10 Books for our Earliest Readers That Are Actually Enjoyable #TeacherMom

Oh, the joys of earliest reading! Yes, they are reading, and yes, it is magical, but spending 8 and a half minutes painfully decoding “yellow” can also feel like a special kind of torture. When said book is also plot-less, or when there are so many words that it will take a discouragingly long time to complete it, it’s even less fun — for your reader and for you.

So where to turn? Here are some of my favorite books for our earliest emerging readers.

#1: Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

The repetition and rhyming make the words more accessible, and the artwork by Brendan Wenzel are nothing short of delightful!

#2: Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett

With the exception of one use of “there,” only the 4 words in the title form this story. But they are played with in a variety of ways with the help of the illustrations (“orange bear.”).

#3: Freight Train by Donald Crews

A few of the words here get a little trickier (like “freight”), but there are still only a few words per page, making this doable a great shared read with your early reader.

#4: Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

The illustrations take the lion’s share of the story-telling here, and they do a marvelous job in making kids predict what will happen next to that fox. Pat Hutchins was a master at conveying an engaging story with only a few words per page, which is why I’ve also chosen…

#5: Titch by Pat Hutchins

Our very youngest readers will relate to the way it seems like only the big kids or adults get to take care of the big and important things. Until Titch is in charge of a very small seed…

#6: Up, Tall, & High by Ethan Long

Hilarious read that gets kids thinking about comparative terms and perspective. They will love lifting the flaps, too!

#7: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

Poor turkey just can’t get it together when it comes to getting dressed. And Sandra Boynton never fails to make us laugh!

#8: Sheep in the Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple

The classic adventure of these sheep is perfect for young readers as most of the words rhyme with sheep. Not to mention its hilarious plot!

#9: Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems

Seems almost too repetitive, until you reach the twist at the end! Mo Willems has created a great series for our earliest readers here. I would recommend Elephant and Piggie next!

#10: The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day

I’m a sucker for some good onomatopoeia, and the Mole Sisters really sell it in their adventures! Be sure to check out the complete collection!

These books prove that delightful stories can come in minimal packages. When books for our emerging readers are engaging for kids and adults, they build a powerful foundation for a lifetime of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!

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Inquiry into SDGs: Good Health & Well-Being

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

The global goal of Good Health & Well-Being aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Use these resources to help students inquire into what it means to provide health for all. 

Resource #1: What is a Food Desert? by Carb Loaded

Resource #2: Calm.com (see Calm for Schools free program)

#3: The Story of Cholera by The Global Health Media Project

#4: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (read here by johnvu)

Provocation Questions:

  • What is wellness?
  • What is health care?
  • How might good health and wellness solutions look different around the world? How might they look the same?
  • How does access to health care impact an individual? A community? The world?
  • How does wellness impact a person’s life?
  • How does what humans need for healthcare change over time?
  • What is our responsibility for good health and wellness? For ourselves? For others?
  • What is the connection between knowledge and good health?

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Instead of Putting Fuzzies in a Jar, What If…

…we considered why we feel the need to drop a fuzzy into a jar to manage behavior (or to remove a previously-rewarded fuzzy), & then work from there?

…we held class meetings to discuss what our classroom needs to run smoothly and have follow-up conversations with individual students on how they might help?

…we enlisted student assistance in caring for the classroom environment with student jobs such as “wiggle monitor” (helps us know when the class needs time to get up and stretch) or “Calm monitor” (helps initiate a Calm.com session, which are free for schools)?

…we worked from a place of gratitude, continually naming every good thing we see in our classrooms? Not so we can manipulate, but so students know we genuinely value their efforts, talents, and consideration? See Amy Fast’s challenge:

No student should leave kindergarten (much less k-12 schooling) without a positive label: I’m good at _____. People like me because ______. I contribute meaningfully by ______. If students can’t finish these sentences, why are we surprised when they find unhealthy ways to matter?— Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) July 13, 2018

…we worked to help students gain a sense of true ownership over the classroom and their learning experiences (see 10 ways for every student to be on their own learning path)? As Dave Meslin says for city planning (but applies to our classrooms, too):

Episode 2 of #LifeSizedCity. @meslin: “We take care of things we know belong to us. The trick is to get people to have a sense of collective ownership. Once they’re reminded that it’s theirs, they’ll make it better.” ❤️— Mary Wade (@mary_teaching) January 9, 2019

…we work to move away from collective punishments altogether, which can discourage individual students from doing their best (see Life After Clip Charts series)?

…we held an occasional class party just to celebrate all our hard work together (no strings; just positive, genuine celebrations of all the good that has happened)?

Just some questions from a teacher who has used far too many extrinsic “motivators” when I might have looked more to the messier work of building relationships. And still wondering…

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“Boy/Girl Books:” Fighting Stereotypes While Honoring Book Access

Raise your hand if you have ever said, “There are no such things as boy/girl books.” 🙋

That’s why Leigh Anne Eck’s recent tweet resonated with me so much:

While it would be absolutely unfair to continue telling students that a book is only meant for girls or boys to read it, it would be equally unfair to ignore differences. After all, Scholastic’s Reading Reports repeatedly find that rates of reading enjoyment for boys lags behind girls. Other measurements of reading achievement also show boys consistently behind girls the world over.

In her book, Best Books for Boys, Pam Allyn shares this great anecdote:

“I once entered a classroom and saw a very unhappy eight-year-old boy reading Junie B. Jones. He looked miserable. Now, I love Junie B. Jones, but this reader did not look happy about this situation. I asked him what was going on, and he said: “Because this is my level, I always have to read this same book, and I don’t want to read books about girls! I don’t even want to read a book with chapters in it!” My heart broke for him. If his library had been stocked with books at every level in every genre, his choices would have been greater, and he would have been hooked. He knew exactly what wasn’t working. The problem was no one was asking him what choices he would have made for himself as a reader.

~Pam Allyn, Best Books for Boys

She also lays out a great rule of thumb for our libraries: “at least 30 percent nonfiction, 30 percent poetry, and 40 percent fiction” (with varied topics, levels, and author genders across the spectrum). When I first read this recommendation, I knew my classroom library was severely lacking. It was my second year of teaching, so my collection was limited anyway, but the limits were compounded by the sameness of my titles, like:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Once Upon a Curse
  • The Sisters Grimm
  • A Little Princess
  • Ramona the Brave
  • Ella Enchanted
  • Charlotte’s Web

All fiction. All chapter books. All female protagonists. All with some degree of fantasy. It was really as far away as you could get from diverse book access! Fortunately for my students, that’s when I received Pam Allyn’s aforementioned book, and we got to work.

I did not tell my students that most of our classroom library were “girl books,” but I did tell them that my collection was mostly based in my personal interests growing up. And I told them that we desperately needed more poetry and nonfiction in our library. Most importantly, I asked for their help. Between my book and my students, we ended up with a lot of new titles I never would have considered on my own, such as:

  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich 
  • Hi! Fly Guy
  • Skeleton Hiccups
  • How Much is a Million?
  • Horrid Henry
  • Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
  • I Survived the Shark Attack of 1916
  • Flat Stanley
  • Bone
  • How to Write Your Life Story
  • Love that Dog

More importantly, I started to sort my classroom library by genre and to be more mindful in general about which gaps I needed to fill.

What I want to emphasize here is that a more diverse classroom library benefited all my students. What may have started as a hunt for “best books for boys” certainly ended in a richer, more accessible library for everyone. Ultimately, that’s what matters most for building our classroom libraries and addressing those gaps we’ve overlooked.

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Inquiry Into SDGs: Clean Water & Sanitation

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

The first challenge in helping students inquire into the need to provide clean water and sanitation is to recognize what a privilege it is to have! These resources are intended to help them consider this global goal and how they might help.

Resource #1: G R A N T E D by Michele Guieu

Resource #2: Why Water by CharityWater

Resource #3: Global Citizen – Water & Sanitation by BRIKK

Resource #4: The Water Princess by Susan Verde, Georgie Badiel & Peter Reynolds

Provocation Questions:

  • How is clean water important to humans?
  • How is sanitation important to humans?
  • Why is clean water scarce for so many people? How does this scarcity impact an individual? A family? A community?
  • What is our responsibility to manage water well?

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My #OneWord2019: Power in Flexibility

Take a minute to watch this artful video by RC Cone called, “trees, they move.”

Equally thought-provoking was the description added:

“Riding my bike home on these dark, windy nights has helped me realize that trees move more than our opinions, beliefs, fashions, discriminations, and judgements but still stay firmly rooted. They’re REALLY flexible.”

~RC Cone

I learned so much from my 2018 one word goal of power. It was incredible to engage with my community and learn that we all have so much more influence than we realize, especially when we find others who share our passions (see my mid-year reflection here).

It feels like a very natural progression to take all that passion and funnel it into my 2019 one word goal: flexible. No matter how sure we feel about our positions and crusades, we are always stronger when we seek understanding and empathy, and that takes a lot of flexibility.

I also need this one word in a literal sense. I still remember a P.E. teacher telling me that I was the most inflexible kid she had ever seen, and for some reason, things haven’t spontaneously improved over the last 20 years. And my back is especially starting to pay the price. I hope that as I work physical stretching into my daily routine, I will have a natural reminder to find ways to be flexible in all circumstances.

Just as those powerful trees stay firmly rooted, so will I. But I look forward to finding out how flexible I can become!

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Top 20 Posts That YOU Wrote in 2018

Over the last week, I’ve shared my favorite books from 2018

…my most-read posts I published in 2018

…and today, I share my favorite blog posts that you wrote in 2018. 

I deeply enjoy all three annual reflections for different reasons. This one is a celebration of learning, which means it might be my favorite. As most readers here know, I am presently away from the classroom to be at home with my very small students. It has been 4 ½ years now, and while I am grateful for this precious opportunity, I feel profoundly indebted to the many teachers across the world who have taken the time to share their learning, thinking, and questions. It has allowed me to continue to grow as a professional, and it keeps me feeling excited for the day I will jump back in!

So here are 20 posts, in no particular order, that most provoked my thinking this year. Thank you very much, and please keep sharing your learning!

#1: Adventures in Unveiling: Critical Pedagogy & Imagination by Sean Michael Morris

 #2: No More Cookie Cutter Teaching by Deb Frazier

#3: A Shift Toward Student Self-Reporting by Abe Moore

#4: Teaching While Parenting: Facing Struggle by Kristine Mraz

#5: We Don’t Need Saviors, We Need Leaders Who Are Ready to Form True Partnerships with Families and Communities by Kaya Henderson

#6: Timetables — The Enemy of Creativity by Michael BondClegg

#7: Getting the Mix Right: Teacher Guidance & Inquiry Learning by Kath Murdoch

#8: Be a Reader Leader – What Administrators Can Do to Promote a Reading Culture by Pernille Ripp

#9: Being Human by Will Richardson

#10: The Importance of Documentation by David Gostelow

#11: It’s Not Complicated by Donalyn Miller

#12: Building a Culture of Agency by Edna Sackson

#13: Armed with Books by Russ Walsh

#14: Why Teachers Are Walking Out by Seth Nichols

#15: Letting Students Teach by Mindy Slaughter

#16: Work’s Worth by Monte Syrie

#17: What Could An Agency-Supportive First Week of School Look Like? by Taryn BondClegg

#18: Step Away from the Stickers by Lisa Cranston

#19: Writers, Not Just for Workshop by Kelsey Corter

#20: Supporting English Language Learners: Using Technology to Increase Classroom Participation and Creativity by Jen McCreight

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