Sketchnoting Study Notes for Students

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Sketchnoting a new way to review grammar skills

Sketchnoting a new way to review grammar skills

Honestly, I am not much of an artist.  Seriously.  I have always envied folks who could draw amazing things.  I can Zentangle, and do some paper crafting and jewelry making, but that’s about it.  Creative – yes.  Artistic – hardly.

The other day, my friend and artist Stacie James shared a post about Sketchnoting and I was enthralled.  As a teacher, I am sentenced to, I mean, have the opportunity to attend professional development seminars that can be a bit of a drag, I mean, an enlightening experience.  I immediately saw sketchnoting as a way to organize ideas and entertain myself at the same time.  Then, I thought, “Oooh, faculty meetings could be more fun this way, too.”

My mind also wandered to my students and how many times I had seen them “enhancing” their notes with doodles and lettering and realized that I could totally use this to my advantage!  My language arts class is a writer’s workshop structure with mini lessons for grammar skills.  I use lots of short videos over a span of a week to develop and reinforce the particular skill and I wanted to find a way to put all of this information from these many sources into one place for students to refer back to.  I could sit down at my word processor and create a review guide, or I could……

SKETCHNOTE it!  (Notice, I am not a stellar sketcher, or letterer for that matter.  But this is still way more fun to use as a review than a review page. )

adjective and adverb phrases

misplaced and dangling modifiers

prepositionsTo see how the pros do it and to get some inspiration, be sure to check out The Sketchnote Army site and Mike Rohde, or take a look at some of the beautiful work done by Allison Kimball in her sketchbook.  Or just google it.  Remember – it’s about the  ideas, not art.

Have fun!

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Teachers- Let’s Talk Shop

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Photo credit Cliparts.co

Photo credit Cliparts.co

I know it’s summer and we are desperately holding on to those last precious days, but so many teachers are using this time to prep for the coming year.

As we look forward, what are some resources that you have sought on blogs or the paid sites that you wish you could find but have come up empty-handed?  Many of us want to design resources for teachers, but don’t know what they really need in the classroom.

So, let’s start talking shop.  Or shopping.  What do you need that you can’t find? Pass this post around and help get those things out there for teachers!

(And yes, we wish all resources could be free, but we wouldn’t want to teach all day for free, so let’s understand that someone spending what little time and energy they have left at the end of the day will need some compensation for that.)

Essential Lesson Plan Book

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The planner I chose, but will be personalized with my initials.

The planner I chose, but will be personalized with my initials.

Ok, there are a TON of lesson plan books out there to choose from.  There are products you can download and spend a small fortune on ink to print out, and others that just don’t cut it.  I know, I’ve tried them.  And then I found Erin Condren.

So, what makes it worth the money?  (And, yes, it’s not cheap.)

The fact that it’s adorable and classy is a huge plus for me.  I’m a middle school teacher and I don’t want smiling rulers or little cartoon kids on my planner.  I want something that is trendy and more grown up.  These are fabulous because not only can you personalize them with your name or initials, but now you can even add your own photos to the thick, slick, sturdy covers!

Calendar pages are customize-able to the month you want it to start with and tabbed for easy reference.  There are lots of extras like grid pages, list spread pages, a sturdy plastic envelope bound in, a clear page for slipping in important papers, a pocket folder, event stickers, and so many other fabulous organizing tools.

No, I don’t work for Erin Condren and I certainly don’t make any type of commission or anything for writing this.  I just want to share a tool that has been a non-negotiable part of my yearly planning.  Yes, it’s not  the cheapest planning book out there by any means, but it is the best I have found and well worth the money to me.

Check it out here!

Writing Class Revamp

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Writer's NotebookTeachers are so lucky to get the summer off.

Ok, now that we are all done laughing sardonically, let’s talk about what this teacher is doing this summer.  True, I am sitting here sipping a lovely summery glass of cucumber mint infused ice water as I type  and enjoying it.  However, I am doing this as a break from working on a revamp of my writing classes.

I had the amazing opportunity to attend a summer institute at a chapter of the National Writing Project where I had the chance to collaborate with other teacher writers about things that work and things that challenge us in both facets of ourselves.  We worked on our own writing and shared our work, as well as sharing strategies for creating strong writing classes to grow writers, not just students in a writing class.  It is this portion of the workshop that I am now heavily focused on.   It would be so simple to say, “Well, that was a fun couple of weeks.  Back to the same ol’ same ol’.”  Sure, that would be much less work, but I can’t see myself going back to the way I was teaching language arts before.

Like so many language arts teachers, I taught grammar and worked writing in when I could.  With standards to master and The Test looming at the end of the year, it was all we could do to get everything in.  Writing was  worked in as we could get it in and then the usual grammar lessons halted entirely for the first two months of the second semester to prepare the students for the writing assessment.  Again, a decent plan.  But was it the BEST plan?

No.  Writing became focused in a narrow scope and students wrote for the test and not for the purpose of becoming better writers for the long haul.  That needs to change.  So, this summer, I am working hard to create meaningful language arts plans that focus on building writers and infusing authentic grammar lessons through writer’s workshop and mentor texts.  It will not be easy to do.  Worksheets and cute Pinterest plans are tempting and easier, but not what my new mission calls for.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest and worksheets can be good for homework practice.  Something tells me that this will not be an easy road to take, with many bumps and pot holes along the way, but it is the road I have chosen.  There will certainly not be anything that will be a detriment to my students in changing the way I approach the teaching of language arts, and I hope that there will be a significant gain in the abilities of my students to think and read like writers using mentor texts to inspire them to break down what they read into elements of grammar and analysis of style.  Rather than fitting in the writing around the grammar, it will all work together.

At least, that’s the idea…..

Poetry Throwdown

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As the days ticked down to the start of Spring Break and units were wrapped up for the end of the grading period, I decided to try something with my classes, both in reading and language arts.  I always do a writing on demand journal prompt with them for 5 minutes daily.  It is usually something that has them thinking out of the box.

My reading classes are working on their multi-genre research project and poetry is a choice of genre.  Weaving the poetry standards in with the research ones, we have focused a few days on poetry and the ways that poets can bring attention to the minutia of life.  (Of course, there were some clips from Dead Poets Society thrown in for good measure to inspire them.)

Let’s face it.  Poetry can be daunting to most of us.  We doubt ourselves and beat ourselves up over our pedantic rhythms or inability to master slant rhyme.  My students watched with wrapt attention the scene where Mr. Keating pulls brilliant poetry out of his reluctant student and it gave me an idea.

Like Mr. Keating, I put before the students a picture with no explanation as to who it was and issued my throw down:

“When I say ‘go,’ you will have 10 minutes to write a poem about what you see here.  You are the poet.  You see what you see.  Don’t worry about what others see.  It can rhyme or not, it can have rhythm or not.  What matters is that you write in the moment.”

Photo from National Geographic

Photo from National Geographic

With that, I put the picture of the National Geographic magazine cover on the board.  I had it zoomed in to cut off the headline that would give it away as a photo of an Afghan girl so as not to influence the students’ perception of the photo in any way.  As I predicted, there was a gasp and a low murmur when they saw the striking image.  I put a finger over my lips to hush them and signal them to write.  For a few minutes, many stared in silence at the picture.  Some instantly started writing.  Before long, poetry was spilling onto the pages around the room.  Every now and then, they would stop writing, stare some more, and more lines would appear on the pages.

Reluctant poets, every one of them.  Reluctant no more.  Eighth graders are not ones to walk away from a challenge.  They met me head on with some amazing results.  Some saw in her a tragic Red Riding Hood, others a fierce survivor, some speculated at what had caught her intense gaze.  Some focused only on her eyes, but fewer than I expected.  Her eyes almost jump out of the picture, but I was amazed that many students chose to focus on the moment in time when the picture was taken  They were all captivated by her as I remember being when I first saw this cover years ago.  It first appeared before any of my students were born and most had never seen the image.

Giving them the photo to draw from gave them a starting point, and the time limit forced them to put self-doubt to the side and focus on the task at hand without second guessing themselves.  What poured out of them was genuine and honest.  I asked them what they thought of the activity when it was over and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  Many asked for another picture so they could do it again.

This time, I issued the throw down to them and watched the results play out.  I told them that we would do it again and that the next time we did, I would join them in the challenge.  Poetry is something I love, but have never been one to write.  The throw down exercise would do me some good as well.

I have collected images of more Nat Geo covers, famous and lesser-known paintings, Normal Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers, and others that I hope to use in the future with my students.  Some will be poetry, others could be stories, news articles, diary entries, etc..  The point is to create in my students a sense of trust in themselves as writers.  Write in the moment without second-guessing what is flowing out.  You can always tidy the writing up later, but don’t edit the flow of ideas and end up with a dam of self-doubt.

Multi-Genre Research Project

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The catalyst for my projects.

The catalyst for my projects.

So, genre may not be the correct word.  Let me explain.

This year I teach 2 reading classes and 3 language arts classes.  This means that the ELA standards have been divvied up among the two areas.  The standards for research have been given to reading rather than language arts, which allowed me a unique opportunity.  I have to assess their ability to research, not necessarily their writing, and can have them present the information any way I want.  So, I decided that I had graded more than enough long essays leading up to the state’s writing assessment and I could have a bit more fun with this.

It all boils down to this: factual information about a topic can be presented in more ways than just an essay.

Genre in this case does not refer to folktales, fairy tales, etc.  Genre refers to the styles of writing used to communicate ideas: poetry, letter writing, diary entries, obituaries, and the like.  While I agree the term may not be accurate in the strictest sense of the word, it is the one used by the author Tom Romano in his book Blending Genre Altering Style.  His approach lends itself better to upper grades in high school, but I decided, with some tweaking, it could be used in 8th grade as well.

Before our unexpected week off for an ice storm, I launched the project with my reading classes.  I created a model of some of the ways they could share information and how it could be presented.  (I will go into more detail on that in another post since the scrapbook with all of it is stuck at school and I am stuck at home.)  I went over my expectations as well as what I will be grading on (content, validity of information, correct citing of sources, grammar, neatness, creativity, etc.).  We talked about what makes a good research topic and I gave them some time to brainstorm and go through lists of sample topics before having them submit their top 3 choices.  Then, I went through their lists and assigned topics.  This way, I could avoid duplication and hone some of the ideas into the best topic.  Some were too broad, others too narrow, and I needed t help them refine them a bit.

By allowing the kids to pick a topic that interested them, they will be more into the research process.  It’s going to be a month or so before this whole thing is done, so they needed to be into what they were going to spend so much time on.

Once we got off and running, I started getting positive feedback from not only my reading students, but also my language arts students who were wanting to know if they were going to get to do it, too.  Unfortunately for the LA kiddos, the answer was no.  I don’t have any of them for reading, so their project will be up to that teacher.  I’m positive she will do something fun with theirs, but I don’t know exactly what.

This week, we will talk about how we will take and organize notes, as well as validity of sources, especially on the web.  There will also be a progress check on their research.  Most of the research itself will be outside of school to allow the class time to be used for teaching the standards and skills they will need to complete the project.  Along the way will be “Multi-genre Days” where we will talk about and look at examples of various presentation genres.  There will also be a few work days in class for research and then work on their various genres.  (They are required to use a minimum of 6 different ones.)  Part of the skill is organizing information, so they will need to think about what information should be presented together in each genre.

This is a work in progress for me as I figure out how to get this all done on an 8th grade scale and level.  As we go along, I will post updates.  At the moment, we are all pretty excited about this.  Let’s hope we stay that way!

Keeping Busy With Cabin Fever

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Snow days are great and all, but there comes a point when cabin fever gets to you. Papers are graded, lots of laundry done, house is as clean as it’s going to get. So, what else is there to do? Why, go on a jewelry making bender, of course.

I don’t do a whole lot with my Etsy shop, Music City Hippie, but I do have a good time making jewelry when I have time. Which is rarely. Snow days and summer seem to be the only time I get to make anything.

Here’s a sampling of what I have been up to these last two snow days:

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No, these aren’t for sale in the store and may or may not ever be, but they were a good way to pass some time being iced in.

How do you spend your snow days?

Snow Day Mardi Gras King Cake

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King Cake

King Cake

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!  I never thought living up here in Tennessee would ever result in having Mardi Gras day off like I did back home, but thanks to a winter storm, we managed to get just that!  I could have spent it grading papers, and I probably will before today is out, but it just wouldn’t have been a proper Mardi Gras without King Cake!

By now, you may have gathered that I do things a little more out of the box than some, and my king cake is no different.  I start off with a traditional recipe from good ol’ Betty Crocker.  Then, I  start making it my own.  For starters, I use a whole stick of butter in my dough instead of what that recipe calls for.  Here’s a picture walk of how I do it.

Follow the bread making recipe as usual (except for the extra butter) through the step where you roll it out.  While it’s doing it’s first rise, I make my fillings.  I do the standard cinnamon sugar, but then I make a cream cheese filling, too.  Here’s the recipe for that:

2 packages cream cheese softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix together until creamy.  I use my stand mixer and the flat paddle on slow speed.

Using a zip top bag and a mug to help hold it open, make a piping bag.

A coffee mug helps hold the bag open so you can spoon the thick heavy mixture inside.

A coffee mug helps hold the bag open so you can spoon the thick heavy mixture inside.

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Spoon the cream cheese mixture in carefully.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture in carefully.

Remove the bag from the mug and work out as many air pockets as you can then zip closed.  Ta-da!

Remove the bag from the mug and work out as many air pockets as you can then zip closed. Ta-da!

And there you have it.  Just cut the corner off and you're ready to go.

And there you have it. Just cut the corner off and you’re ready to go.

Once your fillings are ready to go and your dough has doubled in size, it’s time to roll it out.  I have a large cutting board that I use, but use whatever large surface you have.   Somewhere I have a rolling pin, but I have no idea where, so I improvised.  I love mason jars and use them for all kinds of things.

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Dough once it has doubled in size.

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A mason jar doubling as a rolling pin.

Roll the dough out as instructed in the recipe.  Spread your cinnamon sugar filling out over a portion of the rolled dough, then pipe on the cream cheese filling.  It’s pretty thick, so you’ll want a good sized hole.  Don’t squeeze too hard all at once or you will pop the top of the bag open.  (I know.  I did it.)

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Gently squeeze your home made piping bag, then just toss it out once you’re all done. Love easy clean up.

Then, start rolling it up, jelly roll style.

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I decided to do part of the dough as a traditional ring cake, and the other half as individual cakes in large muffin tins.  So, I cut the rolled log in half.  I started with the ring cake, so I placed the other part back in the greased bowl it was rising in.

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Roll the dough out like you would a play dough snake, making it longer and thinner.  Work slowly and gently so you don’t tear the dough.  Pinch the ends of the dough to seal in the filling, shape into a ring and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover in plastic wrap and allow to rise again for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

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Rolled, shaped, and ready for the second rise.

Now you’re ready to work with the other half.  Make a long snake with it again, only this time, you will cut it into 12 pieces (like a sushi roll.)  Pinch the ends of each one closed as much as possible.  You can pull on the dough a bit to help get it around the filling.  Place the dough balls into greased muffin tins.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise.

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After working the dough out to a longer roll, slice it sushi style, then pinch the ends closed as much as you can. I rolled them around on the floured board to keep them from sticking to my hands as much. This is a moist dough and may get a little tacky as you work with it in your warm hands.

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Before the second rise.

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After the second rise.

Time to bake them up!  Both the ring and the mini cakes can go in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven.

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They would be fabulous like this. Little brioche pockets. But, this is carnival time, so they need a little dressing up!

When they are golden brown, take them out and put them on a cooling rack.  Let cool completely before icing.

**If using the icing recipe from Betty, you will need to double it in order to have enough.  I added a tad more milk to mine to make it thin enough to drizzle on top of the cakes.

Then sprinkle on some colored sugar in traditional Mardi Gras purple, green, and gold!

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Looking festive in their Mardi Gras colors. Personally, I could have these all the time and just not put the colors on. You could add extracts to the icing to change them up a bit. Why not lemon, almond, or orange? Yum! Sprinkle on some sliced almonds to dress them up, or add walnuts or pecans in with the filling. So many ways to make these your own! My son is away at school and is sad because he can’t have any. So, when he gets home for spring break, I told him I would make him Spring Cakes. 😉

Happy Mardi Gras, teachers!  Enjoy the day and laissez les bon temps rouller!