Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book Review: Hunger- Roxane Gay

I'm getting back to my blogging roots by returning to doing some book reviews as I read them. My approach to reviews is to look at them from a teaching perspective. Would I use the book in my classroom? What age level is it appropriate for? Which students might it speak to etc. Hopefully this is helpful to you.

The Review:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is a memoir dealing with Gay's relationship with her weight and how it affected/affects the relationships in her life. I listened to this book on tape and I'm glad I did. She reads the book aloud and her inflection really helps the reader to connect even more with the story. It truly added a personal touch.

I liked the book. I'm glad I read it. As someone who has never been significantly overweight it really made me think about how being overweight/obese affects people in ways I'd never considered. It also gave a lot of insight into relationships that I found valuable.

Who Should Read it:
Frankly, everyone should read it. I would say that I think this is a college level book. Some mature seniors in high school could read it but it's heavy. I think female students will get more out of it and students who don't necessarily identify as heterosexual may also get a bit more from it as well. Male students could learn a lot from it, but may not be able to identify with it in the same way. I also think that students struggling with their weight would really identify with Gay in the book.

I read the book as an option for my college's Common Read program where the whole college reads the same book and it's integrated into as many classes and co-curriculars as possible.  Viewing it from that lens, I don't think it's the right book for the Common Read program. The narrative jumps around in ways that didn't always make sense to me and I think many of our students wouldn't be able to follow it well. I also think the content might be to heavy for general courses and would be better suited in courses like women's studies, dietetics, counseling etc.

 Teaching the Book:
As stated above I think this book would do best in contextualized courses rather than English Composition for example. I would be wary using it in a high school setting but may personally recommend it to specific students. It is a great mentor text for a memoir as it demonstrates clearly how to tell your life story in the context of one aspect of your life.

While I'm not a big proponent of trigger warnings I do think it's important that instructors are aware of potentially disturbing scenes. For this book in particular letting students know ahead of time should not be a "spoiler" or take anything away from the book.

The book goes into some detail about a gang rape. It also discusses domestic violence and emotional abuse.

Reading Level:
While no reading level seems to be available for this book I would put it firmly in the 11th-college range. The language is not necessarily difficult but the content and the structure of the book make it challenging. The not completely linear narrative can be tough to follow at times and would take an advanced reader to follow.

Have you read it? Will you use it in class? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by,

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Teachers, Reclaim Your Sanity and Your Life

Teachers spend so much time working on their classrooms, grading, planning, calling parents, and teaching that it can make having enough time to do the rest of your responsibilities in life difficult.

Luckily, we are in an age of technology and innovation, and when used correctly it can save us so much time and give us some of our life back.

I've purchased a few things recently that are changing my life more than I expected them to.

Please note this post contains affiliate links which means if you use them I may earn a bonus or a small percentage of the sale- at no cost to you. This helps me keep this blog up and running.

Problem 1: Cooking
I live alone and aside from cooking for my boyfriend from time to time mainly cook for myself. I often found myself without any ideas of what to cook or purchasing items to cook with but having way too much left over because I only needed enough for a couple of servings. (Could they please start selling cilantro in much smaller bunches?) I was wasting a lot of food and was eating out way too much as a result.

Solution 1: Home Chef
A colleague was using Home Chef and was raving about it. So I checked out lots of meal services and discovered that Home Chef gave me the most control. I have food allergies- milk, tree nuts- so I needed a plan that would allow me many choices each week. I started with ordering two meals a week and either their fruit or their smoothie add on to keep from paying shipping.

By using Home Chef I motivated myself to cook, tried lots of new foods, developed a collection or recipes to use in the future, and was able to pack lunches. The serving sizes were pretty big for me and I was trying to lose weight when I first started so, if I wasn't cooking for my boyfriend I would cook both servings and then divide everything up into three meals. I'd immediately pack two take out containers and plate up one to eat that night. That way I had lunch to take to work the next day and dinner the next night. Then I'd make the next meal.  Eventually I ordered three meals a week instead of the fruit or smoothie add on which was great but at times became a little overwhelming.

You can skip a week at any time which is also great. If you want to try use this link for $30 off! (I pay about $50 for the two meals, but since I usually get 6 meals out of them it makes me very happy! I was spending way more than that eating out.)

Here are pictures of some of the meals I've made:

Problem 2: Keeping Up With Cleaning
I've never been great about doing chores while living alone but when I am busy at work it's extra bad. I also have a cat who sheds more than a small cat should so when I do end up vacuuming I end up pulling up way more than I expect.

Solution 2: Robot Vacuum
While I was visiting friends this fall I saw their robot vacuum. Their house is huge, under renovations, and has four furry pets living in it. If this robot vacuum worked for them it could certainly work for me!

I hopped onto Amazon when I got home and wouldn't you know their model was a deal of the day? They have the ECOVACS DEEBot N79. It runs about $250-300. However, I found it for $150, saw it for $220 another day, and as of publishing this article there was a coupon on Amazon for $50 off. It's way cheaper than the Roomba and it gets the job done. You can control it with a remote or your phone which is extra awesome and it's smart enough not to fall down stairs.

Now I can vacuum at the same time I'm cooking, doing dishes, watching TV (it's pretty quiet), or doing just about anything else. It's a total time saver.

Problem 3: Taking Notes in Meetings
I take a lot of notes in meetings but have a hard time figuring out how to keep them organized. Sometimes I know I'll want them even a year later! I just don't have space to keep all of my notebooks forever, and I have no good way to index them.

Solution 3: Rocketbook Everlast Smart Notebook
I heard about this notebook on a podcast for higher education. It is awesome. I use this notebook when I'm taking notes I think I will need later. This $30 notebook is reusable. You use Pilot Frixion pens with it (they're erasable and also awesome) and then, using their app, scan the page and it uploads to wherever you want it to go! You can have it auto email it to you, sent as a text message, uploaded to Google Drive, DropBox etc. It's seriously life changing. Then, you just wipe the pages down with a wet cloth and start all over. There's plenty of pages so you can take lots of notes before uploading. 


What products have revolutionized your life at home or at work?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Knowing the Facts! An Argumentative Writing Assignment

I just got done with one of my favorite mini units with my college freshmen. I've done it several times now and each time my students give me great feedback! Many have told me that they wish they'd been asked to do something like it prior to getting to the college level!

Let me tell you what I do for this unit.

I come up with a list of topics that are currently relevant to our society and that can be easily researched. I then assign groups of students each topic. I do this randomly. The students do not work together, but rather, work independently to write two, yes two, separate papers. In one paper they argue for their topic, and the other they argue against their topic! This way they have to have a clear understanding of both sides of the issue- regardless of their own personal beliefs.

After they've written both of these papers I have mini in-class debates! Each group of students is called up by topic and they get to provide points and counterpoints about their topic. What makes it tricky is that until they get to the front of the room the students don't know which side they will be arguing because, once again, I randomly decide that as well! I let them use their papers and it's all very casual. Typically these debates don't last more than 5-7 minutes.

It's interesting to debrief with them about whether they argued for the side they agreed with or not and or whether their opinions changed from doing this assignment. For many they said it actually helped them form an opinion on a topic they previously didn't know much about.

Would you like the lesson plan, assignment sheet, and topic cards that I use? If so follow this link to sign up for my newsletter. Then, the next day you'll get an email with a link to the pdf for you to download! I hope you find it useful!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ultimate Gift Giving Guide for English Teachers/Nerds

Each year I like to put together a list of the best gifts for English Teachers (and anyone else who has a ridiculous love of literature). See below for 2017's round up!

**links may be affiliate links which means I receive a small amount back if you purchase through the link. This helps me pay my hosting fees and other costs.**

1. This Shakespeare Insult Generator looks like a blast! This could be such a fun conversation starter at home or a great activity in your classroom! It's a great price and prime eligible to boot!


2. If you have a true Shakespeare lover you need to shop for consider this awesome magnetic Shakespeare dress up kit! It'd go great on a classroom whiteboard, a refrigerator, or the side of a file cabinet!

3. For the Jane Austen lover in your life check out this journal that lasts for a full 5 years! This will be great for anyone who loves journaling. Not to mention, how nice would this look on a bedside table? 

4. Is your English Teacher more of a Harry Potter fan? Maybe a house flag for Gryffindor would fit the bill. 

5. Lastly, I'm in love with these "Ugly Christmas Sweaters" that are perfect for any book lover!

Gifts are fun for everyone. Check out my list from last year too! What's on your wishlist this year?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Getting the Most Out of the First Days of School

The first few days of school are chaotic. There is just so much to do. With secondary students they see so many teachers that it's imperative that we don't just read through the syllabus and give a lecture on class procedures like every other teacher.

Instead I like to teach my procedures by doing meaningful activities that also help set the tone that my class is one where we will be doing work, each and every day.

Read on to find out how I do this!

1. To train my students in my testing and quizzing procedures I give a syllabus quiz. I create a 5 question quiz that goes over my extension policy, late work policy, plagiarism policy and anything else really important for that semester. I use the time to show them how I want them to stay silent etc. (Here's a copy of my syllabus template- Quiz is not included)

2. To demonstrate how I like my papers passed out and turned in I give my students a writing diagnostic. This way I can also get a read on my students' writing ability. I can also clue students in as to what appropriate activities are for finishing. (Check out the 5 prompts I use below)

3. I have students complete a bell-work activity each day. On day one they complete a "Welcome to my class" half sheet. The next few days I typically use journal entries. This sets the tone from day one that they get started on something immediately!
4. I will assign something small as homework. If anyone doesn't do it I have them fill out the missing work slip. We also discuss the late work pass.  At least one of the days I will do an exit ticket to get them used to using those as well.

5. Lastly, at some point during the first few days I have the students get together in groups. I use my group creation cards so they know how I like to assign groups. Whatever your strategy is, it's good for them to learn your policies early!

What procedures do you make sure to go over?

Friday, July 14, 2017

5 Must Have Teacher Supplies

Hi, my name is Ms. F and I'm addicted to school and office supplies! I love them all. However, there are several things that I consider "Must Haves" for my classroom/office.

The links below are affiliate links- you don't pay any extra but if you buy something through one of my links I will get a little something in return that helps me pay for this site.

1. Flair pens! Grading is just a little less tedious when I use these pens. I also like to use different colors next to each other in my gradebook to help visually separate things out. I love this big pack because it has so many different colors.

2. Post it notes. I like all the different sizes and use them for many many different things. I often use the different colors to help me color code things and keep myself organized! I even get the gigantic 12inch by 12inch ones sometimes! 
3. A journal to use as my planner. While I love pre-made planners I really enjoy creating my own. I love being able to customize it even on a daily or weekly basis. My life has been greatly changed by becoming a bullet journal addict! Watch for an upcoming post about it.

4. Binder Clips! This seems so simple but they really are a life saver. When I taught middle school at the end of each class I'd grab the papers from the turn in bin and stick a binder clip on them. It really helped me stay organized. I also used them to keep my copies together when I would make all of my copies for the week right at the beginning.

5. Binders are the last piece of my arsenal. I like having paper copies of units I'm working with. That way if my computer is down- not that that ever happens- I can easily make copies etc. Here's a great bundle price! 

What are your favorite school supplies? What do you use to stay organized throughout the year? Let me know in the comments! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Talking About Race in the Classroom

This upcoming school year the college I teach at has chose Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy as our common read. This means, for us, that as many students in as many classes (across disciplines) as possible will be reading this book. We plan lectures around it and more.

This book is a memoir about Stevenson's experiences trying to help people who were wrongfully convicted get off of death row. Or help seek justice for people who, while they may be guilty, were perhaps over-punished or are being denied basic rights in prison.  It is a tough book. And a lot of the issues brought up within it deal with race and class and other issues of privilege.

Because of this, and because I'm on the common read committee a colleague and I put together a training course for our faculty to take via Blackboard about how to talk about race and other tough issues in the classroom. But why make it so only our faculty can access the resources we pulled from around the internet?

Here are the resources we're using below. I'll mention the assignments as well. Feel free to comment with your responses to the assignments if you would like. If you have other resources we haven't listed I'd love to see those too.


1. What skills or techniques can I use to facilitate better classroom discussions on topics related to racial and ethnic identities as well as other "tough topics."
2. What tools can I use to build an inclusive classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions.
3. How does privilege and positionality relate to my role in the classroom? How does it relate to my students?
4. What will tool, skill, or lesson will I use in my classroom in Fall 2017 to foster a healthy and safe space for my students and I to converse in?

  • Do you have concerns about addressing privilege in the classroom? 
  • How might you approach these concerns? 
  • Do you think your privilege or your students' privilege will help or hinder discussions about race (and other sensitive topics)? [Consider the results of your the assessment that you completed here.]

Harvard Implicit Bias Tests- Take one or many!

Assignment: After reading, watching, and taking an assessment write a journal entry responding to these questions:


30 Ways to become a culturally sensitive educator.

10 Tips for Facilitating Classroom Discussions on Sensitive Topics

Assignment: Write a discussion board post addressing: Which of these techniques and tips do you think are the most applicable to your courses? Which do you think could be problematic for your? Are there any you don't understand? 


Assignment: Make a plan for your course. Using everything you've read, watched, and participated in come up with a list of 5 things you can do this fall to make your class a more culturally sensitive space where students feel comfortable discussing tough topics. How will each of those changes improve your classroom? When can you implement each of the changes by?

** The QUEST set up is an idea I stole from Dr. Harrold's blog- I've adapted it slightly.

Thanks for reading!