They Are Fun

“What a great group of kids…” She tells me as she turns toward the door.  “Thank you for having me, they are fun.”

I nod, smile, go through the motions of the compliment, and yet it is not until the quiet settles in that I truly realize the power of her words.

I teach a great group of students.  I tell them that often.  I teach a group of students who have a lot of energy, who demand a lot, who complain at times and when they do they do so loudly.  I teach a group of kids who are not engaged easily, who sometimes are unkind, to each other, to me.  Who sometimes speak before they think.  I teach a group of kids who are always pushing me to grow, who are always pushing me to reflect, who sometimes make me feel like today I figured “it” out and other days like I am so far from the answer.  They are loud, they are rambunctious, and yes, they are fun.

And sometimes I forget that.  Sometimes I forget that teaching 7th graders doesn’t just mean teaching English.  Doesn’t mean just teaching reading, or writing, or speaking, or anything else academically we can squeeze into our short 45 minutes together.  That I teach kids who make me laugh, who make me want to come back every day, even when I think that today they could have worked harder, been less disruptive, and perhaps focused a little bit more.

When we bring others in, we are reminded that it is not just us they look at.  Not just our performance as we try to figure out how to be better teachers.  They also look at our children, the very kids we get to teach day in and day out.  They do not just see all of the little perceived imperfections that we have noticed as we have studied these students for months.  They do not just see that one kid that knows better.  Just that one kid that should be doing something else.  They see all of them; their energy, their engagement, and yes, even how fun they are.

Today I was reminded again of why I love teaching so much, not that I had forgotten, but still…  How we are meant to explore.  How we are meant to change the lesson to discuss something that just came up.  How we are meant to adapt as we go, mold and shape it around the very kids that have entered into our rooms.  That teaching, that learning, that being together in a classroom environment is meant to be an exploration, not just a sit-and-get, not just a silent-and-compliant.  So if you feel yourself focusing in on all of the things that still need to get fixed.  If you feel yourself getting wound up or brought down.  If you feel yourself drained from noticing all of the things that still don’t work; invite someone in to see you teach.  Invite someone in who doesn’t get to be around your kids.  Invite someone in not just so you can grow but so that you can remember; they are kids, they are loud, but they are also what brings us back every single day.  Thank you Andrea for reminding me today.

 

 

 

 

Some Favorite New Picture Books – Part 1, 2017

As I have been busy sharing favorite books on my Instagram account, I realize that I have not shared many new finds on here.  This quiet Saturday morning, where I am up much too early thanks to my kids, is, therefore, the perfect day to catch up.   So grab a cup of tea or coffee, make your list, borrow from your library or add them to your classroom, I promise you won’t regret it.

 Deborah Freedman has been on my list of amazing authors and overall human being for awhile now.  Het latest picture book is simply breathtaking.  Telling the story of a house and the parts it is made up of, it made me think of how to speak to our children about the birth of ideas and how it takes many different parts to make something beautiful.  What a beautiful message for us all right now.  This is released February 28th.
 I was unsure about a picture book that tells the story of the Manhattan Project, the creation of the atomic bomb, and yet the beauty of this book is exactly in how hard of a topic this is.  Powerful and moving with an author’s note that is sure to generate discussion, what a book this is.
While technically not a picture book but rather an early reader, we are obsessed with Charlie & Mouse in our household.  This brand new series from Laurel Snyder is laugh out loud funny and a must for anyone with younger children.  My eight year old loves it as well and reads it on her own.  This first book in a new series comes out in April, it is definitely worth the wait.
I had certainly heard of Lena Horne, however, I honestly knew very little about her.  This picture book has set me straight; her inspiring life not only as an entertainer but also a civil rights activist is one every child should know of.
A first for this blog; a recommendation of a board book, but Peep and Egg deserves to not only be read aloud to our littlest ones but also in our classroom.  The story of an egg that does not want to hatch made me laugh but could also lead to conversations about fear and how it holds us back.
While we have all heard the famous I Have A Dream speech seeing a collection of photographs from the days leading up to it and the march itself, really made me contemplate once again this immense moment in history.  These pictures coupled with the text are sure to bring a deeper understanding of the significance of the speech.
If you ever have to teach onomatopoeia then this is the picture book for you.  With gorgeous illustrations this book follows a fox as it tries to find shelter in a rainstorm.  I would whisper Caldecott but alas the illustrator does not fit the criteria.
A picture book about death not meant to frighten but meant to help children understand the beauty of a life well lived, this Danish picture book, is truly one to add to your collection.  Picture books can help us broach such difficult conversations in our classrooms and this one certainly does.
What’s in a name?  As educators we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, this is another must add to your collection.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.
There you have it, a few new favorites, I hope this list is helpful.  To see all of our other favorites through the year, please go here. 

My Lesson Plan to Teach the #Muslimban

We were supposed to do an end of semester reflection tomorrow.  To update our reader’s notebooks.  To start our next exploration; the reading identity challenge.  We were supposed to follow my planned out days moving us along the path I have laid out for the next four weeks.  And then Friday happened and Trump signed another executive order, this one banning certain nationalities from entering the United States and stopping all Syrian Refugees from coming.  And so as Smokey Daniels has said the world is handing us curriculum and I am taking it.

Tomorrow my students will not go through our Monday routine but will instead be will instead be asked to read, to watch news clips, crowdsourced here from both sides of the issue.  They will be asked to pick what they want to read and what they want to watch.  They will then be asked to formulate an opinion about what is happening and discuss it with each other.  Their opinion is welcomed, no matter what it is.  There is not an answer they are supposed to come to.

Some have asked whether I am afraid of what others may think teaching this topic, but I am not.  This is not my attempt to sway them in any way.  In fact, it is not my job to tell them what to think, they have already proven themselves quite capable of thinking for themselves.  It is not my job to indoctrinate nor turn them into a copy of me.   It is my job to make them aware of what is happening in the world. To help them find credible information so they have something to base an opinion on.  To offer them an opportunity to critically reflect and discuss their thoughts with others.  That is what we do as teachers.

So tomorrow we will not just go about business as usual.  I will not follow my lesson-plan, I hope you won’t either.  Instead I will acknowledge that right now history is unfolding around us and the least we can do is to help students make sense of it all through in-class discussion.   Through investigation.  Through community and questioning.  I have said it before; our students are the unwritten history of this nation, what will their pages say?

PS:  Someone asked whether I would provide my students more background knowledge; they already have it due to the three week long project they did in regard to the refugee crisis in the fall.  However, I may show them the first few minutes of this PBS video or continue to keep an eye on News-O-Matic and Newsela to see what they post.

Please add your resources to the Google Doc as well.

 

Tonight, I am Afraid

I was born in Denmark; home of hygge, Lego, and Georg Jensen.  Home of Queen Margrethe the Second, of Barbie Girl, and The Little Mermaid.  I was born white.  My mother passed to me her blonde hair, her blue eyes, and her fierce determination for standing up for myself and others.

I came to America as an immigrant by choice when I was eighteen.  I did not have to flee a war.  I was not running from terror or persecution.  My family’s economic situation allowed us to come.  I have considered myself a Danish-American for the eighteen years since, forgetting about my Green Card, about my not quite Americanism, not thinking about how I am immigrant.

I don’t speak with an accent.  Most people are not even aware that I was not born here, nor raised.  I think in English, I dream in English, I even teach English, even though it has never been my first language and never will be.  And for the first time since coming to this country, I am afraid.  As an immigrant, I am afraid.

Logically I shouldn’t be; after all, I am not seen as an enemy.  I am not from one of the seven nations whose people have been banned from entering this country.  I am not a Muslim.  I am not someone whose people have been vilified for acts of a few.  My own inherent privilege has shielded me from so much.  I know this, and still…

As someone who holds a Green Card.  As someone who is waiting to be sworn in as a citizen, as someone who does not have the full protection of the law, I realized that the pit in my stomach that I felt today was not just of outrage, but of fear.  Because I am leaving for an international trip soon and for the first time ever, I have to consider whether I could be stopped from re-entering.  Would I be told to return to Denmark, my country of citizenship because of my beliefs?  Because of what I say?  After all, I am publicly speaking out against the policies that are being implemented.  I am not hiding my beliefs and I wonder if I should be?  I cannot help but wonder…

As I turned to my  America born husband today and told him of my fear, I felt so stupid.  Was this another sign of my white privilege assuming that even a sliver of what is happening around us has anything to do with me?   After all, the hatred, fear, and ignorance of those in power of this nation are not being directed toward people like me, it so rarely is, which that is a whole other post.  I expected him to tell me I was over thinking it, that I was being silly, that I needed to take a step back and breathe.  Instead he told me that he got it, that he knew logically that we probably have nothing to worry about but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.  We have already seen such extreme actions, what will be next?  After all, first they came for the Socialists…

So tonight, as I try to find resources to somehow have my students discuss these past few days’ events, without sharing my own thoughts,  I am trying to tell myself that I have nothing to fear.  That my trip will be fine.  That my re-entry will be nothing out of the ordinary.  I cannot fathom how all of those families must feel around the world as they don’t get to dismiss their fears as irrational.

This is my truth tonight and I am not quite sure why I am sharing it.  But there you go.

The February UnSlump Yourself Challenge

Aah February; a month of love, of reading, of waiting for spring if you in the Northern Hemisphere.  While February may  be the shortest month of the year sometimes in teaching it can feel like the longest of them all.  While I love this month for the work I can do with my students, I find that sometimes the dark nights and cold Wisconsin winters can be positively slump inducing.  Rather than dread the slump, why not do something pro-active?

So this year I plan on doing my very own unslumping challenge and you are more than welcome to join me.  Every day for the month of February, I plan on doing something to either reinvigorate myself or make a difference to others.  It will not cost me much money but will hopefully instead lead to a deeper level of gratitude for the incredible job I have, the amazing students I get to teach, and the wonderful people in my life.

Here is what I plan on doing – to see the document, go here 

FEBRUARY 2017 Challenge - Google Docs.clipular.png

I will be introducing this in the Passionate Learners book club as well if you would like to have a community to unslump yourself with.  To join, go here.  And remember; we choose how we feel about our days, even when we feel the influence of others. Here’s to an amazing February.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Grading Conversation We Need to Have

 

On Monday, we discussed grades and standards scores in our classroom.  As the end of the semester is here, it is now time for my students to assess themselves and somehow turn that evaluation into not just a standard score, but also a letter grade.  I meet with them individually to discuss as well, but the initial work always starts with them.  So on Monday I asked them, “What does a “1” mean to you?”  as a way to get our conversation started.  I was surprised, to say the least, at their answers…

“It means that I have failed…”

“It means I am bad…”

“It means they didn’t try…”

Receiving a “1” on standard score did not mean they were at the beginning of their learning.  That they had not yet mastered something.  That they had some knowledge but still had a way to go.  No, it meant failure, no effort, that they were stupid.  Even in our classroom where students self-assess all of the time.  Where we have actively tried to change the conversation from a score to feedback.  Where I have tried to put students in control of their learning.  They still think that if they get a “1” they are bad kids.

So rather than move into the definition of letter grades (they did this after) we stopped for a moment and discussed what each standard score really means.  What they need to do when they give themselves a “1” or a “2.” How a “1” does not mean they didn’t try but that they do not understand yet.  That a “2” does not mean they are bad at English but that they still have teaching to be a part of.  That those scores certainly can have something to do with effort but must of the time it does not.  That those scores do not determine how smart they are but are really just an indication of what they have shown me so far.

The sigh of relief in our classroom was nearly visible as a new sense of understanding dawned on the kids. These scores were in their hands, these scores were meant as signals, these scores were meant to guide not punish.  I thought they already knew that, after all, this is not their first year with standards based scores, and yet the conversation showed me otherwise.

So have you had this conversation with your students?  Do they understand what their grades mean and not just from a project standpoint?  Do they feel in control of how they are assessed?  How they are seen by themselves and others?  I encourage you to ask, I encourage you to have students set their own grades.  I encourage you to reframe the narrative that they may have when it comes to scores and assessment.  Assuming they know what they really mean means you are probably wrong.  I know I was.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.