed by “Go Colombia! Brazil sucks!” are just fun in the moment. They get that.)

Edmodo has a number of apps that can be attached to the class, such as BlendSpace and a Photo Editor. We have yet to try those. I highly recommend giving Edmodo a try. As a housekeeping tip, it’s better to use on the computer to do grading and all the other teacher chores. They can be done on an iPad but it’s more streamlined to use the full site on a computer for this.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 6.26.49 PM

The other apps we’ve used so far include Flashcards+ for making Vocabulary flashcards to study before a test and the Accelerated Reader app for taking AR tests and Educreations for making presentations. I’ll explain how we did that in another post. It got a little messy, but we worked around it! We’re working on using Haiku Deck next whenever the problem preventing its use is solved. I assigned the flashcards in Edmodo, and the students had to leave the app to make them. In order to give them credit for them they showed them to me and I marked them handed in. A little unwieldy, but we have the app and I wanted to use it. I could attach one of those apps to the Edmodo classroom, and I probably will in the future. I’m not sure how that’ll work but I’ll let you know when I try it.

Let me know if you have any questions about how we’re rolling this out. So far it’s going well. If you have any great tips for me, I’ll be glad to hear about them as well!

Feeling a little discouraged

Today I was cruising Facebook on my lunch break (35 minutes, count’em!) and I came across a post by a friend whose son’s Kindergarden teacher had called her to come get him because he was coughing a lot.  When she got there he smiled a huge smile, happy to go home with her. The initial reaction was, “We’ve been had!” I smiled at that, because little kids sometimes will do that. No big deal, really. The next sentence said, “Schools these days!” Followed by “I think the teacher just didn’t want to deal with him. She made the call, not him.” Hm.  It seems appropriate to me that the teacher would make the call rather than the five-year old. But never mind. A discussion ensued in which this comment was made, “Teachers these days are too much.”

I will say that I felt personally offended by this discussion. I don’t teach Kindergarden, I teach middle school, which on some levels is not far from Kindergarden! Uncontrollable laughter, refusal to listen to a lesson, only to complain that they are clueless about what they are supposed to do five minutes later when you turn them loose to do the work on their own.  On many levels teaching is a rewarding job, and it certainly isn’t one I’d trade for any other work.  I love it more than I can ever explain.  But it is not an easy job. We have all read the inspiring articles about all the hours (and money) teachers invest in our jobs, nights and weekends and vacations too.  They are all true. We don’t do this job for the vacations or because it’s easy. We do it because we truly care about kids.

Teaching is also an exhausting job, one that gives us cause to exercise our abilities to keep calm and begin again, every day. Sometimes every few minutes. On the whole, we are all doing our absolute best, every day, every hour, for the children in our care. We want them to enjoy being in our classrooms, to learn from us, and to love school so that they will want to stay in and one day have a rich and satisfying life. We believe in educating children for today and for the future. We recognize the trust that has been placed in our hands, and we honor it, every way we can. Do we get tired and exasperated? Of course we do. Being a saint is not part of the job description. But do we come back day after day and year after year because we care about your children and we believe in what we do? Absolutely. Do we constantly strive to do our job in new and better, and ever more creative and effective ways? Yes, that too.

So when I hear, “Teachers these days!” or “Schools these days!” I say, Thank your lucky stars we are here and we care about your child.  He will be better off because of us, not in spite of us. If a child is not doing school one day because he is coughing too hard, don’t blame us or depreciate us for calling you to take care of him. We are using our best judgement at the moment.  We have a whole bunch of other kids who need us as well, and we’re making the calls as we see them. Try, “Thanks for calling. I guess he just needed me today. He’ll be back tomorrow.” And then love your child a little more that day and be glad he has you and a teacher who cares for him.

Thank you for letting me rant. Bless you.

Begin again, Finnegan

IMG_5945.JPGAnd we’re back! We’ve actually been back since August 13, which sets a record for early starts for our district. It’s been a good start, and a little jumbled, which is normal. As an ELD teacher, we have to give the CELDT test, our state English Language Development test right when school starts, and we have to be trained to give it every year before testing can start. Never mind that the test hasn’t changed in any material way in at least ten years, we still take a day out of the classroom to be trained to give it. And since I teach ELD, I have to give it to my students as well as all the English Learners who are out in mainstream English classes. Fortunately my daughter works with me, and we do the testing together. (You could also say “blessedly” in place of fortunately. I am so blessed to work with her!)

Anyway, this has created a jumble in my classroom. Once we get through this, I’ll be able to pull everyone in line, I hope. This year I have three groups of students. One is a Spanish Literacy class for native Spanish speakers. My goal in teaching this class to eighth graders is that they will go to high school armed with some academic Spanish and will be able to enter high school Spanish at a higher level than they would be able to if they only spoke the language but didn’t know how to read and write it. Some of last year’s students are in Spanish Four as freshmen, so I guess it worked. This year’s class is a little small, and has several non Spanish speakers as well as some seventh graders. The nons are being transferred out, as they complain loudly if I say a single word in Spanish, and just studying maps is getting old. The seventh graders are very energetic, and at the same time a breath of fresh air, so I’m keeping them.

The ELD classes are as I expected. Loud and rowdy, but manageable. I have all the students I had last year and many of my daughter’s students from last year as well. Last year we set up our program by levels, and we each taught one level, but two different grades. This year we’re teaching one grade each, but different levels. So I have eighth graders, and levels 1,2 and 3.  Remember the off the wall crazy class I had last year? Yeah, they’re back but in a slightly different configuration.  It promises to be an interesting year!

This week we began preparing our writers’ notebooks. We are collaging the front of them, and then I’m covering them with clear contact paper to preserve their artwork. I’m hoping that if their books are beautiful they will be more attached to them. I’ll let you know how that goes. The collage at the top of this post is the back cover of the teacher notebook I’m making. It’s a binder I’m creating to keep track of all that stuff like duty schedule, staff phone numbers, student tech codes and meeting notes in one place. I lose that kind of stuff so easily that I’m hoping if I make a beautiful binder I’ll actually use it and not always be looking for things I just had a minute ago. So far I’ve got a good start. Here are the sections I’m planning for it:

Class schedules
Transportation schedules and maps
Assessment scores
Curriculum calendar
Testing calendar
Codes for setting up student portals in our data management system
Lesson plan ideas for ideas I want to save
Copies of supply orders and print shop orders I made this year
Faculty meeting notes
Professional Development notes
EL Facilitator information
Mentoring information – I’m a mentor to two new teachers this year.

I imagine I’ll find other stuff to put in there, but just judging from the above list, it won’t be a binder I carry around much. It’s already sounding heavy!

Okay, that’s it for tonight. Thanks for coming back to read here after such a long hiatus. It’s good to be back! Take care.

Aaaaah! Finally.



It was a long haul, wasn’t it?  But I’m quickly putting it all behind me. For the next few weeks, you can find me here, lounging around, reading novels, making colorful lists in my journal (because that’s about all I do there anymore), planning my road trip at the end of July and experimenting with different ways of fixing easy summer food.

Oh, and of course I’ll be planning my lessons and classroom daily and weekly structure. I have the same kids next year that I had last, so it is imperative that I be ready for them. I don’t want to bore you with anther year like last year, so IT’S ON!!! I will be ready for them this time!

However, before I dive into all the specifics of what’s to come, I’m going to rest and relax and heal for a while. I hope you have some time to do the same.  I think I’ll go see a R rated movie matinee this afternoon… See you soon!

P.S. I’m also participating in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Course (#clmooc) through the National Writing project. I’m blogging about that over at my other blog. Come check it out. It’s so cool and never too late to jump in and join the fun!