Sunday, January 29, 2017

Novel Units: The Chocolate Touch

True teacher confession: the first couple of times I read The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling with a class I didn't even realize it was an allusion to the myth King Midas and the Golden Touch.  The main character's name is John Midas and he loves chocolate.  The plot develops around a mysterious condition he develops in which everything he puts in his mouth turns to chocolate.  Despite the common last name and parallel themes, I somehow never made the connection.  Sometimes I wonder how any of us or our students survive those first few years teaching!


In years since, The Chocolate Touch has become one of my favorite books to teach, not only because there are so many cross-curricular connections but also because my students become so engrossed in the plot.  They, like John Midas, think eating chocolate all the time sounds like a great idea at first but soon they, like him, realize there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  As their constructed response on their final test, I have them write a letter to John Midas explaining why he can't eat chocolate all the time, based on what they learned in an earlier health and nutrition unit.  They took their role very seriously!


The Chocolate Touch is technically a late third grade or early fourth grade read.  However, it was originally published in 1952 so much of the verbiage is challenging for even a fourth or fifth grader.  This book makes it easy to teach characterization, theme, problem/solution and plot, but most of all it's my favorite strategy for teaching allusions.  When Common Core first came out, I was at a loss for how to teach RL.4.4- "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g. Herculean)."  Reading The Chocolate Touch is a great start for accomplishing this goal. I love to read this picture book version of King Midas and the Golden Touch right after we finish the novel and listen to my students react to the similarities.


After our test, I assigned my favorite no-prep, student-pleasing, after-test novel activity which is as simple as writing this on the board: "Choose a character, setting or object from the novel.  Create him/her/it out of construction paper, then explain their/its significance on an index card in 2-3 sentences."  My students LOVE this, it makes a great hall display, and it gets them thinking more than you realize.  I make them write on the board what they've chosen before they begin so that no character, setting, or object is duplicated.


I've found a couple of other resources that really enhance teaching the novel.  This activity from The Reading Olympians on TPT has a little bit of everything-- allusions, prefixes and suffixes, and my favorite- this chocolate bar label activity that we topped our day off with yesterday.  And once your students are familiar with the Midas touch, they'll be ready to look for allusions in all kinds of texts.  Deb Hanson's Allusions Partner Plays are a great place to start.


If you're looking for a sweet spot for your February reading plans, I highly recommend The Chocolate Touch for grades 3-5.  Check out my newly updated novel unit here.  It's on sale for 20% off for the rest of January!



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fake It 'til You Make It

Last night, I messaged with a parent on Class Dojo and I ended with “That’s my fault, not yours.” As I pressed send, I thought how it would have pained me to send that sentence a few years ago. I’ve become much better in owning up to my shortcomings in the classroom and in life.  I’ve told friends turning 30 isn’t something to be sad about—my thirties have been much better than my twenties thus far.  Finally being able to let go a little has been a major contributing factor.

Starting out in any career is hard.  There’s so much to learn and the only way to improve is to learn from your mistakes.  In teaching, it’s especially hard because each of those mistakes has the potential to wreak havoc on twenty-some little lives.  It’s a lot of pressure.  Most teachers are perfectionists and that’s a good thing—no one wants a slacker teaching their children.  But it makes for a very high stress level when you’re just starting out.

As humans and especially as women, we don’t like to admit our weakness.  I spent years on the defense in the classroom, pretending I knew what I was doing when really I didn’t have a clue.  I never would’ve admitted it—don’t we all leave college knowing it all?  Marriage is similar.  I used to pick an argument every time my husband pointed out an imperfection, no matter how right he was.  (Those ten years he has on me are the bane of my existence at times.) And speaking of being right, I definitely thought I knew it all when it came to my plan for my life versus God’s.  It took me years to talk openly about the fact that we have tried and failed at having children. 

I’m not suggesting that we all walk around talking about how lacking we are and how bad we have it.  I’m not sure it would go over too well if we advertised at Open House that we’d be making some mistakes in disciplining the students, running late grading papers at times, and mixing up the best order in which to teach things thanks to the ever changing curriculum.  By all means, I’m not advising you to admit to your spouse that they’re right!  😉 And sometimes I still question my decision to talk publicly about personal struggles. We’re women.  We’re teachers.  We’re going to fake it 'til we make it, because that’s what we do. 

What I am suggesting is that we don’t feel so guilty about the faking it and that sometimes, when the moment is right, we do admit- to parents, to our students, to our spouses, to our co-workers, family and friends- that we don’t have it all together.  Our honesty may be just the encouragement the new teacher down the hall needs in deciding she can stick it out for at least another year.  A little transparency with our students will teach them that it’s truly okay to make mistakes; actions speak louder than words.  That parent is going to be a lot more open to partnering with us if we admit we don’t have all the answers just like they don’t.  The people all around us want (and need) us to be real.  

Candor is perhaps my favorite quality in a person. 

Today my devotion featured just one Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9:
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  In other words, we might as well keep on faking it.  We never had the power to make it on our own anyway.   But, thank goodness, His grace is sufficient and because of Him, we can relax and admit we don’t have it all together.  

One day at a time, sweet Jesus…



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Goals are the New Resolutions

I've never liked making New Year's resolutions.  I used to say I make Martin Luther King Day resolutions instead (makes more sense anyway..."I Have a Dream...") but lately I've waited to spring forward with the clock and maybe walk a little when the time changes.  This year, I planned to sit it out again... that is, until my sister gave me a PowerSheets Goal Planner.


I was pretty excited about this little gem from the get-go even though I'm not a planner person or a resolution person.  I'm really trying to focus on growing my TPT store this year, so I thought this would be all business.  However, when I sat down to work on it this past weekend, I was surprised at how intensely personal it was-- I've never been to therapy but I imagine this experience was pretty close.  There were sections on getting to know yourself, letting go, what fires me up, and so on.  Probably the scariest question was, "Where do you want to be when you're eighty?" Honestly, I paused and tried to decide if I even still want to be alive by then! 😜

All that led to deciding what matters enough to focus on for the year and developing goals.  I want to focus on growth- spiritually, professionally and personally- so I decided on these main goals:

1.  Engaging in daily Bible study and focused prayer time
2.  Blogging at least once weekly
3.  Creating one new novel unit monthly
4.  Getting (and staying) ahead on lesson planning
5.  Continuing running, building up to 5 consecutive miles


This planner also encouraged you to write down a "word of the year" and I chose "productivity."  First of all, it reminds me of my TPT products, which I want to both revise and create.  Secondly, I want to use my time more wisely on school work now that I am finally getting the hang of what I'm doing.  (I swear it takes a decade to figure out what you're doing in this career.)  Last but most importantly, this Bible verse came to my mind:

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galations 5:22 (NLT)

What more could I strive for this year?

After all this goal-setting for myself, I decided to start back to school this week with the same idea in mind for my students.  I found this amazing resource from Student Savvy on TPT and ran with it...




The only change that I made to her plans was that as a way of introducing SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) to my students, we set whole class goals together.  My students came up with ideas to improve both their behavior (at specials and in the classroom) and their academics (late work and quarter test scores).  We had meaningful discussion about what was "attainable" (I had to convince them we won't ever have NO late work from anyone in our class), and about what was "relevant."  For example, they  wanted to improve a behavior stat on our Class Dojo that was already at 97% positive and I had to explain that wasn't an area we needed to focus on.


We were all pleased with the four goals they finally decided on. It will be fun to observe, measure and see if they can improve as a class on these SMART goals.  Somehow, we got through the first couple of days back at school without technically making any resolutions.  But it seems to me that goals are the new resolutions. 😉  What are your goals for 2017?