I had the incredible opportunity to spend the last ten days in Helsinki, Finland. And by opportunity, I mean that I paid for a trip through Bookbag Tours. Nonetheless, this is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I’m so glad I took the plunge a year ago and decided to go on this trip.
First things first. I heard of Bookbag Tours through a good old fashioned Google search. I had the travel bug and was looking to see if I could find any travel geared towards teachers. I was also hoping to find a teacher discount along the way. Enter Bookbag Tours. Only a few years old, I did some research and looked up photos and stories from the previous summer’s trips. I saw a lot of happy teachers, cool places, and friendships forged. After checking the bank account several times, I clicked deposit just under a year before I would leave for Finland. I was 100% nervous about going on my own, but was settled by the fact that I would be traveling with other teachers. You know, people who are trusted with children all day long.
I just got home. I’m jet lagged and confused about what meal I should be eating and I can’t get over how happy I am that I traveled to Finland with 25 strangers. It’s hard to sum up what I learned, saw, and experienced in Finland. Not only did I get to tour the beautiful city of Helsinki, but part of the trip was Professional Development. More than one person questioned if I wanted to spend 3 days of my trip in a learning environment. “Don’t you want that time to see more of the country?” But when you put 26 educators in a room together, learning is our jam. Top that with being able to learn about one of the top educational systems in the world IN that country by experts in the field? Sign me up.
I have a lot to say about Finland and I plan on writing a few separate posts about my experience. For now, let me just say that if there’s a risk you want to take, take it. You might just end up in Finland with 25 new friends and a suitcase full of birch souvenirs. Worth it.
The powers of the internet just informed me that it's National Handwriting Day! Don't you love when those creepy advertising algorithms actually tell you fun facts? Thanks to the Google gods, I came across the infographic below from National Pen. It got me thinking about handwriting, why I love it so much, and why I've found it to still be a beneficial practice in my classroom.
Let me begin with my own handwriting adventures. I went to elementary school in the 90s. Yes, we're going all the way back, my friends. I know this isn't exactly the stone age, although my current 2nd graders would disagree. I remember getting our first computer at home when I was in 1st grade and I remember my school adding about 6 computers to the library around that time. Are you telling me I can type up my story into an actual book!? And then add a tiny pixelated illustration? I can also make banners that take up 25 sheets of paper? Awesome.
As much as I thought this was the coolest thing about life in 1992, I also remember writing all of my assignments out by hand. Once we got to upper grades, they had to be in cursive. I'm not saying this in a "we walked up hill both ways" kind of way, I just remember that we would occasionally use the computers, but until I reached 6th grade we still wrote most everything out by hand.
Honestly, for me, it wasn't really until college that I used my computer regularly. I was still that kid who wrote out her English papers by hand before typing them up. There was something about actually writing it that helped me form my thoughts and get things in the right place. In college, I discovered I didn't have time for this and made the transition to just typing. However, all of my notes were still written by hand, and that was the norm. Only a few people at that time had laptops and were bringing them to class. Writing things down worked for me. It always has and I'm guessing it always will.
Fast forward to my teaching career. I know that what worked for me growing up will not work for all of my students. There is technology around every corner. My students have grown up using iPads and smartphones and don't know what a computer mouse or a CD is. I really freak them out when I bust out the books on cassette I still have. We as teachers are encouraged to integrate technology whenever possible, and for the most part, this is really cool. It's truly amazing what we can do with a few apps in the classroom. We're making connections and creating projects that weren't possible when I was in 2nd grade.
With all that being said, I love me some good old fashioned handwriting. Hand-lettering has even become a hobby and creative outlet for me. Handwriting is a skill that I think students still need in spite of ever-present tablets and technology. Here are some things that I've heard to the contrary:
1. "But, why? No one writes anymore."
2. "There's no time."
3. "Just teach them how to sign their name."
To which I say:
1. Maybe not as much, but they do! You don't have to be writing a novel. What about a grocery list? A quick note to a friend? Yes, you can also do these things on the phone, but not everyone does. I'm not even talking about cursive here, I know that students need printing practice, too.
2. There really isn't a lot of time. I agree completely. It's exhausting to fit something into the school day that is no longer in the actual curriculum. I incorporate it into our writing time or reading centers when I can. Towards the end of the year we do some introduction to cursive when I need an activity to keep them engaged when the weather breaks. They are into it. Tongues out in concentration, they beg to learn "fancy writing."
3. I think there are so many other reasons than just your signature to be able to use handwriting and be able to read someone else's. Already, we have a tough time reading historical documents because the style of writing has changed over time. In a couple of my chapter books in my classroom there is a little note from mom or a friend and it's written in cursive. Without fail, a student who can otherwise read the entire book comes to me so I can read the cursive part to them.
All in all, keep writing. I know it's helped me and I can see how much my students want to be able to do it. I'm no expert, so take a look at some of the facts and research in the infographic if you're still here.
How do you set classroom goals? Do students set goals? What does that look like?
I'm asking for a friend and that friend is me.
I know goal setting is important in the classroom. I also think it's an area in which I can be stronger. What better time to think about setting goals than on New Year's Day?
The reality is that I have lots of good intentions each year in terms of student goal setting. When I am consistent, I see that it makes a big difference. When students set their own goals they are motivated and (mostly) eager to reach them. However, I struggle with the organization of student goal setting. I want it to be meaningful, and not just busy work where students are filling out charts and graphs of their own data. How do we, as people in the real world, set goals in our daily lives?
For me, I need a checklist. I am not known to love doing laundry, or vacuuming, or chores in general. So, I make myself a list and it helps for me to know what needs to be done. There's also something satisfying about crossing an item off that list. And, yes, I am that person who completes a task, realizes it wasn't on the list at all and then adds it just to cross it off.
I also like when I can see my progress towards a goal. For example, I just set my new Goodreads reading challenge for 2019. I like watching that percentage bar get higher as the year continues. On the flip side, I am not motivated by graphs and charts and picking apart details. I know people who love that stuff, but it's not me.
The moral of the story is that everyone is motivated differently. I think setting goals is universal, but getting to that goal is personal. As all of you teachers out there know, your students come from different backgrounds and have a variety of learning styles. What will make them tick? What will help them reach a goal whether it's big or small?
This year, each one of my students has a portfolio. It's in an old-fashioned folder and they can add writing pieces and other things that they are proud of. I also have some goal setting forms in each portfolio to help each child reach both reading and math goals. I'd share a picture, but I'm still on Winter Break, so deal with it!
I am truly asking for others to share what they do with their students in terms of goal setting. Do you have folders or binders? What works? What's frustrating? Do you have checklists and charts, or do some students thrive off a little healthy competition?
When I return to the classroom next week, I want to check-in with students on their goals. I want to help them see their goals to fruition and I want to be able to do that in a meaningful way. So, my own goal is to tackle setting goals.
What does that look like for you?
I don't know why I love the water. Maybe it's growing up in Michigan where there's plenty of lakes to go around. Maybe it's because of the family vacations we took up north or to Florida. In either place I'd hear the comment "she swims like a fish!" To which I'd obviously reply by pretending to be Ariel, flipping my hair dramatically (spoiler alert: it never worked like it did in the movie).
At any rate, being by the water has always brought me comfort. If I've had a stressful week, I head towards the lake no matter the season. Give me a good book, a sunny day, and a body of water and you can forget about interacting with me for a while.
Right now, I'm on winter break from school. My family's celebrations are over and like the good introvert I am, I needed a day or two to decompress. What did I do? I took advantage of a weird 45 degree day in December, loaded the pup in the car and drove towards the water. I live about 25 minutes from a lake that has a pretty walking trail. This is just what I needed. I stopped at the edge of the lake during my walk. It looked like glass. The small ripples at the shoreline created a comforting sound as they slowly broke against the rocks and pebbles that lay there. I took a few deep breaths and planned to continue around the loop. However, about 3 feet to my left there was a small indentation in the ground from a man-made storm drain. Presumably this is to keep the grounds from flooding, letting the excess water travel back to the lake. The mouth of the drain was littered with plastic caps, bottles, bits of leftover fireworks, cigarette butts, and more.
Just last week I watched a piece on 60 Minutes about the amount of plastic that exists in our oceans and waterways. This isn't new information, but there was a point during the report that stuck with my family and I after we watched it. To prove it, we all received reusable veggie bags to take to the grocery store for Christmas from my mom. The report said that while recycling isn't bad, it's not doing what we think it is. A lot of the plastic we recycle is being shipped off to other countries, where we don't know exactly what is being done with it. Based on the interviewee's response, a lot of it isn't being recycled at all. If you want to check out the report, here's the link:
I stared at this little piece of beach with plastic strewn about it and it hit me in a way it hasn't before. We can do better. We have to do better. A trip to the grocery store the next day, reusable bags in tow, made me realize just how much plastic we're using. Seriously, go to the store and try to buy something that isn't contained in plastic. It's no easy task.
We here in Michigan are surrounded by 1/5 of the world's fresh water. We love going to the lake. The lakes account for a large part of our economy. But even we Michiganders aren't taking care of our lakes the way we should.
This brings me to the part about books. Think I'd get through a post without mentioning them? There are a lot of great books out there about the importance of water, water conservation, and pollution. As teachers, I think it's up to us to use the power of literature, knowledge, and learning to seek out answers to large problems and share what we can with our students. Maybe they'll be one of the people to come up with a solution one day. Listed below are some books that I've come across and read with my 2nd grade class. I know there are more out there as well as other books for older students. I would love if you shared any others that you love!
The Water Princess-Author: Susan Verde Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
One Plastic Bag- Author: Miranda Paul Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Water (National Geographic Kids)- Author: Melissa Stewart
Why Should I Save Water-Author: Jen Green Illustrator: Mike Gordon
Young Water Protectors-Authors: Aslan Tudor & Kelly Tudor
All The Water in the World-Author:George Ella Lyon Illustrator: Katherine Tillotson
Water is Water-Author: Miranda Paul Illustrator: Jason Chin
Is there a book on your shelf that you can't help going back to time and time again? That one book that even though your to-be-read pile is a mile high, you get it out and cozy up with it for a few days?
For me, it's usually Little Women or Harry Potter. It's generally this time of year that makes me want to go back to something familiar. Too often we read a book, put it back on the shelf and it either stays there for a long time, or gets put in the box for the next donation. Obviously, I don't re-read every book I've read, but honestly I'd like to do it more often. I watch my favorite movies time and time again, why not read my favorite books?
Students in my class often drift back to their favorite books. I know that feeling of wanting to encourage them to read other things and move past the books they've nearly memorized. I think it's okay to keep suggesting things they might also like, but I think it's important to fall into a familiar book as many times as necessary.
I've not done the research, but it seems to me that when students re-read their favorite books, they can build a sense of story structure, character development, and find meaning in the book they didn't catch the first time around. Most importantly, if a student is reading their favorite book, then they're reading! I would never want to force a book on a kid only to have them lose interest. Eventually they WILL read other things. They WILL move on. But how nice that they will always have that old favorite to find again when they need it.
"What's that? Put the book down? I thought this was a blog about reading!"
It is! You should still put the book down if you're not feeling it. You're the boss of what you read and kids should be, too.
I recently had to put a book down that I just wasn't getting into. Sometimes that's hard for me, but I'm here to tell you that it's okay. No, I'm not going to tell you what book it was. Number one: it's not fair to the author who spent so much time and effort writing that book. Number two: just because I didn't like it doesn't mean that it's not going to be somebody else's favorite book. I mean my sister didn't like Harry Potter when it first came out and I was all like, "WHAT?!?" I eventually wore her down and now she's full-on Hufflepuff, but my point is that not every book is going to be right for every person. There are too many great books out there to not put one aside and start something that you're going to enjoy way better.
I know there are a lot of people who HAVE to finish the books they start and that's cool too. You do you. However, it's okay to put a book down rather than sludge through it so you can start something new. What if kids don't know it's okay to let a book go and then they become wary of ever picking up another?
I think this is an important lesson for the kids we teach. Think back to a time when you were forced to read something you hated. For me it happened in high school. Some people may love The Heart of Darkness (yes, I name dropped the book...sorry Joseph Conrad) but I really didn't like it. It was tough getting through that one and then analyzing it for symbolism. I would have been happier searching for symbolism in a book that I actually enjoyed. The same reading skills apply to more than just one book.
How are we presenting books to our students? Do they get a say in the matter? They should! They should be able to make book choices based on their interests and own reading goals. And if they want to put a book down? Let them do it. There are libraries FULL of more.
For some reason, my students this year love checking out cookbooks from our school library. I've had a few students in the past who will check them out from time to time, but right now we are on a serious cookbook kick. I love that cookbooks are an option for our students to take home to read for the week. It's reading that is applicable to everyday life. People who don't consider themselves readers, will inevitably need to read a recipe, a nutrition label, or put together a meal plan. Reading and literacy is important beyond reading novels because the way you read a recipe differs greatly from the way you read a novel. You have to process the information in different ways, and you are reading for separate purposes. I think that the readers who choose cookbooks to take home like the accessibility of the text. It's often in a list format, contains short paragraphs, and at the end you get a delicious treat. I mean, what's not to like? I've already been told what I should make for dinner on multiple occasions. It's not a great diet plan, since the majority of kids' cookbooks are dessert-based, but I'm not arguing. I think that our class might have to write some of our own cookbooks this year. I'll let you know how those recipes turn out...
I didn't grow up in a political household. I knew my parents watched the news and read the newspapers and I had a vague idea for whom they voted. Overall, however, I didn't know a whole lot about our political system. I learned a bit in school, sang a lot of Schoolhouse Rock, and then voted for Ross Perot in a mock election because our school magazine said he had horses. If there was ever a way into my 10 year old heart, that was it.
Flash forward to college. I was a freshman in 2004. I got to campus and realized kids my age were hardcore into politics. It seemed like everyone had picked a side and I was all like, but do any of them have horses? Just kidding...I knew a little bit more than that. I've always prided myself on my smarts and I felt defeated that this was an arena in which I had little knowledge. It also emphasized the fact that I grew up in a suburban bubble and the politics of the world had little affect on my daily life.
I'd like to say I jumped in head first, but I mostly asked a few friends on AIM (remember AIM?) who they were voting for and tried to pay closer attention to the ads on TV. It was cool that the first time I was able to vote was for president and I really did feel like I made a good choice. By the time I graduated, it was 2008 and we were ready to vote again. I had learned a lot in college about what I valued in a political candidate.
Ever since then, I vote every time. Big or small. I'm happy to say that I know a lot more about what's going on in the world. It's also never too late to learn more. Seek out the information you need to make a choice that is right for you. Ask friends, find a local official, go (carefully) online. Your voice matters. Do some research. Vote.
Here is a link to get you started on your quest. https://www.vote411.org/
No word yet on if any of this year's candidates own horses. Please advise.
Title: Meet Yasmin
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
I read a portion of Meet Yasmin with my second graders today after buying it this past weekend. We love Yasmin! She is a second-grader just like my students. This book is a collection of 4 short stories, each broken up into several chapters. My students loved the first story about Yasmin exploring her neighborhood. I set the book on the shelf when I finished and there are already requests to read the rest of the stories tomorrow. Yasmin's family is from Pakistan. She calls her father 'baba.' One of my students heard this and shouts, "that's what I call my dad, too!" Watching her eyes light up when she realized Yasmin spoke the same language as her family was the best part of this read aloud. I love the way this book feels like a chapter book, but is a simple read for my students who need it. We need more books for this type of reader, especially ones that represent underrepresented cultures. I can't recommend this one enough!
Title: Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker
Author: Shelley Johannes
Beatrice Zinker was our first chapter book read aloud of this school year. What a fantastic choice! I chose to read this book, because we are an IB school and our first unit covers the transdisciplinary theme of Who We Are. Beatrice makes no apologies for who she is. She is an upside down thinker. This can sometimes get her into trouble, but her unique way of looking at the world allows her to navigate friendship and, of course, espionage. After the first chapter, one of my students wrote her name upside down, and another wore her backpack upside down on the way out the door. My students were immediately taken by Beatrice and were rooting for her the whole way. After we finished reading, I was so happy to announce that I had just bought the sequel, Beatrice Zinker: Incognito. My kids are itching to find out what happens next! I know you'll love Beatrice, too.
Teacher, reader, tea drinker, and dog mom.