Rough Draft Thinking

Just another site

New Year’s Resolutions February 20, 2012

Filed under: Baking,Martha Wannabe — bvanetten @ 5:08 am

I had like a million New Year’s Resolutions this year.

One was to work out 3 times a week. That’s a work in progress.

Another was to enter more contests. I mean, someone has to win them, right?

Another was to make dinner (not thaw and hear dinner) 3 times a week. That has been an epic fail so far.

The last was to try at least one new recipe a week.

So tonight, while I was working on the blog post about bib cards I decided to make Snickerdoodle Bread.I found the recipe on Lil’ Luna’s website via Pinterest:

  • 2 1/2 c. – all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 pkg. Hershey’s cinnamon chips

The only problem was that Hershey’s cinnamon chips don’t appear to be readily available anywhere. So when my boyfriend called from the baking aisle to tell me there was no such thing, I told him to bring me a bag of Heath English Toffee Bits. I figured toffee was a complimentary flavor to cinnamon and sugar.

Besides the chips, the only other adaptation I made was to add a little more cinnamon, because I believe there can never be too much cinnamon.


  1. Cream butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon until fluffy. Add eggs and mix well.
  2. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix well.
  3. Mix flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add to wet ingredients and mix until all combined.
  4. Add cinnamon chips and stir into batter. Set aside.
  5. Spoon batter into 4 mini loaf pans until about 2/3 full.*
  6. Mix 3 T. sugar and 3 t. cinnamon in a bowl and sprinkle over the batter in each loaf pan.
  7. Bake at 350 for 35-38 minutes. Let cool before removing from pan.

Love pink mixer


* I enjoy muffins, myself, so I made one large loaf and a half-dozen bakery-sized muffins. Of course I ran out of papers so two don’t have them and they look a little lame, but they taste the same, so I’ll get over it. I used Baklene spray on the loaf pan and on the paperless wells. It doesn’t corrode pans and it’s less greasy than Pam.

I (and Martha, recently saw on her show) recommend using a large-sized cookie/ice cream scoop to fill the muffin tins. Two scoops per well works out about perfectly for the larger muffin tins, and it is the least messy way I have found to fill muffin cups. I know you can find them at Williams-Sonoma. They make smaller sizes too, which are good for recipes that call for 1-in size scoops of dough. LL uses them to fill stuffed shells, which is pretty ingenious too.

Here’s another Martha/LL tip for you. When you have several small pans in the over at once, put them on a cookie sheet. It makes them easier to turn half-way through the bake time, and for transferring them to/from the oven easily.

I was delighted that for once I followed the instruction exactly from a website and it actually came out as promised. I feel like I usually have to make a lot of adaptations. After trying the finished product, I can say the toffee bits worked just fine in this recipe, although I can’t say that they really add anything. I am thinking that I might just omit them altogether next time if I still can’t find cinnamon chips. That would cut down on the amount of sugar in the recipe.

The recipe came out great and was not particularly time-consuming. I wrote a blog post in the time it took to bake, and in the time it took me to write THIS post, FAB has eaten half the pan, so I gotta go before all that’s left is crumbs!


What the Hell is a “Bib Card”?

Filed under: Education,teaching writing — bvanetten @ 1:46 am

If you know the answer to this question, you were probably recently in the 6th grade.

This week, we began a research unit. Each student chose a topic related to the Civil War that they will conduct a research project on. Of course, being the Abe Lincoln-lovin’-honorary-Illinoisan that I am, I was excited to begin this unit. I also believe in a process approach to writing, ‘a la Peter Smagorinsky, which is how the high school and middle school have chosen to teach research writing to students. The students were provided with a workbook at the beginning of the unit that breaks the writing process down into steps and provides a calendar that details when each “step” should be completed. This makes it much easier for students to approach the task of producing an essay.

Only problem is, some of the steps are dumb.

Case in point: Step 1 is “Brainstorm a Topic.” Since Social Studies isn’t getting to the Civil War for another month, this was going to be difficult without giving the students any background information. [insert first ever practical use of History master’s degree here].

Step 2 is “Write a Thesis Statement.” Ah yes. All good, reasonable, knowledgable writers go directly from choosing a topic from an arbitrary list of topics they know little to nothing about, and then immediately form a thesis claim. Tell me more, workbook.

Step 3: “Assemble a Working Bibliography.” I don’t know about you, but it makes total sense to start doing rudimentary searching on a topic after I have already decided what my research will discover.

Step 4 is “Take Notes;” Step 5: “Outline.” No big deal.

Step 6: “Write Body Paragraphs.” Uh huh. Easier said than done.

Step 7: “Write Introductory and Concluding Paragraphs.”

Step 8 is “Edit and Revise.”

When my mentor teacher gave the workbook so I could start planning the unit in more detail, my inner historian researcher was highly offended. So was the part of me that believes we are teaching young people to be productive and thoughtful members of society by the time they reach adulthood. I believe it is actually irresponsible to be teaching students that they should draw their conclusions about a topic or argument before knowing ANYTHING about it. And for the majority of my students, they won’t end up writing papers or conducting research, it’s true. But they will have the power to vote and make important decisions, and they shouldn’t be in the habit of doing so without being fully informed.

Then there was the calendar. 1 class period to find books that might be useful. 1 class to take notes on the topic. 3 to outline. 1 to write THE ENTIRE BODY. And 4 to revise. Mind you, the curriculum designates 3 weeks to this project, so I guess we are just supposed to show reruns of Jersey Shore on the extra days?

I wouldn’t say I’m God’s gift to writing instruction, but I figured I could do a little better than that.

So I kept all the steps to pacify my students’ future high school teachers, but I rearranged the order to pacify my own convictions about writing. I moved Step 2 (Write a Thesis) to between Steps 4 and 5 (“Take Notes” and “Write and Outline”). I gave the most amount of days to taking notes, outlining and to writing the body paragraphs. I gave students a copy of the calendar because I wanted the students to SEE which steps are the most important based on which have the most time dedicated to them.

So on day 1, I gave them a powerpoint presentation on the Civil War, and then let them choose from a list of topics that was provided by the school librarian (who is an invaluable source of help when putting together a unit like this). So far so good. Everyone had a topic and there was only one short argument about who chose “weapons” first.

Then came Step 2: Bibliography. To do this, the workbook instructs students to complete 10 “Bib Cards.” That’s where the title of this entry comes in. I consider myself an educated person. I am capable of conducting research and writing about it. I did not know what a bib card was.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I assume that “bib cards” originated sometime back when libraries still used card catalogues. The students take a stack of index cards and record bibliographic information on them. Anyone who knew me in my History Dept. days knows that I am all about proper citations. But this bib card stuff is crazy. There are all these specific rules that the students are graded on that they get all caught up over indents and colons and there is no emphasis put on the WHY we need citations. I think that teaching proper citation techniques might make more sense after students understand the research process a little better. After doing the bib cards with the students, I don’t think they are as worthless as before, but I remain unconvinced that they are the best way to teach this to young students. They take a lot of time for not a lot of results.

While working on this post I was talking to my best friend who is a totally smart lawyer, and she didn’t know what a bib card was either. So the moral of the story is: you don’t need to know what a bib card is to be a lawyer, but you need it to pass 9th grade history class.

Ok, so I will teach it.


Please Pass the Books February 12, 2012

Filed under: Education — bvanetten @ 9:27 pm

I’ve been writing a lot here about ways to interest kids in reading. Last week I had a really successful activity toward motivating kids to  read that I want to share.

The day before, I told the students we were going to do a Book Pass activity, and asked them to each bring 1-3 books that they have read and enjoyed with them to school the next day. The day of, I provided each student with a “Book Pass Log,” which provided space to record a book title, the author of the book, and the name of the person who recommended it. Each student put their books on their desks and then walked around the room, perusing books. If they saw something that looked good, they could write it down. I told them that the next time they tell me that they don’t know what to read, or they can’t find anything that looks good, I will remind them to take a look at the list they made during the Book Pass.

It was pretty awesome.

It accomplished what I hoped for (getting students to talk about the things they choose to read and see how much variety there is), but I was surprised by how smoothly it went. I was initially upset because in my first class, less than half the students actually brought anything to share. Luckily though, the activity lends itself well to this situation (which is good, because lesson plans that rely too much on student cooperation and preparation scare me because they are so out of my control) because, although there were fewer books to look at that I hoped for, all the students could still participate. The students who do like to read become the stars of the show during an activity like this, and gives them a little opportunity to show off what they like and to engage with their peers about it. There were certainly some desks that had a higher concentration of students crowded around them, and particular names kept showing up on logs, and those same students were eager to move around the room to see what others had brought. I only had one student with a bad attitude the whole day (he informed me that he was so above his peers in reading ability that they couldn’t possibly have brought anything to interest him). I love the way this activity works toward creating an inclusive environment and also provides opportunities for students to serve as experts in reading and taste.

I also participated in the activity, and the students were excited when I stopped at their desks to write down titles they had brought with them. As a teacher, it’s a great way to see trends in what students are reading and what is currently popular (which is especially good for people like me, who don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction for fun. It was also a great bonding experience when I came across students who brought books I have read and could have a conversation with them about it.

And the evidence that this had a measurable effect on reading in the classroom? Several students brought copies of books in the Hunger Games trilogy (Suzanne Collins), which sparked conversations about why it was so popular. Students who had brought them were excited to find other kids who had or were also reading it, and made students who haven’t yet get interested. The fact that it is a series and that it is being made into a movie also helps to catch student interest. When we went to the book fair this week, several of my students bought copies of it and one student asked to borrow my copy before the Book Pass activity was even over. There are at least three kids reading it in every section I teach now.


A Drawing is Worth a Thousand Words – and Laughs February 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 8:53 pm

This week the kids drew pictures of idioms, and the results were pretty funny