Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Making Time and Space for Nonfiction: Being the Change by Sara Ahmed

Now, consider what kinds of beliefs can take root if we don't provide opportunities for kids to become better informed, if we leave them to ponder these questions with only their assumptions as their guide, and offer no time to mitigate their fears with knowledge. (p. 76)

I just finished reading Sara Ahmed's new book Being the Change:  Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara Ahmed.  This book is about far more than nonfiction but I do think Sara takes us on a journey and helps us think about ways to support our readers in making sense of their world.  Within this context, there is so much to think about when we think about the nonfiction readers in our classroom. 

Social comprehension, as Sara defines it in the introduction, is, "like academic comprehension, is how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship with the world We understand that the meaning making, or socialization, is learned, not inherited."  

Following the introduction, Sara takes us through her thinking and planning for social comprehension work in the classroom.  The first half of the book focuses on knowing ourselves, thinking about our identities and biases and the learning about others. The second half or the book focuses on being informed, understanding how our identities impact us, and  understanding others' perspectives.

There is much to learn from Sara in this new book and I am anxious to see where some of these strategies take us in our classroom next year. Sara shares her thinking as well as words she might use to model and share with her students.  She shares resources and strategies for troubleshooting.  This book has changed the way I am thinking bout the beginning of the school year.

Sara teaches us many things about social comprehension and nonfiction reading is a part of that. But the gift of this book is in the big picture of her message--the powerful ways to help our students in making sense of the world we live in.  Her message of student empowerment is a strong one and the ways that we can help our students respond to their worlds by understanding themselves and others and by understanding the power of being informed is critical for our classrooms today.

If you have not checked out the #cyberpd chat around this book, it is happening now!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Being the Change -- Cyber PD Week 2

The #cyberPD book this year is Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension.

In Week 2, we read chapters 3 and 4, which brought us from a more individual exploration of identity and the listening skills we will need to instill as our norms, to the strategies for identifying and teaching about bias and microaggressions in ourselves and the news.

I found two books that I will add to my classroom library and use with my students to explore identity and bias. (Truth in advertising/#teamworkrocks -- Franki alerted me to both of these titles!)

The Cardboard Kingdom
by Chad Sell
Knopf Books for Young Readers, June 2018

This graphic novel is a collection of short stories about the imaginative summer play of a diverse group of neighborhood kids. I'm thinking it will be my first read aloud (Kindle version), in order to set the tone for what a graphic novel demands of a reader, along with conversations about identity, bias, bullying, what makes a family...and more.

How to Be a Lion
by Ed Vere
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, June 26, 2018

The world expects a lion to be fierce and violent, but that's not the only way to be a lion. While this book might be too straightforward/didactic for some, I love the friendship between Leonard the lion and Maryanne, the poetic duck. Lots of bias to unpack, and Leonard and Maryanne find a unique way to stand up to the bullies at the end. They may not change the way others think, but they have solidified their own beliefs.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Poetry Friday -- Punctuation

poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
illustrated by Serge Bloch
Wordsong, August 7, 2018

I've been home exactly one day this week. Last Sunday-Tuesday I was at NerdCampMI, then Thursday-Sunday I am at WLU Literacies for All Summer Institute in Baltimore. 

That left Wednesday to catch up with friends at Fox in the Snow, repack my suitcase, and take care of the teetering pile at the mail table.

So. Truth in advertising. All I've had time to do is SQUEAL when I opened the envelope with the ARC of A Bunch of Punctuation. I haven't read it. I've seen the list of contributors. I'm taking it on the plane with me. I'll look for your extensive and thoughtful reviews and link them here. In the meantime, here's one that's NOT in A Bunch of Punctuation:

On Punctuation
by Elizabeth Austen
via The Writers Almanac archives

not for me the dogma of the period
preaching order and a sure conclusion
and no not for me the prissy
formality or tight-lipped fence
of the colon and as for the semi-
colon call it what it is
a period slumming
with the commas
a poser at the bar
feigning liberation with one hand
tightening the leash with the other
oh give me the headlong run-on
fragment dangling its feet
over the edge give me the sly
comma with its come-hither
wave teasing all the characters
on either side give me ellipses
not just a gang of periods
a trail of possibilities
or give me the sweet interrupting dash
the running leaping joining dash all the voices
gleeing out over one another
oh if I must
give me the YIPPEE
of the exclamation point
give me give me the curling
cupping curve mounting the period
with voluptuous uncertainty

Sylvia has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at Poetry For Children, and she has news about another AMAZING anthology you'll want to give to the person who does the morning announcements at your school!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Making Time and Space for Nonfiction: Mock Orbis Pictus Award

One of my goals this year is to make sure that nonfiction is more valued in the classroom. I want students to find nonfiction they enjoy reading--books they read because it's interesting--not because it's for school, a project, etc. I just want them to think about nonfiction in ways that invite joy and wonder.

One thing I noticed last year was that I didn't focus on nonfiction enough early in the year.  I didn't read enough nonfiction as part of #classroombookaday.  I didn't booktalk enough nonfiction. So this year, I hope to do better.

I think participating in NCTE's Mock Orbis Pictus Award will help us start the year thinking about nonfiction in new ways.  I spent some time this week looking closely at the Orbis Pictus Award criteria and I think talking around these things will open up great conversations around nonfiction--it will give us all a new way to think about and analyze nonfiction, which in turn will probably make us better readers of nonfiction. It will also help us think about credible sources, the ways visuals and text work together and more.

The Orbis Pictus Award criteria (taken directly from the NCTE site) includes the following:
  • Accuracy—current and complete facts, balance of fact and theory, varying points of view, avoidance of stereotypes, author’s qualifications adequate, appropriate scope, authenticity of detail
  • Organization—logical development, clear sequence, interrelationships indicated, patterns provided (general-to-specific, simple-to-complex, etc.)
  • Design—attractive, readable; illustrations that complement text, placement of illustrative material appropriate and complementary; appropriate media, format, type
  • Style—writing is interesting and stimulating, reveals author’s enthusiasm for subject; curiosity and wonder encouraged; appropriate terminology, rich language

So far, I've added several nonfiction titles to the classroom library. Some that I think will be interesting to think about as we participate in Mock Orbis are:

I will continue to keep up with nonfiction and am excited about approaching nonfiction in this way this fall with my students.

If you know of any great 2018 nonfiction books we should read and discuss as part of our #NCTEMockOrbis work, let me know in the comments! Hoping to see lots of people talking about this on Twitter and Instagram as we share great new nonfiction titles. Check out the link and join us!

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Being the Change -- #cyberPD Week One

The #cyberPD book this year is Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension.

I'm not going to outline the content of the introduction and the first two chapters. You need to read the book and glean your own take-aways. Here are two of mine, and a story.

#1--This is the right book at the right time for me. I wish I'd had it two years ago when racial tensions were high in my classroom. I wish I'd had it last year. I see now that those two boys aren't the ones who needed to change, it who needs to (who can) change.

#2--This book makes me exceedingly grateful that I stood my ground and remained a self-contained classroom this year (and hopefully through to the end of my teaching career). Increasingly, it seems to me that classroom community is the key element in all that I do -- in the art that is my teaching.

Story--One morning several weeks ago, there was a knock at the door. AJ answered it, and stepped out onto the porch to talk with the person. I admire (and defer to) his patience in listening to and engaging with political, religious, and sales people who show up on our doorstep. I was glad he was out there and I could remain in here on the couch reading. The woman was selling some sort of educational materials, he said when he came back in.

She returned later that evening. AJ answered the knock again, but called me to come and talk to her. She had been out knocking on doors all day long. It was hot. She needed to log a certain number of interactions (sales?) each day. Learning from AJ, I offered her a bottle of water, but she was carrying her own. With a thick Eastern European accent, she launched into a description of the product she was selling. It was a text book covering every subject (or maybe a series of text books and I just saw sample pages from each subject). I listened. I saw how the history articles were condensed into just the main points students would need to know to answer the questions at the end of the chapter. I saw how the math pages had the teacher explanation below each example so that when students were working on their homework (and look -- LOTS of practice work for students -- many, many problems for each concept) both they and their parents would know how the problems should be solved. I saw that her product could serve as the be-all and end-all for homeschooling families.

I listened, but in the end I had to tell her that I don't teach from text books. I address the standards and meet the needs of my students with resources and materials that I gather on my own, or that are suggested by my district. I described my teaching as art, rather than as the science of opening a text book to the next page. She was in awe. She had never heard of this way of teaching and learning. She thought that perhaps she would have liked to have learned in a classroom like that.

I had to send her away without a sale (I hope she was able to log a conversation with a teacher, theoretically a potential buyer). I reaped all the benefits. I was left with an even deeper gratitude that I am blessed to teach in a district that does not have mandated textbooks in the elementary school. A district that respects me as a professional and trusts the ART of teaching.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Poetry Friday -- Haiku

Click to enlarge

I love that haiku can be used to make fun of both life and haiku itself. In spite of its history of deep meaning and sparse wording, haiku can also be frivolous and a little bit silly.

Haiku can also be perfectly timed and eerily auspicious as well. We spent the third week of June in Germany celebrating the 90th birthday of my German "mother." (I was a Lion's Club exchange student in high school. The six weeks I spent with Elisabeth's family the summer she turned 50 mark a watershed moment in my growing up years.)

I want to be 90 like THAT!

This was the Daily Issa in my email inbox on Elisabeth's birthday:

old pine
starting a new year...
how many spring mists?


oi matsu ya aratamete mata iku kasumi

Tricia has today's Poetry Friday roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Making Time and Space for Nonfiction: Books for Writers

This year, I am committed to reading and thinking more about nonfiction in the classroom. That means I will make more time to read more nonfiction so that I know more nonfiction. That way, I can book talk it, share in conferences, read aloud and more. So this year, I plan to do a weekly series, "Making Time and Space for Nonfiction". Every (hopefully) Wednesday on the blog, I'll share some nonfiction thinking--a book I've read, something that happened in the classroom, some learning I did, etc. This will help me stick to my goal throughout the year and help me reflect on my learning and thinking about nonfiction
We have a basket of books in the classroom library that is rarely used. This is a basket of books for writers--books to help writers in some way. The books are fantastic and I've never thought about them as nonfiction but I realize most of them do fall under the category of nonfiction. Most of the books in the basket serve to help writers try something different.

I tend to buy lots of these because I find short texts are perfect for minilesson and small group work. I often use excerpts from these books in mini lessons or with small groups. But it is very seldom that a child chooses to go to one of these books on his/her own.

I realize I haven't done enough to teach students how and when to use these books. There are so many ways people enter books like this and I think a few mini lessons book talking these books, sharing ways to dip into the books, reading some parts aloud, etc. may make these more accessible for students. I also hadn't thought about helping kids see how online resources from some authors do similar things and that writing workshop might be the time you read/view this type of text. Creating a multimedia text set for writers seems important for the coming year.

One thing that I am learning already is that there are so many kinds of nonfiction--far more than any one list can cover.  I had never really thought about these as specifically nonfiction but I think the definitely fall into that category (or at least parts of each one do) and my role is to help make them more accessible to writers in the classroom.

At last week's Scholastic Reading Summit in Denver, Stephanie Harvey reminded us to "Look across the curriculum and make sure reading is embedded in every part of the day."  We definitely read during writing workshop but I am not sure we read the kind of nonfiction that would help us as writers during that time.  I am thinking I need a shelf of books for writers-something a little separate--even though all books can serve as mentors to writers, those books written specifically for writers may need their own more accessible space this year as I think about inviting more nonfiction reading.

Books in this basket currently include:

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

Our Story Begins:  Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring and Occasional Ridiculous Things They Wrote as Kids

The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection by Colby Sharp

A Writer's Notebook, How Writers Work, Live Writing,  and Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine

Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft and Life Outside the Box by Leonard S. Marcus

Online Resources to be Included in This Text Set

Melissa Stewart's Site-Revision Timelines as well as her Behind the Books posts on her blog

Write with Jess Keating: Write with Jess Keating Series--10 videos

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Lessons From A Bike Ride

I went for a bike ride this morning before it got too hot. I labored up a long, grueling hill with my eyes on the bit of the street just in front of my front tire. In the nick of time, I looked up and avoided a low-hanging tree branch that would certainly have smacked me in the face.

This experience seems to be the perfect cautionary tale for the school year. At some point, the newness wears off and a week can start to feel like a long, grueling hill. With our heads down and our eyes focused on only what is right in front of us, we risk shortsightedness and a reactionary way of dealing with unexpected things that pop up. Let's remember to keep our heads up and our eyes on the long view, enjoying all of the scenery around us and watching for low hanging branches. Let's celebrate the hill rather than cursing it, knowing that we will be stronger when we get to the top.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Making Time and Space for Nonfiction: Otis and Will Discover the Deep

This year, I am committed to reading and thinking more about nonfiction in the classroom. That means I will make more time to read more nonfiction so that I know more nonfiction. That way, I can book talk it, share in conferences, read aloud and more.  So this year, I plan to do a weekly series, "Making Time and Space for Nonfiction". Every (hopefully) Wednesday on the blog, I'll share some nonfiction thinking--a book I've read, something that happened in the classroom, some learning I did, etc.  This will help me stick to my goal throughout the year and help me reflect on my learning and thinking about nonfiction.

As part of my summer reading, I am trying to read more nonfiction. One book I read this week was Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock. I was expecting a picture book biography and I guess this book would fit into that category but it is a bit more.  This is the story of Otis Barton and Will Beebe who were the first people to discover the deep of the ocean.  Their Bathysphere was a device that they created to do just that. I loved the story of how these two men collaborated over time.   There is a lot to this story in terms of problem solving, collaboration, and adventure. This is a good example of a book that got me interested in an idea I didn't even know I was interested in before reading. 

The Author's and Illustrator's note at the end of the book give more interesting information and include some authentic photos. There is also a note from Constance Carter, Former Head of Science Reference at the Library of Congress who worked with Will Beebee.

The other interesting thing about this book is that it is illustrated by Katherine Roy. You may know her from her fabulous books How to Be and Elephant and Neighborhood Sharks. I am getting better at knowing authors and illustrators of nonfiction. Roy's illustrations are perfect for this story.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with kids this fall.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Why I Don't Like Music or The Truth About My Singing

Every child deserves the opportunity to become a lifelong reader.
                                 It’s All About the Books by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan

I don’t like music. It’s true. Friends are often surprised by this small detail about me. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I decided that I didn’t like music, but I know there were four experiences that have had a huge impact on my attitude towards music.

For my entire elementary school career, our music teacher kept me after class each week having me practice hitting a note I just couldn’t hit in class. She was very kind, yet always looked so very disappointed when I could not get the note by practicing it over and over again in front of others who were having the same problem. I was always irritated to stay after class but never too worried about hitting that note.

As 5th graders, we took part in a big tradition in my elementary school. 5th and 6th graders put on an elaborate music program. It was a big deal and very fun. It was something you looked forward to from Kindergarten through 4th grade. One day at rehearsal for the show, one of the 6th grade teachers came over to me and told me that I might want to mouth the words. At the time I was a 5th grader so a 6th grade teacher talking to me individually during rehearsal was a big deal. And I was old enough to understand that her singling me out to chat meant that I could not sing well enough to really be part of the show. I wasn’t 100% defeated until the next year, when the music teacher determined that as a 6th grader I would be an “angel” in the play—a silent role with some time on stage. And because I had a role, I would not be needed as part of the choir for singing.

Fast forward 9 years to college. I had to take a music methods course in order to become an elementary teacher. My professor was retiring that spring and one of his requirements had always been for students to teach a song to the class by singing it aloud. He requested a private meeting with me, informing me that in all of his long career, he had never heard anyone sing as badly as I did and he decided I should play the piano and say the words when I taught the song. He insisted that he had never had to ask anyone to do this but for me, it was important. During my lesson, he explained the dilemma to the class and asked me to promise (in front of our entire lecture hall) that I would never sing in front of children--as it would definitely harm them--just by hearing it.

It is truly amazing that I continued to sing but during my first year of teaching, I decided birthdays were too important so I sang “Happy Birthday” with the class when my 1st graders had a birthday. But I forgot that I had shared my singing stories with some teachers and the principal. My principal thought it was funny to “listen in” on the loudspeaker at the end of any day he knew there was a birthday in our classroom. Then he would pop down and make a comment about my singing voice.

You could say I am embarrassed about my horrible singing voice. That would be 100% true. It is really not a big deal, something I almost never think about--until it is time to sing “Happy Birthday." Now when it is time to sing “Happy Birthday” to a family member, friend or colleague, I just don’t participate—I disengage. If you are ever with me and it is a friend’s birthday, you may think it is rude that I mouth the words or I go find something else to do.

Because of this shame, I have just learned to live a very full life without much music or singing.

Imagine if these experiences had been in reading instead of singing? I know many people in the world who lead very full lives without books and reading. They have many hobbies and interests and talents outside of reading, but they may also have learned to avoid reading because of the subtle (and not so subtle) messages they got about reading from well-meaning people throughout their lives.

I am certain that my elementary music teacher meant well. She took her job very seriously and wanted me to learn how to sing. These were quick moment in her teaching life that I am certain she would not even remember or think twice about. But her first messages to me have stuck and I remember the weekly look of disappointment on her face clearly.

In 5th grade I stopped seeing myself as someone who could sing. This was solidified again in college and again as a first year teacher. In Choice Words, Peter Johnston says, “Building an identity means coming to see in ourselves the characteristics of particular categories (and roles) of people and developing a sense of what it feels like to be that sort of person and belong in certain social spaces.” (p. 23)

I think as teachers we all say and do things in the course of the day hoping it is in the best interest of our students. I am confident that all of the music teachers I had wanted what they thought was best for me. But they let me know over and over again that I was just not cut out to be a person who sings. Of course, we want students who can read, but we also want students who become lifelong readers. We want students who see themselves as readers and students who cannot imagine a full life without reading. We need to remember that in every single interaction we have with a child.