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Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 year in review!

Happy New Year! I'm writing from Colorado, where there are about eight inches of snow on the ground. None in Boston yet, but it's coming soon . . . Last year we lost nine days to snow! Never again!

It's been a long time since my last blog post, so I have a lot to write about. The fall totally got away from me, as you can imagine. I can't believe it's the end of 2015!

This year I'm co-teaching three classes with a new partner (an experienced ELA special education teacher), and it's amazing. I know the curriculum well, and he comes to the table with great knowledge of the school and how to best modify for our students. We've tried all sorts of new ideas, including using Google Classroom and other technology tools. I've learned so much!

The course is 10 CP, and each class is 1/3 to 1/2 students with IEPs. My goal was to make this year's co-teaching a 50/50 split, and I truly think we're doing it. We meet for prep every day, and that makes all the difference. We grade, plan, and talk about behavior and strategies. It's awesome! I really had to dial back my controlling tendencies--I try not to make any decisions without my co-teacher. I'm thrilled with the way this aspect of this year is going. The arrangement has truly made my life easier, not harder!

I also have a GIANT AP Lang class this year--31 kids. They are great, but the grading is killing me. I've tried some strategies to make it more manageable, and some of them are working. I started the year by having a ten minute meeting with every AP student after school, and that plan was a good idea because I learned names and personalities faster; plus, the kids feel more comfortable coming for extra help. I've also slowed the pace this year--starting with two months of rhetorical analysis, a month of argument, and a month of synthesis before our mock exam in January. Hopefully this limited focus will pay off. The kids seem happy and healthy.

EdCamp Malden was awesome! About 35 learners came to discuss ELL Success! We're getting a new principal next year, so I hope he/she supports this effort. It would be awesome to have a 3rd annual event.

I began co-advising a class this past spring, but this month I decided to step down and let the other adviser take over. Advising was a huge commitment that took away too much time for my teaching. It was a hard decision, but I know it was the best one for me. Sometimes knowing what's NOT best for you is an important step in growing!

One of my smartgoals for this year is to improve my co-teaching, and for me, that means improving my work with students with special needs. I'm taking a DESE-sponsored online class on co-teaching. While the content hasn't been too new to me, it's awesome because I'm taking the course with four colleagues from my school. The final product is a unit on research, so I'm glad I can work on that project because it will help us in the spring. I also signed up for fifteen hours of lectures on special education topics--mental health, behavior, autism, and other topics. I'm an auditory learner, so sitting and listening and taking notes is great for me. Both of these classes have helped me a lot! Up this spring is a UDL class on engagement and motivation.

I also started a book club with some new friends. We're reading Eric Jensen's new book Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind. I loved his other book Teaching with Poverty in Mind, so I'm excited to read this one. So many of my students are brilliant people, but I need to do a better job of engaging them and keeping them motivated.

I just signed up to read sixty books in 2016! Follow #sixtybooks for more info. I don't know if I can make it, but I want to try!

Enjoy the rest of break, everyone! I'm so blessed to have a great PLN that helps me reflect and share challenges!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One week left!

Hi, all. School starts for me next week, so while I hope to blog, it might not happen for a while. You know how it is! Once you get sucked into the vortex of a new school year, you can't get out. I hope to surface by Thanksgiving.

Since I didn't travel, I did a lot of professional stuff this summer, and it was very good. I feel really focused on the coming year. It's year 14. I feel so old!  Older, but wiser hopefully.

Here are the priorities I am thinking about for the fall:

1. Get kids' writing back to them ASAP. The longer I don't provide feedback, the more worthless it is.
2. Try really hard to be a good co-teaching partner. I learned a lot last year and want to do what I can to really have a 50/50 relationship.
3. Start using Google Classroom. Our kids are getting Chrome books, so I'm hoping to streamline what I do.
4. Do work at school. Lugging bags of papers back and forth from home is silly because I'm too tired to do it when I get home anyway.
5. Make concepts more concrete. Though English is skill-based, get more specific so students have something to guide them more than vague suggestions.
6. Conference more. I'm planning on scheduling after school writing conferences. Once students try it, they will love the individualized attention.
7. Raise my AP scores. I'm not crazy about scores, but I KNOW I can do better this coming year.
8. Make students more aware of their Lexile levels and how to improve them. Help them find books they like and can actually read.
9. Do a better job with parent contacts for both good and bad reasons.
10. Step it up with formative assessments. Make students more accountable for processing what they are learning.

I know 10 are too many, but I hope to make some progress on all of them!

Before I forget, EdCamp Malden is October 17. It's just a morning: 8 am until 1230 pm. It will be a great day, especially if you work with ELLs. If you've never been to an EdCamp before and you live nearby, this is a very manageable one to try. The raffle prizes are remarkable; companies and authors have been very generous.  Get a ticket!

Have a great school year, everybody! As always, contact me with comments, questions, and suggestions! My personal email is

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Oh my god it's August

Hey, all. I'm starting the hyperventilation that is August.

We go back August 31, and the kids start later that week. My ESL teaching program ended, and now I have four weeks left, during which there are nine days of PD (five days with AP Lang. people, two days of co-teaching planning, and two days of Google 1:1 training).

So far, summer has been awesome and relaxing. I've enjoyed Twitter chats and connecting with teachers. I've also read three AMAZING books I wanted to talk about. I know they came out a while ago. During the school year, it's really hard for me to read, so I'm always catching up on bestsellers years later!

Wonder (790 L): I used this book for read aloud in my ESL class and read the whole thing on my own in a day. It's about August, a kid with facial deformities who starts 5th grade in a real school. It has some twists in the middle and comes together nicely at the end.  Lovely!

The Maze Runner (770 L): I read this book on my own in a day because we showed the movie to our ESL students. It's awesome, and now I have to read all four in the series. So suspenseful and visual! I raced to finish it. The new movie comes out next month ("The Scorch Trials").

The New Kids (1140 L): I'm in the middle of this book now. It follows a handful of immigrant teens at their school in Brooklyn. It reminds me so much of Malden High School. Although I'm not exactly on the front lines of helping ESL students and immigrants, I am so touched by the bravery and empathy of these teachers. Their hard work is remarkable. I feel like everyone in public education should read this book. A terrific read!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My ESL Summer

I've been in education since 2002 (in various roles, at various organizations), and I am amazed at all I have learned and how the work has changed and how I have changed. The way I try to teach and how I think about teaching changes on a nearly daily basis. 

I think that teaching is a study in how people are different that I am. I'm constantly comparing the way I figure things out and the way others learn. I find these differences delightful!  Every year, I think I become more patient, more kind, and more empathetic to my students and the people I work with. My favorite aspect of this career is that I can get better, every year, every day, every class period.  2002 me wouldn't recognize 2015 me.  

This has been a summer of great growth so far. I'm teaching an ESL Summer Reading Enrichment program eight hours a week, and it's been a joy for me. I have anything from two to five students with me (from China, Brazil, and Ethiopia), and these students are in ESL 3 or ESL 4 (finishing up our program). My discomfort at not knowing exactly what to do has pushed me to be flexible and go with the flow, and it's fun!  It's been great to stumble through conversations and figure out what works best.  No grades, no stress. Just learning and conversation. Just reading and asking questions. I really want to observe some more ESL classes next year. It's fascinating work, and I think I could learn a lot from the people who do it every day!    

I'm also taking an online class titled Engaging Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and Families in Secondary Schools with the PD group Primary Source. It's been great to learn about this topic that applies so much to what we do. I can think of so many things we do well in our district and so much we can do to improve. What a blessing to be so diverse and learn from so many different people!

Also busy planning EdCamp Malden in October: Trying to advertise the event and get prizes. Hopefully it will be a good day of learning!

August is about AP PD week and two days each of co-teaching PD and Google 1:1 PD.  

Don't worry--I'm having fun too.  Going to the movies during the day, sleeping in, seeing friends and family. 

Hope everyone out there is loving summer too!  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Reading List

Hi, all.  Someone recently said to me, "don't you have a blog?" And I was like, "I swear I'll update it.  Back off!"

The school year completely consumed me this year, so I didn't really blog BUT I'M BACK!

By the way, my cat looks like that but he rarely gets that formal.

While on the topic of blogging . . . I had my students blog about The Great Gatsby this spring.  Check them out at this link!  We used blogger, and it worked well.

We've been out of school for a little over a week, and now I'm starting to plan my summer work.  I recently went to the first annual Massachusetts Disciplinary Literacy Unconference, which was awesome.  Follow our learning at #madluc.

I'm teaching an ESL Summer Reading Enrichment class at my school in July, which should be awesome.  I'm taking an online class titled Engaging Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and Families in Secondary Schools (perfect topic for me--I need help!).  I'm also doing a week of AP Language PD (scores from the 2015 exam come out tomorrow!) and two days each of co-teaching PD and Google 1:1 PD.  I'm going to be so full of new ideas in the fall (we go back August 31).

Also planning EdCamp Malden for October 17, 2015!  Get your tickets here!

I'm also reading a lot this summer.  Here are the highlights:

Make it Stick is about how the brain learns for the long term (so far, it looks like a lot of mini-quizzes are in order!).

Teach Like a Pirate has been on my list for a long time.  Lots of EdCampers are big fans!  I'll be discussing it online at #tlapsummer at the end of this month.

I'm rereading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for AP Language.

Ditto with Bird by Bird.

I'm using The Power of Habit for my senior reading selection.

For fun right now, I'm reading How to Build a Girl by one of my favorite writers, Caitlin Moran.

I'm also trying to formulate my SMARTGoals for EdEval for next year.  I have so many ideas on improvements to my work, but I need to make them measurable . . .

What are you reading over vacation?  Hope it's a great one!  I hope to get some more entries on the blog before school starts.  If you've got anything cool to share with me, do it at or @abbeydick.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Blizzard Blog!

Welcome Back to the Blog!

Hello, everyone!  I've taken a LONG break from blogging: I was shocked to see that the last entry was October 1.  It's been on my "to do" list every day, but other priorities (a.k.a. emergencies of grading, planning, and life) have taken over.  But I'm back and will try to be more regular with the posts.

I've been up to a lot.  Our district had a snow week this week (blizzard of 2015!), so I've had some time to reflect on the first half of the year.  Preparing for EdCamp Malden on October 18 led to an awesome event.  Our school is going 1:1 with Chromebooks, so that's on our minds.  My schedule this year is what I wanted but has kicked my butt: lots of kids, lots of challenges, lots of work, lots of fun!  It's been great but overwhelming, as I'm sure all teachers feel.

I've also been trying to achieve more of a balance between work and life.  I'm working on sleep, diet, exercise, and relaxation, topics I used to ignore.  I've found resources like that focus on the topic of teacher balance.  Interesting stuff!

My Ed Eval goals are about dialectical journals and student-run discussions (see resource below).  I'm trying to get on board with some instructional routines of my department.

Resource:  Here's a great rubric that my department made before I joined it.  The only thing I did this year was make it less holistic.  I broke the different tasks of "Student-Run Discussion" into categories so students can see where they need to focus to improve.  I have found it really helpful this year:

If you can't open it, please let me know!  Still getting used to this Google Drive world.

Thanks.  Happy late new year to all my friends out there in the world of literacy.  Feel free to say hello at or @abbeydick.  Stay safe and warm!