Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Importance of Reading Aloud

World Read Aloud Day is upon us (info HERE) and I am once again reminded of the power of the read aloud. I grew up hearing books read aloud to me. My parents read aloud to us when we were young, and even as we grew. My teachers would read aloud to us in front of the class as the stories danced through my head. And I would, in turn, go home and read to my “class” of stuffed animals – practicing my read aloud voice, working on how to show a picture book so that I could read it and “they” could see the pictures at the same time. 

I’ve always known the importance of a read aloud.

As a grad student getting my degree in elementary education, I still remember my teacher, Barb Dress, reading Patricia MacLachlan’s Journey to us. I was mesmerized by her voice, MacLachlan’s story. At the age of twenty-two, that read aloud time was my favorite part of class.

Fast forward to my time as a teacher. I spend time each year deliberating what book will be our first read aloud of the year. And while I wish I could read novels to all three of my classes all year long, the time I’m given just doesn’t allow for it. Read aloud time in my other two classes consists of picture books, which are fabulous in their own right. Read aloud time for my homeroom is a mixture of picture books and novels. It is magical.

So far this year we’ve gone to school with Albie in Absolutely Almost, and had our heart broken and mended with him. We rode the train with Piper and Anna in Mark of the Dragonfly and watched a friendship grow in spite of all of the odds. We’ve laughed along with Jon Scieszka and his brothers in Knuckleheads and told stories of our own crazy exploits with our siblings. And we’ve met an amazing squirrel named Ulysses and an equally amazing girl named Flora and realized that friendship has no boundaries. Just this week we have learned about a girl named Ally and found the power of a good friend, and a good teacher. We can’t wait to learn more about her.

Read aloud time is sacred. It brings my class closer together and bonds us as a family through stories. I have even had a parent tell me this year that her child was in tears when he was sick because we were at a pivotal moment in Mark of the Dragonfly and he was going to miss it. (I read a picture book that day so he wouldn’t.) I’ve had students beg me not to have a substitute read the read aloud books because, “It just isn’t the same.” Reading aloud – I think it is the single most important thing you can do in your classroom. My year is not the same without it. But don’t take just my word for it, here’s the brilliant Kate DiCamillo with her thoughts on reading aloud.

Read Aloud. Every day. Every age. Just do it.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Celebrate This Week - March Book Madness

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

This week I celebrate friends with great ideas.

My friend Tony Keefer has done a March Book Madness with his students before. I’ve always watched and thought, “I should do that.” This year Tony has made it easy on us all and there is a website where we can all participate HERE.

I introduced this to my students on Friday. Halfway up the stairs to our classrooms on the top floor is a bulletin board. I put a bracket entitled March Book Madness and hung a sign that said, “Coming Soon.” They piled in the room in the morning buzzing about it.

In reading class I introduced them to the website and said that they had to help seed the books. I shared the list for the 2014 books and the books published before 2014. I explained that they each needed to vote for ten books only. As I shared the list with each of my three classes, they had the same reactions. All of the students were gathered in our meeting spot in the front of the room. I sat in the front, scrolling down on the laptop and reading off titles.

As the titles 2014 titles were read, I began to have some quiet cheers of recognition. Then, I hit the older titles. The quiet cheers became loud shouts. Campaigning began in earnest. Kids asking other kids which books they were voting for. Other students began grabbing books off of our shelves to show friends who hadn’t read a book. And all of this before we even have a bracket.

Students raced for the iPads, deliberating over titles, and making their selections. They studied the map detailing the schools that are participating in wonder. All of these kids were joining us? It really was an amazing experience.

This week was, at times, a rough one. I found myself let down by expectations. I found myself worried about small matters. Parenting was, at times, hard. My anxiety returned and was hard to dismiss. And my FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) kicked into high gear as I wished desperately that I could go to the Dublin Lit conference. But not once did my students disappoint me. They (and my own children) were the bright spot in a tough week and that is enough of a reason to celebrate.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lessons from a Walk

Today was one of those days.
Those perfect days.
A day off from school.
A day spent doing the things I love:
Time with family.

I knew I needed to take Rose for a walk,
And yet,
I put it off.

It had to wait until after…

The reasons piled up.

I don’t know why I always do this.
I have never come home from a walk,
A run,
A yoga session,
Regretting I went.

It is the getting out the door that gets me every time.

And yet,
Each walk brings an unexpected gift.
Time to be outside,
Time to talk to neighbors.

One walk recently
Gave me the chance to visit our former sheriff.
To talk to him about his dog.
To walk a bit together.
To share a grocery bag/ poop bag,
Since he had forgotten his own.

Another walk found a young girl,
Sprinting from her house.
She had to be about seven or eight,
And wanted so badly to touch Rose.
After she had hugged her,
She stood up and told me,
“Thank you. My dog is in the hospital.”
My own eyes brimmed with tears as we walked away.
She shouted good-bye until she could see us no longer.

Today’s walk brought an unexpected gift,
A forgotten memory.
I came upon a storm sewer.
And I remembered Luke,
He couldn’t have been more than three or four.
We were on this same walk,
With his little brother in the stroller.
I remember his excited cries,
“Mommy, the Ninja Turtles are down there.”
And how he hopped out of the stroller,
Crouched over the inlet,
Searching for the turtles,
Calling their names.

I’ve walked by this spot,
Many, many times over the past nine years,
But had forgotten the story.

One more time,
I realized the blessings of a walk.
A bit of exercise,
A chance to get Rose’s energy out,
A time to talk to people –
New acquaintances and old,
And a time to remember.
Time certainly does fly,

But I’m grateful for every moment.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to learn more about the link up for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week I got the chance to read several books that had been on my to read list for some time. I also found one complete, and delightful, surprise.

My surprise was Kid President's book. I loved the YouTube videos, and the positive message, but this book was terrific. I loved the format, the humor, and the impact that Kid President is trying to have on the world. 

There are two picture books on my list that I hadn't planned on purchasing. I was shopping in a bookstore and saw them. I figured I'd read them because I had heard terrific things about each, but didn't think I would buy them. (My picture book collection is running out of room in my fifth grade classroom. There are at least four hundred of those beautiful slim volumes on our shelves currently.) 

Once I began Red: A Crayon's Story, I was hooked. This is a story I need in my classroom. It's about being who you are, not conforming to other's expectations, about being comfortable in your own skin. Yep, purchased.

Matt de la Pena is an author I adore. I'd heard great things about Last Stop on Market Street, but again, knew I was out of room. Upon reading this book, however, my resolve melted. The grandma in this book is just awesome. Her outlook on life is full of positivity. I had to have this for mini-lesson discussions about how we view the world. Purchased.

Jenny Han's To All the Boys I Loved Before was a fabulous YA title. My book club meets Monday night. Our meeting completely snuck up on me. So I quickly ordered this one on audio, figuring I could listen on some walks this weekend. The problem occurred when I was hooked immediately and wanted to read faster than an audio would take me through the book. So, I ordered it for my Kindle app on my phone. The issue with reading on my phone is that you don't always realize you are getting to the end. While I loved this book, I will freely admit that I flipped the last page and shouted out loud. NOOOOOOO! That's it? What? I quickly flipped pages. Was there another chapter somewhere after these pages. Going online, I was relieved to see there is a sequel coming out this May. I'm not done with these characters yet.

And then there is Sarah Albee's amazing Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History. Holy smokes. This book is good. I love Albee's books. Poop Happened and Bugged are both hugely popular titles in my room. This one is going to be a hit. Albee takes us through many interesting fashion choices throughout history - ruffled collars, foot binding, codpieces - and talks us through the reason for the fashion choice and what the historical context is. I know my students will be giggling over the codpiece article for some time. I cannot wait to watch them discover this book. 

Now I plan on curling up with Circus Mirandus and enjoying my day off for President's Day. 

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What I know...

I opened up Word to write a blog post about Pearson, CCSS, and PARCC. After two days of learning about the test administration, I typed around three hundred words of frustration about these bleeping mandates that are taking away teaching time from me.

And then, I hit delete.

Because, truly, everyone can likely guess how I feel about them anyway. And while it irritates me to no end that I have to give five tests to my students in March – and three in May – they haven’t changed what happens in the four walls of my classroom on a daily basis. Because in my classroom…

I still work hard to teach children to treasure books.
I work to make my students understand that their writing is a gift.
I try to impress upon my kids that being a good person is vital.
I pour love into every child who comes in my room.
Every day.
And I pray that every child will see their value by the time they leave.

PARCC, Pearson, CCSS, and any other crazy acronym or corporation that comes along can’t change that,
And they really haven’t changed my teaching.

I know what is important.
I see it in seventy-seven beautiful faces

Tests scores don’t tell me what they know.

Conversation does.
Whispered messages,
Hastily scrawled notes,
Google Docs that are shared for feedback,
Blog posts,
Emails from former students,
Text messages asking for book recommendations.

I can show you the value in each of these items.

This week I saw beauty in…
Multiple Instagram feeds of my students,
Applying lessons from last week.
Sharing positive messages.
Sharing what they love.
Taking less Selfies.
Focusing on others,
Building each other up,
Not tearing each other down.

I saw beauty in…
Spoken word poems.
Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty.
To This Day by Shane Koyczan.
Used as quick writes,
I watched my students transformed.
I watched many as tears ran down their faces.
Apologies whispered.
Pure hearts unfurled.

I saw beauty in…
Words from my students.
Honesty about their feelings,
For me,
For their classmates.
Kindness on display.

I saw beauty in…
Not because a standard dictated it.
Not because I even assigned it,
But because they wanted to.
Because they wanted to try something new.
Desire and engagement,
Two qualities you cannot teach.

No, I will not make my students stress about these tests.
I will not make our year about them.
I will work to help my kids become the best they can be.

Because that is what I became a teacher to do.
Because that is what I was born to do.

These acronyms, these businesses, cannot change that.
My students will become more than they could ever dream they could be.
And I cannot wait to watch it happen.
I believe more in them than I ever have in test scores.
They are the best part of this profession. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Celebrate Finding the Light

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

Friday I came home in a bad mood. The only word to describe my state was grouchy. Chris asked what was wrong and I listed off a laundry list of grievances.

After listening to only about half of them he said, “Wow, and I thought I had a bad day.”

That made me pause. There was still SO. MUCH. MORE. But then, I took a breath. And then another one. I hate feeling this way. I needed to get out of this funk.

So, I started telling him all of the good things that happened Friday. Time spent with friends. Funny things the kids had done. Rose hopped on my lap. A former student, who is also Luke’s friend, came in the kitchen and cracked a joke. I took another breath.

Feeling a bit better, I scrolled through my students’ blogs, looking for ones I needed to approve. I ran across Logan’s. He had told me this morning he wrote a post asking for others to leave a comment in the form of a poem. He hadn’t told me why. I read his post and smiled. Then, I commented writing the poem below.


To express
In such few words.

It makes the words
You use
Have a bigger impact.

Poetry cuts to the heart
Of the subject.

You cannot hide,
You cannot lie.

Poetry is truth on the page. 

Finishing my comment, I closed my laptop. The boys all loaded up in our van and we headed to the high school basketball game. There I got to talk to some current students and former students. Looking around the gym I realized how much more relaxed I was than just a few hours before.

This celebration that Ruth has us do every single week is so important – even on a daily basis. It makes me realize that each day is a choice. I can find everything that went wrong and dwell on that. I’ll be grouchy and angry. Or, I can breathe. I can look for the awesome moments, because they are there too.  My life is full of them.

And if you are feeling like writing a poem for Logan, you can find his post HERE.

Or, if you want to comment to other blogs, my students would love that too. They are all HERE.