My students and I have been working on argumentative texts, and I swore on Facebook not too long ago that I would ensure my students would never forget how to evaluate an argument and a source.
So I turned to Google while lesson planning and discovered the CRAAP method for examining sources. All you have to do is ask yourself is this source CRAAP to analyze for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose–and voila, the children remember how to evaluate a source! And they get to say CRAAP in the classroom, so it makes them feel like they can cuss but actually aren’t! Students love that cusp of danger feeling!
And my teacher soul radiated warm fuzzies every time I heard them say CRAAP while discussing texts about failure.
CRAAP never sounded so good! CRAAP was magic! They were learning! They would know forever how to evaluate a resource!
While my students did test corrections yesterday, I examined exit tickets that analyzed if a failure fluff piece from Medium.com was a compelling argument.
What did my students do in their formal writing???
Used the word CRAAP–EVERYWHERE.
I audibly groaned everytime I came across a sentence that said “this source isn’t CRAAP.”
Not only did they come up with incorrect answers (sigh, only like five kids said the source and the argument itself was crappy), they actually thought saying CRAAP in their writing was a brilliant idea!!!
After having done a badass job of teaching how to evaluate sources and arguments using articles about failure, I WAS AND AM THE FAILURE AND IT MADE ME FEEL CRAPPY.
Crap. Crap. Crap. Extra Crap.
What if they do that on their benchmark???? Or god forbid the LEAP test????
How do I get the CRAAP out of them?
Well, that sounded terrible, but you know what I mean!
Looks like they’re in for a crappy Tuesday because they’re going to be rewriting those exit tickets.
(Sidebar: When I looked at these same exit tickets, so many students kept referring to the author by his first name. I asked my fourth block why–because they fully know to use the author’s last name. Their response? His last name was too hard to spell so it was easier to use his first name.)
Now that I’m an in-person and at-home synchronous teaching master–HA–I forget to start my Google Meet at third block about half the time and occasionally talk while my microphone is on mute–I need help mastering ALL THE STUDENT CHEATING THAT IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME BECAUSE THEY ARE ALWAYS ON THEIR DEVICES.
I miss paper. And pencils. And pens. And THINKING instead of Google searching and regurgitating whatever Spark Notes is telling them about symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
I’m starting to wish that Google was never invented.
I’m so frustrated because some students’ grades are complete shams. Their grades aren’t reflective of their knowledge and ability. The grades are reflective of cheating and getting away with it.
It seems like all my digital resources have been compromised.
All of the answers to CommonLit assessments are readily available to students on Quizlet.
The state curriculum that we’re using is web-based. Want to guess how secure it is? Not very. Our unit test answers are plastered all over the internet.
I can’t lock a Google Form anymore because my 8th graders don’t have Chromebooks.
I gave the kids To Kill a Mockingbirdbefore Christmas break to read on their own and a banana-ton of questions to answer as a test grade. It’s due in two weeks. Guess what some kids are doing? Googling the answers instead of reading the book. (In hindsight, this was a terrible assignment to give them.)
And now that I’m teaching at home virtual learners who are, for the most part, unsupervised while they’re at home all day, cheating is even more of an issue. And I could be mistaken, but I think some of my in-person learners are staying home on days when they have lots of tests and logging in virtually to class so they can cheat more easily.
And while we do have Impero as monitoring software, it’s only on school devices. Some of my students use two different devices, one for the Google Meet, and one for classwork, which is fine, but I can’t see what they’re doing on the other device. This also becomes problematic when I do give locked tests through Illuminate. (Also no lesson planning or grading gets done when the students are testing anymore because I have to watch what they’re doing like a hawk.)
End rambly semi-coherent rant.
Do y’all have any teacher hacks to help prevent cheating, especially during testing, in this digital classroom era? This teacher needs help!
Here are some of the things I already do:
Their cameras must be on and their faces must be fully visible. Most of the time, my rule is eyebrows and up, but this doesn’t work during testing. No blurred backgrounds are allowed either.
I make all students push their sleeves up and show me their wrists to see if they have smart watches on. If they’re wearing one, I make the kids at home stand up and go put their watches on the other side of the room and the kids at school put their watches in their backpacks. (I personally don’t think kids should wear smart watches at school, period.)
I make the kids at home show me their phones and have them put their phones on the other side of the room too. I don’t think this actually works. Lots of them tell me that their phones are already in another room. Yeah right.
I make them have their microphones on the whole time they’re testing.
Tests have to be taken on the school-issued device.
I give tests in a locked browser if at all possible. I wish I could lock students into a Google Form or CommonLit. UGHHH.
I stalk them on Impero when I give them unsecure assessments.
Is it terrible that I delight in their looks of misery when they realize I’ve thwarted most of their reliable cheating methods? Give me more ideas so I can get my schadenfreude on!
But in all seriousness, I can’t believe that parents of in-person learners aren’t making more of a stink about how easy it is for at-home learners to cheat and ultimately get better grades.
Is there anything that parents and students hate more than grades not being fair?
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: And Other Questions About Dead Bodies by Caitlin Doughty–published 2020–nonfiction/science–four stars: Ummmmm, well, that was equal parts fascinating and horrifying. Did I need to know any of this dead body trivia? Nope! But now I’m as full of corpse facts as a cadaver is full of funky smells. Also, my mind is still reeling from now knowing that in Germany and Belgium graves are rented and that instead of eating eyeballs cats would more likely eat their dead owner’s noses or lips. I’m never looking at my already evil cat the same way again. From now on, I’ll be smearing orange essential oil (you know, because cats hate oranges) all over my body daily–in case I die an untimely death alone in my own home–in an attempt to repel my cat from feasting on my carcass.
A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2018–YAL fantasy–four stars: I put off reading the third installment of this series because I was terrified it would disappoint me. IT DIDN’T! Now I finally understand the choice to have the Blood Shrike as a narrator, which I disliked in book two. And hello unpredictable plot twist!! Since the Nightbringer is brought in as a narrator in the last chapter, does that mean he’s going to have his own chapters in book four? Also, Elias–Is. Making. My. Darn. Heart. Hurt. I have so many questions.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson–published 2020–YAL mystery–four stars: Seventeen-year-old Enchanted wants to be a music star, and when uber-famous musician Korey Fields wants to take her under his wing to groom her, she convinces her parents to allow her to go on tour with him. The book begins with Korey’s murder and flashes back to Chanty’s story of being caught in his predatory snare. Did Chanty do it? I rounded up my rating for Grown. The plot is compelling and hits relevant criticisms of our racist, sexist society. There’s an R. Kelly/Jeffrey Epstein vibe to Korey, and Jessica is totally a more vengeful Ghislaine Maxwell. Parts are hard to swallow because of the ick factor, but it doesn’t get explicit. My main issue with this book and why it’s not a flat-out four is because I found it dialogue heavy with light narration. The dialogue felt cheesy too.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria–published 2020–romance–three stars: Jasmine, an up and coming Latinx soap opera star, lands a lead on Carmen in Charge, a telenovela on a big-name streaming service. When the actor originally slated to be her love interest falls through, he is replaced by Ashton Suárez, a dashing telenovela staple. After their meet-cute where Ashton spills coffee all over Jasmine on day one on set, Jasmine can’t deny that he’s unbelievably sexy and more than a little aloof. But before she knows it, their chemistry on screen and off has her “Leading Lady” plan all in a tailspin. I liked that this wasn’t first-person alternating chapters between Ashton and Jasmine. A third-person narrator slips in and out of both their minds throughout the narrative. I liked that this was different from any other romance I’ve read. A romance novel set on a Telenovela with a wide range of Latinx characters? Heck yeah! And it’s so steamy in places that I had to turn the fan on. It’s a fun read, but it lacks real substance and quality writing.
A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2020–YAL fantasy–three stars: A disappointing end to the series. I’d like to chalk up my disinterest to being preoccupied, but the storyline had major gaps, particularly at the beginning. The cliffhangers were anticlimactic and pedestrian. When POVs switched, I couldn’t keep track of who was telling the story–because Laia, Helene, and Elias all read like the same character by the end. And the characters who were killed off? I didn’t even cry. And I should have, but they were obvious choices. I hated the last few chapters because things felt too perfectly wrapped up. After reading, I get the uneasy feeling that Tahir is planning to write a prequel featuring Keris’s story, even though all the Commandant’s loose ends were tied up.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi–published 2019–nonfiction/race–four stars: A fascinating argument. I liked how Kendi examined his own ideas about race and explained how his own thinking had been wrong.
People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd–published 2021–thriller–three stars: And my first published in 2021 read features…wait for it…an influencer who has a stalker! Didn’t I read four different variations of this book last year? Except this time, it’s set in England and features an Insta-mum and her has-been novelist husband…
The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski–published 2007–fantasy–two stars: Can a girl Witcher wrong? I started with the book that should have appeared chronologically first, but ughhhh. It’s a whole bunch of long-ass short stories, so every time one would end, I felt like I needed to read a different book. The stories were confusing. This was originally published in the 90s in Polish. I don’t feel like it aged well. It’s pretty heavy on let’s-kill-lady-monsters in the first few stories. Is it any good on Netflix?
Magic Lessons (Practical Magic, #0.1) by Alice Hoffman–published 2020–historical fiction/fantasy–four stars: Can we just appoint Alice Hoffman witch laureate already? That’s a thing right? Get ready to find out how the Owens’s family curse began.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas–published 2020–YAL LGBT fantasy–three stars: Fifteen-year-old Latinx Yadriel, trans and gay, lives in a cemetery and can see ghosts. His father, head of the brujos, refuses to let Yads join their magical ranks because his father doesn’t think that the brujo’s magic will extend to Yadriel. When Yadriel’s cousin Miguel goes missing, Yadriel takes matters into his own hands and performs the rite of passage ceremony anyway with the help of his cousin Maritza. While searching for clues for Miguel, Yadriel summons another ghost Julian, a recently deceased boy of his own age who’s hyper and inquisitive, and promises Julian to help find out who murdered him. I wanted to love this book, but I anticipated the major twists.
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida–published 2021–romantic comedy–four stars: Apparently cracked screens are the new book jacket rage?Mia wakes up in a hospital bed with amnesia, but she’s donning a fantastic designer dress, so she figures she’s a big deal. Using Instagram and her boyfriend’s (who she hasn’t met yet and isn’t sure she trusts) housesitter as a guide, Mia sashays (bumbles?) her way into unlocking her true identity. In order to completely enjoy this book, disband your sense of reality. Its premise is pretty far out there, but I found it funny and lighthearted. It reminded me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, total guilty pleasure reads.
Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women #1) by Evie Dunmore–published 2019 historical romance–four stars: A COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE GENERIC BAND-AID TO SLAP OVER THE GAPING WOUND LEFT AFTER BINGEING AND FINISHING NAME BRAND BRIDGERTON.
Concrete Rose(The Hate U Give #0) by Angie Thomas–published 2021–YAL–four stars: Once 17-year-old Maverick (Starr’s daddy from The Hate U Give) finds out that he has a son, he struggles between cleaning up his act or continuing to deal drugs. I love that this is written from Mav’s first-person perspective. Overall, it’s not as well done as THUG–enough with cheesy dialogue in YAL already–but it’s still a great book.
1984 by George Orwell: I read about 130 pages. It was boring. It was narration heavy, and I couldn’t figure out if Orwell hated women or loved them.
How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century by Erik Olin Wright: I quit this one after 50 pages or so. I wasn’t expecting a history lesson about communism.
(P.S. WordPress and I are fighting today. I apologize that some cover art is bigger than others and that Concrete Rose is left aligned. It won’t let me left align the other pictures now either. Hmmmmppphhh. There’s some glitch that’s preventing me from fixing these unsightly things.)
Miss, take my hopeful heart and
eat it à la carte.
There's too much at
Stake it to your
Stake it to your
Miss, take it for
before you find out I'm
a selfish rake.
Don't let it
Miss, take my hopeful heart--
before you realize it's
If I were to open my MyChart app for you, you’d see a scary list of my illnesses: ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, Ménière’s, and IBS–to name a few. And while they sucketh harder than all marathons ever run collectively, most of my chronic issues are hidden beneath my cracked wide-open and bleeding (thanks visible psoriasis), painful to the touch most days (thanks invisible fibromyalgia), and purple-then-blue-then-white-then-red (thanks visible Raynaud’s) epidermis.
But if you were to open my classroom door and stay for a while, you’d see another of my afflictions (and I’m not talking about my very visible llama problem). While it doesn’t cause me any physical pain, the emotional distress it inflicts upon me makes me feel embarrassed and like a failure.
You’d expect this funny, vibrant, spunky, whimsical (if I do say so myself) English teacher to be downright eloquent, a blonde version of John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, but, y’all–I. Hate. To. Read. Aloud. In. Class. Because. I. Fuck. It. Up—-so hard.
I read ALL the time but–to myself. And while my dad read the funnies out loud to me as a child, I don’t remember other adults consistently reading texts aloud to me. I might be misremembering, because my brain is fickle, but I’m fairly certain that by middle school, we did most of our reading for English class by ourselves. What does this boil down to? I haven’t heard a shit-ton of words that I would recognize in print ever pronounced. So throughout the years, I made up my own pronunciations. Yeah, I used to sit with a dictionary to look up a word’s meaning, but I never bothered with the pronunciation. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier now to stop and have Google’s online dictionary pronounce schadenfreude for you than it was in the 90s because a hardcover Webster’s Dictionary lacked that feature. I’ve blundered through words like caste, propitious, and scythe because I’d never heard them spoken only to have students correct me. That shit’s embarrassing. And it happens all the time. Once I even had a parent call to complain that I didn’t pronounce yeoman correctly while teaching The Canterbury Tales for the first time. Sorry that I’m not fluent in Middle English? How often is that word used in casual conversation? Also, get over yourself. I can’t ever get ahead of myself either because the curriculum is always changing. Next year? I get a brand-new curriculum (woohoo?), meaning new literature and an unexplored minefield of words I’ve never heard spoken.
Y’all. The amount of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, and Spanish that is embedded in the texts that we read throws me for a loop as well. This Midwesterner who relocated to the deep Cajun French South only knows how to say bonjour in French. I can read some Greek, from studying abroad, and am even better at reading Russian (thanks college), but pronouncing Greek and Russian words? Nope. I bombed every Russian oral exam. Last year I taught The Odyssey, and I told the students, hey, I’ve never taught this before, there’s a lot of Greek, let’s work through this together. And it took us several rounds to remember how to say Telemachus, Antinous, Aeaea, etc., correctly. We just finished Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture “Hope, Despair, and Memory” last week, and I know I mispronounced every single thing in Hebrew and several allusions–despite looking up how to say them beforehand. It takes time to commit how to say previously unknown words to memory.
There are just some words I can’t say. Like magnanimity. Despite listening to how to say this word on repeat, I can’t say it. I go all Nemo trying to say anemone and start thinking about magma and then the Magna Carta, and now I’ve exposed you to the rabbit hole that is my brain. Sorry!!!!
Fibromyalgia. Most of the time, my fibro is invisible, but I struggle with cognitive function and brain fog if I’m in a flare, making my fibro finally visible. It’s worse in the morning and at night. What’s it like? Not being able to pronounce words that you know how to say. Slurring your words when you’re reading or talking when you are dead sober. The inability to find the word you want to use, even when it’s staring you dead in the face. Transposing letters in words. Saying one word when you meant to use a different one. Not being able to form a sentence period in the morning when you’re supposed to get students excited about literature and the kids look at you like you’re stupid when language fails you. And now that I’ve written this, I wonder just how much my fibro prevents me from mastering numbers 2-3.
So how does this English teacher who hates to read aloud because she can’t spoken-word well cope? She relies heavily on audio versions of texts, and when she can’t find audio, she explains herself and asks for a little grace.
As a teacher, talk about your own struggles, issues, illnesses, etc., to normalize that it’s okay to discuss things that society would rather see swept under the rug. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, Mrs. Ram is struggling today due to a fibro flare, so please excuse her as she tortures your eardrums while she reads this aloud to you.”
And answer their questions if they have any, and move on. Some of them will judge you, no matter what you say (or in my case how you say it), but you’d be surprised how forgiving students (and people in general) can be when you’re honest about your own limitations and invisible battles you might be fighting.
It’s time to hand in your self-bestowed grammar police badge.
Quit writing snarky posts about other people’s command of Standard English.
This past week, I encountered a Facebook post where the person said that a major percentage of social media users needed remedial English classes.
Normally I would just keep on scrolling, but I stopped and made a comment because, oh the irony, the post had errors within it. I softened the blow with “Would you hate me forever if I…” and then proceeded to point out that sentences should never start with numerals (and patted myself on the back for not also pointing out that he should be using one space instead of two after a period). He responded with a sentence where nearly every word was used incorrectly and that he would have never guessed that I would have been so offended by numerals. I “haha”-ed his comment, but the original post still left a sour taste in my mouth.
I saw multiple posts last week decrying, “It’s the Capitol Building–not the capital building facepalm emoji.”
And posts about the differences among there, their, and they’re will probably never go out of grammar shaming vogue.
Because I am the grammar police, like have gotten paid for 15 years to read terrible writing by middle schoolers and high schoolers, let me let you in on a little secret—your weird sense of pride in being better at syntax, capitalization, and spelling than your peers makes me uncomfortable. Does pointing out grammar mistakes make you feel better about yourself? Are you trying to belittle the point the other person is trying to make? Do you recognize that your behavior is more than a little elitist?
First of all. It’s social media. Get over it. People don’t capitalize proper nouns and punctuation is optional. Who cares if someone you haven’t seen since high school uses its when they mean to use it’s?
Autocorrect and predictive texts can ruin comments too. Have a little grace.
Some people give zero fucks about proofreading.
I diligently proofread, and errors still make their way onto Facebook. And on my blog–even after several reads, merry-go-rounds of spell checks, etc. I’m my own editor because I’m not paying anybody to do it and trying to solicit your friends to proofread something is akin to asking them for money that they know you’ll never pay back. It’s way easier to point out errors in someone else’s writing than your own. Having this blog has humbled my grammar policing because I know how hard it is to produce an error-free piece of writing. I am thrilled when I go back after a few weeks to revisit a post and realize there are no typos.
Some people write how they speak, particularly in informal writing, and there is nothing wrong with the way that ANYBODY speaks. When you are mocking the way a person is writing, you might be mocking how they talk, and now you’re inadvertently casting judgements about spoken language. There is nothing wrong with anybody’s dialect of English.
Go pick up any work of fiction. ANY WORK OF FICTION. Run-on sentences and fragments abound. Commas are used whenever the author wants to use the little guy. Hell, I’ve even read books where there are no quotation marks for dialogue. Language rules are meant to be broken.
Learning those Standard English rules are freaking hard. And while you might have mastered them, lots of people haven’t. And who knows if Twitter Thomas was even taught them after elementary school.
Let’s throw it back twenty years. How much writing by your friends were you seeing daily? Maybe something on AIM, but nowhere near the amount you’re consuming now. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have been making these judgements about other people’s writing because you wouldn’t have even been exposed to it.
You know what I look for anymore as an English teacher–meaning. If I sat and marked every knowledge of language and conventions error on every big writing assignment that I gave my students, I WOULD NEVER FINISH GRADING THEM. EVER. I ask myself, do these sentences make sense? Do I understand the point the student is trying to make? I pretty much only point out sentence construction issues because meaning will always be more important than modifiers being misplaced, words being left out, and misspelled words–especially since most writing is timed anymore. Our rubrics don’t even place that much emphasis on grammar anymore because meaning IS more important.
When’s the last time you took a look at “The Declaration of Independence”? There. Are. Common. Nouns. Capitalized. Throughout. Its. Entirety. Thomas Jefferson himself capitalized words to the beat of his own founding-father’s heart.
So ask yourself, do I know what my fourth cousin’s husband meant when he wrote a post about killing the Biggest Buck of his life or are you going to let those capital Bs ruin your day? He’s probably just using them for emphasis. And killing an 18-pointer is freaking badass. I’d be capitalizing the shit out of that post too. And if he spells it dear instead of deer? Take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it doe. (Let it doe! Let it doe!)
I’ll leave a box out on my sticky-note strewn teacher’s desk. I expect your imaginary grammar police badge to be in it by the end of the day, or I’m going to have to write you up for being MEAN instead of looking for MEANING. Hopefully my student-given sign sitting atop my desk that reads World’s Goodest Teacher makes you pause in humor and not contempt on your way out.
(But also, if you find any typos in this–HELP A GIRL OUT!)
Waste less food. I throw away an embarrassing amount of food. If anyone has any tips for this, please share. I can solve part of this with some thinking and research. But my ulcerative colitis, IBS, and fibromyalgia cause very weird, very real food issues, making me waste food too. My stomach hates food reheated in a microwave. I can taste food packaging and taste smells from stores, like for real; Costco meat tastes like plastic and what the inside of the store smells like. I can taste the difference between a bag of On The Border tortilla chips purchased at Walmart versus one purchased at Winn-Dixie or Rouses. If I eat food that’s been open for longer than a day, like a bag of chips or chicken stock, I’ll end up curled up in a ball of pain in my bed until the pain passes. Unless we order in, I cook every night, sometimes three different meals because why should Goose and Little Thing suffer? Is there an affordable meat delivery service that I’m unaware of? (And I’d love to eat less meat, but my body tolerates it. I can’t handle most protein alternatives.) Should I shop more frequently so things don’t go bad? I know wasting less food is going to be challenging with all my bizarre issues, but I’m really going to try.
Start working out again. I have serious foot problems that have prevented me from truly working out for a couple of years. I love yoga, but how do you do yoga when you can’t even walk barefoot around the house anymore? I tried to get back into it before Christmas break, and icing my feet after and massaging them out with a rolling pin helped, but it wasn’t a panacea. Would yoga shoes help? I go for walks around the neighborhood and would like to jog, but if you see me walking around the neighborhood, it’s not in a true tennis shoe. Vionics have worked wonders for me, but both their tennis shoes and inserts don’t–at least for me. If anyone knows of an exceptional orthopedic tennis shoe that I should try, please let me know.
I ended up reading way less young adult and middle grade literature this year for some bizarre reason. Maybe because I read more nonfiction? And while I only had one five star YA/MG read this year, the four star books on this list are totally excellent and binge-able.
Sadie by Courtney Summers–published 2018–young adult mystery–five stars.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo–published 2020–young adult contemporary/poetry–four stars.