Sunday, December 12, 2010

Michelle Rhee: My Role Model

I came across this amazing article in Newsweek a few days ago and wanted to share it with you all. If you are not really up to date on your education news, Michelle Rhee is a previous Teach for America corps member (sometime back in the 90's) and she was the D.C. Chancellor of education for the past two years. She came in as a ball of fire and totally ignited the pants of all of the politicians and administrators in the D.C. school system. The thing I love the most about her is that she wanted to attempt merit-base pay for the teachers in D.C. if they agreed to get rid of tenure. If you know anything about education, you know that things do NOT typically move fast when it comes to making changes. Michelle Rhee disproved that in the two years she was chancellor which also gave her a negative reputation for some. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons which are listed in the article, she decided to step down from her role. This inspiring catalyst of a woman is just getting started though. She has now formed her own organization called StudentFirst. Read more about it in this article:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Big Goals

Ok, ok. I know I haven't been blogging. Honestly, it is kind of hard to get on the blogging band wagon. I have all of these ideas bursting out of my seams from 8 to 5 and then I get home at 5:01 and then turn into a barnacle on my couch or I fall asleep. That being said, it is one of my big goals to blog at least 2 times a week. I feel very committed to this because I just worked my behind off for the past 3 days teaching my new 5th graders how to create big goals! If they are going to have big goals then I definitely will as well!

Many of you know that I am a part of Teach America. I went into Teach for America thinking I already knew a lot about education and was shockingly surprised how much more I learned. I could write an entire book about all of the good (and some bad) things about TFA. If this pretend book did exist then it for sure would begin with a chapter on big goals. If I could summarize TFA in one phrase I would say BIG GOALS. Big goals, big goals, big goals. You really can't say it enough. The one thing that Teach for America has drilled into my head is that you have to start with a big goal. Think of this as a big picture. What am I doing and why? What I love about this is that is is SO applicable for every person, not just teachers. In fact, I have just has many big goals in my personal life as I do in my career. Take a gander if you will:

Personal Life:
Big Goal #1 Run a half marathon in under 3 hours - Oct. 3rd (don't judge, I'm slow)
Big Goal #2 Learn to Surf - July 1
Big Goal #3 Hike half-dome - July 1
Big Goal #4 Blog two times a week - December 1

Career Life:
Big Goal #1: Class average of 80% on end-of-year exams - June 10th
Big Goal #2: Every student proficient or advanced on the CST - May 10th
Big Goal #3: Develop teacher community groups to share ideas - October 1st

Notice that each big goal was time sensitive. This is a characteristic of effective big goals. If you don't put a date on it, you never know if you have really achieved it. Every single goal you create must be time sensitive! The other characteristics are measurable, feasible, and meaningful. Once you have established your big picture, you begin backwards designing the way you are going to achieve it. Along the way, you design mastery quizzes for yourself to determine if you are on track. Now, the most important and CRUCIAL part of it all is that your quizzes or assessments have to be metric meaning, you are looking for a percentage or a score. I could go on and on explaining everything, but you are probably wondering why this is important to you. It's important to you because...


I have never been so inspired or motivated in my life then when my kids reached their big goal last year. It took a lot of sweat and tears to get there (did I mention tears?), but we did it! We actually reached our goal and scored 82% on the California standardized test last year. I was so moved by this success that I decided that I wanted to tell everyone I knew about how to create big goals and even more importantly, I wanted to design a series of lessons that taught my kids how to create their own individual goals. So not only are my kids working towards our class big goal, but they are also working to their individual needs and tracking their progress.

I just revealed my class big goals on Friday and wanted to share my lesson plan with you to try it. My new kiddos are already so pumped for this school year and I know it has everything to do with the big goal. Now we have something in our sights and we are going to achieve! Try it!

Pictures to come...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lesson Plan Ideas for Bridge to Terabithia

Obviously, any teacher could do an entire unit on this book, but here are my few suggestions for those of you who also have a scripted reading program you have to teach as well.

Lesson: Similes and Metaphors

I love this idea because it is so simple, but fun because you get to read excerpts from Bridge to Terabithia! I would suggest using this lesson as guided practice or independent practice after already teaching the definition of similes and methapors. Katherine Paterson uses tons of examples of similes and metaphors throughout the entire book and it is a perfect way for students to practice identifying them. A one week period of time would be perfect because students would get the jist of the book while also getting enough practice in. Give students a copy of the book or make copies of chapter one. Ask students to hunt for similes or metaphors that they find in this chapter. Students should record their findings in a graphic organizer "T" to practice sorting the difference between these two literary devices. After sorting, discuss the meaning behind the similes and metaphors and record answers. Students can repeat this process throughout the different chapters in the book. Differentiate this lesson by putting students in pairs or groups on some days while also asking them to work on it as homework. Have a morning share-out to review students' answers and record on a poster at the front of the room.

Lesson: Character Analysis through quotations

A lot of the lesson plans on my blog are centered around 5th grade standards, but you can absolutely tailor them for your grade level. Character Analysis in a work of fiction is a rather large standard for 5th grade and quite difficult. The key is finding an exciting story for the kids to make a connection with and they secretly analyze the characters without really knowing it. There are three different chapters that stand out in my mind that I can see my students enjoying. The first chapter I would use for the boys in my class and it would be the scene when Jess loses the running match to Leslie and everyone starts laughing. You can ask questions like, "How would that make you feel?" What direct quotations describe his feelings and why? The second chapter I would use for my girls and it would be the scene when Leslie finds Janice Avery in the bathroom crying. You can ask questions like, "Why does Leslie comfort Janice even though she dislikes her?" "What direct quotations describe Leslie's new feelings towards Janice?" You can even bring up inferencing in this situation because you are making an inference about why Leslie feels sorry for Janice all of the sudden.

Lesson: Friendship Character Building

I am ALL about investing my students to work as a team and not individually. I see this book as a perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of friendship. For this lesson, you would need to do a bit more reading of the book, but you could hold an amazing discussion in class about the wrongs and rights of friendship. You can even then practice role playing different common situations that occur for kids at this age.

Summary of Bridge to Terabithia

I'm not going to lie, I went into this book with semi-low expectations. I was a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia growing up, and I always thought this book stole its thunder. That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised and this book definitely rose above expectations.

Bridge to Terabithia is set in a very rural town on the East coast. The reader is immediately introduced to Jess Aarons, a 5th grade boy who deeply desires to be the fastest kid in all of the 5th grade. He trains over the summer and qualifies as the 2nd fastest runner in the grade right after Leslie Perkins, the new girl from the city. Being beat by a city about killing a man's ego. Jess is immediately turned off by this new girl and tries to avoid her except for the unfortunate fact that her family has moved into the old farmhouse next door to his house. Jess and Leslie slowly begin a friendship because they realize they have one thing in common - the hatred of the mean-spirited seventh grader, Janice Avery.

And so begins the magical story of their friendship. Jess and Leslie create a unique friendship that is simple and joyful. Believe me, I was hoping for some sort of 5th grade love drama (I've seen a lot of it as a 5th grade teacher) but this fictional relationship is the purest friendship. Jess and Leslie are only concerned with their magical land they named Terabithia. Terabithia is their version of Narnia. The author, Katherine Paterson, even compares Terabithia to Narnia by describing it as their magical get-a-way. At this point, I still had some reservations about the book. I kept wondering how this book came to be so popular when it was incredibly similar to Chronicles of Narnia. Paterson crafts this novel into her own unique bestseller by focusing on the friendship of the characters rather than the fantasy realm like Narnia. It is very apparent that the theme of this book is friendship since so much dialogue is centered around Jess and Leslie's normal everyday conversations. The characters are able to create such a strong friendship because they are constantly exploring each others different lifestyles and personalities and expanding their own. Paterson uses Terabithia as a main symbol for childhood. There are several small details about Terabithia, but it is definitely not the focus. There isn't even a single battle or dilemna when they are in Terabithia. The movie industry definitely blows this out of proportion.

The rest of the novel tracks their friendship until one day when a fatal accident occurs. Leslie Burke falls to her death while attempting to swing across to Terabithia by herself. Katherine Paterson captures a moment in a friendship that most people won't even begin to fathom - death. Naturally, Jess is distraught, resentful, and incredibly sad over the loss of his friend. As the readers, we are able to explore the magical impact of true friendships as Jess learns to cope with his loss and comes out a stronger individual.

Two thumbs up in my opinion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On to Bridge to Terabithia

On to Bridge to Terabithia!  Any takers?  I am about half way through, but it is a quick and fun read.  Let me know!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Charlotte's Web - Simple, classic, timeless

I should tell you all that when I started this blog 3 days ago I actually had already been in the process of reading.  I have finished reading Charlotte's Web and am in the middle of reading Bridge to Terabithia if anyone is keeping up with me.  Anyways...on to my review of Charlotte's Web...

QUINTESSENTIAL CHILDREN'S my opinion at least.  If there is one book that almost every single elementary student has heard of, even my native Vietnamese students, it is Charlotte's Web.  I went into this book with large expectations since it was the first on my long list and also because of its reputation.  My goal was to try and discover why this book has become so notable and to maybe take notes and eventually write my own book with the same memorable qualities.

This is a novel of life, death, and love.  Reflecting upon this book, it makes sense why it is a classic for children and adults.  It is a perfect blend between realistic fiction and fantasy.  It has a little bit of everything - talking animals, young innocent children's characters that everyone can associate with,  and a story of survival.  At the same, the plot is relatively simple.  There is really only one problem to be solved in the story and that is to save Wilbur's life.  When you try and analyze the book as a critic or reviewer there really isn't anything negative to say.  E.B. White hit this one out of the ballpark.  Simple, classic, timeless.

In my attempt to acknowledge my goal of revealing the key to writing a fabulous book, I took a few notes on an experience I had a few days ago.  Last week, my fiance and I were in Wisconsin visiting his family.  On a Sunday evening, we were over at his sister's house playing with his nieces ages 2 and 4 and they asked if we could watch a movie together.  Surprisingly, the movie they wanted to watch was Charlotte's Web.  As I observed my future nieces watch the movie, I picked up on something new that I didn't realize while reading the book myself.  There is a HUGE motherly and nurturing aspect to the story that almost every child connects to.  I noticed this because both of my nieces were sitting in mini rocking chairs pretending to rock baby dolls to sleep while deeply engaged in the movie.  Yes, I do realize that a lot of little girls like to play like that, but the movie totally got them out of their rambunctious tomboy mood and settled them down into little nurturers.  While observing the girls, I noticed several characters in the movie that were all mothers taking care of their young.  There is the goose who lays eggs and hatches them into goslings two different times throughout the story, the mother sheep who has her baby with her, the cow who has a baby with her, Charlotte who lays her hundreds of eggs at the end of the story, and then of course Wilbur who ends up caring for the remaining three baby spiders.  Interesting, I thought at least.  Possibly something noteworthy for me to think about in my future book.  


Charlotte's Web is truly a magical tale.  I don't know any way E.B. White could have made this any better.  What do you think?  Any changes that could have made this book even more fantastic than it already is?

Monday, July 5, 2010


Hello!  I welcome children, adults, teachers, and anyone in between to my new blog.  My name is Jenny and I am a 5th grade teacher in East San Jose, California.  I just finished my first year teaching and am currently relaxing/getting my life back together on summer break.  For those of you teachers out there, I hope you remember (or maybe try not to remember) how hard your first year teaching was.  The rewards of teaching are exponential, but you definitely have to go through battle to get there.  I know I am not the only one out there, but I tend to say my battle was a little bit longer than most. 

Just to tell you a little bit about myself, I knew I wanted to be a teacher since the 2nd grade.  My favorite teacher in the world was my 2nd grade teacher and her name was Mrs.Cook.  My mom was also a teacher for the visually impaired so I have teaching skills in my blood.  I went to school at the University of Texas and went through a 2 year education program specializing in ESL studies and low-socio economic schools.  After graduating, I applied for Teach for America to join the movement that was helping to close the achievement gap.  I was accepted into the Bay Area region and moved to San Jose, California where my fiance and I now live.  The desire to teach has been burning inside me for a good 15+ years now.  You can only imagine how excited I was to finally see my classroom where I was going to be THE TEACHER.  I am definitely that dorky girl who went to the teacher store 167 times before the first day of school and had stickers, charts, bulletin boards, library reading corners, and absolutely everything set up.  Or so I thought.  It might be my personality or truly the intensity of the job, but my first year teaching was SO HARD.  I guess I really didn't see it coming because I thought my passion and desire to teach would lead me through the hard times, but let me tell ya...there were some really hard times.  At the same time, I loved my students as if they were my own and will never forget a single first or last name for the rest of my life. 

This brings me to my next point that a lot of my problems were not with my students.  My problems were with the actual school system and my district.  I had a scripted curriculum which means I am given a mandatory teacher's manual that I pretty much have to read from.  It tells me what I am supposed to do every single day and I am not to deviate from that path.  For a girl who had the desire and passion to teach since I was little, this was definitely a bummer.  I tried to make the best of it by adding in my own supplemental curriculum, but I was pretty much killing myself with work overload.  There were other various rules and regulations that I had to deal with this year that were a wet cloth to my fire.  Unfortunately, I lost a lot more of my passion for teaching than I had expected.  This is a pretty devastating feeling to accept when I had truly thought that I would be a teacher for 30+years of my life. 

I started my summer break thinking that I would truly take some time away from work.  It only took me a day to realize this was not what I wanted.  I did not want to ignore what I had loved (or thought I loved) for so many years.  My fiance has been the most amazing support system for me throughout the past year and has helped me discover the likes and dislikes to my job.  The second day of summer he asked me what I had truly loved about teaching.  I thought for a long while through all the years of school and all of my teachers.  I finally came down to my memories of elementary school and replied to my fiance, "Reading!  I absolutely love reading!"  Instantly, my thoughts started bubbling and I had this idea to reread my favorite children's book, Charlotte's Web.  But not only that, I decided to read the NY Times 25 bestselling children's novels of all time.  I felt confident that this would help re-instill some of my passion for teaching and give me ideas to use class novels next year instead of the scripted curriculum (if I can convince my principal).  So, here I am, reading the top 25 children's American classics of all time and blogging about it to re-inspire all of you out there who would like to read with me.  If you don't want to read all of them then just try one that sparks an interest.  I think you will be surprised how much you like it.  Here is the official list in the order I will be reading:

1.  Charlotte's Web
2.  Bridge to Terabithia
3. A Wrinkle in Time
4.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
5.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
6.  Holes
7.  The Giver
8.  Because of Winn-Dixie
9.  Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
10.  Frindle
11.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
12.  Junie B., First Grader (At Last!)
13.  Where the Red Fern Grows
14.  Tuck Everlasting
15.  Harriet the Spy
16.  Ramona Quimby, Age 8
17.  Little House on the Prairie
18.  From the Mixed up Files of Mrs.Basil E Frankweiler
19.  Maniac Magee
20.  The Secret Garden
21.  Ruby Holler
22.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry!
23.  Anne of Green Gables
24.  Freak the Mighty
25.  A Series of Unfortunate Events

Happy reading!!