High Five For Friday! 9/12/14

Happy Week 2! These first few weeks back to school are always the longest and most challenging, and I feel completely wiped out this week. We had open house on Wednesday, and I met a lot of wonderful parents. I can’t wait until tomorrow morning so I can sleep in and finally catch up on my overflowing inbox! Here are the highlights from week 2:

1. Guess the Reader – I’m working on a fun new bulletin board! Check back next week to see the final product.

Guess the Reader (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Identity Pie Graph Activity – As an opening activity for our unit on Identity, my students created pie graphs to represent the various elements that impact their own identities. This is a great activity to learn more about your students and to get them talking!

Pie Chart Identity Activity (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Sea World Controversy / Practicing Argumentation – In Social Studies this week, we read various articles and watched youtube videos both in support of Sea World as well as condemning. We practiced writing claims and finding supporting evidence as well as working in groups and initiating collaborative discussions. In my opinion, this is a perfect controversial issue to use in your classroom because there are strong points on both sides of the argument. Sea World does a lot of critically important work in protection, education, and preservation. We watched the trailer to Blackfish as part of our investigation, and I have to tell you – the room was completely silent. After the clip ended, there was an audible “gasp” in the room, and I know my students were emotionally impacted. I watch it and feel like I got punched in the gut. The next day, several students told me they went straight home and watched the entire movie. This topic clearly got their attention.

Blackfish Movie Poster

4. Dissertation Bound – I completed my doctorate in June, but it takes several months to get your dissertation professionally bound. I got the call and went to pick it up from my university library. It is HUGE! Glad I brought my husband along to help me carry it!

Dissertation Bound (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Paleo Foods this Week – I received my copy of Meals Made Simple in the mail, and I’m in LOVE! I’ve been cooking exclusively from this cookbook this week, and I’m absolutely loving everything. Here we have Mexican Chicken Soup, Cumin-Garlic Summer Squash, Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies 2.0, Pumpkin Bread, Chicken and Rice Casserole and – my own recipe – frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites (a great summer treat).

Meals Made Simple Foods (c) Kristen Dembroski

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High Five For Friday! 9-5-14

Happy Back-to-School! Today is our first Friday of the 2014-2015 school year, and we’ve made it through week 1. It was your typical first week back with bumps in the road and interesting challenges, but we made it!

Every Friday, I post a “High Five For Friday” entry that highlights 5 things from the week. It’s all about being positive and finding things to celebrate. Here are this week’s 5:

1. School Supplies – The Supply Fairy delivered a wonderful, colorful pile of back-to-school supplies to my room! I do all the ordering for our department, so that is why there is so much here. Who doesn’t love new pencils, highlighters, and white out?!?

Back To School Supplies (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. School Forest Field Trip – Our district is lucky enough to own a 16 acre school forest right in our own backyard. This week, I took my students on a quick walking tour of the grounds. We noted several invasive species, steered clear of the poison ivy (!) found some great places for doing creative writing later, and enjoyed how we felt worlds away from school when we were only a few paces from the playground.

School Forest (c) Kristen Dembroski3. Packers Season Open – To celebrate the official start of Packers Season, the staff got to have a dress down ‘Green and Gold’ day. We have some very enthusiastic staff who made me giggle with their seriously fantastic sportswear (think Green and Gold overalls!).

Packers (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Eleanor & Park – I started reading this new book, which was recommended as an adolescent fiction novel. One chapter in, I soon realized that I would not be able to recommend this to my 8th grade students due to the language. However, I am really digging this book so far. The characters are very interesting and the story feels nostalgic to my own teen years in some way. I’m on Chapter 13, and I expect this will turn into an emotional roller coaster by the end.


5. Making lots of Connections – I saved the best for last. I have loved meeting my new students. The best part of the first few weeks is the connections we make. I learn so much about my new students, their interests, their anxieties about the year, what they are excited to accomplish, their hobbies and talents, and everything else they are willing to share. On the first day, it’s become my tradition to wear these silly rainbow socks. I do realize how ridiculous they look, but they have become a real conversation starter. My students like to come up and talk to me about them. I think it helps them to see that I don’t take things too seriously, that I am approachable, and that I know how to laugh. Connecting with my students is really important to me, and I value our relationships and everything that we can accomplish knowing there is mutual trust and respect.

Rainbow Socks (c) Kristen Dembroski


Whether this was your first week back or you’ve been back to school for a while, I hope you had a SPLENDID first week of September! I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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Trying Some New Things This Year

Welcome, 2014-2015 School Year! This is my 8th year teaching Language Arts at my school. I am always looking for new ways to streamline, engage students, and improve. To that end, I am trying out a few new things this year.

First of all, my schedule has changed quite a bit. Last year, I taught only Language Arts. This year, I will teach Language Arts, Social Studies, a Reading Support class, an Academic Support hour, and I will also be the Reading Specialist. Phew! While that is quite a change with a lot of new things to learn and teach, I also think I’m going to love the variety. Teaching the same thing all day long can get kinda boring and repetitive. I welcome the challenge!

Below are a few new things I am excited to try this year:

1. Common Core Learning Target Web – At my school, and likely at yours, we are required to communicate the daily learning targets to our students as well as visually display the targets. Students benefit from knowing the intended goals and outcomes of instruction. That being said, changing up the learning target on a nearly daily basis can become a cumbersome task. To streamline, my partner and I decided to create a web of ALL the targets we will hit in our first unit (about 1 quarter). Then, we can simply put a laminated bullseye sign on the target(s) we are working on any given day. Seems like this will make things a lot easier. This has the added benefit of showing students a preview of all of the targets and where we are heading throughout the unit.

Common Core Target Web (c) Kristen Dembroski

Common Core Target Web (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Talk Partners – For the past 7 years, my room has been organized into table groups (4 students). This fit nicely with my classroom philosophy of collaboration, group work, and community. However, it became distracting at times. Put socially-motivated 13-year-olds into a cluster, and shenanigans will happen. This year, I am trying a new idea called “Talk Partners.” You can see from the new seating chart, which I call Chevron Tables, that students are now more in rows instead of clusters. Each table will consist of one pair of students, talk partners, which I will switch up every week. The infinite campus grading program that I use can create randomized seating charts at a click, so this will not be too difficult. I will also work in more reflecting and communicating time into my curriculum. I will pause more often and say, “Explain to your talk partner what you just heard / understood” or “Ask your talk partner a question you still have about this topic,” etc. The goal will be more focused interactions.

Chevron Seating Arrangement (c) Kristen Dembroski

Chevron Seating Arrangement (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Leveled Literacy Instruction – I will be teaching a Reading Support class this year, which is a new offering at our school. It will be for students who are performing below grade level on our district-wide reading assessments, yet aren’t receiving any other kinds of support (not Special Education). The LLI is an elementary school model that is releasing a middle school component in September. Since it’s not released yet, I can’t tell you much about it other than the Reading Specialists that use it at our district elementary schools love it and see very positive results!

LLI (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Snacks! Okay this has absolutely nothing to do with my curriculum, but I am excited anyway. I signed up for Graze this year. School starts at 7:45 and lunch isn’t until 12:50, so I’m very likely to get hangry… So Graze seemed like a perfect solution for me. They will deliver 4 snacks per week (or every other week) directly to my school mailbox, and I can customize the snacks based on my tastes, dietary needs, etc. It’s only $6.49 a box, and I don’t have to do any shopping, prepping, or packing. Food! Yassss!!! Below is my first box that I received during Teacher Institute week. Loving this idea! If you would like to sign up and get 2 free boxes using my referral code, click here.

Graze (c) Kristen Dembroski


Are you trying out anything new this year, or embarking on a fun new adventure? I’d love to hear about it!

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Paleo Egg Muffins

Paleo Egg Muffins (c) Kristen Dembroski

During the school year, these egg muffins are my staple go-to breakfast. I make a couple dozen on the weekend so they are ready to grab-and-go each morning. I’ve been asked to share the recipe more times than I can count, so I figured it was time for a blog post (with pictures!!!).

The muffins are Paleo, which means dairy-free and grain-free. If you’re not into the Paleo scene, you can modify the recipe as you see fit (i.e. replace coconut milk with cow’s milk, or coconut flour with traditional flour). The beauty of this recipe is that it is very flexible, and I change it up regularly for variety.

Ingredients (makes 12):
* 8 eggs
* 2 Tbsp coconut flour
* 1/3 cup coconut or unsweetened almond milk
* juice of half a lemon + zest
* pepper to taste
* 2 large slices of ham or turkey, or 3 slices of cooked bacon
* 2 cups of sautéed vegetables (I love spinach, mushrooms, shoe string carrots, peppers, kale, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, anything really!)


Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Dice and sauté your vegetables. I sometimes add the meat in this step as well (or save the meat for a topping)

Sauteed Vegetables (c) Kristen DembroskiStep 3: Beat together the eggs, milk, lemon juice and zest, pepper, and flour. Then add in the sauteed vegetables.

Step 4: Pour 1/4 cup of the mixture into greased muffin tins. Pictured below are silicone muffin cups (non-stick).

Paleo Egg Muffins (c) Kristen DembroskiStep 5: (Optional) Sprinkle with diced pieces of bacon

Step 6: Bake for 22 – 25 minutes

My husband enjoys adding hot sauce or tabasco, which is a fun flavor kick in the morning. If you are not strict Paleo, I imagine cheese would be another delicious topping. I grab 2 every morning, microwave at work, and enjoy for a very filling and tasty breakfast that lasts much longer than a bowl of cereal. I hope you enjoy this Team Dembro favorite recipe!



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Summer 2014 Recap

Labor Day is approaching, which means the end of my summer. It was one of the BEST summer’s that I can remember! It was very fun, busy, and relaxing. Since I am no longer enrolled in school, I had more time to explore hobbies, visit with friends, and enjoy the weather.

I came very close to completing my Summer Bucket List. That’s a good sign in my book – it wasn’t too hard or too easy, and it leaves me with a couple of items to add to my Fall Bucket List.

Summer Bucket List Completed 2014 (c) Kristen Dembroski


Some of my Summer Highlights include:

Zoom Loom Blanket (c) Kristen Dembroski

Finishing my Zoom Loom Blanket. It turned out even better than I had hoped!
I even took a crochet class to add the border.

Vermont Wedding (c) Kristen DembroskiAttending a beautiful wedding in Vermont

Garden (c) Kristen Dembroski

Growing flowers and herbs in my garden

Paleo Foods (c) Kristen Dembroski

Making and eating delicious foods

Aunt Niece Pedicures (c) Kristen Dembroski

 Spending a “Girly Day” with my niece

State Fair (c) Kristen Dembroski

State Fair… with Cream Puffs!

EAA (c) Kristen Dembroski

 EAA Airventure with my pilot husband

Rocket & Ruffy (c) Kristen Dembroski

And spending time with these cutie pies! We took lots of walks and enjoyed the sun.

It was a wonderful summer and I wish it could go on forever. I hope you had a wonderful summer, too!





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Web Memes and Classroom Management

funny-Darth-Vader-quote-legs what-i-look-like-if-youre-talking-while-im-talking

For Back-to-School this year, I’ve decided to use web memes to communicate my classroom expectations to students on second day of school. Pro tip: Don’t waste your breath going over rules and expectations on the first day – they will never remember a word you say. The first day back, for 8th grade at least, is all about the outfits, the friends, the lockers, etc. I always wait until Day 2 for this discussion.

I’ve been collecting funny web memes for years now on my Pinterest Boards, and I decided that I had enough to put together an entire presentation. My favorite two are pictured above. If you’d like to download my entire Powerpoint presentation (so you can edit it and make it your own), click here:

Mrs. Dembroski’s Classroom Expectations
Web Meme Powerpoint Presentation

I’d love to hear about your experiences using it, and/or any funnies that you might add to your own version. My goal is to get kids to relax, smile, and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all!” All of my rules stem back to respect for yourself, your education, your classmates, and your teacher. Respect – that’s really all there is to it.

My students won’t arrive until after Labor Day, but I know some of you are starting this week (eeek!) Best of luck to you all, and have a great first day!


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Poster Presentation Tips

Poster Presentation (c) Kristen Dembroski

I recently mentioned that I presented my research at the Reading Research Symposium at Cardinal Stritch University. I was very nervous about this opportunity – worried that I would be asked questions I couldn’t answer and that everyone would soon realize I was a complete fraud and take away my doctorate. I am pleased to report that this was not the case. I surprised myself at how eloquently I was able to answer all questions thrown my way, and with an abundance of detail, evidence, and visuals to support my claims. Of course I should have had more confidence – this is MY research after all! Many people are very interested in online reading comprehension, and I was happy to feed into their enthusiasm. What was more meaningful to me, however, was when we dropped the guise of research and someone would ask, “That’s wonderful. So, how would you use this in, say, an actual 3rd grade classroom?” That’s when I got excited. Turning research into practice – this is my bag, baby! I explained how I use these findings with my own students and some simple modifications I would use for various populations and grade levels. I directed people to more resources and ideas to support their own teaching practices with regards to online reading comprehension. I felt very helpful, which is the ultimate fulfillment for a teacher!

I walked away from this experience with a lot more confidence and some important notes, should I chose to do another poster presentation (which I definitely would!). Below are some tips I can share:

1. Laminate your poster – I envisioned hanging up my poster with tacks, but I was handed a role of masking tape instead. I wish I had laminated to protect my expensive investment.

2. Have a handout – Poster presentations are never as long as people would like them to be, and there is a lot of information to juggle. Visitors would appreciate a handout with a brief (very brief! 1 page, tops!) summary of your research as well as your contact information.

3. Put your poster online – Speaking of accessibility, visitors would appreciate a chance to study your poster in greater depth at a later time. It is helpful to place your poster online and give them a url (or tiny url) where it can be accessed. In the picture above, you will see a small paper just to the right of my poster – this contains a tiny url link to my poster on this blog as well as a copy of my business card (and email address).

4. Business Cards – If you have business cards, bring them and put them on display. This is an excellent opportunity to network.

5. Bring plastic sleeves for any supporting documents – As you can see in the picture above, I brought along several supporting documents like charts, explanations of my coding system, visuals of the assessment I used, etc. Visitors confused these with handouts, and some of them walked off. I wish I would have brought plastic sleeves to indicate that these items can be viewed but should stay on the table.

6. Classroom Tools – I have many exciting classroom tools and learning activities that I have subsequently developed as a result of this research project. My visitors would have loved to see them to witness how this research translates into practice. Bring along any visuals, interactives, tools, and assessments that apply to your research.

7. Common Questions – Be prepared to answer quick, common questions from multiple visitors. Here are some that I was asked several times: “What surprised you most about your research?” “What is the one most interesting thing you found?”

8. Poster Session Survivor Toolkit – Be sure to bring the following to your poster presentation: water, scissors, tape, a pad of paper, pen/pencil.

Be sure to look professional, wear shoes you can stand in for a long period of time, and have confidence and have fun! You never know who you’ll meet, or what exciting new ideas and opportunities you can discover!

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Happy Independence Day 2014

I hope you all had a safe and happy 4th of July. Ours was a busy one. We went to a parade in the morning, then to a lake house for lunch, then to another lake house for dinner and fireworks. With the dogs in tow. I was completely exhausted by the end of the day (and so were the dogs), filled with good food and happy memories. Here are the gorgeous, scenic views from our busy holiday:

July 4th 2014 (c) Kristen Dembroski

Here’s to America, the Beautiful. Happy 238th!

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Children’s and Adolescent Literacy Course

Children and Adolescent Literacy Course (c) Kristen Dembroski

I had a great time this week teaching a Children and Adolescent Literacy Course to graduate students in the Reading Program at Viterbo University. I met so many awesome, motivated, passionate, and knowledgeable teachers. I know I learned as much from them as they learned from me – what a win-win!

We started each day by reading a children’s book and discussing how we might use this in our own classrooms. We looked for concepts, language, intertextual connections, and how to use the literature to encourage joy and a love of reading.

As a class, we also read “Readicide” by Kelly Gallagher and “Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller as our textbooks. We had many discussions about the challenges we face in education today, and what we can do now to start a grass roots movement to begin a positive change.

Each day, every teacher took a turn sharing a favorite literacy resource. This was maybe the most powerful and informative thing we did all week. If you put a group of passionate, driven teachers together in a room and ask them to share their favorite resources, you are going to walk away with an amazing list of classroom-tested ideas to try. I have so many cool new tools to try in the fall!

Other topics we discussed this week included Independent reading, close reading, incorporating reading and writing, using technology effectively, multimedia, vocabulary, and encouraging a school wide reading culture. We put all of our resources and ideas on a wiki so that we could reference them throughout the year.

For their final project, my students had to create a literacy unit that they could use in their own classrooms next year. It had to include an anchor text, intertextual connections to another expository text, multimedia, vocabulary, close reading, prior knowledge, and text analysis. They made some really great units that they should be so very proud of!

It was an exhausting week, but in a really great way. I met so many wonderful people and I’m so very reinvigorating for teaching reading in the fall. I can’t wait to teach this course again!

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Reading Research Symposium

This Saturday, I will be presenting my research at the Reading Research Symposium at Cardinal Stritch University. I am very excited and grateful for this opportunity to share my research and findings with other professionals in the field. Conducting research and writing a dissertation is one thing, but being able to collaborate, get feedback, network, and gain a new perspective really makes all this hard work feel worth while.

The following is my poster presentation for this session:

Dembroski Poster Presentation 2014

I will be discussing my investigation of online reading comprehension via the ORCA assessment tool created by the University of Connecticut.

Below is my favorite (and most informative and interesting) flow chart created from the results of this research. I think it is very telling about the kinds of navigational habits that are found to be most successful for online reading comprehension:

Summary of Findings and Visual Representatino of the Effectiveness of Four Navigational Profiles Used by Phase 2 ParticipantsNavigational Styles Venn Diagram (c) Kristen Dembroski

And here are a few more flow charts and figures that help to visually explain the results of this research. Fascinating stuff, right? If you have any questions about my research, I’d be happy to answer them – please ask away in the comments below.

Pie Charts Representing the Number of Participants who Engaged in Specific Navigational / Reading Style – by Percentile Grouping. For each chart, N = 4
Kind of Reader Pie Charts (c) Kristen DembroskiFlow Chart representing the Number of Participants in each Percentile Third Group That Engaged in a Reading Strategy or Behavior (N = 12)Comparing Reading Strategy Usage Across Percentile Groups (c) Kristen Dembroski
 Summary of Findings Regarding Variables that Influence Online Reading ComprehensionVariables that Influence Online Reading Comprehension (c) Kristen Dembroski

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