Saturday, June 17, 2017

Powerful nonfiction books to read with your students

Four nonfiction books that will grab your students' attention and keep them reading.
I love read-aloud time in my classroom.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  No strings attached, an occasional question asked, but mostly this is time for kids to sit back and listen to good books and fluent reading.  

I try to stretch their reading interests.  You think you only like realistic fiction?  Listen to this historical fiction book!  Or what about this science fiction one?  

I love history and sharing background historical information with students to flesh out their understanding of something they're reading, but I'd never read nonfiction books aloud to them.  Until this year.  Here are four books that are worth reading to your upper-elementary and middle school students.
Nonfiction read aloud
Caitlin's choice of a penpal in Zimbabwe, because it sounded more exotic than countries in Europe, changed her life.  She began an unlikely friendship with Martin - unlikely because of the distance, socioeconomic differences, and that their friendship had to be maintained by writing letters.  On paper.  With a pen or pencil.  As unlikely as that seems, they exchanged letters for six years, learning a lot about each other and themselves in the process.  Chapters alternate between Caitlin's and Martin's points of view.

Nonfiction read aloud
This book won the vote for next read-aloud, between several nonfiction books, with one of my classes.  This is the story of eight men who (like Amelia Earhart, my students reminded me) couldn't find the island they were supposed to land on in the Pacific Ocean, during World War II.  On board their plane was VIP Eddie Rickenbacker (a name I wasn't familiar with, but a hero of both world wars) The plot moves more slowly because the men spend a lot of time in rafts on the ocean, but their struggles with hunger, thirst, and sharks, makes it a compelling read.  A few girls started to get impatient with the book midway through ("Are they going to survive?") but most students stayed pretty glued.
This is one of my favorite books because Malala Yousafzai feels so approachable in her book.  She's not much older than my students and she, like they, has strong opinions about school.  Unlike my students, however, she nearly lost her life for expressing those opinions aloud.  Continuing to champion the rights of girls to have access to education, she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have used this book in multiple ways over the years, including with small literature circles.  You can find the novel study for students to delve deeply into the book, here.
                                         Nonfiction read aloud
I picked this book up before I left for a quiet weekend get-away, thinking I might start to read it.  I couldn't put it down!  This is the story of NASA and the African-American mathematicians who performed the computations that helped engineers create flying machines - airplanes and later, rocket ships. Sound pretty dry?  Not at all!  These women worked at a time when most women didn't.  It is the story of civil rights, the Space Race, the Cold War, and gender rights. Powerfully told from the point of view of four women, its honesty and action will capture the interest of many students.  A novel study for students can be found here.

I hope you get the chance to read some of these books this summer, so that you can recommend them to your students ~

Friday, June 9, 2017

The impact of technology on reading


Ever since reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, I have challenged my students each year to read at least 25 books.  We practice building reading stamina, we talk about how busy life can get, and how hard it is some days, to find half an hour to read.  We explore places where books can be read and students come up with ideas like these: at a sibling's practice, in the car, waiting for everyone to get ready to go somewhere, or at a relative's house where there are no kids.  And every year, I'm always a bit surprised when the average number of books is over 25.  It's typically in the low 30's.

Until this year.

I had a feeling around Christmas that we weren't going to be close.  It wasn't just that some of my stronger students still said they didn't like to read.  Although they did like being read to!

There just wasn't an enthusiasm for books like I'd seen in previous classes.  I think that there's no such thing as an unenthusiastic reader, there's only a kid who hasn't found the right book yet.  But here it was, months into the school year, and there were more students than usual who were still feeling pretty ambivalent.  "Curl Up With a Book and Read" days helped, but stamina still wasn't where it could have been.

I had a hunch.  We went 1:1 with iPads this year.  I didn't want to believe it.  But students told me, when we talked about it.  Their iPads held much more draw than any book did.  They had no interest in reading on their iPads.  Reading took a back seat almost EVERY SINGLE TIME to pretty much anything-but-reading.

😓😞  Now that the school year is over, I'm wondering.  I'm still feeling a bit defeated.  Matching kids up with books and getting them excited about reading was a big part of my reputation!  

Here's the thing:  I love iPads!  I love what they can provide for students, and we use them daily in my room.  But at the expense of reading?

Have you noticed a change?  What do you do to keep kids reading?




Thursday, May 11, 2017

How will you TpT this summer?

As the school year winds down, I find myself thinking about all the projects my students worked on this year.  Good learning worked both ways!  My students had a variety of projects that engaged them and I learned what needed to be more clear and where I needed to add an additional step along the way.

I keep a list of projects I want to create for TpT, ones I want to tweak, products that need to be updated, good products that need better graphics or more exposure, social media sites I want to spend more time on....the list can get quite lengthy!

Here are some tips I use to help me stay organized and not feel overwhelmed.

Take Time for Yourself 
It's easy to get caught up in lists and "to-do's" and before you know it, school's about to start up again. Take time to reflect on this past school year.  Breathe.  Play with your kids or grandkids.  Wander. Think.  Read a book.  Sleep.  Garden.  Eat.  Get together with friends.  Run. Walk. Eat ice cream.  Lots and lots of ice cream.  Laugh.  Do yoga.

You'll be so much fresher when you do sit down to work. 
 Create lists
Everyone has their own way of doing this.  Figure out what works for you.  I jot notes everywhere because I'm afraid I'll forget otherwise - on my phone, post-it notes, in a notebook, on a pad of paper. Those get tossed (don't judge) on my desk.

Then, when I have time, I write them down in a notebook.  The pink one. 

I keep four folders on my computer:  Under construction: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer.  I put all of my half-started projects and ideas there, and then when it's time to work on one, I know where they are.  Projects get moved if they need more time.  And sometimes I know I won't be able to work on something for a while - whatever the reason - and so it gets put in a later folder.  But that way, I don't lose what I've started.  Sometimes it's a Powerpoint I've started, sometimes it's just a title with a note to myself.
 Set a task and a timer
This is SO important!  I belong to a number of facebook groups, some of which support each other in a variety of ways.  It's so easy to get sucked into the vortex of "let me just check...."

Set a timer.  Work on social media.
Set a timer.  Work on a blogpost.
Set a timer.  Work on a product.
Set a timer.  Work on a graphic.

Whatever your goal is for the day, decide how much time you'll spend and commit to doing it.  That timer keeps you accountable!
It won't all get done (and that's okay)
I'm always surprised by how much longer it takes me to get something done than what I'd thought. I've had to make peace with that and you will, too.  Be happy with what gets done and move on.

I hope these tips help you get yourself ready for some creative time this summer!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Increasing empathy for visually impaired students with a book {and a freebie!}

Last year, a colleague and I received a grant to have all the students in 5th and 6th grades read the same two books.  We started with Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt, and now we're reading A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel.
                                             

Blind Guide is a multi-layered story, the heart of which is found in Alice Confrey, a young girl with albinism.  I wasn't aware that people with albinism often have an eye condition called nystagmus, which causes their eyes to flutter up and down a lot, resulting in difficulty seeing.

To start off the book challenge, we asked a local organization, VisionCorps, which works with blind and visually impaired children and adults in our area, to visit our school.  They provided a safe place for our children explore the world of visual impairment and the tools people use to navigate the seeing world.


One of my students is visually impaired, although not from albinism.  His vision issues are quite similar to those of Alice's, however.  It was really beautiful to watch students gently ask to enter his world, so that through his explanations they could get a glimpse of what it felt like to see the world  like he does.

I created the study guide for A Blind Guide to Stinkville for my students to use as they read and discussed the book in small groups.  I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of "right there" kinds of questions, nor do I like to ask questions chapter by chapter.  The questions in the study guide require students to think more deeply about ideas in the book, using the text to support their responses.  For the most part, students are really enjoying the book!

....And now for the freebie!
Because I find my students talking about books so much, I decided to have them give book commercials this year, so that I wasn't the only person doing book talks.  I've finally gotten around to putting it into my TpT store.  Grab it and use it if you want!

Have a great rest of the week!






Sunday, February 19, 2017

Turn your classroom upside down: personalize learning


There were times when I wished I'd never shared this thought with my Assistant Principal.  When I wondered why (for the umpteenth time) I had not thought through all the things that would take place in my classroom this month.  When I was frustrated by how hard it was to plan out the details.  But something kept me going, despite knowing that this required a real, and somewhat uncomfortable shift in my thinking.

Personalized learning takes differentiated instruction and ramps it up a notch.  It allows you to tailor your instruction to each student's needs and preferences. There's no question that technology plays a big part in making it successful (and gives you grey hairs when apps or videos don't work as planned!) 
1.  Start with the end in mind
What's your Essential question?  What do you want students to take away from this set of lessons?  In my case, students were going to read several passages about taking care of the environment.  After some thought, I decided that I wanted each of them to come up with an Action Plan, something they could do at home, at school, or in the community, based on what they'd learned.
2.  How do you want each student to achieve that goal?
For me, this was the tricky part.  It's easy for me to do this when I'm in the front of the room for a little while.  Putting it all in their hands meant shifting my thinking.  My students come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to reading comprehension.  So they needed passages that were either leveled, or ones they could read or listen to.  Some students needed to evaluate what they read, some compared what they read with how they lived, while others used what they'd read as a model for the Action Plan they'd create.  To keep me sane in planning this, I create three unique groups.
3.  How do you get students to move towards that goal?
We use Schoology in our district, and that certainly made life easier.  Each direction, link, assessment, assignment, video or photo submission was placed there.  Schoology also lets you make an activity dependent on the completion of a previous one, so students have to complete assignments in the order you determine.

I created one folder for the entire set of lessons.  Within that folder were four subfolders, one for each of the topics/activities I wanted students to complete.  I created three different sets of plans, and assigned them to my three groups.  That's one nice thing about Schoology!  Within those folders, the format in each was consistent: first, clear and detailed instructions tailored to each student group. Then, links to articles to be read, videos to be watched, links to websites, etc.  There was a checkpoint with me in each folder.  Some students had to show me that hey had mastered concepts by the end of that folder; others started reading with me before I sent them off on their own.  Still others worked with me in an even more chunked format, until I felt they were ready to be successful on their own.
4.  The good, the bad, and the ugly
So, what was the outcome?  Well, there were some things that my students and I really liked, some that we didn't and still others that I would change.  Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome and it has taught me a number of things about the way my students learn.

My stronger readers loved that they could pace themselves.  My weaker readers didn't.  They wanted my help as they navigated through sometimes unclear words and thoughts.  Even though I worked with them through some of the steps, they didn't have the confidence to continue on their own.  Lesson learned.

I felt like there were lots of opportunities to confer with me, although some students had to wait a few minutes because I was working with someone else.  We have to get to a place of comfort that when they give me an indication that they need me to check on something, I'll be there in a few minutes.  Or, as in some cases, that I tell them to move ahead until I can get to them.

Giving up control was hard for me!  And for them.  But I think, with repetition, students will come to own their learning a little more this way.  It's worth doing again.  With a few modifications along the way, I'm already thinking about the next set of personalized lessons!

Have a great week!































































































































































































































Monday, February 6, 2017

TpT Sale Event!

Another opportunity to purchase products for up to 28% off!  Click here to see new products in my store.  And don't forget to use the code (I've done that!):  LOVETPT

Now, I'm going to go take a look at some more Kimberly Gewein Fonts.  I love her work!

Have fun shopping!

Monday, January 23, 2017

This is what democracy looks like!

Photo credit: Brent Johnson, Newark Star-Ledger

This post is not about whether you voted for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.  It's not whether you lean left, moderate, or right.  It is about how the power of democracy is in the hands of the people.

Some of my students asked if they could watch the inauguration of our 45th president on Friday.  As they asked, a few others booed.  
"No, we can't do that!"  I said to the students who booed.  "Regardless of whom you wanted elected, you still have to respect the office of the President of our country."  We talked briefly about ways they could show they were on board with policies (or not) in the classroom, in our school, our state, and our country.  When did we get so polarized?

I thought about that a lot when I got on the bus in front of my church, heading to Washington, D.C, with my daughters.  What does it mean to live in a democracy?  How can we safely express dissent in this country?  
This sign felt like my answer.  Our First Amendment rights allow us to disagree, and to do so publicly.  And so, people gathered.  In large cities and small, around the United States and the world.  And each was peaceful.  And that, is what democracy is supposed to look like.

 So, whether you agree with our President or not, and no matter which way you feel with his cabinet appointments (especially with Betsy DeVoss as Secretary of Education) whether you marched somewhere or you thought the marches were stupid, please exercise your right in this country.  You have the right to express your opinions.  Call your elected officials and let them know.  They're waiting to hear from you! 
I hope you have a good week!