Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's like the Washing Machine! Only Who Eats the Books?



Michael Vey, When books go missing from your classroom library
Late last spring, I read the first Michael Vey book, The Prisoner of Cell 25 to one of my classes.  This Science Fiction series never fails to ignite a furious exchange of books, as kids move on to the others in the series.  Books go flying off my shelves, kids negotiate to read over weekends while others have plans; it's all pretty amazing.

As students were reading away, someone announced that he was waiting for the fourth book but couldn't find it.  We searched high and low; my check-out system (Booksource) hadn't failed; someone had neglected or forgotten to check it out.

Not wanting to stop the momentum of reading, I bought the book one weekend, and handed it proudly to this very hungry reader who'd been eagerly anticipating its arrival.

Three weeks later, it was the end of the year.
Students returned their book, we put them back on shelves.  And lo and behold, Book 4 was missing.

Again.

Students searched lockers, homes, we sent a Remind 101 message to parents.

No luck.

On the last day of school, as he was boarding the bus, one of my students casually mentioned that his brother, whom I'd taught the previous year, had never returned a book of poetry to me.  It was still sitting on his bookshelf at home.

I was a bit perturbed, to say the least, so using my kindest words, I emailed parents to ask if they would return the book to our school office sometime over the summer.

The next day, I received a mortified email from the boys' dad.  He not only offered to return the poetry book immediately, but knowing how much both his sons had enjoyed the Michael Vey books, he offered to replace the missing book.  Which was very kind.

Today, guess who comes to visit me?  The boy I had last year, the younger brother.  And guess what he had in his hands?

Yup.

"It was stuck at the bottom of my binder and I didn't notice it."

What?!

Ah, the joys of being a Reading teacher!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Video Review of A Blind Guide to Stinkville

Way, way, way back in the day when I was in first grade, we switched seats one day and I was placed next to Michael.  Michael had polio, and he wore braces on his legs.  Braces that clanked and made noise. Braces that scared me.  

I began to cry.  My teacher asked me what was wrong, but I was too embarrassed to tell her that I was afraid his polio was contagious.  

She got my older sister, in second grade, to talk to me.  

I couldn't stop crying.

So she moved my seat.

And I stopped crying.

I have felt badly about that for many, many years.  I didn't dislike Michael.  I was scared of his body. If Michael or my teacher had been able to explain his braces to me, it would have removed my fear, and I suspect that I would have been fine sitting next to him.

Have you noticed the number of authors who are tackling difficult topics to teach our students about all people, without making any of them seem scary?  I love how these books make a what could be unapproachable circumstances feel normal (think Wonder or Out of My Mind.)  They remind students (and me!) that each of us is more than what we look or talk - or even learn - like.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel is one of those books.  Alice has albinism, and that means she has to use suntan lotion multiple times a day.  It also means she has nystagmus, so she's considered legally blind.  Here's my review of this book by an author who's becoming one of my favorites!

I have a novel study for this book that you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.  Read this book to your students!  It will generate a lot of good discussion, and a fair amount of giggles, too. What kid doesn't like a farting dog?

Have a great week!



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Yield Your Classroom Design to Your Students

Flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
What if students decided where the furniture should go in your room?  Could you give up control and let them decide?  Come along for a ride and see what happened in my room, which could just as easily happen in yours!

One day over the summer, I ran into my classroom and saw my desks had been put back into groups of fours.  Nothing wrong with that.  Looking around, it occurred to me that maybe I should ask my students what they'd like, instead of me deciding for them.

After all, I'm a whole lot older than they are, and my body's in a whole different place than their young ones!  They work on the floor a lot in my room.

I hardly do that.

And so, on the first day of school, I asked them to design the room.  While that can be a scary release of control (What will they come up with?  Will I like it?  How do I handle it if I don't?)  It turned out to be a wonderful exploration and truly collaborative effort.

Here's what I did, and what you can do, too!

alternative seating, classroom design, flexible seating

Here's the before picture, taken this summer:



1.  Divide Students Up Randomly

Think about the first day of school.  Students are just getting to know each other.  What better way than to have them work together?  We played one game, Back to School Would You Rather, just to break the ice, and then I divided students up into randomly assigned groups, using paint chips.

2.  Tell Students What the Endgame is

After explaining why I thought I shouldn't decide for them (I got lots of buy-in when I told them), students were told: create an environment where everyone could learn, and include not just themselves, but 26 other students in our room, and another 53 on our team.  We talked for a few minutes about where they do their homework, where they go when they're using technology, where they go to write or draw.  

3.  Let them Get to Work

And then, in their groups, they began to discuss.  I intentionally hadn't given them any directions for working together.  I wanted to see if they were necessary.  I walked around and looked and listened.  I was blown away!  Great topics, thoughtful discussion, some negotiating, some acquiescing.  I should have taken a video and sent it to Congress!

4.  Share Ideas with the Whole Group

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
After an outdoor break, students began to present their ideas, using the Activboard to show what they'd come up with.  Six different plans were presented.  Discussion ensued.  And questions.  Could they combine aspects of plans?  Absolutely.  Could they vote on the one they liked the best.  Of course.

With eyes closed, they voted.  This was one of the finalists, and with just a little discussion, the plan they chose.

5.  Let Them Take Ownership and Move the Furniture


flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design


flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
Low tables in the front and one in the middle.  An L shape around the room.  Comfy chairs ("Soccer" and Bungee) in the back of the room.

At the end of the first week, I asked them how they felt.  Everyone still loved it.  And so did the other classes.

The other desks have been moved out of the room.  For now, everyone's happy.  More than that, though, their ownership in the design has taught them they have a say in some of the decisions in this room.



Monday, August 28, 2017

Some Positive Quotes for a Monday morning

Positive quotes, Monday morning, classroom, education
It's the first day of school in my district!  I thought this quote was a good reminder that it's usually the "little stuff" that's actually the "big stuff."                                                                      
                                 Positive quotes, Monday morning, classroom, education
It's easy to get cranky about some of the kids in your class.  Especially if you've been given certain students because you "get" them.  You just don't want to "get" too many of them in one classroom! Swearing aside, this one is a great reminder that it's our job as teachers to do the best we can with the room full of kids we've been given.

Positive quotes, Monday morning, education, classroom
This man is one of my heroes.  I'm sure he was human, but it feels like everything he said was worthy of being written down. 
Positive quotes, Monday morning, education, classroom
Don't you wish we could all be like this?  So. Hard! 
Let's try!

Have a great Monday, everyone!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Video Review of Great Historical Fiction book

video, War that Saved My Life, book review
When students explain why they don't like historical fiction, they usually say something like, "It doesn't grab me in the beginning,"  "It takes a while for the action to start," or "It starts off too slowly."

My job is to convince them to hang in there, that once the setting and the characters are set in the time period, the action starts.  But with this book, there's no need to do that.  It starts off with a bang! Literally!

Here's my latest review of a great book for upper elementary and middle school students, filled with Growth Mindset themes!  
I've created a novel study for this book which is available on Teachers Pay Teachers here.  You can also buy a Crossword Puzzle and Word Search of all the key names and places here.

If you're back to school, have a great week!  And if you're still "summerin'," enjoy the last of it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Race: Human. What we Need to Teach our Students



Teaching Students about racism
Sometimes, in this country, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I can usually wrap my head around the thinking of people whose views are different than my own.
I may not agree with them.

But I get where they're coming from.

Not so much anymore.  And, after the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I don't want to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Again.

Nope, I want to go, with renewed commitment, into my classroom, and gently remind and demonstrate through my actions, that labels we put on each other are just that.  Labels.  Labels can be good, but they can also divide.  We need to remember that we are all people, allowed to share this amazing planet we live on, for however brief or long a time as we get to spend here.  And we are strengthened when we work with, not against each other.  Our race, gender, religion, sexuality, or political views demonstrate that we can be unique.

TOGETHER.

We are needed, now more than ever, to teach that message to our students.  Our strength as a society comes when working for "we" becomes more important than working for "me."  We need to be explicit in our teaching and not be afraid to address racism by name.  We can not let fear, which is most often based on ignorance, rule the day.  We are better than that.  And our students need to hear from us.  Because maybe, this is the only place they're hearing it.

TWO HELPFUL RESOURCES:

  • Pernille Ripp shared this google docs to her Passionate Readers group on Facebook.  It was put together by several people in response to the events in Charlottesville.  Please download it for a source of good articles and thoughts about how to address this with your children or students.
  • Mary Ramming Chappell of The Librarian's Literature Links posted this video about the book, Let's Talk about Race.  It looks like a great book, worth reading with elementary children.  





P.S.  Although I've searched online, I do not know the graphic artist who created the picture above. If you should happen to know, please comment below, so that I can give credit where it's deserved. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why your students should read Echo: a video review

Video review of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Have you ever read a book where you marveled about how the author came up with the ideas?  I admit, I do that pretty often, but nothing like how I felt when I read Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  My word!

The author has managed to intertwine five different stories: a fairy tale and four different historical fiction stories.  What’s the common thread?  A harmonica.  Yup, you read that correctly.  And if that doesn’t sound interesting, trust me when I tell you that some of your upper elementary or middle school students will be completely blown away by this book.

I hope your students enjoy it as much as my students and I have!