Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Slice: A platform built on the needs of children

I am so glad that Berkeley Breathed has resurrected Bloom County.  I follow him on Facebook, and look forward to his almost-daily offerings.  This Sunday's full-color post continued the theme of Opus running for President, based on his "wedge issue" of "two spaces after a period".  The joke, of course, is how some issues on which candidates build their platforms are really non-issues, smokescreens to avoid things that really matter, stirring the pot to garner votes.

My career lends itself to a very biased lens--I currently work in an elementary school for a district that promotes being "kidcentric."  I've taught in a Title I school, and worked in a disciplinary setting for over a decade.  After reading the Bloom County strip, I started musing about political platforms.  What if a politician built his/her platform on what was best for the children in our country?

It's not too hard to connect the dots between children's welfare and familiar national issues:

  • Production and availability of healthy food
  • Healthcare
  • Parental leave policies
  • Minimum wage
  • Education 
  • Environment 
  • International diplomacy (think about our children going to war as adults)
I'm sure you could add more to this list.  Just think about it. What if we truly started viewing our political decisions not on how they affect us voters here and now, but how they affect our children, now and in the future?

Is it too simplistic...or the biased lens we all need to look through?  The way I see it, what's good for children, is good for us all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

We've been reading Foxy! by Jessica Souhami this past week.  It's on our district's Armadillo reading list, books we share with our younger students.

Foxy! is a great trickster tale that has appealed to all my kindergarten, first, and second graders.  The images are simple and bright against a white background, and the prose has lots of repetition to get the students involved in reading along with me.  It's great to see their eyes light up and hear the gasps when they realize what the woman is doing by putting her dog in Foxy's sack towards the end of the book!  To focus on sequencing, we retell the story by looking at the pictures after we are done reading the words. 

It's been interesting to note the different personalities of whole classes while I read this book.  Some are quick to jump in and say the repeated phrases with me; others hesitate, and I have to let them know that it is okay to interact with the story while I'm reading.  I don't require them to participate, but I admit it's more fun to read aloud when they do!

What is your favorite repetitive read-aloud book? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday slice: Science fiction conundrum

I got to teach one of my favorite lessons today:  Bluebonnet/ Genre Mashup.  

I came up with it last year when my fourth grade teachers asked me to review genres when I wanted to promote our Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominees.  Being short on time, I decided to hit both topics at once.  A quick review of genre definitions, and then we're on to Bluebonnets--I read an annotation of a book, and each group of students must decide which genre the book belongs to, holding up a pre-printed sign naming their decision.  I then call upon a group or two to defend their answer, and we continue with more annotations/ genre labeling for the remainder of our fifteen-minute lesson.

I anticipated the confusion between realistic fiction and historical fiction.  What I didn't anticipate was my halting explanation of science fiction.  

I realized, as I was thinking aloud with the class, that so much of the science fiction of my past is now reality for our students.  They live with cell phones (and wristwatch phones!), face-to-face long distance communication, instant messaging, touch screens, voice-activated technology...even replicators, if we consider the work being done with 3D printing in the medical and industrial fields. 

I was left with examples of flying my own rocket from my backyard to a planet outside our galaxy, robots walking among us as an everyday occurrence, and time travel.

It leaves me wondering, though--are we narrowing the gap between science fiction and science as reality?  What does this mean for children's literature?  Maybe I need to explore this genre more deeply as a reader, to see what big dreams our futuristic science fiction writers have in store for us.

Monday, September 21, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?


My #IMWAYR posts have been few and far between these past weeks, because, as usual, I am reading less outside of school hours than during my Book Nook time.  Unless you count Facebook posts, blogs, and online articles, because I read a LOT of those.

But I decided last week that I need to be reading something just for me, not work-related or from the children's section.  So I started Colonel Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything .  

Okay, so it still has "taught" in the title...but it's not a book about the educational system.

I follow Colonel Hadfield on Facebook, and thoroughly enjoyed his posts from the International Space Station with gorgeous photos and witty insights.  I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts in full in his book.

In the Book Nook, we've been reading Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Brian Biggs, about a boy who wishes he lived his dog's life so he wouldn't have to go to school.  It's been interesting listening to the students debate whether the switch really occurs, or whether it's just a dream.

We've also read Flight School by Lita Judge.  Penguin really wants to learn to fly, but can Teacher and Flamingo help him accomplish his dream?  My students totally rocked at discerning the moral of this "if at first you don't succeed" story.  

The picture book that has my kindergarteners through second graders laughing and talking about the needs of students and teachers alike--especially when it comes to classroom behavior--is My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown.  I love stopping the story when Bobby runs into his teacher in the park, to talk about the reasons teachers may go to the park on the weekends.  Even the youngest children can acknowledge that teachers need downtime, too!

It's great to be back in the Book Nook sharing books with children.  What are you reading to your students these days?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Please read these!

The latest shipment of new library books crowds the top of our middle row of shelves in our elementary library.

Fiction novels, picture books, biographies, college football.  Fractured fairy tales and tales about wall art around the world.  Humor, adventure, science fiction, fantasy.

Buying books is one of my favorite parts of my job.  I love scouring the Kirkus reviews, perusing the book suggestions made by students and staff, following up on the recommendations of my graduate professors, authors, and fellow librarians.  I start another online shopping cart as soon as an order is placed, and add to it often.  Since I only place big orders two or three times a year, it feels like Christmas when the boxes arrive, with exclamations of "Oh!  I forgot I ordered that one! Isn't it great?".

But like an art gallery owner on opening night, I get a touch of anxiety, with thoughts of  "Will the students like what I've chosen?"  "Why hasn't that book been checked out? I thought for sure it would go quickly."  I start pointing books out to the staff, too, hoping they will find them useful, especially the ones that seem to fit so nicely into the curriculum.

We had a few straggler books left over from the last shipment, and I put the latest arrivals on display yesterday afternoon.

Fingers crossed that like great food at a party, they get snatched up quickly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday slice: The importance of choice

She stood there alone, unable to choose a book.  

At first I thought she was overwhelmed.  It's happened a couple of times in the library; students so overwhelmed by the size of our collection that they become paralyzed.  I can relate--I feel like that in grocery stores occasionally.

However, this student literally could not make a decision, because she did not feel capable or entitled to do so.  The rest of her class was gleefully wielding their shelf markers and choosing books to take home as she stood there, struggling.  Her teacher finally picked a book by the color of the cover.

I didn't realize how much having choices had been a part of my life until, as a new teacher, I was discussing behavior management with my mother.  As educators, we are taught that giving students choices--lunch, seats, methods of production--helps them feel empowered in their learning and lays the foundation for making bigger decisions later.  My mother told me that when I was little, she would take me to the fabric store and let me choose which fabric I wanted for the dresses she made me.  My grandmother chastised her for giving me "too much power" in the process, but my mother held her ground.  She knew that by letting me make "little" choices, it would help me develop decision-making skills.  She was right--and probably avoided unnecessary tantrums by doing so.

Choosing books should not be anxiety-provoking.  We reduce the overwhelming feeling that some young children have by limiting the shelves from which they check out, and monitoring how they look for books, for a couple of weeks.  We stress choosing books they will enjoy, either by themselves or with an older reader.  Most children quickly learn their likes and dislikes, and are excited to share their finds with classmates.  It's even more heartwarming when they go beyond their wants and needs and choose books to share with younger siblings or parents, based on the family member's preferences.  Those are decisions I couldn't begin to make for them.

When children are young, adulthood seems so very far away.  Those of us with adult children know, however, that childhood goes by so fast.  Growing up doesn't happen automatically when children turn eighteen; it is a process that develops over years, skills learned and practiced over and over again in the safety of home and school, so that when adulthood arrives, they are ready.  

Choosing books may seem insignificant, but developing decision-making abilities is no trivial matter.  What better way to practice than in the library, with no wrong answers and no consequences.  Book choice allows them to use literacy skills they learn in the classroom, discover their likes and dislikes as readers, expand their horizons of learning by pursuing personal interests.  

Librarians and teachers do the hard part by building collections with age-appropriate, interesting literature in a wide variety of genres and topics.  Let's help make book choice enjoyable and empower our students' independence--and decision-making skills-- in doing so.  My little student may need some prodding, but it is my hope that she will be gleefully wielding her own shelf marker and connecting with a book on her own terms by year's end.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Debugging

Hindsight (even just a day later) being 20-20, yesterday was not the best day to try out our new iPads in the library.  I had been up since 245a, running on less than six hours of sleep in order to get our daughter to the airport by 5a. 

I got to work by 7a, and my focus was split between tracking her flights, moving tables back to their proper places for reading, managing broadcast team questions and trying to find lunch pictures for them, and sticking the 27 QR codes I had printed out in the appropriate places for the 8a double class visit I was expecting--sans assistant, since she was covering a class for a PLC.

I had tested one of the QR codes with a student iPad on Friday, so I was fairly confident that despite my exhaustion and split focus, the lesson would work.

But they didn't.  After explaining to the classes how to get to the i-nigma app, I snapped on a QR code to demonstrate.  Went to the Safeshare URL, but didn't play the video.

Two more QR codes, two more failures.  

At this point, I admitted defeat, and sent the students off to check out books, which is what they really wanted to do anyway.  I was able to pull up my videos on my Google Drive and show them a few, but the impact was lost.  Cue the "wah-wah-wah" sound effect.

Thankfully, the rest of Monday's classes were lower grades, and there were no bugs to be seen in reading Pat Miller's We're Going on a Book Hunt.  I remembered our Book Nook songs to sing with the kindergarten and first grade classes, and praised them for their use of shelf markers.  Even the second graders were happy to be back in the library, checking out books.

Weary as I was at the end of the day, I managed to make a Nearpod presentation using most of the videos I made, including a few quizzes thrown in to see if the students are listening.  Fingers crossed that this lesson works for the fourth graders arriving at 830 this morning.

P.S. Read here for a 2011 take on the term "debugging".

P.P.S.  My ITS found out the reason my QR codes didn't work--had to do with site blocking.  Friday's success was a fluke due to a temporary unblocking that day.  What are the odds?