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! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom


Do you agree that children grow into the intellectual life around them? What sort of intellectual life do you expose your students to within your classroom?  Within your school? What intellectual life are they exposed to outside of the walls of your school?

Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids

Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids


There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing waiting for all kids to be finished.

Why we wait

As teachers, we spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for our whole class to line up before taking them to specials. We wait for the whole class to sit on the carpet before beginning a lesson. We wait for all kids to finish eating snack before we move on. We wait patiently for all partners to finish before we bring the class back together. We wait for so many things and we wait for many reasons. One reason is so that all students feel like they had enough time to finish what they were doing or saying. We also wait so that we don’t have to repeat directions over and over again. We wait so that all kids are ready. But when we wait it starts to cause issues even if we don’t notice them right away.

What happens when we wait

When we always wait for kids we create a culture of waiting in the classroom. Kids know that we are going to wait for all kids to get to the carpet so they take their time. When they know that we are going to wait there is less of a sense of urgency. Kids losing their sense of urgency is one the worst things that can happen in your classroom. It happened in mine last year and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Another teacher would take my students to specials every day. Every day I would leave my classroom at this time to avoid being in the classroom for the chaos that was created by waiting. Natasha, why didn’t you stay and help? I will admit that I tried but this teacher was so convinced that we needed to wait for all students to be ready before leaving that I could do nothing. Within a few days, I found kids slowly dragging themselves to the carpet. They came slow as can be to reading groups. They moved at a snail’s pace because their time was never respected. Their on-time behavior was never rewarded. They saw no reason to do things quickly and on time because they would always have to wait for someone else.

This teacher once waited for 16 minutes before leaving. SIXTEEN! Kids can’t lose 16 minutes of instruction time! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Repeating yourself over and over doesn’t help the kids. You might think the longer you wait the more kids will be ready. WRONG! I can tell you from experience, the longer you wait the fewer kids are ready! Threatening with empty threats also does nothing. Do you know what does do something? What motivates those friends to get a move on? Leaving them behind and making them catch up. Creating a sense of urgency deep inside their little hearts.

Urgency in the Classroom

Teachers would all pretty much agree that there aren’t enough hours in the school day to accomplish the job we have been tasked to do. Every moment my students are with me is a precious moment for teaching. We don’t have any minutes to lose! If you visit my classroom you’ll find that I frequently send kids off using the phrase “Hurry! We have no time to lose!” Soon kids start using this phrase to others and our class has a sense of urgency. My kids know (because I tell them over and over) that we don’t waste time on things that aren’t important. If we are doing something it is one of the most important things in the world. Kids know that they will be left behind if they don’t hop in line for library. Kids know that when I say turn and talk they have to start talking immediately or they won’t get their chance. They know that snack is over we go to specials and we leave kids behind.

Waiting is your frienemy

Waiting might seem tempting. It might seem like you want to wait for the class to be ready. Guess what? Waiting is your frenemy. It isn’t your friend. It doesn’t have your best interests at heart. It is going to suck you in and tear you down. In the past, we’ve rationalized waiting with things like:
Kids will feel left out if we leave them behind.
Kids need to finish what they’re saying in a turn and talk.
We don’t want them to feel rushed.

While each of these statements does carry some truth, kids don’t feel these things when we teach with a sense of urgency. Maybe kids feel left out the first time they get left behind as the class walks to PE. The next time the class leaves that child will be right in line with everyone. Kids who have too much time for a turn and talk lose focus and get bored. If they know they only have a small moment they have to share quickly and there is no time for being off task. We don’t want to create anxiety in kids by teaching with urgency but instead show them that we have no precious moments of learning to waste. None.

Students in my class understand that their time won’t be wasted. Due to this, we are able to follow directions immediately. We have a collective understanding that every moment we are together is a good moment for learning. What we’re doing in the classroom matters and we won’t waste time for kids who aren’t with us.

Changing Our Thinking

I hope this small shift in thinking is helpful in your classroom tomorrow. Try it out. Don’t wait for all of your kids. Of course, you will be met with some complaints but soon your kids will be following your directions right away instead of in a few minutes.

Leave a comment below about your shift in thinking, any questions you might have, and how this is working for you within the classroom.

Flexible Seating Without Spending a Cent!

Flexible Seating Without Spending a Cent!


*While cleaning out my blog’s draft folder I found this gem from last year. Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be expensive!

Get Real!

Imagine that you are on your way to a professional development session. You walk in, see your teacher bestie and go to sit down. As soon as you reach her table she shakes her head and says, “we have to sit in assigned seats.” As you turn to find out where to sit you have a sinking feeling and want to be there even less than before. You find the table only to see that it has the hard metal folding chairs and not the ones with the slight cushion, forget it! The simple act of choosing where to sit and what to sit on is important to us as adults. It is also important to our students yet we rarely give them this choice.
Creating a space in which students have options in their seating can be tricky. A lot of schools don’t have extra money to buy new chairs and tables. Many teachers don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to the furniture in their classroom. Teachers also don’t want to spend even more money out of pocket on seating. Here are a few options when you don’t have any options.

Consider Your Options

1. Take the names off of the desks. You have desks (or tables) and you have chairs. One way to create flexible seating is to remove the names from desks and chairs. Find somewhere in the room for student “stuff” to go. I gave each student a drawer in the cubbies we already had. We put our math journals in one bin and our reading in another. Students were then allowed to choose the desk they sat in. It wasn’t much but it was a choice. I arranged the desks so that some were alone, some were in partners and some were in groups. Students loved being able to choose where to go.
2. Consider the furniture you do have. This year I looked around my classroom and sort of inventoried the furniture. I had my desk, two comfy chairs, four tables, 25 chairs and two carpets. I saw immediately that I could take the legs off of one of the tables, lower it to the floor and put a carpet underneath it. I could also keep one of my scooped tables and attempt to trade the others.
3. Listen in. I was in a friend’s classroom and she was getting rid of her teacher desk. I heard and asked if I could put it in my room. Listen to the teachers around you! Sometimes teachers rearrange. Sometimes they get rid of things that you have had your eyes on. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for things if you notice fellow teachers getting rid of them. Don’t be afraid to offer a swap if you see something you want. My second year teaching I swapped a round table for a rectangle table. It made a world of difference in my classroom.
4. Snoop around! I noticed that we had a ton of desks in our elementary commons area. I asked if I could swap some of my tables for some desks. My principal approved it, six desks came into my classroom and two tables went out. Desks give you many options. I decided to keep three at a normal height and raised three up to become standing desks. 
Within a few weeks, I had transformed my space into something new. I didn’t spend a single penny. The best part is that my kids love the new space! Other teachers are taking notice too! You can use the things that are available to you to create flexible seating. It might not be the beautiful dream you wished up while on Pinterest late at night but it will be functional.

Another option

Donors Choose- Now that I am no longer a teacher in the US, I can’t use Donor’s Choose. If you are a teacher in the United States, Donor’s Choose is a wonderful option for you. Two years ago I wrote a Donors Choose grant for Hokki Stools. These are wonderful! My students loved those stools. When they wiggled while they worked, they worked longer and harder. I highly recommend writing a donor’s choose grant for something. Hokki Stools, or wiggle seats or exercise balls are all excellent choices.