Happy Birthday, Sto Lat, Joyeux Anniversaire- Culturally Inclusive Birthday Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Sto Lat, Joyeux Anniversaire- Culturally Inclusive Birthday Celebrations

Birthdays are so special for kids. Teaching at an international school means that within your classroom there are many different cultures. Don’t think that there aren’t many cultures in your school though! That means there are countless birthday songs and traditions to learn about. One way we work to make birthdays extra special is to sing in as many languages as possible. Kids aren’t put on the spot if they don’t wish to sing in their native language but the opportunity is offered to all kids. This is very important when building a safe space. Students should never be singled out or forced to explain their culture and they should never be asked to speak on behalf of an entire culture.

We always start with English because it is the primary language we use in the classroom. Next, we always sing in Polish because we live in Poland. Last year my class sang every time in English, Polish, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Ukranian, Russian, Flemish, and Mandarin. Every single birthday! It means that you spend a lot of time singing but the kids don’t mind it at all. In fact, it just makes birthdays even more special! This year my class is much smaller but still with a lot of cultural diversity. Now we sing in English, Polish and Hungarian each birthday.

Recently, something exciting happened. We have a student in our class who spoke no English at the start of the school year. Throughout the year this student has gotten better and better at English. This student was sitting on our assistant’s lap (more about that issue here). When I asked if anyone else wanted to sing he rose his hand. I was so excited and so surprised to hear that he wanted to volunteer. He sang in his native language for the first time! My kids were silent and were grinning ear to ear. When he finished they all started clapping and cheering! There were also a lot of thumbs up! It was such a magical moment in our classroom for him, the other kids and for the teachers.

This is just a small but important way to be culturally inclusive within your class.

What do you do to include cultural traditions in your classroom? I would love to hear from you! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

I have to be honest, I have never been a big fan of shushing. Oral language is the foundation for student learning. We want to immerse our students in a language rich learning environment. That goes a bit beyond reading stories to them and putting words up on the wall. It also means creating classroom conversations and dialogues. It means letting them share their ideas with one another and it means not shushing them while they’re sharing ideas. Sometimes the most clever ideas and responses are the ones that teachers shush. 

Now, I am in no ways suggesting that we should just always allow students to talk all the time. We need to consider the purpose for their talk and allow a lot of talk time throughout their day. That is the way they will grow as learners and as humans. Take a moment right now to think about the kids in your classroom. How much time do they have to talk with one another throughout the day?

Earlier this year my morning routine had students come in, put away their snack, and read a book. I noticed that my class was a very talkative one. For a while I would remind them of the procedures and have them grab books to silently read. Then one day I had to respond to an email while they were arriving and I didn’t have a moment to redirect them. Instead, I listened in. They were talking about what they did the night before and were sharing stories and plans with each other. Regular chit-chat that most teachers have over their first cup of coffee. I love it! Why should they be forced into silence at the start of the day? From that day on I allow the kids to chat amongst themselves when they arrive at school and I can tell you that it has strengthened our classroom community. It hasn’t gotten out of control. I love our morning chats and I actually have less management issues throughout the day. 

Listen in while your kids are chatting this week. What are their conversations about? What ideas are they developing together? Does their chat sounds similar to teachers chatting before meetings? Try to build on the language in your classroom. 

There’s No Such Thing as a Baby Book

There’s No Such Thing as a Baby Book


*Please read the title in Uncle Vernon’s voice if you didn’t the first time. Just imagine how he’s feeling as he screams to Harry that there is NO SUCH THING as magic!*

The Unfortunate Event

Let me paint this picture for you. It was the day of the elementary book fair. Our kids had their zloty ready to go. Their parents had sent them with money that was burning holes in their pockets all day long. It was finally time! We walked down to our library and we listened to directions. If you didn’t have money you could get a sheet of paper and create a wishlist. If you did have money the cost was listed in pounds on the back of the book and you had to come and look at the sign to see what it would be in zloty. You know, a real easy task for first grade. When you were ready to check out you could find the lady and she would check you out. Any questions? Nope! My kids take off with such excitement to peruse some new books.

All around I hear calls of joy. “Oh my gosh look at this!” “Woah! Come here!” “Ms. Natasha! Ms. Natasha!” Suddenly the whole class is summoning me over to a little corner with shouts of, “look what we found!” I walk as fast as I can over to where the kids are standing to see that they have stumbled upon a book series we know and love. One of my favorite animals is an otter and we have a little, stuffed otter named Ruby. When I was in London I went into a bookstore (if you live in a non-English speaking country and visit an English speaking country you must stop in a bookstore) saw this story about otters and bought it immediately.

The kids were so excited when I shared it with them and because a lot of my kids started the year far below grade level they could read the words of this book! It was so amazing to share this story together- no matter how simple the text was. So, here we are at the book fair and they see this!

They were all so excited! They knew we had to tell the other first-grade teacher about the squirrel one because she had a squirrel named Pearl. The kids who had wishlists hustled over and started writing them down. The excitement of the book fair was at an all-time high! I walked away to allow the kids more room in that area. The librarian asked me a question when suddenly I heard, “GET AWAY FROM THE BABY BOOKS! You’re in grade 1! Look at the real books.” The book fair lady had stacked up this entire series and banned my kids from going back to that table. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!!!

Their little spirits were crushed. They felt insulted and betrayed. Hurt little ones came walking over. I reminded them that they brought their money and they could look at any book they wanted. Something that seemed like a fair rule to me but not to the lady selling the books. (Later when kids tried to buy books she denied it to several and told them to pick new books or picked new books for them because she didn’t deem them appropriate. We went head to head but I wasn’t the one selling books and my class had to play by her rules.)

WE MUST STOP THIS NONSENSE!!

You know what? Every time I pick up a book to read I don’t choose one that is my instructional level. For example, I love reading Buzzfeed articles. Do you think those are written at my reading level? Are the fashion blogs I read at my reading level? Are the young adult literature books I love so much at my level? NO! They are far below it. That doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter what I read it should matter that I read and I love reading. I love reading so much that I am always sharing what I read, no matter what it is, with my friends.

We need to stop trying to tell kids what to read and start encouraging all forms of reading! Stop it! So what a kid wants to read a book that is deemed too easy for them. So what that this kid only wants to read Elephant and Piggie but you have decided they are too easy for them. Don’t extinguish a burning love of reading by shaming what a child is reading. If a kid wants to read a graphic novel but you decide graphic novels aren’t books it sounds like you’re the one with the problem, not the kid!

There is no such thing as a baby book. It just doesn’t exist. If you are a reader you can read any book. ANY BOOK!

Truths About Reading

Different books in different cultures

I know that part of this is cultural. Children’s books in Polish aren’t written as children’s books in English are. Right now my kids are reading heavy chapter books with no pictures in Polish. It isn’t because they don’t need the picture support when they read it is because in those books pictures are an “extra” They weren’t added to help the reader gain an understanding of the text. When we talk about picture support that entire skill doesn’t exist in their native language texts. So, yeah it can be tricky to understand why the books they’re reading in English look more childish the books are just designed differently in each language.

Our school has a lot of work to do to explain this to teachers and parents and guests and administrators and children but this struggle doesn’t just happen at my school. Our librarian frequently denies books to children because she thinks they shouldn’t read them. Assistant teachers frequently rip books out of kids hands and tell them not to read them. Parents tell their kids to stop looking at the pictures and “read the book.” I know this might be happening at your school too.

Tell me your stories in the comments below and let’s band together to shift a damaging mindset about reading to a more inclusive and positive one!

Books I Read This Week

Books I Read This Week

"When a teacher reads aloud, it is a bonding between the teacher, the children, the books, and the act of reading." -Lester Laminack

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors

I saw so many teachers post about this story on Instagram and I wanted to read this tale so badly. Finally, one of my students checked it out from the library, came back and said I hd to read it to the whole class. I was so glad I did! 

This is the hilarious legend of how the game rock, paper, scissors came to be. The kids loved the story and the illustrations. It also helped us review our own rock, paper, scissors rules. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we shouldn’t be hitting each other super hard.

 

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Battle Bunny

I love this story. Birthday Bunny is the original title of this story but, as you can see, it has gone through a bit of editing. The story is no longer about a birthday bunny, oh, no, it is about a bunny that is ready to take over through battle. Will he be stopped? Will the other animals allow this?

Now, I will admit that it was a little tough to read with all the crossing outs and changing of words. Perhaps I should have reread it again closer to the day I read it aloud, but life doesn’t always work that way. I had to model rereading a lot with this one for both fluency and understanding. It’s always good to model these skills to young readers. No reader is a perfect reader.

 

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Owl Babies

This week we had a celebration of writing. We invited in parents and read them our published stories that we had worked on for so long. After our celebration so many of my little gems were feeling sad because they missed their moms and dads. What’s a teacher to do when the kids are feeling sad? Read to them, of course! 

Owl Babies is a great story about three baby owls. One night mom leaves and they worry that she might never get back. While one little owl just cries for mom the whole time, the other two show bravery and faith that mom will return. I don’t want to spoil the ending… but, guess who returns in the end? It’s a good tale to remember that moms and dads come back and even if you aren’t together now, you will be soon. 

Added Bonus: I had the British version of this text so every time I said Mommy I was told it was actually pronounced Mummy… oh kids!  I love how they pay attention to every detail. You can’t get away with anything!

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George and Martha One Fine Day

My first grade teacher Ms. Schultz read us George and Martha. Plus there was a mural of George and Martha on the public library walls. It was one of my favorites. While I was in the States over Winter Break I saw this book at Half Price Books and I just had to buy it. 

My kids absolutely loved it. They loved the way it told the story in five short parts. They loved George and they loved Martha. There is just something about these two. They may not be the most popular but they certainly stand the test of time. My little gems were so sad when the story ended that some of them decided to continue the story on their own.  Gosh! I just love when books inspire young minds. 

 

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This Is How We Do It

This year we started a cultural book project at our school. Click here to read more about it. This was a story that the grade 5 teacher shared with our class. This book is so cool and it afforded a really amazing opportunity for us to discuss our different cultures. This book tells a day in the life of seven different children all over the world. It talks about where they live, what they eat, what school looks like and so much more!

Our grade 5 friends created their own versions of this story about their own cultures. We got to hear about life all over the world and compare and contrast them to our own. It was really neat to see the kids comparing cultures. They came to their own conclusions that differences aren’t always bad; instead, they are interesting and they are what makes all of us unique. 

 

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My Current Teacher Read

Conferring with Readers

It had been a while since I had reread this goodie so I decided I needed to again. If you teach using the workshop model but haven’t read this, I highly recommend that you do. This text written by Jennifer Serravallo and Gravity Goldberg goes over the art of conferring. I love the structure of this book and the readability. 

I currently have two teachers in my classroom during reading that I am mentoring through conferring. While conferring comes naturally to some teachers for others it is a real struggle. This text lays out the path to conferring so beautifully. It is truly helping us take on conferring and helping us get over some of the hurdles that teachers face when switching up their practice. 

 

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A Cultural Book Project

A Cultural Book Project

The Problem

When I taught grade 3 in the States my students asked if they could take a look at our classroom library after seeing the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. We dumped out all of our books on the floor and separated them into categories. Books with animals as the characters, books with white characters, books with black main characters and so on. The kids were horrified to realize that we had more books about animals than any minority. We had no books about Native Americans- a fact that crushed my student’s hearts. Educators all over should recognize this problem. We need diverse books in the classroom that reflect the backgrounds of students in the our classroom. As an International teacher the same problem persists. This time the cultures are different but there is a lack of representation within my classroom library. 

Why Representation Matters

Children learn about the world through literature. They learn about friendships through the ups and downs of their favorite characters. They learn about the lives of others when they pick up biographies. Children learn about families and love. They learn values like respect, compassion, and responsibility through books. Stories help children make meaning of the world. When students don’t see themselves represented in texts it doesn’t help them find their place in the world. When they continually see families, children, or friends that don’t reflect their own lives they begin to understand that they might not have a place in the world. They start to see themselves as different and other instead of the important members of society that they are. When we don’t expose our majority students to characters and people who are different from them we are also doing them a disservice. We are teaching them that everyone in the world is just like them. This doesn’t prepare them to function in a society with many cultures. 

Windows and Mirrors

I try to teach my students that books are a mirror, reflecting their own lives, and a window, giving them a peek into someone else’s. -Donalyn Miller

Mirrors

Mirrors offer the opportunity for a child to see themselves reflected through the plot and characters.

  • Kids who physically look like them
  • Families who are have a similar structure to their own
  • People who love the same way they do
The list can go on. Students should be able to find books within the classroom that reflect their own lifestyles and interests. They need to see these texts to find their place in the world. They need these to know that they belong, they are valued, they belong and they will do great things. 

Windows

Windows offer the opportunity for a child to see different lifestyles reflected through the plot and characters. 

  • Kids who look differently than they do
  • Families with different structures than their own
  • People who love differently than they do
Windows are equally as important as mirrors within the classroom. Children need to be able to pick up a book and learn that people are different than themselves. Differences do not divide people. People who are different than what we know are not bad or scary. They have lives that are similar to our own and differences should not set us apart.

Our Project

I’m currently teaching grade 1 in Poland. While we have different cultures reflected in our classroom than in the States, I believe that this project could be recreated anywhere. 

At the start of the year we invited parents to come into our classroom to share books about their culture in order to begin to grow the mirror books (and for some the windows) within our classroom. First we requested that parents find a book, preferably in English, that reflects some aspect of their culture. 

Culture is a loose term and it can be defined in many different ways. In the international setting it can also be a difficult thing to pin down. Many students have parents from different cultures and grow up living in cultures other than their own. Letting families identify their own culture is extremely important. Having parents select books about their culture also ensures that the text represents the culture accurately. As a teacher, choosing texts about cultures other than your own can be difficult. You might not pick up on inaccuracies or biases that present themselves in the text. 

We asked that parents bring two copies of their book if possible. One intended for our classroom library and one for our school library. Once families found their text they could sign up for a time slot through a Google Sheet. Parents listed the culture they would be representing and the topic they would be discussing. When families came they introduced their culture, shared their story, and answered any questions that students had. These presentations built up a community celebrating differences and working to understand each other.

We had families come in and share about sports, holidays, legends, and so many more interesting things. I shared a story about cheese because I am from Wisconsin and it is a big part of our lives! The stories are now kept in a special gold basket in our classroom. Here they can read their own story and many other stories to learn about each other. 

How to recreate this project

  1. Recognize the need to add more diverse texts to your classroom library.
  2. Create a block of time for parents to come in and share cultural stories with the class. We used social studies time once a week to do so. 
  3. Explain the project to parents. Instruct them to choose texts that represent their culture. These texts can be fiction or nonfiction about any aspect of their culture. 
  4. Have parents sign up for times to come in and read. 
  5. Parents will come in and read. Make sure that parents feel comfortable within your classroom. For some parents reading in front of kids can be intimidating. Help them feel welcome and at ease within the classroom. 
  6. Find a cool basket to put these books in. Kids in my classroom love going to the gold bin and choosing their book or someone else’s book and reading it together. 
This project helped to create such a strong culture of readers and a family like aspect to my classroom. Kids love when parents come in and share. They are so proud to share a little bit about their culture. Kids love to listen and learn about each other and it allows them windows and mirrors through stories.

If you try this project out in your classroom, please let me know! I would love to hear about it!