Chapter 1: The Table of Joy

Author’s Note: You are about to read the first chapter in my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. This is a working draft, so I would love it if you would leave constructive criticism in the comments! I hope you enjoy it!

Adelaide’s heart pounded. She was so nervous, every cell in her body was buzzing with anticipation. Only three students left before she would have to recite a random portion of the Edict of Debris from memory. Her hand flew down to her pocket and fingered the parchment that wasn’t supposed to be there. She wanted to look at it one last time before the assessment, but how could she without Diotima noticing? She released the parchment and pulled her hand out of her pocket.

“…and it was dictated that Debris would be divided into Six Provinces, each to be governed by two honest senators, immune to corruption and greed–” Diotima cut Erma off with a satisfied nod.

“David.” Diotima said crisply to the brooding warfare apprentice.

“…oh, uh, one senator is to rule the affairs of the state, and the other is to protect the people from violence and harm…”

As David struggled with his portion of the edict, Adelaide wondered if it was possible to die from nerves. She brushed her hair out of her eyes before thrusting her hand back in her pocket. She just needed a quick glance at the parchment. If only Diotima would look in the opposite direction for a few seconds.

“Paulina.”

“…and through care and hard work, the citizens of Debris will be nursed, nurtured, and nourished by the earth, creating village independence and sustainability…”

Adelaide slowly inched the parchment out of her pocket without looking away from Diotima, whose focus was on Paulina just a few feet to the left of Adelaide. She was too slow. The parchment was crumpled in her fist when Diotima stopped Paulina’s strained recitation with another curt nod.

“Ivy.”

Adelaide dropped the parchment back into her pocket and quickly brushed her hair away from her face again. Next to her, Ivy’s hazel eyes were squeezed shut as she recited the edict as quickly as possible. How does she cram so many words into one breath?

Adelaide wondered, her nerves momentarily forgotten.

“Adelaide.”

Adelaide jumped at the sound of her name, and her cheeks grew red and hot. She took a deep breath before slowly reciting the last paragraph of the edict, surprised at how easily the words came to her. Once she reached the last sentence, however, her mind went blank. How does it end? How does it end? Adelaide fumbled with the parchment in her pocket, desperate to pull it out.

“And…um…the Six Provinces of Debris will prosper by rejecting dead discourse in favor of living speech, and…um…that’s it.” There was a silence as Diotima studied Adelaide with an intensity that made her skin crawl. She forgot the last line of the edict. She felt naked and exposed. Diotima’s eyes moved down to Adelaide’s pocket, bulging from her clenched fist.

Finally, Diotima’s gaze moved over the rest of the class. “Sit.” She commanded, gesturing to the grass at her feet. The students sat in the shade of the large, bearded statue that marked the center of the grassy hill. The statue was dirty, and Adelaide thought it was quite ugly. The nose was too wide with flaring nostrils, and the eyes were too far apart and seemed to pop out unnaturally.

Diotima continued to stand in its shade. She wore an expression similar to that of the crumbling statue: contemplative and grim. “You’ve memorized the edict, but memorization is not understanding. Some of you may still wonder why we shun the written word.” Diotima’s eyes settled on Adelaide again, who shifted her weight uncomfortably on the grass. She grabbed a few blades and pulled, satisfied with the ripping sound that followed.

Diotima continued, “Never forget the three reasons for rejecting dead discourse. Say it with me,”

Adelaide sighed as she pulled up another clump of grass, but she automatically recited the three reasons along with the rest of the class:

“Reason one: The permanence of dead discourse negates the dialogic process imperative to learning.”

She didn’t even have to think about what came next; the three reasons were burned into her memory. Adelaide ripped up another clump of grass and added it to the growing pile in front of her as she, and everyone else around her, took a breath in preparation for the second reason: “Reason two: Dead discourse implants forgetfulness into the souls of men, causing themto rely on that which is written rather than on that which is from within themselves.”

Ivy glanced at Adelaide’s pile of grass and raised an eyebrow. Adelaide shrugged and added another clump to the pile. Another breath: “Reason three: Dead discourse is a pestilence that, once released, cannot be contained.”

Ivy added a few blades of grass to Adelaide’s pile with a small smile. Adelaide returned the smile, but wondered if Ivy even understood what she had just recited. They had been taught to recite the three reasons for rejecting dead discourse at a young age, and Adelaide remembered running home to tell her parents that she had finally memorized every single word a few weeks later. She didn’t fully understand the words she recited weekly until her fourteenth birthday, when she realized that she had been verbally condemning her passion for most of her life.

Diotima was speaking again, “I believe that the second reason is most pertinent to our class today.” Her eyes were on Adelaide again as she continued her lecture, “At first glance, dead discourse appears to be knowledge, but it is not. It is simply a reminder of what should be in your head, but isn’t. It is simply false wisdom.” Her eyes swept over the class with her final statement: “I warn you all, do not fall victim to false wisdom, to false knowledge. Only death and destruction will come of it. You’re dismissed.”
As they stretched their legs, Ivy said, “Wow. That was dramatic.”

Adelaide feigned a smile and said in a mocking tone, “Scratches on parchment will kill you!” She usually enjoyed making fun of Diotima with Ivy after class, but today she wasn’t in the mood. The assessment replayed itself over and over again in her head, each replay just as painful as the actual moment.

Ivy laughed and started to speak, but she was interrupted by Diotima. “Adelaide, come see me for a moment before you go, please?” The instructor called out, still standing in the shadow of the statue.

Adelaide’s stomach filled with lead as she slowly trudged up the hill to Diotima. When she was close, Diotima said, “You seemed nervous today, Adelaide.”

Adelaide nodded. “I remembered the first part of the edict much better than the end.”
“I see.” Diotima said. She narrowed her eyes and said, “I noticed you were fiddling with something in your pocket. May I see it?”

Adelaide’s blood ran cold and her heart stopped. She couldn’t show Diotima the parchment. She didn’t know the penalty for creating and interacting with dead discourse, but she knew it couldn’t be good.

Just as she was about to make a run for it, a man trudged up the hill behind Diotima. Adelaide’s heart instantly swelled. It was her father. “Dad!” She cried, running toward him. As he embraced her in a tight hug, she quickly slipped the crumpled parchment into his jacket pocket.

“Hey, Adie. I’m sorry to bother you at school, but I missed you too much to wait for you to get home,” Langston whispered in her ear.

“Don’t be.” Adelaide replied quickly.

Diotima walked up to them and said, “Langston, I’m glad to see that you’ve returned safely.”

“It is good to see you as well, Diotima,” Langston said politely.

“I’m sure you two are eager to catch up, but do you mind if I talk to your daughter for a couple of minutes, Langston? Your reunion interrupted an important lesson.”

Adelaide glared at Diotima. An important lesson? It felt more like a gotcha than a lesson.

“Certainly,” Langston said cheerily. “I’ll just wait by my friend here.” He gestured to the statue.

“Adelaide, please empty your pockets.” Diotima said without hesitation.

Adelaide sighed dramatically and pulled out a few strands of grass. “It’s grass. I was really nervous, and playing with the grass helped me calm down.” She lied easily.

Diotima sighed. She seemed disappointed, as if she wanted an excuse to punish Adelaide. “Very well. You may go.”

Adelaide walked back to her father. “Let’s go home.”

***

As they walked down the hill and into the village, Adelaide glanced nervously at her father. She wasn’t sure how he would react to the parchment in his pocket. She couldn’t suppress the reasonable voice inside of her head that chastised her for being careless. Seeing Langston again reminded her of the seriousness of her actions.

She stole a sidewise glance at Langston, trying to gauge his emotions, but he just whistled a tune and threw an arm over her shoulder, squeezing her close to his body. They walked in silence, maneuvering the poor sections of the village quickly. The buildings were still damaged from the last raid. Two boys sat on the opposite side of the street, watching them pass. They wore filthy rags for clothing, and Adelaide wondered what they thought of the upper class families wealthy enough to send their children to school.

As they entered the poorer section of the city, the damage from the recent raid was still evident. The acrid smell of smoke lingered in the air as they passed an unlucky house; the roof had collapsed inward leaving the blackened and crumbling walls a lonely monument to the unfortunate owners.

Adelaide pulled her father forward a little faster. It’s not that she felt unsafe exactly, in the daytime the government garrisons outside of the village kept a careful eye out for raiders. Everyone knew that. It was only at night that raiders would dare enter the town. Besides, in the village nearly every face was a familiar one.

Perhaps it was just their eyes.

Two boys sat nearby and she could feel their eyes on her, red-rimmed with exhaustion, defeated. It seemed like the raids always seemed hit hardest to those who already had so little. They were field hands, like most everyone in town. They were nearly her age, she new, but they seemed so much older. It’s as if the constant toil in the field tanned and wrinkled up their skin, soaking up their youth. It was hard to tell what they were wearing; their rags were stained with mud and dung and filth. She felt embarrassed for them, sad for them. She wondered what they carried behind those eyes, what they thought of the upper class families wealthy enough to send their children to school.

The boys were driven out of her mind as they approached the main square of the village. Maybe he hasn’t found the parchment, Adelaide thought to herself, studying Langston’s complacent expression.

“So,” she said, filling the silence, “did you find anything exciting while you were gone?”

Langston winked, and said, “I did. I’ll tell you about it when I get home.”

He found one! Adelaide thought excitedly, momentarily forgetting her guilt. But then, her heart sunk again. Had she gotten caught today, she wouldn’t be the only one in trouble. Their house would be searched, things would be found…
Adelaide smiled in spite of her inner turmoil. She looked around the square and noticed people waving cheerily at Langston, glad to see he’d returned safely. They were being watched, and Adelaide couldn’t afford to compromise their carefully constructed façade by looking guilty on the day of her father’s return.

Langston and his wife, Emmeline, were the village readers. As the only legally literate citizens in town, they made their living mostly by composing and delivering messages from their village to other villages in Fourth Province. They provided other dead discourse services as well, but they wouldn’t be able to afford three meals a day without correspondence between the villages. Their status as readers made them public figures of the community, constantly under public scrutiny.

People both admired and feared Langston and Emmeline since they were from the prestigious Senator Sector, the affluent neighborhood of political leaders, lawyers, doctors, officers, and all other professions that required the ability to read. It was rare for those born in the Sector to leave voluntarily since there were sharp differences between quality of life in the Sector and quality of life in the villages. Village readers were usually assigned to their posts against their wills, and only after being deemed unfit for a profession in the Sector. They earned just enough money to ensure a lifestyle slightly more comfortable than that of the illiterate villagers, but they were also audited frequently and required to pay an annual tax to the Sector on behalf of the village. Langston and Emmeline wouldn’t tell Adelaide why they left, only that they were “happy to leave the Sector to live in a village filled with kind souls who value compassion and community.”

Their house was in the middle of the village square. It was small and tired looking, but had two floors, making it one of the larger houses in the village. The entire bottom floor was dedicated to her parents’ shop, and the top floor to living space. The sign above the front door swayed gently in the breeze. It was imprinted with the silhouette of a feather quill and piece of parchment, the symbol identifying a reader’s shop. Langston and Emmeline had the same symbol tattooed on their right wrists, protecting them from prosecution in case their identities as certified readers were ever called into question.

Emmeline had the front door to the shop propped open to let in the light and air from outside. As soon as she walked in, Adelaide caught a strong whiff of body odor. Two grungy looking men stood at the wooden counter opposite the door. They seemed to be in the middle of a heated discussion regarding the amount of sheep one man would trade for a section of land owned by the other.

“I’m givin’ you six of my fattest ewes! Two of ‘em pregnant already!” One man said, pounding a weathered fist on the counter. “How kin you say that ain’t enough?”

“You want the piece by the river,” The other man responded calmly, “and that’ll cost ya more than six fat ewes. I want eight ewes an’ a ram. An’ if one o’those ewes don’t pop out a lil ram, I’ll want another one.”

Emmeline was leaning lazily over a piece of parchment laid out in front of her, the details of the contract scribbled across the page. She rolled her eyes as Adelaide walked in, half smiling at the men in front of her.

“They’ve been bickering in here all day,” Langston whispered to Adelaide as they inched past the men. As she passed the shelves behind the counter, Adelaide ran her finger across the bindings of the only three books allowed in a reader’s shop: a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the Reader’s Handbook. She climbed the stairs and walked straight to her room. Perhaps a story or two from Grimm’s Fairy Tales would help her feel better. She rarely got a chance to smuggle it out of its hiding place away from prying eyes, but it was always worth the risk.

When she walked into her room, however, she found Ivy brushing her hair on the bed. “Emmeline let me in.” Ivy said cheerily in greeting. Adelaide’s eyes nervously swept the room, making sure nothing else was out of place. If Ivy found her hairbrush, what else did she find? Adelaide casually walked over to the dresser and glanced in the open drawer where she kept her brush. The false bottom was still in place. Good.

Ivy continued, oblivious to Adelaide’s behavior. “So, what did Diotima want? Did she hear us making fun of her?”

Adelaide took a deep breath. She couldn’t tell Ivy the real reason Diotima had asked her to stay behind without raising Ivy’s suspicions too. “Yeah. She didn’t hear you though, just me.”

“Oh, good!” Ivy said, obviously relieved. She looked at Adelaide and quickly added, “I don’t mean ‘oh good, you got in trouble and not me,’ I just mean that I’m glad that’s all you got in trouble for. I mean, I’m not glad you got in trouble, just –” Ivy interrupted herself with a sigh and started fiddling with the hairbrush, “anyway, what did she say?”

Adelaide rolled her eyes. “She just gave me a long lecture about respect, taking my education seriously, appreciating how much my parents are paying, blah blah blah.”

“Ugh,” Ivy said, flopping back onto the bed. “She’s so dramatic! I mean, your parents are readers. Of course you’re going to take your education seriously! They’re like, the smartest people in the entire village!”

As Adelaide gave Ivy a small smile, she was overcome with a fresh wave of guilt, reminded again that she wouldn’t be the only person in trouble if Diotima had discovered the parchment in her pocket. When Langston and Emmeline left the Sector, they signed a contract agreeing not to teach their children how to read. Only children born and raised in the Sector were allowed to learn how to read and write in order to prepare them for the various Sector jobs. Very few children born and raised in the villages were formally educated at all, and those who could afford to go to school were expected to memorize all of their lessons. This both preserved their memories and protected them from the dangers of dead discourse. Adelaide didn’t know what the punishment was for breaking the contract, but she couldn’t believe she had almost caused trouble for her parents. All just to pass a test.

Adelaide was about to respond to Ivy when Langston knocked and poked his head in the door. “Hey Ivy, I need to talk to Adelaide alone for a while. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?”

“Sure, no problem.” Ivy said, hopping off the bed and grimacing at Adelaide. She opened the drawer with the false bottom and tossed the brush into it with a clatter before rushing out of the room.

When Adelaide was sure Ivy was gone, she looked down at her hands and said, “I know why you’re here, and I’m sorry. I messed up.”

Langston sighed and pulled the parchment out of his pocket. “What were you thinking?” He asked quietly, disappointment dripping off of every word.

“I wasn’t.” Adelaide responded, looking at the small, crumpled parchment in his hands. “I was so nervous about the test, and…” She trailed off for a moment before continuing, a lump rising in her throat. “I’m not going to make excuses. I messed up, and I’m sorry.”

Langston nodded and said, “I know you’re sorry. But Adie, the penalty for a reader who teaches his child how to read and write is very severe –”

“I know!” Adelaide interrupted angrily. “We would lose our license, our shop, our house, and our freedom. We would be accused of being in violation of the Edict. You’ve told me this before.”

She was angry with Langston, but angrier with herself. Couldn’t he understand that she already felt guilty for bringing the parchment to school? Why was he trying to add to her guilt? She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. They slipped out quietly, and Adelaide brushed them away impatiently, embarrassed for crying in front of her father. She was sixteen. Sixteen-year-olds don’t cry in front of their fathers.

Langston put a hand on Adelaide’s shoulder, “Adie, after your brother – we can’t lose you too.” Thinking about her brother just made her cry harder. Langston wrapped his arms around her and she found comfort in his familiar, musky smell: a combination of leather, ink, and his natural odor.

After a couple of minutes she pulled away, pushing the parchment and her dead brother out of her mind.

“You said you found something…” She said, changing the subject.

Langston smiled and reached into his jacket pocket. “It’s not very big,” he said, handing her a small, aged book, “It’s poetry.”

Adelaide rose from the bed and walked over to a small table next to the window with a small smile on her face, her curiosity growing stronger than her guilt. She set the book down carefully and studied the faded cover. The title read Cries for Freedom: Select Poems by Various Authors. They hadn’t found a new book in years, and never a book of poetry.

Langston sat at the table next to Adelaide. “I already marked my favorite,” He said, pointing to a cottonwood leaf poking out from between two pages.

Adelaide gently coaxed the cover open. It fell open easily, too easily. Adelaide was afraid it would fall apart. She turned the pages until she found the leaf. Langston had written a name on it: Willy. Adelaide set the leaf aside, ignoring the pain in her chest. She didn’t want to think about him.

“This one,” Langston said, pointing to a short poem. Adelaide read it aloud:

Luck

Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only heaven.

Langston Hughes, 1959

“It was written by someone with your name!” Adelaide said, surprised.

Her father nodded, and said, “What do you think?”Adelaide reread the poem before answering. She knew it reminded her father of her brother, and she knew that’s why he was showing her the poem.

“It makes me sad.” She decided, “It reminds me of the boys we saw today. The ones in the rags,”

“Why?” Langston prompted, looking slightly disappointed.

“Well, it says here, ‘sometimes a crumb falls from the tables of joy, sometimes a bone is flung.’” She ran her finger along the lines as she read them aloud. “It’s just…I was so worried about the test today, but that was just a crumb. Those boys though…they looked miserable.” She tapped the word bone, “They’ve had a bone flung from the table of joy. Or maybe they are the bones –”

She was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door. Langston stood up quickly, standing in front of the table, blocking it from the door. At the same time, Adelaide snapped the cover shut, wincing slightly at the damage she may have caused in her haste.

Emmeline poked her head in the room, carefully keeping the door mostly closed. Her blue eyes were wide and frantic, her voice strained.

“Oh, good, Adie, you’re decent.” Her eyes darted around the room quickly, “Langston, there you are! I’ve been looking–”

Before Emmeline could finish her sentence, however, the door was pushed open all the way by a small, thin man in strange clothes. His eyes were black and beady behind a pair of narrow glasses, his thin hair slicked straight back on top of his pointy head. He pushed past Emmeline and walked up to Langston with an outstretched arm. Adelaide quickly stepped behind Langston and swept the book off of the table and into the waistband of her pants, not noticing the leaf floating gently to the floor to land under the table.

“Good evening, Mr. Anders,” He said in an oily voice. “My name is Josiah Remington, and you are being audited.”

Continue reading Chapter Two…

Ramblings from Florida

posted in: Ms. Hayes' Reflections | 0

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I’m in beautiful Florida this week for spring break, and it is obviously very different from New Mexico. First of all, there is water everywhere! And what is up with all of the green stuff growing from the ground? Where is all of the dirt?

Oh. Right. On the beach.

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On the flight out here, I was finally able to finish reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was an excellent read about a dystopian society in what used to be Chicago. I was quite tickled during our first flight because we had a layover in Chicago and I was reading a story that takes place in Chicago, and because I’m a huge nerd who finds joy in small coincidences.

I travel a lot, and this isn’t my first trip to Florida, but I can’t help but think about my students. I know! It’s spring break! I’m not supposed to think about work while on vacation, right?

But here’s the thing: many of my students have never left New Mexico. Some of my students have never even left their hometown! When reading Divergent, I was able to connect my prior experiences visiting Chicago to the setting of the book, which might be why Roth decided to set the story in dystopian Chicago instead of a dystopian made-up city. It helped me to comprehend and connect to the story, and isn’t that what we want our students to do when they read, too? Connect to the story?

Now, back to Florida. Kinda. Imagine you grew up in a small town where the only naturally occurring body of water is the mostly dried up Rio Grande River. You need sprinklers to keep your grass alive, so most homes have yards full of beautiful rock gardens and a few drought-resistant plants. When reading a story that takes place in Florida, you’ll read about yachts, waterways, drawbridges, and hibiscus flowers. I can tell you right now, most of my students will not know what a yacht is.

Something language arts teachers love to do is give students books that they can relate too. We live in New Mexico, so we just read The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little which takes place at Acoma Pueblo during the time of Oñate. Now that we’ve finished the book, the students are going on a field trip to Acoma with the social studies department. It’ll be a great learning experience for them.

As expert readers, we know that the beauty and joy of reading comes from experiencing new places and experiencing new things without ever leaving home, but that’s because we have either the prior knowledge necessary to connect to the story, or we have the skills necessary to seek out those connections. Heck, for avid readers, prior knowledge was often acquired from something we read before!

So, my point: how can we hook students into the cycle of reading for learning and building to more reading for learning and building at a young age? It reminds me of something I read by Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading (and I don’t have the book with me, so forgive me for any errors). He says that as readers, we have many reading branches that continually grow into new branches over time. For example, as a student, I grew a branch for books about magic after reading the Harry Potter series, which led to other YA series such as Hunger Games, which led to dystopian books such as Divergent. After reading and enjoying Kite Runner, I developed a branch for books that take place in Afghanistan, which lead to me reading more books about Afghanistan, but it also led me to reading books about different cultures, such as Ceremony. This led to more Native American literature, but it also led me to historical fiction as well. Each branch leads to more branches of your “reading tree.”

Having my students read a story that takes place near their hometown is a great way to hook them into reading, but now I have to help them develop new branches on their reading tree.

Exposing them to different genres is helpful, but we must also nurture the need for prior knowledge. Reading a book about Florida? Take a trip to Florida with the whole class using Google Earth. Give the students the information they need in order to feel connected to the reading. Then expose them books that might start new branches on their reading tree.

They may not be able to physically visit Florida, but they can read about it. And that’s almost the same thing.

*Disclaimer: I typed this entire post on my phone. It was hard. Please forgive any typos and mistakes.

Deliberate Diction Unlocks the Door to Success!

My Diction Door has expanded to become a Word Wall after all.

Hot diggity, the Diction Door was a success! Here’s some proof:

Student A: “Geez, class is already over? It feels like it just started!”

Student B: “This was fun, Miss! Can we do it again?”

Student C: “Aw man! I wanted to define Aesthetics!”

Student D: “Miss, it says that bantam is a chicken! Are they saying that Kit Carson was a chicken?!”

Student E (in response to Student D): “Ooh! That’s a metaphor!”

Here’s how it all went down

When the students walked into class, their desks were already arranged into groups so they could work in their literature circles. Since we’ve been reading the first four pages of Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, I had each literature circle pick one difficult word from the text to contribute to the Diction Door. They were not allowed to choose a word that was already on the door.

Once they picked their word, I passed out the Diction Door Templates (one of each color per class), a black Crayola marker, and a pair of scissors. I told the students that they were to write down the definition and the original sentence that used the word, and that they needed to create a new sentence using the word. Finally, I gave each group four small pieces of paper that matched the color of their template, which they used for synonyms.

After that, I simply walked around the room and listened to the students work and talk to each other. Once they finished, I taped their word and synonyms onto the door.

The Diction Door Templates
The Diction Door Templates

But not all went as planned…in a good way

I’ll admit, I was a little stressed out about it during 1st period. Originally, I thought that it would take the students about 10-15 minutes. I was wrong. Like, WAY wrong. It ended up taking the entire class period, which surprised because I expected the students to just look up the word and then write down the definition. Instead, they looked up the word, didn’t understand the definition, looked up more words in the definition, and then rephrased the original definition so that it made sense to them!

The Diction Door also provided many teachable moments that I hadn’t originally anticipated. For example, one group of students realized that the word “deliberate” could be an adjective or a verb. Then they had to decide if it was being used as an adjective or a verb in the passage. Not only did this help them understand the word, but it also helped them understand the difference between verbs and adjectives!

With the word “Womanize,” the students found the dictionary.com synonyms first. They used words and phrases like “flirt,” “fool around,” “stud,” and “ladies man” as their synonyms. I explained that these words were too positive, and that womanizing isn’t a good thing. I told them that “objectify” would be a good synonym for womanize, but I couldn’t think of any others and the students were struggling to find appropriate synonyms online. I sent them across the hall to ask their social studies teacher. He started rattling off words like “chauvinistic” and “sexist.” Perhaps the feminist side of me kicked in during this exchange, but I’m totally okay with that.

Originally, I just wanted to have a Diction Door because I didn’t think I would have enough space for a word wall, but I actually ran out of space on the door. I had to extend it a bit and now the word wall is covering a white board that I don’t use very often. I made a sign for the word wall, and I still have a sign for the diction door up, but I decided to make a poster to maintain the diction door theme. It says: Deliberate diction unlocks the door to success! We navigate our whole lives using words. Change and improve the words and I believe we can change and improve life.

Deliberate diction unlocks the door to success: We navigate our whole lives using words. Change and improve the words and I believe we can change and improve our life.
I made a banner!

Overall, I am extremely pleased with my diction door/word wall. The students had a blast with it, and I added a word to the wall today: allusion. I also referred to a couple of the words on the wall while talking to the students about avoiding redundancies in their writing. Next year, I’ll have to rearrange my classroom so that the word wall has room to grow. I’m sure it’ll end up spilling out into the hall outside of my room like this teacher’s word wall.

Oh, and for the record, my diction door/word wall is very aesthetically pleasing! Too bad I’ll have to cover it up when we have NMSBA testing in a couple of weeks.

My newest addition to the word wall
My newest addition to the word wall

‘Twas the eve of the Diction Door

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‘Twas the eve of the Diction Door

and all through the school,

every student was wondering

how it would be used.

But nobody knew –

except for Ms. Bloom –

who smiled mysteriously

at every question anew.

She said, “Tune in tomorrow,

it’ll be quite a show!

Just come prepared

to learn the lingo!”

And as she walked off,

the students replied,

“That Ms. Bloom

sure is…

weird!”

Oscar who? I won the Liebster Award!

posted in: Blogging | 7

liebster2OH EM GEEEE! I won something! Thanks for nominating me, Mary!

So, according to the person who nominated my nominator, “The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster? It is a German word and it simply means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.”

Official rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
  2. You must answer the 10 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
  4. Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

Here are the questions Mary had for me:

1) Describe, in detail, your favorite beverage.

Lately, my favorite beverage is beer! Ha! I really like Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, but I’m also a big fan of some local breweries that I’m not going to name for the sake of anonymity. I can tell you about a brewery I really enjoyed last time we drove down to Denver, Colorado, though. Wynkoop Brewing Company has a delicious beer called Rail Yard. It had hints of caramel and vanilla, and it’s kind of like drinking a cookie. Yum! I just wish it was closer to home.

2) What’s your pet peeve?

Spelling “a lot” as one word. Allie explains this pet peeve perfectly in her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t already, check it out. It’s hilarious.

3) Tell us the book that has most impacted what matters most in your life.

Ummm…this is an impossible question. Picking one book is like picking children! I love anything by John Steinbeck for his excellent analysis on human nature. I also like all of Khaled Hosseini’s books and his incredible talent for writing about ugly truths in a beautiful way. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, of course, will always be a favorite for obvious reasons. There are many, many more, but I’m short on time so I need to move on to the next question.

4) How do you take care of your soul?

Walking, blogging, and drinking beer with close friends.

5) Favorite quote or Scripture?

1901957_759542817396996_458470324_n

6) What’s your favorite post you’ve written and why? Include a link.

A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes because it is a big reason why I decided to start blogging again. I’ve blogged before, but I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for an audience. It didn’t work out. I got bored and lost interest after only a few months. After that experience with my principal however, I realized that I had stopped focusing on my passion, and started focusing on politics. In typing that post, I felt like the fog had lifted and I was able to enjoy my job again.

7) What’s your favorite post of mine and why? Include a link.

When Saying No is Saying Yes, because it is so, absolutely true! As a young teacher, it is WAY to easy for me to take on more than I can chew. The problem is, I can do everything and be mediocre, or only take on a couple of extra responsibilities and be spectacular. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and an even more difficult thing for my boss to accept.

8) What is the greatest joy of blogging?

Discovering new ideas through reading others’ blogs and reflecting my own practice!

9) What is the greatest anxiety of blogging?

Honestly? That my secret identity will be revealed!

10) Which blog speaks most poignantly to you? Why? Include a link.

Becky Says Things. I love laughing, especially as a way to lighten up some of the uglier things in life. She’s awesome!

11) Bonus question, if you’re so inclined: give my some feedback on my blog.

You have some great posts! Since you have a static homepage, use your Top Posts widget to direct your readers to the posts you would most like them to see.

Introducing Ms. Hayes’ Liebster Nominees…drum roll please….

  1. Magpie That
  2. My Strange Brain
  3. Teacher Versus Mum
  4. Unsolicited Tidbits
  5. tcrwpliteracycoach
  6. Teaching +
  7. Norah Colvin
  8. Cathy Miyata’s Blog
  9. Skeptycal
  10. Joystick Learning

Congratulations! You now have homework. Please answer the following questions:

  1. Congratulations! You just won the Liebster Award! What are you going to do next?
  2. Describe yourself in three words.
  3. Describe your thoughts on your very first job.
  4. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  5. I like food. What is your favorite recipe?
  6. Give a short summary of the book you are currently reading.
  7. What inspired you to start blogging?
  8. How did you come up with the name for your blog?
  9. What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
  10. Which post are you most proud of and why? Provide a link.

Happy blogging!

Wading into Word Walls

Image from: http://goo.gl/Gkmn0n
Image from: http://goo.gl/Gkmn0n

I have an announcement to make: I’ve decided to make a word wall in my classroom.

To some, this may not seem like a big deal or like a difficult task, but for me, this is a new, scary, unpredictable adventure. I’ve always been intimidated by word walls; mostly because I’ve never really understood their role in the classroom. I do know that they are considered a best practice, and I know that when used properly, word walls can have a major impact on students’ vocabulary.

But I’m still intimidated.

I decided to bite the bullet and implement a word wall the other day when my students were struggling through the first four pages of Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. With words like caromed, bantam, bumpkin, terrestrial, fastidious, and cadence, I realized that I can’t possibly expect my students to use context clues for every difficult word. Plus, in an effort to create a more student-centered classroom (and to not spend an entire day on vocabulary), I figured a word wall would be the most effective way to tackle the difficult vocabulary in the excerpt over an extended period of time.

Now, the question is, how does one use a word wall?

Questions to Consider…

Where will I put it? I don’t have a lot of free space on my walls. Plus, since my walls are concrete, the only way to hang something is by hot gluing it to the wall (tape doesn’t work on the paint on my walls for some reason). I do have a closet door at the front of the room…perhaps I’ll have a Diction Door instead!

I know that I want the students to select the words to go on the wall, and I know that I want them to look up the definition for the word, write an original sentence or two using the new word, and list synonyms for the word. I’ll need some sort of template for the students to use.

I also know this is something I will leave up for all of my classes, so I need to develop a system where each class will contribute different words to the wall. But how should I organize it? Should the words be in alphabetical order? Or should they just go up in a random order?

The perfectionist side of me is kicking in too. I want everything to be uniform, so I want all of the words to be typed, using the same size font. I know I want the definitions to be typed too, but getting the students to type and add the definitions to the wall will take away from the seamlessness of the strategy…so what’s more important? A messy, student-driven word wall, or a neat, teacher driven-word wall?

…Learning is messy. I suppose an organic word wall is a messy word wall.

The Plan

I’ll cut out a bunch of multi-colored strips of paper. The students will use these strips of paper for the words and definitions. I’ll also cut out smaller pieces of paper for synonyms. These will surround the original word. I’ll give each group a few markers so the words are easy to see from the back of the classroom.

Since I already sorted the students into mixed-ability literature circles, I’ll just have each literature circle select one word from the text to add to the wall. Then, as a group, they will find the definition, write a new sentence using that word, and find as many synonyms as possible. They will write these things down on the strips of paper, and then I will tape them up on the sheet of butcher paper taped to the door at the front of the classroom (A.K.A. Diction Door!) Each class will add new words, but they can also add synonyms to existing words.

The whole thing should only take about ten minutes per class.

I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the meantime, check out these word walls that other K-12 teachers have in their classrooms…

Image from: http://goo.gl/dpN80w
Image from: http://goo.gl/dpN80w
Image from: http://goo.gl/Iy2cB7
Image from: http://goo.gl/Iy2cB7
Image from: http://goo.gl/GtiOcp
Image from: http://goo.gl/GtiOcp
Image from: http://goo.gl/C46eiT
Image from: http://goo.gl/C46eiT
Image from: http://goo.gl/tlFNn5
Image from: http://goo.gl/tlFNn5

I hope my word wall Diction Door is pretty too.

Wish me luck.

Adventures in Grading…and Procrastinating

posted in: Blogging | 1

Adventures in Grading...and Procrastinating

Well, here we are, Sunday morning, the day before grades are due, and I have a lot of catching up to do. So, naturally, I have take a picture of the overwhelmingly large stack of papers in front of me and post it as a way to postpone the inevitable just a little bit longer.

I heard somewhere that if you do not assess and act on formative assessment data within two days, then it’s really a summative assessment.

Oops.

I better get started.

A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes

posted in: Instructional Strategies | 0
Image from: http://goo.gl/QcyD0y
Image from: http://goo.gl/QcyD0y

A couple of weeks ago the principal unexpectedly called me into her office. As I sat down at her desk, she pushed a data sheet towards me and said in an accusatory tone, “Can you explain this to me?”

Well, crap.

I felt my face grow hot as I looked down at the sheet, praying it wasn’t bright red. I had never seen this data report before in my life, so I nervously said, “Um, I don’t know what I’m looking at. Can you explain this to me?” As it turns out, it was a simple report that gave a side-by-side comparison of the amount of seventh grade students with scores in each proficiency level on our first and second benchmark assessments. Apparently, we had more kids score in the beginning steps and nearing proficiency levels on the second test than we had on the first test, which is, as I like to say, bad-new-bears.

My principal wanted to know why the students weren’t showing growth. Well, that’s valid. I was asking myself the same question.

Now, I won’t go into detail describing my explanation to the principal. That’s boring and unimportant, particularly because I just pulled something out of my ass in an attempt to defend the scores.

The reason I’m writing about this interaction is because I believe it epitomizes exactly the wrong attitude about how to address and analyze data from standardized tests. As I drove home after the meeting, I came to several conclusions, which I’ve listed below:

Conclusion #1

My administrator had some valid concerns, but the way she aired those concerns was confrontational and immediately put me on the defensive, which was not at all productive. What she should have said was this:

“Harriet, I was looking at the department’s most recent data reports for the benchmark assessment, and I have some concerns. Here’s the report. Take some time to dive into the data, talk to the teachers in your department, and let’s schedule a meeting to discuss it in a few days.”

Conclusion #2

We’ve adopted a completely new benchmark assessment this year, so we don’t know what to expect in terms of student achievement trends. To put a teacher on the spot like that is unfair and unprofessional. Furthermore, this is just one way of looking at the data from the two assessments. There are dozens of different types of reports on this data. To make assumptions based on one report is equal parts ignorance and laziness.

Conclusion #3

I’m tired. My instruction has suffered because I have too much on my plate. I just want to eliminate the other responsibilities and focus on my teaching.

So, why am I writing about this? What’s the big deal?

I need to focus on my teaching.

I spent two days this past week at a Common Core Mentor Training put on by Solution Tree.  I was sent to this training as the language arts department head, but instead of looking for things to bring back to my department, I mostly focused on how the training could inform my teaching. Luckily, I came across two awesome-possum strategies that I plan on using in my classroom as a way to spice up my instructional repertoire.

Strategy #1: Sock Toss

The workshop facilitator used this strategy as both an ice-breaker and as a demonstration on the importance of collaboration and creative problem solving.

Setup: Before you start, you will three clean socks for each group. The goofier the socks, the better.

Step 1: Project a word or short writing prompt on the board to get the students thinking about the target concept. The students will write a response in their notebooks, or discuss the word or prompt with an elbow partner. Our facilitator projected the word “Efficacy” on the board and had us discuss what that word means to us as educational leaders.

Step 2: Regroup students into circles of 8-10 (if being used as a way to learn each other’s names, do this as a whole class). Give only one student in each group a clean, balled up sock.

Step 3: Have the students introduce themselves. They will then create a “toss pattern” by saying the name of a person across the table and tossing the sock to them. They may only toss the sock to a person who has not already received it. While each group creates their toss pattern, the teacher should be loudly counting off the seconds. Once the sock is tossed back to the original person, the group will write down how long in seconds it took them to complete the pattern.

Step 4: Have the groups do it again, using the same pattern, but this time they will repeat the pattern twice. Once again, they will record their time in seconds when they complete the pattern.

Step 5: Tell the students to do it again (twice again), but this time they will try to beat their previous time.

Step 6: Give the students another sock. Tell them they are to repeat the pattern again, but they are still expected to beat their previous score.

Step 7: Continue with this process until the students start thinking outside the box and breaking the rules. At some point, give the students a third sock.

Step 8: Finally, have the students reflect on the process within their group. The focus of the discussion should be about how the groups adapted, what they learned, and what the experience suggests about collaboration. Finally, discuss how it might relate to learning.

When participating in this exercise during the workshop, my group decided to “bend” the rules first by reorganizing ourselves in the circle, so that the person I first tossed the sock to was standing right next to me. That way, we just had to pass the sock around the circle instead of tossing it around the circle. When a third sock was introduced, we tightened our circle so that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, and (after the facilitator said that every person needed to “touch” the socks) stuffed all of the socks in a cup so that they were all sticking out top. I held the cup in the center of the circle, and then each person just had to briefly tap their hand on top of the cup (thus quickly touching all three socks).

During the reflective discussion at the end of the activity, our group emphasized the point that efficacy is best obtained through collaboration and creative risk-taking.

This lesson could easily be adapted to target learning standards centered around cause and effect, or perhaps as a timeline or sequencing activity. For example: I might use it in my classroom as a review for plot structure by separating the students into groups of six, and then giving one student from each group a necklace sign (a piece of paper attached to a string so that a student can wear it around his neck). Each sign would have one of the terms from the plot structure diagram on it, and the students would then have to toss the sock to each other in the correct plot structure diagram order.

Strategy #2: World Café Conversations

Our facilitator used this activity to encourage discussion about Common Core instruction and assessment. What makes it effective is that for every discussion “round,” the students have to rearrange themselves into different groups at different tables. The image below is a visual representation of the World Café Conversations process. I’ve explained the process below as well.

Image from: http://goo.gl/ejnCCK
Image from: http://goo.gl/ejnCCK

Setup: Before you start, you will need to have the desks arranged into several groups of four. Eight groups of four would be ideal for a class of 32 students, because it’ll give the students plenty of opportunities to interact with new people during each round. Each group should have a sheet of large, sticky chart paper and plenty of colorful markers.

Step 1: Project the following image onto the board. Explain to the students that they can do any or all of the things in the image while participating in the discussion, but they should pick one specific thing to focus on during the discussion. I decided to focus on the play, draw, doodle option. Who doesn’t love doodling?

Image from: http://goo.gl/oOuvnG
Image from: http://goo.gl/oOuvnG

Step 2: Project the discussion questions for Round 1 onto the board. Give the students 10-15 minutes (or a different time limit appropriate to topic and grade level) to discuss the questions. Throughout the discussion, the students should be jotting down or doodling their key ideas, words, or phrases onto the chart paper.

Our facilitator used the questions below for round one of our discussion.

Round 1: Connect ideas and images with words and lines

  1. How does instruction and assessment change with our Common Core implementation?
  2. Describe what’s happening in the classroom with deep implementation.
  3. How would you describe the current state of your instruction and assessment work?

Step 3: When the time is up, tell the students to move to a different table with different people for the second round. They will leave their chart paper and markers at the table. Encourage students to avoid staying with the same group from the first table. The point is to interact with as many different people as possible.

Step 4: Project the questions for the second round onto the board. The students will discuss the new questions, and they will continue to write or doodle their ideas onto the chart paper. Repeat this process at least four times.

Step 5: Have the students return to their original group. Then, project the directions for Round 5 onto the board:

Round 5 is for Reflection

  1. Review the notes and drawings on your table.
  2. As a group, write two sentences to sum it up.
  3. What insights might inform your next steps?

Step 6: Once the students have finished writing their two sentences onto the chart paper (you may need to give them sticky notes if there is no more room to write on the chart paper), one representative from the group will bring their paper up to the front of the room to share their two sentences with the class.

harvestsusanKelly
Image From: goo.gl/6OApyk
WorldCafe
Image from: http://goo.gl/8GJ69x
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Image from: http://goo.gl/FjH2R2

I plan on using this lesson to facilitate discussion about a short story or novel we read in class. For example, one round could be on how the author uses characterization, another round could be on how the author uses theme, another round could be on the author’s use of language, and a fourth round might require the students to analyze significant quotes.

*Edit 3/2/14: At the end of the activity, have the students reflect on what they learned as a blog post. Not only will this document their learning and exercise metacognitive skills, but it will also give absent students a chance to catch up on what they missed by reading their peers’ blog posts. For more ideas on how to blog with students, check out this awesome post.

Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes

This post started with a negative experience in my principal’s office, but I’ve realized that sometimes negative experiences are necessary. Over the past few months, I’ve felt drained and disillusioned. I’ve been spending so much of my time and energy thinking about the big goals for the school, that I lost focus of why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

Being called into the principal’s office to speak on behalf of the department served as a wake-up call. While I am not solely responsible for those scores, I am responsible for the department. How can I expect the department to amp up their instructional practices if I do not do it myself?

Since that interaction with my principal, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the professional development opportunities provided by our district. It’s true that our district offers many more seminars and workshops than other, larger districts in the state; but the focus of these workshops is on creating effective assessments and on analyzing data from those assessments. That’s fine and dandy, but teachers need to know what to do when the data demands that we reteach a standard. This brings me to…

…Conclusion #4

Data-driven instruction cannot be effective without strong instruction, and strong instruction cannot exist without opportunities for teachers to discover and adopt new strategies.

The purpose of the Common Core Mentor Training workshop wasn’t to help teachers discover new instructional strategies; it was to help teachers develop rigorous assessments aligned to the PARCC assessment.

My small act of defiance against the constant state of assessment in education was this: ignore the intended purpose of the workshop, and focus instead on ways to improve the instruction taking place in my classroom prior to the assessment.

I’m such a rebel.

A look back

Passion-and-Leadership
Image from: http://alturl.com/roegg

I don’t know who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, but I do know that if you’re willing to spend your precious time reading my words, I like you. You, dear reader, will help me to remember and appreciate my craft as an educator. So, thank you.

I teach seventh grade language arts at a Title I school in central New Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, Title I basically means that a large percentage of our students come from low-income families. Overall, I love my job and I love my students. Middle school students have a bad reputation for being obnoxious and directionless, but that’s what makes middle schoolers so much fun. They are at a stage in their lives where they are testing the boundaries to figure out who they are as individuals (this is what makes them obnoxious), and they are in this weird transitional period where they want to enjoy both the privileges of grown-ups and the freedoms of childhood (this is why they’re directionless).

But hey, don’t we all want that sometimes?

One of my favorite things about my job is designing and implementing lessons that are both challenging and engaging. It may sound cliché, but I love seeing a student’s face light up when they finally “get it.” My favorite sound is that long, drawn out “ooooohh,” that students make when they finally make the connection. I am addicted to the feeling that teachers get after a successful lesson; to those days that end with the uncontrollable urge to brag about your students to everyone you know, but you just can’t seem to communicate the magic of the situation, no matter how hard you try.

I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be a parent too, but I’m not quite ready to procreate yet.

When I first started teaching, I was that eager-beaver new teacher that couldn’t wait to change the world. I said yes to everything. EVERYTHING. Before I even knew all of my students’ names, I was a member of the Renaissance committee, the AVID site team, and I had taken on the stipend position of Gym Master. Yup. I was Master of the Gym. I felt important. I felt valued. And I had gate keys! I could access the school on the weekends! I was drunk with power.

I would happily arrive at school between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning, and I wouldn’t leave until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I was honored when my principal asked me to go to a Solution Tree conference in Phoenix. I felt so grown-up and mature, going on my very first business trip.

I eagerly experimented with new technology tools and resources our district had just adopted, including My Big Campus, which is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Blackboard, and begged my principal to let me lead an hour-long workshop on how to use the program at our next staff meeting. They agreed. The staff humored me during the workshop, but they didn’t use the program in their own classrooms. I didn’t understand their resistance. I was naive.

At the very beginning of my second year, the Language Arts department head position became available, and nobody else in my department volunteered for the position. Naturally, I took on the position. I couldn’t believe my administrators allowed me, a second year teacher, to become head of the department.

I struggled with my role as leader that first semester. Even though I had learned about the PLC (professional learning community) process in college and at the Solution Tree training the year before, I wasn’t sure how to guide a team of teachers, more experienced than myself, through the process of identifying essential standards, aligning curriculum, giving common formative and summative assessments, comparing data, and sharing best practices, when they were accustomed to using PLC time as a social hour. I didn’t feel comfortable asking a woman who had been teaching fourteen years longer than I had to stay focused and stick to the agenda.

I finally adjusted to my role as department head after attending a leadership training in Phoenix with the social studies department head and my administrators. While there, I shared my feelings of inadequacy with them, and the social studies department head aired similar concerns about herself, even though she had many more years teaching than I had. I returned from that conference feeling refreshed and prepared for the challenges ahead.

The rest of that year and the following summer were very productive. As a department, we identified our essential Common Core State Standards, organized those standards into a new curriculum map, created standards based Z-Objectives for each unit, and created a handful of common formative assessments. We also created a new, standards based grade scale that would both expedite the grading process while also keeping the focus of the assessment to mastery of the standards instead of ability to follow directions or write legibly (while those things are important, they have nothing to do with whether a student is proficient or not).

This is my third year in the classroom. I started the year with positive expectations. Our old principal left to become the superintendent of another district, and our assistant principal was promoted to principal. I sat on the hiring committee for our new assistant principal, and was thrilled with the woman we decided to hire. This is the first year we are teaching to the Common Core State Standards, and in August I was confident that the work the department did over the summer would eliminate the discomfort of change.

I was wrong.

Moral at the school is at an all-time low. The focus of both district and school administrators is on data and test scores rather than on students and learning. With the new teacher-evaluation system, the pressure to show growth on the SBA is overwhelming.

I feel as if teaching has become a secondary responsibility. Between complying with the demands of the new evaluation system, analyzing data, and my department head responsibilities, I don’t have time to plan creative lessons or give meaningful grades.

I feel my passion for teaching crumbling under the pressure more and more every day. I look back on the eager-beaver new teacher I was two years ago, and I miss her.

I’ve started blogging again out of desperation. I need a place to reflect on what I see and experience in my classroom every day. I need to find a way to recharge and revive that fiery passion that energized my lessons my first year.

I will not blog to vent, but rather to reflect, learn, and grow. I may share lessons, theories, and experiences, but no matter how negative the experience, the takeaways will remain positive. I’ll do my best, at least.

Pinterest 101

Only the cool kids are invited…

Like many people, I didn’t really feel the need to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, but then I had to do a presentation on how to use social networking in the classroom. Pinterest is the third most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter, and so, for the sake of research, I joined Pinterest. But here’s the thing: you can’t just join Pinterest because you want to join Pinterest. You have to be invited. I was slightly annoyed that I had to wait to start pinning stuff, especially because I had to wait only two weeks after requesting an invite. Good grief.

While setting up my Pinterest account I was pleased to see that I could link the account to either my Facebook or Twitter account. One less username and password combination to remember sounded great to me (although I usually use the same ones over and over again. Shh, don’t tell). I decided to go with my Facebook account since I am still getting used to Twitter, but Facebook and Pinterest must be in cahoots with one another because that dang Pinterest tricked me into getting Facebook’s timeline profile. Grumble grumble.

Regardless of the initial inconveniences, Pinterest is my new addiction. Before joining Pinterest I had seen an eCard that mentioned drinking wine while looking at Pinterest all day, so for the sake of research, I decided to pour myself a glass of Pinot Noir before diving into the world of Pinterest. Two hours and three glasses of wine later, I realized I had to stop wasting time on Pinterest and take care of my big girl responsibilities like doing the dishes and feeding the cat.

How it works

Basically, Pinterest gives people the ability to “pin” things they find on the internet to different boards. Think of these Pinterest boards as being digital bulletin boards, and you can have multiple boards to help you to organize your pins. Initially, I didn’t know what the topics of my boards should be, but Pinterest is nice enough to give you some ideas as soon as you sign up.

My Pinterest Boards

I now have a board for classroom stuff, a board for workout ideas, a board for literary references (this is currently my largest board, full of entertaining images referring to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, and The Outlander Series. I also have a few random book covers in there for good measure), and a board that I call “Bumper Stickers”. You may or may not remember when Facebook had a bumper sticker application about three years ago; this is basically the same idea. The great thing about boards is that you can do whatever you want with them. Get creative!

My “Literary References” Board

Stalk me on Pinterest!

Like Twitter you “follow” people on Pinterest instead of “friend” them. I had no clue as to whom l should follow when I signed up, but Pinterest was nice enough to suggest people to follow based on what I marked as my interests. This made my initial pinning experience a bit worldlier since I could see the pins of people I had never met. Soon after, I learned that since my Pinterest account was linked with my Facebook account, I could automatically follow all of my Facebook friends who also had a Pinterest account.

Pinterest Home Screen

If you follow someone on Pinterest, their pins automatically pop up on your home screen, much like posts on a wall on Facebook. You can “like” someone’s pin, or you can leave a comment on someone’s pin, however I’ve noticed that simply repinning a pin is the most common method of recognition.

So…what’s the point?

The purpose of Pinterest is not to share witty thoughts about everyday occurrences, nor is its purpose to share photos and news articles to document the events of an individual’s life. Instead, Pinterest aims to share various types of media such as photos, videos, websites, infographics, and more, with people who have similar interests. And I wonder sometimes if Pinterest aims to take over the world by distracting its users from their personal responsibilities in life…kind of like this Hulu commercial.

Teachers Can Use Pinterest for the Classroom

While I just sold Pinterest as an entertaining way to spend uneventful evenings, it does hold some potential for education. Teachers are using it to find ideas for their classrooms, but students are also using it as an instructional scaffold or as a form of assessment. As a language arts teacher, I am particularly interested in using Pinterest while teaching a novel. I imagine my students creating boards for the protagonist and the antagonist(s) of a novel and a board for the setting. Perhaps we could have a class board for the different books my students are reading independently, or a board for atrocious grammar mistakes the students see around town. The possibilities are only as limited as your creativity. To help inspire some new ideas, I have included this great infographic about how other teachers are using Pinterest.

 

Want to read more about how teachers can use Pinterest professionally? Check out this awesome post by Donna Miller Fry.

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