Friday, October 23, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Autumn Acrostic

a tree in our neighborhood


At first, it goes
Then it is
Undeniable. Almost like
Magic, summer is gone.
No more shorts and swimsuits.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020 (with input from students on the last line)

My original last like was "naked trees," but "naked" is still a squirmy word for fifth graders (which I LOVE), so I gladly accepted this perfectly child-centric alternative last line.

We have been blessed with a glorious autumn, but my heart goes out to those who have had drought and fires, hurricanes and flooding. 

Jama's serving up warm cider and donuts with an autumn poem which, like mine last week, features an apple orchard. It's all kinds of perfect. Head over to the Poetry Friday Roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup and check it out.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Poetry Friday: "I am overtired"

by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

I know I've been perky and positive in the past about my remote teaching gig, and all of the positives are still there. But I'm here today to tell you the other part of the truth: teaching remotely is hard. So so so very hard. Sit at the kitchen table completely stuck saying over and over again, "I don't know how to do this" hard. Long hours hard. Just longing to hand out a worksheet instead of making everything hard. How can I possibly reach every child hard. Overwhelmingly exhausted hard.

So even though this poem is about apple picking, it is about teaching remotely. How it takes over every waking and sleeping minute. And just at this moment, on a Friday after a late night of conferences on Wednesday and another this morning (and I still have to get ready for math), 

"For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired."

Janice has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at Salt City Verse.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Letting Go and Holding On

Being a Remote Learning Academy teacher is a non-stop life lesson in letting go of what's not important right now, or what's overwhelming right now, or what just won't work through a screen. On the flipside, it is also a non-stop life lesson in holding tightly to all the things that are most important.

Read aloud is one of those most important things for sure. The workshop model, too. I'm kinda sorta making workshop work. Word Game Wednesday is alive and thriving. And I've managed to bring back Poetry Friday. 

I gave my students a slide show filled with some of my photos for inspiration. We started with 15 Words or Less and Haiku. Five students have poems they're willing to share today. I copied their slides into a Poetry Friday slide show, and today after we share, I'll offer a new challenge: write a Nonet.

Here is the Nonet I wrote as their mentor text:

of wish,
globe of stars,
summer snowflake,
granny in the grass.
Some say you are a weed,
but to me you are magic.
Even though I blow you to bits,
you never hold a grudge -- you spread joy.

Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

(Hat tip to Amy LV for the inspiration for the line "granny in the grass.")

Tabatha has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at The Opposite of Indifference.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Anthropomorphized Monkeys and Racist Stereotypes in Children's Books

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I LOVED LOVED LOVED The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee from the minute it was published. I am a HUGE Marla Frazee fan and love all of her work. Walk On! and The Farmer and the Clown are definitely two of my favorite picture books.

So I was VERY excited to read that this wordless book, The Farmer and the Clown, was going to grow into a trilogy! What a treat!  I couldn't wait to get a copy.

Then, I saw the title of the second book and I worried: The Farmer and the Monkey.

I have only recently started to pay attention to monkeys in children's literature. Edith Campbell led a Highlights Foundation workshop that I attended last year where she shared the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature. She writes a bit about it here. The idea was new to me then (which in itself is a problem I take full responsibility for) and although I still don't completely understand it to the extent that I should, I can now see it as a huge problem.

If this is something you need to learn more about, Elisa Gall at Reading While White also wrote about this over 2 years ago in the post Knowing Better, Doing Better.

I am still continuing to learn more about this, but as I do, I am looking at children's books with monkeys with a more critical lens. I've recently realized this is something I've been missing all these years. When I revisit and learn more about Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Voices in the Park and others, I missed so much as I continued to share these books with children and teachers for so long.

So, back to The Farmer and the Monkey, the sequel to The Farmer and the Clown.

I ordered the book the day it came out. Even though I knew the issues with anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature, I was hopeful.  Very hopeful. I trusted that maybe since this was about a circus, it would be okay. As I said, I LOVED The Farmer and the Clown and I really wanted to LOVE this one too.

My hope disappeared after reading just a few pages of this new book.  This adorable monkey caused trouble the minute he entered the farmer's house.  It was clear from the visuals early on that this monkey was a troublemaker and misbehaved often.  This thread of this character as "troublesome" and "behavior problem" works through the whole book.  When I thought about this as related to Edith Campbell's work, I couldn't help but see how this was a problem. The racist stereotype of Black children as troublemakers is something that this book amplifies. 

I was compelled to dig a bit more.  I went page by page in the book and here are some problematic things I noticed:

  • The monkey appears to me to be sneaky. Before he even enters the farmer's home, he is sneaking around, climbing on the roof, peeking in windows.
  • The monkey is only in the farmer's house for a few minutes before the farmer sends him away--kicks him out of the house in the dark night. Alone.
  • The monkey is left alone in the night and is buried in snow while the farmer presumably sleeps peacefully, not checking on the monkey through the night.
  • The next morning, the farmer sees the monkey in the snow, (seemingly waiting to be saved), feels sorry for the monkey and brings him in and cares for him. but the monkey still causes immense trouble on the farm and although the farmer doesn't seem to enjoy the monkey, he is more patient with him. 
  • The farmer sends the monkey off on his own to meet the train/his circus family, with a full picnic basket strapped to his back so that finally the farmer can rest peacefully on a haystack. The ending shows that the farmer's life is much better after he sends the monkey away.
Even after noticing these things, I was still a tiny bit hopeful. I remembered the clown in the first book being troublesome too, so I went back and compared the books, page by page, assuming I might see that the clown had been similar in character but that I forgot.  Here is what I noticed:

  • The clown visibly presents as a white child.
  • When the farmer sees the clown all alone, he immediately takes him in and cares for him, holding his hand as they walk to the farmer's house. The clown seems compliant and happy to have the farmer as a friend almost immediately. This is a huge contrast from the monkey, sneaking in and causing trouble immediately and the farmer becoming flustered.
  • In the home, the little clown is sweet and compliant. He does everything the farmer does.
  • The farmer is so loving toward the clown that the clown sleeps in the farmer's bed while the farmer stays awake making sure the clown is comfortable. In contrast, the farmer sleeps in his own bed while the monkey sleeps on the floor in a small picnic basket, or even stays awake at night while the farmer sleeps.
  • The clown was NEVER kicked out of the farmer's home. Instead the farmer did everything he could to help the clown feel welcome and to be comfortable.
  • The farmer works hard to entertain the clown and to make sure he is happy. The clown also appears to be VERY helpful with chores on the farm. 
  • In the first book, the farmer and the clown go on a fabulous picnic using a full picnic basket as they wait for the circus train. They eat together under a tree. When the train arrives, the farmer holds the clown's hand and waits until the family comes out and greets him. The farmer and the clown have an emotional goodbye that is filled with hugs and love. The farmer seems to keep the clown's hat to remember him.
  •  In contrast, the monkey is sent on his own, loaded down with a heavy picnic basket that they packed with food. Instead of hugs and love, the farmer shakes the monkey's hand and sends him off, without enjoying the meal together, never making sure he gets where he is going.
  • The farmer appears relieved when the monkey is gone as he rests on the haystack.

After learning from Edith Campbell and others, this is the first time that I have actually SEEN for myself -- without someone else pointing them out -- the racist stereotypes and the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys in a children's book. When I look at these two characters critically, I now see a sweet white child and a troublesome monkey. I see too many anti-Black messages in this book to look away. I am not the only one who has concerns about this book. Michelle Knott also mentioned her concerns in a recent blog post.

As I said earlier, this understanding about anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature is new to me and I imagine it is new to many educators, authors, parents and publishers. I hope that we can all do better now that this information about the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys is readily available for us.

It is not my intent for this post to end up starting a conversation about this specific book, but instead for it to act as a call for all of us who work with children and children's books to commit to learning, understanding and critically analyzing books with monkeys and to understand the problematic history of these images.

I will continue to be a huge Marla Frazee fan even if I cannot be a supporter of this book.  I am hoping that that authors and publishers take this issue of monkeys in picture books more seriously in the future.

If you'd like to learn more, here are a few things I've read:

Edith Campbell reminds us in her post about Grumpy Monkey, "Regardless of the creator’s intent, there are social, cultural and political forces that shape the messages we find in books. Hundreds of years of equating blacks with simians cannot help but be seen in anthropomorphic pictures books"

Friday, September 25, 2020

Poetry Friday: Not Ponderous


photo via Unsplash

The World Itself is Not Ponderous

Feathers and giggles,
monarch's first flight,
petals unfurling,
equinox light.

Leaves in the fall,
bulbs in the spring,
in the yard after rain --
a fairy ring.

Fleetingly brief.
Here and then gone.
Like the flash of lightning,
or a chickadee's song.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

I am joining the Poetry Seven's monthly challenge to explore "ponderous" or "hippo" or both. I went with "or neither" when I got weighed down (ponderously) by The Heavy Issues of Humankind. I did so want to include the factoid that the collective noun for hippos is a bloat. But that poem didn't happen. What I realized became the title of my poem, which was written in one of the "flipside" parts (if you remember my NPM project) of remote teaching -- two hours of silence while I proctored a test through my screen. 

Happy Autumn! Happy Almost October!

Jone has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at her new website.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Orion

Photo via Unsplash

Winter Stars
by Sara Teasdale

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

I go out alone into the early morning dark almost every day to walk through the neighborhood. From August through late December, Orion keeps me company. His constancy, and the constancy of the stars, give me hope.

Matt has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Remote Learning with Spencer's New Pet: The Power of Wordless Books

As I work with teachers across grade levels, many are thinking about how to build community and create a space that is safe and inviting for important thinking and conversation. Whether they are in person and social distanced, whether they are hybrid and have their kids both live and in remote spaces or whether they are fully remote, this is something on every teachers' mind, as it is every fall. So much of the fall is often spent building community, learning how to have thoughtful conversations, building on one another's thinking, learning to disagree and learning to support claims and ideas with evidence.  This year is no different in that regard.

Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima has been a great wordless book to share early in the year. Mary Lee reviewed the book a while ago and I fell in love with it this spring when I shared it with my 5th graders. 

As a reader myself, I am not so great at reading images. I prefer words.  But I have come to fall in love with wordless picture books over the past several years. I have learned the power of wordless picture books, especially during the first several weeks of the school year.

If we want our students to talk about books in critical ways, if we want them to be able to talk about issues in our world, if we want students to learn to grapple with ideas, agree, disagree and grow their thinking, I find that wordless picture books are perfect tools for inviting students into this work early in the year.

This fall, I've been fortunate to work in a few Zoom classrooms, supporting teachers in their work with students.  Spencer's New Pet has worked so well with several groups of students. I find that it is a book children (and adults) of all ages engage in joyfully. And it provides so many natural stopping places to notice and celebrate thinking and talk. Because there are very few words, the book is accessible to everyone and children are anxious to share thinking as there is so much to notice in each illustration.

This book was good for several reasons. It helped start discussions around these important behaviors and strategies:

  • changing thinking is something readers do
  • readers support thinking with evidence
  • building on ideas of others is valued here
  • we think before, during and after we read
  • reading is about more than words; it is about thinking and understanding
  • we think in so many different ways as we read
  • there is power in rereading 
  • creators make so many decisions that help us understand

Spencer's New Pet is my most recent favorite wordless book, but I have several and I am always on the lookout for a new favorite to share with students.  Sharing a few wordless picture books over the first several weeks of school helps build an intellectual community of talk and collaborative thinking.   Here is a link to some other wordless books that are perfect for remote learning. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Poetry Friday -- How to Be a Poet


image via Unsplash

How to Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.  

    You can read the other two sections of this wise poem at the Poetry Foundation.  I'm sharing it today as a reminder to myself. Maybe you needed to hear that, too?

    Kiesha has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Whispers From the Ridge.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Writing Workshop: The Possibilities for Remote Learning

The struggles of remote teaching and learning are real. Figuring out how to hold onto best practices with 29 students on a Zoom call is tricky at best. But as always, educators are figuring it out! I am amazed at all that teachers are doing to make this the best possible experience for students of all ages. 

This week, Seth's Godin's blog post, Self-Directed, Project-Based Learning got me thinking again. 

Since spring, I've been reflecting on my experiences with remote teaching. As I work with teachers now, I continue to think about what worked and what didn't when we moved to remote teaching last year. I am also thinking about the possibilities and surprise joys that came with remote teaching and learning. One thing I discovered was that Writing Workshop was an area that allowed me to offer choice and good teaching while making sure to meet required standards. I see how much is possible with remote teaching when it comes to writing.

I wrote a bit about it here after learning a bit from Julie Johnson on the blog this spring. I created a board for students that focused on writing choices and also met the standards that needed to be covered. Each choice led to a slideshow specific to the genre that helped kids do a bit of their own study while still having the support of our live writing workshop sessions.

I was mostly focused on providing choice and independence at that point. But once I opened up possibilities for kids, so many more good things happened.

Writing Workshop in a remote learning setting reminded me of the thing I know but sometimes forget when I am caught up in the day-to-day work of teaching--the more I let go and the more choices I give students, the more authentic and rich their writing experiences are and the more they learn and grow. The more choice and ownership I gave to students, the more they were able to do as writers and the more they were able to surprise me with their brilliance.

When given the choice, lots of time, and response from both home and school, students came up with so many great ideas:

  • One student created her own cooking show, using some of her favorite TV shows as mentors for her writing.
  • One student created a news show with her older sister and together they crafted stories, created a set and recorded those.
  • One student created a new version of a board game with directions on how to play.
  • One student interviewed family members about a memory, so that all perspectives could be part of the final piece.
  • A student who has major talent in art had time to create several pages of a graphic novel.
  • A student created the first chapter of Frozen fan fiction, planning to go on to write more over the summer.

One big lesson for me was when one of my students shared her process in creating a podcast. She had enjoyed the podcast series The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel and wanted to create her own fiction/fantasy podcast. We met several times in small groups and one day she said, laughing, "I spent all day yesterday looking for just the right sound effects. I found so many apps and so many sound effects. I wanted to find the perfect ones!" (You can listen to the podcast, "Sabrina and the Unexpected Fortune" below.)

In that moment I realized that the things we know that are important to any writing workshop (time, choice and response), were already so much a part of this pandemic life. Even though we provide these things in the classroom writing workshop, much has been taken away over the years because of time constraints, district mandates, state testing, etc.). In school, time for writing is limited, but because students had extra down time due to the pandemic, writing became playful and fun and so authentic. They could spend as much time as they needed or wanted to on parts of the process.  They were able to go above and beyond in areas of writing that they wanted to. It seemed so authentic. I know that when I write, I sometimes get caught up for hours on one word or on one sentence. Or I work to try to find the perfect image to go along with a message. This is the fun of writing on some days. 

When I met with small groups, students weren't talking about their writing pieces as something they were doing for school or because of school. They started talking about their plans for summer and how they might build onto the work they had done so far to write more. They were choosing to use their summer to continue work on some writing projects as they knew they'd have lots of time. So many of them were living their outside-of-school lives as writers.

When I gave this kind of choice, small group work fell into place. I sometimes pulled groups based on the kind of writing they were doing but then other times we'd meet as a group based on the specific elements they wanted feedback on. When kids work on a variety of pieces, there are so many opportunities for teaching and learning from each other. The standards were so much easier to "cover" when there were so many different things going on in the classroom. 
  • Kids were exposed to writing they may never have thought of trying.
  • We could talk about craft across genres--word choice, conclusions, organization are important no matter the genre or format. This allowed students to see the ways skills could transfer.
  • Mentor texts became more important. I provided several but then students found some of their own as needed during the creation process.
  • Writers were not only learning about the kinds of writing they were doing themselves, but as participants in the writing community, they were learning about the many kinds of writing that others were engaged in.
  • Minilessons could be built using student work and could easily be planned to transfer to any kind of writing.
I'm certainly not saying that we need a whole year without time limits or units of study based on genre or craft. But what I relearned about writing workshop is that time is something that kids have a lot of these days, something that isn't always the case and something that is often limited during the school day. And when writers have time, choice and response, they do brilliant things. So many of my students took full advantage of that extra time they had at home to create things they were proud of--partly because of the time and partly because of the choice.  I'm saying that it might be a good opportunity for us to rethink how much time, choice, and authentic response has maybe been taken away from kids in writing over the last decade or so. I'm saying that maybe we should take advantage of this time to help students see all that is possible as writers.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Unlearning and Relearning History: A Text Set on Women's Suffrage

After reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi realized how much I don't know about history. So, I set out to learn more. Early this summer I picked up the book Lifting as We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne thinking it would be a quick read. It is not long and meant for middle grade/middle school.

I thought I knew a lot about women's rights but realized immediately that this was not going to be a quick read.  I realized that what I knew was VERY limited and that there were so many women whose work I did not know.  

And then I started seeing so much about the 100th Anniversary of women's right to vote and so much of it left out the important fact that not all women were given the right to vote at that time. The fight for voting rights was not over.

I don't know enough about this but I know that there is a lot I have to learn. So, I decided I had to build my own text set and approach this a little differently. I needed a bit more background knowledge, some highlighters and lots of pieces to read and build understanding over time. 

One thing I have learned is that when I build a text set for myself, it also works well in the classroom and when I am working with teachers to plan. When I learn, I have better resources to share with students. And I must admit that so much of what I learn about history lately is from incredible books written for children. These are the kind of text sets we need to build--for ourselves AND for our students. 

There aren't a lot of books out there about people other than those we hear about often in the fight for women's right to vote. But there are several.

None of these books have all of the info or all of the voices so I will have to be a critical reader, asking myself these questions as I go. I need to really think about what is missing and who is included in each of these books. And I won't be finished learning when I finish this text set. It will be only the beginning but I am hoping it builds enough background knowledge for me to have a better sense of history.

Maybe if we build text sets like these, students today won't have to unlearn and relearn history the way that I have had to.

Here are the books I plan to read over the next several weeks or months. And then I'll go back to Lifting as We Climb.

Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America by Deborah Diesen

This picture book explains the sequence of the fight for voter's rights and that it is continued work. The simple text is great to show the events and battles fought for voter rights and there is information at the end of the book that adds more.

Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Veronica Chambers and the Staff at the New York Times is a 100-page book that is told in narrative. The book begins with the words..."Here are some suffragists you may have learned about..." (above images of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other white women). "...but there are lots more you should know!" above images of a much larger number of women who were part of this fight. This book is filled with information, artifacts and photos and is written for middle grade/middle school readers.

History Smashers: Women's Right to Vote by Kate Messner

If you don't know this new series by Kate Messner, it is a great series for middle grade, middle school and anyone who is relearning so much history. This one on the Women's Right to Vote is an important one for this topic.  These books are chapter book length (about 200 pages) and filled with information that we may not have learned. There are also many great resources that can be explore independently after reading.  The tone of this series is conversational and accessible. 

Voice of Freedom: Frannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford is a picture book biography. I am truly alarmed at how few picture books are out there about BIPOC women civil rights activists. And even few specific to women's right to vote. This one is a great one and I hope we get more published about important BIPOC women.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers is a picture book biography that tells about Ida B. Wells' life as an activist.  Although this book doesn't focus solely on the women's right to vote, it does include many of the causes Wells fought for as well as events in her personal life. 

How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This book focuses on the part of the story we know best but it does include information on the discrimination women of color faced in this fight.  The way this is embedded in the story is helpful to understand the way the events played out.  This book includes photos from the events from history. 

There are several good online resources that have been published recently so I started a Padlet for myself (and whoever else is interested) with recent publications on the topic. Teen Vogue is a great source for relearning history so there are some articles from that publication. I have also found some podcasts, etc. that look promising. I'll keep adding resources. I am looking specifically for the pieces of this story that I don't know, people who I haven't learned about.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Poetry Friday: Dear Candy Corn


image via Unsplash

Dear Candy Corn,


Thank you for your jolt of too-much sweetness

at the end of a too-long day

that was packed with too-much

of just about everything.


I have had enough.


One small handful of you,

one day like today.


I have had enough.



©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Carol has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Beyond Literacy Link.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Looking for New Middle Grade Novels?

Even though 2020 has not been a great year, it has been a good year for middle grade books.  I am always on the lookout for books that would make great read aloud or great books for book clubs.  I think it's important that books we share with our students have lots to talk about and several entry points for middle grade students. This summer I read several that I'd put on my possible read aloud list. And of course, they would all be great additions to the classroom library. I think all of these are good for 5th grade. Some are good for 3/4 while others can work in 6th.  

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado is a new favorite. This is a short book with so much pack in. Stephen is is in middle school. He is biracial and is beginning to experience how he is sometimes treated differently because of the color of his skin. The book is well done for middle graders. It has great characters, real issues and invitations to think and talk about the ways racism show up.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller is a book that will appeal to a variety of readers. Lily and her family move in with her grandmother who is ill.  Her grandmother shares a story with her and Lily meets a magical tiger. Themes of family and grief are embedded in a story of magic based in Korean folklore. 

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone is perfect for readers starting middle school.  Molly and her middle school friend are tired of getting in trouble for dress code violations that seem sexist and unfair.  So, Molly starts a podcast to tell the stories of what is happening with their school dress code. The book does a good job of making visible some of the issues with a focus on the way girls dress and is well done for 5th/6th/7th grade readers.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is another short book (I love a short book for read aloud that gives readers lots to think and talk about.) In this book, Scoob takes an impromptu road trip with his grandmother.  This trip becomes quite an adventure with a few history lessons along the way. Scoob also learns a lot about his grandmother.

I am a big Phil Bildner fan and love all of his books for middle grade students. A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner is another book with so much to talk about and one that will appeal to a variety of readers.  Learning about the story of Glenn Burke, a gay baseball player in the 70s, and then sharing the story with classmates helps 6th grader Silas, share the truth about himself.  

The List of Things that Will Not Change is another brilliant book by Rebecca Stead.  Again, another short book with so much to think and talk about. Bea's parents are divorced but she feels confident about the list of things that will not change--promises her parents made when they divorced.  But even with that list, changes are in Bea's future as her father is marrying his boyfriend who has a daughter. Stead's writing is incredible and all of the characters are characters that will stay with readers for a long time.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim is a fun read. Yumi Chung wants to be a comedian but her parents want her to focus on school. She finds a way to practice comedy and make new friend but her parents will not approve. In the meantime, her parents' Korean barbecue restaurant is struggling and Yumi's sister is being distant.  There are great themes and great characters in this one.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks is a book with another character who will stay with readers. Zoe 's father is in prison. She has never met him but starts communicating with him in letters.  He assures her that he is innocent of the crime that put him in jail so Zoe wants to find out the truth. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Remote Teaching Journey -- Assumptions and Conversations


One of my new routines for this year is link to the CNN10 news for the day in an open Google doc with a table where my scholars can add their name, plus their noticing and wondering.

The first day I added this to our schedule (Thursday this week), there was a story about housing in LA and how homeowners are converting two car garages into apartments. I made the assumption that this would not be an engaging part of the news show for 10 year-olds, but recommended it as connected to our social studies standards on the topic of Economics.

In our end-of-day Google Meet, I shared how surprised I was that many had connected with that news story in their notice/wonders. One girl piped up that she found it fascinating because she wants to be an architect. Another loved that people did this not just for the money, but to help people have a home near their work.

Lesson: Never Assume.

In a writing workshop lesson under the doc camera, we began creating our identity webs this week. As I made mine, I talked about identity as the story we tell about ourselves. When I meet someone new, one part of my story often begins with, "I am a teacher." 

I went on to explain that identity is also the things about us that people see, and I added "woman" and "kind of old" and "white skin" to my identity web. I explained that I often don't think of my identity of "woman" until I am in a place where that stands out, at the car repair shop, for instance, where I am likely the only woman there. I encouraged them to think of the parts of their identity that others see.

On Friday, we watched this video about Ibtihaj Muhammad, which led to conversations about the meaning of the words stereotype and bias, and then I read aloud The Proudest Blue. 

Lesson: My commitment to be an antiracist teacher will not be revealed in big splashy announcements about my commitment, but rather in all the small conversations we will have (planned and unplanned) throughout the year. Being an antiracist teacher is a way of life, not a lesson plan.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Surprise

image via Unsplash


heavy humid air

a skunk was surprised nearby

exclamation scent

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

This will be the year that I'm almost drowning almost all the time. But I've made a couple of promises to myself. I will write a bit (even if a few words) each day. I will maintain my exercise. Earlier this week, I composed this poem in my head as I walked in the early morning darkness. A two-fer!

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at my juicy little universe.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Remote Teaching Journey -- More Realities

image via Unsplash

We had our virtual Meet the Teacher this past Thursday. 

On the one hand, having a new group of children on the screen in front of me gave all of the impossibly overwhelming work of the week up to that point a fresh meaning and urgency. It jazzed me up and got me excited.

On the other hand, the reality that I will not simply be teaching 28 children in the desks in front of me in my classroom, but rather 28 FAMILIES that I may or may not be able to see off-screen, but who are possibly-sometimes or definitely-always listening in to every word I say, took my breath away with the awesome responsibility for the careful choice of every word and the necessity of my absolute adherence to the highest level of professionalism every minute of screen time every single day. Yikes! When I make mistakes this year, they will be very public mistakes. And that's humbling (and frightening), to say the least.

At the same time, what an amazing opportunity to teach whole families, rather than just the children! I'm not going to lie -- I've been a little nervous about teaching our 5th grade standards about the history of the Western Hemisphere and about the forms of government.  How much of the truth of our history of brutal colonialism could or should 10 year-olds learn? How, in light of the crumbling of our country's democratic ideals in the past four (or four hundred) years, could I instill in 10 year-olds a belief in the values of democracy, when my own beliefs have been so shaken? 

How? I listened to the recent speeches by Barack and Michelle Obama, and Kamala Harris (glad I know how to pronounce her name correctly!!) and Joe Biden. I was reminded not to give up on the values of our democracy, and I was inspired to help a generation that won't vote for another several election cycles begin to understand the role of citizens taking action to make change in shaping our democracy and our country into something we can all be proud of, and that serves all citizens equally. Because I'll be teaching the families, and not just the children, maybe I can remind the parents what our country can be again if we, the adults in the room, take our civic responsibility seriously. 

What a year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Remote Teaching Journey -- Realities


Some realities we cannot choose (see cleaning supplies and gallon jug of hand sanitizer in the background). Some realities we can choose (see flowers and Everyday Offerings book in the  foreground). 

One of the things I am doing for myself this year is fresh flowers on the classroom table every week.

How about you? How are you planning to take care of yourself this year?

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Women in Politics Do Great Things


Friday, August 14, 2020 was the 85th anniversary of the Social Security Act, and for this, and more, we have Frances Perkins to thank!

Praise for Thanks to Frances Perkins
“Engaging… An informative portrait of an activist and advocate whose accomplishments are still evident today.” Kirkus Reviews
“Informative…guardians seeking a woman activist’s framework, with actionable steps that resonate today, will find this picture book attractive." —Publishers Weekly

“The lively text presents Perkins’ life and times, while emphasizing her significant contributions to society. Created using pleasant, subdued colors, the well-composed digital illustrations bring past eras into focus and show Perkins’ determined work on behalf of others. An informative picture-book biography of a notable American.” Booklist

If you want to incorporate early economics education in your classroom, check out this blog post, and this free teachers' guide from Peachtree Books.

Want to hear from author Deborah Hopkinson? She wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club.

Need a nonfiction text with a unique lead/hook to use as a mentor text? This book is for you!

So many reasons to love this book!! Thank you to to publisher for the review copy!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Poetry Friday: Learning is a Lifelong Journey

Learning is a Lifelong Journey (a Pantoum)

Learning is a lifelong journey
that can only be mapped
in retrospect
and never with straight lines.

That which can only be mapped
by zigs and zags and sudden reversals
and never with straight lines
is as abstract as the summer sky, or

the zigs and zags and sudden reversals
of a monarch's flight
through an abstract summer sky.
Learning is a lifelong journey.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Molly has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Nix the Comfort Zone.


First Things First

Remember that rollercoaster poem from last Friday? Well, we've dropped in. We're done with the ready and the set, and it's all go. This year, I'll be teaching at least the first semester in Dublin's Remote Learning Academy.

So much will be different this year, but just like every other year of my teaching career, I couldn't begin thinking about the nitty gritty details until I took care of a few other things first.

Before I could do anything else, I needed to get my physical classroom set up. I'm lucky enough to be able to teach from my room in the building, and I've designed a couple of spaces in my room for my teaching.

I moved my desk so that behind me is my big language arts bulletin board. There will be space for student work and new anchor charts. I'll make new homophone, homonym, and homograph charts that we'll fill together. I'll leave the message from Ibrahim and Mustafa to "Trust yourself, work hard, give your best effort every day!" and I'll figure out a way for us to continue the ritual of choosing a new word that we can BE each week of the school year.

I set up a place where I can stand to teach that will be perfect for math instruction. Behind me in this space is my number corner calendar and a whiteboard for math lessons. At the low table with the lamp is my doc camera. What you can get a hint of in the bottom left corner of the picture is that all the desks and chairs are stacked there in the middle of the classroom where our meeting area used to be.

This will be the perfect place to do live picture book read alouds. It will be like we're together in the picture book nook for #classroombookaday!

The next thing I had to attend to before I could focus on the nitty gritty was my classroom library. I'm still not sure how I'm going to get books in the hands of my students, but I want them to be able to browse the shelves of my physical classroom library. I created a slide show that has a table of contents and all the books "shelved" in one or more categories/genres. It's not pretty (yet), but I think it will work. I took photos of the covers of most all of my chapter books, plus some group shots of series books, cameos of some of my longer nonfiction books, and lots of my big anthologies of poetry. From the table of contents, a book browser can jump to any category, and from each category heading, the book browser can jump back to the table of contents. 

And now I'll work on my virtual classroom -- my Google Classroom.  This will be the perfect bridge to the nitty gritty. As I consider how to organize this space and what resources to add before we even get started, I will begin to be able to get my head around the ways I'll build community, assess my students' strengths and needs, and move forward with an amazing year of learning...for both the students, their families, AND me!! As Patrick Allen said it so perfectly, "Learning is a lifelong journey."

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Have you seen Zigazoo?


Have you seen the new app, Zigazoo? Zak Ringelstein, co-founder of Zigazoo describes it as a "Tik-Tok for kids."  I discovered this app early this summer. I discovered it right about the time I was getting disheartened with all of the tech tools that went against so much of what I know about children and their learning.  When I saw Zigazoo, I was so happy to see something that is so grounded in what we know about children and their learning.  This app is brilliant--it shows all that technology can be for kids. It invites playfulness, and creativity and joy.  You can read more herehere, and here

Zigazoo is a Video Sharing App that gives kids of all ages (mostly preschool and elementary although it seems fun for adults too!) a daily challenge.  The challenge could be anything from "What's the Weather?" to "Can you make a treasure map?" to "Can you make a hopscotch design?" to "Can you read to a stuffed animal?"  to "What math problems can you make with 5 things around home?" And kids respond with a video.  Every single day, a new question for kids to answer.

I love that the questions are interesting to so many ages. I also love how open-ended they are and how many different ways kids can respond. Kids can work on these alone or with families. They can spend 2 minutes or 200 minutes.  Everyone can approach things in a way that makes sense for them.  For families looking for fun things to do, this seems perfect. 

There are also huge education benefits. The topics cover pretty much everything from music to science to literacy. The app builds oral language skills as kids work to think through and explain.  It invites creativity and confidence. Kids in charge and sharing their own brilliance every single day.  And it highlights the power of technology. Zigazoo has created a safe online environment for kids to use technology to share learning and to learn from the ideas of others.  So many lessons about digital literacy and being a digital citizen in one fabulous app.

Zigazoo has grown incredibly since I discovered it.  They have projects organized in a few different ways and they are adding more exciting components. I see so many possibilities for families and classrooms and it is a piece of pure joy during this pandemic. It seems like the perfect invitation to use this time at home well and to create fun!

With remote learning (or not), I see huge possibilities for Zigazoo in the classroom.  Remember when I started the Solve It Your Way site? I have always believed that when we throw out a question for kids, they have the chance to show their brilliance in ways we could never imagine. I see Zigazoo as an app that does this--invites kids of all ages to show and celebrate their brilliance, to share their thinking and to find joy in learning. 

Zigazoo has also worked on safety and moderation and you can read more about this on their safety page.  

I had a chance to talk with Zak Ringelstein, Zigazoo's developer last week and I asked him a few questions. 

What is your hope for families and classrooms?

During such a challenging time, our first hope is that Zigazoo's projects and video creation tools simply make life a little less stressful by removing some of the planning burden. Our other hope is that families and classrooms can find joy in the learning process together by doing Zigazoo projects that engage them in the stuff that matters. Life is already stressful enough and we feel like students should be exploring and creating and dreaming and growing in their self-confidence with peers instead of doing meaningless busywork quietly over a video call. Zigazoo is built in the philosophy of project-based learning, where children have ownership over their own learning and aren't just regurgitating facts.

Which have been the fan favorites of daily challenge?

Students like hands-on activities in all subjects, but I have really enjoyed watching students fall in love with science! They've loved exploding ziplock bags with chemical reactions and making slime in their kitchen and doing "sink-or-float" challenges and making raisins dance in seltzer water. Of course, students also like to sing and dance and do yoga and find ways to express their emotions through social-emotional learning activities.

What features other than the Daily Challenge are on the app or coming soon?

Starting next week, teachers can create their own private communities where they can assign Zigazoo projects to students. In early September, we have invited museums, zoos, puppet acts, children's musicians, authors, and more to create their own channels on Zigazoo! Teachers will be able to use their media to jumpstart projects with their students.

We know that our students know how to use technology for entertainment. And, as I've said for years, I think it is our responsibility, as schools and families, to help our students see the power of digital tools for learning. Zigazoo is definitely a learning app that is also VERY entertaining. Zigazoo is a free app with so many possibilities for families and classrooms. Check it out!

Monday, August 10, 2020

#pb10for10 10 Pictures Books for the First Weeks of School

August 10 has become one of my favorite days of the year--one of my favorite holidays. And this year, with the pandemic and closed libraries and no book gatherings with friends, I feel like I have not been able to keep up on picture books like I usually do. So, I am especially looking forward to #pb10for10 today. Thanks so much to Mandy Robek and Cathy Mere for hosting this fabulous event each year.  This year, lists are posted on Mandy's blog at Reflect and Refine. I can't wait to see all of the lists!

This year, I've been thinking of how important the beginning of the year is, and how books help us anchor community and literacy early in the school year.  Intentional book choice is always so important during those first weeks and months of school and with remote or hybrid learning, the books we share will be even more important.

I choose books that invite starting conversations that will extend through the whole school year. I want my students to know the joy of readings, the power of rereading, the connections that help you understand yourself and those that help you better understand others. I want them to see that in our intellectual community, their contribution matters.  The books I choose to share early in the year let me get to know my students and my choices also let my students envision what our community might become. 

This year's list is a list of 10 picture books I'd share early in the school year--not necessarily during the first day or weeks, but sometime over the first 6 weeks of school, I'd be sure to fit these in.

Below I've included links to the books as well as a downloadable/printable pdf of the list that you can download if that's more convenient.

You Matter by Christian Robinson
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker
A Plan for Pops by Heather Smith
Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Saturday by One Mora
Be a Friend by Salina Yoon
Lift by Minh LĂȘ and Dan Santat 

(All books are linked to Bookshop. Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. Check out their "About" page for more info.)