Sunday, January 13, 2019

More Thoughts on UNIQUE

Random Thought #1: The comments on last Friday's Poetry Friday post were an interesting conglomeration of interpretations of my haiku. Props to Steve for finding the hope I tucked in by making my "protagonist" a dandelion! I'm thinking I will share those comments with my students by way of showing them how real people in the real world unpack poetry and take whatever meaning reverberates with them in that moment. Thanks to all who commented! You provided me with a rich and authentic "mentor text!"

Random Thought #2: I'm continuing to ponder my One Little (Two Week) Word, UNIQUE. Is it really all that unique for classrooms to create celebratory routines? Or for students to have the agency required to (gently and respectfully) suggest to the teacher that her word (weird) might have too many negative connotations? I hope not. I hope that these small bits of everyday classroom life are there, even if they are not usually showcased.

It might be an interesting inquiry project for a teacher to try to track the influence of all the little things s/he does and see if there is any evidence that those little things build to something greater.

Let me rephrase that. Anyone want to join me in an informal inquiry project where we track little moves we make around language and student agency, and then look for bigger trends in how our students absorb and apply those little bitty (not usually showcased and not really recognized as Capital T -- Teaching) "lessons?"

Here's the most recent evidence I have in my IIP (Informal Inquiry Project). I gave my students new (short term) name tags on our first day back. They are colorful patterned tagboard on one side, with some self-evaluation statements on the back. A couple times a day last week, I asked students to mark how they thought they had done with a task or activity. They marked the appropriate statement with a paperclip on the edge of their name tag. Later, I circulated, quickly flipped name tags, and got a sense of who was focused, or struggling, or distracted.

On Friday, as we were talking about how they felt about their Genius Hour work with the Snap Circuits, a student suggested that perhaps the cards needed more positive statements and not quite so many negative ones. Wow. That opened a floodgate of suggestions for positive ways they might describe their work ethic and attitude, plus the suggestions that we use only "our words" or have a self evaluation name tag that is all emojis. How's that for some cool data about student agency and understanding the power of specific language?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Poetry Friday -- Unique

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Paul Horner

one dandelion
endless expanse of green lawn
unique is lonely

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2019

My One Little Word for the next two weeks in UNIQUE. (Yesterday I wrote about why my OLW only lasts two weeks.)

Kathryn Apel has this week's hot Aussie summer Poetry Friday roundup!

One Little Word -- Inspired by Our Classroom Routine

We change desks every two weeks in Room 226. Students' morning work on moving day is to move all their belongings out of their desk (or box) to a stack on their chair (or stool or nearby their spot at a standing table). Then we clean and disinfect (hooray for Clorox and Lysol wipes!) our old abode so the new tenant will have a fresh start. (Embedded life skill: clean the apartment so you get your deposit back!) With all of the students seated in the meeting area, I pull sticks to "assign" seats. First stick pulled chooses a spot at the first table, next stick sits at the stool table, then the clock table, the red chairs table, and the blue chairs table, and back around again until all the sticks are pulled and everyone has a new spot. (Pairs of students volunteer for the two standing tables.) So, every two weeks, students get a new table group and a new view in the classroom. I am not in charge of creating a seating chart and therefore, I am not in charge of behavior--they are. In reality, the spot they are assigned is mostly just a predictable place to put their belongings. Seating is flexible during most every work time--they are also in charge of their learning zone.

We've added a new spin to this bi-weekly routine. I wrote about it a few weeks ago, and it was #12 in last year's 31 Teaching Truths. We choose a new word to BE for the next two weeks. The person who chooses the word gets to determine the style of the lettering and decorate the poster. So far this year, we've been positive, fierce, focused, persevering, love (not be loving, but actually be love), courageous, flexible, and confident.

In 2019, instead of choosing One Little Word for the year, I am going to spend more time with each of the words we choose for our gallery of what we will BE.

A few weeks ago in a conversation about our words (not during the actual choosing ceremony), I tossed out the word WIERD in honor of our ongoing celebration of diversity, but was gently redirected by one of my students. He suggested that UNIQUE would be a more positive expression, one without the negative connotations. (So...maybe our quick little practice of lining up shades of meaning in synonyms is starting to stick?) Let the record stand, though, the words that are chosen are theirs, not mine. And yes, kids are starting to hoard words, hoping to be the next one chosen.

Lo and behold, the word that was chosen for this round was, indeed, UNIQUE. Perfect word, actually. It was the theme of the talk they heard on Monday from author Jason Tharp! So for the next two weeks, we'll celebrate all that makes us one-of-a-kind.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Winter Break #bookaday and a Plan for my 2019 (Guilt-Free) Reading

I am so glad that Donalyn Miller invented Winter Break #bookaday. I always participate in Summer #bookaday and loved thinking about what I might read for Winter Break #bookaday.  I counted the days off during break and set a goal to read 15 books. I ended up reading 12 and feel good about that. I read a pretty good variety--picture books, middle grade, professional, etc. Below are screenshots of my Goodreads page of the books I completed over break. I would never had read this many and felt a bit caught up had it not been for Donalyn's #bookaday.  And I love so many of the new 2018 middle grade books that I read!

I didn't get to all 15 titles because a few days ago--a few days before the last day of break, I took a look at my stack of middle grade novels I had hoped to finish as part of Winter Break #bookaday and I decided I was finished. I realized that no matter how many books I read before awards are announced in January, there are books I will miss. I decided that the reading was starting to feel like work and the pile felt a bit overwhelming. And I realized that even though I had read a ton, I had not read the one adult fiction book I have been hoping to read for weeks.

Around the same time, Pernille Ripp wrote this piece, On Book Quantity and the Damage it Can (Sometimes) Do, on her blog. I had just reflected on my own reading goals (and not meeting them) here on the blog last week. So I have some new reading thoughts going into 2019:

Mary Lee and I started this blog 13 years ago as a way to read and predict the Newbery winner before it was announced. It was fun and I still love that part of my reading. And I love knowing so many books to recommend to my students and to talk to them about. But I have learned that no matter how many books I read, there are books I miss.  I can't read everything and that is a hard reality as someone who loves good books.  Moving to 5th grade a couple years ago, I wanted to catch up on the 5th grade books and to be current so I knew that I'd need to commit a few years to that.  So I've been reading frantically to keep up with books that might be great for my 5th graders.

But, I've realized that sometimes my goals get in the way of my bigger life as a reader. I've been following Katherine Sokolowski as she has added romance reading back into her reading life, letting go of the guilt and knowing that she still reads plenty to recommend books to her students.  I love reading middle grade books--they are not work to me--I think they are some of the best books out there in the world. But when I limit myself to reading only the books that I might share with my students, my own reading life feels more like a job than an authentic life as a reader.

I have been wanting to read Barbara Kingsolver's new book Unsheltered since I purchased it the day it was published. I started (but have not gotten very far) Michelle Obama's book Becoming on Audible. I've had YA books The Belles and Children of Bone and Blood on my stack for months. And I keep hearing about There There, another adult book. I want to read. But I have made almost no time for books like this during the last 2 years. I have so many friends and relatives who I used to talk about books with. People who continue to recommend adult fiction to me --I miss talking to those people about books we read.

So I am thinking about just being a reader this year. A reader with a goal of reading 200ish books. A reader who loves to participate in Winter Break, Spring Break and Summer #bookaday. A reader who loves to share books with my students and to have authentic conversations about books we've read. A reader who loves to predict the award winners before they are announced. A reader who recognizes times when reading begins to feel like a chore because of constraints I place on myself. A reader who doesn't feel guilty about the books that I haven't read.  This year my goal is to just be a reader.  To be a reader who reads books and other things that sound good. To read books that stretch me, that friends recommend, and to let go of the guilt I carry about not reading enough, not reading the best books, not knowing the award winners before they are announced. 

I am going to keep in mind this important quote Carol Jago recently shared in her post Why Read on NCTE's blog:

"Love for books drew us to this profession, yet in many cases as soon as we were handed the keys to a classroom, our personal reading was put on hold. With student essays piling up, we feel guilty about picking up a novel. The lure of Twitter doesn’t help, either. But when teachers stop reading, we can easily forget why we went into the classroom in the first place.

Our adult reading lives need nurturing every bit as much as those of our students. To insure that we continue to grow as readers, we need to find ways to be nourished in the company of other adult readers, doing what we love to do best. Don’t think of reading as a guilty pleasure, but rather as professional development."

To kick off the year, in January, I plan to not read any middle grade novels. I am giving myself permission to not rush to read every potential Newbery winner and I am going to give myself permission to nurture my adult reading life again --without considering it a "guilty pleasure".  I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Poetry Friday -- The Moon

Photo via Unsplash

by Rita Dove

The moon is in doubt
over whether to be
a man or a woman.

There’ve been rumors,
all manner of allegations,
bold claims and public lies:

He’s belligerent. She’s in a funk.

The moon. Today, January 3, 2019, the Chinese landed a rover on the far side of the moon. (How did I miss that they landed a rover on the near side of the moon in 2013?!?) 

Coincidentally, I just finished listening to Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. It was all kinds of eye-opening -- the lingering effects of Jim Crow, discrimination against women, the evolution of computing from human to machine, and that the cost of space exploration was seen as extravagant when huge segments of the population were economically depressed (suppressed). Similarly, in this New York Times article about the Chinese landing, a citizen was quoted, “The economy is bad,” she said. “Is it really a good thing for the country to spend recklessly?” Echoes of the past.

And my birthday/Christmas present got hung tonight. My sweetheart "lassoed the moon" for me. Five different phases of the moon, to be exact: handmade ceramic representations of waxing crescent, first quarter, full, last quarter, and waning crescent. Just like photos of the real moon taken with a mortal camera, this photo doesn't do the installation justice.

Sylvia at Poetry for Children has our first Poetry Friday Roundup of the year with a sneak peek of poetry books that will be published in 2019!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

My Year of Reading (and Other Things)

This year, I did not meet my reading goals.  I read 201 books and the goal I set was to read 250.  I looked back at my Goodreads Challenges in the past and I tend to set a goal of 200 and I tend to read about 200 books a year.  I guess I was feeling energetic and optimistic last year when I set a goal of 250.  

I am actually surprised I read 200 books. It was a very busy year of life. So many good things and not my usual amount of reading--even when I had time, I didn't seem to have the brainspace to read as much or as often as I usually do.  

In May, we moved from our house of 20+ years to a condo.

A week later, our youngest daughter graduated from high school.

In August, our oldest daughter got married.

And I was program chair of the 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in November.

It was a fabulously full year with so many good things. But it didn't leave room for much reading or blogging. I loved the year but have been glad to have some quiet time this week to get back to regular reading and to catch my breath and to try to blog again.

When I look back on my year of reading, even though I didn't get to all the books I had hoped to,  I read soooo many incredible books. I read so many books that pushed my thinking and that changed me in some way. Looking back, there are several books that have stayed with me--books that I am so glad I found time to read in 2018. These are, in my opinion, books not to be missed (so if you missed them, add them to your stack!).

It is easy to beat ourselves up over not meeting goals. It is easy to forget--when I look at my 2018 Goodreads Challenge - that I read 200+ incredible books and had a full year outside of my reading life. I think goals are fabulous IF we use them in a way that moves us forward instead of in a way that makes us feel like we are not enough or we should do better. Goals should help us grow and reflect and celebrate. I've been thinking a lot about this as I think about goal setting with students-I worry that sometimes with student goals, we give kids the message that no matter what they accomplish, they need to set a next goal, to do more. And that is not the message I want my students to get. I want them to celebrate all that they accomplish, whether they meet a goal or not.  I plan to share all of this with my students--I want them to know that I did not meet my reading goal and that it is okay -- that I still have so much to celebrate.

As with any goals or numbers, this year has taught me to be careful with the expectations I have of myself and how I measure them. Because 2018 was a year of great reading, great books and lots of other great stuff, no matter the number or the goals I didn't meet.  

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy 13th Blog Birthday to Us!

We can't believe that A Year of Reading is 13 years old today! Happy Birthday to Us! We love blogging and we love the community of people we've met because of the blog. When we started the blog, we thought it would be a one-year thing. Who knew?  Looking forward to another great year of talking about our reading and teaching lives!