Monday, July 30, 2018

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby

I read a lot professionally and there are so many professional books I love--so many books that have become part of who I am as a teacher. So many that have helped me think about things in new ways. I love so many of the books I have read and am thankful to everyone who writes them.

There are a few books that have changed me, that have become part of my heart. These are books I go back to often--to reenvision the time I spend with children.  This week, I read Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children in School by Carla Shalaby.  This is one of the most powerful and important books I have read in a very long time.  As I started the book, I knew that it was a book that would change me.  Early in the book, I felt similar to the way I felt when I read Lessons from a Child by Lucy Calkins and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I couldn't be the same teacher after reading these books.  Once you see children through the lens of these educators, you can't not change the way you are in the classroom. Troublemakers is that kind of a book.

I don't remember where I first heard about this book. It may have been mentioned in a conference session or I may have seen it first on social media. I do know that I ordered it immediately once I heard about it.  I knew this was a book I wanted to read after I read the first line about it on Amazon ("In this dazzling debut, Carla Shalaby, a former elementary school teacher, explores the everyday lives of four young 'troublemakers', challenging the ways we identify and understand so-called problem children")

I've always been interested in identity and agency in young children. This book is written as four separate case studies. Carla Shalaby helps us know (and love) 4 children deeply--as learners, yes--but also as people.  Four very young children who are already labeled as "troublemakers" at school.  And she chooses children who are in classrooms with strong teachers who are committed to each individual child in their care. She helps us know each child and she invites us to look at each child through a new lens--a lens that can help us learn from them--a lens that can help us see the structural issues in our classrooms and schools that make school a difficult place for these children.  Through these children, she helps us to think about freedom, compliance and power.  These four incredible children help us see our classrooms in new ways.

As with any teacher, I've had children who have not "fit in" to the structures of school.  Students who cause trouble.  Students who I feel that I have failed. For me, reading this book was an exercise of hope, of study and of reflection. It pushed me to think in ways I hadn't thought before and it helped me to realize new ways to think about the children in our schools.   I learned different things from each of the four children in this book.  Each child helped me reflect about some piece of my relationship with children that I hadn't explored. Carla Shalaby pushes a bit beyond the case studies during the last third of the book and I have to admit that this part of the book was a little painful to read--it required true and honest reflection.  The reflection required in her conclusion meant I had to acknowledge things that were hard to admit, even to myself. I thought of children who I failed and what I could have done differently-what part I played in the "troublemaker" narrative.  But with that reflection, the author offers us hope. Not only hope--she reminded me of the power that we, as teachers have to make change, to make things right for our children, to move beyond the mandates and the constraints and to be change makers.

I have underlined more in this book than I did not underline. Every sentence Carla Shalaby writes is powerful.  And her writing is quite magical in itself. This is one of those books I am not letting out of my sight because I keep dipping back in after my first read-- to think a bit more deeply about one part or another. I ordered a few extra copies because I want everyone I know to read this book, yet I can't hand over my copy as I know I will continue to revisit it for a very long time.

I am not sure how else to describe this book except to say that it is a must read for every teacher or parent.  I know this blog post does not do the book justice and I am hoping to think more about it with visuals on Instagram and Twitter over the next several weeks. I have so much more thinking to do around Shalaby's words. In the meantime, I recommend that you get your hands on this book as fast as you can and that you put it on the top of your stack. But don't read the book quickly--give yourself time with the book as it is life-changing.

I can't thank the author enough for writing this book.  This book is one that has the power to change things-- to make a difference in our schools and in our world. It is a true gift to us and to our children.

*In case you want to read some more about the book:
A Page About the Book at The New Press
An Interview with Carla Shalaby
A Blog Post by Jessica at Crawling Out of the Classroom
Follow Carla Shalaby on Twitter

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Poetry Friday

photo via Unsplash by Stan Mart!n!

When the Moon is One Day From Full

and the kitchen counter is crowded
with jars containing caterpillars
and chrysalises,
it is nearly impossible to resist
the words

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2018

Catherine has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Reading to the Core.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Making Time and Space for Nonfiction--Some NF Books to Add to Our Classroom Library

I have worked for the past several years to add new nonfiction to the classroom library. But I definitely need more that will engage readers so I have been reading lots of nonfiction this summer. As I think about the Mock Orbis Pictus Award that we'll be participating in this fall, I am thinking carefully about the 2018 titles I add. These are four new nonfiction books I'll be adding this year.

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? by Chris Barton is a picture book biography about Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. This is an incredible biography for several reasons.  The writing makes the story very engaging for readers who don't know. Barbara Jordan. The focus on her work and the power her voice had works well and the illustrations are unbelievable.  I was happy to get an advanced copy of this one and have already preordered a copy---due out in late September.  

The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel is a fun look at mushrooms. This book is packed with information and it has a light touch in terms of tone--there is lots of humor in the text and the illustrations. This book is part field guide so readers can use it to identify mushrooms they find--and the author makes mushroom hunting sound like great fun!

Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals by Gabrielle Balkan is a book I picked up at a new-to-me children's bookstore--The Children's Bookstore-on our visit to Baltimore for Whole Language Umbrella Conference.  I love this book and didn't realize until after I bought it that it is by the author of a book-The 50 States- that was very popular in our classroom last year.  I love the unique way this author organizes ideas, uses visuals and writes in such an engaging way.   This book has lots of great information--I love the organization, the leads for each section and the writing.

Undocumented: A Worker's Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh is another one I'll add to the library.  I ordered it weeks ago. I haven't seen it yet but I love every book that Duncan Tonatiuh has written and so have my students.  Preorder it soon!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Being the Change -- #cyberpd Week 3

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

The last chunk we read was chapters 5 ("Finding Humanity in Ourselves and Others") and 6 ("Facing Crisis Together").

My response in the first week was gratitude for the opportunity to build another classroom community through the art of teaching. In the second week, books I was reading aligned with the concepts in Being the Change.

One book stands out at the connection to this last chunk:

Harbor Me
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books (August 28, 2018)

(my review on Goodreads)
Amazing book.
So beautifully written.
So needed for this country, our classrooms, our children, all our citizens RIGHT NOW.
So powerful...the power of talk, of getting to know others ("Others").
So honest about race and privilege and ability (dis- and otherwise) and family and grief and loss and prison and immigration. It's all there, but it's not too much. Because it really is all there, all the time.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Poetry Friday -- Gobsmacked

I never tire of the wonder of caterpillars becoming butterflies. That's why I've planted two kinds of milkweed and hope with all my heart that someday the monarchs who have started visiting will lay eggs. That's why I planted both raised beds with just enough basil for occasional pesto for us and a small forest of dill and fennel for the black swallowtails. That's why I keep bringing in a few caterpillars each time they appear and raise them to butterflyhood.

This morning's gift from the universe was being present for the moment when a caterpillar who had anchored to a dill stem shrugged off its caterpillar skin to reveal the chrysalis that had formed underneath.

How often do we get to witness a miracle?

My two pages of notes will eventually become a poem (or poems), but until then, here's a reposting of a septercet I wrote in 2016 for Jane Yolen's challenge on Today's Little Ditty.

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup today at My Juicy Little Universe. (I'm SO feeling the title of her blog in my heart right now!)

Everyday Miracle

Watching caterpillars morph
from worm into chrysalis
never grows old. Starting small

(teeny-tiny, truth be told)
they adopt a growth mindset --
after egg, it's grow, grow, grow.

They change caterpillar clothes
as they thicken and lengthen.
Then comes the ultimate change --

undigested food is purged,
silk belt is spun, anchoring
caterpillar, who lets go

and leans into the process.
Unseen to observing eyes,
parts that were caterpillar

shuffle, shift, reorganize.
What once began as all crawl
will become fluttering flight.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

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.