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.
Late last school year, I decided to make the switch to flexible seating. Why did I do this in April, you ask? Let me paint you a picture.
Before using flexible seating, I was constantly searching for that perfect seating arrangement. Who is going to talk to whom? Who needs to be closer to the board? Who needs to not be within arm's reach of the bathroom pass? (You need to go again?!)
I spent so much time figuring out who needs to be where, that I was missing the reality that we hardly spent any time at our own desks. Students always moved supplies to the side or to the ground because they needed space to work in centers, spread out their writing, or get creative during indoor recess.
The flexible seating trend was nothing new at this point. I had heard about it all over the internet and witnessed a few of my colleagues making the switch. Honestly, one of the reasons I was hesitant was because I was that kid who loved having her own 'space.' Oh, you mean I can stack my Lisa Frank notebooks here AND have my own container of cool mechanical pencils? Yes, please.
(side note: who remembers those pencils that had the tiny stackable leads? You had to push the dull one in the eraser end and the new one would be ready, except if even one of the leads was missing, the whole thing was useless. The 90's were a magical time for school supplies).
I digress. My point is that I loved all my stuff. Would my students be okay with losing some of that personal space in order to gain more choice when it came to our everyday activities? The answer is yes and no.
My group last year did well with the switch. At that point in the school year, we knew the routines and changing the desk situation wasn't a huge deal to them. They already knew that their supplies landed wherever they were.
This year, I hit the ground running with flexible seating. My one condition was that there still be enough surface space for each student to have a seat at the same time if they needed. This has already come in handy when it comes to taking state assessments. Luckily, I am super blessed to have a large room. I know not everyone has this luxury. It's a small perk to working in what was once a middle school. If I haven't mentioned, I teach 2nd grade.
I have bean bags, DIY bouncy seats, a floor table, and lots of carpet space. I also have a computer station, and a few groups of tables and desks to provide surface and chairs for the kids to sit in if they wish to do so.
A couple kids came in on the first day of school hoping and wishing that 2nd grade would be the year they got their own desk. We have tables, so this was never really going to happen. A part of me felt that pang of regret that I wasn't letting my kids personalize their space. However, each student has their own bin to house the majority of their supplies, and it goes with them around the room. We also share supplies in a caddie on each surface. We are only 6 days into the school year, but I have to say that despite some initial disappointment, my students have risen to the task. They know that they have to make smart choices about where to sit or they may lose that privilege. They know that they can move around the room, but need to be respectful in doing so. They know that not everyone can sit on the bouncy seats ALL the time. I don't have a rotation for these coveted seats, but they really do work it out. It's amazing what kids will do when they get the chance to explore, make choices, and solve problems on their own.
Is it perfect? No. I'm sure I will be changing and tweaking our room arrangement as the year goes on. Next year it may look completely different. What I do know, is that I don't think I can go back to seating arrangements any time soon.
Each new school year, I come back into my classroom to a mountain of furniture, blank walls, and filled with that back-to-school nervous excitement. I arrange tables and chairs, put up some fresh bulletin boards, and then I get to do my favorite back-to-school task: organizing the classroom library. I purposely save this for last, because I could spend weeks doing this every year and nothing else would get done. I've been known to stop part way and start reading. I mean, am I supposed to not read the books?!
Last year I made some MAJOR changes to how I organized my library. All books are organized by genre or author instead of level. This has been life-changing! I kept a small bookshelf of leveled readers that I use during assessments or small groups, but otherwise my students choose books from our shelves just how you would at a real library. Minus the Dewey Decimal System, of course.
Here is this year's result after adding a few bins, a fancy spinning rack for series, and re-numbering books so it made more sense.
I reluctantly joined Twitter in April of 2015. Before that, the only social media I was into was Facebook. I'm of the generation that got Facebook in college. I went to a small school and we waited and waited for our school to be added after listening to our friends at bigger universities talk about how cool it was. Was it actually cool back then? Probably not. Does saying cool this many times make me seem cool?
Anyway, I joined Twitter and Instagram around the same time. Everyone was doing it and I basically caved to peer pressure. Just say no, guys. I didn't post anything, but decided to passively follow my friends, a few celebrities, and some news organizations. "I only use Twitter to keep up with the news," I would say, as if it made me sound sophisticated.
Then, about a year ago, a few teachers in my district talked about the number of educators and authors that actively used Twitter as a way to share resources, inspire each other, and connect. Some were only using it to connect with their own classroom families, others were using it to connect in a broader sense.
So, I searched for a few of my favorite authors, and followed a few education and technology pages I heard about. Again, I followed passively. I still didn't post much, but I did use it frequently to get inspiration for my classroom, hear about upcoming books, and learn about new apps and technology.
Then I went to Nerd Camp MI. I first heard about Nerd Camp on Twitter and everyone made it sound pretty amazing. I signed up, went, and it blew my mind. Read my last post for more about that! I realized just how extensive Teacher Twitter really is. I started following everyone and everyone they were talking about. Since then, I have started to tweet more of my own posts, retweet, and respond to posts I like. I have made a few solid connections and was able to connect with those people again this year at Nerd Camp. I've connected with a few authors who I'm excited to continue to connect with over the course of the school year.
By no means have I mastered all that Twitter can offer. I'm happy that I've made some connections, gained inspiration, and received fresh ideas. It's a giant community of many like-minded educators ready to take on the world!
Teacher, reader, tea drinker, and dog mom.