Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Today, NCTE affiliates from all over the country will meet in Atlanta, Georgia. There are so many reasons to be excited about this convergence of educators. Here are a few:

  1. Sharon Draper will be making the keynote address tonight! A former teacher and now award-winning author, she spoke at our 2016 PCTELA conference as well as the 2016 NCTE conference and is sure to be an engaging and energizing speaker.
  2. Informal conversations between affiliates. This, like those informal conversations at conferences, is often where we find out best ideas. Collaborations and conversations with other educators in other states is the goal here, and we’re excited to see what ideas the synergy of our conversations generate.
  3. The agenda is packed full of areas for improvement with more formal conversations around: membership, diversity, social media, advocacy. Like in our classrooms, our organization always has room for growth, and we look forward to the presentations and conversations afforded by this convergence of educators and affiliates.
  4. On Sunday, Millie Davis & Leila Christenbury will be presenting about Intellectual Freedom, a topic we’re particularly interested in right now.
  5. It feels like Thanksgiving in the summer! The energy and excitement of meeting other teachers and making connections in the summer is like attending the annual NCTE conference. We’re grateful to be a part of this organization and to add our voice to the conversation.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

So now that you’re done with school, the time to decompress and recharge has arrived. Whether you’re at year 3 or year 30, teachers need the summer to relax and build up that energy reservoir for the next year. Summer professional development is important and useful, and I know many of you will do training, meet with teachers, attend conferences, and read professional books (I will, too). But here’s a summer to-do list for teachers that will help you really relax and recharge so you can return to school ready for students.

1. Binge watch that one show all you students were talking about. Especially if you wouldn’t normally watch it. Even if you just watch 3 episodes in a row, you’ll at least know the characters and the basics when you see your students next. (Pro tip: ask students via social media like twitter which show to binge watch). My high school students recommended, among other shows, both Orange is the New Black and 13 Reasons Why.

2. Stay in your pajamas all day and do not cook one meal. Pretend you’re back in college and do not be productive for one entire day. If you have kids, they probably won’t mind pjs and cereal all day. Allow yourself one full day with no responsibilities. This can be hard for us, since we’re so used to getting things done, and the summer is time to get things done you can’t do during the school year.  However, you need to take a full 24 hours off from doing things. Order in, or just eat from your cupboards. Ask your significant other or kids to make food. If you’re not sure how to *not* do things all day, try #1.

3. Leave your computer and phone and go outside all day. We’re so connected, even during the summer. Whether you’re checking the news, finding summer PD, or trying to work on curriculum, give yourself a day without any screens. No TV, no computer, no phone. Go enjoy the natural world. This will allow you, as Thoreau says, to “maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Recharge your nature batteries, whether it is at the beach, on a hike, or in your backyard. Just don’t forget the sunblock.

4. Call a non-teacher friend and go out to lunch. You should go out with teacher buddies, too, but this one is important. If you go out to lunch with a non-teacher, it means you will probably not talk about school, lessons, administration, students, parents, or curriculum.  It means you’ll have conversations about family, the news, movies, or the food you’re eating.  Enjoy a full conversation and meal without being a teacher, you’ll just be a friend.

5. Freewrite about what you never have time for and then do it. OK, so this is kind of an assignment. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Freewrite for five minutes without stopping on this prompt: What do you feel you never have time to do, but really want to do? I did this and was surprised. I thought I would discover I wanted to write more. You know what? Deep down, I want to cook more elaborate meals, and in the summer, I have time to do that: time to chop veggies, simmer, prepare complex dishes that normally would not happen when I come home from school. Freewrite until you figure out what you actually wish you were doing. Then take some time this summer to do it!  In the meantime, I’m headed to the grocery store to buy ingredients and start cooking.

Happy Summer!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Allison Irwin

Now that we’re winding down to the end of the year and all that’s left to do is proctor finals and tally the grades, I find myself looking for next year’s greatest lesson. What should I change about my instruction? What will captivate my often less-than-enthusiastic audience? Where, oh where should I go to find a resource that is worth sharing in the precious few moments I get with my students each day?

In my googling frenzy, I stumbled across this precious gem from The Learning Network at the New York Times:

8 Compelling Mini-Documentaries to Teach Close Reading and Critical Thinking Skills

When I wrote to Michael Gonchar, Deputy Editor of the New York Times Learning Network, he replied within hours.  It’s easy to tell that this educator-turned-editor has a passion for learning.  When you look to the Film Club, you will see that he plays a big part in that initiative.   In his reply to my email he wrote:

“Thank you for your email. I love the Op Docs in The Times, and I’m really hoping that Film Club will catch on with even more teachers. I think it’s a great resource, especially for ELA teachers. All of these very cool short documentary films make for engaging content for writing, discussing and thinking. I’m so glad to hear that you’re excited about it too, and that you’ll be sharing it with teachers across PA.”

Hopefully more teachers will begin using these valuable resources available on the New York Times Learning Network! I can’t express enough the importance of free, thought-provoking resources that have clearly been developed by someone who knows and understands education.

Here are five reasons why you should absolutely check this out.

1) There is no time to watch a 2-hour video.

I’ve never been one for popping in a movie at the end of the year and coasting through June. That’s what summer is for. Or lazy, rainy afternoons at home on my couch. This post on The Learning Network blog opened my eyes to the possibilities of showing and discussing a short (less than 10 minutes) film. I’ve never considered this before. I could easily plan a 50 minute lesson around a pre-reading activity, video (reading – treat it like a text), and post-reading activity.  While this could be utilized at any point throughout the year, I see this format being particularly engaging in June.

2) The mini documentaries in the Film Club are well produced!

I actually want to watch these films. They have enough created by now that you could either look for the latest additions to their series or you could search for a subject that applies to what your classroom goals are at the moment. As a reading teacher, I find it particularly easy to choose engaging texts – YES VIDEOS COUNT AS TEXT 😊 – since I can teach reading strategies regardless of the content of the chosen text. Even though other teachers may be more shackled to a curriculum, with over 50 short films to choose from, you’re bound to find something that is applicable.

3) “They tell stories that often remain hidden, and introduce us to people and places foreign to us.”

My favorite quote from the original blog post on The Learning Network.  Joyfully and unabashedly making connections to abstract places, feelings, and situations that are foreign to us is one of the most valuable skills we can teach teenagers and young adults. So often kids are afraid of being wrong or sounding like an outcast. Or sounding like they sympathize with an outcast. Or they simply don’t know how to (or don’t care to) connect with something or someone that is unfamiliar. It feels uncomfortable. Watch the 7 minute video on the original blog post called San Quentin’s Giants.  Students will be able to use their familiarity with baseball to bridge a connection to some of the more heavy themes in this documentary such as incarceration in America, self image, race relations, or stereotypes. Valuable, valuable gem indeed.

4) The lesson plans are already there for you!

Sort of. While I almost always adapt the lesson plans and materials provided from any resource, the building blocks of the lesson are already provided here. Have you ever used The Learning Network created by the New York Times? They have an incredible inventory of articles with accompanying discussion questions and activities. Today I learned that they offer the equivalent in video through this Film Club.  I’m so happy! If you’re looking for something worthwhile but already partially constructed for you, then this is the place to look. It does not feel like a scripted curriculum the way that some options do. It’s just the building blocks for you to use and adapt to fit the needs of your students.

5) The Film Club meets and produces a new addition to their inventory every other week during the school year.

Hooray! Constantly evolving content to choose from! I love that this is fresh and remains relevant. It allows us to build on the activity so easily. For example, I could pair their most recent film Turning Oil Rigs into Reefs with all sorts of other texts. Current events from the newspaper would be perfect. Or I could pre-select a few photos that connect with the film on some thematic level and encourage students to make inferences to reveal the theme I intended. The interesting part here is that students may discover themes that I hadn’t intended – isn’t this a great moment to teach students about perspective? Or for younger students, I could use that natural moment to teach them that background knowledge plus the text evidence is what creates an inference. If we all have different background knowledge, we could easily come up with different inferences (even when we’re looking at the same evidence). This means we might all come up with different themes to connect the selected texts! It’s so much easier to have a lesson like this with multimedia texts rather than just words on a page.


Allison is currently serving as the Director of Special Activities for PCTELA. She enjoyed almost 10 years as a middle level educator before making the switch to high school this past year. As a Reading Specialist, she works with small groups of students every day and helps them to build a solid foundation for using text to learn.

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

As the year winds down and we move in to summer, I know many of you will spend time building and enhancing your curriculum.  Here are 5 ideas for teaching Shakespeare that you might consider implementing next year.  The summer will give you time to seek out and read some of these books.

1. Take a page from Gary Soto’s book and have students write an original poem based on one line from a play.


2. Have students connect the play to a modern text by taking a quote and tying it to a modern film/show where the situation is similar, and then explain the similarity.

3. Ask students to imagine a modern scenario where the same situation could feasibly occur, much like Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, based on the Tempest, or Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, based on The Taming of the Shrew.

4. Have students annotate a scene (or a portion of a scene) in terms of direction: blocking, lighting, set, costuming, inflection.

5. Ask students to rewrite a portion of a monologue/soliloquy but change or modernize the topic. The act of rewriting can be a powerful way to understand blank verse and iambic pentameter.


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

Friday Five: Reasons to Read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

Friday Five: Reasons to Read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

  1. Students will love these books and want to talk to you about them. One of my seniors gave me the first book, The Raven Boys and I’ve emailed and chatted with her and others about the book.
  2. Stiefvater can genuinely surprise me. It is rare for a book to surprise me anymore. I know the clues for suspense, I can pick out Chekov’s gun a mile away. But her books legitimately surprised me in some parts. Don’t worry, no spoilers, just take my word for it.
  3. They are an easy sell. Modern book about teenagers researching the paranormal? Sure, they’ll read it. Crafted, precise writing with original metaphor? They’ll read it. Realistic portrayals of teenagers and the way they actually speak? They’ll read it.
  4. The series is complete. One of my students  who is a fan of series said she was willing to start The Raven Cycle series because it was complete–she wouldn’t have to wait for another one to come out once she finished the last book. And I admit, I have been reading one after the other. While I was sad I came late to the series, the good news is no wait for the last book.
  5. Escape into a good story. I started the first book after a tough week at school. It was a Saturday where I didn’t have grading to do and I thought I’d tackle my to-read shelf. Hours went by and I sunk into another world. There’s nothing like a book that can transport you, and these will do just that.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELAimgres

Friday Five: Reasons to Read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

Friday Five: “English-y” things I did with days off

Many of us in Pennsylvania had a few days off this week from snow (and our school had a gas leak day off).  Those precious days off can be wonderful for catching up on grading papers, or, alternatively, days to do English-type-things.

Here’s PCTELA member Gina Motter’s list of 5 “English-y” things I did this week with two unexpected days off

  • Contacted a former English teaching colleague whom I have missed terribly
  • Discarded teaching materials long buried and forgotten (Catherine Called Birdy from 18 years ago; Chinese Cinderella from 17 years ago, and many others!).
  • Read several more chapters in Neil Gaiman’s The View from The Cheap Seats.
  • Wrote a sonnet in honor of a colleague
  • and graded half of 62 writing assignments on Henry V

Hopefully you all had safe, productive, relaxing time this week.

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Friday Five: “English-y” things I did with days off

Friday Five: Articles & Links for Black History Month

Friday Five: Articles For Black History Month to Share with Students

  1. “Star Ballerina” this Time for kids article profiles “Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.”
  2. 12 Poems to Read for Black History Month poets.org “asked twelve contemporary black poets from across the country to choose one poem that should be read this month and to tell us a bit about why.”
  3. “Unpublished Black History” every day the New York Times will publish “Revealing moments in black history, with unpublished photos from The New York Times’s archives.”
  4. “Frederick Douglass” information on the History Channel
  5. An interesting article on Black History Month from the Independent, in the UK.

Image of Lena Horne from New York Timesubh-lena-horne-jumbo-v4

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Articles & Links for Black History Month