My Teacher Values

*Deep breath.* I know I shared last spring that I am planning on returning to the classroom in 2020, but I have decided to start applying to return to the classroom this year. Many back-to-school events have already started, so at the moment I’m looking at last-minute positions that have opened up unexpectedly, with little to no classroom prep time before the kids are in school.

I have said many times that there will be many changes to my approach to teaching and learning when I return to the classroom–it’s hard to know where to even start! So I’m trying to mentally organize and distill the strategies, ideas, & priorities that have meant most to me over the years. Not only do I want be oriented for a potential quick jump back into a classroom, but I want to be articulate when interviewing with administrators about what matters most to me as a teacher. So here are a few stand-outs:

Lens of strengths over lens of deficit ~Lanny Ball

Writing and reading workshops for independent tinkering & exploration. Marina Rodriguez (& all the teachers over at Two Writing Teachers!)

Caring for students vs simply caring about them. ~Taryn BondClegg

Helping students start with their why. ~Taryn BondClegg (also Taryn’s Questions, Problems, Ideas board, which I like a lot better than my old suggestion box)

#ClassroomBookADay ~ Jillian Heise

Self Regulation ~Aviva Dunsinger, Christine Hertz

“I intend to…because…” by Marina Gijzen

Culture of agency ~ Edna Sackson

Culture of inquiry ~ Kath Murdoch

Soft Starts ~ Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Need for cultivating both reading skills and love of reading ~ Pernille Ripp

Holistic, integrated approaches to subjects ~ Anamaria Ralph

Learning through play ~ Kelsey Corter

I don’t know exactly what the future holds at this moment (keep in mind that this post is queued up and changes may happen before this actually publishes!) But I do know that, although I have missed being in the classroom over the last 5 years, I am profoundly grateful for the time I’ve had to read, learn, and discuss learning with teachers all over the world. They have been so generous with their own learning and strategies. A PLN is truly an incredible gift! Thank you to all here, and to many more not on this particular list!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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5 Useful Leveled Texts Resources

We can drill comprehension strategies all day, but until students are given opportunities to grow their knowledge base through reading accessible texts, they will continue to struggle. That’s why I’ve searched out some level-able texts online you might be able to use with students! Meanwhile, I want to make it clear that this should not be a substitute for a diverse classroom libraries that provide students with plenty of choices. But as a supplementary resource, or perhaps while we’re working on building one, here are some resources that may be of use:

#1: Time for Kids: Accessible journalism for kids. Also available to be read aloud, or in Spanish!

#2: Newsela: Connects with Google Classroom to be able to assign reads to students. Some include a quiz or writing prompt as well, and many are available in Spanish.

#3: Wonderopolis: While this resource is not exactly level-able, it’s still made extremely accessible through features such as audio, highlighted vocabulary to look at definitions, a quiz, and just sheer interesting topics that kids are wondering about around the world!

#4: Dogo News: Search by grade or interest, and access assignments & audio. Some of the features do require a Pro account.

#5: ReadWorks: Similar features as elsewhere. I like that there are fiction and poetry options available here.

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Why We Need Global Citizenship More Than Ever (& some beautiful resources to foster it)

Growing up, I always had a fascination with books that showed how kids live around the world (mostly supplied by DK). It always seemed so far away and mysterious, and I loved to imagine myself in those various settings.

Today, our kids’ understanding of how kids live around the world needs to go beyond a fascination. Beyond curiosity about the “other.” Beyond stereotypes.

Today, we need kids to become global citizens.

To see and respect the differences, yes, but also to see our similarities, our connections, our interdependence, our shared humanity.

For example, how might discussing the Daily Bread photo-series by Gregg Segal broaden our students’ lens of how wealth is related to diet? (ie, “It seems counterintuitive that some of the poorest countries have among the healthiest diets. But when you look closely at what they’re eating, it makes sense: fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, fish, and legumes and very little meat (which functions more as seasoning) and few empty calories (processed foods)”).

How might sharing a variety of picture books on diverse day-in-the-life spark student thinking about what we share in common?

How might digital citizenship help shrink students’ world & bring perspective and connection? Ideas might include:

  • OneGlobeKids.org: and introductory platform for young kids to explore the lives of kids around the world
  • Quadblogging: a chance to connect with 3 other classes around the world through blogging, almost pen-pal style
  • Globally collaborative Google presentations (shared on Twitter): examples such as this & this

Fostering global citizenship is not just about feeding our students’ curiosity; it’s a precious opportunity to build empathy, connection, and humanity. What are your favorite strategies for global citizenship?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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5 More Interesting Informational Picture Books

Continuing my efforts to promote more nonfiction, here are 5 more reads we’ve enjoyed lately!

An Ode to the National Parks: You Are Home, by Evan Turk. The National Parks are my happy place. The rich illustrations and figurative language perfectly captured the way I feel when I explore these majestic realms.

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Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, & A Bear by James Sage and Lisk Feng. I was surprised how much my kids enjoyed this book, given the long text. But the story was just so compelling for us all! My kids adoration of their teddy bears has definitely reached new levels ever since.

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Pedal Power by Allan Drummond. This is a great text for teaching your kids about how they can take action in their communities. Of course, my own involvement in bicycle advocacy didn’t hurt in making me love this book, too!

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One Day, So Many Ways by Laura Hall & Loris Lora. I remember being unable to get enough of these kinds of reads growing up, usually supplied by DK. I like the vintage feel of the illustrations, too.

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I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, by Baptiste and Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon. Engaging biography that demonstrates the power of one determined individual.

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featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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10 Delightful Picture Books con español!

Maybe it’s because I’m anxious not to let my high school Spanish slip away entirely, but I absolutely love coming across picture books that include Spanish phrases. Not only are they fun to read out loud to my kids (and fun for them to try and learn new words), but they send an important message of inclusion and honoring diversity.

Here are 10 picture books con español that I would recommend. These are primarily in English, with Spanish phrases woven throughout.

#1: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

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#2: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin and Crash McCreery

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#3: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

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#4: Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raúl the Third

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#5: La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya & Juana Martinez-Neal

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#6: Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina & Claudio Muñoz

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#7: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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#8: Alma & How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal  (most of the Spanish phrases are part of the illustrations here)

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#9: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin

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#10: How Are You? = ¿Cómo Estás?

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¡que se divierta leyéndolo! Have a great time reading!

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10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation and rejuvenation. But for one group, those balmy days might be overshadowed with panic: first-time parents of kindergartners.

After all, parents today receive a steady stream of messaging that the quality of kindergarten experience can define a child’s success for the rest of forever (though I’ve argued before that this is likely more the correlative nature of having involved parents than the particulars of kindergarten).

Throw in a child who seems uninterested in identifying letters yet (much less reading), and you might get some parents on the verge of a nervous break-down.

Having waded through this quagmire with our oldest, now about to start 4th grade (and who thriving as a reader, despite initial reluctance), I’m writing today to help reassure as many stressed kinder parents as possible: you are probably doing better than you think. Here are signs that, even if your child is not yet writing their memoirs or reading Tolstoy, they are probably more prepared for kindergarten than you think:

#1: Their brains are being regularly strengthened by unstructured play. This is even more valuable when the group of children is mixed-age, which gives older children opportunities to teach younger, and younger children the chance to explore new possibilities. As cited by researchers, “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

#2: They enjoy stories (even if they aren’t sitting perfectly still for every story-time yet). This enjoyment also leads them to possess print awareness — a general feel for books turning from left to right, how to hold a book in their laps, and the presence of words on the page. Children at this age tend to make leaps forward in their development, so even if they don’t have all 52 upper- and lower-case letters down yet, if the basic pre-literacy support is there, they will get there!

#3: They are able to relate socially and emotionally to other people. When they have hurt someone, they are willing to listen and learn to consider that person’s feelings. They don’t immediately resort to biting or hitting for every offense, though this will definitely be a work in progress more for some kids more than others!

#4: They make up songs and stories with you or in make-believe play. Not only does this strengthen a child’s narrative skills (important for early literacy), but it helps them build skills for healthy social interaction.

#5: They are given as much book access as possible. Even if you do not own a lot of books, regular trips to the library can foster a love of reading that is worth its weight in gold. As the reading skills grow, it’s important for kids to have choices to find the books that will delight them.

#6: They are showing signs of building problem-solving skills. They may pull out a stool to reach something for themselves, or they may help soothe a sibling. Whatever it may be, these small signs of problem-solving are indicative of the kinds of independence that will serve them well throughout school and life!

#7: They are given opportunities to explore motor skills and balance. Tree-climbing, playdoh-smashing, curb-walking — the basics will be sufficient. Giving kids plenty of time to explore their motor skills and balance will lay a foundation for holding a pencil, for sitting up in a chair, and generally feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

#8: They are potty trained! Yes, this counts and should be celebrated as a kindergarten readiness milestone. There may still be the occasional accident, but general independence in using the toilet, as well as in dressing and eating, are good signs for readiness at school.

#9: They help out around the house. Maybe they have their small chore, or they are in charge of making their bed. Helping them gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the group will be so valuable when they gain a new community at school!

#10: You help them see what they are capable of, and they believe it! This kind of mindset is easy to take for granted if it’s present in your home, but it’s essential for kids about to embark on school. They will be discovering all sorts of tasks and ideas, and it will serve them well if they believe they can handle new things with confidence.

The nervousness in sending your oldest child to school may not go away. But I hope parents can feel a little more at ease at the prospect of kindergarten readiness and enjoy the summer together!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Is the Mindfulness Really For Them? And Why that Matters

I shared an observation this week that generated a bit of discussion:

Mindfulness in itself is not the issue for me; in fact, I think it’s a huge part of students being able to take ownership over their own learning and to feel confident about being in the drivers seat of their own lives. The same might be said of Self-Reg, social-emotional learning, and every other related trend.

I think it’s precisely because we’re delving into students’ personal feelings that it’s so important that we get our why right. There are 2 levels working here.

First, if we’re not truly doing it for them, but we’re pretending we are, that’s emotional manipulation. Plain and simple. We might counter that if the end results are the same, it doesn’t really matter. But it does. It’s the difference between feeling that someone is nurturing you vs programming you. And kids can tell that difference.

Second, if we are looking at broad systemic issues that have less to do with learning and mindsets & more about money and race, and then we try to put that on the kids by making them more mindful of themselves…words fail me.

Issues like suspension. Where not only are black kids over-represented in suspension rates, but pretty much every other race is under-represented. Where we see the problem show up as young as preschool. We need to check our practices before trying to put this on the kids.

Or like standardized tests, which “are almost universally correlated with household income: more income, higher scores.” (Why They Can’t Write by John Warner).

Of course, we teachers only have so much control over mandates. But we can reflect upon our own why. Only then will we have the transparency and true emotional support that our students need as they wade through the system.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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