On My Nightstand

This week, last week, and especially next week will/have been crazy. Work is a roller coaster ride, home is a little crazy…basically, my life is crazy. Either way I wanted to pop in and let you guys know what I’m reading this week.

I finished The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri over the weekend, and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. I love how Palmieri writes this flawed characters that you can’t help but love and root for.

This week, I have started The Martian by Andy Weir. This is not in my typically read genre, but so far it has been funny and engaging. Nathan read it a couple of weeks ago, and my job is to finish it this week so that we can go see the movie this weekend. It’s kind of fun to read outside of what I would normally read. Plus, I heard an interview with the author on NPR and all the science except for one detail is accurate. How cool is that?

If I ever make it to Mars, I’m sure that having read this book will come in handy.

Hope your week started out smoothly and is a little bit lighter than my week and upcoming week. Any advice on what I should pick up next?

Teaching Wednesday: Grade Smarter Not Harder Reflection

Last week, I posted about one of my new ways of grading essays (read that post here). In that post I talk about doing all of my grading online, which is good for the environment and good for me because I’m not lugging around over a hundred essays every where I go. Well, I started that grading process a little over a week ago. Unfortunately, I’m not done grading, mainly because life has been more than hectic over the last week, but I did want to tell you what has happened since posting about half of my learner’s essay grades.

1.Several learners made revisions to their essays as soon as they received the notification that they had been graded.

I was a little surprised by this. I’m not necessarily re-evaluating their scores on these essays, but even so, they went in and made the changes. Sometimes it was small errors like capitalization and punctuation, other  times it was explaining the significance of the evidence. Either way, they’re looking at the feedback and making the changes.

2. They are asking for workshops.

This is another surprising positive of the new grading system. My feedback is just vague enough that they have to ask me how to fix it. Several learners struggle with putting a comma between the subject and the verb. Every time that happened, my feedback was the same: [punctuation error]. On my workshop list, based on feedback from me, they have added properly embedding quotes, transitions between ideas/claims, commas, as well as several others. This type of grading is causing them to ask for the information that they need, which is exactly what New Tech is all about.

3.They are talking about their writing with me.

Some of them are arguing about their grade, some of them are trying to figure out how to get better, but all of the learners are talking about their writing. They are talking about it with their peers, with me, and with Mr. Burdess. I don’t know about you, but the mere accomplishment of having them talking about their writing makes my teaching heart happy.

When I started grading like this, I really just assumed it would be an easier way for me to grade. I didn’t realize that it would get my learners talking about writing, making revisions to their writing, and asking for specific workshops to become better writers. I know that as skills go, writing is one of the most important for them be successful outside of high school and in the real world.

Never Ending To Do Lists and Taking Back My Time

It’s weird how this always happens to me, but usually around this time in the school year I realize that I’m losing myself. I’m spending my time grading and grading and grading. I’m doing hair on too many afternoons. I spend my mornings writing, but my poor garden falls to the wayside. Every hour of my life seems to be scheduled for something other than myself. Usually at this point in the year I’ve also given up reading books for fun. This year I kept reading (slowly), but I stopped running and exercising.

Usually, I let my life continue in this manner until I almost lose it (which, again, almost always happens in November). I’m an over-achiever and a borderline crazy person when it comes to getting my work done. I like to make lists and check things off. I like to know at the end of the day that I met my goal and accomplished all the things I meant to accomplish. My job, however, is not the kind where I can just make a list in the morning, cross everything off the list by the end of the day, and go home with a sense of accomplishment. That’s just not how teaching works.

I can make the list, and I might get a couple of things crossed off in the morning before my classes start, but the rest of the day is ultimately spent adding things to the list. By the end of the day, the list has doubled, but my time has shrunk. This year, my goal is not to lose myself, to continue to do the things that I love to do, even if that means it takes me a little longer to accomplish tasks on my to do list.

Last night, when I got home from school, I went for a run. It was slow. My running routine has been hit or miss at best for the past several weeks, so it’s kind of like starting over again. One of my best friends told me I needed to. She was right. I did need to. After my run I had enough energy to cook dinner, clean the house, and grade essays. Before bed I read The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri. When it was time to go to sleep, I went to sleep. It was the perfect evening; a mix between doing the things that I have to do while still taking time for myself.

I don’t know about you guys, but it is really hard to find the balance of life. A lot of people say that it isn’t even possible and we should stop striving to find that perfect balance. That may be true, but I’m going to keep searching and trying new things. I’m going to keep running and exercising because let’s face it, I’m a nicer person. I’m going to keep writing because I’m passionate and I want Georgia’s story out there in the world. I’m going to keep doing my best to be a strong teacher, but when I’m not perfect every day, I’m not going to give up or get down on myself. I’m just going to keep trying my best.

And, maybe, just maybe, I’ll spend some time taking care of the garden that looks so very sad right now.

What do you do to find balance? What have you given up that you need to add back into your life?


Teaching Wednesday: Grade Smarter Not Harder

I’m officially staring down 137 essays that need to be graded as soon as possible. Even though my coteacher and I have definitely limited the rubric for what we are grading for (thesis statements, embedding evidence, grammar), it’s  still a time consuming process that will keep me up late several nights this week. When we went to Chicago over the summer for NTAC, we got the opportunity to see some amazing presentations filled with resources and plans and advice about how to do better. One session stands out to me as the most impactful, however, and I want to share her resources with you.

She started by asking us a question: “When you are grading your essays, do you feel like you are saying the same things over and over again? You need more evidence. You need to actually explain your evidence. This claim doesn’t make sense.”

I was nodding my head furiously at this point, as were many of the others in the room. Then she showed us her secret weapon: using the shortcut/replace cell when she is evaluating essays. Here are the directions:

For Google Documents:

  1. Open a Google Doc.
  2. Go to a) Tools, b) Preferences.
  3. Decide on a meaningful “shortcut” and add it in the “Replace” cell.
  4. In brackets (or some other way to make your remarks obvious) write out your suggestion in the “With” cell.
  5. Click “OK” to save shortcuts.

For Microsoft Word:

  1. Open a Word document.
  2. Go to a) File, b) Options
  3. Click “Proofing” in the list of options on the left side of the pop-up screen.
  4. Click the “Autocorrect Options” button
  5. Decide on a meaningful “shortcut” and add it in the “Replace” cell.
  6. In brackets (or some other way to make your remarks obvious) write out your suggestion in the “With” cell.
  7. Click “OK” to save shortcuts.

So, once  you set it up, you create the options that work for you. When I leave comments on my learner’s essays, I embed the comments directly into their writing. The green highlight is an example from my learner’s work (although it isn’t highlighted green in her essay):

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 5.25.36 AM

One of my short cuts is tr which when typed turns into [include a stronger transition here]. As you can tell, learners have to actually read through their essays and look for my feedback and comments. If there is an issue at an idea level, I can still leave real comments on her essay,  but not having to type out every time a student has a punctuation error or an incorrectly capitalized title is amazing. I’m able to read their essays and quickly type two or three letters to give them specific feedback exactly where they need it. 

The exactly where they need it part was hard for us last year when we were giving feedback. We would both give them really specific feedback, but it would be on a rubric, not on the essay where they needed to see it. I don’t know about you and how you grade essays, but this is exactly the kind of feedback that I would have liked on my essays in college. I never knew exactly what I needed to do to make my essays better. With this method, learners can see where they need to make the changes, and if they need workshops on it, then they can ask for them. Here is a list of my shortcuts:




awk [this section may confuse your reader]
ca [capitalization error]
cs [comma splice / run-on]
ct [get help capitalizing titles here: http://titlecapitalization.com/]
de [delete highlighted word/phrase]
ev [add evidence here: statistical, anecdotal, testimonial, or analogical]
ex [explain significance of the evidence in relation to proving your thesis]
fr [fragment / partial sentence]
mla [use mla format: double-spaced, heading, title, internal citations, works cited]
po [possessive error]
pu [punctuation error]
ro [run-on/fused sentence]
sp [spelling error}
sv [subject/verb agreement error]
u [usage error]
vt [verb tense error]
ww [incorrect word here]
tr [include a stronger transition to connect your ideas]


What do you think? Is this something that you could use when grading your essays?

On My Nightstand


It’s Monday! Which means it’s time to update you all on what I’m reading this week. IMG_5301I just finished up Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan and it was as precious as the cover predicts. I can say that I never thought I would say that possums were cute, but this one most definitely was. If you have children in the first-third grade range, and maybe even a little older, this book definitely talks about the power of family, all while making you laugh out loud.

This week will probably be a little light on the reading. My learners will be submitting an essay today, so I have a feeling that a majority of my downtime will be spent grading lots and lots of essays. I’ll be trying out a new tool that I hope to share with you all on Wednesday.

Right now, I am FINALLY reading The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri. I think that subconsciously I’ve been putting it off because I know that I’ll have to wait a while for another Palmieri book. This one, so far, seems to be a little bit darker than the last couple, at least with the main character. She seems a little more tortured and tormented. Plus, within the first twenty minutes a secret is divulged and it was like “Woah. Didn’t expect that so soon.”

The second book that I’ll be reading this week is my own. Look to the Sky has been put away for a couple of months now. I’ve written about half of another novel and I’m just not in the right mindset to finish it right now. So, my goal is to read and comment on my own novel, make revisions, and get to the querying process. I said that I would send out queries this year, and I’m holding myself to that promise.


What are you all reading this week? Anything I need to pick up?

CC Riley

CC Riley

I once liked to pretend that I was a city girl. The older I get the more space I need in order to breathe. I am married to my best friend. I love to teach and help those who want to help themselves. I spend, and intend to continue spending, most of my life riding the fence, because I believe the world was written in shades of gray.

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