Thursday, November 19, 2015

Focus on Primary Sources - Jackie Robinson

My kids love reading about sports stars, and when I ran across this material about Jackie Robinson recently, I knew it would be perfect for them.

And it was.

The National Archives has put together a fabulous set of resources, including primary sources and lesson plans, about this incredible baseball player.  A staunch advocate of civil rights for African Americans, Jackie wrote letters to several presidents, corresponded with NAACP leaders, and worked tirelessly for equal rights.  Fortunately, these artifacts have been archived and are available in digital format for students' use in the classroom.

They ate it up.  We began by doing a one minute quick write, to check and activate their background knowledge, and we were all surprised that very few students knew of him . . . and those who did had some pretty significant misconceptions.  Then we dove into the material, reading and talking and arguing and writing.  At the end, we revisited their quick write, and they were all astonished at how much they'd learned about the great number 42.

Of course, this isn't the only group of resources the National Archives is curated, but it is one that my thirders really enjoyed.

Which means they learned.

Home run.

Monday, November 16, 2015

What's Going On in This Picture?

My kids are LOVING this resource I stumbled across.

What's Going On in This Picture is a part of The Learning Network Blog at The New York Times.  Here's how it works.

Each Monday, The Times posts a new picture . . . but there's no caption.  You discuss it with your kids, closely analyzing the picture, and see if you can determine what is going on.  If you want, your class can contribute to the comments on the blog, comparing their answers with others from across the nation.  Then, on Friday, they post a caption, a short explanation, and a link to a full news story explaining the event.

We are using a lot of See, Think, Wonder with this, and I am amazed every Monday at what the kids are noticing.  It's great for getting them to slow down, really notice details, discuss and debate, and support inferences.  For example, this past Monday, my kids inferred that the guy jumping the fire was American (the clothes), that it was happening on or near a roadway (the tires and if you look REALLY closely you can make out the outline of a road sign to the right), and that it was likely cold (again the clothing).  Some of their ideas were right, others wrong, but they loved finding out on Friday how close they were to the real story.

It's easy to incorporate in your classroom.  On Monday mornings, I have the picture up when they come in and begin working on morning work, so they have plenty of time to really study it.  After the bell rings, we take 5 or 10 minutes to discuss and write our comments.  Same thing on Friday - it's up to remind them of the picture, we review what we talked about on Monday, and we unveil the story.

Since today's Monday, now's the perfect time to give it a try!

Because, you know, a picture's worth .  .  .

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Christmas Gift Giving

I know, I know.  I was saying it myself yesterday as I desperately hurled myself through calmly perused the aisles of Wally World.  

What happened to Thanksgiving?

The poor Pilgrims.  They have gotten shoved aside in the materialistic free-for-all that is now known as The Season.  

I have traditionally been a Scrooge about The Season.  It's just (as my middle child said when he was 2, sobbing in the midst of a mountain of boxes and wrapping paper) much too much.  Too much money and time and angst and stress and food (yes, food) and pretending that everything is great when what we really want to do is curl up in our flannel pajamas and sleep till spring.

Or maybe that last part is just me.  Sorry.

So this year I am really going to try to be less Scroogish, and I thought I'd try to do that by eliminating as much stress as possible.  And the BIGGEST source of stress for me during the The Season is shopping.  I'm not a shopper, for me much less for someone else, and knowing that "I have to have the perfect gift for the party that is tomorrow at 5:00 and my immediate shopping possibilities are limited to Fred's and Dollar General" really makes me crazy.

My goal?  Have my shopping done by December 1.  My weapon?  The Internet.  My mission?  Have meaningful, thoughtful gifts for everyone purchased and wrapped by then.

I love giving gifts that truly mean something (particularly ones that are local), so now is the perfect time to sit down with a list, a movie, a cup of coffee, and my computer and put some thought into my shopping!  And you can join me!

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite places to shop, where your gift benefits more than just your recipient:

I love to give gifts that donate money to worthy causes - particularly ones that are close to home.  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is located in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, and I have known many children who have benefitted from their work.  And no child is ever turned away, no matter their ability to pay.  They have lots of gifts available, from clothing to Christmas ornaments (my favorite), and a portion of every purchase goes to childhood cancer research.

Thistle Farms is located in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a community of women who have survived addiction, trafficking, and prostitution.  Proceeds from their natural body care products go back to helping women regain their lives through education and training.

Dolly Parton has done more to promote early childhood reading and literacy than just about any other organization I know.  Her Imagination Library began in East Tennessee and has quickly spread nationwide and internationally.  New parents register their child through her website, and kids will receive one book per month from birth through age 5.  And these are really good books, sturdily bound and carefully selected to appeal to young kids.  A sweet handmade card with a donation notice inside would thrill any teacher's heart.

Still not sure?  Check out Inspired Gifts, a division of Unicef.  Plus, Kid President (who happens to live in my town) likes Inspired Gifts, so how could you need any more reason to shop there?  You can choose to give desks, books, meals, blankets, and more to kids in need throughout the world.

Consider these options as you begin your shopping this Season.  Because what better way to practice a little gratitude at Thanksgiving than to make sure that the gifts you buy for Christmas give back, too?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Power of Perception

Watch this.  Then keep reading.

I watched this this morning.

And I wondered.

Do I do this?  In my classroom.  Do I?

I try really hard not to.  I like to think that I am open minded, that I have high expectations for every kid, regardless of what I know about them.  That I don't let my perspective paint a picture of their life before they've even picked up the brush.

But if these professional photographers can be duped, can't we?

Have you ever been surprised when the student who constantly acts up turns in writing that takes your breath away?  When you catch the girl dressed in head-to-toe pink reading Captain Underpants? When the shyest kid in the class offers an insight most adults miss?  When the kid with dirty fingernails and too short pants shoots to the top of the math class?

Let's face it.  We all make snap judgments about people based on what we know or see.  That's a part of being human, and to be honest, it's likely kept our species alive, this ability to quickly identify and evade a potential threat.  But in a post-fight-or-fight society, this skill can hurt us far more than it helps.  Because it can keep our most precious resource - our kids - pigeonholed before we ever know what they can truly do.  Before THEY can know what they can truly do.

And so they don't believe.  Because they know that we don't.

So my challenge is this.  Let's remember this video, and remember that every student who steps through our doors holds a universe of possibility within them.  No matter where they live, what choices their parents have made, the color of their skin or the thickness of their cumulative file, every student can achieve greatness.

Don't believe everything you see.

Just believe.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Caldecott Challenge

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have an idea of my passion for reading.

If you haven't, or if I have in some way made myself unclear, let's remedy that now.

I love reading.  I don't ever remember learning how to read, though my mother claims I learned by watching Sesame Street (yes, I am a child of the 70s).  I do remember reading being a source of incredible comfort to me all through my childhood and adolescence - and into adulthood, really.  I remember the cool oasis of the public library, with its cracked, vinyl-covered chairs and musty smell, that was such a relief in the sweltering heat of the Mississippi summers of my childhood.  I remember the sound of my mother's voice on the back porch, as we sat on a swing and she read to me from "Little House in the Big Woods."  I remember the thrill of being a library assistant in fifth grade, with the authority to use the adjustable date stamp to mark due dates in the book pockets and check out as many books as I wanted.  I remember waiting anxiously for the latest edition of Sweet Valley High to come in my classroom Scholastic book order. I remember getting lost in the worlds of Madeline L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, Louisa May Alcott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Ayn Rand, and James Michener as I continued to grow.  And I remember reading to my own children when they were little, rediscovering classics such as "Where the Wild Things Are," "Goodnight Moon," and "Chicken Soup with Rice," and finding new beloveds such as Harry Potter.

I love to read.  Reading has made me a better person, and it has made my life richer and fuller.  It has helped to make me successful.

And so I want my students to love to read.  I believe that students who love to read are usually better readers - we all are willing to practice something we love, right?  And the more we practice the better we get?  (If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, get it.)  I believe that students who love to read become lifelong readers.  And that lifelong readers lead richer, fuller, more successful lives.

The question becomes - how do we get students to love to read?  That is a complex question (hence the plethora of books, blog posts, scholarly articles, and opinions on the subject), but I believe that a huge part of getting kids to love to read involves reading a lot to find what they like - wide reading.  James Patterson says that there's no such thing as a kid who doesn't like to read; there are simply kids who haven't found the right book yet.

Or something like that.

I really should Google quotations before I use them.  But it's pretty close.


Now we ask, "How do we get kids to read widely?"  Again, there are tons of different ways, but one way I like to try is through a reading challenge.  No big incentives (I'm not a fan, but that's for another blog post).  Just a group of people working together through a reading challenge, talking and borrowing and sharing their way through great books.

I've tried a 30 in Third Challenge (similar to what Donalyn Miller does), and it was somewhat successful.  Admittedly, I probably didn't follow through as I should have with it.  But I thought I'd try something different, and a Caldecott Challenge sprang to mind.  We have three quarters left, plenty of time to read our way through the Caldecott Award books!

So, we'll be starting this week.  I've made a booklet for each kid to have to check off their reading as they go, from the 2015 winner all the way to 1938's award.  If you want a free copy of it, you can get it here from my TpT store.  For accountability purposes, I'm planning on having them take an AR test on each one.  Even though I have a love/hate relationship with AR, but that's for another post.

I have many of these books already in my classroom library.  For those I don't have, I'll probably be purchasing a lot - after all, these are the best of the best, so I should have them in the room - and others I'll be checking out of the library.  I'm also thinking that for long or particularly challenging ones, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we may have book circles during lunch to read it aloud and talk about it.

Also, I have never read through the Caldecott books, so I'll be doing it right along with them!  Eeeeeek!!

But, I hope that this challenge will get the kids reading some great stuff before they leave third grade - particularly since some see picture books as "too babyish" for older kids.  (Which is a rant for another blog post.  Again.)  And that, in the long run, it will help them to love reading.  There is a time and a place for "fluffy" reading, but there's also a time and a place for the good stuff.

And this is it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Book Checkouts Made Easy

My kids check out books from my classroom library, because I can't think of better reading "homework" than . . . well, reading.  Do I lose a few here and there?  Sure.  But as Richard Allington says, I'm way more concerned with losing students than losing books.

Or he says something like that.


The only big rule I have about checking out books is that they have to show it to me every morning.  They don't have to turn it back in, but I want to at least see if it's in their possession.  And, over the years, I have tried many different methods of checking out books.  I've let kids write their book titles on index cards (took way too long).  I've kept a checklist (worked okay, but still kind of time consuming).  I've let my class librarians keep a checklist (okay until it got to where I couldn't read their writing).

Nothing was convenient enough; every solution had too many moving parts to be efficient.  I thought about getting one of those fancy shmancy bar code scanners (which really appealed to the OCD side of my that, deep down, always wanted to be a librarian so I could spend my days organizing books, straightening shelves, and hearing the satisfying blip of the bar code scanner).

But then I ran across this idea!!  Disclaimer:  I found it.  I did not think of it.

Materials needed:

  • books
  • kids
  • iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • Assign this job to your classroom librarian.  Gotta love student ownership!
  • Let them use a class iPad or (as in my case) an old iPhone you have left over after upgrading your daughter's phone.
  • In the afternoon, each kid holds up the book they want to check out.  Make sure they are holding it up where the librarian can see their face AND the book cover.
  • Your librarians snap a picture.
  • The next morning, your librarians go around the room checking for books.  (See the need to have the face AND cover in the picture?  If not, you don't know who's checked out the book).  If the kid has it, their picture is deleted.  If not, the picture is left in the camera roll, and they don't check out again until it is brought back.
There are just no words for how fantastically simple and smooth this process is now.  I have been sitting here trying to think of words, but there just are none.

But I will use this procedure for book check outs forever.

If you are the one who thought of this idea, please contact me so that I can recognize you in some way.  You know . . . flowers, gift card, national day of recognition.  

The usual.