Back to the U.S.S.A. :)

Hello everyone! I thought I would do a wrap up blog like I did with the Asia trip. Just a quick look back on the travel time back to the US and a reflection on the trip.

On our last day in Paris it was 100 degrees. That meant that it didn’t cool down much at night and we all had a fitful, sweaty sleep. We went to bed around 12:30 and got back up to 5:50 am, though I don’t think any of us slept over 2-3 hours. Julien was nice enough to make up coffee and make sure we had some food in our bellies. Then, he drove us to the airport. In France, rush hour traffic isn’t until 8ish because most people don’t go to work until 9, so the roads were pretty clear and easy to navigate. The ride to the airport was east, breezy. We parked and Julien came in with us because he had a client who worked at the airport who he was going to meet up with. What service we got! Thanks, Julien! You rock!

Security at the airport now is interesting, we had to show our passports 4 times to 4 different people within about a 4 minute time period. Which I guess is good, but I don’t think anyone actually really looked to make sure we were who we said we were. I guess we don’t look too threatening. We said goodbye to Julien and went down an escalator to go through customs, or whatever it’s called when you leave the country. Again, the customs agent barely looked at our passports. Security was easy (didn’t have to take off our shoes, score!) and we found our way to the gate. From there everything went smoothly, we boarded 20 minutes later and actually took off on time, wow. Tons of Americans were on our flight, it was like we were already in the US.

The flight time was 9 hours and I sat next to a guy (probably in his 50s) who just wanted to talk every moment that he saw I was awake or moving. I just don’t really like small talk with strangers (I’m shy!) so I tried to avoid that as much as possible. I just wasn’t feeling chatty, sorry man next to me on the plane. It was a daytime flight but we were so tired from the night before that we slept on and off. Maybe about 4 hours total. We watched “The Second Best Marigold Hotel”, that was pretty good and funnier than I thought, American Ninja Warrior (pretty entertaining), Malificent, and listening to lots of podcasts (my favorite right now is “Criminal” and Nick listens to Dave Ramsey). We got fed an awful lot on this flight, which was nice. Pasta, salad, rolls, ice cream, pestp wrap, coconut cake, etc. Much better than China Eastern Air.

When we finally landed, I was getting antsy by the end, we ended up landing an hour earlier than expected. We were in Chicago at 10:45 and our next flight to Minneapolis wasn’t until 2:00. Luckily we had this time because customs ended up taking us almost 2 hours! We had to go thru customs first, now they have computer that you go to and fill out your information and it takes your picture (looking good after a 9 hour flight), and prints it out. You give this new, beautiful picture along with your passport to a customs officer. So by this time you have waited in two lines. Then, you get your bags in baggage claim (this took 30 minutes or more itself) and wait in line again (super long with lots of Chinese), just to then give your bags back and transfer to another terminal.

When we got to the next terminal for our flight to MSP, we had to go through security again. The line was crazy long and there were Chinese teenagers on a trip cutting in front of everyone and not following any sort of protocol which was driving everyone nuts. Especially me as a teacher, I wanted to jump up there are direct everyone. The security staff was clearly frazzled! Luckily, we were calm, cool, and collected because we had plenty of time before our flight. At the last minute I remembered I had a full waterbottle that I’d filled up after the flight and had to down it in a few minutes. And, then we had to take off our shoes. I don’t know why taking off shoes is such an inconvenience but it is my least favorite part of the security process. The buzzer lit up when I walked through, turns out I was “quota”. So I got my hands swabbed and the girl told me “wow, it’s been one crazy day today!”. What a hard, crazy job dealing with people all day!

Anyway, we made it through and still had an hour to kill so we stopped for lunch at Chilis. Fried chicken, fries, and onion rings hit the spot. Then, low and behold our flight to Minneapolis was on time! This was the smoothest trip we have ever taken. I was already having nightmares about our Asia flight home and was just picturing the same thing happening. But our flight was on time, smooth, and we were in Minneapolis 10 minutes earlier than scheduled.

It was so nice to be home! There’s just something about being back in the US that is very comforting. We took the light rail home, so convenient. Walked the ten minutes from Target Field to our apartment (sweat for those 10 minutes, to match our word of the trip: sweaty) and collapsed on the couch! Tired, but happy!

What a wonderful trip we had. On reflection, it was a completely different Europe trip because we got to see France through multiple Frenchies 🙂 eyes and have wonderful conversation, food, and experiences. We have now seen a good majority of France and decided that though we love each region we have been to for different reasons, we still feel a strong connection to Strasbourg and feel that it will always be our home away from home.

Europe also had an un-easy feeling to it that comes with the world we are currently living in and I think it helped us to see how grateful we are for everything we have and get to experience. And for all the viewpoints we can now understand.

From traveling, we learn what is most important to us; spending time together. This will forever be our journey. We love you and thank you for following us on yet another adventure. See you soon! A toute a l’heure!

P.S. I’m including below a link to a video of a song that Julien, his sister Fanny, and his mom sang one night in Normandy. It’s been stuck in my head ever since. Enjoy! I’m also including the song that played all the time on the radio and now will forever remind us of driving in the French alps.

The Cup Song

Lean On

Radar is on his way home as I write! We can’t wait to have our little man back!


Gearing up….

So, we have FINALLY reached the time to begin packing and embarking on our new adventure. 

We have had this trip to Southeast Asia planned now for about 7 months. The trip is supposed to be a combination of our honeymoon (we didn’t go on a “real” honeymoon, just glorious nights in Sedona) and our 2 year anniversary, wow, time FLIES. 

We will be traveling to Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Phuket, Bangkok, and Hong Kong from May 9 to June 22. A part of the world neither of us has been to. We are ready and mostly excited to EAT 🙂

We will be trying to blog as much as possible in order to document our trip and keep you all up to date.

Thanks for following!! 

Student Centered Learning (SCL)

Student centered learning (SCL) is a new topic to me and its definitely something I want to explore and see if I can incorporate some of the ideas into my own future classroom. 

Some benefits of SCL include:

  1. The role of the educator shifts. No longer is the teacher simply someone who stands at the front of the room imparting knowledge on students. Instead, the instructor works as an educational architect and facilitator.
  2. Students assume responsibility for their own learning. The educator and student work together to decide on appropriate coursework and evaluation. It is the student’s job to follow through with these choices.
  3. Rather than revolving around content, the learner-centered classroom centers around learning processes. These are meta-cognitive skills that the student can apply in any educational scenario. Therefore the student is more likely to attain success in a new educational environment.
  4. The student is no longer a passive “receptacle” for the teacher’s knowledge. Instead, the student becomes an active part of the learning process, and may even assist in teaching his or her classmates.
  5. The learner-centered classroom provides an emphasis upon higher-order thinking skills, such as the ability to judge and evaluate. Students who master these skills are better able to assimilate new information and apply it to different situations.
  6. In addition to gaining a strong knowledge base, students develop learning skills and self-awareness. Because they must make decisions along with their instructors, they must pay attention to how they learn best, evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, and act accordingly.
  7. Students learn self-advocacy skills. They have to articulate their needs on a regular basis. This practice means that they not only get better at expressing themselves, but they also learn how to communicate appropriately and effectively with a wide variety of people, from fellow students to instructors.
  8. Reluctant learners are more motivated to participate in their own education, since their stake in the process is clearly defined. Because they can steer themselves toward curriculum that they find interesting and rewarding, such reluctant students become more enthusiastic learners.
  9. The learner-centered classroom provides a built-in system for accommodating different learning styles or specific challenges. Because the learner-centered classroom offers a tailored program for each student, special needs like ADD/ADHD or specific learning disabilities can be addressed seamlessly and effectively.Students in the learner-centered classroom feel significant as individuals, since their opinions and viewpoints are an integral part of their classroom experiences. This aspect of the learner-centered environment is particularly significant to troubled teenagers, who often have less sense of self worth than their peers.


I didn’t come from a background of SCL, so the more I can find out about it, the better. Thus, I have included some videos below that interpret the benefits and negatives as well as inspire me to include SCL into my own classrooms. These videos can remind us about SCL when we slip into old habits.



* The two links below are resources for when I get stuck and need ideas or reminders!

More tips for implementing SLC into the classroom

SCL ideas

I wanted to post these inspiring videos about motivation and learning. It’s so amazing learning how the mind expands and grows. Both videos stem from TED talks. The first video explains the surprising science behind what motivates us. The second is interesting research done on how children learn language. Both inspire me to apply concepts to the classroom and strive to inspire my students through continual research and understanding about how and why students learn the way they do.



Teen Reading Clubs

A lot of the research I found about motivating students to love reading mentioned creating teen reading clubs. I thought about creating a reading club for my students one day and here is what I came up with:

1) I will not be involved in the meetings. I think having a teacher participate doesn’t allow for much freedom of expression and students may feel nervous and not want to participate. Therefore, I would offer my room as a meeting location and I may recommend books, but I would not ever participate fully.

2) I think the group would need at least 10 members, that way, if not all members don’t show up, discussions can still be lively. 

3) I would offer use of my own personal books or have students check out books from our library classroom. I would also recommend books that are on kindle or refer teens to the school or public library. It might even be a good idea to recommend books that have been turned into movies and the club can read the book, the watch the movie, and discuss.

4) I would recommend that the group appoint a “leader” or “organizer”. This person would schedule meetings and make sure everyone knows about the meeting times. I would also recommend that the group come up with some rules. Such as: if a person didn’t read the book, can they still participate? Also, the group needs to decide how much to read at a time and how often they would like to meet.

5) Students would need to come to the meeting with a few questions or comments written down in order for discussion to spark.

6) I would encourage students to keep open minds and create a safe discussion environment where each individual voice could be heard.

My set-up of the group is somewhat similar to literature circles that I may introduce to my future classroom as well. However, this club would be completely voluntary and the books read may be different than would be allowed in the everyday classroom.

I would introduce the idea at the beginning of the year and see how many of my students are interested. I may even allow students to sit in on a book club discussion I participate in so they can see if they would be interested. Students from previous years or other classes would also be allowed to participate. 

The more social I can make reading, I think the more students will love it!


Here are some reading comics I would either post in my room or share with students. Everyone needs a smile! And positive views of reading 🙂

Reading Ladders

In my “Young Adult Literature” class I made a reading ladder for my friend’s 15 year old sister, Anna. A reading ladder allows you to interview a student about their reading habits and interests in order to create a list of books that may interest and challenge them. Thus, you as the teacher, are creating a personal reading ladder for a student. Because you cater the books to the specific student’s interests, each student’s reading ladder will be different. Students are free to read the books in order, skip around or even ignore some of the choices you have provided.

I like the reading ladder because often students don’t even know there are books out there that will interest them. If you can point them in the right direction, they just may get hooked on reading. The idea is to start at the bottom of the list and have the student work upwards (hence the “ladder”). Books get progressively harder and more dense as the student moves up the ladder.

I have attached the reading ladder I made for Anna as an example (remember, it starts at the bottom and goes up). I’ve also attached the interview questions and answers. My rationale for why I chose the books I did is also included, however, I wouldn’t do this for each student because the rationale would be in my head instead.

Read away!

The Book Thief –Markus Zusak

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn –Betty Smith


Pride and Prejudice –Jane Austen

The Lovely Bones –Alice Sebold

The Secret Life of Bees –Sue Monk Kidd

The Perks of Being a Wallflower –Stephan Chbosky

The Time Traveler’s Wife –Audrey Niffenegger

Breathing Underwater –Alex Flinn

Little Women –Louisa May Alcott

Mockingjay –Susanne Collins

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian –Sherman Alexie

The Pretties –Scott Westerfield

Catching Fire –Susanne Collins

Things Left Unsaid: A Novel in Poems –Stephanie Hempihll

Dairy Queen –Catherine Murdock

Graceling –Kristin Cashore

The Uglies –Scott Westerfield

The Hunger Games –Susanne Collins

Speak –Sarah Dessen

Dreamland –Laurie Halse Anderson

Twilight –Stephanie Meyers

The Pact –Jodi Picoult

Anna’s Reading Ladder

Anna is 15 years old and in the 9th grade. She is a friend’s younger sister so I know her quite well. Because Anna’s parents read to her when she was young and because she had a third grade reading level at four years old, I know that Anna is an avid reader. I also know that she likes dramatic and emotional stories because she loves Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks books. These two authors often deal with death, sickness, relationships, abuse and other heavy topics. I chose The Hunger Game series for Anna because she liked other popular series like Harry Potter and Twilight. I choose Speak and Dreamland due to their dramatic content to provide Anna with YA authors who have similar stories to Sparks and Picoult. I then provided Dairy Queen on the third rung in order to include a YA book about a girl who loves sports. Anna is very sporty and it seems like it would open a new genre for Anna. Then I chose Graceling because she loved Harry Potter and may like other fantasy/adventure books. The Uglies and The Pretties I choose because they are another popular series and because they are science fiction. Anna likes science in school and this may open another genre for her to read in as well. I choose Things Left Unsaid because it has a dramatic/emotional topic but the form is different than what Anna is used to reading (story in poem).

I of course also continue The Hunger Games with Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I included The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian because Anna’s favorite movies are all very humorous and this book is full of humor. It also opens Anna up to multicultural literature. Breathing Underwater was then chosen based on Anna’s love of Picoult and Sparks yet again. The topic is heavy but it provides Anna with a male narrative and a relevant storyline to Anna’s interests. I included Little Women here because I know that Anna loves the movie and this will challenge her reading a little. Then, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that is funny and tells a coming of age story; it’s also a little harder of a YA book. The Time Traveler’s Wife is included here as a contemporary classic for Anna to attempt. It is a great love story, a harder read and reminds me a little of Nicholas Spark’s writing, except better.

The Secret Life of Bees is beautifully written so this introduces Anna to a different style of prose. Also it’s a great story that is similar in topic to Picoult. The Lovely Bones is included here as a YA lit book because Anna loves popular movies and this book was just made into a movie so it may spark her interest. It’s a different genre than I have included previously also so I can test whether she likes adventure/mystery/horror novels. The Book Thief makes its way onto the list because it is a heavy topic but based on history. It’s a longer read so it is more of a challenge for Anna. Also, Anna listed drawing as an interest of hers and the characters in this book draw. The story is also about reading, which should interest Anna. For the classic text on the 9th rung I had a little trouble deciding between two books so I include both. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story about sadness and suffering, like Picoult, but at a higher reading level. Pride and Prejudice because she loves the movie and I believe that she is capable of reading the book on her own and enjoying it.

Book and Question Inventory for Reading Ladder

Name: Anna Pridey        Date: April 11, 2011

1)    How many books have you read in the last year? 20

2)    How many books do you own? Around 30, including series

3)    How and when did you learn to read? My parents always read me books so I kinda could in preschool. I know that in kindergarten I read at a third grade reading level.

4)    Where do you get most of your books?  School Library

5)    What was/were your favorite childhood book(s)? Harry Potter Series

6)    Who are your favorite authors? Jodi Picoult, Stephanie Meyer and Nicholas Sparks

7)    What books have you read recently? The Part by Jodi Picoult, Twilight Series

8)    What is/are your favorite class(es) at school? Core classes- Language Arts or Science. Elective- TV Productions

9)    What are your hobbies? Drawing and Painting, Tons of Sports, Reading

10) What are your favorite extracurricular activities? Volleyball, Snowboarding, Softball, Drawing, Reading, Track, Basaketball

11)  List some of your favorite movies? Talladega Nights, Dumb and Dumber, All the Step Ups, The Bench Warmers, The Karate Kid, The Proposal, Miss Congeniality, 10 Things I Hate About You, Avatar, Despicable Me, Baby Mama

12) List some of your favorite TV shows. The Office, Gilmore Girls, That 70s Show, Parenthood, Dear Genevieve, Color Splash

13) Who are your role models? My Mother, Betty White, Genevieve Gorder (I love interior design), Myrna Ruhter

May the odds be ever in your favor…

This is a neat website that has great activities to use with students reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Some of my favorites-

1) students create a poster of themselves as tributes and outline their skills and training score in order to get


2) have students create a map of Panem so that they can have a visual image of where districts are located.

3) training day–set up an obstacle course and have students compete

4) perhaps have students dress up and act out scenes or have students dress like they are from different districts then guess the district.

5) have students create their own “mockingjay” pins to protect themselves.

Also, lets you make free word clouds—-I copy and pasted the whole first chapter of The Hunger Games onto Wordle and the cite complies the words into a collage, making the most used words the biggest. This is a neat way for students to think about words and reading. The word clouds also highlight the main ideas of the chapter. I would definitely use this in the classroom and hang the results on the wall.

Literacy Biography

* I like the idea of having student write a “literacy biography” where they reflect upon their literate background. How did they learn to read, what do they like to read and not like to read, how have they changed in their reading over the years? Etc., etc. , etc. Below I have posted an example of my own literacy biography. I would read my own biography to my students before introducing the assignment to them. I think this would be a great way to start the school year as well. Also, a good way to get to know students and find out their literacy background.

Take Time to Read

            “Take time to read” my mother’s voice on her answering machine at work says to me when I call and she doesn’t pick up. Take time to read. I do and I have ever since I can remember.

I grew up in a house that was teeming with books. My mother, a public librarian, would bring big stacks of book home from work everyday telling me I would find many that interested me. My mom also volunteered in my 1st grade class, reading books to us and helping slower readers. Even today some of my friends say they know my mom helped them learn to read.

I must have really picked up the love of reading early on. My mom says she remembers my preschool teacher, Mrs. Sherettes, said I really listed to the stories intently and seemed to get the ideas of the story when others didn’t. One day we read a book about helping our neighbors, and I came home and told my mom I was going next door to help the neighbor with whatever she needed. I was the inspired by the book I had heard.

Through the years my mom brought me Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High and Harry Potter from the library. She brought me Little Women, The Secret Life of Bees and Jane Eyre. I remember not wanting to read a book more than once because there were so many other books I wanted to read after I finished the one I was reading. But unlike my mom, who would read the beginning of books and not finish, I read and cherished every little detail of each book, envisioning characters, falling in love and not wanting to quit. I would, and still do, get sad at the end of books I love because I do not want to say goodbye to the characters or the world they created for me.

My parents also received the newspaper every morning and after they read it, I would flip through the pages, reading bits here and there. From them, I learned it was important to read about the community and work you lived in. I also received Highlights magazine as a child and would wait patiently to get it in the mail weekly. There were fun articles about animals and word games to play. I stacked them up and kept every one. Only recently did I finally get rid of the pile of magazines.

Archie comics were also an important reading source for me. My mom thought it important that I read a variety of different forms of literature and I happily agreed. I read it all—even the backs of cereal boxes and shampoo bottles.

When I started school, I remember discovering that not all kids were like me. Reading was not something everyone did, nor was it considered “cool”. I have a distinct memory of kindergarten; my friend, Brittany, didn’t know how to spell her name. I taught her before the teacher had a chance to get to her. That was when I first discovered that I was ahead of my peers. I could read and I could write ahead of my years. In later years at school, there was a program call “Book-It”. Students could read books and then get stickers for completing a book. When you got enough stickers, you could go into Pizza Hut and get a free pizza. I didn’t need that incentive to read like some of my peers, but I happily took the pizza and kept reading books in reading levels above my year.

In 4th grade I got tested for the “gifted and talented” program. I proved I could be a part of the program by reading, writing and figuring out problems quickly. But, I didn’t want to be recognized for my smarts. I was embarrassed to stand out from my peers; I wanted my reading to be my secret, something for me and not to share. So I hid it from my classmates as much as I could, but participated in the gifted and talented program at my mother’s plea.

In middle school I learned that I didn’t just like to read, I also liked to write. I discovered this one day when I found my sister’s journal. She had written a bunch of poems about her life and feelings. I know they were not meant to be found by me but I was so inspired and impressed that I wanted to do the same. I tried my hand out on my own creativity and surprised myself with what came out. I wrote about my love interests, about my friends and about how I felt about every day things. My writing was raw and full of adolescent emotion. From that day on, I knew I wanted to write and I wanted to share my writing with others. I still think one day it will be published.

When I got to high school, I thrived in my high school AP English class. Mrs. Barry inspired me like no teacher ever had. She taught me to harness my writing in a productive way and write at the college level. She truly helped me discover the nuances of writing and I can truly say I’ve never had another teacher who inspired me the way she did. We wrote a paper from a prompt in TIME magazine and sent in our writing. Though I didn’t win the competition, I still cherish that paper I wrote today. It was supposed to be about a moment in your life that changed you completely. I wrote about a man I fed ducks with at my cabin each summer. He had become sort of a surrogate grandfather for me as my own grandfather had passed away when I was six months old. I spent every summer with him until my 17th year when he got cancer and faded away in front of me. Mrs. Barry allowed me to write about this experience and read it in front of the class. I wrote the piece in tears and I read the piece in tears, I don’t think I would have fully healed from the experience without this writing assignment.

Also, up until Mrs. Barry, I detested Shakespeare and I thought people over-analyzed him to no end. But we read Hamlet in AP English that year and we dissected soliloquies and did character analysis and I became fascinated with Shakespeare’s use of language, story and metaphor. I finally opened up to literature analysis and saw the beauty in discussing a writer’s work. Before I just thought the author wrote a piece just to write it, after this class I realized the value of dissecting and discussing literature.

I also wrote for the school newspaper in high school and harnessed my writing in another way. The journalistic style was easy for me to learn and I produced many works I was very proud of. I read more and more journalistically at that point in my life. Since then, my love for the journalistic style has died, but I learned how to change and mold my writing to fit different styles.

Finally I got to college, and I took my first Honors English class at the collegiate level. I was so excited and wrote my first essay with ease. However, I finally met my match. Up until then school had been easy for me; I got continual praise and believed I could do anything. This professor almost destroyed me. He hated my writing, marked it up and did not give me one good remark. I was confused, distraught and destroyed. I resented him and avoided him until I could not take it anymore. I finally went in to talk with him and realized I just had to mold to his style to get a good grade. (Not a good teacher in my opinion). I wrote boring papers and included his ideas and got good grades.

This experience changed me. I realized I didn’t agree with his teaching style and I learned what was important to me in education. I need freedom of expression and I need confidence in my own work. Ever since, I have learned to write for my audience but keep my own voice.

As an International Relations major in my undergrad career, I molded my writing style into more of an argumentative and persuasive style. I also read a lot of political academic journals and still enjoy reading these analyses of the modern world. I also minored in French and realized that my easy acquisition of the English language really helped me in my learning of a foreign language. Studying abroad in Strasbourg, France my junior year made me realize how important the English language is in connecting the world. Though everyone I met there was learning French, our common language was English and this is often how we communicated. I also really enjoyed correcting my newfound international friends’ grammar and they loved having a true English speaker to practice with.  The nuances and slangs of the English language were fun to share and it seemed like my friends liked to learn these phrases more than learning how to speak correctly.

Throughout the years I have kept my love for reading and writing by keeping a journal and reading a little every night before bed. I feel I sleep better and sounder when I have read before bed. The stories allow me to escape my busy life and often the stories wind up in my dreams. I recently re-read the Harry Potter series and discovered I liked them even better now than I did the first time I read them. I also read The Godfather recently and was inspired by its message against the “rightness” and “wrongness” of society, a breakthrough novel for its time. I will continue to read the books on my “must read” list which gets longer by the day and I hope to inspire the students I teach with my love of literature in all of its many forms.