Hunting For Good Nonfiction Picture Books (10 Ideas) #TeacherMom

In the middle of a long speech about her favorite books, my 6 year old recently said something that surprised me: “But learning books are boring.”

I paused, not quite sure what she meant by “learning books.” Then I asked, “Do you mean nonfiction–books about real people and places and facts?”

“Yeah, I don’t like those ones very much.”

As I thought a bit more, I was transported back to my own elementary school years–I could almost feel the musty dinginess of the nonfiction corner of the library again. I honestly didn’t like nonfiction very much as a kid, either.

So I told her, “You know what, I have a hard time liking learning books sometimes, too. They often don’t really tell a story, do they? And I’ve noticed that a lot of time, the pictures aren’t as fun. But you know what? There are WAY more fun nonfiction books now than when I was a kid. How about we hunt together for the good ones?”

Since then, we’ve been working to shift her opinion of nonfiction.  I try to forego even telling her a book is nonfiction until we finish reading it–then it’s all the more a pleasant surprise when she finds out how much she liked that “learning book.”

This is just one of several strategies to help students become better readers and enjoy the process of making meaning for themselves–which, of course, is what reading is all about.

Since we started this expedition, here are a few of our favorite discoveries. If you have any great “learning books” to share, too, please add them in the comments–my 6 year old and I will thank you!

swan

Laurel Snyder’s biography of dancer Anna Pavlova had us both mesmerized. The beautiful illustrations and vibrant storytelling felt like a dance in and of themselves. My daughter spent days afterward creating her own versions of “Swan.”

in-marys-garden

I love the way Tina Kugler shares Mary Nohl’s love of making art for her own enjoyment. It’s a beautiful and important message for kids everywhere.

 

luna-and-me

My daughter couldn’t wait until the end of the story to find out if this was a real “learning book.” We were both eager to learn more at the end of Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s book about Julia Hill’s conservation activism.

 

some-bugs

A simple and charming read by Angela DiTerlizzi to get us thinking about all the different types of bugs and their functions.

over-under-the-snow

Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow was really an eye-opener to get my 6 year old considering what happens to animals in the wintertime.

actual-size

Both my daughter and my 2 year old son loved Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size, comparing the images with their own hands.

 

finding-winnie

Lindsay Mattick’s story of this loveable bear is an instant classic. You’ll be surprised to find out whose origin story this is…

 

im-trying-to-love-spiders

Despite Bethany Barton’s best efforts in providing all the facts that show what useful and loveable(?) creatures spiders are, my 6 year old still wasn’t convinced. But she did walk around afterward for a while telling people that she was trying to love spiders.

 

water-is-water

Miranda Paul does a beautiful job introducing the water cycle in a way that will captivate any audience, sparking our imagination for the many forms and uses of water.

 

look-up

Already an avid birder (following after daddy’s footsteps), it wasn’t tough to get my daughter to love this one. But I was impressed at just how engaging and informative Annette LeBlanc Cate’s guide on bird watching was. And best of all, it resulted in my daughter creating her own birding field journal.

The Evolution of Innovation (2 Videos)

This week’s provocation centers around getting students to reflect on change and innovation.

Resource #1: “The Evolution of the Desk” from BestReviews (see original here)

Resource #2: Did You Know 3.0 by VideoShredHead

Provocation Questions:

  • What do you think the desk in the first video will look like in 5 more years? 50 more years? (See one educator’s predictions of 21 things that will be obsolete by 2020)
  • How does society change as people’s resources change?
  • How do people’s individual lives change as their resources change?
  • Why are we sometimes reluctant to accept change? What are the consequences (positive? negative?) of accepting change quickly/slowly?
  • How does #edtech impact learning?
  • How has preparation for the future changed since our parents/grandparents were growing up? How do we prepare for such an unknown future now?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Mirage of Success: Learning the Math Trick

If you, like me, have ever waffled on the debate of whether we “just teach them the trick” for math before, take a careful look at this side-by-side comparison of students showing their math thinking.

Example A:

Example B:

My question is this: even if teaching the trick gets students to pass the test and ace the class and get into the college–have we, as educators, truly done our jobs?

If we’ve never heard their creative approaches to making sense of math because we’re too busy telling them the right way to “borrow,” have we joined them in their learning journey, or are we scripting it?

If we just keep focusing our energy in helping them memorize, are our students ever going to see themselves as competent mathematicians? 

featured image: Shubhojit Ghose

Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores With My First Grader? #TeacherMom

“What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose of childhood, all in furtherance of some hoped-for admission to a tiny number of colleges or entrance to a small number of careers, that that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids.” (Julie Lythcott-Haims from the TED Talk below)

This quote comes to mind as I review my 6 year-old’s first academic report from the first month of school. I look at the paper and wonder what I should with it (besides discussing it with my daughter, as per the instructions at the bottom).

Should I high-five her or take her out for a treat because she has high scores in literacy? If we did that, what exactly would we be celebrating? The scores or the literacy? And if we celebrated scores when she has only ever read or written because she loves reading and writing, would she start loving the scores more than the reading and writing?

Should I have her stop writing so many stories after school to make way for more math practice because her scores aren’t quite as high there? If we did that, what exactly would we achieve? Raised math scores? Lowered writing scores? A sense of pressure associated with mathematics?

All these thoughts swirled as I obediently reviewed the report with her, when suddenly, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you telling me all these numbers?”

It made me stop and wonder, why was I? Was I conveying the idea portrayed in educator Edna Sackson’s comic below?

ednasacksoncartoongrades

So far, scores don’t mean anything at all to her. She simply sees herself as a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, thinker, and artist. Why should I should I get in the way of that by pushing her, when there is already such a strong intrinsic pull toward learning? As Edna also so eloquently shared years ago,

“School is often about push. Push to succeed. Push to get high grades. Push to achieve. Push to fit in. Push to participate. Push to comply. Push to work harder.

But the above might not be the most motivating ways to engage students and promote learning…

Learning is about pull. A strong provocation that awakens curiosity. A powerful central idea that excites interest. Essential questions that draw students into meaningful learning. Learning experiences that encourage wondering, exploring, creating and collaborating. Opportunities to construct meaning and transfer learning to other contexts.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the report and I deeply appreciate all her teacher’s efforts in conveying her progress. The comments regarding her behavior were especially valuable in our discussion.  And had her numbers conveyed concerning trends (ie, consistently low scores and signs of significant struggling), I would be anxious to be aware in order to work with the teacher for interventions and support.

But for now, she learns because of her intrinsic love of learning. And I’m happy to continue to provide opportunities at home (and hear about those that occur at school) that continue to help pull that interest and enthusiasm.  

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation: To Thine Own Self Be True

I want to start this week’s provocation article by re-sharing a quote from Paul Solarz that was included in Adam Hill’s post on launching Genius Hour with his students:

“Too many children today go to school only to bide their time until they get home and do something that truly interests them.”

Paul Solarz, Learn like a PIRATE

The more I think about this, the more it makes sense that those same children grow up to continue to spend large blocks of their lives–even careers–“biding their time until they get…to do something that truly interests them.”

Meanwhile, they might never truly learn what their own passions are, let alone practice them.

To me, it all comes down to assumptions. How we should spend our time, our money, our relationships, our energy, our intelligence–it’s all dictated based on preconceived notions from, well, almost everyone around us.

Today, I want to share two resources that rock that idea to the core. The first is a beautiful autobiographical comic by Zen Pencils from a speech by Bill Watterson–a man who turned down millions of dollars to authentically pursue his passion and craft.

2013-08-27-watterson

The second is a video entitled “The Millennial Rebuttal” by Welzoo & Column Five.

You might take a look at these provocation resources and think, “Yeah, but tomorrow, I need to teach fractions, phonics, and the anatomy of an apple. What place does this have in my instruction?”

The answer is, the highest place. Untraining students from the dependency on others’ assumptions will help them better familiarize themselves with their passions, develop their critical thinking, unlock their ability to problem-solve creatively, and own their learning process.  We have trained our students to sit passively and wait to be told what the priority is long enough. It’s time to help them look at the big picture, and to discover what matters most.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why are cultural messages (“they say”) often at odds with reality? Where do they come from?
  • What are other cultural messages you’ve heard that don’t line up with your experience/values?
  • What does it mean to “invent your own life’s meaning?”
  • To assume means to act like you know something about a person or how something should look based on your experiences. How do assumptions impact individuals and societies?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What If? On Coauthoring Learning Reports

I feel a pang of annoyance. Parent follow-up every day? I wonder if I should feel insulted by a lack of trust. And doesn’t that parent know I have 25 other students to monitor? And what if all of their parents requested the same level of communication?

Sadly, such was my attitude when I first started teaching whenever a parent asked for more frequent communication on their child.

Fortunately, over time, I started to recognize just how important it is for parents to have a better window into their children’s learning–not just because of the fact that they have entrusted them to my care for 7 hours a day, but also because I came to grasp just how really terrible grades are at conveying meaningful learning.

Student-led conferences helped me take one of the first leaps forward in creating that window. The student ownership, the authentic conversations, and the overall sense of meaning facilitated unprecedented parent/student/teacher communication. (the link above will take you to that process, along with a lot of pdf resources)!

Student blogging came next in furthering the communication cause. I knew I wanted my students to be able to showcase their learning journeys in ways their parents could more easily access. The students loved commenting on one another’s blog posts, but the real joy came as parents started leaving responses, too–words of encouragement, support, and love.

Now that I’m away from my classroom, I have time to reflect on how I can further build the school/home window.  Michael Bond-Clegg’s recent post, “Are We Prioritizing the Tradition of a Report Card Over Student Learning?” really got me pondering this when he writes:

timely-learning-reports

Here are just a few of my what ifs for now. I would love to hear your feedback, especially if it’s something you’ve tried/dreamed about as well!

  • What if teachers and students regularly coauthored learning reports (do you think something like this would work–I was thinking that notes could be added in each relevant category as learning developments worth noting arise, not as a chart to be completely filled each week)?
  • What if teachers openly discussed our anecdotal notes with each student and asked for their feedback?
  • What if parents were able to write and respond to notes with what they are seeing at home with regards to specific learning goals?
  • What if students were able to write and respond to notes with what they are experiencing with regards to specific learning goals?
  • What if we completely eliminated surprise “grades” and moments like those illustrated in the meme below?
Meme Binge
Meme Binge

featured image:

Evolution of the Narrative in Picture Books (& Ideas For Your Next Library Visit)

I just finished putting a slew of new picture books on hold at our local public library.

Some were new releases by more contemporary beloved authors, like a new Jon Klassen (Another hat book! “We Found a Hat”), Andrea Beaty (“Ada Twist, Scientist”), and Oliver Jeffers (“A Child of Books”).

Others were by newly discovered authors like Amy Young (“A Unicorn Named Sparkle”) and Dan Yaccarino (“I Am a Story”).

And one was Doreen Cronin’s “Click, Clack, Moo,” which I should really just go ahead and buy already, because my 2 year-old is obsessed with cows.

As my mind sifts through all these authors’ styles, I’m struck by the huge amount of creative narrative voice out there these days. And even more by how dramatically the narrative seems to have evolved over the course of my lifetime.

Classics I enjoyed in my youth, such as Tomie Paola’s “Strega Nona,” Rafe Martin’s “The Rough-Face Girl,” James Marshall’s “Miss Nelson is Missing,” and Ellen Jackson’s “Cinder Edna” (publications ranging from the 70’s to the 90’s), almost always used a more traditional third-person narrative and voice.

A larger flux of first-person reads comes to mind when I think of the 2000’s, like Melinda Long’s “How I Became A Pirate” and Jane O’Connor’s “Fancy Nancy.”

And today it seems like most of the books I check out have incredibly unique narrative techniques and voice–so much so that it’s hard to neatly classify them. There’s Adam Rubin’s playful way of alternating speaking directly to the reader (“Hey, kid! Did you know dragons love tacos?”) and to other characters (“Hey, dragon, how do you feel about spicy taco toppings?”). Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s “Battle Bunny” with its dual narration. And of course, B.J. Novak’s “The Book With No Pictures” is truly in a narrative league of its own.

The upside of this shift is obviously our literary enjoyment.

But a potential downside/caution can arise when teachers get stuck in a rut on what a story should look like. Especially if they haven’t familiarized themselves with these modern classics that don’t always comply with the rules. Especially if they push the upside-down V story map so hard that students’ creative voices are quelled when their stories lack a setting (like Mo Willems’ Pigeon books) or when their pictures–not their words–illustrate the problem (like Mac Barnett’s “Sam & Dave Dig a Hole”).

In the end, I think the most important take-away is that it’s easier for us as teachers and parents to embrace the creativity if we stay current on it ourselves. If we stay stuck in the nostalgia of how things looked in our childhood, we may miss incredible opportunities to re-imagine and push the status quo.

new-picture-books

featured image: Kurt