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Social Media and Our Kids

I was driving home one afternoon when this interview with Nancy Jo Sales came on. I listened as I drove home, listened in my driveway, and quickly ran inside my house and listened to the rest of the interview at the kitchen table. Sales eloquently spoke about the role that social media plays in the lives of teenage girls (and boys) in our culture. Spoiler alert: it’s not great.

I am not a social media person. I don’t even particularly enjoy talking on the phone. But my children and my students are not me. They are quickly growing up in a worAmerican_Girls__Social_Media_and_the_Secret_Lives_of_Teenagers__Nancy_Jo_Sales__9780385353922__Amazon_com__Booksld dominated by a culture which is in turn dominated by social media that promotes how you look (all the time) over who you are (all the time).  I quickly bought the book.

It’s not that our culture has changed so much. From Bikini-clad models selling cars to little girls trying to look like their Barbie Dolls, America has history of telling young girls that what you look like is more important than how you feel, or what you say, or what you accomplish. But what Sales points out is that growing up in this accelerated electronic environment (where people are famous for being famous, sexual images are live-streaming 24/7, and the first date takes a back seat to meeting online and hooking up) is taking a toll on the identity, self-esteem, communication skills, and empathy of not only our young girls but our young men as well.

This is the first generation of social-media kids. These are kids whose pictures have been put on-line before they are even born. These are the kids who have learned to text one another before they have learned how to dial a phone. These are kids who don’t have the ability to ask each other face-to-face, “wanna go to a movie?” It’s easier to text it.  These are kids who witness sexual behavior on-line long before they are ready to understand it.

This is uncharted territory for parents (and teachers). Our kids have been thrown into this social-media landscape without a map, a leader, or any rules. And they are getting lost. Very lost.

We need to help them. Sales has started a much needed dialog. Let’s take the reins in our homes, in our schools, in our neighborhoods and guide our children. For that is what they are. Children. No matter what they may look like on-line.



Focus on this book…

I am in the middle of a “new to me” book entitled, “Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning“. The author is Mike Schmoker. I think, it may be the most important book on education I have ever encountered (and I have encountered a lot of books on education). Focus puts all this common-core-state-standards-teaching-to-the-test-stuff aside and argues instead for a very simple, workable, meaningful, and clear set of standards which all teachers can adhere to, every day, with success. Read it. Please.

It looks like this –Focus_book_-_Google_Search

Focus has made me focus on the needs of my students and what I need to prioritize for them. And, guess what, it’s not in those “meets state standards” worksheets and textbooks. They need to read. Every day. Closely. Purposefully. They need to write. Every day. A lot. They need to discuss their reading and writing. Every day. A lot.  Reading, writing, discussing. That’s it. That’s what they need. For hundreds of hours each year. Call me old school. But it will work. Mike Schmoker believes it will. I do too.

The ability of my students to read and write is a matter of life and death. Truly. I teach in two urban, low-income (dare I say “below the poverty line”) environments. I know, with all my heart, that if my students do not learn how to read (deeply and broadly) they will be stuck in a cycle of poverty and violence for the rest of their lives.

Morgan Freeman is right. Readingliteracy_could_be_the_ladder_out_of_poverty_-_Google_Search can change their lives. Reading can take them out of poverty.

I focus (as I read Focus) on Aldous Huxley (you remember that guy from your high school reading list right? Brave New World). He said that “every man/woman who knows how to read has it in his/her power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he/she exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting”. The italics are mine by the way – ok, so the guy wasn’t perfect.

Without a deep ability to read and analyze and evaluate what they read, my students will be unable to do anything beyond meeting their survival needs. They deserve more than that.  They deserve to live full, significant, and interesting lives.





Ominous Beginnings

story_beginnings_-_Google_SearchBeginnings are important.

They are the hook the grabs hold of your mind and pulls it through pages with astonishing speed forcing you to ignore the world around you and become one with the story.

Some we know by heart, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (Charles Dickens), “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”(Leo Tolstoy), “I am an invisible man” (Ralph Ellison), “124 was spiteful” (Toni Morrison), “All this happened, more or less” (Kurt Vonnegut), “It was a pleasure to burn” (Ray Bradbury) and some we remember when we read them again. I could go on and on and on….

I love beginnings. I love great beginnings. But, I really love ominous beginnings…

Take a look at some spine-chilling beginnings from YA books (put together by Epic Reads).

You know what you can do with great beginnings? Read them. Then keep reading…

Ted Talks



Ted Talks are amazing nuggets of genius aren’t they? Whenever I get down about the state of our entertainment media, the junk on most websites, or the progress of our world in general, I listen to a Ted Talk. I always learn something, am amazed most of the time, and always leave feeling just a little better. Smarter. Faster. Stronger.

If you have experience with Ted Talks then you know what I mean. If you are new to them; welcome!

Here are the 1900+ Ted Talks to Stir Your Curiosity. Use them for yourself, use them with your students, use them with your kids. You can even try showing them to your dogs (not that I did that…).

One Little Word

It’s a new year. Time for One Little Word. Ali Edwards started the One Little Word project in 2006 and I just ran across a link to it on Mrs. Shaum’s Class Blog (I don’t know Mrs. Shaum but her blog is fantastic).

So, my word for this new year?


That’s it. Three little letters for one little word. But is it so little? I want to say “YES” to more ideas, more chances, more changes, more adventures, more opportunities. Even if they are scary, even if they are boring, even if they are…I’m not sure about this kind of things.

So what about you? What’s your One Little Word for this year? It can be anything…Here is an example of student words picked up from Mrs. Shaum’s blog as well as a few words to choose from:


Inspiring, isn’t it?

help           connect        acceptance    story
peace        delight          engage            think
vitality      genuine        courage          read
nurture     shine             welcome        love
laugh         leap               onward           climb
light           unhurried    lighten            listen
up               family            grow                play
open          focused        joy                    learn
thrive        trust               inspire            become
grace         embrace       simplify           trust
give           gratitude       patience        ask

Fostering Readers

reading_-_Google_SearchI like to read.  Wait. No. I LOVE to read. If there is one thing that I feel makes a house a home, it is books. Books. Books. I love them. I have a book started in almost every room of my home. I have a book that I carry in my bag, a book that I carry in my car, and a book list on my phone when I run out of books and am wandering the library isles. However, my students don’t always share my somewhat insane love of reading. I have to work with them to make it happen. Just like I had to work with my own children. I read to them. Every night. Since the moment they were born. I make sure there are books for them. Weekly trips to the library. Books stuffed into backpacks, bags, the car.

But my students are different. I can’t read to them every night. I can’t reorganize their home. I can’t pack their bags. So I have to do what I can in my classroom. I recently ran across this article about the teaching of reading. I found it very book affirming and pro-teacher. I find it very helpful in those moments when I find myself thinking “what can my small self do to make these kids love to read in the midst of their incredibly busy lives?”

The Top Three Study Skills: Organization

getting_organized_-_Google_SearchThere are two parts to organization: getting organized and staying organized

Organization includes keeping things straight in your mind, your backpack, your locker, your notebooks, and your study area. For some of us, it’s super hard. Here’s some ways to start to win the battle:

1. Have a place to study.

It doesn’t have to be a desk in a room all by yourself. A kitchen counter is a great place, especially if there is someone nearby who can help you. The table should be big enough so that you can spread out papers and books. Have supplies such as pens, paper and calculator are close by and easy to get. At our house, we have a roller cart like this (again, not advertising) in the kitchen. We have pencils, pens, rulers, staplers, tape, and a calculator on the top and extra paper, a dictionary, and a thesaurus on the bottom. The cart can be easily rolled over to the kitchen table when it’s time to get homework done.

2. Develop a system to keep track of important papers.

Have a binder with a folder in the front for all completed work ready to be turned in (all classes) and a folder in the back for papers returned by the teacher (all classes). Many teachers want different kinds of notebooks for their classes but one binder that you carry to each class for papers to turn in and returned papers will benefit you.

Have a place at home to keep papers that have been returned but that you don’t need to take to class everyday. We have a  filling cabinet where all returned papers are placed into the correct class file. The bottom drawer contains a file folder for each subject (English, history, science, math, music, foreign language, health).

It really doesn’t matter what your system is. What matters is that you stick to it. Do the same thing each day with your papers.

3. Use a planner to keep track of assignments.

I say USE because many students have a planner but never use it. Get in the habit of writing down each daily assignment in each subject and checking it off when it’s complete.  Checking it off is the best part. It gives you that sense of accomplishment and keeps you going (try it).

4. Estimate how long each assignment will take

This will let you plan a realistic schedule. Remember to get the harder subjects done first and build in study breaks. Read my post on Time Management. There is some helpful advice on creating schedules.

Remember the time you need for things like soccer games and band practice. If you notice that you are spending too much time on a subject you might need extra help or tutoring.

5. Break big projects into smaller ones.

If you have a big research project or a paper, it will seem less overwhelming if it’s done in manageable chunks, each with its own deadline. If you have a big project due in two weeks, write on your schedule what you will do for it each day and follow your plan.

6. Communicate with your teachers

This is a big important one. Your teachers are there to help you. If you feel that you are struggling in a subject, the homework is taking much longer for you than it should, or you have questions please, please, please talk to your teachers. It is better to talk to them about your troubles with the assignments than keep struggling, get bad grades, and have your teachers think you just don’t care.




The Top Three Study Skills: Time Management

I don’t have enough time to do that! This is taking me way too long! I didn’t get that done!!! How am I suppose to do that!!! But I have to go now!!!!

Sound familiar? Have you said this? Have your kids said this?  If the answer was yes then listen up (we just talked about listening in a previous post – go look at it)…


So, time management. How do you fit in school, homework, sports, activities, friends, family, and just being? There’s not enough time in the day. Or is there?

So here’s an interesting article from Take a look. Now here are some ideas to get the most out of that article…

Weekly Reviews: set aside one day each week to review. The best day is Friday. I know, what?????  I say Friday since that is the day of the least amount of homework. Plus, there is still that hour or two after school before anything else happens. Take 15 minutes and answer these questions about time (no, really answer them): What did I do well this week? What didn’t I do well this week (ie. what did I suck at – now is not the time to be politically correct. Be brutally honest with yourself)? What do I still need to do? How can I make next week easier with time management? 

School Year Calendar: Like this one (I am not advertising this in any way, shape, or form – just something along these lines). Make sure it is an academic year (otherwise your time-managed life will have to start in January). Put it up in a place where it won’t get destroyed and you will use it. Bedrooms are good – since they are usually activity-free. Hang it up on the wall.

Weekly Schedule:  Do it. Look at it. Follow it. It really works.  Here’s a weekly hourly planner if you can’t print out the one in the article. But I really like those questions the article presents after the planner. So answer those (or at least put a little thought into them). Be realistic about how much time you need. It would be nice if you could get that math homework done in 15 but if 1/2 hour is more realistic than write that in. Check out this filled in planner as an example to what I’m talking about.

Don’t Stress Out: Breathing is one of the easiest things we can do to relieve stress. Don’t believe me? Try this. Now, when you feel stressed or worried, take a few minutes and do it. It will work. Really.



Schoolhouse Rocks Grammar

Ok. I was born in 1972. You do the math.  I was of the generation that grew up with ABC Afterschool Specials, the very beginnings of (and best) Mtv, and Schoolhouse Rock.


I had forgotten about this last gem until I ran across this blog. This middle school teacher cracks me up! Anyway, he had his class look at this about adverbs. I was thrown right back to the 70’s!  But the coolest part is that it worked. Those Schoolhouse Rock shows really taught me things. So, I’m going old school baby and showing them to my students.

But wait! There’s more. Schoolhouse Rock was able to put to music a myriad of great things. How about Conjunction Junction? Want to know how a bill becomes a law (I’m Just a Bill on Capitol Hill), or the three branches of government? If you’re my age, are you getting just a little misty eyed about those sweet, simpler times?

The Top Three Study Skills: Listening

I know we call them study skills, but I think a more appropriate name is life skills. No, I am not talking about learning how to pay bills (blah) or keep the well-stocked fridge ( I admit I have candy in the fridge). I am talking about those skills that get one through school and then magically help to create a successful life.

It’s true! There are skills that we can teach our kids in middle and high school that, if they learn them (very important) and use them (that’s the catch), they will have more success in college, in career, and in relationships than if they didn’t know and use them. Want to know them?

Ok, here are my top three study skills:

1. Listening  Skills        2. Time management  Skills        3. Organization Skills

What?????? No test taking strategies, no note taking? Nope. Those are important, but they don’t make my top three. You can’t do those if you don’t do these.

Let’s talk about listening today.listening_skills_-_Google_Search

Shhhh…….Listen. Think about it. Just for a minute. Listening. Wow, that is a big help in the classroom, and in the workplace, and in every relationship I have ever had; from marriage to children, from child to friend. When I understand how to listen, not just hear, I am suited to be all the things I need to be: teacher, wife, mother, daughter, and friend. We need to take the time to block out all the other junk in our lives, focus on the person speaking to us, and concentrate on really being in. the. moment.

In the classroom, if our students are able to listen to us they are able to take notes, remember the lessons, and most importantly ask questions. Here are several things to do as you listen:

1. Put all other material out of the way. If you are in a classroom, keep paper and a pen out. If you are face-to-face, stuff all your gear away. GET RID OF THAT PHONE!!!!!

2. Focus on the person speaking. Yes, even if they are boring. Yes, even if you couldn’t care less about what they are saying. Let’s face it, that happens more than we would like to admit. Plus, it happens to students more than adults. Every day. Actively engage in what they are saying. Stay interested in the meaning of their words. Hmmmmm. Ok, you say. That’s easy when someone is talking about something I am interested in. But, how does one do this when the topic is putting you to sleep? Ah, on to the next…

3. Ask questions and restate their words. What??????? Ask the person questions. “What do you mean?” “How so?” “Can you give me another example?”  “So what your saying is….” “What I hear you saying is….is that correct?” Ask yourself questions. “What did they mean by that?” “How do I put that in my own words?” “Is there a part of my life that is similar to that?” “Where else could I use that information.”  By all means, don’t think about what you want to eat for lunch!

3. When the lecture, conversation, discussion is over take a moment to review. By yourself. Just make sure you understood what all happened. Review your notes, add to them, jot down questions you may still have. If you do this directly after (or as soon as you are able) you are more likely to remember and understand.

The main thing is to practice, practice, practice. Listening is a skill. Like any skill it takes practice in order to do it well and integrate it into your life. This is true if you are 14 or 54 years old. It makes a difference in your life. It really does. Try it.