An Eye-Catching New Syllabus

Slide1I’ve been playing around with new ways to get that all-important information out to my new students next week.  First of all, I want to use much less paper, so the syllabus is going on line, on our course website. If there is someone who doesn’t have internet access, I will print it off for them.  Secondly, I wanted to create a syllabus that they will actually read, not just shove to the back of their binders, as I know they have in the past.  

Click to see the full syllabus (I haven’t put in any personal info). I’m still tweaking, so I’d love to get some ideas/pictures from you.  Please send them along if you have a great idea of your own, or one you’ve seen on Pinterest.


A New Look for the Blog!

I am so excited about the new look for my blog.  I wanted an avatar that better represented me, and Robogirl Illustrates certainly delivered.  She’s a joy to work with–and pretty talented too!

In celebration of my new look, I’m offering my ELA Poster Bundle free to one lucky new follower.  Just follow my blog and I will draw one of you (maybe even two!) on Sunday night.

poster bundle

Only Two More Days to Enter!

deco contestI have always tried to make my classroom cozy and comfortable.   I spend so much of my time there, and my students spend eighty minutes of their day there too.  It can be hard, though, to make all those concrete blocks look good, and the mismatched desks sure don’t help much either.  

All summer I’ve been scouring Pinterest for ideas to spruce up my room–I’ve found some, but I’d like to see more!  So, I’ve decided to have a contest.  In the comments, leave your favorite tip, idea or a photo (or link to a pin) for decorating a high school classroom.  You can also do the same on my Facebook page.    I will choose the one that I like the most and the winner will receive the following products (click the image for details):

essay chart preview

signs pin


I will choose a winner from both the blog AND the Facebook page so you have two chances to win!  Look for before and after pics of my classroom, coming later in the month.

My favourite ways to start the year: part four

tech freebieEvery semester,  in my grade ten and twelve classes, I start with non-fiction.  Because of the nature of the genre, it’s easy to find short texts that are of high interest to the students; and if they find the texts interesting, they are far more likely to engage in the learning activities that I have for them.  As always, I want to get them involved in class discussions where they think about their own beliefs but are also willing to consider and evaluate those of their classmates.  However, not all teens are willing and able to express their ideas in an open forum; like anything else, it takes time, practice and confidence to allow someone who is not naturally expressive to speak out in class.  So, I decided a few years ago to try blogging at the beginning of the semester, to create a place that feels a little safer for my students.

My mission with this activity is to get them to work on writing fully developed responses, using textual evidence from the source.  One area of weakness in most of their writing is idea development–they just want to leave a quick response, without really thinking the issue through.  So, I search for timely and controversial issues for them to respond to and attempt to get them to have authentic dialogue with each other.   By debating the issue, they will have more to think about, and hopefully more to put in a response.  I post the articles and/or videos on my class blog, divide them in groups and have them post individual responses on their group’s page.  They must quote from the article and then respond to two of their classmate’s responses.  I ask them to either agree or respectfully disagree with a point, and to back this up with a point that is new.  In other words they should not say something like Yeah, Katie.  I agree.  The same thing happens to me.  I also spend some time discussing the concept of disagreement– that it is ok to disagree with someone.  It isn’t personal and if we all agreed with each other, what a boring place it would be!  Good debate will only occur when we are willing to disagree–but we need to do so respectfully.

What happens, usually, is that the first round is less than stellar.  However,  I will “drop in” to the conversation and prod them a little.  To a response like the one above, I might say Can you tell Katie a little more?  What happened to you?  How did you feel?  Give her some more detail.  Eventually, after a few tries, we get to the point where I see responses like this (it is a response to Dan Pink’s TedTalk on motivation):

I agree with your view of how people are motivated in today’s world, except for when you state that “[people] who are led by others throughout their lives will not be as motivated as those who have their personal interests, desires, and chosen purpose.” In the business world of our age, there is a hierarchical system ranging from those in high level positions to a standard employee or janitor, but your rank does not determine your level of motivation. Each part of the company functions when all pieces work together, but one important part is that they respect each other and what they do. Just because a manager’s responsibilities are to ensure that everyone else is doing what they need to, he can struggle with motivation just like one of the project designers or operators. Also, these “lower-ranking” workers do not necessarily have less motivation than their supervisors; they have their own interests and hobbies which give purpose to their life just like their superiors. So, your level and source of motivation are not merely defined by whether you lead or follow in your work environment.

By the time we have done a few of these blogging sessions, students are feeling more comfortable with each other and with their ability to respond with detail.  They have the opportunity to practice in an environment where they feel most comfortable–online–and hopefully they can transfer that to more face-to-face discussions in the classroom.  It’s wonderful to see a shy student find the confidence to join a group discussion, after they have seen their ideas validated on the screen!

Now, I must admit, there is a bit of work involved for me.  It takes a while to set up the group pages on my website, and reading through all of the responses is time-consuming.  But it’s worth it.  The blogging exercise has probably been the most worthwhile one I have done in a very long time.  Right now, I’m off to find some awesome articles to add to my arsenal.

If you’d like some more detail on this process, you can download my freebie, Blogging with Your Students.

Check out my other favourite ways to start the year here: Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.





TPT Back to School Sale

BTS 213 pinToday and tomorrow is your chance to get some bargains on Teachers Pay Teachers, before you go back to school.  Everything in Room 213, as in most seller’s stores, is 28% off .  I have several bundles that are already anywhere from 25-40% off, so when you add in that extra 28% that means big, big savings.  Check it out!

Also, don’t forget to check out Lauralee and Julie’s fantastic giveaway.  Go to Lauralee’s blog and enter before Saturday. back to school prize pack 1 (2)


Exciting News & a Freebie to Celebrate!!

brynnie motherMy daughter just found out that she’s gotten into the school of her dreams!  She had been accepted to Randolph Academy in Toronto for musical theatre, but it was her second choice to Sheridan, which is “the” musical theatre school in Canada.   She was on their waiting list and just got the call that she is in!  Excited does not come close to describing how we are all feeling.  (She is second from the left in this pic, hamming it up during her summer job).

What will your verse beI blogged about her on Mother’s day, saying how proud I was that she was following her dreams and included the lesson that she inspired.  It guides students through a process of considering the pros and cons of following their dreams. They view a couple of videos, read two articles and then discuss and respond. In celebration of her great success, I’m making it free for the weekend.  Enjoy…and may you inspire your students to follow their dreams too!

You can get the lesson here, at TPT