We are starting the year, and the creation of our writing portfolio, with a unit focused on memoir and personal essay. I am hoping that in this unit, the students will start to share parts of their writing identity through discussion of what makes them a writer or not, the erules of writing and which we need to break, as well as experimentation with writing based in their own lives.
I have been gathering memoirs and personal essays for a while now, trying to focus on stories that may enrich their understanding of how others see the world so that they in turn can focus on their own lives.
As always, our trusted picture books are part of the mentor text collection that will surround students as we embark into this work, so here are the ones I have pulled so far that focus on small moments and written in 1st person. While some of these are true memoirs, others are texts I can use as models despite them not being true stories.
I will add more as I pull them, especially newer books to use. If you would like to see other lists of favorite books, go here.
As I get ready to embark on another year of teaching English, I have been learning more about the writing process and the specific skills that I need to teach in order to help my students change or strengthen their experience with writing. Within the pages of professional development books I have found so much inspiration for how to create a better experience, hopefully, for kids. And so when I went to my classroom today, I pulled a few great picture books that I plan on sharing and showcasing to students to help them discuss the supposed rules of writing and how we can break them to create our a unique written piece. Here are some of the ones I pulled.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett is a great picture book to use with kids that feel they have no ideas because it shows the legitimacy of starting from something known and making it your own. Plus, this book is just a fun read!
I love how I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino urges us to think of how far stories have traveled and how they shape our society. I love the illustrations paired with the unfolding of story, fantastic for setting up writer’s workshop at any age.
This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else) is laugh out loud funny. I especially enjoyed the interplay between the author and the panda. Kids are sure to appreciate the message but also how well it is portrayed; who really creates the story and how can we co-create?
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski is beautiful both in text and in the illustrations. Using a book whose words fall out as a way to discuss imagination is a marvelous way to get students thinking more creatively.
Three PD books that are furthering my work at the moment are
Comprehension & Collaboration – Revised Edition by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels is helping me frame our year of writing as inquiry explorations.
Rozlyn Linder left us much too soon but her genius lives on in her book The Big Book of Details. If you have ever told a child to add more details but wasn’t quite sure how to have them do this, this is the book for you.
The importance of Why They Can’t Write by John Warner to my upcoming year of instruction is undisputed. I am re-working everything I am doing with writing because of this book.
Warning: This post contains me changing my mind as well as unfinished thoughts. Read on to see what happens when you open your discussion to the expertise of others.
You may have come across them if you read adult books. A list at the beginning of the book telling you what types of sensitive content you are about to be exposed to. A gentle reminder to take care of oneself, to breathe and step away if needed. To pay attention to the reading experience in more ways than understanding the text, but also understanding one’s own reaction to something in order to make an educated choice about the type of risk one is willing to take.
I usually skim over them but appreciate the gesture, but as I came across another one, it made me think; should our classroom and library books have trigger warnings? Should we as educators, librarians, add in potential trigger warnings in order for students to be more informed about the book they are about to pick up or not. It couldn’t hurt surely…
And yet, I wanted to think this out loud. What was I not seeing this discussed more because it seemed like such a simple idea. If it was so helpful, why wasn’t everyone doing it?
So I tweeted my thinking…
…and was not disappointed.
A few different discussion ensued; one about the language “trigger warning,” one about the placement of a potential sticker, and then also one about the problems with this practice.
On the language of using “trigger warning”
On the placement of the label on the front of the book
And most importantly on the whole concept
So, as you can see, my thinking changed as others added their thoughts. It went like this…
Great idea, Pernille, get labels and make them colorful and bright so all kids can see them on the front of the books that discuss sexual abuse and violence, have racist language like the “N” word, feature violence against children and maybe other topics as well.
Don’t call them trigger warnings – call them care and concern notes instead. Keep them on the front.
Hmm, don’t put them on the front, put them on the inside instead.
Wait, perhaps, it should just say “Come speak to me…”
Hang on, what do I know about what will trigger a child?
Will I end up needing to put a label on every single YA book in my room?
Whoa, I may be encouraging censorship through this process.
Whoa, I may be encouraging wider censorship of books through my original tweet sharing my idea.
Where will the boundary be for what is considered a trigger? How will this look mixed in with hate/animosity towards marginalized populations?
Someone may take my original idea and think to do this and end up demonizing marginalized people further.
I need to write about this
And so, where does this take me?
Well, I still have a lot of thinking to do, but I know I won’t do trigger warnings. What I will do instead is many folded because the identities of our readers are complicated and nuanced.
I started by reading this article shared by my friend Sara Ralph and others
I will send home our classroom library letter at the beginning of the year in order for those at home to have an idea of what types of books their learners may encounter in our classroom.
When students are introduced to our classroom collection, I will specifically discuss how Young Adult books differ from middle grade and explain how I use the PG-13 rating on books.
I will book talk many of our tougher topic books so that students can hear me discuss some of the potential emotional parts in them so they can make the decisions that will work for them.
I will encourage, as always, that each child knows themselves well enough to know when to abandon a book.
I will confer as much as possible with my students about their book choices and whether they feel the book is great for them or not.
Books that have to do with suicide or sexual assault, I will place a label on the inside with help-line numbers.
And then I will continue to mull over the fine balance between helping kids find great books and hurting their choices instead.
The bottom line is; censorship lives and breathes in our collections of books. We already know that most of the challenged books as reported by ALA in the past few years have had to do with sexual and gender identity. We know that there are many active book challenges happening at this time. We know that sometimes through our well-meaning intentsion (like my original tweet) we may be furthering censorship. But the good news is that we don’t have to.
As a child growing up in Denmark, there was no censorship on the books I was encouraged to read. If I wanted to read about mature topics, I could, my mother trusted me to navigate these books when I was ready and then also let me know that at any point, we could discuss them. It fundamentally shaped my worldview today; that children know more than we assume, that we cannot shield them from tough things in the hopes of keeping them innocent, and that they are eager to learn about others.
By bringing this discussion online and now here, I encourage others to look at labeling systems that are already present in their schools, such as “mature” sections which only some kids can access, or books that need to be checked out with parent permission. Are these really helping kids or are we stopping them from reading books that will speak to them? That may be about them? That may give them hope? Do our “helpful” systems to shield children actually end up hurting them instead?
The kids show up in a month and one day, the books will be waiting. I cannot wait to see the stories they will gravitate toward, I will be there to help them.
Follow up: After posting this post, this incredibly thoughtful comment was left on it in a Facebook group it and brought to my attention. This once again shows me how much I still have to learn, despite being acutely aware of PTSD and how it can affect you.
Pernille Ripp you’ll be in our area at the end of this month, so I shared this post with our librarians, and one of them had this response. “I appreciated Pernille’s showcasing of dialogue and evolution of ideas on the topic. However, the origin of the trigger warning I feel is completely lost in the article. Trigger warnings are for people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As someone who has PTSD and actually has to seek out signs for potential triggers when I engage in materials, trigger warnings are literally supposed to help prevent me, who has experienced trauma, from going into panic and/or fight or flight mode. Trigger warnings are not supposed to filter distressing topics. Those of us with PTSD are not distressed. We have a diagnosable condition where our brains are like broken records that when triggered can easily be stuck on repeat, reliving trauma over and over. When triggered we can forget where we are and who we are with, we can have a complete nervous break down, suffer insomnia, physical pain, lose consciousness, need medical intervention. This article did not seem at all to be dealing with actual triggers. Many of us experience trauma in a myriad of ways – and that can include reading material that covers topics discussed in the blog you shared because, let’s be honest here, reading is an empathetic experience. However, not all of us who experience trauma develop PTSD. My point here is: If a person needs trigger warnings, they need professional help.
I think the goal behind the conversation is valid and worthy of our time. However, the focus is misplaced. In order to properly label materials with warnings or care and concerns or whatever you want to call them, we would have to be well-equipped to understand what constitutes a trigger and then engage all our collection’s materials on a deep enough level to be able to properly label each and every one. That’s not a realistic goal. So instead of zeroing in on the materials themselves let’s focus efforts instead on making sure every library has a consistently updated and very visible and accessible: poster of hotlines and local resources, book collection, and series of programs designed to equip patrons with the tools they need to handle their pain/medical conditions. Let’s train every library staff member to recognize suicidal ideation in our patrons (a lot of times that stuff just leaks right out without them even knowing), how to talk to someone in crisis, and how to stay up to date on who to contact in an emergency. “
PS: THANK YOU so much to all who discussed this with me. To see the original tweet and thread go here
Three years ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my journey with the book When We Was Fierce and in particular the journey with realizing that a book I had marveled at and called a must read was being critically reviewed by others. While at first I was embarrassed by my enthusiasm and not knowing better, in the blog post I wrote about the growth I had when I put away my own embarrassment and instead approached the moment as a learning opportunity, simply put; when I knew better, I could do better. It is a journey I have tried to continue on ever since.
Since that post, I have tried to be more in tune with critical reviews. I have tried to read new or old books that come my way with a broader lens trying to step out of my own lived experience to discover how others may view a book. How others may be potentially harmed by a book. How others may have world view shaped in a an inaccurate manner because of a book. While the voice in my head has gotten better at alerting me to potentially problematic texts, it is far from perfect and it is a journey I continue to be on.
I share this because this week I published my best books of the year so far list, a list I try to carefully put together in order to help others find books that may heighten their reading experiences. It is also a list for myself to look back upon as I celebrate the incredible works put out in the world that have deepened my own children’s’ reading lives as well as my teaching experience. This morning, I woke to a tweet sent to me by a colleague highlighting a potentially problematic book on the list.
My response: Thank you, I will definitely look into it. Which I did.
Dr. Laura M. Jimenez (@BookToss) had written a great post detailing problematic aspects of the book Stonewall: A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution by Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph. This book was on my best of the year so far list and a book I had really enjoyed, even contemplating how I could use it as part of our upcoming historical research unit where we will write from the perspective of an object. While I had read the book and the voice inside my head had noticed how there didn’t seem to be a broad acknowledgement of the trans community, I had put aside my concern rather than followed up on it, despite having also read the book The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman that had explicitly discussed the broad community anger and how this went past the mostly gay men present in the inn on the first night of the riots. Dr. Jimenez discussed those concerns and then some in her blog post, and also received a reply from the author, Rob Sanders, which I really think you should read.
After reading the blog post, the concerns with the book were crystal clear so I pondered why I had I put aside my concerns? The answer? Because I really liked the book AND also because of my lack of knowledge. While I had a minor concern, I didn’t follow up on it and instead chose to highlight the book because I thought that it would be great for others to read. End of story.
And this is what I want to write a little bit about, because those two things, dismissing our concerns and not knowing better, are exactly why I think many, especially white, educators keep problematic books in classrooms and home collections year after year. I know the emotional attachment is what makes me sometimes try to mentally finagle a way to be okay with a book in our collection that may do potential harm. Even though I know better. Even though I end up not placing it in our library because I know better. But how often do we, and especially us white educators who live within the dominant lens, simply not know better? Or how often do we dismiss the criticisms because we somehow think that having the book will surely alert students to their own concerns and then be able to navigate potential problems within it?
But here’s the thing, if I, as a 39 -year old educator who has taught for nearly 12 years and reads hundreds of books, as well as reviews of books, and critical discussions of books every year cannot figure out on my own that a book is problematic, then how can I expect my students to do so?
Because they won’t, not unless we teach it, not unless we discuss our own mistakes when it comes to reading and highlighting problematic texts. This is why I use the book The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winters in my classroom. While I had the book at first because I loved it and had already read it aloud to my classroom, after I read Dr. Deb Reese’s post on the problems with it, I re-visited the book with students and we discussed why we had not ourselves caught these problems with the text and instead taken it at face-value. It led to a larger discussion on what else we miss when we don’t know more, or the blind spots we all walk around with and how to shrink them.
This is why we must do better when it comes to vetting our own collections and also being okay with admitting it out loud. I know that there are a lot of emotions attached to books and their creators. I know I don’t want to hurt other people when I distance myself from their work. I know that many educators, me included, like to think that I know enough to carefully select books that will not present problematic, inaccurate, or full on harmful stories to my students, but that is simply not right. Even though I have grown and gotten better, I have so much to learn still. I will, probably despite my best intentions, continue to embrace books that because of my own lens, my limited perspective, I cannot see the problems in until others point it out.
So what can we do when we realize either through our own investigation that a book is problematic or when someone else points out harmful representation or stories?
Say thank you when someone points it out. We cannot grow if we don’t know what we need to do better on. That is why recognizing when someone offers you an opportunity to grow and acknowledging it as an opportunity to grow rather than getting defensive is always the best way.
Get over our own feelings. Is it embarrassing to screw up? Absolutely. Would I rather do well? Sure. Do I learn from these interactions? Every time. However, when our response is one of incredulity or dismissal we are not really growing, we are certainly not focusing our energy on what we should be focusing on, which is the conversation surrounding the text or illustrations rather than our own feelings. (I am listening to White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and this is part of what she discusses).
Read the criticism, seek to understand it, and ask questions. I always read or listen to what is being said and then try to find other voices who are discussing it as well. If I am not sure why something is being discussed the way it is, then I ask questions. That is why I love being connected to others because social media gives me a quick way to reach out.
Take action outwardly. Whether it is publicly acknowledging your screw up if you have recommended it, or spreading the word by amplifying the discussion happening, do your part. It is often isolating to be someone pointing out critical aspects so knowing that there are others who will back up your words and calls to action is powerful.
Transfer the knowledge. Teach this critical skill to students by also connecting them with book reviews blogs so that they can be adults who have access to information, so that they can notice their blind spots, and also try to see whether a book may be harmful or not. Make it a part of your already embedded curriculum units so that it is not a stand-alone lesson but instead one that is addressed in many different ways. After all, isn’t teaching critical analysis one of our main teaching goals?
Take actions personally. Remove the book altogether or use it to discuss blind spots like I have done with a few books, but do something, rather than just push it aside because “no one will know that you still have the book.” While that may be true, this is also an incredibly twisted way of looking at the process. While it feels very strange to throw books in the garbage, almost sacrilegious, yet sometimes, that is where certain books belong. Don’t just say you will do something, actually do it.
Try to do better in the future. While I definitely catch more problematic books before I recommend them than I have in the past; as evidenced by this post I still have a lot to learn. All of us do. But the good news is that through social media we can easily learn from others as long as we are willing.
So what did I end up doing with Stonewall the book that started this whole blog post? I removed it from my best books of the year so far list and with the encouragement of Dr. Jimenez wrote this blog post to make my thinking visible. While I love the missing parts of history that the book represents, I cannot use it as an actual representation of what happened that night, there is too much missing.
And that is where I start my summer vacation. Knowing that I have so much to still learn about others and from others. Not a bad way to start my summer as I try to grow as a person and as an educator. I now know better, so hopefully I can do better. Can’t we all?
One of the most common questions, I receive in regard to the Global Read Aloud is how, and whether, it integrates into a pre-existing literacy curriculum. Is this project merely a fun add-on or is there actual academic value in it that can be defended in case it needs to be?
While there would be little wrong with the program if it was “just” a fun add-on, the answer is that; yes, the Global Read Aloud has academic value, and not just for the students, but for the teachers themselves as well. So let’s break it down a bit.
Because the program centers around a read aloud, that means you have a mentor text. Many participants use the text as their central text while they work through lessons on story development and analysis. However, that is not all it is. The driving idea behind the project is to connect with others and the way that is accomplished is often through writing or speaking. This then adds another layer of meaning to the project because it allows us to center our teaching on not just text exploration and discussion, but idea creation and sharing with others. For the sake of ease, let’s dive into the Common Core Reading standards for a moment as most are covered through the GRA.
“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” Because the text is not only read aloud but also discussed with a worldwide audience, students are not only expected to understand the text but also be able to infer and formulate their opinions about the text in a way to effectively communicate with others.
“Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.” The whole notion of the read aloud is to understand the story, to predict what will happen, to discuss and share with others, and be able to hold the whole text in your mind while you continue to listen to the read aloud.
“Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” Tracking the characters along with the story allows us to work on stamina, to work on long-term predictions, and to get to know the characters and story on a deeper level.
“Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.” In order to convey nuance, the read aloud often lends itself well to studying the craft of writing as seen through word choice and figurative meaning.
“Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” One of the main points of the GRA is to dive into perspective, this does not only include the perspective of the narrators but also how our own perspective and lens impacts our understanding and experience with the text.
“Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” Because there are additional tools layered in with the Global Read Aloud, such as author videos, student presentations, and other content created by students around the world, this is a natural extension of the learning.
“Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” I love having my students discuss with others what they believe will happen in the story, as well as what the characters should do in order to stay within character. Diving deep into a character and then being able to articulate and argue one’s opinion is a vital skill.
“Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.” I always add in other sources and use the Global Read Aloud as a springboard into inquiry. Because the books chosen are often set in unfamiliar places or center around unfamiliar events, students naturally have a lot of questions. This is why the resource sharing is an incredibly powerful tool of the GRA.
This is just discussing the reading component, but the beauty of the GRA is that it is so much more than “just” reading. Coupling it with the collaborative global aspect offers us the opportunity for students to work on writing, on speaking and listening, on the act of collaboration itself, as well as meaningful technology integration. It allows us to focus on building an understanding of others, of developing empathy and activism. This is at the center of what great 21st century learning looks like; providing authentic and meaningful ways to engage in a world wide dialogue around relevant topics.
And for the teachers involved, it allows for new tools to be introduced, new connections to be forged that will bolster their teaching, as well as a meaningful way to dive into literacy that will model what literacy experiences should look like.
But don’t just take my word on it. I asked educators who have done the GRA to share how they integrated the project into their curriculum and here is what they said.
My district encourages the SAMR model for technology integration. Using technology to share ideas and collaborate with students from other parts of the country/world is a task that falls under the highest level of the SAMR model.
I use FlipGrid as a way to respond to the text while assessing speaking and listening standards, come to discussions prepared and adding to the discussion. I also assess postcards for adding media to support text. In addition to literacy, GRA really fits into our S.S. theme of world regions and cultures.
GRA works across all levels, promotes excellent collaboration, learning styles, communication, technology integration and global connections. The teacher has the flexibility to incorporate using standards/skills that he/she sees fit. I’ve shared about it only positively.
Refugee was a huge addition to my 7/8 curriculum last fall, and I’d wager that it was an experience that would be at the top of the list for what kids will remember from my class. We use a workshop model, largely, and so the chapters would be built in as model texts for minilessons in reading and writing workshop. We’d do quickwrites about character development, inferences, vocabulary in context, to name a few . . . Most important to me, however, was just the chance to share a terrific story and know it was also happening in classrooms around the world – so powerful!
We were asked this year to use a read aloud to model fluency and what a reader is thinking while they read. Our 6th graders seem to think letting the words pass through the eyeballs without going to the brain is sufficient, and we are trying to change that perception. Two of us could attest to its effectiveness due to GRA. We did Refugee this year and it opened up all sorts of thinking and discussion.
At the end of Refugee, I had them create one pagers, and I met individually to discuss questions related to the book and standards. For instance, what was the theme, how do you know, how did it develop through the story. What was your favorite scene and why was it important to the whole story. Really just took a look at State standards and created questions. Then, we followed up with self-selected research topics related to the story.Also, brought in non-fiction pairings to add to depth of topics.
It’s the epitome of 21st century skills – the kids have to communicate and collaborate with others around the world; they think critically about meaningful issues that impact their peers; they come up with creative projects and responses. They’re also highly engaged with a great text.all great things!!
It lends itself SO well to standards and curriculum!! I teach 1-2 on a loop and did A Boy Called Bat and before that the BFG! Asks and answers questions for sure, technology (connecting with other classes), social studies and map skills (finding new friends on the map)….not to mention that they LOVE reading and get interested in authors and their other books!!!
I teach in South Africa and participated in GRA for the first time last year. It was the highlight of the year. Our school year starts in Jan and my present class have a countdown going for when they can start GRA. I integrated Refugee into all subjects I teach. The book became real and even more so with the global connections and sharing we made. 21st Century teaching is all about communication, collaboration and creative thinking. This is exactly what GRA does.
It is so important that students learn of different cultures in our ever changing world. We use the Lucy Calkin’s UOS for our literacy block. We read the book aloud as the read aloud time for the day and it reinforced the skills being taught in the workshop that dealt with social issues. We also hit so many listening and speaking goals by connecting through Flip Grid and Google Hangouts with a global audience for both. We learned about author’s trade through our weekly videos we watched made by the author. We wrote authentically with sharing our thoughts on Padlet and posting on social media under the guidance of our teachers and me the librarian. We gained knowledge and empathy for what people in other cultures across the world might experience through hyperdocs created by educators to be used to help us learn vocabulary and history about the culture of the people in the books we shared.
I’ve been able to integrate the picture books into the standards we’re teaching during that time. Since it’s so close to the beginning of the year, it’s your basic story elements.
And so, much like I have said before; why take the time to do the GRA? Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin.
To sign up for this year’s incredible project, go here. It kicks off September 30th!
Today marks my last school day with students and as we gathered many asked me what my favorite book of the year was. As you can see, I cannot just pick one. So here it is; all the books I have loved since January 1st. While most of these are out, some of these are only available for pre-orders. These books moved me, changed me, delighted me, and impacted the reading journey I am. Thank you to all of the creators.