The Sorting Hat Has Decided….

That I am a Ravenclaw!  I am ecstatic, to say the least.  While I think every Harry Potter fan wants to be in Gryffindor, deep down I have always known I was a Ravenclaw.  When Pottermore opened up to beta testers and I finally got my owl, I hesitated.  What if the Sorting Hat sorted me into Slytherin? Or Hufflepuff?  I had to be in Ravenclaw!

I actually put off being sorted for a few days.  I played around on Pottermore (which is PHENOMENAL.  Seriously.).  I read lots of extra writing from JK Rowling, learned a ton, and remembered how to play video games.  I admired the graphics and the effort that went into the website.  I shopped in Diagon Alley and received my wand from Ollivander’s-  Cypress with unicorn core, ten inches, hard.

And then is was time.  I couldn’t put it off any longer.  My husband was sorted into Ravenclaw, much to his chagrin.  He thinks he belongs in Slytherin.  But I sat down to take the quiz.  A few minutes later, I had my results.  Ravenclaw!


Anyone else sorted yet?


They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

If you teach writing at the secondary level, you need to order this book immediately.  I ordered it on a whim last year and couldn’t believe my luck when I read it.  It was like I stumbled into a gold mine, full of little nuggets of writing genius.  I started using it with my freshman writers and their analytic writing improved dramatically.  They referred back to the lessons all year long and I was stunned by their growth.  The ideas really stuck with them.

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing is intended to guide writers away from the pre-packaged five paragraph essay. Instead, it leads students into deeper analytical thinking by having them respond to the ideas in the text they are reading. It’s full of sentence starters that help kick off writing, but then the students have to carry it the rest of the way. It’s the perfect blend of a template and the freedom to write. And it doesn’t encourage a five-paragraph essay! Instead, it encourages essay writing. That’s it. Just writing. No silly length requirements. And I love it.

Highly, highly recommended to writing/English teachers.

*copy purchased by me

Never Forget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, in my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)

the view I see each year from the beach at home.

I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with one of my best friends, Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background.  Quickly, we finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash. But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable.   I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying desperately to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it,  I chose to stay.  I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt while we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The newest message was from a classmate, a few years younger than me. Her father was supposed to be on Flight 93. Reading that message, as she begged anyone reading it to look for his name on ANY list, my heart sank. This was a classmate, a high schooler. She should not have been going through this. And the tragedy began to hit home. As new lists were posted it became more and more apparent that he had probably been on the plane.  I had never met the man, but I went to school with his daughter.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. At that time, it was a terrifying thought.  Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?

Later, I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……


My current students were four and eight in 2001.  September 11th is a distant memory for them, something their parents and other adults talk about.  For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.

A Request- Looking for Stephenie Meyer/Summit Entertainment for a Last Wish

I am posting this for a friend.  She is desperately trying to get in touch with someone at Summit Entertainment who can arrange a special viewing of Breaking Dawn for a family friend who is dying.  I am hoping that someone out there can get this letter into the hands of someone who can help.  If you can help at all, please email my friend Vicky directly at

I can also give you a phone number where you can reach Vicky directly.


Dear Stephanie Meyer,

I am writing to plead for your help. Since I can remember, Diane has been in my life. She is best friends of both my mother and aunt, and in the recent years, has become a very loved friend of mine as well. She is a beautiful, strong, and loving woman. Diane is dying.

7 years ago, Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it, and won. On her 5-year anniversary of being breast cancer free, she took those closest to her out for a nice lunch at a fancy restaurant, me included. The day was fantastic. She glowed with pride, accomplishment and most of all, life. A year or so later, she started having horribly, debilitating pain in her leg. Many tests later revealed the worst, another bout of cancer. This time however, the prognosis was not at all promising. Diane, the strong fighter that she is, got repeated opinions until she finally found a doctor willing to attempt to surgically remove the tumors. The surgery was successful, in that it did not kill her. But within months, the tumors came back, more vicious and angry than ever. She tried radiation, which seems only to anger the tumors more. She then tried the dreaded chemo. Diane hated chemo since she went through months of chemo to kill the breast cancer. And despite the discomfort, pain and suffering, she feared loosing her hair. But she tried chemo. This had no effect on the cancer, except to ruin her hair.

Diane is now fighting for each day. We have had many bonding moments talking about your Twilight series over the many years and this is why I need your help. Diane loves all the Twilight books. Your series has even inspired her to start writing a series of her own over the past years. But I fear she will not make it to see the Breaking Dawn movies. As it is, even if she does survive until November, she cannot sit in a movie theater to watch the movie. Her tumors have now spread to her back and are the size of apples, and growing every day. Hospice services are being arranged and she has been given weeks to a few months left to live.

Is there anyway a preview of the final movies can be shown to her? She loves watching movies and T.V. shows because for a few moments she can focus on the T.V. and ignore the pain. I and no one else have to be there, just simply Diane. If you met her, I know you would love her. I am going to try to send this letter to everywhere I can to try to get it to you, so I apologize in advance if you get this repeatedly. I know you are very busy, but if there is anything you can do, Diane is worth it and would appreciate it more than you can ever imagine.

If this is in your power to arrange, my email address is

Thank you in advance for anything and everything you can do to help me do this for Diane.

A fan but more importantly a friend, who is soon losing a better friend,

Vicky DiBona


Thank you to anyone who can help!

Entering a New Era- Social Media in My Classroom

Social media is a huge part of my life.  I’ve been on Facebook for years, have been blogging since 2007, and tweet daily.  I will be presenting at this year’s NCTE convention and my focus is on Twitter.  So it’s always been hard for me to teach without social media.  When I taught middle school it was a bit easier, as those students were technically not old enough to be members of most social media websites.  But teaching high school, it seemed silly to create “new” social media websites where I could have my students interact.  I used Edmodo last year and really liked it, except for the fact that it required my students to go to a separate website, create a login and password, and remember to check that site daily.  I’m not naive- I know that a website forced on students by teachers is not necessarily going to become part of their most-visited websites list.  I had plenty of students who checked the site daily, but I also had a good number who rarely signed in.  I found myself constantly reminding them to check the website, which seemed silly in this day and age when most of my kids have smartphones with them at all times.

This year, I planned to use a free education Ning, but even that didn’t satisfy all my needs.  Again, it meant another login and password to remember, another website to check, and shoving a new form of social media down my students’ throats.  I worked on the Ning all summer, but it just didn’t click with me.  However, I was prepared to make it work.

Then, I got some great news.  Our district made the decision this summer and removed the firewall that blocked social networking websites.  Woohoo!  I immediately got to work.  Now, instead of dragging reluctant students to hordes of new websites (inevitably, different social media for different teachers, every year), we can meet students where they already are.  I am now the proud maintainer of a Facebook group for my English I class and  Facebook group for my English IV class.  Facebook is a part of my students’ daily lives, and they check it multiple times each day. By meeting them where they already are, I can make our class a part of their lives outside the 4 walls of my classroom. I am meeting them where they are.

And honestly?  It’s where I am, too.

I admit that remembering to sign on to various websites in order to post homework and reminders was driving me crazy, too.  Facebook is a natural extension of my digital life and has been for years.  Now, I can post Friday Reads, discussions, cool articles, etc without having to go to a separate site in the hopes that my kids log on and check it.  And I don’t have to rely on email to get messages out.  They don’t always check their email.  But I know they are logging on to Facebook!  And the Facebook page is perfect because it allows users to become fans, but access to the individual profile pages are limited.

I will not be relying solely on Facebook, of course.  At the beginning of the year not all my freshman use Facebook.  It won’t be required for the class and instead will be one outlet we have, alongside our school bulletin board system/email.  All homework assignments will be posted on my wiki (another new venture for me!) which uses a google calendar (another natural extension of my digital life).  All students can access the wiki from home and school and will be fine if that’s all they check.  But I am looking forward to bringing in the Facebook angle.  And eventually other social media.

Another reason I am glad to to bring social media into the classroom is that it will open the door to talking about digital citizenship.  How do we communicate online?  What is appropriate?  We can do more than just talk- we can actually use the social media. As I told my students today, by the time they are applying for jobs they will have a digital footprint of over a decade!

Needless to say, I am thrilled and looking forward to integrating more social media this year.  I’ve already posted our summer reading survey on the English I Facebook page and 39 students have completed it.  That’s a much faster turn-around than last year, when I posted on Edmodo.  Woohoo!

What about you? How do you use, plan to use, or wish you could use social media in the classroom this year?