Learning from Others

FeatureFriNo, I don’t have my days mixed up.  I just wanted to take the time to promote two fellow bloggers, Gina from Perfetto Writing Room, and Brittany from Language Arts Bliss, who have started to host Feature Friday on their blogs.  Gina has been having coffee with a variety of amazing teachers who offer readers a glimpse into their teaching and a whole lot of great tips.   She also posts tips for TPT sellers on Tuesdays.

Brittany was kind enough to feature one of my favorite TPT products in her Feature Friday Post.  Check out her blog to see all of the awesome tips she has for teachers. I especially like her Tuesday Tech Tips.  So much to learn from so many amazing teachers!


Exit Tickets: a way in.

I know exit tickets have been around for a long time, but they are new to me this year.  Quite simply, I love them.  I wonder where they have been my whole life.  They provide a  fast and easy way to find out what my students are learning.   There are times (many times, in fact) when I am busy “teaching” a topic but my students are not actually learning.  Or some of them just don’t get it, no matter how clever or entertaining the lesson plan may have been.


exit tix Last week, my grade ten class was working on a literary essay, their second essay this semester.  We’ve done a lot of work on the writing process and they have been, for the most part, doing very well.  When they passed in their exit tickets, though, a clear pattern emerged:  they wanted more instruction on writing introductions and conclusions, and on effectively using transitions.  So, the next day, I started class with mini-lessons on each of those things.  Some students had questions that pertained only to them, so I spoke to each of them about their issues.

The exit tickets offer us a way into our students’ learning–not what we have taught, and for that reason I plan to use them more often. However, because it is new to me, I sometimes forget and fall into my usual routine. Each time I use them, though, I am reminded of just how useful they are.

Below are some interesting ways to use exit tickets that I found on Pinterest:


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Critical Analysis, with Disney

I’m starting my favorite unit with one of my classes tomorrow. I call it, very tongue-in-cheek, my “Disney is the Devil” unit, just to get them hooked. I tell my students that I am going to present some ideas that will challenge some of their happy childhood memories; I tell them that I will make some of them mad. And I do. But I also tell them that my kids were raised on Disney and that I love all of their musicals. How could both be true, I ask? They have to pay attention in order to get the answer to that question.

disney-princess-kida-disney-princess-30168400-2560-1117We start with a quick look at the older Disney classics. I put a chart on the overhead and we fill it in using Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. We quickly see a pattern: rich, white teenage beauties are in competition with another woman for the attention of the very static–but rich and hot– Prince Charming. The teenage beauty needs rescuing but, of course, emerges victorious and is rewarded for her sweetness and beauty with happily ever after. My students see the pattern, but are quick to point out that these movies are old, created during a time when our beliefs about gender roles were different. Yes, I concede. And then I show them some clips from more modern movies.

Ariel, the beautiful mermaid is a much more modern woman. She wants to be independent, to break free from her world. In fact, she rescues the prince in a wonderful role reversal. And then she gives up her voice and another very essential part of herself–the whole lower half of her body–to be with him. And what of Belle, the beautiful book-loving heroine who rejects Gaston, perfect male specimen, because he is actually a jerk, and falls in love with the beast for who he is on the inside? What an improvement: she’s smart and she loves people for who they are! Yes, and the reward for her awesomeness is a rich, handsome prince with a castle. Happily ever after for her too!

By this time, I have a few of my students nodding their heads in agreement with me; some are even anticipating where I am going before I get there (I love to see the wheels start turning!). Many, however, like some of you reading, are protesting loudly (I love that too.) I tell them to be patient; I’m not done. I want them to keep an open mind, to listen, and to make their own judgments as they go. Critical thinking at its best.

jll7-poca_portrait_1Another element I ask them to analyze is the way the Disney heroine looks compared to the other women in the movie.  While the other women might be attractive, none are ever as drop-dead gorgeous as the leading lady. Unless of course, she is the aging cougar who can’t quite take the competition anymore, especially when her mirror points out that she’s no longer the fairest in the land. An excellent example of this can be found in Pocahontas. First of all, the real imagesPocahontas looked like the this. Her story was captivating enough to be told several times on the big screen, but obviously her face was not. Also, compare Disney’s version to her best friend. Her friend is very cute, but she is not a ravishing beauty–because she isn’t the hero.

So, what? My students exclaim. Who wants to see a movie where the main characters are “ugly”?   So, what, indeed. What does that tell us the viewers? Do you have to be gorgeous to be the hero of the story? Most of us are not incredibly beautiful–does that mean that we can’t be the hero of our story? Are we all relegated to the role of cute and/or helpful sidekick?

And what about racism? Not Disney, surely? I show my students this clip from Peter Pan (What Makes the Red Man Red?) and ask them to consider what might be wrong:

Really? Is that an accurate portrayal of the Native American/Canadian? Or is every stereotype jammed into that number? And why is it that all of the natives are bright red caricatures while Tiger Lily is a more accurate, and much more attractive version? Could it be because Peter Pan, the hero, has a crush on her?

Ok. Ok. It was the 1950’s. We know better now. Pocahontas, for example, is a much more accurate portrayal, one that illustrates that the white man was actually the bad guy. But what about Aladdin? Watch it closely. Aladdin and Jasmine, despite being the same race as all of the other characters, look far more “white” than the rest. And speak without an accent. But they are the heroes–little kids are watching and they may not understand the accents, my students protest. They understand Jaffar, don’t they? I counter.  Jaffar, the bad guy, who is actually the “ugliest” and darkest of the main characters. In fact, the more villainous the character, the darker and more caricatured they are. Hmmmm…..

By this time I have some students who are very agitated.  They think I’m digging too deep, throwing a bunch of feminist and liberal missiles at their favorite childhood movies.  At that point I start pulling in some other  childhood favorites, like good old Barbie.  The woman who couldn’t stand up if she were real, as she would not be anatomically able to do so.  I have a magazine with the headline Stars Caught Without Their Makeup! , the cover graced with pictures of celebrities looking, actually, normal.  However they had the audacity to go out of their house bare-faced and pony-tailed.  I ask them to think of examples–including newer Disney movies–that support or counter my points.  Great discussion ensues.

What do all of these things, Disney and other cartoons, fashion magazines, most TV and movies, teach us?  That happily ever after is reserved for the most beautiful, most heroic, most “white” looking of us?  Where do our ideas that we must look a certain way come from?  Does the media, and even Disney, contribute to our sometimes messed up values and self-esteem?  I think it does.

Finally, after all of this, I remind my students that I love Disney, that my daughter (who is pursuing a career in musical theater) spent her childhood watching the cartoons and pretending she was the characters.  How can all that be when I truly believe that kids are given bad messages mixed in with all of the great stories and tunes?   The answer is simple.  We don’t live in a bubble and our kids certainly should not.  We are all bombarded with messages constantly that present ideas and values that aren’t so great.  But we are also bombarded with great ideas too, and it is so important to be able to discern the difference.  When my daughter was watching these movies, I would talk to her about these things, in age-appropriate ways.

We need to critically evaluate the media, not just the texts that we study in school.  So, using the media as text can be a wonderful jumping off point to not only get your students engaged and thinking critically, but also as one to get them to challenge the messages they get every day.


Take your class outside for some real learning!

outside activitiesI’m really excited about my newest TPT product because I made it primarily for myself!  It has been a long, snowy winter here on Prince Edward Island, and as I look outside my window I still see piles of snowdrifts.  The temperatures are supposed to be above zero all week, though, so by next weekend the view should be different: lots of glorious, red PEI mud, the surest sign of spring around here!

Once the sun comes out and the winter is finally gone where it should have gone long ago, my students will be asking that question that always gets asked on the nice sunny days: “Can we go outside?”  And I will want to say YES! because, like them, I will want to get out in that gorgeous spring sunshine.  However…we have lost eleven days this semester due to storms, and I know that despite their best intentions, they won’t do the work we were going to do in class that day if we go outdoors–at least they won’t do much.  Given all the lost time, I will need to keep them on task.  God forbid we have fun when there are outcomes to cover and a clock that is ticking!

So, I put my thinking hat on and designed some activities that I could use outside AND still get those outcomes covered.  I cannot wait to try it.  Come on sunshine!!

If you click the image you can check out the product.  If you need further inspiration to take your class outside to learn, listen to Open the Window, from the musical Anne of Green Gables https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Co06cnOzCc
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April Fools!

7160318c9857cf339b88e8ed8f9143abUnfortunately, it’s not a joke. We have our fifth day off for snow in a row. Throw the weekend into the middle, and the last time I taught a class was a week ago. Sigh. It’s always nice to get a snow day, but enough is enough. It’s time for spring!  I read this blog post on facebook yesterday and thought I’d share–an excellent response to all those who begrudge teachers their snowdays.  Click the icon to read the post.

test prep packAnother thing that is not a joke is this wonderful contest that two of my TPT colleagues, Lauralee and Julie have organized.  They have put together a wonderful collection of test preparation activities for middle and high school teachers.  Click the icon to visit Lauralee’s blog for the details and enter to win one of these awesome prize packs!