Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Caring

For a culture of kindness to truly grow in our school, we need to constantly nourish and discuss it. After all, if we limit the discussion to the occasional anti-bullying assembly we can’t really expect students to thoroughly catch the vision of what it really looks like, and to feel comfortable speaking up for kindness. If your class is in need of a recharge, please use any or all of these resources to inquire into what it means to be caring!

Resource #1: “Give a Little Love, Get A Little Love” Kritovatka

Resource #2: Kind is…Radical Hospitality by Soul Pancake

Resource #3: The Gnomist: A Great Big Beautiful Act of Kindness by Great Big Story (this is a longer video at 17 minutes, but if you happen to be able to make the time, I promise it’s worthwhile. Here’s the trailer, too!)

Resource #4: “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does it mean to be caring?
  • What is people’s responsibility to be caring?
  • What are the different perspectives in a community when it comes to public acts of kindness?
  • What are some obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of expressing caring?
  • What can we do to overcome obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of being caring?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Favorite Children’s Books (2017 Read Alouds)

I always love the opportunity to make another #booklist because it helps me catch up on my Goodreads indexing — not to mention the fact that it helps me think about which books really draw me in and why. So I appreciate this pass-it-forward invitation via Norah Colvin. Thanks Norah!

For those I nominate that want to join in, here are the “rules:”

  1. Thank whoever’s nominated you and share their blog link.
  2. Let us know your top 5 children’s books
  3. Nominate 5 people to do the same
  4. Let your nominees know you nominated them

I can’t make a top 5 list of children’s books without it being from a pretty specific category to narrow it down! So I’m going to choose from junior fiction. That I’ve read this year. That I would consider as classroom read aloud material. These were the ones that I couldn’t put down — that I carried upstairs and downstairs and in my diaper bag and on my nightstand, all in the hopes of catching another few pages. I hope you enjoy them as well (P.S. You’ve probably noticed a genre trend here–I promise I did check out many realistic fictions, but for whatever, reason, they weren’t doing it for me this year. Mystery all the way in 2017!)

Incorrigible Children by Maryrose Wood: I am dying for the next book in the Incorrible Children series! As much as I love following the story of the 3 children raised by wolves that are now brought up by their plucky young governess Penelope Lumley, I think I might enjoy Wood’s Lemony-Snickett-like narrative asides just as much.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson: If you loved Roald Dahl’s books growing up, or even just possessed a vague inclination, this one is worth checking out. In a Matilda-meets-Charlie & the Chocolate Factory story, Tabitha Crum, along with 4 other children, is invited to the home of a fabulously wealthy Countess for an important announcement. She is quickly swept up in a mystery as children start disappearing and the Countess doesn’t seem what she appears.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Breath-taking. I loved the poetry and flow, and I never wanted it to end. From Goodreads: “One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic…An epic coming-of-age fairy tale.”

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan: Ok, this one definitely merges some historical fiction in with the mystery! I enjoyed the character development and interactions as Nell works to prove herself to be of use to her Aunt Kate when she is brought to her doorstep. This assistance eventually builds from chores to real-life detective work to assist Aunt Kate’s work with the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel: I was introduced to Oppel’s work this year and loved it all (The Nest and Every Hidden Thing also topped my lists this year, but neither one would probably be suitable as elementary read alouds–intensity in The Nest and some mature content in Every Hidden Thing). The Boundless will make for a gripping read-aloud as Will Everett must keep ahead of a deadly plot while working his way up the Boundless train!

5 bloggers nominated to add their 5!

Pernille Ripp: Many of my library book holds are because of Pernille’s advice! An English teacher in Wisconsin, she’s always pushing the status quo on reading and writing instruction.

Faige Meller: Though retired from her own kindergarten classroom, Faige’s work in influencing children is far from finished! She often writes about her work as a substitute children and about how we can better connect with our students–and one of my daughter’s new favorite reads (Roxaboxen) came from her recommendation.

Man-Cub Mamas: On the #TeacherMom spectrum, this blog is definitely more on the Mom side, with all sorts of tips at home. My favorite, of course, as been the book recommendations, supplied by a good friend of mine, which is why I’m adding the nomination here!

LitLife Blog: The literary connection of this blog is clear in the title, and I am a huge fan of Pam Allyn’s work. I haven’t heard from them on that platform for a while now, but perhaps this nomination might invite a new book list? 🙂

Library Girl: I am so impressed by her work with the #30SecondBookTalks and World Book Talk Competition. Jennifer LeGarde is passionate about creating cultures of reading.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Happens When We “Let Kids In On the Secret” of Development #TeacherMom

It started with a conversation over birding. Having been raised to share love of bird-watching with her dad, my daughter was casually checking out a few species when she mentioned she wished she had her binoculars with her. That’s when I told her, “Did you know that some people can identify birds with other senses besides sight? If you were blind, what would you use to learn about birds instead?” This led to watching the video entitled, “Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound,” followed by all the other videos I recently included in an inquiry into the senses.

All this led to a fascinating conversation about the senses, absolutely packed with “aha moments” for my daughter. The baby video in the above-mentioned post particularly made us think together — we ended up talking about how important sensory experiences are for kids. That’s when she made the connection to why we call our bin filled with dry grain a “sensory box,” as well as other items in our home that she suddenly realized were deliberate choices based on her parents’ understanding of child development.

All at once, and to her delight, she was “in on the secret” on her own development as well as that of her brothers. She started to not only recognize but make suggestions to her environment when it comes to providing sensory experiences (particularly keen to share her pearls of wisdom on bettering her little brothers’ experiences). And quite apart from the learning element from it all, it has simply been a wonderful relationship-builder as well.

What does “letting kids in on the secret” look like at school? 

This phrase is regularly shared by inquiry educator Kath Murdoch. She writes,

“inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.”

In another post, she adds,

“We know that for many students, school is like a jigsaw puzzle…only no one has given them the picture on the lid of the box. We know now of course that when we hold on tightly to those secret intentions, when we fail to tell kids why they are learning what they are learning…when we take purpose away from the equation – we reduce motivation, engagement and understanding.”

Letting kids in on the secret might mean…

…letting a committee of kids design the next seating chart (after discussing the how and why behind it)

…regularly discussing learning standards/objectives and what they mean and how we get there (and how kids might help in the planning to get there!)

…having meaningful conversations about metacognition, and what specific strategies we seek to better understand our own thinking patterns and self-regulation

…teaching kids to recognize their own time-use and purposes, and then gradually providing them with opportunities to exercise agency in how they spend their time (such as in this Daily 5 example).

…frequently talking about the why behind everything we do!

What about you? What are some ways you have “let students in on the secret?” What has been the impact when you see students with a greater understanding of the big picture of school?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Knowledgeable

I wrote a post as recently as just a few weeks ago about the need to prioritize relationships over content. But, of course, that does not mean that content does not have its own essential place. This week’s provocation is about being knowledgeable, and why that matters.

Resource #1: How The Animal Kingdom Sleeps by The Atlantic, via The Kid Should See This

How The Animal Kingdom Sleeps

Sleep is universal in the animal kingdom, but each species slumbers in a different — and often mysterious — way. Some animals snooze with half their brain, while others only sleep for two hours a day (without even suffering sleep deprivation!). Ed Yong guides us through the latest research on how creatures catch their z’s.

Posted by Animalism on Monday, November 13, 2017

Resource #2: Lisa Winter Robot Builder, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Google Engine Timelapse Page

“Timelapse is an example that illustrates the power of Earth Engine’s cloud-computing model, which enables users such as scientists, researchers, and journalists to detect changes, map trends, and quantify differences on the Earth’s surface using Google’s computational infrastructure and the multi-petabyte Earth Engine data catalog.”

Resource #4: If Picasso Painted A Snowman, by Amy and Greg Newbold

Provocation Questions: 

  • How does knowledge impact our actions?
  • How does knowledge impact our ability to relate to people and events around us?
  • What is the relationship between knowledge and curiosity?
  • What is our responsibility to be knowledgeable, especially if we have Google to help us answer so many questions?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Because I Stayed–Thanks to A Teacher

My senior year of high school, I decided to take AP Calculus. I was taking some other advanced classes as well, and it wasn’t long before my math grade started to lag. Anxious about upcoming college applications and the desire for nothing to mar my GPA, I approached my Calc teacher, Bob Burns, to tell him I should probably drop his class. It was a small school, and between the fact that he had taught several of my previous classes, and that he had coached for a couple of my teams, we had a established a solid relationship.

Given that background, I expected that he’d respond to my concerns with reassurance, telling me I shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my grade and supporting my decision to drop his class.

I was, um, wrong.

Instead, Mr. Burns declared that if I chose to drop his class that day, I would be setting myself up to drop every other difficult and important thing that arose in my life.

Needless to say, I stayed. That was the single most precious skill I gained from his course that year: learning to stay even when the stakes are high.

As a tribute to Mr. Burns, I’d like to list other pivotal moments since then when I stayed where I might otherwise have very easily left had it not been for his bold words that day.

When I was so homesick my first month of college that I thought there was no way I could live so far from home, I stayed. And earned a teaching degree from a wonderful school.

When I was sure there was no way I could continue waking up at 4 am for a custodial shift, I stayed. And was able to navigate the world of college financing.

When I felt I simply could not handle my commute and daily goodbyes to my baby girl as I left to teach, I stayed (until bedrest and a couple more babies prompted my current sabbatical). And gained irreplaceable experiences, perspectives, and professional development that would inform all facets of my life, including my current blogging and child-rearing.

When I felt I would surely run out of ideas and should give up blogging, I stayed. And have discovered a remarkable PLN that has continued to push my thinking as a teacher.

Mr. Burns may not have caused all these events to unfold exactly as they have. But I know that without his bold lesson in persistence, I would have been much less likely to stick around for the hardest, but ultimately, most rewarding aspects of my life. And that is certainly thanks to a teacher.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto