Creative Writing Endeavor

I love writing (obviously). As a public educator, I don’t have as much time as I would like to spend on simply writing for writing’s sake. I also have so much time on my hands during the summer, so I thought I would combine the two!

Please say hello to my newest professional endeavor: Mandi MacDonald :: Writing Workshops. Thanks to many friends for inspiring and encouraging this idea, I am debuting my programs this summer with a Creative Writing Workshop. I’m still in the baby-stages of a small business. I have plans for ACT prep shops, monthly creative writing, private tutoring… the list goes on. I am excited to serve the homeschool community as I myself was a homeschooler all throughout my primary and secondary years.

Interested in my workshops or have a friend who might be interested? Please send them to my Facebook page or email me @ mandi.macdon@gmail.com for more information.

MM

Why I Cannot Teach REAL Lifeskills to Today’s Kids

speaker-podium-mic-mdI am an English teacher. I teach good reading and inference skills and quality writing skills. Some would say, and with good reason, that I am teaching to a test. I do teach specific standards because my students are tested at the end of the year by a state-mandated measure of accountability. However, my ultimate goal is to teach “real-world” communication skills so kids can be adults, so they can make inferences about tone in others’ communication, so they can write coherent emails and documents for their employers, so they can express themselves succinctly and without fear. But, I’m just not sure that today’s world will let me teach those skills anymore. It’s not that they don’t want me to, it’s that they act so antithetical to them.

In my first hour, we started a unit on Argument and Persuasion. Most of my classes are subjected to long, grueling hours of research and paper writing. I gave my first hour the option to pick topics and debate their topics as groups. This is my more real world, vocational class. They are smart and fun and creative, but they need a bit more of a push to work hard. We started with debates last week. I gave them topics about school and each group presented their topics, then the other groups were given a chance to ask questions and play “Devil’s advocate.” They did so well. They were concise and funny and serious and I loved it.

Today, after a draft for teams and some planning yesterday, we began our debates. I’ve never seen kids with faces so red and angry. My captains were less than leader-y and my groups were falling apart at the seams. Yes, I set up the discussion with rules. Yes, I made them stick to the rules. But suddenly, everything became personal. Everything was nit-picky and rude and well let’s be honest… it reminded me of this:

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How can I be expected to teach kids good debating skills when the potential future leaders of our nation can’t even keep their heads on straight? How can we expect the kids themselves to remember the rules if no one else is?! I know we are human and that it is difficult not to get so upset. But if the HIGHEST LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP cannot hold their crap together, how can I teach hormonal 15 year olds to keep theirs together?!

In a world that DEMANDS life-skills, that demands the skills to take a position and support it with all your might, I find that I cannot teach my students these skills. In room 8, there are rules and a moderator who still has some power. In room 8, these kids still have some sense of respect for authority and leadership, but that is quickly dwindling. Kids are what they see, they are their leaders. They really are. If we have any desire to make the next generation great, we must be great ourselves. We must stick to the rules we say we enforce. We must learn how to respect one another.

If they get to adulthood and cannot figure out how to communicate without getting butthurt or yelling at the opposition, don’t come crying to me. I tried. Public school tried. It’s the rest of the world that failed them.

MM

Most Open Windows on Chrome

Without my planner, I would be flat out struggling through my day. Without Google Chrome, I’d be drifting out into the sea of difficulties. Today I’m going to share my three most open windows. This is mostly applicable to teachers — but it’s got a few helpful hints.Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.01.15 PM

  1. Teacherease.com — Teacherease.com is the system we use for attendance and enrollment. This is our third year using it and it gets better each year. It’s relatively easy to use and quite necessary for the school day. If your school is looking into another system, check it out. It’s well-organized and probably inexpensive if my school is using it.
  2. Gmail — Gmail, for obvious reasons, is so great. I’ve never been more pleased with an email/online organization system. Its ease of use and accessibility are so helpful. I have an Android, so it’s bit easier (and WAY more fun and creative looking) to use on my phone. It’s easy to switch between mail accounts because my school moved to gmail last year. If your school is not using gmail: I highly recommend it. I love the email and…
  3. Google Drive — It’s like a filing cabinet for the internet. It’s accessible from any computer and it saves Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, PDFs, jpgs… you name it. It’s so convenient for my school worksheets because I can create them ONLINE on my laptop and then immediately access them on my desktop to print. I share my Lesson Plans this way, through a shared folder with my Principal. Instead of having faculty meetings as a department, I send shareable documents that we can edit in real time for discussion later. Love, love, love Google drive.

How do you keep your online presence organized?

MM

New Year, New Look.

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*Note: not only is Philippians misspelled, it is also incorrectly cited. The verse comes from 2:3, not 12:16. I got it confused with a different verse I was memorizing. My bad!*

I confess to be NO genius about organization and tidiness and just general together-ness. This last year has been a whirl-wind! So many people and places, so many victories and mistakes, so, so many memories. Life gets better the older you get, but time passes quicker.

As we all head into a new year, it’s a fun time to reflect and assess what worked and what didn’t. I’ve cut out for myself this workspace on the dining room table (because let’s face it, what millennial doesn’t have a super cool dining set that never gets used for dining?!) Today, I’ll be giving a few of my favorite ways to keep up with life, as well as some new year’s revolutions.

This last year I felt fairly productive, and I have an entirely used-up Day Designer to prove it. I love what Whitney English (Oklahoma native, y’all!) is doing to keep us all organized. This year, I purchased a design that came out from Kayce Hughes. Love the floral. This year’s pages are a bit more card-stockier, which is great! They’ve also redesigned the weekend pages AND the full-month pages. Love it! My biggest issue with planners is the to-do lists. My day is already scheduled according to time (thanks, school!), but I do need a bit more help keeping track of my lengthy to-do lists. The Day Designer is perfectly designed for that. I’ll be revealing how I used each section of the pages some time soon!

My planner wouldn’t be complete without color-coding. Everyone knows that I’m a bit OCD when it comes to color coding (see my school scheduling, grading folders, turn-in bins, as well as my entire personal library and my closet as well…). I love my Staedtler pens. I have the set of 10 with some help from a smaller set that gave me purple and gray. Each color means something different. Blue is for school activities and pink is for church/Bible activities. It looks like a gender reveal party on each monthly page.

In the big blue box are the true essentials to a peaceful, organized life: my Bible study materials. I’ll be talking about them more in the months to come, but for now my journaling Bible and my fox journal as well as this 2 Year Bible Reading plan have kept this ship from sinking. Without that, the designed daily life would be absolutely incomplete. (The Philippians reference, which is misspelled, is part of an ongoing memorization project I’ve been doing the last six months, again, more on that later!).

I have some surprises from the classroom and from my little workspace that I hope to be revealing on the blog. I don’t usually get gushy about New Years (it’s another day!), but I am choosing to take this fresh start in ALL areas of my life.

What fresh starts are you venturing into this year?

MM

They’re just little kids.

This semester has been a tough one for me. I’ve never been at the same job (except lifeguarding, but does that really count?) for more than three years. So when I started this year, among many other struggles, I knew that the sheer amount of time I’d spent doing this job would take a toll on me.

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I hate rows. But I love a quiet classroom.

Veteran teachers are probably laughing at me right now. My own mother is probably shaking her head saying, “Try 25 years with YOU and then tell me what struggles you have!” I know: 4 years is not that long. It’s a blink. It’s a gust of wind. It’s nothing. But, to a blossoming new teacher, it’s quite a bit of time.

Perhaps I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy, but since day one I’ve been tired. I’m tired of these kids’ attitudes. I’m tired of the bull-crap I have to swim to, just to take a teensy tiny breath of fresh learning for one single second. I’m tired of having to keep these kids’ attention for 1 minute at a time. I’m tired of them not listening. I’m tired. Not the best attitude, I know. But in a field where people is the game, it can be draining!

I’ve gotten so mad at my kids, all in the name of desiring them to grow up and pay attention. I’ve made little impact on my students, relationally. I forgot why I started. Yep, I said it. And during this final, it’s all boiling down to the end results… and I see all of my mistakes. The kid I don’t know. The time we wasted. The work we didn’t get done. The frustration of them STILL NOT KNOWING WHAT EXCEL MEANS EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE USED IT FOR THE LAST 15 WEEKS.

But they’re quiet right now, taking their finals. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any whining, they’re all just working pretty hard. I see their faces, their looks of concentration, their quick glances up at me, their puffy, sleepy faces. They’re just kids. Just little, sleepy, hopefully, hormonal, confused, happy, mad, bullied, bully, hurt, tired kids. Aren’t we all? We have no idea what we’re doing here, no idea what our next step is, no idea who we are sometimes… We’re just kids, in some ways. We’re all just kids in search of someone who understands us, who loves us, who nurtures us, who pushes us to do our best — even when we fight it.

They say that you don’t understand Christmas until you watch your own child experience it all anew. Same with teaching: you don’t understand it unless you see them as kids. Kids who need a hug, kids who need Jesus just as much as I do.

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ZipGrade for Android is so easy! Just create a quiz key, print off the pdf, and voila! The initial download includes 100 free scans! You can pay for one year of unlimited scans for $7. Well worth it!

In brighter news, I used ZipGrade this morning to grade my finals. My principal introduced us to it a few weeks ago. Usually I try to do a more in-depth final that isn’t all multiple choice, but since he was pushing ZipGrade so much, I figured I would do it. I included a paragraph portion, because hey it’s English… Y’all, I finished grading 30 finals in 15 minutes. Not even lying. It’s available for Apple and Android and even has a Cloud you can register for so that you can edit things online. I give it 5 out of 5 pencils.

Merry Christmas, Teachers and Parents and Students and Kids.

MM

 

 

How to Survive the Paragraph AND the Essay (aka the two for one special)

First off, wow… Week 5. I’m still on week 4, lesson plan-wise. But wow. Week 5. Almost over, too! In my block classes, we are beginning our first essay. This will be year four of teaching a character analysis, and I would like to think that I have SOME of it right this time. Some of it.

We begin the entire first semester by learning the PEELS acronym for paragraph structure. I drill that in to their brains for two weeks as we analyze, cite, and summarize other texts and then write about them. For anyone who doesn’t do PEELS: I AM A SUCCESS STORY. I feel as though this explanation, along with an explanation about sufficient evidence, is absolutely brilliant. You can find more on PEELS here.

After studying Plot, Character, and Conflict (Thanks, Houghton McDougal and Pixar!), we begin reading Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” I love this short story. In the vein of a true short story, there is intensity of climax, character, and symbolism that is hard to not be impressed with. Even the kids seethe with loathing when we talk about how nasty Dee is. We get to have important conversations about heritage, responsibility, and character that I love to have (as you all know, I strive to foster ethical and moral human beings so…). And when we’re done, we make a plot diagram and come up with a statement of motivation for our main character (Dee or Mama). I made a super cool worksheet that can absolutely be used for a different story. And for your teaching pleasure: Character Traits EU. They do that in pairs and afterwards, we analyze the rubric (Again, thanks Houghton McDougal!) and prompt.

The only thing I left out when we reviewed the prompt was what TYPE of essay it was (one of those five pesky ones that even I can’t always remember…). We analyze the prompt and figured out that it would be easier to write 4 paragraphs instead of 5 and that one of the paragraphs wouldn’t even need the “standard” 8 sentences but one of them would need 10-12… Minds. Blown. I’m not saying they enjoyed it, but they got it. We wrote the intro together and then I helped them start their first paragraph on the character’s motivation. They discovered that they’d need to mention the specific actions a character made to explain the motivation so that’s how they organized that paragraph.

I am not pumped about grading 60 individual introduction paragraphs and another 60 motivation paragraphs followed by another 60 change-in-character paragraphs… but I am so proud of my kids, and I can’t wait to see them be truly successful after an edit of each paragraph and then a big, beautiful essay.

In summation (gosh, I hate that…), the way to survive the paragraph and the essay: chunks, chunks, chunks! The kids will be less overwhelmed and they’ll truly be more successful. There’s nothing wrong with writing in chunks. It teaches them order and pattern in writing, and that’s just a-okay with me!

How do you teach writing in your classroom?

MM

How to Survive the School Newspaper

It was the spring of 2013. I was completing my first year of teaching when the counselor came barging into one of my classes to ask if I wanted to teach Newspaper. Sure, I said. It’ll be fun, I said.

I had no computers, three or four “published” newspaper/newsletters/crossword puzzles that were handed out that year, a meager amount of college journalism from community college, a few free-lance articles in university, a mom who studied journalism in HS and Mizzou for a few years, and absolutely no idea how to proceed. But that’s education, I guess…

Needless to say, I’ve muddled my way through the last three years; I’ve made many mistakes both
grammatical and ethically. I’ve had many kiddos run through my room with eagerness to put out good news and eagerness to be insanely annoying. I’ve taken the newspaper from being a rag-tag bunch of pointless articles and a lunch menu to actual news and good sports coverage. We are still printing on 11x17in ledger paper, but we have three columns and a mast-head so… that’s something. Two years ago I bought a book called The News0819151450paper Adviser’s Survival Guide off of Amazon (way before my student Prime account expired). I looked at it a bit. Copied a few lessons for when I was absent. But let’s be honest: I never really cracked into it… As a new teacher, I didn’t really have a lot of time to dive into creating a new curriculum for an elective — because as we all know, electives have as much enthusiasm and support as a marching band with no instruments.

But let me tell you… it’s a great book. If you are an advisor, read it. And then read it again. It’s more geared toward big newspapers that are actually published on news-paper, but it gives a lot of good tips on how to organize your staff and the articles you produce. It’s brilliant. I myself have learned a lot as I’m going back and teaching good news writing practices. I think this will be our best year yet, simply because we are all on the same page. Get it, same page?! Ha!

If you’re thinking of starting a school newspaper, do it. It’s a fun elective when you have kids who care! I do it with two school computers and my laptop and 16 of the coolest kids I know.

What helps you with your school newspaper?

MM