Teacher Talk – Independent Reading in My High School Classroom

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like to read anymore. Please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me, not yet, anyway. I KNOW how bad that is. I’m an English teacher. I should LOVE to read.

I used to love it. I was almost always reading, finding new books to read, and talking about books I had read. Then college happened, and I took so many classes about literary analysis and teaching reading and understanding the Common Core standards that somewhere along the way, reading became a JOB to me. I no longer just curl up with a book to relax. I can’t read for fun anymore. It seems that every time I pick up a book, I feel like I’m working on an assignment and I need to analyze every part of it and compare and contrast it with other texts and every other thing that I teach my students to do every day in my high school classroom.

As an educator, I have a major problem with this. I use to LOVE reading, so much that I decided to study literature and make it my career. Reading and writing were at one time my passion, and the education system that I was trained by and that I work for has KILLED that passion. The part that frightens me the most is that I’m afraid that’s exactly what I (as a part of the education system) am doing to my students.

Almost all of my 9th and 11th grade students hate to read. They whine and complain and kick and scream and throw a fit when they’re forced to read something (I only wish that I was exaggerating).

It’s a major problem, and over Christmas break, I racked my brain for a way to combat this. I thought about books that I read when I was their age that I absolutely loved, books that changed the way I thought about things, or introduced new ideas into my life, or that I got so wrapped up in that I actually mourned for the characters in their tragic stories. But it doesn’t matter how great a book is if I can’t get them to have the desire to open the book and give it a chance.

So I started asking myself WHY they hate reading. And then I got pretty honest with myself. When was the last time I read a book for fun? It was at least two or three years ago, maybe longer. Why don’t I read anymore? Is it because I don’t have time? (That’s my favorite excuse for EVERYTHING.) Or is there another reason?

When I really thought about it, I realized that I actually don’t like reading anymore. I’m in the same boat as my students. I’m just as reluctant to crack open a book as they are, and when I realized this, I did some soul searching about why. I realized how much WORK reading has become in my life, and when I think about the way my students have been exposed to literature in the past, I imagine that they feel the same way.

They’ve never been allowed to just read for the enjoyment of it. Ever since they started school, books and reading have been linked to assessments and AR tests. Reading has been synonymous with WORK.

I want to change that mindset in my classroom. I don’t want reading to be work. I want it to be an enjoyable experience that my students actually look forward to. Just because I want it to be that way, doesn’t make it so. It is going to take a LOT of time to convince my students that they could actually enjoy books, and it starts with me finding my love for reading again.

One way that I am trying to make reading an enjoyable experience in my classroom is with our 2017 Independent Reading Challenge. I am giving the students free-range to CHOOSE what books they want to read. I think this is the first step in fostering a love for reading, because if you only read things that are required for your classes, you miss out on so many great books and authors and topics. I want my students to discover what they like, and hopefully begin to foster a long-time love of reading a particular genre or author. My ultimate goal is for them to become lifelong readers, and this is the best way I know to start. Figure out what you like, and it becomes less of a chore, right?

The second thing I am doing is hosting an Independent Reading Day in my classroom every other Friday. This day is JUST about reading. Students bring in the book of their choice, spend time reading, and will eventually be talking about the books they have read and hopefully recommending books to classmates and friends. In my head, this day was going to go perfectly. The kids would come in, sit in a comfy spot in the room, get out their books, and read quietly. I would do the same. Seeing me set an example by reading and seeing their classmates engrossed in books would encourage even the most reluctant readers to get engaged with the text and they would eventually see that reading can actually be fun. Every teacher has had that dream scenario when they write a lesson plan, and every teacher knows that it is NOTHING like reality.

We prepared for this all week. I started out on Monday by assigning our article of the week, which just so happened to be about the importance of reading (teachers are sneaky like that). Then, on Wednesday, we went to the library as a class and students had to do a scavenger hunt to find books that matched specific criteria. This was my way of getting them to see what books the library has to offer and hopefully spark their interest with a book they saw while they were there. I excitedly pumped up the Challenge all week, reminding students that our Independent Reading Challenge started on Friday and if we reached our goal of reading 250 books as a class by May that we would get an awesome class party. I talked about some of my favorite books. I brought new books from home to stock my classroom library.


And then it was finally Friday. Today was our first day of Independent Reading, and while it went well (most of the students did actually read for at least 30 minutes, and about  a third of them came into class with a book they had already picked out and knew they would enjoy), it was nothing compared to the dream classroom that was in my head when I planned all this out.

Stuff happened.

Some students came to class without a book and had to borrow one from the class library, which ate up a lot of time (because students are MASTERS at wasting time).

They wanted to talk about how much they hated reading.

They wanted to talk about ANYTHING to keep from getting started reading.

They had HUNDREDS of questions:

  1. What’s the point of this?
  2. What if I can’t find a book I like? Can I watch a movie on my phone? (Seriously, kid???)
  3. How am I going to be graded for this?
  4. How are you going to give us a test if we are all reading different books?
  5. Is this like AR for high school?
  6. Is the Principal making you do this?
  7. Did you just forget to write a lesson for us today? (Yes, my students are little smart-alecs. Gotta love them. At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

When I told them that they would not be tested on these books, I could literally see their minds being blown (which is actually one of the coolest things about being a teacher – you can almost hear it happen). They have no concept of doing ANYTHING unless they know how many points it is worth and how it will affect their grade. Then I got flooded with the “If I don’t have to take a test, then why do I have to read?” questions.

I had expected this question, and I was prepared for it. I assuring the students that I would be holding them accountable for their reading. There will be a few assignments for them to complete when they finish a book (which I feel almost defeats the purpose, because that means reading is still being looked at as an assignment and as work rather than fun). However, the assignments are small, relatively easy, and mostly creative projects that should be fun (I think my students think that I don’t know the meaning of the word FUN, but I still toss it around a lot – I’m kind of a nerd, so a lot of this stuff is fun to me).

They will also get participation grades (DING! DING! DING! – There’s your reason to read, kid!). If they are not reading, they will get a dreaded zero. A goose egg. They’ll “take an L,” as they like to say. That seemed to be enough to make most of them decide they would read after all, so after about 15 minutes of chaos and questions, they quieted down and we finally got started reading.

I modeled good reading behavior by reading my own book, one that has been in my “To Read” pile for what seems like forever – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. My mother read it and highly recommended it, so I ahve been meaning to get to it and telling myself that I didn’t have time (hello – I just had a two week break from school for Christmas where I watched the ENTIRE series of FRIENDS for the 12th time, and I thought I didn’t have time to read a book…oy).


I actually got about half-way through the book today (all my classes are participating in the Challenge, so I got to read ALL DAY – which is basically a normal English teacher’s dream), and I must say, it has been great so far (despite me having to keep a watchful eye on my students and whisper, “Shhhh….” every 5 minutes. Is this what librarians feel like?).  I’m really enjoying this book, and I’m happy about that. I made sure to come into this with the mindset that I used to have, which was always excited about reading and just enjoying the story without overanalyzing everything. This gives me hope that I might be able to rekindle my love for reading, and that will be the best way to spark a love for reading in my students, so I have high hopes.

As far as  our Independent Reading Challenge… all I can say after day one is that this is a work in progress. I’m sure I will tweak it and change it as I see necessary, but I am determined that it is a worthy cause and I AM going to find a way to make it work.

reading-quotes-dr-suess

Do you do Independent Reading in your high school classroom? How does it work? How do you keep students accountable for their reading without making it boring or seem like a chore? I’d LOVE to hear any comments or suggestions, so please leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

 

Discipline – My One Little Word for 2017

About a week ago, I wrote a post about how I chose my one little word for this year. It was a hard decision to make, but I think I am going to be happy with the word I picked.

A few days ago, my grandmother sent me this quote:

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is the kind of order that sets me free to fly.” – Julie Andrews

I love that quote, and I think it perfectly encompasses the meaning of discipline that I want to capture in my daily life this year. (Plus, who doesn’t want to be more like Julie Andrews?) As much as I think I want to just do whatever whenever, I need structure and discipline in my life so that I can get the most out of each day. Trust me, this winter break from work has proven that I can waste a day on the couch with Netflix, and while sometimes that relaxation and rest is necessary, that’s no way to actually live on a daily basis.

I chose the word discipline because I want some order and structure in my days so that the little things are all taken care of. That way, when an opportunity presents itself, I can confidently say “Yes!” if is is something I want to do, because I know that all the other stuff is handled.

This month, I am starting by being more disciplined in my work life. My ultimate goal is to not have to bring papers home to grade. I want to be productive and efficient when I am at work so that when I am home, I can focus on my family and what really matters instead of dreading my 10 pound teacher-bag that’s constantly staring at me from the corner. This means I’m going to have to change some of my work habits, learn how to work smarter and not harder, and figure out what I can just let go (because, honestly, sometimes I just try to do way too much).

I’m excited to get back into a routine and start actually working on putting my one little word into practice in my life.

julie-andrews-quotes-8

What word did you choose for this year and how are you planning to implement it into your daily life? I’d love to hear  your feedback in the comments!

Welcoming the New Year

2016 has been a good year for Jeff and me. We got engaged (in January), got married (in March), adopted our cat, George (in April), bought our first house (in June), and adopted our cat, Pickles (in October).






I also marked a few items off my bucket list – like running in a 5k (which I ran with Jeff in February) and going to the Grand Canyon (on our honeymoon trip). I finished my first full year of teaching at West Point and was blessed with a new job in Tuscaloosa this fall. I started this blog in August and have made so many connections with friends from all over the country by sharing my family recipes with y’all. I even completely finished a round of the Whole30 in October with NO CHEATING – which is a pretty big thing for me. I celebrated turning thirty just a few weeks ago, and I must say, twenty nine was a very good year for me.




Even though 2016 was great, it’s the time of year when we turn our attention to what is to come. Jeff and I have already started prepping for our January Whole30 (this time, he’s going to join me in the challenge). I’ve been using this time off between Christmas and New Year’s to try to organize the house a little better and help us prepare for the next season of our lives.

And, of course, since I love making lists, I started working on my New Year’s Resolutions.
I make resolutions every year, and every year, I have completely abandoned them by February. I’m tired of setting goals only to let myself down, so this year, as I was creating my list of things I hoped to achieve in the new year, I realized that it was a pretty pointless list to make. It always seems like I have such great intentions, but then life happens and my resolutions end up tucked away, never to be accomplished and never to  be mentioned again. I don’t want to repeat that cycle in 2017, so I decided to try something different.

I’ve seen other blogger friends who choose a word of the year to focus on. It becomes their mantra – their goal for the year summed up in one simple word.

Unlike a huge list of extra things to do, a word of the year gives me a goal to strive for in the things I am already doing. I like the sound of that. A lot.

So I decided that 2017 is going to be different. Instead of beginning the year with a list of things I wish I could accomplish in the coming year, I’m going to come up with a word to define my year. This word will be my goal. I will study it, find out what Scripture says about it, and figure out how to apply it in all areas of my life.

Sounds much better and easier than a list, right?

That’s what I thought…until I started trying to choose a word. One blogger friend has chosen the word simplify as her word of the year. I really wanted to steal that one, but then I thought about it for a while and decided that my life is already (purposefully) pretty simple. I don’t really feel like that’s the word I need at this season of my life.

So I asked my husband. His word? Without even having to think about it, he blurted out “Adventure!” (This could probably be his word every single year and it describes him so perfectly that I can’t believe I even had to ask him what word he would choose.)


While I love going on adventures with my husband, I don’t really know if I want adventure to be my one word for 2017. I want to tag along on his adventures, but I feel like I need a different focus in my everyday life.

I tossed around different words for a few days, but it was hard to settle on one. I want to make sure that I choose a good word, especially since I’m going to be living with it for an entire year.

I finally settled on a word – one that will bring a much-needed change to many areas of my life and that I hope will help me stress less and get more out of life. My word for 2017 is DISCIPLINE.

I know. It seems like such a yucky word. I thought that at first, too. But I need discipline in my life. Do you know how many times I have left the towels in the washer until they soured because I was either too lazy or too distracted to go downstairs and move them to the dryer? My husband will tell you, it happens a LOT.

I need to be more disciplined in how I spend my time at work, in how I eat and take care of myself, and in how I spend money, in how I spend my free time at home (because, let’s be honest – binge watching Friends on Netflix for the 100th time is not really helping me accomplish anything). I want to be more disciplined in my writing, in my Bible study, and in my church life. As yucky as this word sounds, it is a word I desperately need.

I’m actually excited to dig deeper into discipline and apply this word to all areas of my life. It won’t be easy, but I think it is going to be worth it.

As great as 2016 was, I’m expecting even bigger and better things from 2017. It will be a year of discipline and adventure for the Wallaces! 

What would you choose as your one word for 2017?

 

You can learn more about choosing a word by visiting myoneword.org.

December Goals

When I was younger, Christmas was my favorite time of year. I have always loved the music, the movies, the decorations, the parties, and of course celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas was my favorite holiday. I eagerly anticipated opening my presents on Christmas morning, was always in the play at church, and attended every Christmas event that I could. I had memorized Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and can still quote every word of it). I looked forward to December all year long, and I loved every minute of this magical month.

By the time I was in college, Christmas had lost some of its magic. I blamed it on the fact that I worked in retail and had to deal with crazy Christmas shoppers and Christmas music on overload from mid-October until Christmas Eve. I was kind of like Cindy Lou Who in the movie version of The Grinch – I started wondering what all the fuss was about. Why were people running around like crazy, pushing other people around over a pair of $19.99 boots or a $10 Crockpot? What did all this craziness have to do with Christmas, anyway?

While I was working at the mall, I became quite the Grinch. I always thought that as soon as I quit my retail job and started my career, I would start loving Christmas just like I did when I was a little kid.

This is my second Christmas out of retail, and I must admit – I’m still feeling pretty Grinchy. I’m busy, tired, and going broke.

This is the first time I’ve had my own home to decorate, and Christmas decorations are expensive! There’s also a crazy pressure for my decorations to look like all the other perfect Christmas trees that I see on Facebook and Instagram. I did get our tree up and hung some stockings that I got at Hobby Lobby (for half off!), and that’s all the Christmas cheer we’re going to have in the Wallace household this year. I keep having to remind myself that my mother and grandmother have been collecting their Christmas decorations for years and that I can add to it year by year. This is our first Christmas together, and it’s okay for it not to be magazine worthy. The tree is small, and there aren’t many decorations on it, but I have to admit, it makes me smile. So it is good enough.

This is the “season of giving,” and it seems like everywhere I turn someone is expecting me to give them something. I like being generous, but I can barely afford to buy the gifts I want to get for the people on my list. Jeff and I love to give back to the community, and we try to do that on a regular basis, but in December it seems like our budget is stretched a little tighter than normal. We chose one charity to help, and we’re having to say no to the rest. It really makes me feel like a Scrooge to turn down worthy causes that I know are in need of funds to continue their good work in our community, but we had to draw the line somewhere. Again, I’m having to remind myself that it is okay. We’re doing our best, and the giving we are doing is done with joyful hearts, so that’s all that really matters. It’s good enough.

My list of gifts to buy for family and friends was grand until I looked at my actual Christmas budget. Now, they’re getting small, but thoughtful gifts. Part of me wants to feel guilty about that, because my friends and family are awesome and deserve so much more than I can give them. But, because they’re so awesome, they’re not going to care how much I spent. They will love the little things I got for each of them, because they love me.

I think my biggest problem is that Christmas has gotten so commercial and materialistic and competitive. Actually, I guess it always has been this way. Now, I’m just old enough to notice it.

I miss being a kid at Christmas, when everything seemed to be filled with magic. I wonder if I can ever capture that feeling again. I hope that I can.

This year, I want to enjoy the good parts of Christmas – spending time with family and friends and celebrating the birth of Jesus – and leave all that other commercial and competitive stuff behind. My number one goal for this month is to simplify my life and focus only on what is important.

December is always so busy and hectic, but this month, I want to slow down and enjoy every moment. I hope that you can find some time in your busy holiday schedule to do the same.


Merry Christmas!

Miss Ivie’s Fried Chicken

Miss Ivie is one of my favorite fictional characters I’ve created in my years of writing short stories. She’s smart, determined, kind, and makes the best fried chicken ever. If you want to find out more about Miss Ivie, check out my story, “The Bonus Merchant.”

Here’s Miss Ivie’s famous fried chicken recipe, which I made for lunch today at the request of my hungry husband:

Salt the chicken liberally on both sides and place into a large bowl. I used thin, boneless chicken breasts today, but you can use any kind of chicken you prefer. Cover with buttermilk. Stir to coat all chicken with the buttermilk. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak for at least 30 minutes. The longer you soak it, the better!

Mix together 1/3 cup of self rising cornmeal with 1 cup self rising flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon paprika in a flat dish. (In the story, Miss Ivie used a brown paper bag, which I have seen older ladies do before, but since I don’t have brown paper bags readily available at my house, I use a pie plate for this. You could use a Ziploc bag, but I find that to be messier and it gets the chicken kind of goopy. I’d rather dredge each piece by hand.)

Fill your deep fryer with vegetable oil and heat to 350 degrees (Miss Ivie would have cooked hers in a skillet, but I love my deep fryer). Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge in the flour mixture. Place chicken in the fryer. Fry for three minutes, then turn the chicken and fry for three to four more minutes, until the crust is brown and crispy (longer if you are cooking a larger piece of chicken or cooking chicken on the bone).


Drain on paper towels for about 5 minutes before serving. 


Today, I served Miss Ivie’s Fried Chicken with Mexican cornbread (with corn and jalapeños – my hubby’s request). 


I don’t measure anything to make my cornbread, so I can’t give you an exact recipe, but I made my normal cornbread (yellow cornmeal, an egg, buttermilk) and added whole kernel corn and a heaping tablespoon of diced jalapeños with a little of the juice from the jar. Make sure to melt some butter in your skillet before adding the batter and cook at 450 for about 35 minutes, until it is golden brown. 

Now, go wash your hands (Miss Ivie will check to make sure they’re clean!) and enjoy the best fried chicken you ever put in your mouth! 

Little Letters – November

One of my favorite blogs to read is tazandbelly.com. Kristin from tazandbelly is hosting a blog linkup called little letters on the second Friday of each month! Of course, I had to join in!

I absolutely love letters, especially hand written ones. There’s something so special about getting a letter in the mail and knowing that someone was thinking about you and took the time to sit down and put a pen to paper. These letters aren’t going to be handwritten, but writing out these short little letters did inspire me to go dig through my desk for my stationary and write out a few notes to friends. Yay for motivation like that!

If you want to participate in this linkup, check out the original post at tazandbelly.com by following the link above.

Here we go!!!

Dear Jeff,

I love you. I can’t wait to spend this weekend cheering on the Crimson Tide with you! You’re my favorite, and I’m thankful that you put up with me taking too many selfies, talking your ear off, stressing out about little things, and my obsession with Hobby Lobby and Target. I can’t wait to see what life has in store for us!

 

Dear Whole30,

Thank you for teaching me that I am in control of my cravings and I have power over my food choices. I’m so glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and spent 30 days with you. I’m coming back to you in full force in January, and I can’t wait!

 

Dear Instagram,

I love you, but you make me want to spend ALL MY MONEY on school things and home decor and food to try new recipes. Even so, you are so much better than Facebook. Thanks for staying classy this election season and spreading pictures of happy classrooms and shiplapped walls instead of nasty political rants. You’re the best.

 

Dear Fall Break,

I need you to hurry up. This teacher is TIRED.

 

Dear 11th Grade Students,

I know that you are all procrastinating on your research paper assignment, and I am not happy about it. Please don’t wait until the last minute and stress yourself out! Just do the work now. You’ll be glad you did. Trust me.

 

Dear 9th Graders,

Could you please just be QUIET? That’s all I want for Christmas. For real.

 

Dear Potted Plants on My Front Porch,

I need you guys to stay pretty and healthy until Thanksgiving is over. I have 22 people coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, and you are the bright spot on my front porch that will make them feel welcome as soon as they pull into the drive. I also can’t afford to replace you AND buy a turkey big enough to feed all those people, so please don’t die. Please.

P.S. You really do owe me this favor because I have actually remembered to water you every single day since we got you, which is a really big deal for me.

 

Dear Fall Weather,

You are perfect. I love you. Please stay for awhile.

 

Dear Pickles the Kitten,

You are so darn cute, but if you jump on my dresser and knock my jewelry box over one more time or get on the kitchen counter again, you are going to be banned to the basement. I’m serious this time. Kittens belong on the floor, NOT the table or the counter. Get it together.

 

Dear Family Members,

I know at least one of you is going to be getting rid of your old Christmas tree and buying a new one this year, right? I’m totally willing to take that old tree off your hands for FREE!

 

tazandbelly-little-letter-linkup

Autumn Chicken Hash

I had to work late today and that added together with the time change meant it looked like midnight when I got home at 6:00 tonight. I was starving by the time I got home, and tossed this hash together using stuff I had in the fridge because I really, really, really didn’t want to go by the grocery store tonight.

This is probably the least scientific recipe ever. Here’s what you need:

2 chicken tenders, boiled and chopped (I had these prepped from last night)

About 10 baby carrots, chopped

1/2 a small red onion, chopped

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

1 handful of pecans, roughly chopped

1 handful of dried cranberries

1/2 gala apple, chopped

3 tablespoons of chicken broth

Salt and pepper

Red pepper flakes

Garlic powder
On medium high heat, sauté the carrots and onions until they start to get tender. Add the chopped chicken, squash, zucchini, and apple. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the chicken starts to brown. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder to taste. Add the chicken broth, pecans, and cranberries. Cover and cook on medium for 5 minutes.