“Mom? Book?” [My two-year old suddenly chooses a book for me]. “There you go.”
[Walks over to the sofa and pats on a cushion] “Sit. Sit.” [I sit]. “You’re welcome.”
[Settles on the other side of the sofa with his library Lightning McQueen book].
A short time later, he also carefully arranges his stuffed fish with its own book about whales.
His self-satisfaction is palpable.
Though literacy development has been of particular interest to me as a teacher, this exchange was just the latest in a long string of surprises in my teacher-parent-table-turning saga. One might expect that a teacher would always be anticipating and orchestrating the “next steps” in their own children’s academic growth. But the truth is, it blows my mind on a daily basis to witness the juxtaposition of what I think I know as a professional with my kids’ applications with the realities of daily life.
I knew that providing an abundance of books is important to provide my children with the access they need.
I knew that library books are key in providing that access (I actually counted the books in our house after reading the above-linked article, and I know that if my family depended on our book budget alone, we’d be in trouble).
But I didn’t know how quickly the busyness of life can overtake these practices.
I didn’t know just how much of an impact even our imperfect practices can have on our young children.
And I didn’t know how exceptionally dictatorial assertive my toddler could be when it comes to books.
So even though I should be the all-knowing teacher/mom taking the lead on all things involving academic development, it’s clear that this has already become a shared, symbiotic kind of culture. Truth be told, I think I like it better that way. And I looking forward to that application with future students.
By the way–the book he picked for me? It was was actually one I’d been meaning to read for a couple of weeks, but hadn’t yet gotten to. Thanks to him, I got just the jump-start I needed.
Nothing made me want to read Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish more than when I first heard it had been censored from certain schools. Plus, having witnessed the devastating effects of drug abuse in loved ones myself as a child, I was anxious to see her approach to such a difficult subject for younger readers.
And she exceeded all expectations. Here are four reasons you should add this book to your elementary school libraries and read aloud lists this year:
It’s a realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy your kids will love
One would be justified in worrying about how to address drug addiction in a realistic fiction for kids–how to avoid dwelling on its dark and all-encompassing realities while also avoiding an overly light-hearted tone that minimizes those realities? Messner masterfully achieves this by weaving the subject through other realistic and highly-relatable themes: feeling noticed by parents, helping friends who struggle with school or home, and pursuing dreams in sports. And to cap it off, she gets readers imagining what would happen to these if you found a magical wish-granting fish. She goes on to illustrate the impact on all these when a family member gets caught up with drugs, including a powerful parallel depicting the dangers of believing there’s any silver bullet that can solve our problems.
For the many lonely kids for whom drug addiction in a loved one is already a reality, it gives validation, hope, and courage.
“It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.”
But the devastating truth is that we can’t control what our 10 and 11 year-olds’ biggest worries are–and it’s unfair to ignore that drug addiction in family members is already the reality for far too many.
In the story, Messner validates those realities young kids face: the loneliness and embarrassment. The deception and theft. The pain of watching your loved one slip away. We cannot know how many of our students face this daily. But the real question is how many could be encouraged by this story’s message to know that they are not alone and that they can find a safe place to talk about how they’re feeling?
Furthermore, in the event that drug abuse has thankfully not yet touched the life of a younger child, this book will help him/her develop both awareness and empathy for their friends that have or will feel its impact.
It helps kids catch a glimpse of what true resilience looks like.
“But there’s no answer for this one. Mom didn’t do anything wrong.
It’s not fair. Life has rules, and if you follow them, things are supposed to work out.
If you place in all your dances, you get to move up to the next level.
If you brush your teeth, you’re not supposed to get cavities.
If you love your kids and take care of them and send them to a good college, they’re not supposed to stick needles in their arms.
But I guess it doesn’t work that way. None of this is working the way it should. Because Abby was stupid enough to try drugs.”
So much of what happens in life is out of our control–a fact kids know better than most. If we try to perpetuate the “fairness” of life in the name of protecting our kids, we only rob them of a developed sense of resilience when that false dichotomy is challenged.
It breaks away from the stereotypes of drug abuse users in typical D.A.R.E. programs
“We learned about heroin in the D.A.R.E. Program, when Officer Randolph came to talk to all the fifth graders about drugs. We had to watch a movie, and in the heroin part, these raggedy, greasyhaired people were sitting around a smoky room, sticking needles in their arms.”
Charlie keeps returning to the fact that that as a great sister, student, and athlete, Abby had never looked like the people in those videos, which makes the entire situation much more shocking and difficult for her to understand. But Messner’s decision to depict a user from a stable, loving family helps readers gain broader perspective that drug abuse doesn’t just happen to “those people,” but that it is a choice made by individuals everywhere.
I believe that sharing books that provide such a perspective would have a more powerful and long-lasting effect when it comes to drug prevention.
Have you read The Seventh Wish yet? Please share your impressions below!
The “Yellow Star” by Carmen Agra Deedy beautifully illustrates the legend of King Christian X standing with his Jewish people by wearing a yellow star during Nazi occupation.
And while the Danish Jews were never actually forced to wear the star, confirmation of the king’s support for his Jewish people have surfaced, including “substantial evidence that the King actually suggested the idea of everyone wearing the yellow star should the Danish Jews be forced to wear it.” (source)
Legend or not, this 20th century story highlights timeless lessons of humanity that we find especially applicable to the 21st century subject of cyberbullying.
“Early in the year 1940…there were only Danes. Tall Danes, stout Danes, cranky Danes, even Great Danes.”
We must actively teach our students that what we have in common outweighs our differences. Cyberbullying offers a shroud of anonymity that can tempt some people to forget that a living, feeling human being is on the other side of that unkind post or dehumanizing poll. We can bring that shroud out of obscurity by directly talking about it. About digital citizenship. About the human experience. And about whether it’s really worth making someone else feel like they don’t belong.
“If you wished to hide a star,” wondered the king to himself, “where would you place it?” His eyes searched the heavens. “Of course!” he thought. The answer was so simple. “You would hide it among its sisters.”
I recently came across a disturbing article about a poll for the ugliest girl at a high school. And though the young woman who was targeted responded courageously, I was left wondering how each kid involved in that poll could have acted with more courage, too. How can we teach them to take initiative and take a stand, even if it isn’t very popular? I believe it starts with us. We need to model the courage to stand up and say no, even in a society that often turns “cruelty into entertainment and sport.”
“What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying,’ You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.’ What if?”
Empathy requires us to truly reach other people. It rejects in-group/out-group. It embraces vulnerability and imperfections. It places genuine value on every human being. Cyberbullying creates in-group/out-groups. It exploits people’s vulnerabilities and imperfections. And it tears apart the self-worth of everyone it can. We need teachers who will dare to voice exactly what cyberbullying is all about, “Go[ing] beyond praising the right behaviors — proactively counteract[ing] the forces that stand in their way. This is where standing up, not just standing by, comes in.” (“Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply”).
King Christian X’s Jewish people may never have been forced to wear the yellow star, but his solidarity, courage, and empathy are likely what prevented that unjust mandate to begin with. What could these three qualities do for your students, your school, and your community?
As a freshly-graduated educator, I had been extensively drilled on reading comprehension strategies. Excited to try out my research-backed literary stockpile, I whipped up beautiful little guided reading packets that featured multiple copies of each comprehension strategy, complete with instructions and fill-in-the-blanks.
So I was shocked to discover that my students hated those packets. No matter how much support I offered, all I seemed to receive in return were lost pages and careless responses. After months of toiling in futility, we eventually ditched those packets and sought other ways to cultivate reading comprehension strategies.
Years later, my reflections have revisited those packets. What went wrong? Why were even my advanced readers disengaged? Why didn’t they help students see the value of the strategies?
After further reflection, I realized we need to put ourselves in our students’ shoes. Imagine you’re deep in the thralls of your novel when someone comes up to you and asks you to synthesize the perspectives and settings so far. Or to make an inference right now. Or to come up with a question about your last chapter. Maybe you’re able to give adequate responses, but how likely are they to be genuine, meaningful reflections that enhance your reading experience?
Both my packets and this not-so-hypothetical example are missing one crucial element: authenticity. As we examine practical ways to increase authenticity in our reading comprehension strategies instruction, we should consider how metacognition and ownership can work in this setting.
Research has instructed us to focus on the “what good readers do” angle as we explicitly teach these strategies. But does that really mean telling them that good readers constantly pause for outside-mandated reflections at arbitrary times? Of course not.
We need to build on this instruction by teaching them to notice the natural moments of self-conversation and wonderings as they read, and then to learn how to identify the strategies that are already at play. This awareness of their own thinking will enhance their authentic use of these comprehension strategies because it will gradually strengthen their ability to consciously utilize and articulate them.
Fifth grade teacher Jessica Lifshitz shared what happened when she shifted from merely teaching the what and how of comprehension strategies toward the why (1/12/17 edit: She’s also constantly using Google Apps to create student checklists and self-assessments that packed with ownership and metacognition, such as this Revision Checklist). These conversations help students internalize the real impact these strategies can have on our individual lives, which is crucial in using them in more authentic, meaningful ways.
To further help students take the reins on their own reading experience, I realized that we need to rethink how we ask students to express their thinking, being mindful of flexibility and choice. So I created the organizer below, which encourages them to consider which strategy they’ve used and how it improves their personal understanding. Click here for the pdf!
As researcher Brene Brown summarizes, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen” (The Gifts of Imperfection). Let’s give our students the chance to make learning more honest and real for them, for reading comprehension strategies and everywhere else. What are other measures you’ve taken to encourage authenticity in your classroom?
Has your young student’s reading level exceeded their grade level? Having trouble finding texts that are challenging but still age-appropriate? We’re here to help you find that “just right” book. Below are 23 texts with upper grade difficulty, but lower grade interest and appropriateness. (Fountas-Pinnell Levels Q-U, interest grades 1-3).
If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!
As teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period. At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints. For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation. My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program. We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series. I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning,due to maternity leave.
Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons
♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!
This is obviously a major attraction to this series. Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school! The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.
♥Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)
I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).
♥Fosters teacher authenticity
The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same. The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process. As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.
♥Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!
Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts. The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.
♥Encourages critical thinking and metacognition
The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?” For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning. This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.
During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program. They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week! Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.
♥Encourages digital literacy
For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts. For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds. The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.
This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day. They include:
Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
♥Few anchor texts required
If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts. While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!
Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential. However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons. You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical. For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time. Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.
♦Language Standards not fully integrated
Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5). While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included. For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.
♦Teacher talk can be lengthy
Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction. However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular. For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.
The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks. I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!