Gratitude and Self-reflection

This is my final week of the 2015-2016 school, and while I have concluded 14 school years now, this one is not any less special. I think every teacher’s final days ends with at least one deep, long sigh. The sigh represents a sense of accomplishment, relief, and of course excitement (for both the summer reprieve and the thought about starting fresh next school year). A huge part of closing the school year for me is both showing my gratitude to my parents and students and self-reflecting about how I can improve as a teacher for my next 150 plus students coming in August.

Gratitude to Parents

This year was  the first year I created parent newsletters about once a quarter. I wanted to both inform parents of the English curriculum, and also share all the great things happening in room 102. I created my newsletters on Google Docs and then through my school grade-book system, AERIES sent out mass emails with the link to the document. In my final parent newsletter, I added images of student work and provided links to student final projects.

Parent Newsletter

Gratitude to Students

I began documenting and showcasing what was happening in my classroom a few years back via Twitter. Because I had a multitude of awesome pictures of my students’ hard work, last year I decided to end the final semester with a slideshow highlighting their year in room 102. I pondered skipping this step this year, but when I began to peruse all the images on my home computer, I felt compelled to continue this and make it a tradition. I think students, especially freshmen, tend to forget the long academic journey they take in my class. The final slideshow honors this journey and I hope makes them realize what a long way they have come. I hope they leave knowing that each day mattered.

English 1 Honors (four periods) Final Slideshow

English 2 Transitional (one period)


Self-reflection is crucial to becoming a stronger teacher, and while it may be intimidating and humbling, I believe this is one of the major ways a teacher can grow and refine his/her craft. Sadly, there is little time embedded into the school year for educators to stop and self-reflect; therefore, it takes deliberate planning for a teacher to ensure this happens. Since blogging and working with a Digital Learning Coach, I have found that my self-reflection has become almost routine. I find myself pondering the strengths and weaknesses of a lesson, and paying closer attention to the final products/results. What better way to self-reflect then to ask my students what worked and what didn’t? After finals, I had my students complete a survey via Google Forms assessing the learning experiences, units and lessons from the school year. I will be completely honest and say I know that the results may not be all positive and it might, or rather WILL hurt my ego; yet, the reality is that I can learn from the data and make adjustments for the overall benefit of next year’s students.


“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.” ~Vernon Howard

I LOVE learning; I always have and I always will (maybe that’s why I chose teaching as a career). One of my summer traditions is to try and read a few professional books. This year I purchased Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey and Hattie. Along with learning, I am passionate about collaboration, so together with a Digitial Learning Coach, Gina Dearborn, I hope to have thought provoking discussions about Teach Like a Pirate to enhance my understanding and ensure that I identify takeaways that will affect my teaching next school year.


As I conclude, let me just say to my English 1 Honors and English 2 Transitional students from this school year, Mrs. Lam has enjoyed every day with you and wishes you nothing, but the best during your journey here at Beckman. She believes in you and cares deeply about your future. Never forget that everyday is your birthday and all people should feel just as special because as Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (3.85-87)

I think it’s only fitting to end with my goals for next school year and thank you for reading!

  1. Revise my English 2 Transitional curriculum to ensure that it is skill based, offers students choice, and connects to their lives ( I guess this is keeping in mind the three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships)
  2. Focus on timely, effective feedback
  3. Offer more positive reinforcement and recognition to ALL students

Fostering Creativity

Last year I showed my students Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity and we had a discussion about whether they agreed or disagreed with his argument. Every student felt that during their school day, creativity was definitely NOT a skill that their teachers were trying to foster. Sadly, many felt that even their own parents killed their creativity, as they were told not to pursue their love of music or art, as it would not provide a stable income for them in the future. Right about this time, we were finalizing our study of the allegory, Animal Farm. I figured the best way for students to understand the purpose of the genre was to write their own allegories and I made it a goal to encourage both written and artistic creativity. It was a huge success, so this is now a unit I implement every year.

During the process, I encourage students to either develop a movie or book plot that symbolizes a historical event of their choosing. The steps include researching the historical event, diagramming plot, writing a scene or chapter passage, designing a book cover or movie trailer and presenting to the class.

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Outline for Project HERE.

Student Outline Sample #1

Student Outline Sample #2

Sample Book Covers:

Allegory Book Cover
Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text
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Made with Canva
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Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text

Sample Presentations:

A huge part of fostering student creativity is offering students choice. This year, I had students ask if they could use certain tech tools and or create book trailers instead of book covers, and my response was always “go for it!” Sir Ken Robinson says “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it;” our job as teachers in the 21st century is to reverse this trend and the only way to do so is to make a conscious effort to design learning environments that “educate [our students]” into “their  creative capacities.”

Robinson, Ken Sir. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED Conference. CA, Monterey. 2 Feb. 2009. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Let’s Have Fun!

During my 13th year of teaching, I was working with one of my APs to institute Instructional Rounds on our campus. With a small group, we read the book and then before beginning the implementation process, I asked him to observe my class with a form we created. During the debriefing, which was the best post observation conference I have ever had (not because it was all commendations, but because he made me self-reflect), he asked, “Would you want to be a student in your class today?” It was a simple question, but I was silent for a few minutes, and while I would say it was an engaging lesson, my answer was just “I think so.” When he left, the question resonated with me and till this day, it still does. This has motivated me to make a concerted effort to always make sure that as I make choices about learning objectives, tech tools and lesson design to also make my class engaging and fun. Here are a few lesson ideas I have implemented that you may want to try and/or adapt.

1. Blocks for English Humanity

Yes, this is adapted from Cards Against Humanity…hahaha! One weekend I played the game for the first time and had a blast! It made me wonder how I could adapt the game to fit some of my English objectives. I had some wooden blocks I ordered from Amazon, and had two ideas: 1. use them to practice sentence types 2. use them to examine literary devices in our literature. I picked the latter for now, but still have intentions to try the sentence types route somehow.

Each Lit Circle receives a block with literary devices written on each side. During each round, one student acts as a judge and rolls the block. The others are reviewing the previous night’s reading to search for an example of the literary device showing on the block. They then type them anonymously on their group’s Padlet wall. The judge gets to pick the quote they feel best exhibits the device and the student who wrote that quote earns a point. The judges rotate and the goal is to be the student with the highest score in the Lit Circle. I give each winner (6 per period) 1 bonus point for the reading quiz that follows.

I love this activity because one, students are forced back into the text to review, and secondly, because students are forced to have conversations about author’s craft. I often overhear students talking about the author’s intentions or whether the quote is in fact the literary device that the student is suggesting. Finally, it’s fun!

Student Directions

2. Thesis Throwdown

I learned about this activity from Catlin Tucker’s blog. I adapted it a bit, but the idea is the same. My students are in Lit Circles and competing to earn points. I project a writing prompt on the screen and students have 4 minutes to work with their group to construct a thesis statement. I use Doctopus to manage a Google Document that is shared with me and their groups (I haven’t switched to Google Classroom yet because I love that group sharing a Document and assessing w/ Goobric is so user friendly w/ Doctopus). I encourage students to use the comment box to revise/edit and collaborate as they devise a thesis. Once the timer is up, a group secretary must post the thesis statement to the period’s Padlet wall. The groups must then pick the best thesis statement during the round, but cannot vote for their own. I give groups who vote for my pick a bonus point to encourage them to judge wisely and not strategically for a win. After the final round, the team with the most points wins.

I love this activity because students get to work with all leveled writers to see and hear the process of devising a thesis statement. They then also have access to every group’s thesis statements on the Padlet wall to see samples as they write their literary response essays. There are also great teachable moments for me, as I can explain why one thesis statement is stronger than another, and how best to revise weak thesis statements.

Thesis Throwdown (1)Thesis Throwdown Pic

Thesis Throwdown

3. Team Textual Tussle

I use Team Textual Tussle as a way to review a night’s reading AND to practice writing with quote integration. I pick words or phrases that are significant from the previous night’s reading and display them one at a time. In Lit Circles, students must write a quote sandwich that shows the importance of the word/phrase. Each student must write on a separate sheet of paper and also be assigned a letter a-f in his/her group. After a couple of minutes in, I will call out a letter. Each student that is assigned this letter must run up and attach  his/her quote sandwich to the group’s parking lot (on my white boards). The first group that has a STRONG quote sandwich earns a point. Throughout the process, I will place the quote sandwiches under the document camera and explain the strengths and weaknesses. Just because a group is first to put their quote sandwich up on the parking lot does not ensure them the point. If the writing has weak quote integration and/or analysis, I will move on to assess the next group’s quote sandwich. The Lit Circle with the most points after all the rounds wins.

Team Textual Tussle Directions

I am always looking for fun, engaging activities to teach writing and grammar, so please share your ideas!

Upgrade Those ERWC Units

Part of the ELA curriculum at both my previous school and current school include the integration of ERWC units. The Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, developed by the Cal States, focuses on engaging students in the reading and writing of Expository texts. The belief is that most students will not major in English and should enter college with skills to handle the close reading of informational text, which is also a focus of the Common Core standards. I think most English teachers understand the need to teach these skills, but often find some of the ERWC units disengaging or tedious. One of the problems I have found with the units is the fact that a unit focuses on one expository article, and the Common Core standards and CAASP performance tasks tend to focus on the reading and synthesizing of multiple sources. Therefore, I like to add to the ERWC units to help my students think more critically about the topics raised in the expository articles. I then add elements that foster student creativity, which makes the unit relevant and engaging.

ERWC Unit: “How Self-fulfilling Stereotypes Can Drag Down Performance”

Before I dive into my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, I teach the ERWC unit about self-fulfilling stereotypes. It’s a great “into” unit.

Step 1:

In Lit Circles, students use the QFT (question formulation technique) strategy to create open ended questions about the subject of stereotypes. If you have never heard of this strategy, check out the book Make Just One Change and the website. The Lit Circles decide on their favorite question and this becomes their focus for close reading and annotating the sources I provide.


Step 2:

Students read and annotate the sources I provide, which are linked on my Haiku page. If the source is a web site, my students use the Diigo extension to annotate and then they submit their annotated links via a Google form.

Haiku ERWC

Step 3:

Students complete a graphic organizer that I share via a Google Drawing to synthesize their sources. Their goal is to find an answer to  the question they developed via the QFT strategy. I teach students the SEE-THINK-WONDER strategy at the beginning of the year to annotate paintings/images. This strategy is from the book Making Thinking Visible. It’s an awesome resource!

ERWC Unit Synthesis Chart

Step 4:

Students use Google Drawing to create an Infographic in their Lit Circles that displays their question, answer, and evidence from multiple sources. They also must do outside research to find additional evidence to support their answers.

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Why I LOVE Google Drawings

Before 1-1 technology, I was a strong proponent of using graphic organizers in my classroom. I would design them on Word and make enough copies for each of my students. These graphic organizers helped students visually organize ideas and or plan for writing. Now that my students have access to technology, most of our work is done using GAFE. One of my favorites is Google Drawings. I love how students can collaborate on one document and I can check their revision history; it also fosters their creativity. I share out my documents via a Document management system called Doctopus (I haven’t switched over to Google classroom since I love the group sharing process w/ Doctopus along with its ease of use with the Goobric extension).

I will send out a blank Google Drawing with a text box off to the side with the directions. This week for example, we are wrapping up the semester and students will have to compare Of Mice and Men to To Kill a Mockingbird. To have students review, I assigned a  group Theme Map.

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I am always amazed by my students creativity!

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I love that while from home I can access their work and see their revisions and chats about how to accomplish the task. If I notice any confusion, I can jump into their chat and add feedback.

Sample comments in theme map

Finally, because I use Doctopus with the Goobric extension, I can grade the Theme Map with a rubric created via Google spreadsheets, score the theme map, and the rubric automatically gets emailed to each student.

Goobric with theme map

I am super excited about the new Student Goobric extension for self-assessment and peer evaluation, and I am hoping to begin this process next semester. Check that out here!


Today Tomorrow Always

I have been at my new school site for a year and a half now and as a fourteen year Veteran English teacher, I can say with extreme confidence that I have refined my craft exponentially within this time. When you think about this statement, it is actually quite absurd. When I started I was single, childless and living at home about 3 miles from work. I had the time, energy and passion for my new career. Flashforward 13 years and I am married with two children, ages three and six…YIKES! So what revolutionized my teaching?

  1. Teaching in a 1-1 school

  2. Working with a Digital Learning Coach

  3. Attending the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute

Teaching in a 1-1 School

Every student that enrolls in my school is checked out a laptop. The District LMS available to students is Haiku. At my previous school, I dabbled with Edmodo, Nearpod and a few other tech resources, but I will say without the access, it was very difficult for me to hold my students accountable for following through with lessons created with these tech tools unless I reserved the computer lab (there were 3 for the whole school). With Haiku I have the ability to assess learning, flip my teaching and embed/ upload ALL my unit resources. Knowing that each student has the access with their laptops makes what I can do with Haiku in and out of class limitless (see screenshot of my Haiku page).

Haiku Sample

Working with a Digital Learning Coach

Because I was going to be in a school setting with 1-1 technology, I signed up to be a technology fellow, which meant I would work with a DLC (digital learning coach) once a week on my prep period. Let me first say that I didn’t have just any DLC. My school’s DLC is Crystal Kirch…THE Crystal Kirch. If you don’t know who she is, check out her blog “Flipping with Kirch.” She is phenomenal!

Crystal and I would meet and discuss my lessons and learning objectives and then together, we would find engaging ways to teach my lessons supported by technology. We would have a coaching cycle that started with pre-planning, lesson implementation and then debriefing. Although I was giving up a prep period every Friday (yes, Fridays!), with all honesty I can say that without her support, I would never be the teacher I am today. I hope districts, schools, and teachers realize the power of true coaching. We expect our students to grow academically throughout their school years, so we should expect our teachers to continue to grow professionally, and with skilled coaches and open minded teachers, growth is inevitable.

One of the strategies I added to my “tool belt” was an Edcafe inspired by an Edcamp I attended last school year. With Crystal’s support, we planned, implemented and revised this strategy and it is now one of my favorite lessons to engage students in meaningful, academic conversations. If you’d like more info about Edcafes here is my guest blog post on Crystal’s site.

Attending the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute

A respected colleague of mine recommended that I apply to attend the Summer Institute last summer, and because I was fortunate enough to have time and energy, I applied and it was the best professional development experience in ALL of my teaching career.

During the Summer Institute, along with guest speakers like Kelly Gallagher and Jim Burke (an English teacher’s dream), we were involved in writing groups, both professional and recreational Book Clubs and workshops hosted by the attending teachers. My experience made me reevaluate the way I was teaching writing. I came to the realization that I never treated my students like writers; I didn’t even see myself as a writer.

This year, my students are WRITERS. They attend monthly writing groups and provide each other with feedback and commendations. I have a wall to showcase each writing group’s favorite piece and we have now just started publishing our writing on class blogs. I am so proud of their growth this year. It also helps when I say that this week is Writing Group and they yell out “Yes!!!”

Sample blog 

So today: I am grateful for all the motivation and support mentioned above.

Tomorrow: I have to reflect upon a new lesson idea inspired by this book that I read to my daughters tonight.

Always: I will strive to become a better teacher because my students deserve it!