being me

A Late Evening Quiet Rally Cry

cape Design

I tend to look on the bright side of things when it comes to education, to try to find the time to savor the small moments, relish in the growth, look at our successes before lamenting all that is lost. I tend to be a person that “eats the elephant one bite at a time.” Who feels fairly empowered by a thought out to-do list, a well-planned unit, and who tries to look for answers or steps forward rather than dwell on the impossibles. And yet tonight, after endless meetings and navigating all of the information that is coming furiously at us as we prepare to be live with students again in February, I am spent. I am drained, beyond exhaustion but with a restless mind and words waiting to be spilled.

Because the truth is I, along so many others, have innovated my heart out since March 13th, 2020. In fact, probably for a lot longer than that. I have taught from email to email, directive to new decisions. I have risen to the occasion, done all I can, tried to bring my very best every day in order to reach every child, despite knowing that it will never be enough for those who measure our current success against what school was for some before Covid.

And I have worked too many hours, missed too many moments in my family’s life, pushed aside the needs of my own kids, kept my chin up, put on a brave face, and swept my fears and feelings of inadequacy under the proverbial rug because in this nation, the home of the brave, teachers are likened to superheroes who are always supposed to be in it for the kids. And if we falter, if we show fear, if we say enough, well then surely our intentions were never as noble as we claimed. Imposters all along who do not deserve the chance to work with children.

And it’s killing us. Quite literally, as I am confronted with another Facebook post talking about that special teacher, who reached all of their students, dying from Covid. What a world we live in now where it is the very act of being together that can ultimately end our lives. Where going against so many of our teaching practices is what can be the difference between staying safe or not. It used to be guns that killed us.

This post is not a cry for help, don’t worry I know how to take care of myself. I have the links to the meditation apps, the mindfulness moves. The new apps and tech tools that will make it all worth my time. I have the sign ups ready for all of the webinars, the professional development from experts who have not actually taught through this pandemic but speak to those who have. I have self-cared into oblivion, yogaed in the morning, walked in the afternoon, made time for doing nothing, and also those new covid hobbies I was supposed to do. I have worked my way through it all to see the road ahead so that I can get a night of quiet, set boundaries, left affirmative post-it notes, looked for the positive, and stepped away when I could. I have laughed about it. Cried about it. Refused to think about it. Spoken about it. Kept quiet about it. And also just taken it one step at a time, as if I was going out for a jaunty little hike; new adventures await!

I have raised my voice, offered my help, asked questions, offered solutions and reveled in the fact that the district I work in is 100% committed to inviting teachers to the table and keeping us there for the entire discussion. I shudder at what happens to those who don’t get to say that.

And yet, again, despite this, my creative energy is nearing its end, my drive to educate under these circumstances is near extinct, despite the amazing students I get to teach, despite the importance of what we do, despite loving so many things of what it means to be an educator and not knowing whatever else I could possible do in my life that would bring me so much professional joy, I am exhausted. Because let’s face it, we can all continue to try to fold in the cheese, but who invented the recipe to begin with?

Because it’s not us, the educators, who need to put on our capes. Who need to step up as selfless superheroes who will give everything we have in order to save the future. We have been doing that for decades and it hasn’t been enough, it never will be. The change has to be sweeping. Has to start within our classrooms but go to the far reaches of society. Our voices, those of people within the walls of school and those attached to it, must be lifted as we once again push back against what the superhero myth of education really does for all of us. It robs us of our humanity. It takes away our right to say no. It removes the ability to advocate for real change because if we advocate for other possibilities, for work/life boundaries, for hard conversation and more importantly actions, then we are seen as sacrificing children in order to better our lives. Yet that is not true, and we all know it, but nothing works better at silencing educators than a swift “It is best for the kids…”

So tonight, I will once again spend some more time checking in on assignments, tweaking lesson plans, perhaps read a few pages of a book before I fall asleep. I will hang up my cape that I never wanted to begin with and go to bed knowing I did the best I could today but also knowing that this is not sustainable and that we have to continue to say that out loud. That this is not normal, that we are still trying to teach and learn during a global pandemic, and that our best will just have to be good enough. Because that is what’s best for kids, not educators who have nothing left to give.

We will offer ourselves grace and try again tomorrow, with our voices raised. Right after we start our self-care routine, of course.

Love,

Pernille

being a teacher, Dream, Literacy, promises, Reading, Reading Identity

The Promises We Make to Our Readers

2020 was a year I didn’t read much. The normal escape and joy I find within the pages slid out of my grasp as the world sent us constant reminders of our its cruelty and our own mortality. Reading was no longer an escape but rather a dreaded task, one more thing to do on an ever growing to-do list. One more thing I was supposed to fit in as my teaching life and outside life shifted on its head and somehow, some way, we were once again just supposed to make it all work.

I was reminded of how far I had slipped from reading as I spoke to one of my students in a private reading conference in December. His honesty was appreciated as he told me he didn’t really read much anymore, that reading wasn’t his thing and had never really been, and now it just seemed kind of pointless. I don’t know what he expected me to say but rather than fall into tropelike patterns exalting the validity of reading, I instead leveled with him and spoke from the heart, “I hear you, reading does feel kind of pointless right now. It feels like a lot of work. Not pleasurable. Not something that pulls and holds my attention. But what if we both make a commitment to read more? What if I start to read as well, so that we can work on it together?” I am not sure if he believed me, or if that promise even held a lot of meaning, but it was what I needed to kick start my own reading life again. After all, I implore my students on a daily or weekly basis to find space in their lives for reading so why not my own?

There are many promises I make my students every year. Deeply rooted ones that aspire to help them feel safe, valued, seen, and heard within our community, within our curriculum, and within our learning. Closely held ones that push me to grow as an educator and to always reflect on what I am doing, to try to do no harm but instead recognize my own shortcomings in order to be better than I was. There are many promises I repeat throughout the year, some small, others major. And yet some of the ones that are nearest to the work we do center themselves within our reading journeys. Promises that I don’t think just my students deserve to have made to them, but all kids really, in order to create learning communities that not just focus on the content we must cover but the human development we get to be a part of it. But sometimes those promises can get lost, pushed off the table as we are faced with yet another set of commitments thrust upon us, forgotten as we swim in our survival modes trying to simply make it through the day and yet, these promises, these rights really are at the center of the transformative literacy experiences students should be a part of, so what may these promises be?

I promise to read. While I am often asked how I find time to read the books my students read, there is no easy answer because I don’t find the time. I make the time, and much like every other person in the world, I don’t have a lot of it. Yet I do know that every day, I can read a few pages. Every week, I can read a chapter book, read some picture books and constantly expand my knowledge of the books available to be placed in the hands of kids and recommended to fellow teachers. I read because I ask my students to read, it is as simple as that.

I promise to stay current in my reading. I remember laughing alongside my niece when we compared our 9th grade English class required reading lists because while we span 22 years in age difference, our lists were nearly identical. In 22 years, no new books had been added, in 22 years nothing had apparently risen to the top of what deserved to be explored by students across many high schools in America. What a loss this is. Because I can tell you that every year, books that will someday be considered a classic text are published, just waiting to be discovered by those of us who choose books. Every year, there are books that will transform the lives of readers, just like many classic texts have done for some. Every year, there are new works that beg us to ponder deeply about the human condition, even at the elementary level. But we cannot know this if we don’t stay current in our own reading. So I pursue the new, not in a dismissal of the old but in the rampant belief that new books deserve to be taught, to be discussed, to be brought into our learning alongside those that have occupied the space for many years.

I promise to read broadly. If my reading life was only for myself, I would never read a sports book, I would never read books about dogs, or mermaids, or a lot of historical fiction. I would focus simply on the texts that I crave and leave it at that but since I know that my students look to me for reading recommendations and ultimately search the collection of books I curate in our classroom to find their next read then I need to ensure that what they encounter shows a broad and inclusive lens of the world. That means setting my own reading desires aside at times and reading wildly in order for my students to have the opportunity to do the same. I need to recommend all sorts of books. I need to know all sorts of books. I need to purchase all sorts of books. And I need to recognize the gaps that may exist within our experiences and whose stories are centered in order to be able to actively work on filling them. It doesn’t matter that I teach a very homogeneous population because the world is not homogenous, so neither should our book collection be.

I promise to remove harmful or outdated books. I am grateful to have access to many people who read with a different lens than I do, that read with a lot more knowledge than I bring, and that share so graciously of their expertise in order for all of us to grow. My promise, therefore, is to listen and to act. If a book that I have in my classroom collection is problematic, even if I didn’t see it at first, then the least I can do is pull it. If a unit is centered too much on the story of only one type of journey, then my promise is to expand it to, to seek out sources that can help me expand the unit or question the unit altogether. In this day and age, there are so many people willing to share their expertise, such as Dr. Deb Reese and Dr. Jean Mendoza, Dr. Laura M. Jimenez, Dr. Kim Parker, Julia E. Torres, Tricia Ebarvia and Lorena Germán of #DisruptTexts and the incredible group of thinkers from We Need Diverse Books founded by Ellen Oh, all we have to do is tune in and listen and to not take it personally when a book we may have loved or grew up with fond memories of, or even one we have recently discovered and loved, is given a critical review. Open up our ears, listen in and do the right thing instead of clinging to our notions of perhaps we can make it work, or maybe it is not so bad after all.

I promise to pre-read. While I used to love discovering a new read aloud alongside my students, I now see the exploration I cut myself out of by not reading it first on my own. I now see the shortsightedness of not sitting down with a book and truly pondering how it would weave into the tapestry of our year together, to truly wonder whether this singular text deserves to be at the center of the work we will do for several weeks. When we don’t pre-read our texts, we may not see the potential hard conversations that we need to prepare for in order to successfully navigate them alongside kids. The extra wrapping we need to provide for the texts, the images and other venues of exploration that should be taught alongside it. Yes, the thrill of a new discovery is something I miss, but I would much rather be fully prepared to unpack a read aloud by pre-reading the text.

I promise to be honest about my reading. I have said before that kids don’t need perfect reading role models, they need us, the flawed ones, that are readers even when we don’t read but that share about the struggles that we sometimes face when it comes to staying connected to reading. My students don’t need to know me as a perfect reader, instead they need to know that I too, sometimes, don’t have the energy, that I too, sometimes, have a hard time finding a book, that my attention wanes, that I get bored, that I get frustrated, that I sometimes binge-watch TV instead of picking up a book even though I know what is better for me. That my reading life ebbs and flows but that the one constant I do have is that I always come back to it. That I still give myself the gift of considering myself as a reader even if I am not actively reading.

I promise to afford my students the same rights that I hold dear as a reader. I have written much, and spoken at length, about the rights of readers. About how our students every year create their rights and it is then my job to honor and protect them. And so those same rights come down to the same promises I make every year to myself as a reader and to my students. I can abandon books, I can choose to not read a book even if everyone tells me to read it, I can choose to speak about books or not, to recommend or not, to forget about a book or not. I can choose freely and widely, and I can get access to books to those where access does not come easy.

It is easy to get lost in our reading when the world tugs at our fingertips, when our piles of work seem insurmountable, when even taking care of ourselves seems like too much work. I know I have gotten lost but only for a little while, the path is still there, we are still readers even if we step off of it. Our students deserve to be in rich literary driven classrooms and curriculum that is not centered around the voice of one, but instead the voice of many. Our students deserve to have their stories told in the pages of our books, and they deserve to see the stories of others unlike them. Not to have their reading journey shaped by only one voice, or only one way, but instead a reflection of the many paths that lead us into reading and keep us there for years to come.

There are many promises to make, the question is, how will we honor them?

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

A Year in Review – 2020

I usually end the year with an exploration of my chosen word for the upcoming year and yet, this year, this one whose last day I simmer in today, seems to call for a different exploration. One of the year that has passed, a moment to not only contemplate the lessons learned, but also all of the things that were wrapped in good, otherwise, I fear this past year will only be known for all of its tragedies. For the missed opportunities and not those I gained. So inspired by Dr. Kim Parker’s review of her year, I thought I would do the same.

While it was a year marked by less, I only wrote 48 blog posts this year, it was also a year marked by more. More time with my children, more time sitting in the quiet, the most time I have ever spent home in a stretch as all my normal travels ground to a halt. More nature. More purpose. More innovation (maybe too much). More work to be done. And yet, there was writing, not as much as I normally do, but then again, this was not a normal year. This blog turned 10 (!) and so at times it feels like I have said it all before, being distanced from my students and forced into 9 months of virtual teaching also changed the space I made for contemplation and writing. The energy reserves were drained a lot sooner than ever before, the energy had to be preserved for the kids’ whose educational success was entrusted to me no matter what the world threw at us. So I collaborated, created, and shared as much as I could on this blog, through a series of live webinars this summer, and also through our Facebook group but rather than focus as much on pedagogy and philosophy, there was a larger emphasis on the practical. The tools I found or created in order to navigate our new normal.

The top blog posts this year reflect our new reality.

  1. Picture Books Read Aloud Videos for Lesson Use that Don’t Break Copyright
  2. Choose Your Own Learning – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online
  3. The Best Books for Middle School According to My Students 2019
  4. Dear Teacher
  5. Great Picture Books to Teach Theme

And the continued work with my own students reflect this year too, one that needed to remain within the same pedagogical framework of safety and community, while also molding itself to the magnified inequities either new or pre-existing. And so my students reminded me again of what mattered; choice, community, time, and grace. That we celebrate the kids that show up and those that cannot. That we continue to find ways to magnify their voices and give them back their spaces to create and reflect. That engagement doesn’t always just mean camera on but takes many forms. That we celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, that we continue with expectations that match where each child is and that nothing in our curriculum will supersede health and wellbeing because we are still in a global pandemic, no matter how much people outside of education want us to forget that.

In book news…

I paused a few writing projects because there was no brain energy for them but am quietly working on a fully re-worked and updated edition of Passionate Learners. While I want to make sure there is enough new thoughts and materials in it to warrant a new edition, I am glad to be revisiting the foundations of my educational philosophy and reshaping what that same vision looks like, 7 years later after its initial publication. The world has changed much since it first came out and yet the urgency of the pedagogy of centering each child’s identity in the work we do remains the same. How can we create spaces for all kids to feel safe, valued, and seen within our curriculum? How can we co-facilitate our classroom spaces with all? How can we give our classrooms back to students after we have drilled into them that the best way to succeed in school is to be silent and compliant? How do we give spaces for their voices to be heard and pack away our own fragile egos?

I also continue to dabble in a potential new book, writing when the pages call my name. It will be centered on the day-to-day work I do with middle schoolers when it comes to reading identity and their literary journey. It is slow-moving, like many other things, and also fills me with imposter syndrome yet I rally around the knowledge that I am simply sharing ideas of what you can do by sharing our own journey.

In professional development news…

While I had a full year of professional development teaching scheduled, with the shutdown much of it shifted online. What an incredible learning opportunity this has been! This shift has given me one of my greatest joys, the ability to work long-term with fellow educators as an embedded virtual coach, something I was not able to do before because it would require too much time out of our classroom and away from the students who are in my care. I am thrilled to continue this opportunity in 2021. If you are interested in having me collaborate, coach, and/or plan with your teachers, please reach out! If you are wondering where I will be speaking in 2021, go here to see what has been scheduled so far.

I will also say that one of my most exciting opportunities was speaking to both Icelandic and Danish educators this year. To be a part of eReolens fall conference from afar and doing my first presentation in my native language of Danish was incredible and allowed me to sink further into the innovative work being done in Scandinavia when it comes to authentic literacy engagement, as well as student well-being overall. While travel plans to Iceland didn’t happen after all, to be able to help Icelandic educators from afar, both in Reykjavik and though Utis Online, was also an amazing experience. It is magnificent to see educators around the world all coming together to serve students better.

While I return in-front of my students on February 8th, and I cannot wait even if I worry about COVID, I will still be doing this work, so reach out if you think I can be of help in the journey you are hoping to create for others.

In Global Read Aloud news…

This summer also brought a hard decision to pause the GRA for now after 11 incredible years, BUT then I wasn’t able to even do it with my own students and so for right now, I am not sure whether it is done or not. I continue to read as I normally would, searching for just the right books to potentially select. So the GRA may be back in October. It may look a bit different. It may take a year off, the decision does not need to be made right now and so for now I will continue to read and contemplate which conversations, understandings, and moves into actions potential read alouds could garner.

In reading news…

The COVID reading slump hit hard at my house as well, while I wanted to read, my thoughts were simply elsewhere most of the time. Yet rather than feel disappointed, I embraced the pop culture I finally got to sink into (I am currently holding off on watching the final Schitt’s Creek episodes because I don’t want the series to end), and the great learning I got to do instead such as the PD put on by Liberate and Chill and Nehemiah here in Madison. I am so grateful to be working in a district that is diving into hard conversation and taking action in order to disrupt racism and inequity, we have so much to learn and do.

But I find myself slowly falling back into reading as evidenced by most more frequent shares on Instagram and this end of year favorite reads post. 2020 once again gave us the gift of incredible books and the time to read them if life allowed us to. I am already eyeing my to-be-read shelves for the new year and cannot wait to share what I read. I also started moving my book lists to Bookshop.org as part of my pledge to move away from Amazon as much as much as possible. If there is something I want to help survive the pandemic it is our local bookstores.

In personal news

While I share much of my life through here, there were some really big heavy things that I did not share. While some are ongoing, some have also become hard memories to carry instead of a living reality. But there were huge things to celebrate as well such as the incredible achievement of my husband as he graduated with his teaching degree in Technology Education, a journey he embarked on 25 years ago but then detoured into 20 years in the construction business. We now have another teacher in the house and I cannot wait to see which school community he will get to be a part of as we search for jobs both in Denmark, and in Dane County, Wisconsin.

We also celebrate the time with our kids. While I never imagined that I would get to be a substitute K, 2nd, and 5th grade teacher at the same time as teaching my own students, I have seen my own kids try so hard it hurt at times. We celebrate our outside time. Our quiet time, our bike rides, and our shared meals.

I also turned 40 the day after Wisconsin shut down, my poor husband had spent months planning his first ever surprise gathering for me alongside my sister only to see it fall apart, but we celebrated as best as we could as we tried to make sense of the news coming at us. He commented the other day that my 41st birthday will also probably be a COVID birthday, he is right, of course, but the reminder was stark. So we continue going outside as much as possible, reclaiming skiing as a family event when we can afford to, going for walks, watching movies with the kids, and just being together. And I continue to connect with as many people as I can, treasuring all of the people that I get to call friends, the conversations I get to be a part of and the work that continues.

2020 will be another year to remember, aren’t they all? But as I look back the year, I am also grateful, grateful that we still have our health, that we still have my job, that we can continue to look forward and work for better rather than live in the past. I know there is much work to do, but I am grateful to be in a position to be a part of it.

And the lessons I learned are plenty. I re-learned that I cannot and should not have to be a superhero that should be able to navigate whatever the world of education throws my way. I re-learned the power of hard boundaries, no, and closing my computer. I re-learned that everything is better once I get outside, that I am terrible relaxer, that books can be refuge while also feel overwhelming, that there are many ways to make great soup. That we thought we lived a fairly quiet life until COVID showed us just how much more quiet it could be. And I continue to work on raising my voice, giving back space, and taking action whenever I could, especially when it was my place to do so.

So I leave you this year not with a word, but with a hope; may the new year bring you as much or more joy than the last, may you stay safe and healthy, may you know that if you are reading this I am so grateful for you being here and being a part of my journey. Thank you for giving me your time, for sending me your questions, for sharing ideas and finding value in the ones I share here. What an honor it is to have this place support the work of others.

Godt nytår,

Pernille

contest, writing

Contest: Win a Copy of Give This Book a Title!

One of my favorite book releases this year is from the brilliant and generous Jarrett Lerner, “Give this Book a Title” . Since the pandemic shut us down he has been a major giver, inspiring many to kickstart our creativity with drawing and writing prompts, confidence boosting lessons and ideas, and general awesomeness. As I shared on Instagram, I can’t get over the brilliance of this book.

This book begs to be used with kids (and adults) as we search for ways to help kids draw, write, inspire, and feel like they can add value to the world. With more than 100 activities, you are sure to find something that you can use with your students as we continue to engage with writing, drawing, and playing with words.

As the blurb says, “This collection of fun, open-ended writing and drawing prompts will challenge kids to think and create in new ways with every turn of a page. In the Finish This Comic section, young writers are inspired to write and illustrate a six-panel story. Following How to Draw instructions will encourage kids to find their own drawing styles. Every fun activity and silly prompt will keep young readers engaged and entertained!”

So imagine my surprise when a whole stack of these amazing books showed up at my house yesterday! Turns out Jarrett Lerner thought that perhaps the world could use a few more copies and I couldn’t agree more. So, I have five copies to give away of this incredible book four to educators in the US and one to the rest of the world (I am paying for shipping, thus the wonky numbers). All you have to do to enter is leave a comment (make sure you add your email when you enter it so I can contact you) and let me know what you would use this amazing book for. The contest will run from today to lille juleaften which for all you non-Danes is December 23rd at 8 PM CST.

I cannot wait for more amazing creations to happen because of this great new book but if you don’t win, you should order it!

being a teacher

My Favorite Reads of 2020

While 2020 was a year of great loss, of feeling lost at times, and being distanced, within the pages of books I found hope, refuge, solace, anger to push me further in action, and love. Within the pages of books I was able to move into other worlds, some that were quite frightening while others were meant for dreaming. I don’t know how many books I read, there are nearly 200 favorites on this list, so coming up with my favorite reads of 2020 was an undertaking, after all, these books kept me company in a year that at times I would rather forget. I know I missed many amazing books, so please leave me a comment if you have one to recommend. While this only represents my favorite reads, I read many more, I highlight them on Instagram or on Goodreads as I read them.

While many were brand new books, some were just brand new to me. Either way, there are many books here to potentially check out, to gift from your favorite local independent book store, so in no particular order, here are my favorite reads so far in 2020.

I have gathered the list for shopping purposes at Bookshop.org – a fantastic website that partners with independent booksellers and pays them a higher percentage for anything they sell than Amazon. Please consider ordering the books from Bookshop.org– an independent bookstore that partners with local independent bookstores to sell books or ordering them directly from you local independent book store. You can see the list here and also stay abreast of other lists that I make to showcase our work and reading.

Picture Books

Crossings | Book by Katy S. Duffield, Mike Orodán | Official Publisher Page  | Simon & Schuster
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a  Marathon: Singh, Simran Jeet, Kaur, Baljinder: 9780525555094: Amazon.com:  Books
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice | IndieBound.org
Lift: Lê, Minh, Santat, Dan: 9781368036924: Amazon.com: Books
What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns: Locke, Katherine, Passchier,  Anne: 9780316542067: Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for May 2021
I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner | Little, Brown  Books for Young Readers
Pre-order for April 2021
Daddy & Dada by Ryan Brockington, Isaac Webster, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
Pre-order for May 2021
Fred Gets Dressed: Brown, Peter: 9780316200646: Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for May 2021
Outside In: Underwood, Deborah, Derby, Cindy: 9781328866820: Amazon.com:  Books
Amazon.com: Space Matters (9781328801470): Lynn, Jacque, Nichols, Lydia:  Books
I Talk Like a River: Scott, Jordan, Smith, Sydney: 9780823445592:  Amazon.com: Books
RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul - Kindle edition by  Weatherford, Carole Boston, Morrison, Frank. Children Kindle eBooks @  Amazon.com.
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood: Hillery, Tony,  Hartland, Jessie: 9781534402317: Amazon.com: Books
Rescuing Mrs. Birdley by Aaron Reynolds, Emma Reynolds, Hardcover | Barnes  & Noble®
Our Favorite Day of the Year: Ali, A. E., Bell, Rahele Jomepour:  9781481485630: Amazon.com: Books
If Dominican Were a Color | Book by Sili Recio, Brianna McCarthy | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
Me & Mama: Cabrera, Cozbi A., Cabrera, Cozbi A.: 9781534454217: Amazon.com:  Books
Zonia's Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal: 9781536208450 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Pre-order for March, 2021
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My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal, Trinity Neal: 9781984814609 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
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Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball - Kindle ...
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Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid: Tentler-Krylov, Victoria,  Tentler-Krylov, Victoria: 9781338282832: Amazon.com: Books
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When Father Comes Home: Jung, Sarah, Jung, Sarah: 9781338355703:  Amazon.com: Books
Red Shoes - Kindle edition by English, Karen, Glenn, Ebony ...
Ron's Big Mission: Blue, Rose, Naden, Corinne, Tate, Don ...
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Packs: Strength in Numbers: Salyer, Hannah: 9781328577887: Amazon.com: Books
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Early Readers

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Our Friend Hedgehog by Lauren Castillo
Ways to Make Sunshine

Middle Grade

Class Act: Craft, Jerry, Craft, Jerry: 9780062885500: Amazon.com: Books
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Hockey Super Six: The Puck Drops Here by Kevin Sylvester
Hockey Super Six by Kevin Sylvester (Order through a Canadian bookseller and cross your fingers that Scholastic USA publishes it here!)

Young Adult

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Long Way Down – Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds and art by Danica Novgorodoff

Non-Fiction – All Ages Mixed Together

Amazon.com: Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the  Fight for Justice (9780525580034): Stevenson, Bryan: Books
Just Mercy- Adapted for Young People by Bryan Stevenson
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All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team

What about you? What were the books that song to your heart? That you have wanted to share with others? That you think deserve all of the praise, the hugs, the shares, the anger? I know I missed many from the year, so let me know, what should I read next? Happy reading in 2021!

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.

Update:

Here are the self-paced lessons students worked through. They went pretty well, it was a great way to fill in more world knowledge and get kids thinking about the world we live in.

Week 3 – Are We Living in a Dystopia Already?

Week 4 – Who Has Equal Rights?