180 Days: Day 161–TCB & a Jar of Money

I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to start a new unit with my AP students, but they have spent the past two weeks taking AP exams and state tests. So today, I pushed on the gas and we jumped from 0 to 60 in two seconds flat. We powered through how to fill out a job application, how to research a potential employer, and how to use that research information to tailor resumes.

After a few false starts where a large group of the class was missing due to exams, we finally had all students present and we took care of business in a flash.

TCB in a flash

In two weeks time, we will be holding mock job interviews. I have scheduled 10 people from our community to come in and roleplay in mock job interviews with my students and coach them on their interviewing skills. And we have only three class periods in which to prepare for these interviews so they don’t come off like Robbie Hart asking for money to put in his jar on top of his refrigerator.

So today we spent time filling out a paper job application from Peet’s Coffee and Tea. We discussed different application formats, like online apps, etc. We discussed how paper apps beg to filled out on a separate piece before filling in and how important clean penmanship and thoughtful answers to questions on the applications were important to get them in the door for an interview.

We spent time researching potential employers–everything from what kind of application do they take (online, paper, both), is the company growing, who the CEO is, products, key competitors, etc. I recommended conducting a little reconnaissance by visiting the potential employer and talking with the employees about their experiences in the application and interview process with the company as well as what they liked most about working there.

We also talked about using the language of the employer to tailor their resumes. For example, floor sales positions at Abercrombie & Fitch are called “models.” At Houston’s Restaurant, hosts/hostesses are called “greeters.” So we talked about taking the action verb skills we highlighted last week and matching them to the job descriptions and using the language that the companies themselves use in writing our resumes.

After we selected these verbs, we started writing our resumes in class with the instructions to bring a hard copy to class in our first class next week after the long weekend. We powered through a slideshow explaining the form and function of each part of the resume and started crafting real time. By the end of our two hours, we felt like we had sprinted a whole marathon, but we made up a lot of ground.

“Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive



180 Days: Day 160–Write. Revise. Repeat.

In our second block together we repeated the set up of Monday’s block lessons. We started with writing time on either one or both of the students’ writing projects with built-in revision time. Since the final revisions of their “This I Believe” essays are due on Friday, many opted to work on that piece of writing. I held on to what was supposed to be their final drafts for two weeks and brought them back for a “fresh eyes” revision on Monday, but many took the revisions to heart as these are personal essays. They really did want to take one last look to see that their essays did indeed say what they intended them to say and that they made sense to readers.

Students often spend so much time with what they have written that their eyes can lie to them about what’s actually on the page. They know what it should say, but not what it actually says. So I hang onto it for a few weeks so that they can forget what it should say.

And students who didn’t write them the first time around, are seizing the opportunity to make up the work.

The second half of the block was used for further researching their individual research projects. Most students have at least a working thesis, even if we are tweaking and reworking them a bit. Now the students are reading and rereading through their sources looking for evidence to support their thesis statements.

I drew a process map on the front board and showed them how they are about halfway through their process right now. I set the due date for next week, giving them the long weekend to continue working on their research. I can only hope they trust the process that I’m laying out for them to complete a research paper that synthesizes and analyzes information from multiple sources. Most of them balked when I told them their paper needed to be 1,000 words or more (about 3-4 typed pages). Most of them have never written more than a 5-6 paragraph paper, so the bellyached for a few minutes. I assured them that if they picked a topic that was truly of interest to them and they properly narrowed their topics, they would easily hit their word limit mark. I spent a few minutes giving them a Herb Brooks-style “great moments” speech. I’ll see if it worked next week when I actually get papers turned in from them.

“Lyin’ Eyes” by The Eagles


180 Days: Day 159–High Stakes, pt. 2

My AP Lit seniors thought the high stakes testing part of their year was over, but alas, they walked into class today with tables rearranged and Chromebooks awaiting them for a pilot of a new state test. They can’t seem to catch a break.

So after taking AP Exams for the last two weeks, they walked in today to take the first Next Generation Science State Exam. They are the first group to take the pilot exam so it will be interesting to see how the state moves forward with the hard work that my seniors put into the exam today–how the questions will be validated or invalidated, how the kids’ scores will be used in this first round.

I’m not a big fan of state testing, and I’m really not a fan of giving kids yet another hoop to jump through, especially when the results of these exams will not help them get into any college (they’ve already done that), will not help them get any scholarships (they’ve already done that too), nor will the exams help them graduate from high school (they are only a few weeks from doing that themselves). These tests will do nothing other than be used to sell real estate in our area or be used to rate our school based on students scores when students have no skin in the game.

But I am sending a big thanks to my seniors for hanging in there and giving the test a solid effort.

All I’ve gotta say is, “You got the eye of the tiger, baby!”

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

“Eye of the Tiger Rocky 3 Fight Scene”


180 Days: Day 158–The Blocks Begin

AP Testing is over. Now state testing begins. And for the next three weeks, we will have some or all of our days on a block schedule to enable students adequate testing time for the state exams.

So today I had my sophomores for two hours at a pop. And today we started truly applying the last three weeks. I broke the class into three distinct sections, because two hours is a long time for any one task. The best block schedule strategy in the world is to put together two to three minilessons for the day.

So part one of class focused on revisiting an older piece of writing. A few weeks back, we wrote “This I Believe” essays based on Edward R. Murrow and NPR’s “This I Believe” series. So today, I handed back the essay they had written. Without comments. I asked one simple question. “Does the essay say what you thought it said?” Most reread their work and answered a resounding “no!” So we spent about 30 minutes conducting a “fresh eyes” self and peer review session and allowing some time to start reworking their essays for one last time before I score them again.

Then I set aside a block of time for the students to pull out the research questions they developed last week. I instructed them to find the answer to their research question. After about 10 minutes, it became increasingly clear that they needed help with narrowing their topics. So we suspended their research for a minilesson on how to narrow topics and practiced narrowing topics together on the overhead. Once they showed me their refined research questions based upon more narrowed topics, then we resumed researching for finding the answer to their research questions. Before exiting class, they had to provide for me their working theses, aka the answers to their research questions.

Of course, my sophomores asked if they could change their questions, if they could rework their thesis statements, if they could spend more time looking for other potential answers…yes, yes, and yes. That’s why research is a process, my friends.

“First time was a great time/ Second time was a blast/ Third time I fell in love/ Now I hope it lasts…” If only these kids could fall in love with their topics enough to want to read voraciously and become knowledgeable on them. I keep hoping they will pick the right topic and find the right stuff.

“The Right Stuff” by New Kids on the Block


180 Days: Day 157–Transferable Skills, the Action Verbs for Job Hunting

My seniors, being on the back side of their AP exams, are now working on a job search unit where we spend time learning how to research potential employers, how to apply for positions, how to write resumes, how to dress for and answer common questions in job interviews, and how to follow up on the interviews. We cover quite a bit of information in only a few weeks with the culminating activity being a mock job interview with members of our local community who donate time to come role play with my students. My goal for this unit is simple: these students are only a few weeks from graduating high school and entering the real world forever. Most have never held a job, nor even interviewed for one. This is a practical unit meant to show them how to make sense of all the conflicting information that exists on job searching and help them maneuver through the jungle of the business world while applying the real world skills that they already have to enter the job force.

So today’s introductory lesson focused on self-identifying what transferable/marketable skills that each of us possesses, then writing accomplishment statements as modeled for us on the San Jose State Career Center website. I point out that most universities have career centers that feature a variety of job search resources, including transferable skills checklists. We spend a few minutes looking at a couple of different schools’ websites before using the handout I have from UC Irvine. Students then assess themselves using the checklist. They identify which skills they think they have. Then they prioritize their top five. We then discuss how knowing our strengths may help us in finding jobs that play to those strengths. The one thing I tell them about the plethora of lists that exist out there–focus on using action verbs. Action verbs will provide the key details that will fill out their resume and interview success stories in the future.

Action verbs might be the most fundamental component of all writing–the make narrative writing engaging, they make informational writing bearable, they make argumentative writing persuasive. And they make business writing marketable.

“Workin’ for a Livin'” by Huey Lewis and the News


180 Days: Day 156–Intellectual Property, Bibliographies, and Slaves to Money

One of the hardest concepts for high school students to grasp is “intellectual property.” So today’s lesson was built around how to properly cite the sources that they are currently spending their time reading and from which they are developing their research questions–and eventually from which they are answering the research questions.

Our English department uses the Modern Language Association’s style guide–more commonly called MLA style. So I started the lesson by going over basic vocabulary (all the synonyms for bibliography, etc.) and showing online resources that I have on our classroom page and online resources found on our school library’s page. These easily found resources include Citation Machine and BibMe among others. I modeled for the students how to fill out the online forms that then generate the bibliographical entries that they then only need to copy and paste into their worked cited/consulted pages (aka bibliographies). Citing sources is so much easier today than when I was their age, that’s for sure. We also looked at sample Works Cited pages from Purdue OWL. In today’s world, students can see bibliographical entry samples, create entries, and see how to properly format their pages all with a few simple clicks of a computer mouse.

Since the students were now equipped with the basics of how to create their bibliographic entries, I gave each table group a different book to practice creating a Works Cited entry using MLA format. The basic, simple goal of the day: Cite your sources–accurately and completely. I gave each group a different type of book as well. So when we debriefed at the end of the exercise, we could talk about how a book isn’t just a book and that online sources and magazines include slightly different pieces of information. One group had a diary, another the Bible, and yet another a literature textbook. One group had a book of poetry, another had a series of novellas in one compilation. I found books that I thought would challenge them.

After they created their entries as exit tickets, our final thoughts for the day circled back around to the necessity for this process–to give proper credit to the original owners of the ideas. I shared with them how even giving credit can sometimes not be enough if it isn’t done with precision. So I use the story of The Verve’s loss of their rights to their biggest hit, “Bittersweet Symphony” over the size of the sample used in the song from a Rolling Stones song. Intellectual property isn’t something to mess around with–do due diligence is the message of the day because sometimes even due diligence isn’t enough.

“Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve

“Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die.”

180 Days: Day 155–Laughing for Money

This evening I attended a fundraiser. Yes, fundraising is a staple of life in a teacher’s world. But this fundraiser was special to me for a variety of reasons. First, it’s organized by a group of my former students that I love dearly. Second, it’s organized for our school’s Army JROTC students–and my son being a former JROTC student makes it near and dear to my heart. Third, it’s for scholarships for students who might not otherwise be looked at to receive scholarship money to help them in continuing their education. So this fundraiser is firing on all cylinders for me.


My son, the Marine Corps JROTC cadet (this picture was from his sophomore year–he eventually earned top rank for his battalion as its commander).

The icing on the cake though? We had a night of laughs at The Comedy Club.

Groups of my colleagues were scattered throughout the room to see the evening’s host, Feraz Ozel, along with Michael Rayner, Paul Reiser, and Lachlan Patterson. And this evening of laughter to the point of crying was sorely needed. One of my best friends and her S/O attended with me. And since we both work so hard as teachers (she and her boyfriend both teach elementary) as well as working hard as union advocates for our teachers and our profession, we were all about letting our hair down for the evening for such a great cause. It’s a win/win situation.

I have always considered myself lucky to live within easy distance of Hermosa Beach’s Comedy and Magic Club. And I often chastise myself for not going often enough to enjoy such top-notch live entertainment.  This was my first visit in nearly four years. Even I have to admit that four years is four years too many. I have always walked away from CMC with a smile imprinted on my face. And I mean “walked” literally. I live within walking distance of this fabulous place. But tonight, I used my son as my own personal Uber driver. He dropped me literally at the front door.

I’m familiar with Paul Reiser, as I’ve even seen him at CMC before. He is a class act. I loved the introduction to Ozel, Rayner, and Patterson though. The entire evening was filled with laughter, friends, and fun. And it was all for a good cause.

Feraz Ozel (2018)

Michael Rayner, juggler, (from 2009)

Paul Reiser at The Comedy Club (2014)

Lachlan Patterson standup (2017)

“King of Comedy” by REM

180 Days: Day 154–Only the Essentials

Those of us who teach sophomore English met this morning in our Professional Learning Community grade level team to review our “essential standards.” We have spent much of the last two years building common assessments from a two-page list of standards that we prioritized from the state standards. We have spent two years discussing what exactly “essential” standards are and are not. So here we are after two years taking another stab at it, to prioritize the already prioritized list.

Any teacher’s goal is to ensure that all standards are taught in some way, shape, and form throughout a school year, but in order to ensure that all students have access to the standards that are most necessary for their future success in the classroom, we have to prioritize them. Despite common core’s claim to be based on depth instead of breadth, the standards still provide far too much breadth when building a guaranteed curriculum–at least according to the gurus at Solution Tree, the professional development consultants with whom my school district has contracted to teach us to be better teachers.

So our morning started with us reviewing our two-page list and then individually identifying our priority standards. Then we shared. As we shared, we found that most of us were identifying the same key standards. From there we pared the standards down to the bare essentials–three to five standards per semester that we would guarantee access to every student through teaching, reteaching, and intervention strategies. Luckily for us, the standards that we have focused on the past two years provided nine solid essentials that rose to the top. So after 50 minutes of collaboration and negotiating with each other, we identified and narrowed our essential standards to fit onto one page that will provide a framework for our summer revisions on our curricular map for next year.

The Rolling Stone sing “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometime you find/ You get what you need….” And while some of us may have given up our favorite standard from being labeled essential, in the long run, we will all be on the same page with at least the skeleton of what is taught at our grade level. So maybe we really are getting what we need…tbd.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones


180 Days: Day 153–What Is A Question?

So yesterday, my students worked on writing research questions. And today, I spent the day reteaching, reteaching, and reteaching. After looking through their exit tickets from yesterday, I could only surmise that my students were struggling mightily with the concepts of reading up on a topic and asking questions about said topics.

Needless to say, we spent the day looking at examples and “how to” handouts. The site that my students found most helpful was a Grand Canyon University page that featured a “how to” video that put things into simple terms for them.

The page also featured some good models of common problems with ways to fix them when writing research questions. I posted a plethora of resources on our online course page as a reminder. I can only hope that my students will avail themselves of readily available resources that aid them in completing their tasks over the remaining weeks of school, as we will be writing individual research papers based on the questions they write this week. Then we will be writing group multimedia projects that rely on the same process. Practice will not make them perfect, but they will at least get much-needed practice. They will at least get to add 20 or so hours to the 10,000 they need to become expert (at least according to Gladwell as discussed earlier this year).

“Question” by The Moody Blues

180 Days: Day 152–Research Questions

My sophomores have spent the week learning how to develop ideas and find credible sources. Today they learned how to narrow their topics and develop research questions. I have always found it interesting that kids start life asking why all the time, but by the time they reach high school they have a hard time formulating questions that require any level of depth in the answers.

Take for instance: my college-age son, when he was an inquisitive four-year-old, came home from pre-school. We were sitting on the bed in my room playing with colored blocks counting numbers and identifying colors when all of a sudden he blurted, “$hit!” At first, I was stunned as this is not one of my commonly used curse words. I know he had not heard it from me. So I asked him where he had heard it. When he named a boy a school, I was not entirely surprised as I knew the boy had much older high school-aged siblings.

So I asked the follow-up question: do you know what that word means? My son, in all of his wide-eyed innocence, said that he did not know what it meant other than that it meant you were mad. So I whispered to him, “It’s a not very nice word that means poo-poo.”

He shrieked with laughter then sputtered, “Poo poo? Why would he say poo poo?”

Needless to say, my son and I continued our conversation about words, what they meant, why we would use them, and why we should maybe be careful about the words we choose. One question spurred an answer that spurred another question, and another. Little kids want to know. They ask questions. They seek answers.

I continue to believe that older kids want to know too. But the questions are longer, harder, more complex. Because they do not yield immediate answers, these older kids grow weary of the process that requires them to be more disciplined and more methodical.

We spent time today discussing how to refine and narrow a search. We watched a couple of short instructive youtube videos explaining how to develop research questions, then we started practicing using the topics they have been looking up all week. I can only hope that as we progress, students will gain confidence in their own abilities to question.

“They Don’t Own Me” by Richard Ashcroft from 2016’s These People, a song with a lot of questions.

“All My People/All Mankind” by Liam Gallagher from 2017’s As You Were. “All true seekers shine…”