Sunday, December 8, 2019

Mock Caldecott

Katherine: Margie, according to my blog we began to host a Mock Caldecott together in 2013. Does it seem that long ago to you? It feels like we just begun, but when I see that my class’s 2014 winner was Journey by Aaron Becker, I realize that it has been awhile.

Margie:  I agree, Katherine. Hosting the Mock Caldecott with you seems like we just started it but also like we’ve been doing it longer.  All during the year, I keep titles in mind to use in this activity. It’s a time to share what we’ve enjoyed with each other and now, your students.  I love looking closely at books and their illustrators. 

Guess what?  I just did an email search and our first Google document for the Mock Caldecott was on December 5, 2012!  It was an initial list with 40 titles. I have been reading through our email exchanges and laughing out loud.  We had a really hard time scheduling Skypes with the fifth grade classes here that year because we kept having snow days and the time difference was a factor, too.  And we had not even met in real life yet.  

Katherine: Holy moly, I remember the snow days! You guys had so many that year. I also looked through my posts and notes on the Mock Caldecott over the years. A lot has changed. We began when I was in my third year of teaching fifth grade, my seventeenth in teaching. It’s interesting to me that this year is the fourth year of doing this activity with my seventh graders, which equals the amount of years we held the Mock Caldecott with my fifth graders. You’ve switched jobs and locations throughout this journey as well. 

Margie:  Yes, we did have a bunch of snow days that year and the next year, too.  (I believe the district had thirteen last year which, since I’ve been in northern Michigan, is a record.) I don’t know why, but I feel as though we started this collaboration before I took early retirement but, probably not.  I do know we collaborated on this when my two principals (elementary and middle) and I wrote a grant to have me continue teaming with teachers
 on reading and literacy in my last district for two years after my retirement.  I was the last certified librarian in the district.

Switching jobs and locations is an understatement.  In the search for a job, a promised job and an actual job I moved 4 times in three years.  Between houses three and four, I moved three times. Mulan and I even lived in a hotel for nine days.  I’ve volunteered in two different elementary schools and worked in two different public libraries. BUT, and this is an important but . . .we’ve always done the Mock Caldecott, either with other students or with me alone.  And that’s saying something about our dedication to students and picture books.

Katherine: Yep. Our jobs and lives are so different than when we started this, but you are correct, we’ve always come together to celebrate books and kids. So cool!! I know there have been many years where we’ve struggled to narrow it to a list of twenty, and sometimes we just gave up and had more than twenty. What are you looking for when you pick a book to add to our list? It’s hard, there are always so many good ones to choose from, we are blessed.

Margie: I know this isn’t the first thing upon which I should base my selections but after an initial reading, I must have some kind of emotional attachment to the book.  I need a connection. I also think a lot about how children will feel when they read a particular book. And any book for me, no matter the type, has to have a sliver of hope.  I then go to the American Library Association  Caldecott Medal Home PageI refresh my memory of the qualifications and narrow my choices.  I love to reread books, studying the artwork and looking at added details placed there by the illustrators.  This year someone on social media mentioned this website at the University of Minnesota which focuses on artwork in children’s literature.

Katherine: I’m the same way. While I know the ALA’s qualifications, I also have my students in mind when I look at what books I’m selecting for our Mock Caldecott. For example, this year I knew I thought Quintero’s  My Papi Rides a Motorcycle would be a book that would fit the Caldecott criteria, but the reason I wanted it on the list originally was I knew my students would love it. I shared that one with them earlier in the year, but we revisited it yesterday to look at it for this project and were all mesmerized by the page where she’s on the motorcycle with her dad and you’re looking at them from above. It’s breathtaking. 

Margie:  I love that bird’s eye view, too.  The colors are explosive. I actually bought this book in English and Spanish.  One of several books which had me gasping aloud is Bear Came Along.  Several double-page wordless images and a vertical illustration are stunning.  The other detail I enjoy in this book, in addition to the layout, perspective and color palette in those pictures, is the humor visible in the facial expressions.  I love to laugh with children.  

Katherine: Me too. One of the things I love about teaching middle school kids is sharing picture books with them and laughing together. At the beginning of the year they’re surprised that we will read picture books everyday. Then they begin expecting it and they find a joy in us reading the books together. 

Which brings me to our list. I’m so excited about these books we’ve chosen for this year’s Mock Caldecott! (Our list can be found below.) I’ve already started sharing these titles with my students. We’re ready to read them over the next few weeks and then Skye with you right before the ALA Youth Media Awards on January 27th. Thanks for joining me for another year!

Margie:  I’m with you.  Whether we’ve included a winner or honor recipient always elevates the excitement.  And I completely enjoy chatting with your students about our choices. Thank YOU for continuing this project with me.   

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Writing Wednesdays: What I've Learned from Writing

There is a lot that I’ve learned by actually being a writer in the teaching of writing. I understand now a whole lot more about voice. I do a better job teaching creativity of the fiction writing process. I can help kids get unstuck and find a topic to write about. However, I think what writing has taught me the most is how scary it is to share our writing. Hands down, I did not get this before.

Yesterday we were wrapping up a big project in Language Arts. Typically this ends with kids looking over their writing three final times - once on their own, once with me, once with a peer. I paused as we prepared for the day’s lesson, then asked them to talk to me about sharing their writing with a peer. How did it make them feel? Some kids said they liked it, it gave them a fresh pair of eyes. Some kids were indifferent, it was just something they had to do. A large group in each class said it made them anxious. These kids rocked and told the rest of the class why: they felt judged, unsure, like their writing wasn’t good enough. The rest of the class reassured them, they just wanted to help. 

Finally, I asked, how did they think I felt about sharing my writing? They all said I probably loved it. I laughed and pulled up the photo you see below of my husband.

I explained to the kids that the night before Chris decided to read the short story I just wrote for inclusion in a romance anthology. I told them he has never read any of my fiction writing before. I shared how nervous I was when he began to read it in front of me. How I felt like I might be ill. And how awesome it felt when he liked it.

I pulled up my Voxer app and my email and showed them how my friends read my writing, giving me feedback as they go. How Karen is my friend who compliments my writing and makes me want to keep going. How Cindy is my friend who notices the small details and grammar, helping me to become a better writer as I go. 

And then I asked if they could give the peer editing a try, but told them they were in the driver’s seat here. They needed to tell their peer one or two things they wanted them to look for. I also said that it was their document, no one could edit anything without their consent. So they needed to tell their friends if they wanted them to fix typos or grammatical errors when they saw them or if they wanted them to make a list. With that in mind, I asked how they felt about peer editing. They all agreed they wanted to give it a go and it went so much better than it has before.
I sit here typing this at lunch. Each Wednesday I stay at school for lunch instead of heading to my home ¼ of a mile away to hang with my dogs. I’ve promised students that they are welcome to write in my room during lunch on one day a week. We talked originally about how writing at coffee shops inspires me. It’s the feeling of being with people, but not. Of being surrounded by others who are furiously typing away, but not trying to distract me. I wanted to give that to these kids, and so we have. Each week, more come back. They listen to music, write, brainstorm, daydream, and eat. 

It is often one of the best parts of my week.

Being a writer has changed how I teach writing, just as being a reader impacted how I teach reading. I am beyond grateful for everything I’ve learned, and continue to learn, in this profession. It certainly isn’t an easy one, but it gives back so much more than I could ever put in. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Writing Wednesdays: Lunchtime Writing

Today was our second Writing Wednesday of the school year. Last year I had a handful of kids that asked if they could write with me at lunch time. Most days I rush home for my thirty minute lunch period. Ostensibly I head home to let out my dogs, which I actually do, but in truth I head home because I need thirty minutes during my day where no one is talking to me. It allows me to recharge and have energy for the second half of my day. All this is to say that when I agreed to have Writing Wednesdays last year, that was giving up something that meant a lot to me. 

Last year a small group would come. Spreading out around the room, kids would write on Chromebooks while I wrote on my laptop. We’d eat as we typed, the room filled with the noise of keys clicking and the Coffitivity app in the background. I told the kids I write best at coffee shops, so we brought that vibe to the classroom. Towards the end of the year we stopped meeting. Spring fever had hit and they wanted to be social with their friends. 

One of my students from last year must have told this new group of students about Writing Wednesdays because a few weeks ago, a student asked if we’d be having them. After talking to a few students, I decided to give it a go.

Last week and this week brought around fifteen students to my room for lunch. Again, we write almost the whole time, just taking the last two minutes to share, if we want, what we’ve been working on at the end. Now out of 125 seventh grade students, I teach 75 of them. I love that students I don’t even teach have attend Writing Wednesdays because they simply want to write. Today I sat with one and we discussed how to make a chapter longer, what types of things he could add. 

Towards the end of our time together, we were discussing what we were working on. I shared that I was attempting to write a short story for submission to a publisher for an anthology. That made us pause so I could explain what an anthology actually was. When the students learned that other authors would write short stories too and they’d all be packaged in one book together, a boy said, “Is Jason Reynolds writing one?”

I grinned and replied that the anthology was for adults and in the romance genre. Since Jason doesn’t write in that genre, he would not be one of the authors.

The boy replied, “I bet Jason would be a great romance writer. He can write anything he sets his mind to.” Other writers nodded as they grabbed their cafeteria trays to return them before seventh period began. 

I watched them go, grateful for this short time I have with these young writers. Grateful they have authors they admire and believe in. And glad that I got the chance to have Writing Wednesday again, even if I did have to give up my lunch period to do it. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Learning with My Students: The Danger of a Single Story

For the past two weeks my students and I have been learning about the danger of a single story. We began this inquiry with Chimamanda Nogzi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the topic. I’ve watched this Ted Talk over fifteen times over the last seven years. Each time I walk away with a new understanding from Adichie. Some of my favorite quotes include: 

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” 

“The consequence of the single story is that it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult and it emphasizes that we are different rather than how we are similar.”

“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise”

With Adichie’s words laying the groundwork, my students and I began to delve into stereotypes. Who is it that we simplify into a single story? Why do we do that? How can we begin to see them as more complex? 

Over the last ten school days we’ve explored race and religion, gender, disability, athletes, and more. Sometimes these conversations can be hard because I have no idea where we’re going, I just want to give my students a safe space to explore this concept. We’ve watched the videos, written down our thoughts, and talked. We’ve also looked at the novel we’re studying together, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and compared the work we’ve done during our quick writes to the story that’s unfolding. The Socs and the Greasers absolutely fall into stereotypical categories. As the book unfolds, Ponyboy pushes past those first beliefs. We talk about how that can happen to all of us, how we can make assumptions, but in reality people are far more complex than that.

Today we delved into the notion that a single story can be also used to attempt to define a place. We watched the first six minutes or so of these two videos from YouTuber Louis Cole (video one and two). After each video, I had the kids write for a few minutes what they were thinking about Kenya. Then I shared THIS video and my students realized they began to create a single story in their heads about Kenya after the first video without even realizing it. 

Adichie said, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. Show a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” How easy is it for us to fall into these simplistic beliefs about people, places, based on one story. We know we are all more complex than that. 

After talking about Kenya I told my students that this happens all of the time. I simply need to glance at my Facebook feed on any given day and can see “single stories” in regards to a wide range of topics. Tonight it was our state, Illinois. People cannot wait to leave it - taxes, corrupt government, weather. And, as Adichie stated, those stories may be true. But, I would argue, there is more. Just as there is with any group of people, any place, there is good and bad. Taxes, I’d argue, are critical to anyone who cares about schools, roads, libraries, or a host of other services. Even setting that aside, I love where I live. I’m surrounded by beauty.

I love living in a small town. Monticello truly exemplifies the “it takes a village” mentality. This can be seen in our remodeling project at the high school. The site superintendent and his crew have welcomed both high school and elementary students to the site and taught them about what is going on. You can read about that HERE or see a tweet from a high school teacher below.

My state is more than the single story about high taxes. It is more than the amount of our governors that have spent time in jail. It is also a place of beauty, a place of community, a place where we look out for each other. Years ago we lost a young farmer in our community. An article was shared online then about how the farming community came as a tribute for this young man gone too soon. I bookmarked this article then and return to it when I want to be reminded of the good that can happen, in the midst of hard times. 

After the last two weeks I have been reminded once again that the single story is dangerous. When we base our opinion of a group of people, of a place, based off of little information, we are in danger of losing the complexity of who we are. 

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” 
- Adichie

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Writing Wednesdays: Student Collaboration Inspired by Bluewater Billionaires

My seventh graders love to write stories. This year I’ve asked them to always have a writing piece they’re working on. Sometimes this might be directed by me, like writing a book review blog post. In other instances we don’t have a writing piece they are assigned, so they’re welcome to write anything they want. Here is where I find them pairing up and collaborating on a story together. I’m fascinated by it.

When I was in middle school, or even today, if you told me I had to pair up with a friend and create a fiction story for the two of us to work on, my anxiety would have approached the extreme. It is no secret to those who know me that I have a small issue with control. Having a writing partner where we’re working on the same document sounds like a version of hell on earth in my brain. That held true until I read the first book(s) in a new romance series this weekend.
This is not a series for my students, but for me. The Bluewater Billionaires is a series coming out from several of my favorite authors. 

Books one and two are out now. I read them, fascinated. See, there is a female lead for each book. All four are introduced in the first book because they are a core group of friends. So far, one book takes place after the next. As I read, I found myself falling in love with the characters and marveling at how the authors crafted these stories.

After reading for a day, I reached out to one of the authors, Claire Kingsley. How did they create this world together, but write their own stories? Claire explained that the four of them came up with the concept together - what the world looked like, who was in it, etc. They each created their own main characters and the storyline for their own book. They had a spreadsheet that kept track of all of the info on the characters that was shared among the four authors. And early drafts were read by the group for consistency. 

I love the possibilities of student writers trying this out. Right now my students love pairing up and trying to write a story together. That collaboration is fun, but what if this could be more? What if they could create the world and some main characters together, but then each write their own stories that build off the other’s? That could be powerful.

What do you think? Have your writers tried anything like this? What successes have you had with kids writing together? What pitfalls? And, of course, if you’re looking for some great books to read just for you, try the Bluewater Billionaires series out. It is a lot of fun. Then go check out all of the books by these amazing authors. You will be glad you did.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Attending Conferences

This past week I had the privilege of attending my state reading conference, the Illinois Reading Council’s annual conference, in Peoria. IRC is often filled with amazing teachers and wonderful featured presenters. Since it is held in October now, I often cannot go on years I attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference in November. This year, however, due to a small medical procedure that will be occurring either at the end of October or sometime in November, I had to cancel my planned trip to NCTE. IRC, suddenly, was available and I’m beyond grateful I could attend.

Thursday and Friday reinvigorated me as an educator. I began the conference with Donalyn Miller. Donalyn has been a friend for such a long time, but I am constantly in awe with her breadth of knowledge. In her session on Access to Books, she reminded us all to be advocates for our students. Who has access? Who doesn’t? What’s standing in their way? I leave Donalyn’s sessions wanting to champion charge across the country and ensure that every student has a school AND classroom library. I also want every school to have a wonderful librarian to inspire a love of reading.  I want to get rid of book deserts across this land.

I spent several sessions with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I’ve read and use the nonfiction and fiction signposts with my students, but hearing them talk about these strategies in person realigns my thinking and gets me ready to dive back in and do the work with my students.

Clare Landrigan talked about classroom libraries. She reminded us that we need to make sure our libraries are accessible to the readers we have. In her work with classrooms, she found many libraries to have over 85% of the books at levels above the students in the classroom. What does that say to those kids? How does that make them feel about reading when they cannot read the books in their classrooms?
Samira Ahmed reminded us of the work we have to do as a country to ensure that everyone felt welcome. She told stories of growing up here, what it was like to live as a Muslim American. As I prepare to explore the idea of the danger of a single story next week with my students, Samira reminds me of why that work is important.
And Cornelius Minor left me ready to take on the world. Through him I was reminded that being not just an ally, but an accomplice. Cornelius pushed my thinking. He said that sometimes we need to sit in the discomfort for a bit. On a personal note, Cornelius reminded me of what is important in the work I’m doing. That I might not always see the successes, but sometimes they bloom later. That alone made the trip worthwhile.

Attending professional development is hard. Sub plans alone are a lot of work. I was in constant contact with several students over the two days. Our classroom was a disaster area after Thursday when I went in at 5am Friday. I cleaned it and left my students a message on Classroom. Hopefully when I go in tomorrow, it won’t be so scary. I had parent emails, I’m behind on grading, and I didn’t see my family much for three days. And yet, what I gained is so much more. 

I had the opportunity to see fellow educators I only connect with online while also having time to collaborate with colleagues from my building. I was inspired by people in our profession that make me want to do more. And I was reinvigorated and pumped to come back and teach as I wrap up the first quarter this week and move into the second. I’m grateful to my district for recognizing the value of professional development and excited to see my students again tomorrow morning.

Thanks, IRC. Till we meet again...