Student Interview with Jeff Anderson

Today on the blog, I am glad to share with you a 5-question interview between Joe — one of my 9th graders last year —  and Jeff Anderson, the author of the upcoming Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth. Joe read a copy of Zack Delacruz back in March, and was excited about it from page one.

He immediately wanted to get in touch with the author. Fortunately, Jeff Anderson is basically made of Awesome, and agreed to answer a few questions of Joe’s.

Check out that amazing cover!

Check out that amazing cover!

Jeff: Hey Joe,
I was happy to hear from one of my first readers. Pretty great how Mr. Wyzlic has lots of books. For me choice really mattered. I struggled as a reader for most of my life. Around your age I started being in plays and had to memorize lines. All that rereading made something click and I read better after that, but it wasn’t really till after college — as a teacher that I fell in love with books and started to want to write one. I always liked to write — for me.

Joe: What inspired you to be an author?
Jeff: To tell you the truth, my childhood wasn’t an entirely happy one. That was one of the reasons I became a teacher — in hopes of making life better for kids by being positive with them. I loved reading aloud to my fourth and fifth graders — actually any of the grades I taught through 8th — and I felt like I had a story to tell. And the particular book was inspired in part by my life, but also the students in my life in San Antonio.

Joe: What inspired you to write Zack Delacruz?
Jeff: I wanted a book my students would want to read. You know, cut out the boring parts. Have a fast pace. I am easily bored as a reader and I wanted something that was fast-paced and funny. I also wanted to see my hispanic and black kids represented in books where they just had normal everyday problems.

Joe: What is your favorite book that you didn’t write?
Jeff: That changes depending on when you ask me. But probably my all time favorite was The Liar’s Club by Mary Carr. It just spoke to my childhood. It was set in the same place I grew up in my early years, so it just resonated with me. I also love Chuck Palahnuik. Sometimes I like nonfiction. Really enjoyed Lawrence Wright’s book about Scientology: Getting Clear.

Joe: Who is your favorite author, other than yourself?
Jeff: See above, but once I was so struck by Cynthia Rylant it’s hard not to think of her when you ask your question.

Joe: Who are your favorite NBA players?
Jeff: Here I am going to fail you, Joe. I could pretend that I care about The Spurs because I live in San Antonio, but as life goes we focus only on what interests us, and I don’t follow basketball at all. If you do, there’s lots out there to read about it though.
Thanks again for the questions, Joe. I hope high school goes great for you.

A big thanks for Joe and Jeff for sharing their conversation with all of us. I love Joe’s subtle humor in his questions (“other than yourself”) and Jeff’s honesty in his answers. Be sure to swing by The Nerdy Book Club, where Jeff Anderson is today’s guest writer. When you’re done with that, be sure to head over to your local bookstore and grab a copy of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth, out today!

The Beauty of August

Today is August 1st. For the past couple years, this meant that I would be creating and uploading my first #VEDA video (Vlog Every Day in August). I’m not doing VEDA this year, but August still brings some important things with it:

The nitty-gritty prep work for school
I don’t know if I’ll admit this if you corner me, but I really like prepping for school. I love putting together lessons that I hope will reach my students in new and exciting ways. I love thinking of the books we’ll be sharing that the writing that we’ll be doing. I love thinking up or finding new units to do throughout the year, or new ways of approaching certain concepts.

That’s largely July’s work, though. August is when the rubber meets the road. Maybe in July I thought of a new letter I want to send home with parents. Well, August is when I have to make sure I write and revise that letter. Maybe in July I thought of doing more play-acting or pantomime in the classroom for a softer transition into formal speeches. August is the time to put that together. In July this year, I was spending a lot of time doing big idea planning for a new course I’m teaching, Contemporary Literature & Writing. August is the time when I’ll create the rubrics and the unit overviews and the syllabus.

August is also the time to figure out what I’m going to do with my desk this year (I envy those who go deskless, but haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work with my lack of classroom storage space). Also: how are my student desks going to be arranged? Will the TV be a focal point, or more periphery? How much will I use my whiteboards this year? What will go on the bulletin boards?

I love asking these questions in July, but I love even more answering them in August.

Staff/State/National PD
This year, I’ve been asked to lead a PD for my coworkers on two topics: Google Drive and positive relationships with students. I spent July putting together some outlines, but August is the time to finalize and actually give those presentations. It’s also a time to think about proposals for the Michigan Reading Association conference (proposals due September 30) and begin crafting my NCTE presentation (for November).

The Students!
This year, my school is starting on August 24. Prior to that, I’ll be teaching a summer “boot camp” for those who want a little warm-up to school. This is my absolute favorite time of year. Everyone is refreshed from summer, and I am reminded of why I love my job so much: I get to interact with teenagers on a daily basis. I get to see their smiles and their frustrations and watch them grow into young men and women. It’s an absolute blessing. As much as I need the summer to recharge for the school year, I need the school year to recharge for life.

I can’t wait.

What are you looking forward to in August?

Rabbit, Rabbit.

Poopy Statistics

Most who read this blog know me as an English teacher. However, what some may not know is that I have taught at least one math course for all 9 years of my teaching career, including next year. In fact, I have taught every math course I am certified to teach: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry / Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Statistics. I am even helping out with our AP Physics class next year, as it is a math-heavy course. I love math.

So math is where my mind was at when I came across this joke the other day (paraphrased):
“It’s skewed a bit by my first couple years, but I still poop my pants 22 times a year on average.”

I love this joke. I’m going to be 31 years old next month, and I probably poop my pants, on average, over 32 times a year.

The key, of course, is in the words “on average.” I’m definitely going to have my students calculate this for themselves next year in my stats course. Here’s what I did:

First, I needed an estimate of how many times I pooped my pants/diaper as an infant. Having a newborn of my own, I have a pretty good idea that this is way more than I thought humanly possible. A number my wife and I are often told is healthy is three times a day, at least for the first three months or so, when it begins to lessen. So for the first three months of my life, I probably pooped my pants about 90 times.

Mr. Poopy Pants Himself

Fun fact: as I was typing that last sentence, my son pooped his pants.

Let’s be conservative with the rest of the poops. Maybe I pooped about once a day until I was 2, and then, like magic, I was potty-trained (crossing my fingers that this happens with my own son!). This gives us 730 pooped pants.

But let’s be honest. That number isn’t right. It’s probably actually over 1000 (I’m pretty sure my son is over 1000 already, and he’s not even 4 weeks old). So let’s just go ahead and settle on 1000 poops. It’s a nice number, easy to remember.

So I have pooped my pants 1000 times. Over 31 years of my life, that is — on average — over 32 times a year.

The reason I love this joke is because I can use it to help my students think about the measures of center, and which ones really make sense to use. Yes, I can say I still poop my pants, on average, 32 times a year, but that’s certainly not the case (I max out at like 25 or so, I swear). So which measure of center makes sense to use here? The mean (often called “the average”)? The median? The mode?

The default example for this seems to be income levels, with one worker making over a million dollars and everyone else making around $30,000. Trust me: that has no basis to our students. But tell them they poop their pants over 50 times a year, and I promise you you’ll have their attention.

And there’s even a bonus linear modeling question! If someone poops their pants an average of 22 times a year, and we assume they pooped 1000 times as an infant, how old are they likely to be? I’ll leave that one for you to work out on your own.

Comic Peeps You Need to Know

You may or may not have noticed this, but we are kind of in the midst of a high point of comic love, especially for kids. Graphic novels (or as they’d been called for years before people got freaked out by their kids reading comics instead of traditional books, “comic books”) were honored by the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz committees this past awards season. The Kids’ Comics Revolution Kids’ Comics Awards were announced just a few weeks ago at the Kids Read Comics Festival in Ann Arbor. The Eisner Awards were just announced last night at the San Diego Comic-Con, and we saw authors who write mainly or exclusively for children win major awards — awards without a “kids” category.

In all of this, I’ve been thinking about some of the best and smartest people in the comics industry, especially when it comes to bringing comics into the classroom with success. I assume that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know the likes of Cece Bell, Jenni Holm, Matthew Holm, Jeff Smith, and Raina Telgemeier. If you don’t, go look them up, read their works, and get them for your classroom. You probably won’t see those books for months, aside from when your students have them open.

But what about some superstars who aren’t, for whatever reason, as well known? There’s a few I’ve become familiar with over the past few years, and they are absolutely stellar.

Jerzy Drozd
Who is he? Jerzy is an accomplished comics creator, including the webcomic Boulder and Fleet and as part of the trio who created the graphic version of The Warren Commission Report.
Why should I know him? While Jerzy’s comics creating skills are unquestionable, his teaching is beyond compare. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness him give a workshop for kids, and the amount of teaching he did and the amount of learning that the kids did was mind-blowing. I’ve seen good educators do their thing, but. . .wow. You can find Jerzy on Twitter @Jerzy or on his website (with links to his webcomic and workshops).

Faith Erin Hicks
Who is she? Faith is the creator of 10 comics for teens, including the Eisner-winning Adventures of Superhero Girl.
Why should I know her? In addition to writing amazing things, Faith is a strong advocate for intelligent things: using comics with people who like to read them, treating women and men with equal amounts of respect and admiration, and the benefits of being Canadian. Basically, she’s the entire package, and you should be hunting down her every book and including it in your classroom (preview first — some of her stuff tends to skew more YA than MG). I was able to read an early copy of her upcoming solo project, The Nameless City, and, you guys. Holy crap. It’s amazing. Not at all surprising. Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithErinHicks or her website.

Scott Robins
Who is he? Scott is a Children’s librarian for the Toronto Public Library system. He writes on a School Library Journal blog called Good Comics for Kids and is also the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics.
Why should I know him? Okay, if the above two sentences didn’t give you enough reason, then I don’t know what you’re looking for. Scott is incredibly knowledgeable (like, top of his field knowledgeable). If you haven’t heard of him, then he is absolutely the best librarian dealing with comics who you haven’t heard of. If you have heard of him, then he is the best librarian dealing with comics who you have heard of. You can find Scott on Twitter @scout101.

Dave Roman
Who is he? Dave is the creator of several comics for kids and teens, including one of my absolute favorites, TeenBoat! (co-created with illustrator John Green).
Why should I know him? He is the smartest person I’ve ever heard talk about comics. If you find yourself needing some rational thinking about why comics are good to use with students or just a shot in the arm to support what you’re already doing, look up Dave Roman and the things he has to say. In addition to being a great comics creator and possessing a superior comics brain, Dave and Jerzy Drozd (see above) also run the Kids’ Comics Revolution Podcast. It is worth every second of your time. You can find him on Twitter @yaytime or at his website.

Bonus Website! Reading With Pictures
Reading With Pictures is not a person, I know. But it’s a website run by some amazing people. Their mission statement says it all, I think:

Reading With Pictures advocates for the use of comics in the classroom and beyond to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students. We work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education. We collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use. Most importantly, we partner with educators to develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into their curriculum. At Reading With Pictures, we get comics into schools and get schools into comics.

So there you go! If you’re not familiar with these people (or website), go check them out. We’re living in an age where comics are amazing, and those being written for a school-age audience are both well-written and enjoyable. Why would you not want to do everything you can to include them for your students?

Google Drive as a Lesson Organizer


Doesn’t Summer just feel nice? I know for some of you, it’s way too hot. Where I am, it’s been a bit cooler than normal. But if you’re a teacher, there’s a good chance that Summer means you don’t have to go in to work every day. For a month or two. That’s a pretty darn good feeling.

But, of course, if you’re a teacher, you probably also have the itch to do something for your classroom. So while I’ve been reflooring my house, salvaging a flooded basement, and awaiting the birth of my first child (his due date is today, and as you can probably infer from the fact that I’m writing a blog post and not at the hospital, we’re still waiting on Baby Wyzlic), I’ve also been doing a lot for school. There’s one thing I’ve been working on in particular that maybe you find interesting/helpful as well: using Google Drive to organize my lessons.

I’m a big believer in using Google Drive for basically all things communication among staff members. Need to do athletic eligibility checks? Make a spreadsheet and share it. Have a roster of students who will be going on a field trip all day? Make a document and share it. Organizing a potluck? Make a spreadsheet or even a form and have everyone add their items to the list.

I love it so much, that my school has asked me to do a short PD on it in the fall so we can start to use it more as a staff. And while I was putting this together, I thought about how I might use this not with my students (I use Forms all the time with them already), but for myself as a teacher.

So I’ve created a spreadsheet for each class and I will be using it as my yearly lesson planner. Here’s what my first week of English 9 looks like:

First Week


I need this structure so I can keep track of the grammar, reading, writing, and speaking skills I’ve covered, as well as the standards we’ve hit. In the “Lesson Plan Outline” section, I’ve linked to the lesson I’ve created (I don’t have a lesson plan for every lesson, but I will try to have at least a basic outline created), also using Google Drive. Each of these is then nested in folders in my main Google Drive area.

This is no different than what many people do with a paper lesson planner, but I think it’s going to work really well for me. The main benefit is going to be CTRL+H. Many people are familiar with CTRL+F on a Word document or in most web browsers as being the “find” command. That works in Google Drive items as well, but is limited to searching through only the active sheet in a spreadsheet.

CTRL+H usually brings up your history in a web browser. But if you’re using a Google Spreadsheet, this happens:


It’s a find and replace! Not necessarily all that handy, until you look at the search options. Do you see it?


With this tool, I can easily search through my entire year’s worth of lessons and look for when we hit a given standard. “You’re saying I didn’t hit RL.9-10.7? Let me show you exactly when, where, and how I did.” Or if a student asks when we learned such-and-such a thing, instead of saying “oh, it was last Tuesday — wait, no, Wednesday — I think,” I can do a quick search, tell them the exact day, and also any other times we happened to touch on that (at least according to my plans).

This also makes for an easy way to make changes for the future, as Google tracks changes and can go into “comment” mode quite easily. For me, these are the things that have made curriculum mapping and unit planning difficult: having a place where it all exists together, and being able to make changes or suggestions for the future.

It’s possible this will blow up in my face. But I’m feeling pretty good about this.

It’s May Already?

After completing a more or less successful Slice of Life March (I missed a day at the beginning and a few at the end), I apparently took April off from blogging. Oops!

It’s that time of year, though. The snow has melted. The crocuses have bloomed. Spring break has come and gone. So now, it’s time for the break-neck sprint to mid-June and the end of the school year.

I’ve been at 4 different schools in my career, and each school has a different feel to it in May. However, there is one thing that is consistent: May is busy. Spring sports wrap up, so athletes are missing more and more school as tournaments abound. Seniors can see, smell, taste, and nearly touch the end of their high school career. Prom planning takes over at least one or two teachers’ lives and occasionally their classes. Honors nights are emphasized and de-emphasized. Graduation is planned, and it will happen.

Meanwhile, we need to not forget our focus: teaching our content. Even though it’s 75 degrees outside and 92 in our classrooms. Even though a promposal is happening between classes and all the students are atwitter (and a few even on Twitter). Even though even though even though.

Something I’ve found helps in these months: knowing what’s going on at the school, top-down. Is next week Tuesday a different schedule? Why? When do the students need to know? You don’t want to be the teacher without these answers. Also, keeping a solid bond between teachers and students. If the students trust you and your teaching, they’re much less likely to rebel in this last hectic month. You can actually get a full year of teaching in! And finally, keep a solid bond among teachers. This is not the time of year to cancel the Friday happy hour (or whatever you may do as a staff to keep connected). In fact, it’s even more important now as sometimes emotions and tempers can match the weather for increase in heat.

To teachers everywhere: good luck this month! You can do it!

Slice of Life: Multi-Lingual English Class

Slice of Life

My students know that I love Spanish. And many of them are taking Spanish, so there’s some solidarity there. But many others are taking French or Italian. So there’s a lot of good-natured teasing back and forth.

Something pretty cool has been happening lately, though. The French students have been doing what they can to pepper French into our class. They’ll greet me with a bonjour! or ask me ça va? when we pass in the hallways. Yesterday, we were writing haiku in class. One student called me over, a huge grin on his face. I knew something good or something funny was about to happen — either way, I was excited.

When I got to his desk, I looked at his haiku: completely in French. He looked up and asked me, with a smile, “What do you think?” I turned the tables on him, though, asking why he used the word for “funny” when he meant to use the word for “smart.” Our gentle teasing continued, while he was practicing his French.

A little background for this next snippet: teaching at a Catholic school, I start every class with prayer. Every day, I ask each of my classes if anyone would like to lead us. In every class but one, I’ve had volunteers throughout the year. One class, though: not a single person stepping up to lead. That’s fine; I would never force anyone to pray, I just ask that they join in if they’d like and be respectful if they’d rather not. But I ask every day anyway. I don’t want to deny someone the chance to do something just because I’m making an assumption that saves me 10 seconds of time. So today, I asked. And a hand went right up. I took my seat, and the student led us in prayer.

She chose the Our Father.

In Spanish.

The language battle continues 🙂